Part 1

Name: Davor Vincze
Nationality: Croatian-American
Occupation: composer
Current release: To Fight or Surrender on Infrequent Seams
Recommendations: The Spomenik monuments, huge abstract statues created all over Yugoslavia in the decades following the Second World War. They are positively futuristic for the time in which they were created and are each set in a variety of dramatic backdrops that adds to their emotional charge. / Snow by Orhan Pamuk. I liked the simplicity with which the author is able to portray the people, the atmosphere they are in, their thoughts and worries. The subtlety of the writing is not only deeply touching, but also enabled me to put myself in the mind-set of these characters (who come from a neighbouring but completely different culture) and to understand their outlook on life, even though it diverges in many ways from my way of thinking.

If you enjoyed this interview with Davor Vincze, and want to learn more visit his website

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started composing when I was 10 years old. Back then, it was a lot of short piano pieces that I often couldn't even play because my creative ideas exceeded my beginner level on the piano (I started learning piano when I was 8). Early influences were of course classical piano literature, but I was also a great lover of Disney cartoon soundtracks. My father worked for the subsidiary of Apple Inc. in the former Yugoslavia when I was a kid, so he used to bring me cassettes (and later CDs) of Disney soundtracks from California, which you couldn't usually buy in my country at the time. If I remember correctly, Alan Menken was one of the "hot" Disney composers back then. I loved the variety you could create with an orchestral sound from subtle to brutal. I was a big dreamer as a kid, and the orchestral sound allowed me to let my imagination run wild for hours and get lost in my thoughts.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

Definitely, but I would add that a person's character makes them more likely to choose a certain type of music over another. My 4-year-old niece has made me realize how early you can identify the most important character traits that will stay with you for the rest of your life; for example, I can play my niece all kinds of crazy, experimental music - as long as it's fast and loud - she'll be happy and jump on my bed like crazy to that kind of music. If she doesn't like it, she will immediately lie down and pretend to be asleep.

Similarly, I've always loved music with sharp contrasts, sudden changes from soft to loud, fast to slow, or unexpected chord progressions. I felt that this best described the unpredictability of life, how you can be happy and suddenly something makes you sad or the other way around. For this reason, Mahler remains one of my favorite composers to this day.

As I mentioned in my previous answer, I began by imitating piano literature that I knew. Then I started writing something in the style of a musical (a mix between popular music I listened to as a teenager and my Disney soundtrack influences). As a result, I decided to become a film composer and enrolled in Austria for a bachelor's degree in composition. However, I abandoned this idea very quickly, as I realized that a film composer is often in the service of the film and loses some of his/her agency. Since Austria is particularly strong in contemporary music, it was a hard nut to first catch up with all the experimental music between 1960 and 2010, which I didn't know at all, and then dare to write in that style. Even here, for the first 5-6 years it was almost like I was in a different sub-genre every year, starting with the 2nd Viennese School and serialism, then moving to minimalism, then discovering spectralism, which led me to algorithmic composition, then experimenting with extended techniques, and so on.

I would say that it wasn't until my early 30s, when I had enough experience and a small body of work behind me, that I started looking back, eliminating parts that were too cliché or directly related to some of my influences, and began searching for the unconscious elements (like the brittle/fragmented nature of my music) that would eventually form my unique voice.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

I think the advancement of information technologies gave many people who had an aspect of their identity that didn't fit into their immediate environment a sense of comfort, support, and an outlet to tell their story.

As a Millennial, I was young enough to internalize all of these innovations, but I didn't grow up with them, and being the effeminate gay kid that I was, I thought I was a one-in-a-million weirdo. Growing up in war-torn Croatia in the 90s didn't really allow me to develop as carefree as I might have wanted, but forced me to conform by fitting in and "sucking up" to unspoken societal norms. Moreover, when I went abroad to study, I adopted the Western view of my country as an insignificant, provincial country of poor people. So, for many years I felt alone and ashamed of both who I was and where I came from. In this sense, I have great reverence for the courage of the younger generation, especially non-binary people. If I had been born 10 years later, I would probably identify as non-binary today.

So to get back to your question: For me, music has always been an outlet to "escape" my identity, not to assert it. That's probably why, in my attempt to creatively embrace non-affiliated identities over the years, I've developed a particular interest in cognitive dissonance, ambiguity, the in-between, the meta....

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

First and foremost, it was my lack of craft. As I mentioned in part, very early on my musical ideas were much more sophisticated than what I could play, and I often didn't know how to write it down.
Later it was the lack of contacts and opportunities to perform my music, and to some extent the lack of resources to make things happen. Today, it's mainly the lack of time that slows me down in realizing all the millions of project ideas, so I really have to focus and prioritise those that are indispensable.

Time is a variable only seldomly discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?

I have an unerring sense of timing; that's not meant to be a boast, it's just one of those sensibilities you're born with; you can wake me up in the middle of the night and I could tell you how long I've been asleep with a marginal error of a few minutes, and I can be even more accurate when I'm fully awake and actively thinking about time. This is of course a great intuitive skill for a composer to have, as I believe that all musical material has an ‘expiry date’, so it helps you create shapes and proportions in time that keep the audience engaged throughout the piece. The only thing I really had to grasp was that time in my head, space on a sheet of music and the perceived passage of time when listening to music are three different categories. So it took me at least ten years of music-making to reach the point where I had internalised these different temporal relationships so that when I hear the music in my head, I can envision what needs to be on the paper for it to be interpreted and then perceived as close as possible to my original idea.

How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?

As I am currently working on musical mosaics, I am constantly playing with zooming in and out of the object (the object being a musical material), fluctuating between the extremes of complete unrecognizability (e.g. sample) and full recognizability (e.g. quotation). So when I compose, it's often about finding the "inflection point" where the object transitions from a delineated gesture into something more amorphous like texture. Once I have decided upon this, I start to play with information density, since the thickness of the musical material simultaneously present is most responsible for whether our ear can tell the components apart or not (hence perceiving the sum of events as a single texture). I also like to play with fractal forms, so that a purely sonic idea on a micro level (e.g. a musical phrase) turns into a structural idea that defines the macro form. In general, I think a lot about timbre, and zooming in and out also relates to the way I structure timbre, as I often look for multiple examples of a similar yet distinct constellation of sounds and then, once defined, find different (subtle or abrupt) ways to move from one colour to the next.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?

In general, I love people I can learn from. More specifically, in a collaborative context, I like it when, for example, I have an inclination towards a certain other artistic field and can learn and improve my compositional language through you as a collaborator. I especially like it when my colleague encourages me to do things I would not normally dare to do; such experiences are always immensely enriching.

For me, collaborations usually don't work in two contexts: when we are too close (i.e. the division of roles is not clear) or when we are too detached from each other, especially when the collaborator has too rigid ideas that are not receptive to suggestions, because that kills the engaging potential. Some of the best collaborations are the audio-visual installation 'Strune' that I did with media artist Hrvoje Hiršl and the theatre piece 'All right. Good night', where I orchestrated the music of electropop artist Barbara Morgenstern. In both cases you recognise the essence of simplicity and clear message, especially when dealing with multiple layers of content (as is the case when you have several art disciplines concurrently on stage).

In my work as a solo composer, I am constantly looking for new ways to express music, which can sometimes lead me to extremely complex solutions to meet this desire for innovation. At times this works, but only if the audience can concentrate exclusively on the music and perceive all the nuances. However, as soon as you get involved in a collaborative project, you have to give up a certain amount of sophistication. Not only are you no longer the sole or the main figure of the show, but you will also find that the subtlety of a successful collaboration lies much more in how well the different elements are put together than in whether they are individually perfect.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

One of the reasons I chose this profession is that I couldn't imagine working in an office from 9am to 5pm. In this respect, I really love that every day brings new challenges. Still, most days are formally the same, even if they are very different in content, unless I am in the final stages of producing a piece. I wake up early in the morning and try to get most of my creative juices flowing while my brain is still fresh, leaving the afternoon for a lot of desk work (like emails or an interview like this, etc.), and I like to take at least 30-60 minutes a day to go for a walk, as walking up helps me think about new ideas.
My musical inspiration is often based on non-musical ideas (see works like Inflection Point, E, Beasts, ...), so staying curious and up to date (not on every detail, but in general) on what is happening in my surroundings is not only beneficial but also necessary to a certain extent for my creative process.

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