In Conversation: Anne Lanzilotti

In Conversation: Anne Lanzilotti

Dots+Loops Artistic Director Kieran Welch chats with acclaimed violist Anne Lanzilotti.

In Conversation: Anne Lanzilotti

Dots+Loops Artistic Director Kieran Welch chats with acclaimed violist Anne Lanzilotti.

Kieran Welch: Hi Anne! I’m so excited to have you joining us at Dots+Loops on Friday. Is this your first trip to Australia?

Anne Lanzilotti: It will be my first trip, and I'm so excited to be here! 

KW: Can we kick things off by talking a bit about The Yes &? How did the band begin?

AL: The band is just Gahlord Dewald and myself - he’s on modular synth and I'm on viola, which is an interesting combination of instruments. It started originally because of a common interest in combining the two sound worlds in order to do creative workshops and the idea of working with students and professionals about how creativity is related to problem-solving. We ended up doing a lot more performing than expected though, and have had a lot of fun playing around with sounds and ideas. My specialisation is matching electronics and acoustics; sourcing sounds and manipulating them. That’s one of the special things about The Yes & sound - sometimes I'm working from the viola to create an electronic sound and Gahlord is using his modular synthesizer to create an acoustic sound. 

KW: My whole life has been trying to combine the electronic music I love listening to with the classical viola tradition I’ve been brought up on, and as both a listener and a performer, the combination is fascinating! Trying to explore electronic timbres and extended techniques on an acoustic instrument is an exciting concept, I think. 

AL: A lot of what we think of as electronic sounds on an acoustic instrument comes down to how the timbre is being messed with. We're lucky as string players to have such a wide range of timbres that you don’t get on other instruments. There are subtle things you can do that sound beautiful on say, a clarinet, but you can really play around with your overtones on a string instrument. 

KW: You mentioned that your specialisation was based in sound exploration; how would you describe yourself as a musician more broadly? 

AL: I teach at a university and am in a position of being a classical violist, but with the viola in general, you are able to do so much more because you can fit into a broad array of different genres. Before being a freelancer in New York, for me that meant recording on pop albums, playing in bands and doing everything from playing really traditional classical music to doing back up strings with contemporary artists. I’m still an orchestral violist, but that’s just purely because of my type of training, which has actually allowed me to do so much more than it might initially suggest. 

KW: As a curator and performer, I'm interested in exploring the idea of being "post-genre" and it's exciting to hear that you think in a similar way. The terminology around this sound world can be rather problematic though; "contemporary classical" as a genre meaning so many things to so many people. There is such a broad range of answers and ideas, but what does "contemporary classical" mean for you? 

AL: For me, it’s anything that is being written now; contemporary music is 21st-century music! I would define it as a reference to time rather than a genre, really, because I think in the traditional classical world, considering it as a genre can become confusing to a pre-existing audience who are interested in Western Art Music specifically. When audiences turn up to a concert hall, they’re still expecting something that fits within their understanding of classical music; if you’ve got an overture by Strauss that is familiar, followed by an atonal piece that isn't, your audience may be confused because it doesn't match with their expectations. I'm interested in finding different ways of presenting contemporary classical music, so audiences can hear it with open ears in a comfortable context.

KW: Context is so important, as is space, I think. If you use a non-traditional space, you're offering your audience a clean slate, because they don’t come expecting anything specific. When you’re in a concert hall, you’re experiencing the music within a pre-existing context, with historic significance.

AL: Allowing your audience to feel comfortable in their own bodies within a space is so important. If you haven’t been to a concert hall before, it's easy to feel out of place because there are funny rules about when you clap, and the chairs feel strange, and you shouldn't cough during the middle of a work and so on. It’s great to get out of those confines because you become a better listener instinctively when you're not worried about little things like that. Also, a lot of older traditional music was written in a sonata-allegro form; it’s about themes and reaffirming that you’ll get back to the place you were as a listener, whereas in contemporary music, that strictly set-out form has been replaced with a more rotational form, moving through sounds and processes more fluidly. As a listener, being able to take an approach to contemporary works that allows for a journey is very affirming. Conversely, I think that’s hard as an audience member if you’re not ready for it. As a community of contemporary music makers, it's a puzzle that we have to solve. 

KW: Musical problem-solving is an important point on a number of levels; on a small-scale, I often talk to my students about what they feel when they are struggling with a piece of repertoire and encourage them to think about it as a crossword rather than a simple "correct" or "incorrect" equation. 

AL: That was a big part of our thinking when we started The Yes &. I’ve learned so much from working in this way and focussing on improvisation, particularly as a classically trained musician. In other kinds of music, something that might be considered a mistake is, in this context, just a different way of making live decisions. That’s the problem-solving aspect - there’s not one right way of doing something. We have a lot of skills and have developed our crafts to a certain point so that in real time we can develop and progress a piece organically. 

KW: I was always so scared of making mistakes in my undergraduate degree and every time I did make one it felt totally crippling. Moving into a more post-genre way of thinking, I’m scared so much less. It is freeing to change the focus from being a perfect performer, to being an actual musician who can react and experiment on stage. 

AL: When it becomes about craft and not about executing things perfectly, that feels great. The differences and "mistakes" are usually the bits that create really special moments. 

The Yes & perform at Dots+Loops Synthesis on Friday March 16.