The founders of Infinite Palette spell out their goals clearly and concisely on their website: the young organization is “dedicated to the development and presentation of composed electro-acoustic music in the form of custom curated programming, immersive multi-media projects, and orchestral/chamber repertoire.” The three arts professionals behind this upstart curatorial collaborative bring plenty of relevant experience to their new calling. William Brittelle, an esteemed post-genre composer and performer, was a founder of the New Amsterdam record label and presenting organization. Kate Nordstrum is executive producer of special projects at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, curator/founder of the SPCO’s celebrated Liquid Music Series, and an independent arts management consultant. Daniel Wohl is a composer and performer who specializes in electroacoustic music, an avid collaborator, and co-founder and curator of Sound/Source, a day-long exploration of electronic music and installation art first presented at MoMA PS1 in 2014.
Until now, Infinite Palette has busied itself with workshops in Massachusetts and projects mounted at the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Boulder Museum of Art. But this weekend, the collective plants its flag firmly on the Upper West Side, with two special events at Symphony Space: a collaboration involving the Baltimore indie-rock duo Wye Oak, New York’s Metropolis Ensemble, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in music by Wye Oak and Brittelle on Feb. 16; and a project that brings together Minneapolis synth-pop band Poliça and the German contemporary-classical ensemble s t a r g a z e in original works, including a premiere from Wohl, on Feb. 17.
In a recent telephone interview, Brittelle, Nordstrum, and Wohl told National Sawdust Log more about their projects, objectives, and aspirations.
NATIONAL SAWDUST LOG: Let’s get started by talking about exactly why you established Infinite Palette, especially given all the pursuits the three of you are already involved in.
KATE NORDSTRUM: In a lot of ways, I feel like with Infinite Palette we’ve built a vehicle for working together regularly – in a selfish context, we really have enjoyed working on projects together over the years, all of us, in different ways. We had been talking for a while about establishing some kind of entity through which we could program together, flex some curatorial muscles together, and make work happen in different places that feel exciting to us, with partners that we are excited to work with. And all of us are really busy with our day jobs, so to speak. The stuff that I do with Liquid Music is very full-time, and Daniel’s working on all sorts of film stuff right now, plus his new record, and Bill has New Amsterdam and all of his composition stuff. So there’s not a lot of time to put toward this, necessarily. But it’s just kind of a creative side project that we want to continue to be committed to over the years, and we feel pretty comfortable committing to one another and working together in this way.
WILLIAM BRITTELLE: We are all really interested in electroacoustic music, and also the intersection of music with ritual and site-specific work. We wanted to have an outlet where we can be much more focused on a certain kind of activity, and work with different kinds of institutions. So far, we’ve worked primarily with museums, and this will be our first project in New York – and probably our only project in New York for a while. And some of it’s about creating a sense of adventure and going to interesting, cool places and working on the ground there. We’re developing something out in the Mojave Desert now, kind of east of Joshua Tree. And we’re pitching some stuff to Italy, and talking to Portland, Oregon, and kind of trying to get out there in the world, because so much of our programming and our activity ends up oriented around where the three of us live.
NSL: Which brings up a good point: Where are the three of you based right now?
WB: I’m still here, in Brooklyn.
KN: And I’m in Minneapolis, and Daniel’s in L.A. Which is kind of cool… it’s nice to be spanning the country, and not all in the same place.
DANIEL WOHL: Electroacoustic music is what brought us together. Obviously Bill’s work and my work is really involved with electronics mixed with chamber groups or orchestra [settings], and Kate has merged the two in a lot of her projects for Liquid Music. So we were really trying to aesthetically kind of pull that together and do projects that were geared toward that viewpoint in music – which exists in all sorts of different contexts, but we wanted to specifically focus on that. It’s so broad now, because anything that’s amplified is electroacoustic at this point. But we’re trying to work with people who are very deeply involved in both sides, the electronic side and the acoustic side.
NSL: Up first in your initial New York splash is a Friday night concert involving you, Bill, with Wye Oak, Metropolis Ensemble, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. How did you come to intersect with Wye Oak?
WB: Basically, it started because I was approached by the North Carolina Symphony to write a project that reflected back on my youth in North Carolina, and that project kind of quickly spun in a different direction away from the symphony, and I’m doing a different project with them now. But it got me thinking about the fact that I feel like a deep rifts between who I was when I was growing up and who I am now. And I felt like I had reached the point artistically where I needed to figure out how to how to take down that wall and allow those the two parts of myself to coexist.
A lot of that had to do with reckoning and re-owning my relationship with Christianity on my own terms, and sort of integrating that into my agnostic Buddhist perspective now. And also learning what to forgive about who I was and where and what I felt… and also how I was treated in the environment that I was in, and what to stay angry about. It also had a lot to do with working through my relationship with the people that I still know and love that are in that environment, and may be on the other side of the fence from me now in so many different ways in terms of political views or religious views or whatever.
I had been in love with [Wye Oak vocalist] Jenn [Wasner]’s voice forever. I feel like she just has one of those voices that’s just an emotional vehicle, and I just approached them early o. And Andy [Stack] from Wye Oak trained at Berklee. He’s a great reader, a wonderful musician that plays basically every single instrument. I just sent them some music, and they responded really well to it, and we just started this journey. The piece was sort of commissioned chunk by chunk: We did something with Alabama Symphony and Baltimore Symphony, and then actually Liquid Music with Kate, and then out in Palm Springs. Along the way, I developed the vision for it and after almost seven years it’s finally reaching the end point and moving into premiere and recording mode.
NSL: Can you explain what it is about your past life in the church and with that culture that you’re trying to come to terms with?
WB: A problem that I have with liberal culture is that it is sort of like can act elitist about its about its dealings with the unknown or what is beyond it, while existing in this kind of consumer culture. There is so much beyond us that that we will never understand or never know, and I think it’s okay to give that name. I think it’s okay to conceptualize that in some way, and the way that I was brought up conceptualizing that was through Jesus. The lightbulb that went on was actually something that Kate sent me, an interview with the scholar who said, basically the least interesting question you can ask about religion is whether or not it’s true. And when I heard that, a light kind of went on: I’m allowed to have my own relationship with this. Because, you know, as a self identifying Buddhist my son was sick when he was born, and I was I was in a very dicey situation. And the thing I did immediately was pray, and I hadn’t done that in a long time.
That was a wake-up moment for me. There’s something almost culturally that’s there – it’s almost like, why do I still love Def Leppard? Is it because I think it’s great music, or is it because it’s part of the emotional fabric of the way that I learned to navigate through the world? So for me, I don’t have a choice about whether Christianity is a part of my life, any more than I have a choice about whether North Carolina is, or Def Leppard is, or my parents are. It was such a huge part of the way that I learned how to navigate and find my place in the world that I need to figure out – I need to own that relationship instead of pushing it away.
NSL: Are you vocalizing at all in this piece, or has that aspect of your career ended?
WB: I’m done with that period. That’s one thing that working with Jenn really helped me with. It was always such a struggle for me to sing. I still have lingering vocal issues. And working with someone like Jenn – who can not only sing what you want to sing, but bring another 50, 80 percent to the table – has been really, really freeing for me. Anything that I give her, she can memorize and sing with orchestras without music. It’s really unbelievable. It’s been life-changing, working with her. So there may be some sampled Bill in there, but I’m not going to be onstage.
NSL: Did the Wye Oak orchestrations by yourself and Paul Wiancko come afterward, as something to fill out the evening?
TKNo, that was something we developed along the way – and I should mention that that one arrangement was by Paul Wiancko and Michi Wiancko, and that’s from Wye Oak’s new record. That’s a shorter arrangement that’s just for strings. The other ones are for full orchestra, and they were sort of commissioned along the way. I didn’t want the Spiritual America cycle to be more than 40, 45 minutes. I wanted to keep it concise, sort of like within two sides of vinyl. They were really excited about reimagining their songs, and these arrangements are really somewhere in between recompositions and arrangements. We haven’t decided exactly what to call them, but basically I lifted everything out except for the vocal part. I’ve changed harmonies; I’ve done a lot of different stuff. Jenn’s vocal lines are so beautiful, and the lyrics are so wonderful, that they really lend themselves towards adventurous orchestration. So it’s not Metallica with strings… I think they work together well, and I’m hoping to continue doing that with their new album that’ll be coming out soon.
NSL: We’ve already published an article exploring in depth the collaboration between Poliça and s t a r g a z e, so we don’t have to dive too deeply into that here. But I do want to ask about your involvement in the live event. Daniel, could you talk about the piece you wrote for the combined groups?
DW: The beginning of the project was obviously with Kate and s t a r g a z e and Poliça, so they had developed this evening-length piece, as you know, for Liquid Music. My participation in it was commissioned by Symphony Space and a festival in the Netherlands called Cross-Linx, where we’re all going to go about two weeks after Symphony Space. They commissioned a kind of overture for Music for the Long Emergency. So it’s written for Poliça and s t a r g a z e, and it’s a 12-minute piece.
It’s kind of interesting to write for a band that doesn’t really read music and an ensemble that does, and to see their process. So what I’ve been doing is, basically I did a mock-up of everything, and sent the band a lot of the tracks. They’re learning them and finding ways in which to contribute. For s t a r g a z e, everything’s written out, and then we’ll try to figure out how to get that all together.
And the title of the piece [Angel]… well, I’ve been working on an album that has to do with the singularity, so it kind of fit into the narrative of Music for the Long Emergency in the sense that we’re we’re in this both very slow and very urgent moment in our evolution, where things are rapidly changing, but also too slow, somehow, to really notice them on a day to day level. But also, you know, obviously it’s kind of an emergency, as well. The singularity is what I’ve been focusing on for this album, but it kind of fit in with their narrative, as well. So this new piece will be part of an album coming out in a year, but it’s also kind of an overture for their piece, and kind of fit in naturally with what they were doing.
Infinite Palette presents Wye Oak, Metropolis Ensemble, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus on Feb. 16, and Poliça and s t a r g a z e on Feb. 17, at Symphony Space; symphonyspace.org