KC: So Jeff, you’re currently a student at the Thornton School here at USC and previously you were a student at the Conservatory in San Francisco.
JH: That’s correct.
KC: You’ve worked with a lot of outstanding composers and performers as your mentors. Would you maybe talk about some of them and then also talk about some composers that inspire you.
JH: Well, probably the person that’s really been—in terms of my own teachers that have really influential on me—has been Donald Crockett at USC. [He] has had a really big impact on me; he’s just helped me so much for so long, for so many years now. So Donald Crockett has been someone that’s helped me quite a bit in terms of actual pieces, orchestration issues, tempo issues, conducting issues, looking at a piece of music from a real practical standpoint. On the other end of the spectrum, aesthetically, and in terms of really music theory and language of music, I’ve been really influenced and have had a really close connection with Dr. Robert Moore. Also at USC. He’s helped me quite a bit. And going back in time, back at the Conservatory, probably the person that really helped me really define what it is to be a composer and how to really approach sort of a creative lifestyle would have to be Duchan Bogdanovich, who was a really important person for me when I was very young, very encouraging in my creative life. Outside of people that I’ve actually studied with, I have very sort of limited influences. I enjoy looking at and studying almost all the music of…that we have available to us regardless of genre and regardless of style and regardless of era, but there are certain people that really stay with me and from rarther back in history I can never get enough of Chopin; he’s probably my biggest influence overall of modern or old composers…specifically because of form and Chopin’s successes in terms of large-scale form. Form and structure is really the…the combination of that with the amazing expression and human aspects of Chopin’s music is something that I’ve never been able to get enough of, even when I was a little kid all the way up to now. So Chopin is a big influence as well as Brahms and Debussy are probably the three people of the common practice period or certainly dead people, that I just study scores all the time, I listen to recordings all the time, I just can never seem to get enough of Debussy, Chopin, and Brahms. But in terms of people that are more a part of my day and age on earth, other artists of my time period, I’m really influenced by sort of non-Germanic twentieth century music. Chiefly the French direction of Debussy to my hero, Messiaen, and into my completely dominant hero, Iannis Xenakis. It’s a lineage that has been very influential to me, that being Debussy to Messiaen to Xenakis. In a different direction, Bartok has been influential and not as much as where Bartok led, but some of Polish composers, Lutaslawski, especially, has been a huge influence on me and that currently has led towards a direction that involves people like Gyorgy Ligeti and other people of that nature. Really Messiaen and Lutaslawski and Xenakis would be the three composers of post-war twentieth century that have really—I don’t know how much of an influence they’ve had on me, but certainly all three of them have totally inspired me
KC: How do you see the music of, for instance, Brahms and Chopin, manifesting itself in your music?
JH: I don’t know. I feel that as an artist, any artist working out of sincerity and integrity has no stylistic objectives, other than expressing who they are as a person. I feel that as a composer, I’m just sort of a sponge and I soak up a lot of different musical influences and somehow inside me they all mix together and all come out in some other form and it’s certainly not an objective or an effort or a conscious pursuit. But I just spend a lot of time looking at scores and listening to music and when I compose I don’t think about any of it, but I’m sure that all of it has a deep influence on me.
KC: Yes, I’m sure. With Xenakis in particular, there are a few similarities of your music that are pretty readily apparent. So regarding Xenakis and the influence that he has on you, I had noticed some similarities that are pretty apparent and then some differences and I think I’ll just go ahead and tell you what I found and then maybe you can agree or disagree. For one thing, I noticed a propensity to use these ductile instruments, like voice and string that can kind of be woven into this pattern of lines and then as a textural element. I’m thinking of Metastasis and Pythopracta of Xenakis and then Chur and your Requiem in movements one and three is kind of like high pedals in the violins creating a backdrop for the other events happening.
JH: Yeah, almost a like a frame for other events happening inside and definitely what I get out of Xenakis, what appeals to me about Xenakis, is his courage in terms of texture and sort of the audacity of his textures and the unrelenting sort of courage in terms of writing enormous, colossal landscapes of sound that share nothing texturally with other music that’s occurred. And that sort of just, sense of space in terms of register would be definitely something that Xenakis has shown me.
KC: So Xenakis is widely known for his use of his sound mass, sound block type music that he calls clouds, I don’t really hear that in your music at all.
KC: That’s one major difference I find.
JH: Yeah, I guess Xenakis uses large, giant textures of, you know, an extremely large number of different polyphonies occurring in the sense where the concepts of sort of background and foreground become obliterated and in a sense just becomes one large mosaic, or collage of events. That is something that probably would not be as connected to my music as I do still follow a lot of, sort of…I guess maybe the one thing that would really be different about Xenakis’ music and mine is really the use of harmony and I think in his music a lot of times, harmony is the result of these mass textures and mass sound in various different simultaneous occurrences when in my music, I think harmony really functions in a linear, developmental way. I think Xenakis attempted to get away from that. That sort of structuring of time.
KC: What do you mean “linear” for harmony?
JH: I guess I would say that certain harmonies move towards other harmonies almost in the sense of chord progressions. Though they may not be apparent on the surface, that is the anchoring of the events. [It] would be sort of a harmonic progression in the traditional sense. When in Xenakis I think harmony is, you know and this comes not only in Xenakis, but clearly in Messiaen and even more in, maybe not more, but also as clear in Debussy, the lineage I was talking about where harmony is a momentary color rather than a developmental device. [This] is something that I see happening Debussy as well as in Messiaen and Xenakis and that aspect of that lineage of music is not as appealing to me. For me, my language is really a harmonically-based language that being based not just in the occurrence of harmonies but in the connections between them.
KC: And certainly, your music has contrasting textures, as you said, a real focus on form above all else.
JH: And I feel that form is a product of harmony. And that also is a sort of traditional concept, you can look back to Beethoven and Mozart [you can] see harmony being the real generator of form, in terms of just sonata form, or ternary form, binary forms, all the way back to the Baroque and Renaissance. Having the concept that harmony, the micro-level harmony is somehow has a relationship to the macro form and that is something that Xenakis would not be interested in pursuing or displaying. But, other modern influences that I’ve cited would, such as Lutaslawski. [He] would be interested in using harmony in some way connected to form, but Xenakis, his real focus on music I don’t think is, in terms so much of form but in terms of different events when Lutaslawski was really concerned with large-scale form and coming up with new forms for symphonic music. Form being the partitioning of time as we had mentioned before, but Xenakis, you know, as well as Messiaen and to a certain extent Debussy, form was sort of a collection of different events as opposed to things propelling towards a certain goal.
KC: I can hear that. In addition to the ductile strings as a choice of instrument, I also hear percussion instruments with the sharp attacks and then wonder, do you consciously juxtapose those kinds of sounds and those instruments?
JH: Yeah, absolutely. Percussion for me provides a world of color and timbre that’s really appealing as well as achieving that timbre through obviously uncontrolled and unintentional but mistnings and microtunings that are just gonna happen when you hit something with a hammer. You’re gonna have different sorts of tunings that happen and the color that that adds is definitely something that’s very interesting to me and that comes into play with, as you pointed out, being in opposition to a more linear, lyrical voice or string sound and the sort of dissonance between those two types of sounds is something that’s interesting to me.
KC: So a dissonance of articulation…
JH: Yeah, something of that nature, a dissonance of decay or dissonance of timbre or dissonance of orchestration. An orchestrational dissonance if there is such a [thing]. I don’t know if I can commit to that term! Don’t hold me to that! [laughs] But I guess there is something very interesting to me about combining or contrasting the attack of percussion sounds and the sonority of percussion instruments with the lyricism of melodic instruments.
KC: And then in a piece with one instrument such as the sonata that I have played, the different sections have that contrast albeit on one instrument. So the first theme is hyper- melodic and legato and then later, for instance with the fugue, you have something that’s much more percussive.
JH: Yeah, well, no matter what I’m writing, I’m always thinking orchestrally.
JH: Even if it’s a solo guitar piece, even a solo percussion piece, I have sections in it that, you know, I imagine a brass section or strings. Those are completely non-specific examples, but certainly in the piece you’re mentioning, the sonata, there are sections that to me, imitate other instruments. Music overall, is a very, for me, I have a real connection with color in music, so tuning is a part of that color and also timbre is a big part of that color. The actual individual timbres of different instruments. So, even though it may be a solo guitar piece, I’m hearing many different colors occurring.
KC: Speaking of guitar, you haven’t mentioned any heroes or people that you emulate that are guitarists, tell me who are some of your favorite guitarists or guitar composers. I might point out to our listeners that [the guitar] is either your instrument or one of your instruments.
JH: It has been in the past. I haven’t played guitar in a number of years, but I spent a lot of time playing standard repertoire on the instrument. I guess for my guitar influences, I’m very influenced by Duchan Bogdonovich. Both compositionally and in terms of improvisation and in terms of interpretation, like we talked earlier about being really creative with a standard piece of music. I spent a lot of time with Duchan coming up with really strange and unusual and creative arrangements of standard pieces by Bach or whatnot, but I guess, influences in terms guitar music really come outside of classical music. I’m influenced by a lot of Flamenco music but also, one of my biggest heroes has always been Johnny Winter who’s a Blues guitar player. So, for me, music is not a…there are no stylistic boundaries. I clearly see quality as being an issue separate from style. So, in terms of my solo oboe piece, I was influenced by John Coltrane; my solo guitar piece, Johnny Winter as well as Bach. And this is not in any way postmodern stance or concept. Again we are as an artist, a big sponge.
KC: Sure. All right, Jeff. Well, it’s been great speaking with you. Let’s see if there’s anything we should wrap up with. There’s the whole programmatic-nonprogrammatic can of worms.
JH: A big can it is.
KC: And I think we’ve just touched upon this question which is interesting: what do you have in your CD player, for instance, right now? Just some Johnny Winter?
JH: Completely candidly, I guess I think lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Messiaen, Catalogue of Birds.
KC: Is that for solo piano?
JH: Solo piano. Yeah. Catalogue of Birds by Messiaen is something I’ve been listening to that lately.
KC: Nice. Are you going to try to apply some of those birdsong ideas?
JH: Not intentionally [laughs] No. I believe that’s Messiaen’s. He’s got the patent on that. Not that I would want to, it’s just that I…it’s a very interesting piece to me, in terms of the non-developmental form and the density of the momentary harmonic colors is very interesting to me and also the, with Messiaen’s attempts to notate not only birds but also notate their environments such as having musical examples that specifically represent the cliffs or the sea or the sunset or sunrise, leads us into this issue of programmatic vs. non-programmatic music. Seeing Messiaen come up with different ways to represent these non-musical objects is interesting to me because it forces him to use very unusual textures and rhythms and phrase shapes to capture these items that are not really literal in a certain sense. There are a lot of thoughts about programmatic versus non-programmatic music and a lot of this interview will make me sound like a formalist which I certainly am, but the programmatic aspect of music, for me, is the hardest one to talk about. So it may not appear to be to as important to me as it really is.
KC: Do you find that you flip back and forth?
KC: Have you kind of evolved in your stance on programmatic music?
JH: I have evolved, yes. Definitely because most people start out having some programmatic association with music and writing music that has some extra-musical ideas, but for a long time I really believed what people like Brahms and Stravinsky who said that the meaning in the music is in the notes and without the notes there is no meaning and beyond the notes there is no meaning, was a very common sort of aesthetic throughout the twentieth century. But not with people like Messiaen and Debussy, who I’m also very influenced by. Almost everything they wrote has some sort of extramusical connection and I feel like I’m slowly heading away from formalism towards a more transcendental aesthetic stance as did Messiaen as did Charles Ives and people of this nature. And music means a lot more to me than just the notes, but that’s an aspect of music that probably for me is more private. Thought I encourage any associations people might have I just don’t feel that I want to limit a listener’s own interpretation of what those connections might be. I don’t want to tell somebody what to listen for. I want to let them…
KC: Maybe a suggestion in the title.
JH: Yeah, absolutely. And I think certain pieces, that suggestion is more obvious than others and it’s not a consistent stance that I take. But one of the great things about music is that it’s not such a literally definable thing that two people can have a totally different experience listening to the same piece of music and I choose to encourage people to use their own imagination when they listen to it rather than be listening for something they think they should hear.
KC: Right. So let’s close, Jeff, with your Horizons. Where do you see yourself going from here?
JH: Flippin’ burgers! [laughs]
KC: Do you have a…where do you see yourself in ten years or so?
JH: Well, I’m going to continue to compose. I’ve composed for most of my life before I ever thought I’d ever have any kind of career composing music. It’s certainly for me, more so than most people I’ve met that it’s a compulsion, it’s a necessary part of my sanity and it’s been a therapy for a lot of sort of psychoses I’ve had in my life and I know that whether I’m existing financially through music or not it’s something that I’m going to be producing full time for the rest of my life. And it’s an interesting thing when we try to make art into a career because art is not a career but in our day and age we have to somehow have a career to survive. And to try to make art into a career is a difficult thing to do to maintain your integrity yet still have enough accessibility to make money at it. Is really the challenge that I think a lot of artists face, but for me the satisfaction comes from the process not from the reception, so whether I have success in terms of making a lot of money or not, really doesn’t matter to me at all. I’m in a lucky position through USC where I’m able to survive through teaching music and that enables me to pursue in my own art whatever I want, whatever I feel is through my own integrity is, for me, the right thing to do.
KC: Do you have enough time in a regular day to fit in the kind of composing you’d like to be doing?
JH: I guess there’s always enough time for composing. The challenge is fitting in whatever else has to happen in my day.
KC: Good attitude.
JH: And it oftentimes doesn’t fit, but the composing can’t budge. Like I said, I don’t push it, it pushes me.
KC: All right Jeff, well it’s been awesome talking to you.
JH: Thank you Kevin, I really appreciate your very details and well-thought out questions. It’s been really a pleasure.
KC: I look forward to hearing what does come from your horizons and hopefully having the opportunity to play some more of your music.
JH: I really look forward to our future collaboration.
KC: Let’s give our thanks to the bunch at Resonance who are the Music History students in the Thornton School of Music who put this together and all other parties who made it possible. Thank you and goodnight.