We are proud to present the winner of the UnTwelve 2010 composition competition, Monroe Golden. Monroe's winning piece is Incongruity for piano and fixed media. It was premiered on Jan. 29th, 2011 at the winner's concert.
Critics have described his compositions as "delightfully disorienting," "Lovely, Sumptuous, Yet arcane," And "irresistible music, full of wit and beauty." He graduated from the University of Montevallo and earned a doctorate in Music Composition from the University of Illinois, Where he studied with Ben Johnston and Aurel Stroé. There are two complete Cds of his music, A Still Subtler Spirit (Living Artist Recordings, 2003) and Alabama Places (Innova Recordings, 2007).
UnTwelve: Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background?
MG: Growing up in rural Alabama, I took piano lessons and played in church, which did not hold my interest past puberty. In my late teens, I discovered classical music via progressive rock, and started playing again, initially on a clavichord I built from a kit. I enrolled in a degree program for higher-level piano lessons, but quickly gravitated to composition, then became interested in electronic and experimental music. After graduating from the University of Montevallo, I attended graduate school at the University of Illinois, where I interacted with composers representing virtually every trend in modern music. I also studied ethnomusicology, and immersed myself for a time in (ratio-based) algorithmic composition.
UnTwelve: When did you discover tuning and microtones as an interesting dimension to use in your composing? What draws you to it?
MG: As an undergraduate student in the early 80s, I discovered Harry Partch's Genesis of a Music, and used his 43-tone scale in a work for tape playback (the realization involved making strips of tape for each frequency and splicing each "note" in at 15 inches per second). During the same time, my composition teacher Ed Robertson introduced me to Ben Johnston's Sonata for Microtonal Piano, which made such a strong impression that I decided to study with him. I am drawn to microtonal systems by the strange beauty of the sounds -- for me, manifested in pitch and time -- and the implications therein for music as relationships rather than objects.
UnTwelve: Tell us a little bit about your process in general, and in particular for your entry piece. What does 'technique' mean to you? Are there any ways you tend to find inspiration?
MG: Usually, I spend quite a bit of time figuring out what are to be the rules of the game, then work somewhat intuitively within those constraints while seeking consistencies and quirks within the system. Re: my entry piece, I first determined that Incongruity would be for piano and soundfile, that the soundfile would present just-tuned chord progressions exploiting the Syntonic Comma, and that the piano would perform only notes that correspond (within +/- 3 cents) to higher partials of a chord's fundamental. I developed PERL scripts to relate phrase duration to fundamental frequency, to build Scala files, and to determine notes for the piano part. I constructed the soundfile (using Pianoteq and Adobe Audition) with textural choices informed by what piano notes would be available, and lastly composed the solo piano part. Compositional technique, in its most positive interpretation, means to me the ability to create works that endure, with no edict as to how one gets there. I am happy to be a discoverer, rather than knowing in advance what the end result will be. Inspiration has come from creative metaphors (hiking trail elevations and turkey calls), properties of tuning systems, or just being prompted to write music not-yet-considered by dedicated performers -- and organizations like Birmingham Art Music Alliance and UnTwelve.
UnTwelve: Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited to share?
MG: I am working toward releasing a third CD this year, featuring microtonal works for flute, cello, and piano. I'm also excited to be performing Incongruity live in a few different settings.
UnTwelve: How do you characterize the current music scene as you see it? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
MG: Although somewhat removed from the current music scene, I welcome the availability of music-making tools and self-publishing options. I am cautiously optimistic that a goodly number will transcend technical and stylistic norms. From a standpoint of cultural wellness, I am troubled by the continued marginalization of art music.