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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Feinsmith Quartet Explores Curiosity

Posted by chutzpaleh on October 9, 2007

Daniel & Mickey JCC

Daniel David Feinsmith (right) and Michael “Mickey” Disend mug for the camera.

Last night I heard the Feinsmith Quartet play at the JCC, and had the pleasure of chatting with the composer afterwards. First some background: According to his website, Daniel David Feinsmith is “a modern experimental classical composer whose studies of composition and musicianship span Western and Eastern classical musics.” He composes solo pieces, as well as ensembles. The Feinsmith Quartet is an ensemble that plays his music, comprised of Jennifer Culp on the cello; Michael Manring, bass; Gyan Riley, guitar; and Christopher Taylor on the piano. The music – both his compositions and their playing – is easily accessible online [MySpace] [YouTube]. That evening, they focused on material from their soon-to-be-released album, “ELOHIM” (a Hebrew name for G-d).Organic is an easy word to describe the music and the players, though not necessarily the most precise. “Holistic dissonance” would be more precise – there are diadic and triadic tensions between different the different parts and melodies and notes that lead to a certain dissonance, a certain uncomfortability, a certain challenge. The piece manages to stands up to this tension and maintains a sense of being a whole, unlike a lot of post-modern music, which can sound like a few blops and bleeps, illustrating and evoking our subjective disconnection. This, on the other hand, felt like watching something very much alive, perhaps watching a human through alien eyes. I kept on being reminded of organs – that the melody was like a food or a contagien passed on from organ to organ, or blood from ventricle to ventricle. As I watched the music, I had the sense that I was watching something organic and personal, that I was watching neuroses and mental constructions rise and develop into something large, and fall away into silence. I turned my head away at a few times – I felt uncomfortably voyeuristic.

Afterwards, the Oyster and I went out to Annie’s with the composer, some of the musicians, and friends. I got a chance to speak with Daniel about his creative process, his meditation, and his brother (who is a close friend of mine, funnily enough) I’ll try to encapsulate in dialogue form from memory:

Chutzpaleh: Could you tell me a little about your balance of consumption of creativity and production of creativity?

Daniel David Feinsmith: I don’t consume any music. I assume you mean music. I don’t listen to any music. I don’t have a CD player in my car. When I do listen to music, it’s because I want to learn something very specific, like I wanted to learn how to compose for the piano, and then I listened to piano repertoires.

C: So what awareness are you bringing to this learning process?

DDF: Well, first I meditate, until my body and everything else falls away… laughter Is that what you mean?

C: And then you look into a flame until you can distinguish between 5 different colors within? [laughter]

DDF: Exactly.

C: What’s the creative process like for you?

DDF: It’s a labor, honestly. I work and I work at it, for hours everyday, and don’t sleep. And I love it, but I’m totally obsessed. I try to devote as much time to it as I can.

C: And what are you doing as you’re composing?

DDF: I’m just listening, and then I get curious about things that I become aware of. And the music is my exploration of my curiosity. But the music isn’t really mine, and even when I listen to it now, there’s some amount of distance. That once it’s down on paper, and more when I hear it played, it’s not what’s coming through me right now.

C: How do you keep your ego out of the way? How can you bring all of yourself to your curiosity?

DDF: The ego is just another thing to watch. I’m just trying to listen and watch.
Well, I want to be really clear that I’m not representing myself as precious. I’m doing the same thing that other people are doing all the time. I just do it my way and other people do it their way. But if I were different then I might have a different story. I’m just letting music come through me. It’s not mine. Often, it actually seems to have little to do with me.

C: Wow, that’s amazing. It’s really an example of a watcher-consciousness in meditation.
Your music seems so organic. What’s your relationship like with nature?

DDF: You know, I grew up in NYC. I’m not so interested in nature. Whenever I go to nature, I feel somewhat bored. Is that wrong to say? It’s just that it’s all within us anyways, right?

Daniel & friends at Annies

Chutzpaleh & Oyster schmooze with the SF literatti & Daniel David Feinsmith at Annie’s.

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