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Danny Clay: Under the Radar, Outside the Box

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Danny Clay - a composer and music educator based in San Francisco, CA - is known for his unique approach to chamber music. He'll be bringing his expertise in education and composition to Omaha to teach at SOUNDRY, and has also created a brand new piece to be premiered at the festival.

Here he talks about what's keeping him up at night:

Under the Radar, Outside the Box - two reasons I’m excited (and a tiny bit scared) to head to Omaha this summer

If I were to sit here and elaborate on all the reasons I’m looking forward to this year’s festival, I’m afraid I might actually miss the festival itself. That would never do, so I’ll try to boil things down here as best as I can.

The two events I’m involved in this year may not seem immediately related, but they sure feel that way to me. In both cases, I’ve had to re-structure how my brain goes about putting a piece of music together. In both cases, I’ve had to think about making sound in ways I’ve never dreamed of before. In both cases, I’ll be showing up with a plan as to how things will go down, but utterly no idea as to what the sonic outcome will be. Are these projects keeping me awake at night? For sure. Will they be worth it? I truly believe so.

1) Soundry, an experimental music camp for kids.

I like composing a lot, but getting to work with children on developing ways they can express themselves sonically and push the creative limits of what music can be — well, I think that’s about as cool as it gets. Over the course of 5 days, we will be building instruments, inventing and composing with our own notation systems, putting together a noise parade, and generally searching for new ways to make and think about sound. One of my favorite projects is to have students create graphic scores that are in turn performed, either by their fellow classmates or by professional musicians. With the help of some of the festival’s immensely talented musicians, it is my hope that Soundry will be able to not only workshop, but realize and record, a whole slew of new and original pieces by these young musical minds. I’m honored to be working in partnership with the fabulous Stacey Barelos on this, whose knowledge is enviable and enthusiasm infectious.

2) A new, immersive installation called “nearly,” for an indeterminate number of musicians.

I really do like composing a lot, but sometimes the process feels frustratingly divorced from the actual act of music-making. Lately, I can’t seem to shake the thrill of devising a situation in which sounds occur, but not knowing exactly how those sounds will play out in real-time - not knowing how things will begin or end, or what kinds of connections will be made along the way. Everyone’s in the same boat, collectively exploring and charting their way through a landscape that is wholly new. It seems to me that there’s an incredible amount of mystery and magic in working this way.

This new piece, “nearly,” takes this idea of open-endedness to a place I’ve never gone before. Every musician who wants to participate will get a set of musical events to choose from, most of which contain minimal instructions starting with the word ‘nearly.’ Additional events involve a combination of movement and responding musically to other people in the room. Every musician will create their own part separately, creating a completely flexible and dynamic network of relationships that will unfold over an extended period of time. What will a room full of 2 dozen people playing nearly inaudibly sound like? Nearly in tune? Nearly in time? Nearly every possible combination therein? Words cannot express how curious I am to find out.


Between these two projects, I’ve managed to find enough reasons to toss and turn at night, and I confess the fact that I’ll be flying halfway across the country without knowing what will result from either of these undertakings makes me a little bit queasy. At the same time, I can’t help but feel that this is exactly why being involved in this kind of music is so special - the beauty and unbridled joy of discovery. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to take this leap with, and sincerely hope you can be there with us every step of the way.

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