Alex Mincek

Notes from the Composer

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

String Quartet No. 3: “lift – tilt – filter – split"

Performed by the JACK Quartet

"One of the more salient features of this quartet is the use of what I can best describe as “sonic fields.” A sonic field is a network of musical gestures perceived most immediately as a generalized musical texture. However, over time the listener is able to bounce back and forth from the recognition of the unique parts and the undifferentiated whole. Unlike the use of melody, these fields have very little to do with the representation of language. A sonic field is more analogous to the physical, visual, or tactile. It is like a droplet and the rain, a grain and the sand, a tree and the forest, or any other quasi-fused sum that can be recognized as either one or many. So, instead of expressing narratives with melodies that relate to patterns of speech, or to the grammar and syntax of written language, this piece uses successions of various dynamic textures to represent complex interactions as they relate to shape and movement.

The piece also features many ambiguities in the cause and effect relationship between physical gesture and audible structure. For example, if the player slides a finger the length of the fingerboard while pressing the string, we hear a continuous glissando. However, if the player performs the same physical task, while lightly touching the string instead of pressing it, we hear a discontinuous series of harmonics (there are many other examples). The question that arises is which resulting structure best represents the nature of each physical gesture? By exploring such ambiguities, it is my hope to demonstrate the futility of succinct classification."

To Nowhere from Nowhere

Performed by the Wet Ink ensemble.

To Nowhere From Nowhere is an exploration of the musical space in which pure difference mingles with complex sameness. More specifically, the piece is a catalog of various forms of repetition. Since it is actually impossible to truly repeat anything verbatim, one could also say that the piece is a catalog of various forms of difference.

 The piece unfolds as a series of seemingly unrelated musical blocks, some banal and vulgar, others more novel and refined. The goal is the creation of a musical form that so constantly subverts expectation that the arrested flow establishes its own organic continuity. However, some aspects of the piece are more linear, perhaps best represented by the voice’s journey from mechanically constrained utterances to humane, free-flowing song.


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Comments [36]


While a number of interesting composers have made it through to the final round of this competition (by itself, an encouraging thing...), Alex is really the total package- a distinctly original and contemporary voice; an experienced composer of proven craft and vision; and a New Yorker, whose music reflects his connection to the city and who's been contributing to the New York musical community for over a decade.

As a commissionee for this project, Alex would be both a really exciting and (from Orpheus's perspective) an utterly safe choice: there's just no question that he would produce an excellent piece.

Sep. 22 2010 10:30 AM
Nina from New York

Repetition without repetitiveness. Very controlled -- in a good way. I like the silences that break up the little rushes of sound and the many textures that the strings produce.

Sep. 20 2010 05:01 PM
Ian from Somerville, MA

Alex's music and ensemble projects are leading the way for composers on this coast, in this country, and in the world. His music has a seamlessness that is irresistable, and does an excellent job of pleasing both American and European tastes.

Sep. 14 2010 05:05 PM
Betsy from Upstate New York

Alex's music makes me think without forcing and feel without feeling self-conscious. The unpredictability combined with a natural feel blew me away. I would love to hear more!

Sep. 13 2010 08:29 PM
Betsy from Upstate New York

Alex's music makes me think without forcing and feel without feeling self-conscious. The unpredictability combined with a natural feel blew me away. I would love to hear more!

Sep. 13 2010 08:18 PM
MD from NY

Mr. Mincek is one of the great composers of his age. I heartily endorse Orpheus' recognition of his talent, his promise and his contributions already made to classical music's continued evolution. He's a star.

Sep. 13 2010 07:54 PM
Natalie from Salt Lake City

Mincek's piece immediately captured my interest and didn't let go. He has my vote.

Sep. 13 2010 05:16 PM
lx from San Francisco

Alex Mincek's music is characterised by a combination of sheer originality, intensity, unpredictability, sensitivity, and craft that is rare to find in contemporary music. One of the most (only?) promising voices emerging from the NY scene at the moment.

Sep. 13 2010 05:01 PM
Chris from florida from jacksonville, fl

Complex and intriguing - like a Klee painting. Listening to Mincek's music requires serious concentration that ultimately rewards the hearer with a heightened sense of music's ability to be both witty and profound.

I would love to hear more from this young composer in the future.

Sep. 13 2010 11:17 AM
Miranda from Brooklyn, NY

Both of these recordings showcase Alex's unique voice as a composer. In listening to his music, I often appreciate the way Alex fuses distinct rhythms and timbres to create a sound that is easily recognizable but at the same it is something I've never heard before. It makes the linear progression of the piece really enjoyable to follow. As a violist I have also enjoyed playing Alex's music; the challenges of the music can be approached in a straight-forward manner and it is rewarding to play, and Alex himself understands the need to be respectful toward the performer while still asking for accuracy and the desired intention in his music. I'd love to hear Orpheus play Alex's music!

Sep. 13 2010 11:13 AM
Kate Soper from NYC

I don't know of any other composer who sounds quite like Alex. Brilliant work, always very original and personal. Gets my vote for sure.

Jul. 23 2010 12:04 PM
Russell from Ridgewood, NY

I can think of almost nobody better to receive this commission. Alex's music is intense in the best of ways, and it would be amazing to hear a large scale work for this ensemble. While definitely timely, Mincek's work is not gimmicky in any way but instead is well-crafted, thought provoking and solid.

Jul. 13 2010 01:30 PM
D from NYC

Alex Mincek is not limited to any one style, not only because of his compositional virtuosity and variety of pieces, but because he is more concerned with idea than style.

The ideas he works with, (see for example his descriptions of the pieces he has up here) have a direct effect on the sound of the music. He is never intellectually posturing; there is always a clear and salient way in which his concepts translate themselves into his music.

And the music that he creates is impossible not to listen to. "Ear Candy" was how I characterized it when I first heard it. The patterns in his music are hypnotizing, yes, but not at all in the way that composers of previous generations have used patterns and repetitions. As he mentions above, he exploits the idea that there is no such thing as a true repetition, and this influences the rhetoric of his pieces in an essential way.

It is incredibly polished music - every single sound is thought out and as satisfying to the ear as it can be. But one never has the sense that he is exploiting an extended instrument technique for its own sake, but always in support of his musical idea.

The schizophrenic quality of his music, combined with the use of repetition, the rhythmic vitality, and the complexity of the sounds he works with, makes him a composer for our time. And he is doing more than just writing pieces, but exploring new territory in how we listen. But his music also just sounds really good; and the things that make it interesting are the same things that make it accessible. I don't know if there are any other composers alive that I can describe that way.

There's no one I'd like to see get this commission more than Alex Mincek. He has a voice all his own and it's one I'd love to see working with Orpheus.

Jul. 04 2010 11:21 AM
Michael from West Virginia

Alive, fun, direct, purposeful, and tasty. Some of the most creative, high-quality music I've heard has come from Alex's ink. Completely deserving of it, I hope that he's given the opportunity to write for Orpheus.

Jul. 03 2010 10:56 PM
Adam from Miami, FL

Mincek is an artist that reflects. Any project without his contribution is lacking.

Jul. 03 2010 04:07 PM
Alex from New York

Alex has developed an entirely original sound and I would love to see Orpheus play a new piece of his.

Jul. 03 2010 10:46 AM

this composer would get my vote. I particularly like how the ear is drawn to the vocal part but not distracted from the ensemble part.

Jul. 02 2010 05:54 PM
Ian A from Ridgewood

If given the chance, Alex Mincek will write something amazing for Orpheus. He has the compositional chops to create works that are visceral, interesting, moving, and "rehearse-able" (i.e., an ensemble/orchestra can actually put together the piece in the usual by-necessity limited rehearsal time). I've never been anything less than blown away after hearing Alex's work. This is an opportunity that Orpheus should not miss.

I agree whole-heartedly with many of the comments below as well.

Jul. 02 2010 03:53 PM
Ryan from Brooklyn

Always quirky, Alex's music is easily some of the most exciting music in my life these days. Interesting and challenging without being "difficult" (whatever that means), Alex's sounds make us want to listen more, differently—messing with your head in the best possible and most pleasurable way.

Jul. 02 2010 02:27 PM
eh from nyc

this is the first time i've actually heard alex's music, and it lives up to all i've heard about it.
i like the clarity of intention and the intensity, and the ambiguous redundancy.

Jul. 01 2010 07:40 PM
Kasia from Amsterdam, Netherlands

Thanks for the music. I think it has a unique sence of colour and instrumentation. It is worth the comission.

Jun. 26 2010 02:56 PM
Lainie from NYC

I'd be really curious to hear what the smartly talented Alex Mincek would do for Orpheus.

Jun. 24 2010 03:45 PM
Sam from New Hampshire

I don't know a better composer living in this country. They may exist. I just don't know them or of them. The first time I heard Alex's music was a Darmstadt in 2006. The Euros in the back were snickering at the brash directness of the music, but it was the best thing I heard the whole festival (Eric Wubbels singing a high C while playing the accordion didn't hurt either). Since then Alex has become one of my closest friends and greatest musical inspirations. His recent music, like the string quartet and flute and percussion concerto add lushness and beauty to an already striking and original musical language. I can't imagine a better choice for this commission, because the commission would go to one of my favorite composers and one of the most original voices in contemporary music.

Jun. 22 2010 09:42 AM
Carl from Manhattan

I consider Mincek to be one of the most original and innovative American composers of the young generation. And the fact that such a fierce discussion on musical aesthetics has erupted on this page only speaks for his integrity as an artist: He has never wavered on his way to finding a unique voice as a composer, and he doesn't care if his music is played at Carnegie Hall or at an alternative venue that seats an audience of 50.

That's exactly why it would be wonderful to see his work being acknowledged by an "established" institution such as Orpheus, which would itself greatly benefit from adding a piece by a more experimental composer such as Mincek to its repertoire.

Jun. 22 2010 02:04 AM

alex, i'm sorry too, if it was inappropriate for me to comment on a commenter all up on your page. i hope it doesn't bother you.

carol, thanks for clarifying what you meant. for the record, i agree with you that when art is made solely to satisfy commercial forces, the quality of the art suffers, and that's bad. and a lot of the stuff orchestras are programming disappoints me as well. i disagree, though, that there needs to be a way to distinguish "art" music from "pop" music. doing so will never stratify music by quality, only by the profile of its audiences, and that leads to homogeneity. besides, people should find ways to play and promote the music they love without validation from orchestras or other institutionalized ensembles - they are often the most conservative forces out there.

also, i totally agree with what trevor said.

Jun. 21 2010 12:56 PM
Jacob from UES

The man is a musical genius!

Jun. 20 2010 08:10 PM
Trevor Hunter from Brooklyn

Of the thousands of living composers I have been introduced to in the past decade, Mincek is my favorite—my desert island composer (maybe after Mahler). The work he's produced in that span can stand up to anyone else's. It's conceptually interesting, viscerally compelling, never pandering—shucks, his string quartet practically had me reaching for a hanky.

This is a bit over-the-top, but I totally believe it: there's literally not a better candidate for this commission. Dude can bring it.

Jun. 20 2010 07:56 PM
Indrani from NYC

Alex's compositions have really opened my eyes to music I had found inaccessable previously. He's extremely talented and a very worthy choice.

Jun. 20 2010 07:47 PM
Katie from Manhattan

A very talented composer and musician... Alex would be a great choice.

Jun. 20 2010 06:37 PM
Jennifer Smith from Brooklyn

Alex is doing stuff with music that has stretched my boundaries and shown me new things. I'm not a new music wonk, just a rowdy fan of american popular music, but I sat transfixed through the last performance I saw of his music.

Jun. 20 2010 06:16 PM

You are right Ted. I should have been more specific. I personally have a problem with pop and commercial music being defined as "contemporary" music. Of course technically since it is of our time it is contemporary, however we do need a way to define contemporary art music from pop, and the lack of definition, and overlap of the two are extremely dangerous for the future of art music, and for composers whose primary interest is in finding new modes of self expression and giving insight into what it means to be a creative person living at this particular time in history. Pop on the other hand tends to be concerned with connecting with and pleasing as large an audience as possible. It is not art solely for the sake of art, and that is fine and good but it should not have the opportunity to eclipse art music, which it does all to often in the symphony orchestras and large musical institutions. Alex, sorry for using your page for this discussion.

Jun. 20 2010 05:51 PM
Josh from NYC

Alex's music has been one of my biggest inspirations since moving to New York. I think he and his fellow Wet Ink composers represent the direction classical music should be going - it would be fantastic to see this recognized by Orpheus.

Jun. 20 2010 04:40 PM
edward from LA

cool & quirky. i think it would sound very well in live performance - can easily imagine the energy generated in a performance of his music by listening to this clip. needs to get more concise and direct on the program notes.

Jun. 20 2010 01:08 PM

i also love mincek's music. i think his voice is distinctively american, but in uncommon ways. i think he has an incredible sense of timbre, and would without a doubt write a unique and moving piece for orpheus.

i wonder, though, what carol means by nonsense that "masquerades" as contemporary music. how can music masquerade as contemporary? (unless i played a mozart concerto and told you i wrote it.) nobody owns that word, so i don't know what purpose it serves to define that word through aesthetic choices or judgments of musical quality.

Jun. 20 2010 11:24 AM

I've been listening to this guy's music for the past 10 years and he keeps amazing me more and more every time. He is a truly great creative artist and it is such a relief to hear a voice such as his, so filled with integrity, inspiration and technique as a musician, amid the sea of nonsense that masquerades as "contemporary music" today.

Jun. 19 2010 10:34 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

Always been a big fan of Alex's music. Very thoughtful and original.

Jun. 18 2010 01:43 PM

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