Madison Heying shows us the view from the Music Center at UC Santa Cruz

Madison Heying is a PhD candidate in cultural musicology at the University of California Santa Cruz where she focuses on experimental, electronic, and computer music. On any given day, you’re as likely to find Madison on a stage performing DYI analog electronic circuits with her partner David Kant as you are to find her holed up in the experimental music archives at the UCSC library. In between publishing scholarly articles and presenting papers at international musicology conferences, she also hosts a podcast and curates experimental music events around the Monterey Bay area as a member of Indexical, a composer-run artist collective that focuses on new chamber and experimental music, and especially music that lies outside of the aesthetic boundaries of major musical institutions.

Somehow Madison has also found time in her schedule to co-organize the Kyma International Sound Symposium this year in Santa Cruz on the themes: Altered States and Ecosystems. She sat down with us recently to talk a little about Santa Cruz, experimental music, and banana slugs…

Experimental, electronic, and computer music

Hi Madison. Could you please tell us what a cultural musicologist is (as distinct from historical musicology, etc)? What do you study and how?

A cultural musicologist is a music historian that pays particular attention to the people groups behind a given musical phenomenon. I think the attention given to cultural context has been a trend in musicology for a while now, but my PhD program makes it a priority. Many of us study living or recent composers and music-making communities and borrow a lot of our methodology and theory from ethnomusicology. My work broadly focuses on experimental, electronic, and computer music.

At UC Santa Cruz, it appears that experimental music is still very much ongoing and supported. Can you talk a little bit about what “Experimental Music” is and why UC Santa Cruz was and continues to be a strong center for this aesthetic or this mindset?

There is a really strong history of musical experimentation in the Bay Area in general, dating back to composers like Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison to the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and later programs at Mills College, CCRMA, and UCSC. James Tenney taught at UCSC for a year in the 70s. Gordon Mumma started the Electronic Music studio here, David Cope ran the Algorithmic Composition program for years. Along with the Cabrillo Music Festival (which used to be VERY experimental), Santa Cruz was something of a hub for weird music in the 70s and 80s. There’s a really strong tradition here of incorporating elements of non-Western music into a more experimental compositional practice, of developing hand-made electronics, and also big developments in DSP and computer music.

At UCSC there are currently some really exciting people on the faculty including composers Larry Polansky, David Dunn, and musicologist Amy C. Beal in the Music Department, sound artist Anna Friz and Yolande Harris in the Arts Division, and Kristin Erickson Galvin, who is also co-organising KISS2018, on the staff of the Digital Arts and New Media Program.

You’ve been learning Kyma and building analog circuits as part of your research. Does having hands-on experience with the tools change the way you view, understand, and report on the cultural implications and impact of technology?

Absolutely! Taking a hands on approach has given me significant insight not only into how a given technology works, but how it might have been used historically, and some of the reasons why a composer or musician employed the technology in a particular way.

The thing with Kyma in particular is that it’s such a rich, deep language, so I think even if I spent 20 years using it, I’d still learn new things. Having the hands-on experience has been a total necessity to just scratching the surface of understanding of how Kyma works and why it’s so unique. It’s also made a big difference to collaborate or work with people that know a lot more about electronics or programming; I’m able to learn so much by seeing how they tackle/think through problems and find solutions.

Kyma International Sound Symposium (KISS)

Kristin Erickson Galvin and Madison Heying at UCSC talking about their implementation of cellular automata in Kyma

What motivated you to co-host KISS2018 in Santa Cruz? What would you like to show people about Santa Cruz, your university, your home state? What are you hoping people will come away with after participating in this conference?

My first impulse was that co-hosting KISS2018 would be a very tangible way to give back to the Kyma community, who have given me so much! I also thought UCSC would be the perfect place to host KISS and I knew that this would be my last year here, so I figured, why not do it now?!

I think the first KISS you attended was KISS2015 in Bozeman Montana. What struck you about KISS that made it different from other conferences that you regularly attend?

I was particularly struck by how nice everyone is. At academic conferences people can be really cruel during the Q & A after a presentation or in down time. A good number of people are jockeying to make a good impression on senior scholars or prove their intelligence by making someone else look bad, there is definitely more of a hostile competitive atmosphere. It just takes time to find your people and to be comfortable being yourself in that kind of environment.

But at KISS, it’s different. Everyone is there to learn and share their work, so there is a much greater sense of camaraderie. If there is competition, it seems like it’s mostly self-imposed, that people just want to get better at using Kyma or their compositional or performative practice.

Madison in front of the Music Center Recital Hall at UCSC

Was KISS2016 in Leicester UK different from the experience you had in Montana? How was it different and how was it similar in terms of the people, the atmosphere, the content, the music? Has your picture of the Kyma community evolved over time and with more experience?

Yes, I think each KISS has its own flavor based on the host institution and the people that end up coming. On a personal level they were also different because in Bozeman I didn’t really know anyone except the people I came with. So I felt a bit more like a newbie outsider. But in Leicester, I felt like I was already part of the group and it was great to see so many familiar faces and reconnect with people I met in Bozeman (and of course to meet new people as well).

Are there some things that you’re particularly looking forward to for KISS2018?

For me it’s been really fascinating to see how people interpret the theme. I love the variety of approaches Kyma users take to composition and performance, it makes for really dynamic concerts. Each time I attend KISS there’s usually a few pieces that totally shock me and blow me away and leave me wondering how they did it or just in awe of someone’s prowess as a performer/composer. I’m looking forward to seeing the thing that’s just under everyone’s radar, but that’s going to be the really memorable piece.

Santa Cruz and the spirit of place

Do you believe there is such a thing as “spirit of place”? If so, then how does the natural, cultural, political environment of Santa Cruz affect you and your colleagues?

Yes, I do. I think the biggest thing I notice is that life moves at a slower pace in Santa Cruz than other places, people are rarely in a rush to do things. As an impatient person this is probably the best and most frustrating aspect of living here, it’s difficult to get other people to feel the same sense of urgency about something, but at the same time it also helps me slow down and “stop and smell the roses” as they say.

Madison at Seabright Beach

How is the atmosphere influenced by, yet distinct from, the culture of “The Valley”? Since it’s so close by, does Silicon Valley ever act as a magnet, draining people and activities away from Santa Cruz? Do people ever “escape” from the Valley and seek refuge in Santa Cruz?

Yes, it’s becoming more and more common for techies from “over the hill” to live in Santa Cruz and commute into Silicon Valley. They realized that the commute is the same as it is from San Francisco, with slightly cheaper rents and better beach access! In general I love being so close to Silicon Valley. Many of my close friends work for tech companies like Google, Facebook, or Uber. Some of the excitement and energy of their fast-paced lifestyles oozes into Santa Cruz and sends a jolt of fresh possibilities into this sleepy beach town. I also love to think about the history of the place, how since the 60s there’s a real convergence of counter-cultural values with the most cutting-edge, high-tech and commercial innovations. It makes for some interesting paradoxes, like the wealthy aging-hippy beach bum software developer 🙂

For those of us who are planning to come to KISS2018, what’s the one thing that every visitor to Santa Cruz absolutely, unequivocally, cannot miss seeing or experiencing on their first visit there?

Well, the best thing about Santa Cruz is that it has the beach and redwood forests, so I’d say they have to visit both things. To go for a hike in the redwoods, maybe on Pogonip trail near campus, or Nisene Marks, about 5 miles south. And then visit the beach. Seabright beach, near where I live, is great, because the tourists don’t know about it, so it’s not usually too crowded. If you don’t want to go in the water, a walk along West Cliff Drive will also blow you away, I think it’s probably one of the most beautiful beach walks in California! And of course you should probably take a ride on the Giant Dipper at the boardwalk!

Madison enjoys a Penny ice cream at the beach

Guilty pleasures?

Penny ice cream at the beach! (Sadly it does cost more than a penny but is worth it — some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had!) Also my favorite bakery/coffee shop is Companion Bakers. Both Companion and Penny have vegan/gf options, and REALLY good regular stuff too!

Should people bring their Zoom recorders to Santa Cruz? What is the must-record sound they have to capture while they are there?

Yes! The seals of the wharf are really fun to record. If you have a hydrophone there are also a lot of interesting sounds under the water, including snapping shrimp!

 
 

 

Banana slugs. Why or why not?

I am very pro-banana slugs! You really have to see one in person to appreciate them and what a ridiculous creature they are. I can’t imagine a better mascot to capture the spirit of this place.

How hearing can change the world

Thanks for taking time out to talk with us, Madison! To conclude, if there were one thing you could change that you think would be of most help to other people or to society as a whole, what would it be?

To be able to listen to someone that is different than you and have understanding and compassion, and to let that act of hearing change how you operate in the world. For everyone to have more empathy, to really understand that everyone has a singular view of the world, based on so many factors like where and how they were raised, race, gender, etc. and that everyone else’s experience is valid.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Madison! We’re looking forward to having more discussions with you about life, empathy, experimental music, Kyma, and banana slugs at KISS2018: Altered States (6-9 September 2018 in Santa Cruz, California).

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