Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dan Lippel 13 questions

Guitarist Daniel Lippel, called an "exciting soloist" (NY Times), "versatile and skillful guitarist" (Time Out New York) and a "modern guitar polymath" (Guitar Review), enjoys a diverse career that ranges through solo performances, chamber music, innovative commissioning and recording projects, and improvising contexts.

Highlights of his 2014-15 season include solo concerts for the Sinus Ton Electro-Acoustic Festival in Magdeburg, Germany and the University of Texas at San Antonio, with recent season highlights including recitals in San Francisco, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Reykjavik, Iceland, at venues ranging through guitar organizations, new music series, and alternative venues and clubs. Lippel has worked with many eminent composers on their solo and chamber repertoire, including Mario Davidovsky, Nils Vigeland, Ursula Mamlok and John Zorn, and played under the batons of John Adams and H.K. Gruber in performances of their music. Collaborating with composers of his generation is central to his work; recently, he premiered Dai Fujikura's Sparking Orbit, an electro-acoustic work written for him with the SWR Experimental Studio, at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Lippel has been the guitarist with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) since 2005 and Flexible Music since 2004. As a chamber musician, he has performed throughout Asia, Europe, South America, and the U.S. He has performed as a guest with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York New Music Ensemble, and Either/Or Ensemble, among others.

A deep interest in the art of sculpting interpretation led Lippel to co-found New Focus Recordings with composer Peter Gilbert in 2004, and he has been its director since. In addition to eight releases on New Focus, he has also recorded for Kairos, Bridge, Albany, Capstone, and Starkland. With eclectic indie group Mice Parade, he has toured widely on four continents, including performances on the Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) and Sydney Festival (Australia), as well as appearing on five of their recordings (Fat Cat).

As an educator, Lippel is particularly interested in the richness of the contemporary repertoire and the collaborative potential between composers and guitarists. His guest lecture and masterclass appearances include the Hanns Eisler Hochschule in Berlin, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, University of California at Davis, and Peabody Institute of Music. He was on faculty at Bowling Green State University in Ohio teaching classical guitar from 1999-2001. Lippel received the Doctor of Musical Arts Degree from the Manhattan School of Music, under the guidance of David Starobin, and his former teachers include Jason Vieaux, John Holmquist, David Leisner, Stephen Aron, and Nicholas Goluses.

Which was the first musical sound do you remember?

I can't remember exactly which was first, but I have early memories of hearing Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles on the stereo, but also Bach organ works and Brahms symphonic music...

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

1st records I purchased... Dire Straits: Brothers in Arms, Billy Joel: Greatest Hits, Asia:Alpha, and Guns'n Roses: Appetite for Destruction. My most recent recording purchase was by a Brooklyn based group called Empyrean Atlas, very cool interlocking rhythms and cycles

Flexible Music (Tim Ruedeman, sax; Haruka Fujii, percussion; Eric Huebner, piano; Dan Lippel, guitar)

What do you expect from music?

Nothing, intrinsically. I try to approach music without expectations. But obviously there are certain qualities I seem to find rewarding time and time again -- sense of shape, an expressive core, a sense of freedom in some form or another, even if that freedom is found in a dense, restrictive texture.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

Ideally, technique allows you to produce the sound you hear on your instrument. I think technique is a different thing when you are playing a notated score versus when you are improvising, though maybe not drastically different. Of course, the literal interface between your body and the instrument can be the same. But the more psychological aspects of technique are different, when playing a score, you are trying to cultivate physical fluidity so that the music can come through without resistance and then there is room for spontaneity in how the fixed score is realized -- that crucial extra five percent left to the individual performance that makes each time unique.

But the technique of improvising adds this element of tapping into your inventiveness and also mining yourself expressively, so I think it's much less likely when I'm improvising that I would actually find myself thinking of how to make a certain shift fluid or a right hand fingering clean -- if I'm emotionally free with what is coming out, the physical aspects seem to take care of themselves and I guess the literal nuts and bolts work needs to have happened earlier at some point. Occasionally, technique becomes its own tyranny of course, normalizing an otherwise unique musical impulse and so it comes out filtered through some fixed ideas of what clean playing is, or what have you. Which isn't always a bad thing...

What quality do you admire most in an musician?

Honesty - no matter how simple or complex a piece of music is, I think honesty and genuine communication projects more than any other quality.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

The challenge is definitely figuring out how to defray recording costs since sales are much lower. Eventually, I suspect we'll see many more live or barely produced recordings replacing a lot of studio releases since that cuts down on production costs. And more and more people have their own gear as well, as the price for good equipment comes down, which is a good thing. The benefit of course is the amazing wide reach to potential audiences and easy accessibility to hear almost anything at the touch of a button. And also the ease of collaborating with colleagues from far away, just by sending a sound file and having them add a track or whatever. I do miss the record store experience, there was a great store in my town growing up called Crazy Rhythms, and if it wasn't for the guys in there and their exhaustive jazz knowledge, I might not have discovered a lot of the music that was so important to me as a kid until much later...

How would you define silence?

 the origin and destination of music

What are your motivations for playing music?

 At some time or another I've probably had every possible motivation to play music, everything from escape to inspiration to vanity to boredom... I think there are separate personal reasons to play versus more principled reasons. On a personal level, music is just the vehicle through which I live my life, so I just have to play. But on a more communal level, I really feel like art is a contribution that some of us get to make that ideally enriches and enhances life and hopefully reminds us of our humanity, at it's best. Different vocations contribute something to society and hopefully push it forward while connecting us with something essential.

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

 I've always loved the sound of old air conditioners... When I was a kid I was fascinated by the range of overtones inside the sound of these machines. I haven't ended up making music that was primarily about noise, at least I don't see it that way, but somehow this sticks in my mind as formative...

Erin Lesser, Dan Lippel, Jeffrey Irving

What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater ...?

I think the narrative shape in literature and theater has been pretty influential on my idea of how musical performances shape a temporal experience. In a sense a musical performance and theatrical performance are really pretty much the same thing, just one uses a semantic language and the other uses an abstract language. And literature, even though it happens at the pace of the reader, still is an artform that shapes an experience over time... Time is the thing we can't escape as musicians, it's the one fixed variable while everything else -- timbre, pitch, rhythm, structure -- these things are materials and time is the canvas.

I.C.E., Dan Lippel (guitar), conducted by Matthew Ward

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?  

Literally, I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in northern New Jersey. Secret influences... I think I've gone through a few different fixations over the years, for a while I was somewhat into philosophy, and people like Buber, Heschel, and Kierkegaard made a big impression on me, especially on issues of spirituality. Then I got pretty into politics and was reading a decent amount of Chomsky and Naomi Klein and folks like that. All the while, I've always loved fiction, and I come back to a handful of authors over and over again -- Murakami, Kundera, Vonnegut, Ian McEwan.

Mario Davidovsky: "Festino" (1994) International Contemporary Ensemble, Daniel Lippel - guitar soloist. Image is by Willem DeKooning. Daniel Lippel explains the title this way: "The [word] 'festino' refers to a work like a serenade, with the character of an opera buffa perhaps. I've often felt that Davidovsky's Festino is a deep portrait of a clown, with the virtuoso trickster outside hiding the loneliness and longing underneath."

What instruments do you use?

Robert Ruck 1998 Spruce top classical, Richard Brune 1992 Model 20 Student Classical, Parker Nite Fly, Fender Strat, Custom made Chris Forshage semi hollow body electric, Godin Multiac Grand Concert Nylon String

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

Right now, working on a few recordings, one of solo and chamber music by NYC based composers Nils Vigeland and Reiko Fueting, another of my own version of Reich's Electric Counterpoint, and another of new music for classical guitar in alternate tunings. Performance wise, there's music for a few new programs on the stand -- one of new electric guitar and electronics pieces for a festival in Germany, Sinus Ton Festival in Magdeburg, and another with an ensemble I'm involved with quite a lot, ICE, of the music of guitarist/composer Larry Polansky that I'm very excited about. I'm also writing new music and developing a duo project that is primarily improvised music with a wonderful bassist based on Ohio, Aidan Plank.

Selected Discography 

Classical Recordings

Andrew Violette: Sonata for Guitar
premiere recording of Violette's solo Sonata for Guitar (2007)
New Focus Recordings, July 2014 

More info and purchase here 

works of Dai Fujikura, performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
including Sparks for solo classical guitar, Sparking Orbit for electric guitar and live electronics, ice for ensemble including guitar, and Abandoned Time for electric guitar and ensemble
Kairos Musikproduction, March 2014
More info and purchase here 

works of Scott Lindroth, Stephen Jaffe, and Miriam Gideon
including Lindroth's YTTE for flute, viola, and guitar with Laura Gilbert and Jonathan Bagg.
Albany Records, April 2014 
More info and purchase here

Works by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen
including Davis' On the Nature of Thingness, with ICE and Tony Arnold
forthcoming release on Starkland Records

Song Cycle: Franz Schubert Lieder Transcriptions
with Tony Arnold, Soprano
Schubert lieder in solo guitar transcriptions by J.K. Mertz and voice and guitar transcriptions (ed. Thomas Heck)
New Focus Recordings, November 2012
More info and purchase here

Terror and Memory
Works by Andrew Waggoner
Including Exorcist performed by Flexible Music
Albany Records, October 2011

More info and purchase here

The Bright and Hollow Sky
Works by Nathan Davis, performed by ICE
Including The Bright and Hollow Sky for prepared steel string guitar, trumpet, flute, percussion, and clarinet
New Focus Recordings, June 2011

More info and purchase here

Works by Van Stiefel
Including Shape of Hands for solo electric guitar and Smoke and Mirrors for electric guitar and violin, with violinist Nurit Pacht
New Focus Recordings, April 2011

More info and purchase here

The Calls of Gravity
Works by David Laganella
Including Sundarananda for guitar, flute, and cello, with flutist Erin Lesser and cellist Joanne Lin
New Focus Recordings, May 2010

More info and purchase here

Works of Ursula Mamlok Volume II
Including Five Intermezzi for solo guitar
Bridge Records, May 2010

More info and purchase here

FM - Flexible Music
Works by Louis Andriessen, Nico Muhly, Ryan Streber, John Link, Orianna Webb and Vineet Shendep performed by Flexible Music
New Focus Recordings, March 2009

More info and purchase here

Abandoned Time - International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
Chamber works featuring guitar by Dai Fujikura, Mario Davidovsky, Kaija Saariaho, Magnus Lindberg, and Du Yun performed by ICE
New Focus Recordings, September 2008

More info and purchase here

A Concert of Music by Allen Brings
Including Antithesis performed by Flexible Music
Capstone Records, August 2008

More info and purchase here

Chamber works featuring guitar by Vineet Shende, Orianna Webb, Adam Silverman, Joseph Pereira, Seung-Ah Oh, and Peter Gilbert performed with soprano Elizabeth Weigle, Flexible Music, flutist Erin Lesser, and percussionist Jeffrey Irving.
New Focus Recordings, July 2007

More info and purchase here

J.S. Bach: BWV 998, 1003, 1010
Transcriptions of solo works by Bach
New Focus Recordings, November 2005

More info and purchase here

Contemporary works for solo guitar and with electronics by Elliott Carter, Mario Davidovsky, Nils Vigeland, Peter Gilbert, Judah Adashi, and Soonjung Suh
New Focus Recordings, March 2004

More info and purchase here

Daniel Lippel: Guitar Recital
Works by Bach, Takemitsu, Torroba, Mertz
Released September 2001

email dan at for info

Non-Classical Recordings

Con Vivo Jersey City Debut
including duos with guitarist Martin Moretto: Dark Eyes (by D. Lippel) and Andromeda's Dance (by M. Moretto) 

forthcoming release

Candela: Mice Parade
guest on one track on studio album
Fat Cat Records, Released January 2013
More info and purchase here

Verdugo Hills Remixes: Caroline
including Snow (Dan Lippel remix)
Temporary Residence Limited, Released June 2012

More info and purchase here

England vs. France: Mice Parade
Mice Parade, live recording from 2010 tour
Fat Cat Records, Released April 2012

More info and purchase here

Shark in You: du Yun
New Focus Recordings, Released April 2011

More info and purchase here

What it Means to be Left Handed: Mice Parade
Fat Cat Records, Released May 2010 

More info and purchase here

Verdugo Hills: Caroline
Temporary Residence Limited, Released September 2010

More info and purchase here

Mice Parade: Mice Parade
Fat Cat Records, Released April 2007

More info and purchase here

Bem Vinda Vontade: Mice Parade
Fat Cat Records, Released April 2005

More info and purchase here