We asked David McLean, Richard Marriott and Roby Aguilar to talk about creating music for dance and the collaborative process.
How do you define yourself and your creative style?
David: I’d call myself a flamenco guitarist both appreciative of tradition and for some reason unwilling to be a traditionalist.
Richard: I would describe myself as virtuosic, able to create whatever music or sonic design is necessary to transmit the idea, mood or story effectively to the performers and the audience. Sometimes playing against expectations.
Roby: I have always been intrigued by music; it provides the soundtrack of my emotions. I am at times passionate, creative, lazy, frustrated, energetic, nostalgic, angry, jealous, tired, and hopeful. Take all this, put it together and you get me.
What kind of music/sound do you make/create?
David: Generally I play flamenco music with a “modern” tilt, most often rooted in traditional flamenco forms, but also influenced by the library of folk, jazz and classical music that has influenced my ears over the years.
Richard: All kinds: Acoustic, Electronic and Electro-acoustic. Vocal and Instrumental. Spoken, Chanted, Sung, Whispered. Wide ranges of texture, color and line; abstraction or narrative; comic, surreal or serious attitudes. I prefer live performers, and I especially enjoy writing for them theatrically. I generally like large canvases. I also truly love beautiful cathartic lyricism.
Roby: I play Flamenco guitar and I dance as well, it’s a rather odd combination, to my knowledge I have never met anyone who does it. The guitar, even thought it’s a very sensual instrument, has a masculine quality to it, the majority of players are men and in Flamenco there are virtually no female players. Dance on the other hand is very feminine.
What music or art inspires you?
David: I generally like art that is thoughtful, subtle and intentional. It can be playful certainly, but never too non-chalant (think smooth jazz), and most often lacking lazy abstractions that no one really truly cares to hear or see. That said, 8 years ago, my understanding of flamenco was very limited—so much so that it may have seemed an abstraction–and thus my appreciation for it wasn’t nearly what it is now. A few names come to mind: Gyan Riley, Charlie Hunter, Pepe Habichuela, Miguel Poveda, Steve Earle, Nirvana, Bonnie Raitt, Bach, Townes Van Zandt.
Richard: I love when a diverse/contradictory set of emotions, movements and structures move contrapuntally as one organic whole. I love a feeling of abandon.
Roby: Music is music, all it really matters is whether it moves you or not, Mozart’s 40th Symphony in G Minor is a good example, I have fond memories of my heavy metal roots and I obviously get tons of inspiration from Flamenco.
What was the most memorable advice you received about making music?
David: Keep Learning. Even Yo Yo Ma has a teacher.
Richard: You begin and end with tempo. Tempo is everything.
Roby: You only fail if you don’t try.
What makes a good collaboration?
David: A good collaboration comes with people who are willing to put time and effort into a mutual goal. Too often the goal is not mutual and too often there is a lack of willingness to work hard—granted, some people have day jobs and simply don’t have the time. Communication is important! Send e-mails, talk on the phone!
Richard: Total acceptance of each other’s ideas, but also the honesty to make comments and intelligently evaluate criticism. The ability to look at something from an unexplored angle. The best collaborations produce results that would not be obtainable by the artists separately (the Lennon McCartney effect). Eventually, a good understanding of what each partner needs.
Roby: Knowing our strengths and limitations, also having a clear understanding of everybody’s place in the collaboration so we don’t have to have any sort of emotional Kabuki as to who is doing what.
What’s your most memorable collaboration?
David: It was one I did with the Theatre of Yugen, an adaptation of Don Quixote. Rather than being directed, the group of actors split up into mini groups to brainstorm ideas and eventually the scenes formed out of a conglomeration of these brainstorms. It was a long process, but very rewarding I thought.
Richard: I have worked with Della Davidson since 1991 on seven different productions, many of which have been remounted. She is my idea of an ideal collaborator. She’s totally open to everything and still totally in charge. She has a very strong idea of what she likes. That’s important.
Roby: Beijing, China, 1999.
It was difficult to get people for this tour but I was able to put together an eclectic mix of artists, I wasn’t sure how it all was going to work out but in the end it was great fun and I will always remember that.
How should a dance artist approach you if they want to use your recorded music?
David: Call me, write me, go to my website.
Richard: Email me. If it were a well-funded project I’d expect a licensing fee. If it were not, I’d like at least a DVD. And always, proper crediting on the program.
Roby: Just ask.
What are your thoughts on dance artists using recorded music without obtaining the rights or permission?
David: I can only speak for myself—I would like to be asked, and I’ll most likely always give the go ahead, but I totally understand why Jackson Browne sued John McCain for using one of his songs on the Campaign trail.
Richard: It is unethical to use something without permission. If the fee for the recorded track is too high, try finding a local musician/sound artist who would appreciate getting their work heard.
Roby: Like I said, if you can’t even ask…
Do you have any current projects you’re working on?
David: Always. A rumba group, new songs, a couple of dance numbers.
Richard: Interactive string quartet with New York choreographer Yin Mei, Tibetan dancer Sangba and Montreal technologist Christopher Salter. Future productions with Della Davidson of the opera Divide Light and the dance/musical theater piece Ten PM Dream.
Roby: Just my regular playing and dancing gigs around the SF Bay Area, but I still harbor my long time dream of performing in Japan.
Any final nuggets of wisdom you’d like to share?
David: Go your own way, but don’t forget those who helped you along.
Roby: Don’t be so harsh on yourself; eventually you’re going to have to give yourself some credit for what you’ve done. If we spent as much energy complimenting ourselves (in all areas) as we do criticizing we would be much happier and creative.
This article appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of In Dance.