Q&A: Julienne Tsang

Composer Julienne Tsang discusses “Lorelei of the Leeches,” featured on Sputter Box’s debut album.

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

Lorelei of the Leeches” is Track 12 on the album.

NATASHA NELSON: Would you begin by talking a bit about your piece for Sputter Box, including your inspiration for it and its text?

JULIENNE TSANG: To start, I play a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. I had started a new campaign for it with some of my friends, and as I was making a character for the game, the opportunity to write for Sputter Box came up. So I was thinking, “Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to write a piece for them about my Dungeons & Dragons character? . . . Why not?”

That was my main inspiration for the piece and the idea behind it—and the text is actually all original. From that initial idea, I just kind of went with what felt like, to me, was appropriate for the character, who goes by the moniker “The Lorelei.” In a sense, I guess I wrote a theme song for the character.

That’s very interesting! What came first in the compositional process for the piece: the text or the melody?

JT: I feel like both came together, simultaneously. I heard a little [bit of] melody in my head,  and then pictured my character: I was thinking about the background of my character, including what they went through in their past lives, et cetera. Then, it kind of evolved into its own little poem of sorts.

Listen to Tsang’s composition “Electricity” (2019) for clarinet quintet, here.

Would you explain in a bit more detail how characters are created for Dungeons & Dragons?

JT: Yes—you create your own characters with a set of guidelines—you take all these rules and then you kind of mix and match to create something of your own.  I really like that about the game. It’s very fun!

Have you written for Sputter Box, or for this instrumentation, before?

Listen to “Snarinet” (2020). As the composer describes on SoundCloud, the piece, written for clarinet and snare drum, features “two unlikely allies together.”

JT: I’ve written for clarinet before, and for voice. I haven’t written for this type of ensemble, however, so it was really fun to take these different instruments that are not very traditional [in this specific combination in chamber music repertoire] and put them together.

Are any extended techniques included in “Lorelei of the Leeches”?

JT: Yes—I believe I used flutter-tonguing in the bass clarinet. I’m actually a clarinetist myself, and I was thinking of how flutter-tonguing – when done correctly – has this really lovely rolling sound . . . kind of like a mysterious thought. And, I thought, it would be a really cool effect and help with the setting of the piece.

Listen to Julienne Tsang’s piece “DeVoid,” a miniature for melodica and a musical response to isolation, also written in 2020. The featured image is a digital painting by the composer, created to accompany the composition.

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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