What does it mean to create a new artistic form? Anna Heflin did just that with her new album, The Redundancy of the Angelic: An Interluding Play. She describes the work, which blends music and text, as having been inspired by “spiders, apocalyptic angels and my encounters in Los Angeles.” The result is a challenging, immersive work that draws on a host of disparate influences. We spoke about its genesis and her own multidisciplinary pursuits via email.
You played violin as a child before switching to viola. Did that personal experience have any bearing on the fact that The Redundancy of the Angelic is written for both instruments?
I’m most at home writing for the violin and viola, so in that regard, yes. I actually still own a violin, it used to belong to my uncle, and it’s such an advantage to take out both instruments and try things out when composing.
So yes, but I wouldn’t say that’s the reason I started writing these duos. I’ve always been friends with lots of violinists and have been playing violin & viola duos for as long as I can remember. The feeling always comes up after working on the Mozart duos of wishing that there was more repertoire to choose from. Of course there are other works, but I feel that it’s an underrated instrumentation and there’s still a bit of a void there. In 2019 after working through the G Major Mozart Duo with my friend, violinist Emily Holden, she asked if I’d be interested in writing a duo for us. I loved the idea and ran with it; the resulting piece is As Above, So Below.
After writing As Above, So Below, another violinist friend and collaborator of mine, Shannon Reilly, asked me about writing a duet for us. I was taken with the idea of composing these duets for friends and also wanted to have a pair piece to As Above, So Below that didn’t require a backing track. So this is the road that led me down the path to creating this Interluding Play.
What initially led you to create a work encompassing both music and text?
I had been keeping a journal of short stories, which was a new practice for me, and when composing The Redundancy of the Angelic I had this a-ha moment when I realized that the stories/text and the music went together. Both the text and the music were incomplete when I had this realization and so I worked on them simultaneously from that point on.
Words have had a presence in my works since I started composing; they add specificity and spin the brain in a different way. At the end of the day, the reason for combining music and text is that the work required it. I think that when you want to communicate something verbal in a musical work, you have to literally say it. Additionally, the classical tradition is a loaded one, and I wanted the work to sound like me. I’m coming from the classical sphere, but I’m not trying to be Berio #2, you know? I think the text adds a lot in regards to knowing who wrote the work. So, lots of reasons for the text. And it’s something that I’m going to continue exploring.
I was curious about the piece’s subtitle, An Interluding Play. Do you see the interludes here as music, textual, spatial – or something entirely separate from all of those?
The title came out of a desire to indicate that this is not a standard musical album; hopefully the subtitle “An Interluding Play” will indicate to a listener that this is new territory. Setting up expectations in this way will hopefully create a listening experience that is expectedly unexpected, so to speak.
You’ve picked up on the ambiguity of the interludes; this was intentional. I wanted to name the work in a way that sets up the text and the music as equals. So yes the interludes could be interpreted as musical, textual or spatial. And I’d love to hear an interpretation of “something entirely separate”.
Were you influenced by any writers or artists when coming up with the textual aspects of The Redundancy of the Angelic?
Yes, more than I’m consciously aware of. I was actively reading works by László Krasznahorkai, Joan Didion, Stephen King, Ottessa Moshfegh, Mary Gaitskill and Saul Williams. These authors didn’t just influence the text, they had an equal role in my compositional process. This is why combining text and music makes sense for me, reading is how I dig and work through things artistically.
To illustrate what I’m getting at, I’ll give you an example. Krasznahorkai was the biggest influence for me in this project. When I was composing As Above, So Below (before bringing words into the process), I was thinking about spiderwebs and looked to the form of Krasznahorkais Satantango. And in The Redundancy of the Angelic I’m driving at the musical material incessantly with just enough variation in a way that is similar to Krasznahorkais writing style; there I was thinking about The Melancholy of Resistance. And of course the most overt reference is The World Goes On. There’s also a pretty overt reference to one of Aimee Bender’s short stories in there among other things.
You’ve also studied music criticism, and regularly write about music. Has being on both sides of that divide had any influence on the music you compose?
In writing, writing about music and writing music I’m investigating the same things. They all work together. For example, I had the opportunity to speak with Saul Williams last summer when writing a piece about his collaboration with composer Ted Hearne. My conversation with him and research into his work influenced my writing as I was in the editing process of The Redundancy of the Angelic, definitely. And my work influenced our conversation because conversations go both ways. I also spoke with composer Alex Mincek about his piece Glossolalia when writing this Interluding Play. When researching for my interview with Mincek, I discovered links between Glossolalia and Beckett’s Murphy so I proceeded to read Murphy. The people who I speak with are usually successfully doing something that I’m interested in as a composer/writer. The boundaries are fluid in this way.
Are there any writers who you’ve found to be particularly musical in their prose?
Yes. I’d say all of the writers that I listed above would be added to this list (hello REDRUM!). I love how Stephen King has these very musical motives that he associates with characters and/or moments of intensity, it feels like a fugue to me. And not to bring Shakespeare into this, because I feel like you can just call out Shakespeare as an end all be all, but, Shakespeare. Lewis Carroll. Kafka. Oscar Wilde. Leonora Carrington. The list goes on.
Photo: Molly Heller