Alumni Interview with Ken Ueno
What are the major achievements of your career?
As a composer, I have been actively involved in a wide range of activities in order to evangelize for modern music. As DJ Moderne, I host and produce a weekly live half-hour public access television show devoted to introducing new music and new music composers and performers to the public at large.
I have had the good fortune to have had performances by some great ensembles including: The Hilliard Ensemble, Albany Symphony's Dogs of Desire Ensemble, the American Composers Orchestra, the New York New Music Ensemble, the AUROS Group for New Music, ‘yesaroun, and Odd Appetite. Among those who have conducted my music are David Allan Miller, Paul Dunkel, Lawrence Leighton Smith and Harvey Sollberger.
Upcoming performances of my music include: Eighth Blackbird at Alice Tully Hall in New York's Lincoln Center (March 5th), International Electroacoustic Music in Cuba (March), the MATA festival (April 8th), Bang on a Can All-Stars at Harvard (May 25th), the Hilliard Ensemble at Engers, Germany (August 3rd), and a new work for the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College will be premiered in October. Recent residencies include travels to Alaska (November 2001) and Italy (Modena conservatory and Venice in January 2002).
In addition to composition, I have focused some of my academic energies toward research of Latin-American Electroacoustic music. I have contributed articles to a forthcoming book, Border Crossings: Latin American Music in New Contexts, to be published by University of California Press, and been invited to present a paper on Latin American composers at the Fifth International Congress of the Americas in October 2001.
What made you decide to pursue composing as a career?
It just gradually developed over time. There was no one definitive moment when I decided to become a composer.
What are the skills that you are called upon to use daily in your work?
There are compositional skills and administrative skills. The compositional skills are those that include the technical demands of creating the music - like having command over harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration, and using electronic music and notation software. The administrative skills are those involved in concert production - like preparing a budget for a concert series, calling performers and organizing rehearsals.
What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?
I usually spend a large portion of the day taking care of administrative details and I compose late into the night.
What is your favorite thing about your job and/or career?
Hearing a live performance of a composition. It takes a lot of time and an exaggerated amount of effort to get to it. It takes months of preparation on the part of the performers to play some of my music. It always amazes me, and I feel blessed to have in my life some people who devote so much time to learning my music. So when it all comes together, it's a collaboration between the composer, performer and the audience. It's a communal ritual, a celebration of human effort.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and/or career?
Trying to remain faithful to the music and continuing to have the courage to be as radical as I feel I want to be. Trying to push myself so that I keep learning from and about music.
What are some of the rich rewards that have come with working in this field?
There isn't as much potential for financial rewards as in pop music. But, there is the potential satisfaction that one had lived an uncompromising life of art in having created the music that one wanted to make unencumbered artistically by the demands of consumerist tastes.
What do you think are the requisites for someone entering this field?
Traditionally, the requisites were/are: background in classical music; strong academic pedigree; a list of awards, performances and commissions. But I think more recently, and in the future, one needs only the will to be a composer. I came into music without a classical background. I started playing guitar at sixteen (16), and went off a year later to West Point to become an officer and serve my country. It took some time for music to become the most important thing in my life for me to want to pursue it seriously. But, I think my profile is increasingly sympathetic with the experience of many other American composers - especially the background in rock and jazz before going "classical."
How did your education at Berklee train you for what you are doing today?
It was at Berklee that John Bavicchi introduced me to Bartok's Fourth String Quartet and I heard Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. That was the impetus for everything that followed. Additionally, I think that the classes I took with Herb Pomeroy (Line Writing and the Duke Ellington classes) are still the best writing courses I have ever taken. Although I don't write much jazz anymore, his lessons still probably influence almost every compositional decision I make now - from a detailed consideration for the spacing of chords to a hyper-sensitivity for every interval and orchestrational color variable.
What are the current trends in the field of composing that will most likely shape your future and the future of this industry?
I think the two most important developments will be: 1) the further integration of live, real-time computer processing into compositional performance practice; and 2) the proliferation of non-traditional instrumental groups, including an increased participation of the composer as performer. I would like to see my main instrument, the electric guitar, come into its own as a concert instrument with new pieces that incorporate it in both chamber music and orchestral contexts. Additionally, I hope that in the future New Music will come out of the shadows of being a sub-category of Classical music and become an independent movement.