KC: All right, Jeff…Let’s talk now about the process of writing the music. We just spoke a little bit about the qualities of the music, and about your aesthetic vision. So tell me now, what’s the first thing you do when you write a piece of music? And then when we finish that, why don’t you tell me how do you know when one of your pieces is finished?
JH: Yeah, yeah…ok, well, I guess I’ll answer the questions in reverse. I know exactly when a piece is finished--the ending is always the easiest part. I just never know when a piece really begins, and so to answer the first question, I guess if I want to write a piece of music, I think about what I want the piece to do in its entirety, and then I think about what instruments would best suit that. Once I figure out what instruments, then I just write out on a piece of paper each of the instruments, and then I just tune out—and just close my eyes and just see what I hear. And just go with whatever sorts of ideas that I have that might on the small level in some way reflect the ideas that I wanted to achieve on the larger level…So that if I wanted a certain particular shape—like starting in one place leading to a climax and returning where it starts, or some other shape with multiple climaxes or whatnot—whenever I have that kind of idea of what I want to have happen on the larger sort of picture, then I try to find some small specific musical materials that in some way might reflect that. Usually my music always begins with one chord, one particular harmonic sound, and that…that is usually the generator of a lot of the pitch material. On the other hand, then, I always have some sort of numerological scheme or order or events, as I am very numerologically sensitive and superstitious. And I was a kid that couldn’t walk down the street without stepping on lines a certain amount of times, on certain feet—and this kind of thing. So when I listen to music, I’m always hearing in my head the proportions, whether there’s two or three phrases that happen in succession, or how many blocks of things happen to make larger forms, and certain numbers…just, I have strong aversions to certain numbers, so I plan things out in terms of proportion, everything from the largest macro-level to the very smallest micro-phrase, and base all of these things on certain orders of numbers.
KC: What are some of these numbers that you have an aversion to?
JH: Yeah, I have strong aversions to certain numbers like four, and seven, and eleven, and ten, and I could go on and on and on—it’s a whole like psychotic world of mine...(laughing)… It’s kind of a private, private asylum [laughs], but ah……
KC: [laughing] Yeah, you tell us when we dig a little too deep!...Four makes sense to me, because like as an artist, symmetry can sometimes be, you know, the thing that sinks your piece…
JH: Yeah, we live in a world of music that’s in 4/4 time, and with four-bar phrases and…so there’s a…
KC: Sure, right, but seven and eleven strike me as kind of interesting, can you tell us about that?
JH: I don’t think so, actually! Believe me, I would love to, but I don’t know if there’s any rationale to this…I just…ah, It has nothing to do with Fibonacci numbers, and it has nothing to do with prime numbers…It just gives a certain…a certain preference for a number and other ways that number can be manipulated…But that stuff is not really stuff that in any way a listener needs to in any way to be aware of. I believe that form and structure is perceived subliminally, and does not in any way need to be consciously expressed prior to experiencing a piece of music, but, you know, as we look back in history and look at what composers time has privileged, we seem to constantly keep referring back to the same composers that had a very obsessive control of structure, like Brahms, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart. These people were clearly—Mozart not so much, he just had a natural gift—but when we look back at Beethoven’s sketchbooks, or when we do skeletal analyses of Chopin and Brahms, we can see that these people had a very, very intentional approach to form and structure. And the listener is not always aware of that, but that’s not necessary, somehow those sorts of things come through subliminally, and somehow those things guide us in our enjoyment of this experience.
JH: But, I’d never know when a piece is really ready to start. And you just get a sound in your head, you just kind of improvise in your head, and when you’re kind of tired of improvising then you kind of know when to start…and if you don’t know what you want to write, then you’re not ready to write yet…But it’s always easy to end. Because by the time you start it, you know how it’s going to end.
JH: Yeah, sometimes even how many bars there’s going to be!
KC: That’s amazing! [laughs]
JH: Not always! [laughing]
KC: I find that amazing, as a performer who hasn’t composed much. Do you hear this kind of thing echoed from your colleagues, your other composer colleagues?
JH: What sort of thing?
KC: That once they’ve written, you know, the major theme or the seed of the piece that they can see the whole thing?
JH: I have no idea…I really don’t. I just know that things sort of present themselves to me in more finished forms, like…I never…every bar I write has every dynamic, every articulation involved in it, before I move on to the next bar, and the next bar, and the next bar…So there’s never a point where I would go back, and then put in dynamics, or articulations or something of that nature. And in a larger sense, I also have never gone back and edited a piece that I’ve ever written and it’s ever been performed…A piece, sort of…When a bar is done it’s done, and when a piece is done it’s done, and the only edits that I’ve ever made to pieces might be technical edits that might be a clearer notation, or maybe make something a little bit easier for a performer, but never, ever going back and changing musical materials.
KC: Interesting. [pause] So…I think that about covers it!
JH: [laughs] It’s a little too esoteric?
KC: No, no!
JH: Ok, ok, I can be a little bit more, ah, literal, if that might help!
KC: Oh, sorry…I just kind of blanked for a second, because I was…there was something on the tip of my tongue, and I was just trying to remember what was it…And earlier you said that you really value your collaborations with certain artists…
JH: Yes, yes…
KC: because you have a strong connection, you know that they will do justice to your piece, and…
JH: Or that they themselves will enjoy it!
KC: There you go!—I mean, so many things, that’s very important. So, but then, you also said that you kind of…you have an idea for a piece in your head, and then you choose the performers. Do you sometimes have the performers in your head, and then you choose the concept?
JH: Yeah, that…that aspect of it is never consistent. Sometimes, you know, if a pers…a certain person asks you to write a piece for them, then, you know, you have whatever instrument they play, and that’s your only option. And that’s fine too. You know, then you just have to really, just, close your eyes and just envision, you know, what the notes that you feel in that moment, and then those sounds, how those notes will best, you know, transfer to that instrument, and how that instr…and how that instrument, you know, really just…Close your eyes and just picture in your head, the timbre of that instrument and the register of that instrument, and somehow come up with some sort of compromise between your ideas and the real world of literal sound. (laughs) That‘s the challenge, though, is…you know, the…what you have in your head versus the real world, what everyone else experiences, not just you. [laughs]
KC: I would find that that would probably make me want to make some changes too much…Maybe you meant like after you have sealed your approval on a piece, you know, touch it…But what if you write a piece, and then, just as you say, that reality—the sound—is something unique, and maybe something unexpected? So you don’t make changes?
JH: No, never. Not as a dogma, or as a decision, but just…I’ve never wanted to. It’s never presented itself…. I guess…
KC: So you’re okay with that kind of spontaneity?
JH: Well, it’s even…I mean, I write a piece in pencil and I write out every single note, and every single articulation, and every single dynamic, and then when a piece is done then I sit down to input it in the computer, and as I’m inputting it I don’t change anything…I have every opportunity to alter things, but there’s only…I guess…I guess for me composing, there’s only one right answer, and I know when I’ve got it, and I know when I don’t.
KC: Good! Another example of this man’s confidence and vision…I dig it!
JH: Yeah, well…