A String Mysterious: Interview with composer Mark Rimple

Introducing Mark Rimple, whose Mystic Fragments is featured on A STRING MYSTERIOUS. Mark composed this intricate and transporting work for Richard Stone and I in 2014, while on sabbatical – in his words, ‘the idea of the work itself came from reading a lot of mysticism and comparative mythology.  I originally had titles for each movement culled from various poets and philosophers but dumped them after each movement was begun’. Mark revealed that many ideas for the piece came to him while in a state of sleep, and the various experiences of consciousness, dream-state and semi-sleep became important sources of inspiration for Richard and I in developing our interpretation of the piece. 

Sleep has held fascination with artists throughout the ages – why, and what examples do you find particularly intriguing?

That I rarely get enough of it.  Or that my dream life is fraught with conundrums and great detail.  But there is a truly bizarre and meaningless world of symbols that we spend our waking lives trying to apprehend and concretize- which I find a remarkable parallel with in some musics that I love.

Your background as a musician is unusually rich and diverse. How do these experiences influence your approach to composition?

My performing background helps immensely as it always guides what I write.  My performance life has included long stints in both new/20th century music and early music of all shades.  These share flexibility in time and a long-breathed sense of line, especially medieval and Renaissance polyphony.  Of course being a lutenist makes it easy to write effectively for Richard.  As a theorist, I have a wide grasp of all sorts of musical structures and parametric interactions.  Lately I’ve been fascinated by the work of Meyer and Narmour, and in the perception of music and the way we predict and find satisfaction and surprise in music.  But I’ve also been absorbed in several avant garde movements in the past including the boundlessly free aesthetics of the Bliue Rider Almanac of Kandinsky that involved Schoenberg in his most evocative period.  

What advice or guidance do you give to young composers in seeking to develop their own musical voice?

Don’t pin yourself down too early and never stop growing and challenging your assumptions.  And remember that the only rules in your music are the ones you set.  And that you can break them just as easily.  Finally, learn about perception and cognition, and realize that no matter what you hear, every listener will come to the table differently.  Meaning is what we make of it and we cannot control others, so be aware of this and turn yourself in by what you write.  You are often your own best audience, and this begins the equation towards a successful work.  

Mark Rimple is a composer whose works often incorporate early instruments and techniques.  His music has been performed by Parnassus, ChoralArts Philadelphia, Piffaro, The League of Composers/ISCM (at Weill Hall), Mélomanie, Network for New Music, and The 21st Century Consort (at The Simthsonian); his debut solo composition CD, January:  Songs and Chamber Music of Mark Rimple (Furious Artisans) includes works for archlute, countertenor, viola da gamba and harpsichord.  His Partita 622 appears on Mélomanie’s CD Florescence, and his Four Canons for clarinet and English horn was recorded by Duo del Sol (Centaur).  His current projects include a series of songs for cello and baritone for Jean Bernard Cerin and Eve Miller for their new online new music portal Resonance, and a recording of his duo Portrait of a Dying Empire by saxophonist Marshall Taylor and harpsichordist Joyce Lindorff.  As a performer, Mark has garnered critical notice for his interpretation of early music from national newspapers and journals including the Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Early Music America, Fanfare, and Early Music (UK).  He is adept on stringed instruments and performs regularly on the gittern, citole, lute, archlute psaltery, tenor viol, bandora and cittern.  With Drew Minter and Marcia Young, he is a founding member of Trefoil and a regular guest artist with the Newberry Consort and The Folger Consort.  In 2017 he will appear with Severall Friends with Mary Springfels, Ryland Angel, and Drew Minter in concerts in Santa Fe, Albequerque, and Vassar College. He has also appeared with Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, The King’s Noyse, Ex Umbris (at the Clinton White House), New York’s Ensemble for Early Music (at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway sereneding Judi Dench, and in Limoges, France), Mélomanie, Pomerium, Network for New Music, Cygnus Ensemble and the GEMS production of The Play of Daniel at the Cloisters and Trinity Church, NYC.  He is currently working on a CD of Italian music for gittern, lute and archlute, and has just completed a new CD of Renaissance vocal chamber music with his ensemble Musica Humana Vocal Consort.   Dr. Rimple holds the rank of Professor in the Department of Music Theory, Composition and History at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Why ‘a string mysterious’?

You might be wondering how the name for this record came about. Honestly, it took a while for me to settle on it – I had a couple of good ideas, but upon googling them, discovered that someone else had unfortunately had the same good idea before me! I was searching for something that encapsulated the essence of the program, and the title ‘a string mysterious’ finally came to me one morning at the same moment I envisioned the image that became the album art – it was one of those flashes of inspiration that we’re lucky enough to sometimes experience.

There are two meanings behind the name. Firstly, you can see the pieces on the program as beads on string, similar to a mala or a rosary – the idea that the can be used for contemplation, either individually or as a set, spoke to me. Like beads of this kind, their meaning and purpose change depending on experience of the person through whose fingers they pass. Secondly, the baroque violin itself is a somewhat mysterious element in this program – Biber’s use of the technique of scordatura, where the strings are mis-tuned, changes the voice of the instrument and makes it something of a mysterious beast to play, while the contemporary pieces give the instrument new vocabulary and expression.

Because of the way the inspiration for the title came about, I’m curious to discover whether other meanings will reveal themselves to me. I loved to hear from one person, who told me that it struck them as a pun – as in, the ‘A’ string is mysterious, but what about the D?! What does ‘a string mysterious’ say to you?