Interview with Daniel Goode of The Flexible Orchestra

by danielgoode

This article first appeared in Roulette written by plwn on October 20th, 2011. Click here

Daniel Goode, composer-clarinetist, is founder of the Flexible Orchestra – a new concept in orchestral sound, co-director of the DownTown Ensemble, member of Gamelan Son Lion. On November 9th, Goode brings his Flexible Orchestra to Roulette.
ROULETTE: Tell us as about the work you’ll be doing at Roulette.
DANIEL GOODE: The Flexible Orchestra is my baby. “Invented” in 2003-04. My project is to reform the modern symphony orchestra. Its inflexibility of instrumentation first of all. Yeah, you can add the occasional electric guitar or schmoosaphone, or something, but basically you’re stuck with the old tried and true format. So I made up a paradigm format that expresses the meaning and intent of the orchestra in my opinion (I theorized a bunch in the Letter From Vienna): one large section of one family that gives the “massed” or “chorale” effect (like the strings in the trad. orch.) but DOESN’T always have to be strings. LIke ten trombones, or twelve cellos, or eleven flutes, or now seven (this year five) accordions. THEN, you need smaller numbers of other contrasting and supporting instruments: like 2 clarinets plus 2 double basses, plus piano (to go with the 10 trombones). Given my budget and my rehearsal loft size, I picked 15 instruments as the approximate total (give or take a few) and made those distributions and choices. All this is documented with programs scores, mp3s and pix at the Flexible Orchestra website
Go there and have a ball! I found a really talented young conductor, Tara Simoncic, who has made each concert an artistic success. All work (including arrangements which we happily do) must be commissioned since each combo is unique.

BUT, here’s a fabulous serendipity: we have a large section of trombones or flutes or cellos or accordions as a core to the group, so we can revive pieces written for multiples of these instruments that don’t get many “second” performances because of the difficulty of assembling such. So a ’60′s piece for multiple trombones by Fred Rzewski (“The Last Judgement” – a spin-off of the trombone solo near end of M’s Don Giovanni), Lois V Vierk’s “Simoom” for 8 amplified cellos, Bill Hellermann’s 1976 “to brush up on” for 6 cellos, Guy Klucevsek’s “Spinning Jennie” for 7 accordions, Henry Brant’s classic 1932 “Angels and Devils” for 11 flutes. So we plug these in to a program  of all new pieces by famous or not famous wonderful composers. (See programs on web site). Then, I’m so proud of this: because it’s an idea not a specific group of people the orchestra can spring up anywhere where these combos can be assembled. So next July 14 in Wroclaw, Poland (that’s “Vrotzswaff”) we are funded to do a concert using the first format, 12 cellos-flute-clarinet-trombone, with local Polish composers and some of our American repertory.

R: Are there working artists today with whose work you identify, or rather, who do you consider to be your peers?
DG: Well, the composers I like are, as you might expect, the ones we program on the Flexible Orchestra: Barbara Benary, Kamala Sankaram, Bill Hellermann, Guy Klucevsek, Jordan Nobles (Vancouver), Christian Wolff, Philip Corner, Skip LaPlante, Jim Fox, and on and on (see programs).

R: What are some defining characteristics of the musical scene you would fit yourself into? What elements of your scene differentiate it from what has come before, or what is happening now?
DG: I’ve been on the scene in NY since 1971 (not counting grad school at Columbia in the ’60s. I’ve always been in the avant-garde or whatever the new music scene is or was from the world of Cage, minimalism, world music (or new music for gamelan ensemble—Gamelan Son of Lion). Did lots of solo clarinet (extended and circular breathing techs) at XI and Roulette—of West B’way days. Started with Bill Hellermann the DownTown Ensemble in 1983 because there were NO repertory groups of the very new (only Composer X’s Ensemble–you know who I mean) type of thing existed based on the one-man show art exhibits. So we dissented from this as non-communitarian art. Our friends and us had no ensemble taking care of our needs. New groups, high-technique conservatory trained groups not composer-performer groups which we were, added to the scene in the late ’90s. I think they are more conservative than we are at the DownTown Ensemble. Our ties go back to the original revolutionary composers of the late ’50s through the ’60′s etc. I recently deplored the world of the Stone which lets the composer shoulder the financial burden of the concert—which is where we all began. I titled my two little articles “We’ve Been Demoted” (see attachment).

R: What was the last music you listened to?
DG: Just finished listening to a CD from Australia called “Ecopella.” Fun madrigal and folk-song style chorus on original pro-environment lyrics and music. Why not! But New York Kool it’s not! Last night I went to the new Freddy’s Back Room to hear my friend and sometime collaborator, Bonnie Barnett, improvising experimental vocalist playing with bassist extroadinaire, Ken Filiano. Great. She also did a set at ABCnoRio with guitarist extraordinaire, Anders Nilsson.

R: Is there an event or experience that led you to start in experimental media?
DG: In the late ’60′s I discovered myself on experimental clarinet. And started really enjoying playing other’s new music scores in ensembles.

R: Who do you see as instrumental in your development as an artist?
DG: No one person to point to in going into new music. The scene in Southern CA at UCSD was hot with composers, performers, ideas flowing all over the place. Then continuing in Soho in the ’70′s.

R: What is interesting to you about your own work?
DG: I’m really pushing all my inner resources now. Continuing instrumental orchestra music with my Flexible Orchestra pieces since 2004. Now adding opera and political cantata type of music. I’m working on my “One-Word Opera.” And my first opera, “French Arithmetic.” Working on a second one-act: “Puppet Dance, and Opera-Ballet.”

R: Do you do other things aside from music?
DG: I’m writing more about music now, and in a personal voice. Published by Frog Peak Music, and in occasional issues of the blog, “Deliberately Considered.” I’ve got my own blog now,