Elliot Cole

April 29, 2016


Elliot was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of our questions and we loved hearing his answers. Keep reading below to find out what fuels this creative mind.


Is there anything or anyone that inspired you to become a composer?


I remember being in 7th grade and listening to Nirvana and imagining moving the cymbal crashes around to different places in the song — that idea alone made me so excited. I wrote lots of songs in middle and high school, but the jolt to compose for other instruments came from Erik Hokkanen, who is a genius fiddle and guitar player in my hometown and hands down the most entertaining performer I’ve ever seen. I’d go see him every week and sometimes his band was a string quartet. It was so sublime to sit in a little wooden room with them, I would just swoon — and I started turning my songs into string quartets.


How would you describe your music or style?


The only thing that unites my music is my curiosity. I’m always looking to find a new way in, to cut a path to discover something I didn’t know before. The results vary so widely I really can’t generalize about them.

What do you like about composing for percussion?


I like variety, and the range of sounds in the percussion family is so wide that you could never get bored. I also like working with enthusiastic people, and nobody beats percussionists!


Is there anything you don’t like (or find challenging) about writing for percussion?


Well, it’s funny — I’ve always felt that my rhythmic imagination needed more development. As a pianist and guitarist growing up I was most at home in ballads. I was much more interested in harmony than in rhythm. So as I write percussion music I have this voice in my ear that says, “you really need to get more juice in your rhythms!” I tackle that challenge, but I also suspect that maybe I bring a different angle on it because it’s less natural for me.


Is there anything you haven’t explored compositionally (for percussion or otherwise) that you’d like to in the future?


Right now I’m only interested in composition as exploration, so I hope that the list of things I haven’t thought to try is long. But I haven’t thought of them yet.


What’s your favorite food and drink for composing?


I usually make a big batch of something like split pea soup or a grain and bean stew. Simple food. Then I eat it throughout the day one mug at a time. I quit coffee this year but I drink tea like a fiend.


When I asked you for a piece that is portable, what was the train of thought that ended in flower pots?


I wanted to write a Home Depot piece, and the flowerpots were the best sounding things in there!


The piece is titled Flowerpot Music No. 1. Are there plans for a No. 2, or are you just keeping your options open?


I’ve been so bad at titles lately — I hope you won’t mind if I think of a better one later and change it. But yes, I’m writing more music for flowerpots. I actually have four or five pieces now. Mostly prose scores. I’m also inviting a couple of friends to get their own sets and write for them. I hope to have a collection done by the end of this year.


If you could have this piece performed in any space, where would that be?


A sweat lodge, two hours in.


This piece requires players to share eight pots and rotate throughout the piece. Did you consider this more a practical element (fewer instruments), visual element, or a little of both?


I was really attracted to the challenge of writing a piece that is agnostic about pitch. I ask you to get flowerpots, but it’s not practical for me to tell you to get exactly the pitches that I have. There’s too much variation even in identical-looking pots. So I don’t know what pitches you’re going to have. Given that, how do I made a piece of music with a strong identity? That’s a more interesting challenge to me.


I love the pitches of my set, but I didn’t put a ton of thought into them. I love them because I’ve spent hours and hours playing them and now their weird scale now sounds deeply right to me. Honestly, I’m more interested in giving players that experience than I am in giving any precise experience to the audience. I trust that anyone playing their own set for long enough will feel the same way.


Rotating through the set is just another way to scramble up pitch, to sever the illusion that I might know what’s going to come out. It also should give a harmonic arc to the piece, since I repeat so many of the same physical patterns. But I’m not sure — I haven’t heard it yet!


Learn more about Elliot at www.elliotcole.com.

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 New Works for Percussion Project: 

Founded in 2014, the mission of the New Works for Percussion Project is to advance percussion repertoire and build community through commissions and original content.

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