Meet Phil Kline at Mass MOCA

Bang on a Can Composer

By: - Jul 23, 2022

Bang on a Can and MASS MoCA present LOUD Weekend, a fully loaded eclectic super-mix of minimal, experimental, and electronic music over three days throughout the museum’s expansive campus. Featuring the Jim Jarmusch & Phil Kline.  

BFA: Conductor Ivan Fischer says that concert programming should reflect your radio dial.  Your work reflects  the dial's range.  Is this intentional? and how did this approach come about?  

Phil Kline: It's only intentional in that I'm a bit of an outsider, not part of the "classical" world, or even the more sanctioned wings of the avant-garde. A composer without portfolio! My friend Lucy Sante once said I was both a prodigy and a late bloomer. I started writing later than most, but had been thinking about it for a long while. So by the time I started things were pretty well jumbled.
BFA: The opening page of your website suggests Olivier Messiaen.  Can we hear references to him in your work?  Did he inspire you?
PK: I love his music, and we have the love of birds in common, and I suppose every now and then I slip into a slow mystical language thing, but, seriously...he's out of my league!
BFA: What impact did working with a photographer (Nan Goldin) have on your music?  
PK: What I got from her is that she was always shooting, the pictures were her life, and she was able to forge all that into a larger narrative, making the private a public issue.
BFA: "Unsilent Night" is an international cult classic.  Have you composed other public sound spectacles?  Are you tempted by other holidays?  Valentine's Day?  New Years?
PK: A few one-offs, but nothing on that scale. I did make a sort of opposite to "Unsilent Night," a summer outdoor piece called last words before vanishing from the face of the earth, which is implacably mysterious, and quietly disquieting.
BFA: How does the MOCA 2022 event grow out of your relationship with Bang on a Can Marathon?
PK: They were the first organization to really foster me, like "if there is something you want to do, let us know." My first-ever commission came from the All-Stars, and they've put out some of my best recordings. So recently, coming out of an extended period of shyness, I told them there were some things I wanted to do, and here we are. 
BFA: Would you describe your work as taking 'simple musical materials and transforming them into an arresting sonic experience'?
PK: That sounds fair!
BFA: How do you choose a subject?  
PK: I usually work with found texts and their subjects usually find me.
BFA: Do you still do political protest like the Zippo and Rumsfeld songs?
PK: Yes. "Florida Man." And for the Bang on a Can online marathon in Summer 2020, I made a couple of songs about the now disgraced former President.
BFA: Are there any comments you would like to make?
PK: nah.
Buy tickets here.