Q&A with Composer Nico Muhly on Being an SVA Mentor

April 5, 2013

SVA Close Up recently posted an interview with BFA Photography student Steve Shilling about his work for the department’s “Mentors” show, which pairs students with leading artists, curators, and editors who help them develop their work. Not long after, we got in touch with Shilling’s mentor, composer Nico Muhly, who, though traveling in London, graciously answered some questions over email about his side of the experience.

In his interview, Steve mentioned that he wanted to work with someone in a non-visual field. Had you ever worked with still images before? Are there any visual artists or photographers who have been influential on your work?
I’m constantly looking at still images, although strangely, it’s very rarely actual artists or photographers and more the anonymous work of engravers and printmakers of the 17th century—I love old books, old frontispieces particularly.

What were your first impressions of Steve’s work?
I was most interested in the work that had a vague intersection of the architectural and the erotic: strange seams, joints [that look like they] could be an elbow or a corner of a room. There was a strong sense of edited simplicity, which I thought was completely great.

What sort of feedback did you give him?
We talked about the difficulty of making work with very few “ingredients,” which is something I struggle with as well.

In his interview with us, Steve mentioned his interest in creating visual work that evoked non-visual sensations in the viewer. Have you ever tried something similar with your music?
I tried once to make a piece of music with live smells! It was crazy!

What do you think of the piece Steve made for the “Mentors” show?
I love his piece—it’s a strange culmination of a lot of what I saw before, but this time with a sort of Caribbean color scheme. It maintains the strange erotic angles and the sense of an architecture that continues beyond the frame. It’s great.

Photo of Nico Muhly by Matthew Murphy.

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