Organic methodology, crafting and relinquishing a voice, artistic individuality in service of creative communities.

written by Dustin Carlson
GLFCAM Béla Bartók Fellow, Cycle 9

When I received the phone call from Gabriela inviting me to partake in this year’s Academy, I was struck by her thoughtfulness, care, and by her genuine interest in the music I had sent. My friend Danny Gouker, a Fellow from Cycle 6 the previous year, had nominated me and knowing he had sung my praises highly, I wasn't very surprised to be invited, but the call and conversation with Gabriela touched me nonetheless. The fact that someone so accomplished and studied in the craft of composition was calling and taking my work seriously was exciting, and I was indeed surprised by the depth and sincerity of Gabriela’s interest in my work and in me. 

I have had no conservatory training in music. Yes, I have studied various subjects with gifted and inspiring individuals but really, my musical background feels like a simmering pot of feelings, listening and performance experience, ideas read in books and thoughts expressed in words by other humans. I often feel that I have no idea what I’m doing and that I wish I had a method for how to compose music. That’s not to say I don’t engage in disciplined study (most of my hours are indeed spent practicing, composing, learning about the craft, and playing), but I find that my most meaningful paths of study are directed by the whim of fascination, which can feel like a difficult energy to harness. For example, lately I’m dividing my music time amongst fascinations with flamenco guitar, negative harmony, guaguanco music from Cuba, the solos of Allan Holdsworth, arranging Tim Berne compositions for solo guitar, and composing and playing my own music — each an interest that I could easily devote a lifetime to…

I suppose I’m what Charles Mingus would call a “spontaneous composer” in that I’m an improviser and I have been since I picked up a guitar, learned a few chords, and hungrily started looking for other sounds I could make. Obviously, I notate music, but up until this opportunity with GLFCAM, nearly everything I have written has been something I’ve been involved in the performance and rehearsal of. So many of my sensibilities about music have only ever been conveyed in person, in dialogue with other players or put into the air myself. 

My impression of Gabriela is that she has an exceptional sense for personalities, that she’s willing to take risks and trust people, and that this has awarded her with a great and diverse wealth of collaborators, colleagues, and friends. Throughout the week in Boonville, CA, the advice I most often heard her give pertained to respecting and developing one’s own musical voice. In the reading of my music with violinist Michi Wiancko and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, aside from the thrill of hearing their depth of talent and artistry, which was for me awesomely inspiring, I noticed that Gabriela was drawing out the essence of the sketches I had sent. I realized that my years of improvising and playing music have resulted in some very clear impressions about musical sensations and the various ways of achieving them, and that having done so many things without a method has established some foundational tendencies I can create upon with confidence.

I found that Gabriela’s approach to each composer’s reading was similar in this regard — She is willing to enter your territory and search for the gold there. To me, that’s pretty unique in musical teaching, definitely not something to miss the profundity of in a field where the factors of institutional scholarship, marketing, scarcity of savvy criticism, technology, and an un-publicly educated public often convince artists to assimilate characteristics that may be of dubious implication to the integrity of their work. 

During the rest of the Boonville residency, I got to know and appreciate the folks around me, all of whom were remarkable characters and all of whom possess formidable talent and passion; for music, for redwood forests, for the treasures of nature, for the pleasure of an incredibly crafted meal, for games, and for the exceptional society of each other.


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Dustin Carlson is a Brooklyn based guitarist and composer who has toured all over the USA, Europe and Canada. Learn more on Dustin’s bio page.

Gabriela Lena Frank2019