My Creative Process: Inti Logan Figgis-Vizueta

My Creative Process: Inti Logan Figgis-Vizueta

Trying to sight sing and conduct when you've just started studying music sucks.

My Creative Process: Inti Logan Figgis-Vizueta

Trying to sight sing and conduct when you've just started studying music sucks.

I'm Inti. I'm 22, and I write music.

I started seriously studying music at the beginning of sophomore year at American University and have fallen in love with composing. The pure creative control and freedom is radically different than the science-focused academic and intellectual paths I pursued in high school and freshman year of uni. The dedication of time to crafting a piece of music to precisely what I hear and feel is absolutely rewarding. Sitting in an audience and hearing musicians bring my ideas to life and interpreting them in their individual ways is beautiful.

Before university, I had only really dabbled with music. I was, however, definitely interested, for a core part of my elementary school experience was rooted in music making. The thing was, I did not feel terribly talented at anything when I was young, other than maths and reading. I "played" a bit of guitar in high school and learned a riff or two, but again, not anything concrete at all.

Fortunately, I was placed on a university college floor for housing in freshman year, which happened to be the music floor. I enrolled in an Understanding Music class, taught by the head of the AU music department Nancy Snider. The class heavily exposed me to classical music, as well as expanding my knowledge around jazz, blues, and world musics. After a semester of exploration and learning, I was inspired and requested to become a music major, though I had no previous experience or skill. I was granted admission on the condition that I put in the work and the effort to catch up, and the recognition that I would be working much harder than many of my classmates to understand basic material. I gladly accepted those terms, for I already knew that music was my passion and I needed to pursue it.

Trying to sight sing and conduct when you've just started studying music sucks. A ridiculous amount of time and frustration went into sitting at a piano, clapping rhythms while ta-ing, and trying to remember pitch relationships, during sophomore year. Thing is though...it was totally worth the pain. Though I barely passed musicianship 1, I did very solidly in musicianship 2. The feeling of catharsis I felt at the end of that class is almost indescribable. To be honest, I never really felt like any grade I had ever received reflected mastery of a skill. Rather, I felt like I could remember facts and methods and apply them on paper. Learning to transcribe progressions, melodies, and intervals gave me a huge sense of musical agency and accomplishment.

In junior year, I decided to become a composition major. In my theory classes, our final projects were compositions that incorporated class topics and were then played live. Though I had mixed success in my first attempts, I grew to really enjoy the relationship between composer and musician as well as the transformation and translation of ideas, a process inherent in the interpretation of someone else's music. In a large sense, when a musician plays a composer's work both come to own it. The trick and beauty of composing is that we don't write for our own isolated enjoyment. We write to share our ideas and explorations into our personal sound worlds, and the musician is our medium for the communication of these pieces of art. Musicians are equally, if not more, important than the composer. The translation of abstract ideas into the real world and the facilitation of musical sharing is the musician's domain and they determine the success of a performance, not the composer.

I wrote my first piece, Dead Reckoning for Vibraphone, Viola, and Cello in the fall of 2014. It remains my favourite piece, funnily enough. My freshman roommate, Jeff, is an excellent percussionist and was supportive of my growing passion of music. He had been willing to sight read and record required projects for class in the past and so I asked if he was willing to be a featured element in my first piece. He accepted, and with the help of two other instrumentalists in our department (Yubin and Chris H, both of whom are extremely supportive and talented people too) as well as a very kind audio technician, Chris A, I was able to get my first recording of a work. To be honest, that was the moment I seriously and wholeheartedly dedicated myself to becoming a composer. The actual experience of recording was amazing, and I was able to literally lie down in the middle of the musicians while they were playing. All in all, sustained vibraphone and strings sound freaking awesome when you're lying down in the middle of them performing in a concert hall.

After the very positive responses from my teachers and mentors after Dead Reckoning, I decided to set my goals a little higher. Over winter break, I dedicated myself to writing the second movement of the Directions Trio, Path Integration. For as simple as the piece is, it took me a very long time to finish it. I needed to create a full sense of cohesion because the main devices used are repetition and limited harmonic movement (as in I only really used two distinct chords). Though this piece caught some flak from my teacher because of how simple and ambient it is, Path Integration received an even warmer reception than Dead Reckoning when showcased at the first Applied Music Performance Lab of the Spring 2015 semester.

During the spring semester, I continued to work on different smaller projects and while searching everywhere for musical knowledge, tidbits, ideas, motives, etc. I was a giant sponge and spent most of my time both working and studying in the AU music library. I did feel like a kid in a candy store every time I perused the shelves looking for fresh colours and textures, imagined hundreds of years before by brilliant individuals. And as someone still very new to music, all these composers and pieces were fresh. I eventually settled on my favourite composers and have since studied their works extensively. These composers being: Debussy, Dvorak, Ravel, Bartok, Janacek, Stravinsky, Ives, Ligeti, Glass, Part, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler. In a less classical sense, I also draw many of the textures and colours I work with from Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Patrick Watson, and John Fahey, all of which I was exposed to through my partner and my close musical friends.

During Spring 2015, I found out about a composition/instrumental summer program named New Music on the Point and I became very determined to get accepted. I was on a roll and feeling super confident, even with only two real pieces written. The application required three pieces so I started and finished Delineation in a little under a month. The stress and very quick turn around on this piece meant I got my final parts to my players the hour before the intended recording session and it really does show. The players were excellent, and for their first read through, the result is impressive. However, because of how hastily the piece was put together I'm afraid the quality and precision did suffer a lot. I successfully input the application, along with encouraging my friend, a composition major a year ahead of me, to apply. He got in and I got waitlisted. I was pretty bummed, but I decided to take it in stride and take a few lessons away from it. 1) Be respectful and thoughtful to your musicians. Get them their music early, make the notation clear, and the never expect it to sound exactly how it does in your head, 2) For applications for grants and programs, plan months ahead of time. Know what you need and make sure you have all the materials when the application goes live rather than when the deadline is about to arrive. 3) Do not rush pieces. If you are sloppy with your form and development, it will be very obvious. Melodic, motivic, colouristic, and textural content will not save a piece if it's poorly constructed. 4) Do not expect to get in to programs on the first try. Be surprised if you do, but try not to assume. And if you don't get in, apply again next year.

Summer 2015 was focused mostly on the development of a seven Solo Cello Miniatures for my great friend, Yubin. I constructed each of them to focus on a different thematic idea and to explore that idea in a variety of ways. I originally intended this project to be jointly created with a composer friend of mine, but he sadly dropped out a few weeks before the performance date. These cello miniatures were unveiled at the first ever public performance of my work at Bloombars, a local community non-profit art space. Though the performance was supposed to be a dual showcase of two new cello works, Yubin, very thankfully, was able to play Bach's 3rd Cello Suite for the first half of the performance.

The performance of these cello miniatures was a lovely experience. A community of family, old and new friends, and neighbours came out to see Yubin play in this small but warm space. I, again, felt a wonderful feeling of catharsis, especially compounded by my ability to actually reimburse my performer, which I consider of paramount importance.

All in all, I had a productive and fun, though admittedly short, summer, as I had to start a semester abroad at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Australia. I flew out July 15th, two weeks after the debut of the cello miniatures. The mixture of fear and absolute excitement at exploring a new country, music scene, and culture on my own was overwhelming. I arrived the 17th, and started the program on the 26th of July.

The composition program at the Conservatorium is indescribably great. The culture and community within the program itself is warm and welcoming, the teachers informative, intuitive, and extremely intelligent, the students talented, sweet, and full of exciting new voices, and the classes extremely inspiring and helpful towards my own compositional goals and musical development. The classes I took here were Women in Music, Music for Film & Animation, Orchestration, and Composition seminar. Shining above all the rest was Composition seminar where we had weekly guests, discussions, presentations, and composition master classes for undergraduate students. One of the most exciting occurrences was the performance and workshopping of sextets written this semester by third year composition students (myself included), with the Syzygy Ensemble. In one of my best experiences to date, they ran through my piece Our Chorus Divided, All Together Now! and discussed its strengths and weaknesses from the players' standpoints.

I learned more than I can recount from these seminars, from close examinations of contemporary orchestral and ensemble textures, to explanations of compositional processes and inspirations by a variety of composers and post-bacc students. I've loved every second in this program, and that's not even mentioning the community outside the immediate program. The community of instrumental students in the MCM has been unlike any other that I've experienced. The level of pure skill as well as musical interpretation is nothing less than impressive as well as the desire to help out composers and the creation of new music. While the program has a very classical focus, almost every student I've interacted with has a huge amount of excitement and respect for composers and been eager to participate in performances and recordings of student-written music. I was able to record a preliminary version of a string quartet I wrote for my upcoming senior recital as well as workshopped ideas for woodwind textures and colours with various students.

After a very exciting week long music theory workshop and lecture program in early December, I'll be returning to the U.S. for my final semester at AU, the completion of my undergraduate degree, and, most importantly, my senior recital which will be April 3rd at 4pm at Katzen Arts Centre. This program will be the culmination of about a year and a half of active composing and will be around an hour to an hour and a half worth of new music ranging from solo piano, to string quartet, to music for moving picture.

All in all, publishing on REHEARSAL will continue to chart my compositional and artistic development. The posts will mainly concern upcoming projects, creative processes, drafts & sketches of pieces, and musical/extra-musical inspirations.

I cannot thank enough Nancy Snider for her unending support as well as my family and partner for going with my out-of-the-blue musical pursuits and sticking with me while I explore this beautiful and fulfilling art.