Posted on January 24, 2011




Mikel Rouse was born in 1957 in St. Louis, Missouri. He graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute and the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Rouse moved to New York City in 1979, where he studied African and other World Musics and began his study of the Schillinger Method of Composition.

Upon moving to New York, Mikel formed his contemporary chamber ensemble, Mikel Rouse Broken Consort. With Broken Consort, Mikel produced numerous recordings throughout the 1980s spanning a variety of genres.


In 1995, Mikel premiered and directed the first opera in a trilogy of modern operas: Failing Kansas, inspired by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. This led to an emerging art form he calls “counterpoetry,” which involves the use of multiple unpitched voices in counterpoint. In 1996, Mikel premiered and directed the modern opera Dennis Cleveland at The Kitchen in New York. Dennis Cleveland was hailed by The Village Voice as “the most exciting and innovative new opera since ‘Einstein on the Beach’”.

In addition to Mikel’s early director roles for the stage, he directed the films ‘Roundtable’ (1979), ‘The Glass Bead Game’ (1982), ‘A Walk in the Woods’ (1985), ‘Funding’ (2001), ‘The End Of Cinematics’ (2002) and ‘Music For Minorities’ (2004).

A new piece commissioned by The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the John Cage Trust and Betty Freeman premiered at The Joyce Theater, NYC in October 2006. The piece was scored for multiple iPods set to “shuffle” so that each audience member had a different realisation of the score. The music for the piece, ‘International Cloud Atlas,’ was released exclusively on iTunes and was available for download prior to the premiere. In addition to ‘International Cloud Atlas,’ Mikel also released two additional recordings: ‘House Of Fans’ and ‘Love At Twenty.’ All three recording are available on iTunes. The official release date was October 17, 2006.

Mikel’s compositions have been performed throughout the United States, Europe and the Pacific Rim. His work has been presented at major festivals, including the Bang On A Can Festival in New York City, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Perth International Arts Festival, the Eclectic Orange Festival in California, the New Zealand Festival in Wellington, and the Melbourne International Arts Festival.

Mikel currently resides in New York City.


Q.  What influences you as a composer and musician?
A.  I’ve always been interested in the intersection between art forms and various forms of structured vs. unstructured music.  Since I both direct and perform in my own multimedia music works, I’ve developed a keen interest in the rhythms and variations between music and film.
Q.  When you moved to New York you began studying African music. What prompted this interest?
A.  I was already experimenting with multiple metric structures, something I became well known for with the opera trilogy of Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End Of Cinematics.  I was interested in using metric combinations to produce “cadences” in the music (but utilizing rhythm instead of harmony) similar to the traditional Western harmony method of producing cadences.  After reading A.M. Jones’ Studies in African Music, I became interested in the concept of cross-rhythms so I sought out places to play this music in NYC.
Q.  You’ve studied the Schillinger Method of composition. Can you tell us more about this?
A.  I discovered the Schillinger Method upon moving to NYC.  The first book in the two-volume set intrigued me: The Book of Rhythm.  After studying music and theory and counterpoint, I was surprised at the lack of focus on rhythm in most conservatory training.  But with Schillinger, you had a unique approach to theme and variation that starts with, and builds on permutation through rhythm.  The best 96 pages I ever read.
Q.  In 1995, you premiered the opera ‘Failing Kansas’, which led to the art form ‘counterpoetry’. Can you tell us more about this?
A.  Failing Kansas was inspired by the events depicted in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  I wanted to find a way to set the text that wouldn’t be corny or phony.  I got access to the Capote archives in NYC and decided to use the same materials he used: letters, court transcripts and hymns Perry Smith (one of the killers) was fond of.  I then set about to develop a way of writing spoken text in strict metric counterpoint.  It was a disturbing sound, but I knew I was on to something.  The effect of counterpoetry is like someone has put structure to the seemingly endless “chatter” in your mind.  This has continued an interest in trying to find various ways of setting American vernacular speech.
Q.  In 1987, your band Tirez Tired opened for Talking Heads in Kansas City. Was this a daunting experience?
A.  It was a great experience.  The band were very supportive of us.  It was like a new world was starting in pop music and we were lucky enough to be there at that moment.  But it was our first show ever in front of a live audience.  And we were pretty awful I think.  But Tina Weymouth told us we were the only band thus far that hadn’t been booed off the stage.

Q.  You both wrote and starred in the opera ‘Dennis Cleveland’. What was this like?
A.  Dennis Cleveland is probably one of my best-known works.  I directed and staged the piece and also played the title role.  I mostly did this due to lack of funding but also because I knew the role required two skills which weren’t easy to find in 1995: the performer had to be able to play the role of the talk show host (convincingly) while also, very subtly, conduct the singers onstage and the performers who are placed in the studio audience.  Dennis Cleveland got a lot of credit as one of the first staged music theatre works that truly broke down the 4th wall in terms of audience participation and interaction.  And the use of multi-channel video to capture audience reaction and to visually orchestrate large sections of music was unique for its time.  I’m extremely proud of that piece and the ritual concepts of television that inspired it.
Q.  What do you feel you owe your success to?
A.  Hard work and total distrust of anything that smacks of absolute.
Q.  What challenges does experimental music face today?
A.  I think all the arts face the challenge of remaining not just relevant, but essential to the public discourse.  As the world economy is being restructured and technology takes us into uncharted waters, I feel the arts are essential.  But they have to reinvent themselves once again, so that they combine the best part of ourselves in this new environment.  Easier said than done.
Q.  What advice would you give to aspiring composers?
A.  Follow your instinct.
Q.  What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
A.  Surviving as an artist through the maze of the modern world.  I’m very proud of a number of works and stagings.  But at the end of the day, I’m most proud and most grateful that I’ve been able to stay in the game this long.
Q.  Which project has proven the most difficult and why?
A.  The End Of Cinematics was probably the most difficult project to mount.  While the concept and music was completed in 1998, I wasn’t able to complete the film portion in Paris until 2001.  Then, using CGI, we removed people from the film in order to have filmed/video backdrops to place the performers in front of.  It was a complex staging that produced a 3 dimensional live film.  Ultimately rewarding and beautiful, but very hard to realize.
Q.  What do you hope to achieve in the coming year?
A.  I have two new recording released in December 2010: Recess and Corner Loading (Volume 1).  We hope to tour those pieces.  We are currently on tour with the song cycle Gravity Radio that had its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.  We’re hoping to continue that tour through 2011.  I also have two visual art exhibitions on display in NYC through January.  False Doors at the Margarete Roeder Gallery and Passport: 30 Years Drawn on the Road at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  In December, the library announced the acquisition of my archive of recordings, films, scores and manuscripts. I’ll be spending a lot of time on this in 2011.
Q.  How do you hope Pelime can help with this?
A.  I’m interested in Pelime for a variety of reasons.  My hope is to connect with like-minded artists and professionals through Pelime.  I like the idea that Pelime represents a community that might be looking to connect in ways that other “social networking’ sites miss.  I remain hopeful that this model can bring interesting people together in unique ways.


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