Bodreuil Blog

A Conversation with Leila Bordreuil

By Sabrina Kissack

Nov 20, 2018

Leila Bordreuil is a composer and cellist whose current work is based in noise music and improvisation. In 2012, Bordreuil received her BA in Electronic Music and Electronic Arts from Bard College, where she studied with Marina Rosenfeld and Richard Teitelbaum. Bordreuil has previously performed at The Kitchen with Eli Keszler. She now returns to present her own composition, Piece for Cello and Double Bass Ensemble II, the debut of this iteration in her most recent series.

This piece will feature Leila’s largest ensemble yet, using six bassists to create dense texture and physical sensation. We had the opportunity to ask Leila a few questions regarding her influences and thought processes surrounding her upcoming performance.

Leila Bordreuil will perform Piece for Cello and Double Bass Ensemble II at The Kitchen on Tuesday, November 20th at 8pm, as well as Wednesday, November 21st at 8pm.

Piece for Cello and Double Bass Ensemble II requires a large ensemble compared to your previous work. What inspired this shift? 

When I first started writing this series of Bass Ensemble pieces, I already had a larger ensemble in mind. But it’s a challenging instrumentation and I had to take baby steps towards achieving a successful composition for this nomenclature. There is of course the search for the perfect low-end drone. But I am also fascinated by how different each double bass sounds. There are so many types of basses and schools of playing, and it's something I wanted to celebrate. This ensemble holds a lot of contrasting personalities, which I chose to put forth by creating space for improvisation and using a different amplification method for each player. As a result, the piece contains complexity and density throughout, even in moments when the compositional content is minimal. And in that sense, the more the merrier.

What influence did spectral music have on this piece?

I think Spectral Music is actually the silent motor behind all my instrumental music, but solely from a philosophical perspective. I discovered Gerard Grisey in my early twenties and it completely changed my approach to the cello. In his book Écrits ou L'invention de la musique spectrale, Gerard Grisey stated that spectral music, which focuses on the frequency spectrum of acoustic instruments, was created to escape “the conservatism and restrictiveness of twelve-tone music.” At the time I was rebelling against a decade of alienating conservatory training, and found that to be radical and inspiring. I then tried to compose spectral music in the manner of Grisey, with spectral analysis and a focus on partials and the harmonic series, but I have no scientific training and it was a complete failure. So I just experimented, over and over again, and learned how manipulate frequency spectrums based on experience.

In recent years I started working with bassist Zach Rowden, who will be performing this piece and is a member of the Hyperion Ensemble. This eventually led us to Bucharest where I got to work with Iancu Dumitrescu and familiarize myself with the Romanian school of spectralism, which is wildly different than the French school and hinges much more on experimenting with the instrument itself. My experience with Dumitrescu gave me more confidence in putting the word “spectral” on my music. I also learned from Dumitrescu that there is a lot of value in composing “on the spot.” During rehearsal, I’ll discover that one bass has an extremely powerful wolf tone, and I’ll say “scratch this entire page of notated music (which I spent weeks writing), just focus on your wolf.”

In the past you’ve explored site-specific composition. How does architecture affect your compositions? Was Piece for Cello and Double Bass Ensemble II influenced by The Kitchen's architecture or history?

When you are dealing with frequency spectrums and psychoacoustics, space is extremely important. Sound forms in space, and space is responsible for any psychoacoustic phenomena. In that sense, my compositions are often dictated by space given their spectral nature. I like composing site-specific, multi-channel instrumental pieces because it multiplies spectral possibilities and widens dynamic range. Acoustically The Kitchen is pretty neutral, so for this piece I am mostly focused on the architecture of the sound system. I try to mix different approaches to the sound system, from the “wall of speakers” reminiscent of 90’s raves to the cinematic 5.1, with a deafening stack of guitar amps as a tribute to punk shows. There are a lot of stories that can be told with amplification and speaker placement.

How do you work with visual aspects, such as light, in your sound performances?

Working with light is something very new and I’m still very much at a stage of experimentation. I am not interested in creating visual experiences as much as sensory and physical experiences. It’s interesting because there is a heavy use of lights in rock shows and dance music clubs, but never in the context of chamber music. I would love to see that change, so I’m trying it out.

Photo Credit: Cameron Kelly. Courtesy of ISSUE Project Room. 

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