New Music Box | By Trevor Gureckis
A couple weeks ago I was at the New Music Bake Sale in Brooklyn. I was walking around meeting composers and performers at this social gathering/concert/pastry sale—occasionally reconnecting with people that I haven’t seen in a while. I even ran into some people that I had not seen since my grad school years at the Yale School of Music. I had a few exchanges that night that really stuck with me afterwards. They started with the most common question between fellow artists: What have you been up to? I was a little stumped.
I did have a ballet performed at BAM in the summer of 2014, but since then and very much before then, not a lot of new music activity has been happening in my life. So in that moment, I didn’t feel I had anything compelling to discuss. There was nothing that I was finishing or that was in progress. And so the conversation became a little awkward.
I later thought about these moments. My next ballet premiere? Where is my opera or orchestra commission? This isn’t to say that I deserved these projects, but more that I hadn’t thought about them much until now. Between the years of 2010 and 2015, I’ve written a total of three substantial works.
But I have been ‘up to’ something over these years. I’ve been building a commercial music company called Found Objects. It’s not “new music”, but I write a lot of music and it’s an immense amount of work.
The unintended consequence of building Found Objects is that the focus and energy required to create and maintain it has in some ways forced me to withdraw from other fields of interest. While my friends and colleagues were pursuing projects in concert, dance, opera, and other artistic mediums, I was meeting music producers for new commercial opportunities. These opportunities were required to make Found Objects a success and, if I missed them, Found Objects would suffer.
Jay Wadley, Bryan Senti, and myself started Found Objects while studying at the Yale School of Music. It began as a simple composer collective but eventually grew into something completely different. Eight years later, Jay and I now have a producer, an accountant, and a lawyer, as well as health insurance, workers’ comp, freelancer agreements, musicology reports, and many more responsibilities. But more importantly, we have a beautiful music studio with three writing rooms and a common space looking towards the Empire State Building in which we write music for advertising, television, and film almost every day.
I remember imagining that I was going to be a concert composer who moonlighted as a professor at a major university, just as my teacher at the time, Kevin Puts, was making it work at the University of Texas where I got my undergraduate degree. That made sense to me at UT and during my first year at the Yale School of Music.
My ideas began to change when I interned for Nico Muhly at Philip Glass’s studio in NoHo. This was the summer of 2006. Nico was just beginning to get consistent commissions and collaborations. He became busy enough to need a full-time intern to help with his assisting of Philip Glass.
I had been a very serious superfan of Philip Glass’s music since high school, so the whole opportunity blew my mind. I knew everything he wrote. I knew all of his popular canon but also his more hidden works—symphonies, concertos, and orchestral overtures, etc.—which rarely get played. (They are amazing pieces that are completely ignored by the traditional classical music industry.)
But Philip seemed to be making it just fine by himself. He was always writing and he was living comfortably. He only had a few employees to help facilitate his extraordinarily busy career. Nico worked for him as his sole music assistant for about nine years. Philip wrote all of his music fully orchestrated by hand and he needed someone to transfer his manuscript into Sibelius and, when working on films, Digital Performer to make orchestral mockups.
What I found most interesting was that he was writing so much music and he was open to whatever assignment that came to him. As long as he thought it was either artistically interesting or was needed to pay the bills, he took it on. It looked like a great balance and a great way to be a composer for a living.
I was interning when he was writing his Oscar-nominated score for Notes on a Scandal. That film was a struggle and he had to write the score twice. At the same time, however, he was writing a 40-minute oratorio called The Passion of Ramakrishna. But Philip’s approach to music had a Zen-like abandon. Keep moving, keep writing, and never look back.
I returned to Yale for my second year with a new perspective. This guy was doing it all by himself. He was completely artistically fulfilled and self-sufficient. I was talking with Jay and Bryan at a School of Music event and we agreed: individually we were no Philip Glass, so let’s band together and make it happen.
For the next few years, we navigated our lives through various positions of apprenticeship. I was working for Philip full time when Nico left to pursue his own extraordinary career. Bryan was assisting Rufus Wainwright on his first opera, Prima Donna, and Jay also assisted Rufus and was an assistant composer on the TV show Lie to Me, among other projects.
After working with Rufus, Bryan landed a job for an ad music company called Human. Human has offices around the globe and employs some 13 full-time composers in their NYC studio alone. Bryan was a music producer there for about nine months and learned about music in the advertising industry in great detail: the most notable detail being money. Maybe this was the route for our artistic success. Make Found Objects a music company that writes original music for advertising and then turn that financial stability into a way to balance the work that pays the bills and the work we found most artistically interesting, just as Philip Glass does.
This was 2011 and, for the next four years, we had a new path to follow. We knew we were getting into an extremely competitive industry so we quickly learned that the only way we were going to make this work was to drop everything and go full force. It was a grueling process that took place in our apartments until 2013 when we built our studio in the Flatiron District.