Their new album "minis/Trajectories" was just released 2 days ago on September 20 by Gold Bolus Recordings and can be purchased here.
Can you explain in a few words exactly what thingNY is and what you do?
Paul Pinto : thingNY is a New York-based collective of composer-performers (Gelsey Bell, Andrew Livingston, Paul Pinto, Erin Rogers, Dave Ruder and Jeffrey Young) who collaborate frequently on projects of a non-pop variety. This often includes composing music collaboratively, but also includes performing each other’s work, works of contemporary classical composers, theatrical and sonic improvisation, and performing avant-garde, experimental and classical works from the last 50 years (or so). Over the last year we’ve performed over 40 shows across North America in festivals, on tour and in our self-presented concerts.
Gelsey Bell: thingNY is also kinda like a family and we enjoy making each other laugh.
What is the history of thingNY? What initially brought the six of you together?
PP: We coalesced over many years. Initially, I put up a craigslist ad asking if anybody wanted to be friends and make a new music band together to play (mostly) our own chamber compositions. Andrew and I played a few shows before Erin, Jeff, Gelsey and Dave joined in the following years. The group turned radical: choosing improv, sound art and theatrical pieces over straightforward chamber music.
GB: There is also a way in which we were moths to Paul’s flame. The group has also had other members in the past, but in the last few years the six of us became more serious about the group and its membership has been a little less fluid.
How important is the element of theatricality in your performances? Do you ever do concerts with less of a theatrical component that might be more similar to concert hall performances?
PP: I like to think we all start from sound, and then add in the elements needed to make that sound mean something. Most times that means live bodies on stage making those sounds, and most of those times, we also explore extra-sonic elements: including visual elements like staging and intention. Some of those times, this leads to things like costumes, characters and scenery.
GB: The work of the group is often the kaleidoscope influence of our six distinct voices as artists, so I would actually disagree with Paul a little here (now you’re starting to see a little of our polyvocality at work) in terms of my own compositional methodology. I was trained as a theatre director and have spent a lot of time with one foot in disciplines outside music (primarily theatre and dance), and so a lot of my own composition - and thus also work I do with the group - is strongly influenced by theatrical mode of thought and practice. So sometimes my work starts with a body position or a physical gesture or a object that has some sort of theatrical or poetic resonance, and then finds sound from that. Or I think about relationships between people, or even the social hierarchies set up in musical performance, and find musical material from that. Sometimes I see a staging before I have a sense of how big or small or reverberant a sound should be. Throughout my history with the group, I have often used this aspect of my creative process and I think it has encouraged us all to a more theatrical place. I’m not actually sure if other folks in the band realize how often I think this way or how much it influences my ideas for our composition, interpretations, or even just what we do when we’re finally in a performance space. I also think that we are all theatrical performers in our own ways, whether we are conscious of it or not. Because I’m a songwriter, I often work with text. Because I come from a place of text, story, and thus a kind of theatre, can easily emerge without even looking for it.
You are a collective of six incredibly talented composers and performers with a wide variety of skills you all bring to the table. Are all or most thingNY projects handled in-house as far as composition, preparation and performance goes, or do you ever find outside performers and composers to collaborate with? Do you often perform other important avant-garde works by composers of the 20th and 21st centuries?
PP: We definitely have a knack for performing our own work and that’s our focus. Sometimes we equally spearhead a project. Sometimes two of us do it. Sometimes it’s one person’s baby. We each have different relationships with and commitments to improvisation, collaboration, commissioning, etc. Many projects, like our operas ADDDDDDDDD and ...Patriots... are conceived start to finish by the group, including staging and all visual elements. Others, like This Takes Place Close By (our newest work, premiered at the Knockdown Center in Sept. 2015) was developed with the help of an outside artistic design team including Daniel Neumann, Brad Peterson, Sarah Abigail Hoke-Brady, and Jesse Greenberg, all captained by director Ashley Tata. We’ve also collaborated with high school composer-performers Face the Music, with Phoenix-based Orange Theatre and with performance art troupe Panoply Performance Laboratory. Occasionally we just do some pieces that just speak to us, including Kenneth Gaburo’s Maledetto and Vinko Globokar’s Un Jour Comme Un Autre. We’re working on new works by Rick Burkhardt right now for performances at JACK in Brooklyn on July 17, 2016.
I had the fortune of seeing an excerpt of “Thomas Paine In Violence” summer of 2015 and it was really incredible. I’ve also seen video excerpts of “This Takes Place Close By” and “Patriots,” all of which show an awareness of current social and political issues. Do you feel it is important to focus on these kinds of issues in your theatrical works?
PP: Thanks. The excerpt thingNY did of Thomas Paine in Violence is called “Hack It!”. And though not a piece commissioned by thingNY, we (and other groups) have performed this scene as a piece of repertoire. We’re all involved in non-musical social awareness (through activism, political campaign support, scholarship) so it follows that our work (because it is written and developed and produced by the six of us) will have that awareness. Sometimes works are just about the sound, but because we deal so often with text, it’s hard not to attempt to write something worth saying. This Takes Place Close By examines the guilt of privilege during natural disasters. Patriots lampoons the dialogue (or rather overlapping stump-speeches) in the political debate over immigration. Our upcoming album minis/Trajectories is full of text works that speak about our ideas on consumerism, money, diet, etc. told in thingNY’s distinct style.
Are your theatrical projects and operas typically composed as a collective or are they typically written by a subset of thingNY?
GB: If we look at some of our biggest projects, ADDDDDDDDD, Patriots, This Takes Place Close By, there were written by the people who perform them. Those pieces were all written collectively by the people in them but that can take a lot of forms. Some folks are more prolific than others. Some parts are clearly within the compositional voice of one member, while others have been massaged by all of us in such a way that we can’t remember which idea came from who. Once upon a time we did large SPAM projects and those were always arranged by all of us. We divided up who did what and that polyvocality of our interpretations really gave the shows an epic range.
Dave Ruder: There’s a complicated series of chickens & eggs here, too. We all have our individual work, most of which would not be out of place for thingNY (as we’re all performers of our own work and it’s idiosyncratic work). And then there’s the group voice, which is a real thing at this point, which comes from a series of decisions made by various members of the group over the years. I think individually we can all always shed light on the expansive/nebulous nature of group voice. I also think it’d be tough to take work written by one or more group members for thingNY and do it with others. I suppose this is the reward of sticking together with people over a series of years. We’re not the only ones this is true for, but it’s always nice when you get there collectively.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects in the works?
PP: Our new album, minis/Trajectories is a sort of double album with text works by myself and Erin Rogers. We’ll release it in September on Gold Bolus Recordings, a local genre-bending label.
GB: I’m also in the process of writing an opera for the group called Rolodex. It contains a lot of structured improv and relies on players that can make quick decisions about arrangment on their feet. We’re performing some new excerpts in July, but it is a rather massive project so I don’t imagine I will be finished with it until 2017.
Below are some selections of thingNY performances, including Patrios, "Call Center" from This Takes Place Near By (Erin Rogers, with Dennis Sullivan on percussion), and Story Binge from Gelsey Bell's "Rolodex"
Patriots by thingNY
"Call Center" from This Takes Place Close By, performed by Popebama (Erin Rogers and Denis Sullivan)
Story Binge, excerpt from "Rolodex" by Gelsey Bell