Q&A: Josh Trentadue

Composer Josh Trentadue discusses “ALL I WONDER,” featured on Sputter Box’s debut album.

Josh Trentadue. Photo: Brendan Prednis.

Sputter Box’s debut album, Sputter (SHRINKS THE) Box, features more than 25 brand new miniatures, each scored for bass clarinet, voice, and djembe.

ALL I WONDER” is Track 02 on the album.

NATASHA NELSON: Would you begin by discussing “ALL I WONDER,” including your inspiration for the composition and its text setting?

JOSH TRENTADUE: Absolutely. I first heard about Sputter Box’s project Sputter (SHRINKS THE) Box when they started posting about it and started reaching out to composers asking them to write music for them. I’ve been a fan of the ensemble for quite some time now. What I really like about them is how much they have thought outside the box in terms of interdisciplinary approaches, in terms of chamber music, in terms of creating art for their instrumentation on top of that. I wanted to write something for them for this project that would reflect that, even though given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the approach to it was going to be different.

My inspiration for writing this really came as a spark. I woke up one morning and discovered that where I was living, it was pretty stormy outside and the weather was actually pretty bad. There was rain, there was a little bit of thunder and lightning, and just from that visual imagery alone that morning, the text basically wrote itself. I thought about all of the people who throughout this quarantine had been isolated, had been on their own through this pandemic living by themselves, and I thought about how each of us were all going through this in our own way, really. My approach to writing this was to write something that reflected that with the visual imagery of this weather, essentially, but leaving it open-ended with a question: to ask if there was the possibility that there was anyone else out there that was going through this, as well, who could relate to those circumstances.

What came first, the text or the melodic line?

JT: For me, the text came first: that visual imagery of the weather outside that one day gave me the idea for it. I wrote it all down, then did a little editing afterwards. What I tried to do with the music was find a way to be able to reflect that, as well.

Did the contour of the vocal line, specifically, come from imagery in the text or from the rhythm of the words in a very particular way?

JT: Yes—the rhythm of the words, definitely. I tried to write something that was going to fall in line with that, but I also wanted to write something with the contour that was going to add to the emotional despair of the piece. Something that was going to add to the loneliness, or that fear of being lonely.

Does “ALL I WONDER” include extended techniques?

JT: Yes, there are quite a few, mostly for bass clarinet and djembe. I asked Peter to play a couple of slaps on the djembe which create more of a punctual sound, as opposed to just playing the drum on its own. I also asked him to use a couple of techniques where it’s his fingers only, so that you get more of the overtones of the drum. He also made them really quiet, too. My idea for that was to create some texture that was going to add to the visual imagery of this weather that I described. And for Kathryn, for bass clarinet, I asked for similar things, too, to add to that imagery. For example, there are a couple places where she’s asked to blow air through her instrument at no pitch whatsoever; it’s just air, and with that I wanted to create the idea of this wind blowing through the storm.

Would you explain the effect of a timbral trill, written here in the score for bass clarinet?

JT: Sure. A timbral trill is essentially when an instrumentalist is asked to do a trill on a singular note, but all that they’re changing is the fingering for that note. For this piece, specifically, I asked Kathryn to do a trill on the exact same note, but the fingerings on it are different; she has a fingering and an alternate fingering that she goes back and forth between. That creates – in my mind, at least – a different sound or texture than, say, if you were to trill between two different notes.

Shifting focus for a moment to the vocal part, I’m curious to hear about your choice for notating the last lines of the text – “Hear me? Hear me?” – with x-noteheads in the score.

JT: For the text and with the repeat, I wanted to create an echo of the [penultimate] line, “Can you hear me?” With the notation, I asked Alina to not rely on pitch so much and lean more on a whisper, so that it can create for the listener this idea that there is an echo being lost in the wind.

I enjoy exploring the following question, as well, with regard to notation for text settings in vocal music: what idea inspired your choice to notate those final lines, indicated with x-noteheads, on that specific pitch (Eb4), versus elsewhere on the staff? Are the lines intended to be half-pitched in a way?

JT: I think the reason I chose this pitch was because I liked where it was in the register and I liked how it added to the rest of the other music going on. I think it gave more of a quality of a whisper or an echo for what I was looking for here, as opposed to higher in the range, or maybe even lower in the range.

Would you speak for a moment about M.O.T.I.F. (Music of the Introspective Fields)?

JT: So that is the name I’ve given for my self-published work, my self-publishing company. For me it means two things: the first being that music for me is always about introspection. That’s where it starts: how we feel inwardly, and then translating that to how we express it outwardly. And the second part of it being that a motif is basically a little musical identity or fragment that’s constantly repeated or reworked or developed over time throughout a piece. And motives are something that I continue to work with in my own music.

Is there anything more you’d like to share about this piece or this project?

JT: I think that about covers the piece in particular and the ideas that I had behind it, but I would like to mention, as well, that I’m very, very grateful to Kathyrn, Alina, and Peter for this opportunity to be able to keep creating music, especially with other people during this crisis and during this time that a lot of artists are really struggling right now.

Trentadue is co-founder of the Milennium Composers Initiative (MCI).
Listen to more on SoundCloud.

This article is part of a series, featuring interviews with 16 composers whose work is featured on Sputter Box’s debut album. Read the feature article here!

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. #ShelterInSound

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