We are proud to present the winner of the UnTwelve 2011 composition competition, Joel David Hickman. Joel's winning piece is entitled like the automatic couplings of railway carriages for classical guitar in quarter-tones.
Joel David Hickman was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, and resides in Hebron, Indiana. Joel has a Bachelor's Degree in Musical Performance (Classical Guitar) from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University and a recording engineering certificate from The Recording Workshop. He has spent many years composing, performing, and recording in acoustic/electric ensembles.
UnTwelve: Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background?
JH: Yes, I have a bachelor's degree from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University in Chicago Illinois. I studied with Paul Henry on classical guitar and Pam Kimmel as well on classical guitar. And I also studied with Bob Lombardo in composition. I also studied trombone and was in the marching band in high school. I also have been studying on my own, especially micro-tonal studies. I'm still learning myself with a lot of this stuff. I because really interested in the quarter-tone by listening to Charles Ives and investigated a lot of historical background regarding that. Also I studied recording engineering at a recording workshop in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Un12: When did you discover that there is a world beyond twelve equal and how were you introduced to it?
JH: I was introduced to this when I was in college.
Un12: So Roosevelt included that in their curriculum?
JH: No, I was going through their archives in the library and noticed Harry Partch was in there. So I was listening to Harry Partch. I found a recording of his composition for Voice and Viola, I think it was one of his first compositions. And I listened to that and was totally blown away. And I started listening to other composers like Charles Ives and people like that. And I also liked the idea of using other elements like bi-tonality and poly-tonality. I know there is a composition by Charles Ives called "Hallowe'en" (1906) where he has instruments playing in many different keys. And I started listening to all kinds of different stuff. I started listening to Indian music and other eastern music as well. All of this while I was learning classical guitar. Paul Henry would show me the 12 tone side of classical guitar and I started experimenting by myself with retuning the classical guitar with quartertone.
Un12: Could you talk a bit about your technique of using quarter-tones on a standard classical guitar?
JH: I tried experimenting with putting various things on my classical guitar and I didn't like the tone that I was getting at all, it was terrible. So I just started using my tuner and got Scala (microtonal program) and I started looking at that with 24 tone equal temperament. What I do is have one to three strings that are in the 12 tone tuning and three are dropped down or raised up a quarter-tone. I have been doing this for a while and in 2008 I had a quartertone classical guitar piece accepted by 60x60.
Un12: Are you alternating the strings or do the combinations change?
JH: Yes, I may set it up so I can play a neutral chord and tried experimenting with different types of chord combinations. This is has been an on-going process. Sometimes it is a cluster-tone or I've used a more spread out tuning that generates different types of 3rds, 7ths and things like that.
Un12: Do you have any upcoming projects that you want to share with the readership of Untwelve?
JH: Yes, I want to expand my quartertone compositions to more instruments. I have an autoharp that I have been tuning with quartertones and I also want to include percussion with classical guitar. Also I'm interested in composing pieces for 2 classical guitars tuned a quartertone apart.
Un12: How are you relating to the rest of the microtonal community with your work.
JH: I've been releasing individual pieces though I would like to release a CD in the future. Right now I have a website http://www.joelhickman.com/ and a myspace page http://www.myspace.com/*joeldavidhickman that has some more of my music available.
Un12: From your perspective how would you characterizes the current xenharmonic scene and what is the strengths and weaknesses of it?
JH: I think the strengths are that people are experimenting and getting new ideas. A weakness is that microtonal music doesn't get enough airplay. Any time you have you new idea there will be some sort of backlash. Even my own friends make comments like "that doesn't sound right, why are you doing that?" and my response is "It sounds right to me." I guess the problem is that people are almost only exposed to 12 equal music and microtonal music really needs more airplay. My experience has been people saying "that sounds weird", and I say I like a lot of colors. What I tell everybody that the same as a painter would be using a lot of colors painting on canvas-I think we should be using more color, and with microtonal music you have wide range of different tones or colors-that is, intervals to choose from.
Un12: I'm very curious to hear your thoughts on the incorporation of percussion into microtonal classical music.
JH: I would I would like to add in the drum kit to incorporate in a microtonal kind of idea. I would like to find a percussionist to work with him and perhaps include a microtonal electric guitar. Or even chamber music like Bela Bartok, but with microtonal piano and percussion. I think percussion can make music more alive at times and can drive the music forward. I also would like to write for microtonal percussion ensemble with guitar. Or woodwind or brass ensemble with percussion. Another interesting ensemble might be quartertone recorder or flute with classical guitar.
Un12: Congratulations on taking first prize in this years contest and thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
JH: I would like to thank the Untwelve organization for sponsoring the contest.