A composer who seeks to integrate "many competing schools of thought into a unique musical world, re-invented for every piece," Zane Winter's music is multi-faceted and ambitious. Incorporating elements as diffuse as Indian raga, global chant traditions, and Renaissance plainsong into his work, Winter, a student at UMKC's Conservatory of Music and Dance, has had his music performed in such places as Beijing, Nanjing, and Huangzhou China. He is also a founding member of the new music advocacy group FuseBox Collective. For this interview, Winter shares how being a front man for a high school heavy metal band still influences his current work and how he uses music "dialogue with a global society hungry for fresh ideas and modes of expression without making any concessions for quality."
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
I do most of my composition at my apartment in the West Plaza area of Kansas City, MO. It’s crucial to my process to have a few spaces where I can work. Some pieces are composed almost entirely at my kitchen table, which has high top chairs, some are composed at my desk, and still others, like my recent work I Learned a thing or two, are composed on the couch. When I get blocked, I generally switch spaces until something clicks. There’s no real method, it’s just intuitive.
There’s really no typical day for me, either. Some days, good music starts to happen at 9 am and doesn’t stop until 20+ hours later. Other days, I focus on freelance score editing, administrative tasks, and email. It’s important to have a place to fall back to if the music isn’t coming, otherwise bad music comes out and corrupts the direction of the piece I’m writing. I’ve learned not to force it.
Delve a little into your own process of composing. What may surprise a listener of your music about how you create it? What tools do you use?
I generally start by hunting for interesting sounds, many of which are specific to the instrument(s) I’m working with. In a recent blog post, I talked about being inspired by the “edge” of the instrument, the place where the music relies on sounds that stretch the instrument as far as it will go. Finding those extreme sounds gives a kind of power to the less aggressive material that I often follow up with. As a result, a lot of my music unfolds as a process of me stripping away details from complex gestures to create much simpler music.
I also draw from my own experiences as a performer. It may come as a surprise that I was the front man for a heavy metal band in high school. The process of creating songs for my band, which generally consisted of slapping riffs, beats, and vocals together until something worked, continues to have a huge influence on me today. We had no idea what we were doing, and there’s a certain beauty in that.
I work with pencil and paper for a lot of the process of composing a new piece, but I use Finale notation software to produce my scores and to test out complex ideas that are difficult to realize mentally and/or can’t be duplicated on a keyboard.
Can you point to one time in your life where you knew you wanted to be a composer? Who inspired you early on to create new music and what were your earliest compositions like?
My earliest compositions were short pieces for piano that I wrote when I was about ten or eleven years old. The funny thing is, some of the hallmarks of the music I write now show up in those pieces, particularly in regards to rhythm. I have an irregular heartbeat, and because of that, much of my music doesn’t fall neatly into regular beats. A couple of years ago, I found a loose sheet of paper tucked away in the music drawer at my parent’s house where, in hilariously bad handwriting, I had struggled to fit a melody into a regular meter, and eventually abandoned the attempt, choosing to write out the rhythm without indicating beats or barlines. This still happens all the time, but I’ve come up more eloquent solutions to the problem.
I can’t point to a moment when I wanted to be a composer. I quit formally studying music all together for most of high school, only resuming piano lessons late my junior year. I wrote a few pieces that year, decided I liked doing it, and started composing rapidly to get a portfolio together for colleges. It was really a pretty rash decision, but one I’ve never regretted.
As a member of Kansas City’s FuseBox Collective, you actively advocate for new composers and performers. Talk about the challenges you see with building audiences for new music in Kansas City.
Building an audience for this kind of music is hard for a lot of reasons, but particularly because of the attitude of superiority that tends to surround it. It’s no secret that composers have largely retreated into academia over the course of the last century, and we’ve often been accused of alienating our audience. Compounding the problem, many good-hearted attempts at audience building unintentionally come off as gimmicky or contrived. Making artistic compromises often seems like a way to make an experience more relatable, but it often leaves a casual listener feeling patronized and the aficionado dissatisfied.
The path forward, as I see it, is using music as a way to dialogue with a global society hungry for fresh ideas and modes of expression without making any concessions for quality. Millennial composers are plugged in to a vast social media network, and are exposed to a huge variety of competing ideas every day. This wealth of material is begging to be commented on, and I see FuseBox as a way to bring projects that do so to fruition in ways that can’t be easily ignored.
Who or what inspires you now?
It’s a huge question. First and foremost, I thrive on the encouragement from my wife, Cassie. She’s the one who refused to let me give up music during a very discouraging semester of my Bachelor’s degree, and I’m thriving because of it.
I have a close group of friends that formed around FuseBox, and they are, in many ways, a source of inspiration. We’re a bit of an odd group -- our music couldn’t be much different, and we all have very different personalities. What fascinates me is that every one of them is going about saying what they want to say in their own way, with their own unique voice. The conversations we have about music, art, culture, and the ways they relate to each other are a great resource when I’m hunting for a new idea for a piece. I try to be open to anything, so there’s no telling what might inspire my next piece.
Zane's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross (strongest recommendation)
Notes on Light, music of Kaija Saariaho
Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie