Project Trio: An Ode to Music
March 1, 2016
In anticipation of Nu Deco Ensemble‘s return to The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse this Thursday & Friday, we’ve decided to delve deeper into the understanding of music and how its creation speaks volumes about those from which it emanates. As usual, the genre-bending orchestra has invited an original talent to perform with them, blending their own classical style with the sounds of their featured guest.
This time, they’ve called to the stage Project Trio, a similarly aligned classical trio made up of Greg Pattillo (Flute), Eric Stephenson (cello), and Peter Seymour (double bass). But what makes them so special? Well, let’s start with the fact that they boast a friggin’ beatboxing flutist for one, and a whole other “back of sound tricks.” We sat down with the man in question last week to discuss all things music. Take a look at how the conversation unfolded, below:
Prism: Let’s start with a little insight on what audiences can expect from your Nu Deco performance. What is your goal with the collaboration?
Greg: “If we could get people dancing to us, I’d be all for it. One of the things that we bring to our orchestra show is a whole bunch of energy and enthusiasm for what we do. We try to share that with the audience and let it bounce off them, fueling ourselves for an even crazier performance. We’re very passionate about the music that we produce. There’s no music originally written for the flute, the cello, and the double bass, so we had to start from nothing. Which has been very liberating because we can choose from many styles. With the orchestra we’re doing a Salsa tune called “The Bodega”, a Raaga tune called “Raaga Raja”, an original piece that emulates a cherry blossom festival, and we have a crazy-fast piece that we call “Fast”. This is not something you sleep through, this is something you sit on the edge of your seat and soak up. You’ll find that all three of us are showmen, we love to entertain. I’ve always approached the flute like that.”
Is that what you would say would sets you apart from other classical outfits?
“All three of us get really unusual sounds out of our instruments that people aren’t accustomed to hearing. When people think of the flute, they think something extremely lyrical and I use the flute as more of a rhythmic instrument. I use beatboxing and get these percussive sounds out of it. I make the flute growl instead of sing. We take the classical instrument and bring it to a level that people may not expect.”
So, are you a master of circular breathing?
“I do use circular breathing, are you a woodwind player? (No) A lot of the beatbox sounds are actually inhale sounds. So I actually end up doing more of a musical hyperventilation.” [Laughs]
Beatboxing does tend to have a connection to the world of Hip Hop, how does a classically trained musician get into the beatboxing realm?
“I’ve always been open to the flute as just a creative tool. Ever since I was a kid, that’s how I was taught to approach the instrument. I would pick up a lot of other music and learn to play by ear which has made me bring creativity to the instrument. I learned beatboxing much after college. I was just trying to get people to notice me and think my flute music was cool. And the people I ended up hanging out with could freestyle and beatbox and do this poetry, and I was playing along with my flute and I just learned. I realized that I’d been using all these sounds on the flute that were like beatboxing and I’d always call them “rhythm flute”. You know in Bluegrass when the bass stops a string kind of rhythmically? I was doing these sounds, integrating like Bluegrass chomping and stuff. I realized that if I started to think of these sounds as a drum, it would be beatboxing. And I just had this, like, paradigm shift one day. It’s become my signature sound and I haven’t been using it until fairly recently.”
So, unknowingly, beatboxing has become part of your musical identity.
“Yeah, I’ve become very passionate about it and it turns out I can teach people how to do it. The Project Trio has a very big educational component to what we do. We go up to the schools and introduce these instruments and we try to make them relevant to people today. I’ve found that beatboxing on the flute will actually let people want to listen to the flute. They might be turned off at first, or don’t know anything about the flute, but most young people know about beatboxing. So I could kinda get my foot in the door and show people why this instrument is so interesting.”
How has it affected your relationship with the instrument from when you first picked it up?
“The flute is one of the oldest instruments of humanity, they have old bones that are flutes that are tens of thousands of years old. Culturally, we have all these preconceptions about the flute so I have fun rocking the flute. And along the way, I’ve picked up beatboxing. You’re right about the perception of Hip Hop and beatboxing, but I use the same effects in Salsa music and Raaga, in a defintely non-beatbox, non Hip Hop or Rap way. That’s a testament to where we come from classically, that we can take core concepts and spread them through different genres. We’ve been doing this for almost 9 years.”
It’s interesting how aligned your points are to those that Nu Deco Ensemble has been working toward. Just like your approach to making the flute accessible through a sound like beatboxing, they’ve broken down the barriers of classical music by attacking current acts like LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk, and now Radiohead.
“It is interesting! What’s more interesting is that we’ve been working with Sam [Hyken] and Jacomo [Bairos] for years now, so this is really like a coming home almost. We’ve met eachother out in the world and found our own grooves, so to be able to then come to Miami, on their home turf, it’s out of sight. I really do feel like we’re hand and glove.”
Have you ever performed in Miami before?
“We’ve done some things with the New World Symphony, played a convention or two down there, or an education show. But I would say that this is our first big show that’s open to the public. I don’t know if it would be right to say that this is our Miami debut, but in some ways it kind of is.”
Do you have a favorite type of venue you like to perform in? Big hall or intimate theater like The Light Box?
“We actually like it to be as intimate as possible because we feed off the audience. The big halls can be electrifying in their own way, but we love to look everyone in the eye, that’s where we get the most inspired to be playing our show. It looks like that’s what’s happening in Miami, so we’re definitely excited. It’s nice when people can get close and listen to the music and just listen.”
How has technology shaped your career and what are your opinions on the way it’s playing a role in music today?
“I’ve seen a huge technological shift since I was a wee lad. It has opened the doors to being able to afford to make your own artistic expression. Like, nowadays I can be able to use my computer to make a full album. A fine one. But when I was a kid, I would expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars to have a studio do that work. I use technology to learn my conciertos, to practice, to write things down. But in the end, technology doesn’t take the place of daily devotion to doing it. You have to practice your craft every day. It might help you learn and fix issues, but you still have to do the work. The instruments don’t play themselves, they’re really only as creative as the amount of work you’re willing to put in.”
Would you ever be interested in becoming a producer?
“No. Well, yes and no. Every computer nowadays has a built in sampler which is rad. I’ve created hundreds of wild tracks that no one will ever hear but could be used for tons of things. But it’s my own creation. That’s something about being a musician that I love. It’s something that you feel compelled to do, it’s something you have to do. If you weren’t doing it for a living, you’d still do it while doing whatever it is you’re doing for a living. Like, I do music but my hobby is also music. Weird music, fun music, sounds. I could probably never be a producer like that because I’m a performer. I love getting in front of people, I’ve always been a street performer since I was kid and I love that. Playing along with beats is cool, but there’s nothing like playing along with humans live. Computers haven’t caught up to humans yet in that regard.”
How does your creative process look when it comes to writing as a trio?
“We build songs from snippets rather than recording a whole song once. We layer in little bits and then layer it on a computer. What we do different than most classical people is, we attack sort of like a Rock band would. We assign roles to each other and sort of build songs from the ground up. Eric hands me a sheet of music with notes on it saying, “Hey Greg, I need you to do a beat for 16 bars and then get lyrical for 32 bars and go back to the beat.” So, I’ll know my part so I can work off whatever it is that he’s going to play. We straddle the divide of pre-digital and post-digital reality. The Project Trio sits in the middle and we’re sort of a vanguard in that way.”
So you’ll stick to a natural world then?
“As time goes on, I’m curious as to how technology will affect the way we learn music. There are many lazy paths to learning music nowadays but learning to have true ears and true craft is a very slow and painful process that technology can just sort of help but I don’t know if it can solve. It definitely does make learning music easier. When I was a kid I was really into Jethro Tull. And what I would do was head to Tower Records and buy Jethro Tull records or whatever they happened to have in the store. That was it. I would have to work so hard and write the music out by hand. Now, man, there’s so much music that I can immerse myself in. So the question is: now that you have all these extra resources, are you going to work harder and incorporate it?”
Speaking of this limitless musical future and how you’ve mastered the idea of blending genres, how do you think the future of categorizing musical sounds looks like?
“I certainly don’t know, but the blending of styles and genres is, as far as we can tell, how music has evolved through history. The Baroque era is a synthesis of French and German and Italian dance and court styles. Jazz in America is a fusion of all these different styles that came together in America. Hip Hop is all of these things that have come together too. And all of these sounds churn together over and over and produce new styles. We wouldn’t have R&B without Jazz, you can’t have Hip Hop without R&B. Genres continually fold, that’s what we do. Maybe now that we have access to so many more genres they fold quicker. Someone could write a doctoral thesis on the different sub-genres of Heavy metal, but I feel like there isn’t even a Rock scene around us anymore. Like somehow the race got lost somewhere along the way.”
Get to witness Project Trio’s musical knowledge in person on March 3rd & 4th at The Light Box backed by our favorite 21st century orchestra. This time, Nu Deco tackles the music of Romaneiro and unveils their newest modern orchestration: Radiohead. Enjoy an afterparty set by Agape and wash yourself in some of the city’s most visionary musicians. Buy your tickets here.