Patrick Grant is a Detroit-born American composer living and working in New York City. His works are a synthesis of classical, popular, and world musical styles that have found a place in concert halls, film, theater, dance, and visual media over three continents.
1. How are you holding up?
Pretty good I think (I hope) when I look at what’s going on out there. It has taken daily work to stay on top of things, but I’ve been doing exercises on my inner-self for some years now so I was prepared for what has been happening to some extent. My studio is in Manhattan and it overlooks the FDR highway straight into the back parking lot of Bellevue Hospital. From April to June it served as a 24/7 makeshift morgue when NYC was at its height of COVID deaths. The trucks were coming and going all day and all night. That was a sharp reminder to stay safe, wear a mask, and do everything possible as a community to flatten the curve. I swear I lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a month. Easy, nostalgic, comforting.
I’ve had my ups and downs in life so when this thing began I told myself it was”OK to not be OK.” I allowed myself to feel every moment and concentrate only on essential things. A number of my colleagues did the opposite. For some it was an opportunity to become more extroverted than usual, to exhibit all kinds of “productivity porn” that, I’m sorry, still rings kinda hollow to my ears. Musician friends writing stuff with names like “COVID Concerti” and “Pandemic Preludes” et al. fell flat and tone-deaf within the community, a little too jolly, cheap even, but everybody has their way of dealing with things. Fair enough.
Musician friends writing stuff with names like “COVID Concerti” and “Pandemic Preludes” et al. fell flat and tone-deaf within the community, a little too jolly, cheap even, but everybody has their way of dealing with things. Fair enough.
I really miss creating and performing with other people, our last gathering of any kind was on March 11th, but I feel fortunate that much of what I can do as a composer, producer, and instructor can be done remotely. I really feel on top of that. To that extent, the work created during the pandemic has not suffered any loss of quality. That is enough to get me out of bed every day and feel excited about what the new day will bring, despite the daily dissonance that surrounds us all.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
In a strange way, I’d say it made the work suddenly a lot more relevant. I always approached music as a form of spectacle and theater and in my early days, I was the composer for the legendary Living Theatre. They created the “breaking of the wall” and created street theater as a non-violent revolution for social justice. This “bigger picture” element has always been part of my work going back to my teens. I would even say that my time as a punk rocker was along those same lines before I moved to NYC to become a “serious composer.” Ha.
So now, in the last couple of years, and in this year especially, commitment to social change is expected of the artist and you can see there’s a huge change across the board in terms of what gets funded. So, in a way, my work and especially the project Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars came into its own. We were recognized and started receiving serious arts funding and public donations for our innovative art form in unusual public spaces … just in time for the pandemic. Damn. We had to adapt.
Tilted Axes, a large protean ensemble of performers in various locations, has become an online project for now. We make movies and record music. We obliquely comment on our current situation, but we don’t “go there,” we address our common humanity that existed before this crisis and that will exist after we get through this. At least that’s been the plan, but that may change. The worse that things become, the angrier we get. That will get reflected in the music if that happens.
All in all, we’re grateful that we have a supportive audience and the opportunity to have an impact. We have found large audiences in city centers in the past and now we have a different and much larger audience now that our work is being created specifically for online audiences.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
There’s a lot that we’re all going to keep. For better or worse, now that we’ve all become so good at remote *everything* we probably won’t be getting together professionally in a physical way anymore unless it’s absolutely necessary. Actors and, to some extent, musicians can have remote rehearsals in the early stages before having to get on stage or in the studio together. That will save money in terms of renting or using a physical space for such work. Already before the pandemic businesses were giving up brick-and-mortar establishments since people could work from home depending on the profession.
I’ve been seeing this as a great opportunity for me to become a better communicator. Every day has been an opportunity to find new and better ways to keep teams together through enhanced technology and new designs in thinking. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you have a good song or a great script or a new way of painting. What you need on top of those things is an audience, a production schedule, and presenting partners, real or virtual, to have an impact, to get what you’re doing out into the world.
Live performances, once things are safe again, are something to look forward to. However, as a result of the pandemic, I also see there being an online component to what we do.
The pandemic has changed my outlook on a number of things, especially aesthetically. One of my mentors told me that a person’s reaction to a work of art is the result of all the art they’ve seen before that. I liked that idea for a while, but now I feel I can add to it. Perhaps more than ever, at this point in our history, we are surrounded daily by confusing and contradictory images and ideas, sounds, and sensations that are often hard to reconcile. I find I can center myself if I look for “beauty,” yeah, that overused ideal and word that has lost a lot of meaning recently. Nowadays, as a result of the current crisis, I have found a way to use it for myself and others. “Beauty” is the recognition and reconciliation of opposite forces (true/false, attraction/repulsion, inside/outside, hot/cold, etc.), because in beauty opposites are tamed; and then “Truth” is the realization and daily practice of such a philosophy. Like all practice, we’ll hit a few bum notes for sure, and that’s OK.
Perhaps more than ever, at this point in our history, we are surrounded daily by confusing and contradictory images and ideas, sounds, and sensations that are often hard to reconcile.
4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?
That’s hard to say. I can’t judge somebody’s insides by what I see on their outsides, and these days, we see mostly the outsides of people because of the current crisis. What I DO see is that most people are adapting, even those who were clowning around as if this was one big snow day. Like 9/11 and the financial crises of 2008, many of the structures that had been sustaining the arts, for good or bad, crumbled and were reduced to dust. That’s not bad. These moments give us a much needed leveling-of-the-playing field every 10 to 15 years. This particular crisis affects everyone, across the board, more so than any other in a long time. I wonder if the great movement forward we’re making in terms of anti-racism would have been as strong had we not so many people actually having the time to stop, look, and listen to what’s going on and becoming a part of the solution. Like that, the artists handling things particularly well, in my opinion, are the ones who have a sense of how their work is not done in isolation for the sake of itself or personal self-expression but is part of a bigger picture affecting their community. Being talented isn’t enough anymore; it’s going to take courage to change people’s hearts.
Patrick Grant is a Detroit-born American composer living and working in New York City. His works are a synthesis of classical, popular, and world musical styles that have found a place in concert halls, film, theater, dance, and visual media over three continents. Over the last three decades, his music has moved from post-punk and classically bent post-minimal styles, through Balinese-inspired gamelan and microtonality, to ambient, electronic soundscapes involving many layers of acoustic and electronically amplified instruments.
Throughout its evolution, his music has consistently contained a “…a driving and rather harsh energy redolent of rock, as well as a clean sense of melodicism…intricate cross-rhythms rarely let up…” Known as a producer and co-producer of live musical events, he has presented many concerts of his own and other composers, including a 2013 Guinness World Record-breaking performance of 175 electronic keyboards in NYC. He is the creator of International Strange Music Day (August 24) and the pioneer of the electric guitar procession Tilted Axes.
In the 90s he worked on the production team for composer John Cage and began producing his first recordings at the studios of Philip Glass. Interest in world music brought him to Bali three times to study the gamelan which manifested itself in his work through the use of alternative tunings, ensembles with multiple keyboards, and in his work with Robert Fripp (King Crimson, Brian Eno, David Bowie) & The Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists. He remains musically active in his hometown of Detroit and in cities over three continents. In 2017 he joined the NYU Tisch School of the Arts as an adjunct professor in the Film School.
Check out his website, Tilted Axes website, Facebook, Tilted Axes Soundcloud, A Sequence of Waves Soundcloud, Fields Amaze Soundcloud, and press in Ultimate Guitar, and, Metro Times cover story.
You can also listen to the Tilted Axes album.