Saturday, December 27, 2014

Julia A. Miller 13 Questions

Julia A. Miller is a sound artist, guitarist, improvisor, composer, visual artist, curator and educator.

As a guitarist, Julia performs with Volcano Radar, a fusion of ecstatic improvisational energy and apollonian intellect. a power quartet with dual free jazz/noise/avant guitarists with Elbio Barilari along with Edward Wilkerson Jr., Rollo Radford, Harrison Bankhead, Tim Davis, Lou Ciccotelli, and Avreeayl Ra. Volcano Radar moves fluently through a stylistic range from noise-funk improvisation to structured sonic forms. In 2013, the quartet released the digital EP "Refutation of Time" on the Chicago ­based netlabel Pan Y Rosas.

Julia has performed with the electroacoustic trio Auris, with Eric Leonardson and Christopher Preissing, a Chicago-based collective that performs original music on traditional, electronic, and self-built instruments. Founded in 2007, its performances employ free improvisation and non-traditional scores in the exploration of electroacoustic sound as an organic art of time and space.

Julia has also performed with Gimlet Eye, Frank Abbinanti, Julian Berke, and Nick Alvarez; and with HKM, with Mark Hardy and Reid Karris, and she's a frequent soloist and collaborator in experimental and avant garde chamber music.

In 2013, Julia received the Meier award; an unrestricted grant given for a significant mid-career

In 2012, Auris released the cd "Rub" with Gino Robair on Pan Y Rosas and Public Eyesore. Also in 2012, Julia was asked to participate in the $100 Guitar Project, a double cd release of improvised and composed short pieces by 65 different guitarists which was released on Bridge Records with proceeds benefitting CARE. Also in 2012, a live recording of her solo performance on the Experimental Sound Studio's Sunday Solos series, titled "Solo Variations", was released as a digital EP on the Chicago netlabel Pan y Rosas. Julia is a founding member of the Chicago Scratch Orchestra.

Gmlet Eye

As a curator, Julia has hosted and programed the Articular Facet series at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. This series of electro-acoustic compositions and structured improvisations features the incorporation of the visual and physical into the sonic. The performances reflect the use of ancient, adapted, or hacked technology, invented instruments and performative objects combined with traditional musical instruments. The initial Articular Facet series, performed at various venues in the Chicago area in 2011, set the foundation for the 2012 production of John Cage's Variations V on the John Cage Festival, the 2013 production of John Cage's Variations VI at the Neiman
Center (SAIC),
and continues with an internet radio show on "Articular Facet with jseq_a". In 2014, Articular Facet has become a formal collective. Articular Facet now functions as an open-culture collective of accomplished working musicians and artists willing and able to push boundaries and experiment with ambitious long term and large scale works- new forms of opera that fit the original definition of a significant work. We're interested in works that bring together multiple media and collaboration for the sake of the articular process, so stay tuned for updates on member works and future large scale projects. 

Also in 2011, Julia served as the music curator for Collaboraction's Sketchbook Festival at the Chopin Theater, programming over 20 concerts of live music within the theatrical setting. In 2012, along with noted sound artist Eric Leonardson and composer Christopher Preissing, Julia curated the Make Sound Festival for young artists at the ZhouB Center in partnership with the Wet Paint exhibition curated by Sergio Gomez.


Julia is a former curator, along with founder George Flynn and composer Jeff Kowalkowski, of the New Music at the Green Mill concert series. She is also a member of the Chicago Composers Consortium (C3), and was instrumental in the technical organization of the Chicago Composer's Forum's production of John Cage's Musicircus at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004 as well as performances of Cage's Variations V and VI in Chicago.

As a composer, in 2013 the flute and percussion duo Due East will premiere the commissioned piece "c_nz_n_". In 2012, Julia partnered with Bay area composer and improvisor Gino Robair on the Improvised Opera Workshop at High Concept Labs which saw thirty improvisors tackle the combined operas of Miller ("Dissecting Adam") and Robair ("I, Norton") in an immersive setting with interactive scoring and video.

Julia is Guitar Professor at Carthage College, an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Sound at the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) in Chicago, and is the Guitar Dept. Head at the Music Institute of Chicago (MIC). Julia received a DMA in composition from Northwestern University in 2005.

with Fareed Haque

As a composer, Julia is active with the Chicago Composer’s Consortium and New Music Chicago, and her first cd of acoustic chamber music will debut on the Southport Composer’s label in 2010. Julia’s music has been performed by artists including guitarist Fareed Haque, piano trio The Lincoln Trio, guitar and mandolin duo Ahlert & Schwab, and sopranos Toni Arnold and Julia Bentley, and has been featured at such festivals and venues as the Aspen Music Festival, May In Miami, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Depaul University, Northwestern University, and Oberlin University, as well as rock clubs, cabarets, bars and alternative spaces internationally. She has received awards and fellowships from the Chicago Tribune Foundation, the New York Art Ensemble, the United Arts Council, the American Composer’s Forum, and Meet the Composer. Currently a member of the composition faculty at the Music Institute of Chicago. 

Volcano Radar with reedist Edward Wilkerson Jr. and visual artist Lewis Achenbach on the second Jazz Occurrence.

As an electronic musician, Julia recently completed a sound installation for the Florasonic program at the Lincoln Park Conservatory sponsored by the Experimental Sound Studio.  In 1998, Julia was a finalist for the Gaudeamus Music Week Composition Competition for the acousmatic work “bluu”, and also presented that same work at the IRCAM Forum in Paris. In 2008, Julia received a premier of a new work for 5.1 DVD and video titled “artists go from unknown to mainstream overnight” at the Electronic Music Midwest Festival.
Avreeayl Ra's Dream Stuff with guest Rob Mazurek

Poetry and the voice live at the heart of Julia’s work, and poetic documents as scores, performative objects, and new media poetics are part of Julia’s ongoing exploration into the hybridization of voice, instruments, electronics, and video to create an organic whole from one source of material (her voice).  To this end, Julia developed two innovative courses for the School of the Art Institute: Song (Sound), and Sound Poetry (LibHum).
Dissecting Norton

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

My first memory of the guitar is seeing a KISS poster at the local grocery store; I was 5 years old.  The band's makeup and costumes were definitely dramatic, but I vividly remember paying attention to the fact that they were playing guitars in the picture.  I began bugging my parents, and they finally got me one for Christmas when I was 8, a 3/4 size steel string acoustic, "The Drifter"; I still have it.

I don't remember "not" thinking about myself as a musician or "not" being aware of sounds around me.  The sounds of my childhood (preteen) included…

…the musicals and atmosphere of my Grandfather's dinner theater …midwestern marshes, rivers and lakes near the small town where I grew up…70s hard rock/heavy metal, particularly Mott the Hoople and Iron Maiden …Dixieland clarinet music performed by an older family relative.

Immersive electric guitar soundscapes with intricate interwoven melodic lines....

What do you recall about your guitar learning process?

My process was, and is, a combination of the visual, visualizing the conceptual, altering and adapting the physical, and listening to living models.

I didn't focus on the technique of learning specific, non-classical, solos by ear or transcription until much later.  As a result, my solos still tend to be textural, noisy, downright atonal or "out". This could be challenging, because often the feedback I got was that I was "doing it wrong" until, farther along in the process, the solos weren't "wrong" anymore and became "right".

Gimlet Eye! Julia Miller, guitar; Julian Berke, keyboard; Nick Alvarez, drums

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money? 

First: my cassette collection from about 15-19 years old Last: (purchased together from the artist): Troy Schafer - Untitled No. 1 (color 7" and digital download) Burial Hex - The Heirophant (color LP) Kinit Her - Storm of Radiance (2xLP) Kinit Her - The Poet and the BLue Flower (color LP) (purchased together from the artist): Seth Nehil - Umbra (digital download, CDR, original print made with Black Walnut ink) (Commercial): Captain Beefheart - Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972 Miles Davis - Miles at the Fillmore—Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene? 

Today's digital music scene can be a paradox of self-contradictory extremes in distribution and resolution. For example, on the darker side of mass distribution, a huge internationally known band recently imposed its music on listeners without their previous consent, via one of the main digital media applications. In the same week, an international male pop artist made a controversial choice by ignoring conventional distro outlets and releasing his latest record through paid file-sharing. While the 8 seconds of noise accidentally released by a young female pop tart gave her more discussion in the noise/art scene - if only as a joke - than she ever dreamed of (or deserved).

Conversely, the Free Music Archive has been a huge benefit to independent artists in terms of distribution, though physical media will also always be an important part of an artist's practical output. Auris's second record, "Rub", my "Solo Variations" recording, and the first Volcano Radar recording, "Refutation of Time", were all digital releases. However, the Auris record was a dual release between Pan Y Rosas (digital), and Public Eyesore (physical), and Solo Variations was also mixed for future release on LP. The possibility to release high-bit rate mp3s and lossless digital files is accessible to all, and some established artists have developed their own physical hardware along with proprietary platforms to release digital files or have partnered to helm existing digital media streaming services. Large scale online radio streaming doesn't seem to be a smart direction for artists, because the artist loses control over (and revenue from) their work; though it's possible to establish a DIY radio station like Chicago's or to set up paid "name-your-price" digital downloads.

Dissecting Adam, a chamber opera project by Julia Miller slated for 2012, relates the existence of an 111 year old woman whose life spans three centuries, having been born in 1899 and dying in 2011. Her story is interpreted by five female voices who individually represent eras of the woman's life, providing a skeletal frame for the exploration of the evolutionary archetype through the woman's relationship to the male figures in her life (collectively known as "Adam"). Her lifetime provides the construct for artistic collaboration and exploration of other themes including (but not limited to) the word play on "adam" (human being, here translated as man) and the feminine "adamah" (ground, soil), and the ancient Chinese practice of using oracle bones for divination. Articular Facet is a series of performative and technical explorations of Dissecting Adam and other large themes.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?

At age 8, I started lessons with a lady whom I adored, but who was primarily an accordion teacher. We studied mostly flatpicking with method books. That same year, I gave my first public performance, on my (other) Grandfather's Martin ukelele, playing and singing "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" and "Bye, Bye, Blues". I still know and teach these tunes, and I still have that uke. I also appeared in a musical, singing a duet, in the aforementioned dinner theater… The next tunes I learned and performed in public were "Hard Day's Night" by the Beatles, and "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce (I was probably 10 and was as thrilled by Leroy Brown as Jeff Parker seemed to be in his interview). I learned the chords to both of those tunes, but the Croce was the first recording I remember listening to specifically to learn the melodic phrasing. In junior high, I graduated to a classical guitar teacher, who helped me find my first real classical guitar, a Yamaha. I still have that instrument, too. The guitar, and the teacher, were… decent. I came to him with my first "electric guitar solos learned by ear" - "Stairway to Heaven" and "Dream On" - and he taught me movements from the Robert de Visée Suite No. 9 in D minor. A fair trade.

Meanwhile, my cousin, the clarinetist, had influenced my mother to start me on that instrument, in addition to the guitar, whilst making me cassette compilations of recordings by Tal Farlow. I performed with my cousin in summer bands, and played Sousa marches at 200+bpm with a circus band. My clarinet teacher, who challenged me more than the guitar teacher at that point, gave me the first movement of the Mozart Concerto and the Solo Sonata by Paul Hindemith. The Hindemith was hugely important for my sense of interval and voicing, which I transferred to the guitar and later to composition. I also performed the introductory solo to "Rhapsody in Blue" with an orchestra. The concept of extended techniques besides the written notes, such as embouchure glissandi, and listening to performances in depth for phrasing and articulation evolved from that experience. The first jazz tunes I learned to play were "So What" and "All Blues" by Miles Davis. I was 16, and spent time at a summer jazz camp. Though, I have to say, those tunes and the Tal Farlow recordings didn't really take effect or sink in until much later as a guitarist (I did use motives from "All Blues" in an experimental score in my early 20s, though, which later became the chorus to my opera)… …at that time, as a teenager, I owned a really beautiful hollowbody Epiphone - one of the few instruments I don't still have, and the reason I learned not to sell guitars if at all possible, unless they have something seriously structurally wrong with them or have inherited bad vibes.

In college, I double majored in classical guitar performance and composition. Finally, I ended up with a double BM, double MM, and, ultimately a DMA in composition. In undergrad, there was - at last - a real classical guitar teacher who was, by far, the best guitarist I had known "in real life". Also, in undergrad, I bought the first electric guitar I really played; a sea blue/green Kramer, classic 80s - locking nuts, Floyd Rose tremolo - purchased from a dude, who seemed much older at the time but was probably only about 23, whose girlfriend was making him sell it so they could settle down. He made me promise to play it. That guitar became the first guitar I adapted, prepared, and installed a MIDI pickup on. It was used in the noise/timbre trio Auris, where I tuned it down relatively to low B to match the resonance of Eric Leonardson's springboard. The second electric I adapted was a black Mexican Strat which had something of a history in DIY Chicago bands. While the Kramer's wandering pitch center worked well with Auris, and became a feature in that group's improvising techniques, the Strat could actually play fretted notes in tune.
Volcano Radar live at Northwestern University Elbio Barilari, guitar, Julia A. Miller, guitar/video, Harrison Bankhead, bass, Avreeayl Ra, drums

Later, I had the Jeff Beck tone mod done on it, and also had the tremolo set up like Beck's - in order to play scalar notes with the tremolo bar. I contemplated building my own "ultimate art guitar" but realized what I wanted was an instrument that would elevate my electric playing, taking it to a new level, and one that I couldn't build on my own. For several years, I made lists of features, diagrams of instruments, chose wood, and finally found a luthier willing to build what I wanted. Recently, I completed an amp to pair with that guitar, a 50w tweed Twin. In the early 90s, I began attempting to use a computer with the guitar. The inability of the processors to cope lead to my interest in interruption and "glitch". This also evolved into triggering videos with my sound improvising. For immersive or multichannel sound, I occasionally use this special breakout box with my MIDI pickup, routing each string to its own channel. Recently, the opportunity to play and collaborate with free jazz musicians in the context of Volcano Radar has been a dream; that band has been and will be the catalyst for large composed and improvised performances.

Julia Miller performs "Harrow/Dormant", a graphic score by Noé Cuéllar. Live from Transistor, Chicago (February 2011), as part of Articular Facet 1.

What would you enjoy most in a music work?

Sincerity, challenge, proportion.

If you could, what would you say to yourself 30 (or 35) years ago, about your musical career?

Have the confidence to truly focus on your own playing in a public way (not only in a private way), and be okay with calling positive attention to yourself.

Julia Miller performs "Harrow/Dormant", a graphic score by Noé Cuéllar. Live at WNUR Airplay, Chicago (March 2011)

What quality do you most empathize with in a musician? 

Fire. And brains.

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with? 

Nels Cline, Neil Young/Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Arthur Blythe, Lee Bontecou, Pierre Henri

Dissecting Norton is a live combination of two improvised operas following independent graphic scores: Dissecting Adam, by Julia A. Miller, and I, Norton, by Gino Robair, take the shape of improvised collages governed by graphic timelines. They combine the use of hand cues, graphic scores, memory-based improvisational structures, and traditionally notated music.

What is some valuable advice that someone has given to you in the past? 

"Poné las bolas arriba de la mesa"/(Put your balls over the table)

What gear do you use?

Out of a couple dozen instruments, there are three guitars that I use most: Todd Keehn electric/MIDI Guild Starfire S4 semi-hollow Barranco classical guitar Amps: Vintage Roland Jazz Chorus 120 Handmade 50w Tweed Twin stereo or quad PA Various pedals (handmade/mods/commercial) in my pedal board MIDI pickups GI-10 MIDI interface JV-1010 Roland sound module things I carry in my guitar case: threaded metal rod to use like a bow ebow steel slide ceramic slide various picks metal nail files and sandpaper contact mics and inductors, sometimes a mini .5w amp strings: coated for the Keehn; light tops/heavy bottoms for the others. Custom Spalted Maple Burl Guitar; built for Julia Miller, By Todd Keehn

What do you like the most about being a musician?

It's not that I "like" being a musician, it is simply what I do.

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

We are mixing a new Volcano Radar release, consisting of live recordings of improvised performances by the band made since August 2014. I was asked to write a concerto for electric/MIDI guitar, classical guitar trio, and large (200 player) acoustic guitar orchestra for performance in 2015. It's also about time for a new solo record.

Julia A. Miller Solo Variations

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