artist's statement

why does he keep making those noises?

My professional life involves many roles: composer, improviser, orchestral freelancer, chamber musician, teaching artist, mercenary hired gun. Whether I’m performing a contemporary score I love or stuck in the pit of a Broadway musical, I always find fodder for a musicological mindset that drives me at least as much as concerns of craft. I’m endlessly fascinated by the social aspects of music: who makes what kinds, for whom, in what context – how we perceive it, consume it, use it to define ourselves. My creative work is spurred by these questions, and takes root in gray areas where roles, practices, and genres are most messily entangled.

My most significant touchstones are contemporary concert music, avant-jazz, and noisy post-punk rock. But I’m wary of genre, and far less wedded to style than to the productive limitations of my materials (principally oboe, English horn, and cobbled-together electronics) and to process (which foregrounds collaboration, improvisation, and a healthy dose of bricolage). I tend to think of the skills inherent to the act of playing music – attention, intention, flexibility, mindfulness – as the real compositional materials that melody, harmony, rhythm and the like are employed to realize, rather than the other way around.

I believe in the paradigm of composer/performer: my notated works are specifically designed for playing with friends, premised on maximizing creative engagement and spontaneous interaction. They’re full of koan-like puzzles and procedural games; the notation is idiosyncratic and incomplete; the tasks required are often intentionally impossible to perfect. Building a degree of inevitable failure into the system ensures that the liberating energy of the ‘mistake’ is not only acceptable, but entirely the point.

My improvisational language and electro-acoustic work often emphasize the sensuous potential of microscopic attention to fragile, precarious, timbrally complex sound. Regardless of the setting, I’m concerned that listeners can readily get ‘what’s going on,’ leaving them free to revel in finely nuanced and unpredictable results. Above all, I’m after music that prioritizes the real-time experiences of listening and creating for both performers and audiences.


how did it come to this?

I’ve been enmeshed in the DIY world of hardcore and indie-rock since my teens, even while pursuing a thorough conservatory pedigree as an orchestral oboist.  Relatively late in my schooling, I fell under the spell of avant-garde jazz and improvised music (particularly the legacy of the AACM, a grassroots organization founded in mid-1960s Chicago by African-American musicians seeking artistic freedom and collective self-determination). That discovery at last pointed me towards the pathway for reconciling my aesthetics (a love of rough edges and audacity) with training that had primarily prepared me to rehash the genius of long-dead white men for the mollification of the very rich.

In the years since, I’ve managed to stay deeply engaged in all three of these musical worlds, but I find the most joy in the uncertain spaces between them. The conservatory imprinted me with the mandate of an interpreter: always ready to fully, appropriately apply the mastery of my instrument to the task at hand. I keep myself entertained by following this mandate to illogical extremes, inserting the oboe into settings where it likely has no business (free jazz, metal bands, “tape music” composition) and striving to hyper-extend its technical and expressive possibilities. The breadth of experience has made me particularly attuned to the bizarre subcultural, economic and racial subtexts separating artistic traditions; but more importantly, it’s sharpened my commitment to work that scrutinizes those very divisions, and seeks the deep structures unifying all music I find most resonant.

Contact Kyle Bruckmann