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Destined: Wet Ink Collective

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Dusted's Charlie Wilmoth profiles the up-and-coming young composers of New York's Wet Ink Collective.

Destined: Wet Ink Collective

“While we do try to create interesting stylistic juxtapositions on our series in the hopes of drawing out similarities that get beyond stereotypes, it is with the actual music we compose that we are trying to send our strongest message,” writes Wet Ink co-founder Alex Mincek. For the Wet Ink Collective and for most Dusted readers, “stylistic juxtapositions” are a fact of life. But in the world of modern composition, where musicians are rewarded less for their actual music than for their ability to talk about it, it’s rare to meet a group of young composers who do “stylistic juxtapositions” but don’t want to dwell on them.

The ‘they’re so refreshing’ angle is tired, I admit, but that’s kind of the point. There’s no ‘story’ here, really – the Wet Ink guys are more interested in delivering the goods sonically than in publicity. Like many classical musicians, they do “stylistic juxtapositions,” but they don’t use them as gimmicks or promotional conceits. Wet Ink’s relationships with improv and rock go back as far as the organization itself. And since the organization’s inception, the members of Wet Ink have become some of new music’s most interesting young composers.

Mincek and Sam Hillmer founded Wet Ink in New York in 1998. Another composer, Brendan Connelly, joined the group soon after. Their 1999 concert schedule included a performance by David Shea and a performance for which Connelly and Mincek composed new scores to Fernand Leger’s Ballet Mecanique and Man Ray’s Emak Bakia, respectively.

In 2000, Mincek and Hillmer formed the group Zs to be a “house band for the Wet Ink Series,” according to Mincek. The group quickly evolved into something like a math-rock band, however; its lineup now includes two guitarists and two drummers as well as Mincek and Hillmer on saxophone.

Since 2001, Wet Ink has organized concerts featuring a wide variety of performers, including improvisers Joe and Mat Maneri, experimentalists Christian Wolff and Larry Polansky, and rock groups Zs and Touchdown. The collective also organizes performances of pieces by living composers like Salvatore Sciarrino, Brian Ferneyhough and Toshio Hosokawa.

Wet Ink often structures its shows around themes. For example, a 2004 concert of music for steel-string guitar featured Jack Rose of Pelt, Matt Valentine of Tower Recordings, and Currituck County’s Kevin Barker; a series of two concerts of spectral music in 2003 included pieces by Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murail and others. But Wet Ink also often puts together bills featuring wildly disparate artists. For example, a concert in February 2005 will feature music by the Wet Ink composers as well as a solo set by free jazz saxophonist Charles Gayle. An April concert will include compositions for percussion by the European avant-gardists Beat Furrer and Wolfgang Rihm, then a set by the rock group Coptic Light.

Many Wet Ink concerts feature music by its members – Mincek, Hillmer, Connelly, and now the German composer Reiko Füting. Their website features many exciting sounds. On the excellent small orchestra piece Few From Many, Mincek manages to handle complex and disparate materials in such a way that various instrumental groups seem to be in their own orbits even as the entire ensemble works toward a common goal. The highly detailed results are similar to many of Beat Furrer’s pieces for large groups.

Hillmer’s Retrace a Walk, written for Zs, is much rougher and more American-sounding, even though its ensemble unisons are reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Hillmer intentionally avoids Messiaen’s gracefulness, however: Hillmer’s jolting angularity suggests that the pedestrian who took the titular walk was inebriated at the time. Brendan Connelly’s Signal 3, meanwhile, mixes slow, careful piano and bass clarinet parts with completely out-of-context samples of female vocalists.

In recent years, Zs – of which Mincek and Hillmer remain members – has evolved significantly and become separate from Wet Ink. In 2003, Zs released its self-titled debut album on Vothoc/Troubleman Unlimited; a new EP, Karate Bump, will be released on Planaria in February 2005. Wet Ink recently formed another group, the ever-changing Wet Ink Ensemble, to play the Wet Ink composers’ own music and scores by outside composers. “To take Zs’ place on the Wet Ink concert series, we formed the Wet Ink Ensemble,” Mincek writes. “However, we continue to book Zs on our series, which has led more than a few people to confuse the Wet Ink Ensemble with Zs.”

In early 2005, Mincek and Hillmer have some shows with Zs, Wet Ink has a number of spring concerts planned, and Mincek will continue to work on a doctorate in music composition at Columbia University. In addition, Hillmer writes that Wet Ink is also “starting some outreach activity, organizing musician visits to schools in Brooklyn.” Mincek seems exhausted, but happy: when asked what upcoming Wet Ink event he’s most looking forward to, he replies, “The next one. It’s all I have time to think of.”

By Charlie Wilmoth

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