CLAIRE CHASE AT BIG EARS 2017 (interview) / by Claire Chase

Asheville Grit (AG): How did you first come to experimental/avant-garde music? You said during your show that you discovered the Varèse piece at age 13. How did you react to it?

Claire Chase (CC): My experience with that piece was a before and after moment of my life. My teacher brought the piece into my lesson and put it down on the stand. It was two pages of music, and I looked at it and said, "This doesn't look like music." There are lots of really low notes and really high notes, lots of swells and only one trill, and I was like, "That's stupid, where's all the fast stuff?"

And he said, "Do you want to hear it?" And I said, "Yeah I want to hear it," and he said "Ok, stand back.'" And we're in my parents' living room, this little carpeted tiny living room, and people are walking around and doing a million things, and at the same time, for the next four and a half minutes, I was completely transfixed. It was one of the most powerful four and a half minutes of my life, and I didn't know what was happening to me. I didn't know what I was hearing, I didn't know what kind of music it was, I didn't know what to call it, but the effect it had on me was profound. I was like, "Whatever this is, I want to do this. I want to learn how to do this and make music like this and have this kind of effect on other people. I want to share it." Because all of a sudden the flute was not just a flute. It was a percussion instrument. It had the power of a brass instrument, the sensuousness of the human voice, the brutal, raw engine of city sounds and sirens. 

So that was when I got bitten by the bug, and it was totally visceral and emotional. I became completely obsessed with the piece and I didn't want to play anything else. My poor parents had to listen to me practice it, and then I wanted to play it at my junior high school graduation, not because I was trying to be contrarian—I didn't even know that it was avant-garde. It just, to me, was the coolest thing I'd ever heard. It was beautiful and terrifying and moving, and I wanted other people to have that experience. I thought that playing it on a football field with a bunch of jeering adolescents would be great. I was like, "I'm gonna convert them!". And I wasn't ever allowed to do that, and maybe that's for the best. But I think that if you tell an adolescent not to do something it's the surest way they'll continue to do it. I've played the piece a thousand times. 

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