#35: Nathan Hall
Composer Nathan Hall is a sonic explorer; more than notes on page, his works encompass multidisciplinary leaps over miles of experiential ideas and human stories, spanning the musical gap between the traditional and the boldly new. His works have been performed by groups as diverse as the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Alia Musica Pittsburgh, Denver’s Ars Nova Singers, Icelandic choirs and a convention of roller-coaster enthusiasts. A former Fulbright fellow with a noteworthy resume (he'll christen the Denver Art Museum’s new artist-in-residence program during the month of March) and ideas to spare, Hall represents the pioneering face of modern music — right here in Denver. His 100CC questionnaire follows.
Nathan Hall plays a set or original works at MCA Denver.
If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
I’d do something radical with twelfth-century composer Perotin, but he’d likely just talk about chanting all day and tell me I was going to Hell for suggesting hand claps. So instead I’ll say Salvador Dalí, who an old professor of mine who knew him said was actually quite lovely in real life. We would make a stage production, with dancers jumping around on crutches wearing crazy telephone hats, all choreographed to my music, which would include hand claps.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Composer John Luther Adams does amazing new things with spatial music and music performed outdoors. His works, inspired by nature and the Alaskan wilderness, are profoundly moving, like nothing I’ve ever heard before.
Although not an overtly political person, Edward Snowden is fascinating to me, and I wrote a chamber music piece about him (sadly, the producers of Citizen Four, the film about him, did not contact me to write the score). Snowden’s involvement with the NSA and the privacy of digital information captured my attention. I used music to highlight these complicated people and issues, and the ambiguity of reality.
Colby Keller, a sex worker/porn star and thoughtful art/anthropology blogger, also really interests me. His unusual position has him sharing his life and work online, sandwiching “adult” films and photo shoots between posts on U.S. history and contemporary art shows. His openness about his body and sexuality and his ability to mix highbrow and lowbrow culture together is so inspiring. Plus, he’s really hot.
Jack Kurutz performing Hall's "Tame Your Man," a work for piano and bondage artist.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Classical concerts oversaturated by the “greatest hits.” Unlike the art world, which is always abuzz with the next hot talent, there is such a lack of new classical music in most people’s lives that they never even get a chance to decide if it resonates for them. New music is pushed by the wayside in favor of the familiar Beethoven and Brahms. I know this “trend” has been strong for 250 years, but it wasn’t always—concerts used to be entirely new music. It didn’t matter if they would stand the test of time. I want to celebrate living composers who make me feel alive.
What's your day job?
I’m Assistant Manager at Fancy Tiger Clothing, and it is one of the most gratifying and wonderful places I’ve ever worked. I also “curate” our staff snack selections. That’s why we have such good customer service—my coworkers are well-fed.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Here is a sample agenda, in no particular order:
1. Explore every lava nook and glacial cranny of Scandinavia and make music in the fjords.
2. Travel to remote polar islands like Svalbard and Antarctica, and make work based on scientific data I’d gather from the poles, such as weather conditions and star positions. I’m torn about the idea of arctic tourism, but with unlimited funds perhaps I could travel more sustainably.
3. Buy a stone cottage in Scotland with a sheep or two. I’ll make scarves from their wool. But quiet sheep, so they don’t disturb my piano playing.
5. Bankroll an experimental choir to sing new works in overlooked venues like industrial warehouses and parking garages.
6. Hang a bell in every tree of a forest and wait for a breeze.
7. Give my tiny hometown of Gowanda, NY a spectacular music facility for their school district and renovate the town theater’s historic pipe organ.
Filming "Chinook," a percussion quartet based on wind patterns in Boulder.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
It’s a simple thought, but it’s a good reminder for any venue to post their hours clearly online and keep them updated. I’ve gone to several institutions in Denver during their normal operating hours to find them closed for a special event or private party, without any notice on their website or social media. It’s hard for me to spread the word about a great show if I don’t know when I can show up!
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Matthew Brown, Fancy Tiger Clothing owner, is the hardest-working creative I know. Part of his life is devoted to buying beautiful things for the store, but he’s also brainstorming nonstop about how to make Denver hipper, sleeker, artsier and…dancier. His relentless creativity manifests in t-shirt designs, candles, fragrances and dance mixes, all cleverly disguised underneath business savvy.
A still from Hall's chamber music video "And Yet It Moves.”
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
My agenda is all over the map. I have an art show at Gildar Gallery this summer, working with local, national, and international artists to re-envision the music box for the twenty-first century. I’ll be finishing a piano piece with pianist Rose Lachman, traveling to Iceland for a few performances in the fall. I have a line of jewelry called n by nathan hall, which has taken off in the past year. I’m also working with the Denver Theatre District on some amazing community-oriented music projects. I’m on the board of the Playground Ensemble, a local chamber music organization, and I’ve been toying around with a collaboration with Swedish duo Bjärv on an electronics and folk instruments album. I’m planning on one fifteen-minute break for sleep during 2015.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in 2015?
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I’m terrible at predicting up-and-comers, but Sphere Ensemble, a local string group, has a wonderful community model for fresh and engaging concerts. My boyfriend Andy Lynes will be getting a lot of attention, if not for his forward-thinking ideas, then for his gorgeous full beard. CU Professor and artist Michael Theodore does spectacular work with music and technology, and I hope his opportunities to show his mesmerizing sound/light/motion installations grow.
Coming up, Nathan Hall will serve as the Denver Art Museum’s first-ever Creative-in-Residence on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays from March 5 through 27; the residency will culminate with a performance at the DAM’s last-Friday event, Untitled: Dream On, from 6 to 10 p.m. on March 27. Learn more about Nathan Hall online.