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Thinking Outside the Cube with Grace Ma

Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Wall Drawing #520

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Grace Ma and I just finished my masters degree in composition in December. This is my second time [participating in Sound in Sculpture].

Why did you want to be involved with Sound in Sculpture again?
The first time was such a great experience. The process of working on the piece, interacting with Tim, and connecting with my performers was just such a wonderful experience that there was little hesitation when I got the chance to be part of it a second time around. So here I am, very excited, and working with the saxophone quartet. They’re such an amazing group. I haven’t seen a group that can get on stage exude with such energy and artistry.

What piece of art is your Sound in Sculpture composition inspired by?
My piece is written in response to Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #520

I remember walking in to see all the Sol LeWitt pieces for the first time and [Wall Drawing #520]  occurred to me as an artwork that invites so many questions. There’s so much room for interpretation as a viewer, let alone someone trying to compose a piece in response to it.

How did you go about the composition process for this project? What were some of your first ideas and what of the artwork inspired them?
I started by asking myself a ton of questions: “Is this piece going to be very indeterminate?” “How much freedom do I give to the performers?” and “How am I supposed to express something that is so simple to the eye but then make it something that’s really meaningful and does justice to this piece of art?

So I started writing down a lot of adjectives and researched the Landmarks website and what the artwork is all about. I decided that [my piece] should reflect the colorful nature of the drawing and that I should try to reflect that in my instrumentation, creating depth through layers and building a sonic architecture with the temporal proportions of the piece. I wanted to try to create a sense of motion and at the same time the sense that a very static structure is floating in mid-air and defying gravity.

How has this composition process been different from previous ones?
I would say [that the writing process of this composition is different from others] because I was starting with an existing piece of artwork by someone whose concepts are very different than my own. Obviously we’re two different people and it was my first time getting to know this artist and his work. Having that artwork as a foundation and then building a work that speaks to me but also has connection to the original artwork is what made this very different.

How do you see the art of the composition as “talking to” or interacting with the original piece of artwork you were inspired by?
It was very important to me to try to stay true to Sol LeWitt’s work and respond to the way he layered primary colors on top of each other to create the image that we see. I’m trying to do the same by layering instruments on top of each other and being very mindful about the particular colors they all have. And, of course, these are cubes that float in mid-air. Basically, that’s what the work is about, and my piece is titled “The Floating Cubicle.” It’s a direct reference to that sort of concept, but the cubicle is more like a pun in this case. Because what a cubicle is, really is a structure that is normally very static.

But the floating cubicle gives a sense of escape of defying gravity, freedom, transcendence. And so with music being a temporal art—ephemeral in time and in the air almost—I think a sense of motion is very important, which is what a piece of static art doesn't necessarily posses but it’s very much in the foreground of the musical art.

I’m trying to convey a sense of flying, taking off, coming down, and suspension in the music. It’s sorta like you’re in a airplane and this is when you take off and then it starts hovering mid-air then it goes up again and gains some altitude. That’s how I feel about the music.

How did you choose the piece of artwork you worked with?
[TPA Student Coordinator] Tim Rogers, the person responsible for this entire project, let us choose our piece of artwork. And honestly it was a difficult choice between the three pieces of art on display in the Gates building. All three were so unique and special and had so much potential. I was torn between the Circle Tower and the wall drawing for a long time. I think I ended up going with the the wall drawing a little bit out of spite because the Circle Tower seemed pretty obvious with what you can or should do with it. I wanted to give myself a challenge and do something that on the surface didn't  give me a whole world to work with. I had to limit myself to the essentials and really dive deep into what makes this piece of art special.

Sound in Sculpture is part of the 2018 Fusebox Festival.

Sound in Sculpture - Premiere
The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex & Dell Computer Science Hall
Fri, Apr 20, 6:30 pm

Sound in Sculpture - Encore
Butler School of Music Recital Studio, MRH 2.608
Sat, Apr 21, 6:30 pm