In the Club with: Nick Revel
For our eighth episode, we are thrilled to welcome PUBLIQuartet violist Nick Revel!
Tell us about a recent musical experience that you particularly enjoyed.
In my program Norwalk Youth Chamber Ensembles, the final project was a five-week cumulative composition course where each middle and high school student was prompted to multitrack record their own sounds to create an original piece of music. We learned about layering, panning, and reverb, and played with various roles that occupy music like melody, rhythm, harmony, and texture. Each final piece was completely unique and, in my opinion, reflected the voice of the student perfectly. I was completely blown away by their creativity and how, with basic musical guidance, complete compositional beginners were able to create their own unique sound.
Who are some composers or ensembles you’ve been enjoying listening to lately?
George Lewis, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Erykah Badu, Tank and the Bangas, Takuma Itoh, Tomeka Reid, Vijay Iyer, Brooklyn Rider, Punch Brothers, Marc Rebillet, Jacob Collier, Hildur Guðnadóttir, and sound recording work by Joël Cormier (check out some of his work here: Hochrhein Musikfestival)
Is there a specific moment or experience that got you interested in contemporary music?
I can’t say there was only one, but maybe three defining moments early at Eastman. The first was hearing Alarm Will Sound’s Aphex Twin covers, which blew my mind because I thought pop covers played by classical musicians were cheesy, but not if you do it right! Also, at some point I had heard some Palestrina and then Arvo Pärt, and even though the harmonic language is very different, this similar polyphonic style that spans centuries made me realize that not every “new music” composer was writing like Stockhausen, for example (who at the time I really didn’t understand or appreciate at all). And lastly, I was obsessed with the Turtle Island Quartet playing non-classical string quartet music. Between those three examples, it felt like all the “rules” had been lifted, and sound was free for the making.
What kind of role would you like to see contemporary music play in our music community - or in the community at large?
I would like to see less standard canon (sorry Beethoven!) and more of today’s voices. There is so much culture and richness out there right under our ears of which we are barely aware on a national level. I would like to see more performer/composers playing each other’s favorite music. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours! (You can find some of Nick's recent work here!)
We would love to hear some of your thoughts on how we as a community are interacting with music right now - as creators and/or as consumers. What is the impact of social media on our music culture?
I’ll preface by stating that even though I use Facebook as a “promotional tool” I’m first and foremost emotionally addicted to the positive affirmation that comes in the form of likes. I tell myself it’s a tool, but then I check it ten times in a day after I post. I’ll probably be checking this one out to be honest. But social is a weird place for non-commercial musicians, classical and jazz, because the majority of our friends, and therefore who sees our posts, are also professional musicians. We preach to the choir. Most of our output is free product. We rely on grant funding or tips and donations through live streams to eat bread. And especially during COVID it’s all about “look at me and this thing I made," because no concerts, so no audiences. So we’re just floundering and I’m guilty, literally, as I write this. Then again, after all my griping, many of my friends on FB share other artists and performances they really like. And that is wonderful.
How has the pandemic affected you and your outlook on your professional activities?
COVID is no joke. And while I feel very fortunate to have had teaching work and freedom to explore some of my own creative endeavors it has not been easy. In the last two months I’ve struggled with depression. It’s not been serious enough for me to fear for my own safety, but has certainly made it hard to get out of bed and to do anything at all productive during an entire week. I am not saying this to gain your pity, but to share my feelings in case it helps you, who may share a similar experience, feel less alone. For me, it’s not that “life is so hard and I just can’t”; it’s like the point of everything has gotten really far away from me. Everything is grey and fuzzy. But to put a positive cap on, speaking with Emlyn and Dan about music in a stimulating and shared-experience kind of way really picked me up. Thank you guys! (Thank YOU, Nick!) Similar to getting PUBLIQuartet back together last week and recording some student compositions. I’m not a mental health expert, but my visceral experience is that talking with friends can pull you up and out, and that seems vital right now.
PUBLIQuartet has been around for 10 years now! With so many incredible projects and programs on your roster, what are some of the thoughts and inspirations shaping the direction of your next decade?
10 years! How did that happen!? Social justice has been an agenda of ours for years now and I would like to inspire a normalization of that so hard across the board that social justice is no longer an agenda but accepted as normal. On a musical level, I would like to continue to break preconceived notions of what a string quartet does and how it functions. Let’s break more rules! And I would like to continue to find hidden stories of people we ought to know about. (Check out PUBLIQuartet's recent premiere of Reflections on Beauty, celebrating the life of Madame C.J. Walker!)
Outside of music, what are some other types of art, media, or entertainment that you particularly enjoy?
I’ve noticed on a philosophical level how consuming an experience like listening to music, watching art, or eating a treat works on many of the same levels. Your body gives your consciousness an experience that you can then explore. The way gooey chocolate hits your tongue and melts into buttery salty cookie the next moment is a beautiful transition, and one could have the same type of delight listening to the way some gnarly harmony resolves into some lofty consonance. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on these types of experiences, and not just the content of the stimulus (like the cookie), but the actual experience, too. More specifically, I replayed some video games that have a special nostalgic nook in my heart like Chrono Trigger. And I just rewatched a spectacularly animated show called Mob Psycho 100. I’ve also been into Max Cooper’s abstract video artists.
Thank you for joining us, Nick!
Nick Revel is the founding violist of PUBLIQuartet, whose Billboard chart-topping 2019 album Freedom and Faith was nominated for a GRAMMY™ Award for Best Chamber Music Performance. PUBLIQuartet served as string quartet in residence for the 2016/2017 Metropolitan Museum of Art's season and has been presented by the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Carolina Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts, The National Gallery, Carnegie Hall, Dizzy's Coca Cola Club, the Detroit Jazz Festival, and the Newport Jazz Festival.
As a composer, Nick's 2019 Carnegie Hall Play USA commission The Fear was selected as a finalist in the 2020 Golden Hornets String Quartet Smackdown. He tours his 2019 self-produced and recorded Letters to My Future Self (Centaur Records) in live electroacoustic shows across the USA. Nick's 2017 commission In DayDream for viola and guitar was premiered in Carnegie Hall and was a winner of Indiana State University's Music Now Call for Scores in 2018.
As an educator, Nick has created the scale and arpeggio play-along method, DragonScales, which can be found on iTunes and Amazon. He is artistic and executive director of the Norwalk Youth Chamber Ensembles, co-creator of the New York String Studio, and currently serves on the board of the Seabury Academy of Music and the Arts in Norwalk, CT.
Top photo by Lelanie Foster; bottom by Ryan Scherb