Composer Lina Lapelytė: The experience of music is broader than what we hear

Composer, sound artist, music performer and contemporary opera creator Lina Lapelytė (b. 1984) does not intend to limit herself or her works to one artistic context. Music that combines several disciplines has been liberated by her broad education – she graduated from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater with a degree in violin, studied sound art at the London University of the Arts and sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. The artist also manipulates creative roles while composing. Interdisciplinary performances with inseparable elements of music, socially relevant ideas and references to folklore and popular culture erase the genre boundaries that have become the norm. In her work, L. Lapelytė delves into performativity and its various expressions, often involving a wide range of people in the artistic process. The creative practice formed on the principle of workshops allowed to delve into the meaning of the relationship in music. This is how L. Lapelytė’s most famous compositions matured – the contemporary operas “Have a Good Day!” (2013) and “Sun and Sea” (2017), created in collaboration with artists Rugile Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainyte. In the conversation, the composer discusses her main point of reference for composition, the development of an equal relationship with the performer and the visuality of the art of music.

How would you describe the structure of your work?

The most important thing in my work is the idea itself and when it comes up, then everything is lurking around. The structure depends on the nature of the work itself. My more instrumental works, operas, often start with a conceptual beginning around which everything wraps. In instrumental work for violin and electronics, which I myself often do, everything happens in a more abstract way and I rely on my intuitive beginning.

The sound in my works is often a secondary thing. It always hides conceptual impact within itself; it is part of the overall idea. I start with idea and the sound responds to her and comes by itself. Sound to me is also the voices of the people themselves. The artist is very important to me. But in general, the structure in my work changes with each piece. Every composition has its way from idea to fulfillment. Sometimes the path leads through the people you work with, sometimes through the strict frames of the concept.

Could you single out the finite stages that make up your compositional process?

In the beginning, it starts with a very small element, looking for the starting creative point. When it occurs, there is no going back. During the preparation, a very intense daily presence with ideas takes place. Until you realize that the piece will be just that, not different. Further processes are writing notes and creating their variations. In the last stage, the music content is no longer changed, but there is a set time, the duration of the elements after which the work is completed. The stages end very intuitively – you just know it’s already good and you need to move on. The time allocated is very relative. Often, certain terms are set from the outside, or you put them on yourself, thinking about the scope of the work.

How is an idea born?

There seems to be no need for specific ideas to be born, but there must be a need to create. Creativity takes place everywhere and always, nowadays you can always easily write down the thoughts shot in your head on your phone or anywhere else. Spontaneous coming of thoughts often happens, you just have to guess to catch them all. Sometimes you realize that you don’t understand something and then it becomes important to delve into a certain area. Sometimes realizing that certain things are unquestionable in our environment, many things are accepted as the norm. Then care about raising a new question. Everyday moments can also be an inspiration for a piece.

And music usually comes to me by itself, especially if I work with lyrics. Usually the text itself is very musical, it automatically dictates certain sounds, musical decisions. Often at the beginning of the compositional process I like to be with the idea, to mature it, if there is time for that.

The idea itself changes during the compositional process. In your imagination, you think that it will be the same, but in real processes, if you look at them sensitively, they modify your original vision of the work. But usually this does not change the essence of the idea itself.

What is most important to you when developing a concept?

It is important for me to question established norms. Some of the works are associated with feminist ideas, but I couldn’t say all my work is a feminist practice. There’s an observation of the environment, the world, and certain things get stuck in the subconscious, after which you can just observe where it all takes you.

You often do research at the beginning of the compositional process. How does this work?

Research is important for the purposes of knowledge, but it is like a side element – I usually do not base my research material on my work. I want to know for myself what I am creating, but I make artistic decisions based on intuition.

The element of collaboration is evident in your work. How it manifests itself in composition process?

It comes in many forms. Since I was a musician myself, I have always valued equivalence in the relationship between creator and performer. I avoided hierarchy, I wanted to feel like a collaborator, not a tool for making music. Now I am called a composer myself. The principles of the workshop are to find solutions together and to capture things that suit the performer. When it comes to visual art, these are specific works. The music should have specific to a person works. Here the composer sees the main features of the performer and tries to highlight them in the work.

How do you express ideas through musical means?

Usually ideas already have some kind of primary musical solution in them. The idea is the whole, and the music is part of it. While all of my works have elements of music, music is not necessarily the most important part of my work. I do not distinguish between conceptual and non-conceptual things. The work is one and all the elements complement each other.

It’s not like I’m writing a note and a piece is already finished. An idea emerges, later notes, then people. During the work process, the written work itself changes. Only when the work begins to operate in the public plane are the notes fixed to the end.

Is there one of the most important elements of your creations?

No, the most important thing in the work is the totality of the elements. It is important for me to break free from the genres and contextual genres of the work, because today the contexts of both music and contemporary art are clearly divided and separated. All areas talk about the same things, but exclusion is created by different schools. All contexts are equally interesting and important to me. I aim to show this in my work. I consciously try not to fall into one context or another.

For me, music is an incredibly visual medium, but it is usually perceived solely through the prism of listening. It does not reflect reality – when we come to the concert, we look at the whole, not just listen to the sound. The experience of the work itself becomes much broader than what we hear. What matters to me is how things interact with each other.

If you establish yourself as a music composer and create music for orchestras – you have a very precise and strict creative line, frames. Once you’re scattered among several different contexts, you no longer know how to perceive or define yourself. Both creative paths have their own challenges.

When you belong to one context, you have clear points of reference by which you shape your creation. What are you building on your pieces?

I probably have a lot of different fulcrum. It is important for me to see myself in broader creative contexts. I don’t think music should be for musicians alone. Often a person coming from a different context can hardly understand why music sounds like that and what does it mean. When creating, I try to go into as many contexts as possible and see my work from different positions. Presenting the same work in different places will have a different impact on the listener.

How has your creative process changed during your life? What were the highlights of the change?

It would be possible to divide my work into two stages – before and after the opera “Have a Good Day!”. At that time, a turning point occurred in me and the abandonment of a certain practice – the courage to create different, unconventional music was born. Until then, I thought such creations were unprofessional or frivolous. So there has been a lot of payback in my career. I graduated in violin; I had many canons of classical music all the time. Just when I started composing, I realized how difficult it is to get rid of them. Then came the search phase, during which I used many elements of improvisational music, noise, and electronics. After “Have a Good Day!” work with the singers started, and I started singing on stage myself. I am not afraid to use basic, simple composing principles. I no longer see composition as the essence of creation – now it is an integral element of a common idea.

How did vocals appear in your work?

The vocals came slowly into focus. After graduating from sound art, I wrote a composition for violin and voice. I used my voice; the result was an abstract fun sound. As a child, I spent a lot of time in choir rehearsals as my mom sang in the choir. The folklore tradition has taken on a great significance in my childhood, naturally it is an important element in my work as well. The desire to work with many voices in one place has taken on a modern form.

What is your relationship with the work?

I haven’t created many works, so I’ll stick to each one. Maybe it depends a bit on the intensity of the piece, the purpose. I usually participate in their emergence, in their lives. It becomes a part of me.

What is the significance of the creative process for you?

For me, the creative process is a relationship or a lot of relationships. Relationship with other artists that implements the work, self-reflection, self-criticism, self-awareness, learning. Every process is different; it’s hard to talk about it in general.

Thank you for the interview!

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