Q&A: Michael Kahle

Composer Michael Kahle discusses “A Mood,” featured on Sputter Box’s debut album.

Michael Kahle. Photo: Samantha Kahle.

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

A Mood” is Track 16 on the album.

NATASHA NELSON: Would you begin by talking a bit about your inspiration and process for writing “A Mood”?

MICHAEL KAHLE: As soon as I saw the Sputter Box call, I went searching for a text. I was drawn to the text that I chose, “A Mood” (by George MacDonald), for the imagery that it talks about, like “My thoughts are like fire-flies, pulsing in moonlight.” Throughout the whole text, there’s a lot of imagery that I felt I could bring to the forefront in a piece with such interesting instrumentation that Sputter Box has: the bass clarinet, the voice, the djembe. That led me to do different things with intervals, like the rhythmic ostinato in the bass clarinet, thinking “Thoughts are like fire-flies, pulsing.” So there’s this pulsing motion—that kind of idea.

Did writing for a digital medium, specifically, influence your approach to the composition in any way?

MK: I don’t think so. Mostly it was just excitement that I knew it was going to be recorded and it was going to be a great opportunity. I don’t think it directly affected the writing process in any way.

What’s your primary instrument or instruments?

MK: Voice, primarily.

Do you have any favorite composers, for vocal writing or other genres, either present-day or past?

MK: For the voice, I really like Schubert. I know that’s a pretty easy answer but . . . [another] favorite composer probably would be Mahler, overall. And he did some great writing with voice, too.

Oh, excellent choices. I’m a huge Mahler fan. Is there anything about those two composers’ approaches that draw you to their writing styles?

MK: I’d say the expressivity that both of them share, especially Mahler—I mean the stuff like Das Lied von Erde. I think the thing with Schubert is you look at “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” and “Erlkönig,” and at the time that he was writing those, to be able to have almost programmatic [music] – the spinning wheel in it, or the horse moving – is just very, very cool to me.

Yes! That’s the second time I’ve gotten to talk about Mahler today. So, it’s a good day.

MK: Yeah, that’s a good day.

Will listeners hear extended techniques in “A Mood”?

MK: Yes. The two biggest ones are the slap-tonguing in the bass clarinet and then some Sprechstimme in the soprano.

Was any particular imagery in mind when indicating Sprechstimme in your interpretation and setting of MacDonald’s poem?

MK: Yes. I used Sprechstimme specifically – mostly on the word “pulsing” – to allow the singer to create that pulsing, pulsing [imagery], like there was this growth in excitement, or pulsing-forward kind of idea.

What led you to choose this poem in particular?

MK: It was very short. There was a clear focus on each line: there’s “My thoughts . . . / My heart . . . / My soul . . .” and then it speaks a little bit about each. There was a clear expressiveness to the poem and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to bring that expression to life. And Sputter Box did a great job with it.

Find Michael Kahle’s website at michaelkahlemusic.com.

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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