String Singers
Saturday Trifecta (pt. 1)

Cocktail Conversation: David T. Little


David T. Little, who I've written about previously, is a composer, drummer, and bandleader who counts as influences everyone from George Orwell to Megadeth. In between finishing up his doctorate at Princeton, he can be found around town with his new music group Newspeak, or hearing his pieces performed at places like Carnegie Hall and City Opera.

I caught up with David this past Monday at LPR, where Electric Kompany performed his rock-tinged Tricky Bits. After a bit of post-performance socializing, we found an empty Mexican restaurant across the street, where we chatted over a pair of fishbowl 'ritas 'til they kicked us out somewhere past midnight. Here's what I remember:

On Becoming a Composer: "Someone gave me a copy of Kronos' Howl, U.S.A. sophomore year of college. It had all this amazing music: Michael Daugherty's Sing Sing: J. Edgar Hoover, Harry Partch's Barstow, Scott Johnson's Cold War Suite... It blew my mind. I said to myself: this is what I want to do."

On Princeton: "It's actually one of the most diverse and open places I've ever been; it hasn't been the House of Babbitt for a long time. Everyone there is doing something different, and they're really serious about what they do. There's just an incredibly high level of integrity and skill, and there's a lot of risk-taking. Even if you try something and it doesn't work, it's still positive. I think it's a testament to the open-mindedness of the faculty there--people like Paul Lansky and Steven Mackey--who've sort of remade the program in their own image."

On Rock: "I'm interested in rock as performance practice. Rock is all about the stuff between the notes."

On Running a Band: "I used to write the songs for my band in high school, all this really complicated stuff with mixed meters and weird combinations of instruments: drums, flute, trumpet. When I started Newspeak, it was pretty much the same thing: taking different instruments and putting them together to try to make something greater than the sum of its parts." 

On Being a Political Musician: "There's a quote from Orwell's 'Why I Write' that sums up my artistic philosophy pretty well: 'It's the desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.' Though, I should say I'm not interested in trying to give people answers, I'm more interested in conversation. I think that may be why I'm drawn more and more these days to opera and music theater: it's easier to have a dialogue like this if the materials are a little less abstract." (Note: David's dissertation is on political music theatre.)

On Metal: "I still go to a fair amount of metal shows. The whole thing just blows me away: these guys seem like they want to push themselves beyond the point of what's physically possible. I think about the drummer from Napalm Death  (Mick Harris): there are times where his body just refuses to go as fast as he wants it to. How can you not be awed by that?"

On Fitting In: "For a long time, I was trying to be the 'right' kind of composer. By deciding not to be that, I became the right kind of composer for who I am. I have a real interest in expressing myself by whatever means is most conducive to conveying what I feel at that moment: string quartet, orchestra, rock band. It all comes from the same creative source. I guess when you're at a point that you're strong enough to be able to withstand outside influence, that's freeing."

On Being a 21st Century Musician: "There was never a great aesthetic battle among people in my generation. We're all just trying to be true to who we are as artists. And, if people like it - hey, that's great."  

On Community: "It's a pretty close-knit group of musicians here. It's not so much competitive as nurturing: we share values and experiences, go hear each others' gigs, play in each others' groups. It definitely has an impact on our own sounds." 

On Hearing his Music Performed: "Waiting for your piece to be performed on a program is just utter fear. I'm happy when it's in a place like LPR that serves drinks."