A composer and a curator had a conversation about how composers work.
Western classical music traditionally splits music making into two distinctly separate jobs: the composer and the performer. The composer invents the ideas behind the music and the performer realizes them. Sometimes the composer and performer are the same person; sometimes they are separated by hundreds of years. Yet even across great distances of time and space, the composer and performer can communicate with each other through a series of written instructions: the score. Like a rulebook, a score is a description of actions the composer proposes to the performer. We value composers by noticing what qualities of rules they invent; we value performers by noticing what they add to, change, emphasize, or ignore in the following of those rules.
Visual art can be made this way as well. It is not always as easy to see, because so many artists are both the composer and the performer, both the rule maker and the rule fulfiller. The artists in I was a double invent rules and then follow them; whether written or not, the artist made a proposal to herself or himself that becomes realized in the physical artwork. As in Western classical music, each artist has separated the invention of the idea behind the thing from the creation of the thing itself.
Curators David Lang and Ian Berry asked the artists for a sentence describing their rule making. David Lang composed music for each artwork based on the artists’ statements, making his score out of theirs. I was a double comes from one of the artist’s statements, with the word “double” resonating on multiple levels: pair, duplicate, shadow, doppelganger; the musical term that indicates two instruments playing the same part together; the artists’ double roles in inventing and realizing their own rules.
David Lang (b. 1957) is a New York-based composer who is active in many genres and media. His piece the little match girl passion, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and a Grammy Award in 2010. Lang is Musical America’s 2013 Composer of the Year and recipient of Carnegie Hall’s Debs Composer’s Chair for 2013-2014. An active collaborator, he has worked closely with a diverse group of artists including Peter Greenaway, Benjamin Millepied, Susan Marshall, Darren Aronofsky, Ann Hamilton, and Mark Dion. Lang is co-Artistic Director of New York’s Bang on a Can, which he founded in 1987 with composers Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, and he is Professor of Music Composition at the Yale School of Music.