AMN Interviews

AMN Interviews: David Dominique

a0958770452_2David Dominique released his album Ritual this week. It is strong offering of aggressive modern compositions, and have been getting “airplay” here at AMN Central. We asked David a few questions about Ritual and his upcoming plans.

Tell us about the history behind the compositions on Ritual.

In early 2010, after writing a large amount of a music for a chamber concert, I felt burnt out on the solitary process of that type of composition. I also wasn’t satisfied with the style of that music and the fact that I wrote it purely for others to perform.

By that point I’d been playing with a band called Killsonic for about 3 years. When I met the members of Killsonic and first saw them perform, they were usually playing a high octane type of “out jazz” as a relatively small configuration of 5 or 6 players. In 2006 or 2007 though, someone had the idea that Killsonic should become a sprawling, psychotic, mobile guerilla noise-jazz orchestra, and the size of the group exploded to anywhere from 20-30 players. That’s when I joined. On any given night we might perform with 7 drummers, 12 horns and 8 accordions. We started out by just “marching” down strategically chosen streets in LA and Hollywood to cause a ruckus and shock innocent bystanders, commuters, attendees of art events, things like that. Later on we would book actual gigs and go on short tours.

Anyway, I’d always been particularly enamored of the original Killsonic small group rhythm section – Michael Ibarra on upright bass and princessFrank on drums, and I wanted to write a set of music to perform with those guys, with myself on valve trombone and two of the other Killsonic horn players, Brian Walsh (reeds) and Sam Robles (saxes). So I wrote about 5 or 6 tunes which we performed in May of 2010 and again in July of 2010, with the the addition of Jose Varela (trumpet) and Bryan Diaz (tenor). Older versions of Big Boned’d Jim and the Mulatto Shuffle were part of those sets.

Killsonic also staged an experimental opera in July of 2010 called Tongues Bloody Tongues in REDCAT, a theater within Disney Hall. Variations of Ritual 1/BDB became the theme fanfare for Saddam Hussein, who was one of the main characters in the opera. Toward the end of the opera we performed BDB with about 30 players. An older version of Ritual 2/Dirge also originated as part of that performance.

Rituals 3 and 4 are actually reworkings of sections of a chamber piece called “Cat and Mouse” that I wrote in 2009.

The remaining compositions were written in 2011 and 2012, and I was lucky enough to get to workshop them extensively with the student jazz ensemble at Brandeis University. Mooey in Paradise was part of that set and was inspired by a gig I played in LA with a short-lived Ethiopian cover band called Mela Mela.

You’ve listed Mingus, Ellington, Steve Reich, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton and György Ligeti as influences. Is anyone else a particularly strong influence?

The Mingus influence is huge. There was a time when I used to listen to the album “Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus” almost every night. When I needed a break from composing, usually at 2 or 3 a.m., I’d take a long walk in the San Fernando Valley and listen to that album on repeat. Eric Dolphy looms large on those tunes and has always been one of my big inspirations. The recording on that album of Fables of Faubus and the Mingus/Dolphy improvised duos in the middle of What Love? on that album and on the album Mingus at Antibes are some of my favorite recorded moments of any music. I’ve been listening to that Antibes record since I was about 15 though, and I think Dannie Richmond’s idiosyncratic sense of rhythmic interaction has also been one of my big influences.

I’ve also been inspired by noisy rock and indie rock for a long time. Some of my favorite bands are Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, early Blonde Redhead and early Animal Collective. Especially with those last two bands’ early stuff (albums like Blonde Redhead’s La Mia Vita Violenta, Fake Can Be Just as Good, and In and Expression of the Inexpressible, and Animal Collective’s Here Comes the Indian and Sung Tongs), I’m hoping to incorporate more of the kind of controlled textural chaos those albums achieve on certain tracks into what I’m doing. There is some of that on my album, for example on Big Bone’d Jim and Ritual 2/BDB due to the brilliant work of LA guitarist Alex Noice.

Another big influence for me right now is the music of a couple European contemporary composers, Beat Furrer and Bernhard Lang. Both of those composers are deeply steeped in their own musical heritages, and their harmonic vocabularies and the ways in which they work with timbre and extended instrumental technique reflect that, but they are also both abidingly interested in American minimalism. Repetition plays a large role in the way each of them structures pieces, and I was lucky enough to visit both of them in Vienna to interview them about their music two summers ago. In Furrer’s case, the influence comes from Steve Reich and Morton Feldman. For Lang, I assume those composers are important as well, but he is also an avid fan of hip hop and various EDM sub-genres, and incorporates a warped and irregular sense of beat/pulse into a lot of his music (though it is non-tonal).

Electronic beats have also been a significant part of my musical life, particularly D.J. Shadow, Aphex Twin, Prefuse 73 and Flying Lotus, and I’ve made beats on various machines since my teens.

How do you balance your composing and performing goals with your academic duties?

It isn’t easy! At any given point some part of my appetite is getting neglected. It’s pretty difficult for me to be completely engaged as a university teacher during the semester and have creative energy left over for composing, but that’s what most composers have had to do for many years. Despite that, it’s a blessing to get to spend most of my life immersed in music.

I do my best to integrate my academic activities with my creative interests. In 2013, I spent a lot of time studying Beat Furrer’s music and presented a paper/analysis of one of his pieces at a few music theory conferences. My original purpose for starting this project was to understand the mechanics of his music so I could make personal use of the elements that speak so directly to my own imagination. I wanted to be able to reverse engineer my favorite works of his for my own creative purposes. For better or worse, the project has become something more, and hopefully I’ll get an article of my analysis published in a theory journal in 2014.

So to answer most directly: I don’t really balance things at all! I just choose from week to week what part of my goals and duties I have to neglect.

Any plans for the future now that Ritual is out?

There are lots of plans! I just got off the phone with my friend Dave Treut, who is a phenomenal drummer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer based in Brooklyn. He and I will be performing versions of the pieces on Ritual later this month and in early 2014 in New York and Boston with a new set of players. We also discussed working on some collaborative electroacoustic material for drums and electronics (probably with myself on sampler). There will be information on my website about these things soon (

Earlier this year, I also composed and conducted the score for a theater work in LA called Starcrosser’s Cut, about the infamous NASA astronaut, Lisa Nowak. My collaborator on that project, Joseph Tepperman, and I are planning a new theater work based in LA, probably more of an opera. Joe was also the librettist of the Killsonic opera. The new piece will be a fictional detective story about a murder in LA captured on tape and pressed into a vanity LP by a local gang. The mystery will be interwoven with narratives and cameos from LA underground music icons like The Germs and Eric Dolphy, who will be one of the main characters. Coincidentally, Joe’s dad, Barry Tepperman, was the co-author of the first Eric Dolphy biography. Also by coincidence, and making this even more oddly entangled, I’m considering a new scholarly project involving analysis of a few lost Eric Dolphy compositions for large ensembles that I recovered a couple weeks ago from Gunther Schuller’s basement!

On the classical side of things I am working on a piece for Talea Ensemble, which will be performed at Brandeis as part of the ensemble’s residency in March. I’ll also have a larger piece performed there in May as part of New Music Brandeis.

Lastly, I’m hoping I can record and release a follow-up album to Ritual at the end of 2014, further integrating the sound and style of this album with my contemporary classical and rock influences.

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