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Interview with Project Advisor Brian Campbell

One year after completing The Mystery of Grey Matters, I had a chance to talk with my composition teacher Brian Campbell.


Charlie McCarron: I'm here with Dr. Brian Campbell, professor of Music Composition and Theory at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. Brian was also my advisor during the Grey Matters project. Thanks for joining me, Brian.
Brian Campbell: My pleasure.

Brian, when I first came to you with this polyalbum idea, what were your reactions?
I thought it was an extremely interesting and creative idea. I thought it would be very difficult to execute, and I was concerned about whether it would be doable. And I think the difficulty is to make each of the individual sides (that are heard first before you put them together) interesting on their own. And I think you did an admirable job of doing that. In the end it really worked, it was great.

What are your thoughts about the polyalbum as a compositional style. Do you think of it just as an experiment, or could you see other composers actually trying this out and creating some great music in this way?
Oh I could see it being done again, absolutely. I think it worked especially well with your project because of the sort of unreal quality that there was to Grey's thoughts, because he was schizophrenic. And so putting things together in what may have seemed at times somewhat illogical worked for the story very well. And the sort of dreamlike quality of the piece worked quite well. But I think it's definitely something that other people could do.

You know, it kind of reminds me - I don't know if I ever told you about this or not, I probably did at some point - but when I was a student at Oberlin, I remember seeing a student-produced play in which two plays were done simultaneously, and they would cut back and forth between them. One was on one side of the stage, one was on the other. And they were entirely different. And so you'd see five minutes of one play, and then five minutes of another. And then you'd sometimes see them put together in different ways. I remember this one particular spot where individual lines were interspersed, so that you'd hear a line from one play, a line from another, and what was interesting is that they'd work syntactically and often change the meaning of how one interpreted the line in the original play on both sides. So that was really, in some ways, a very similar kind of idea.

I would just reiterate that I think it was a real success in the end. And certainly a big project, a difficult project far larger than anything you've done before, and far larger than most people ever do, really. And to have brought it off successfully was both an artistic and educational success. I guess if you bring something off successfully it's a success by definition, but you know what I mean...
(Laughter) Yeah. Thank you, Dr. Brian Campbell.