Interview with Nick Omiccioli

On March 25th, as Kaleidoscope nears the end of its third season, this penultimate concert series promises to provide some of the most unique and eclectic musical works yet. [fuse], one such work on this concert, is composed by Nick Omiccioli. Generously donating his time, I was able to sit down with Mr. Omiccioli and not only talk about his inspirations for composing [fuse], but learn just how strongly his childhood introduction to music still influences him today. First introduced to the legendary Metal band Metallica, his passion for metal, rock, and classical music has allowed him to develop a wonderfully unique compositional style to create, as he calls it, “rock music for classical musicians”.  

Carrie Rexroat: How did you get started with music?

Nick Omiccioli: I was living on an Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS—right off the Gulf of Mexico. In seventh grade, one weekend I was playing volleyball with some friends in the neighborhood, and someone had brought their boombox and a cassette tape of Metallica’s The Black Album. After hearing the first few seconds, I was instantly hooked and anxious to hear more. In fact, from that moment on, all I wanted to do was play electric guitar. I wanted to be able to make those sounds, and ultimately I borrowed the cassette and listened to the tape over and over again.

CR: That’s great! As a musician now, how would you describe your compositional style? Has being exposed to metal and rock music influenced your style in any way?

NO: Definitely. When I think about what I’ve written over the years, I end up tracing it back to that one weekend when I discovered metal for the first time and its effect on me. In relation to style, I would describe my style as varied, evocative, and in your face. There is also a strong subconscious impulse that manifests itself in one of two ways in my compositions I’ve come to realize. The first impulse yields a literal representation. Being an active electric guitarist, a substantial amount of my musical material comes from the music I play or have played at some point in time. This might include a particular rhythm, chord progression, texture, and/or motive; [fuse] is the perfect example of this. In fact, I would say that [fuse] takes so much inspiration from popular music that I see this piece as a rock piece for classical musicians rather than a classical piece influenced by rock music.

CR: That’s a fabulous way to perceive that--sounds so much cooler, *laughter*

NO: Thank you. On the opposite end of the spectrum, another piece of mine, GRINDCORE, evokes the sound of an electric guitar through amplified scratch tones for stringed instruments. Rather than traditional notation, GRINDCORE utilizes improvisation and coordination via stopwatches which allows the musicians to focus on getting the correct sound I’m after rather than being concerned with pitch and rhythm. In this work, I am not borrowing any rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic materials from metal or any other source. The sounds function as a metaphor and are more open to interpretation. So, all of that to say that I have two different stylistic differences that mirror Alberto Ginastera’s classification of “objective vs. subjective nationalism” present in his works. I would just call it “objective vs. subjective metal” in my case.

CR: Speaking of [fuse], what are some non­-musical and musical inspirations behind this piece?

NO: The inspiration behind [fuse] is purely musical and self-referential. It is a nostalgic work for me that takes me back to my youth. Some people have told me that the work reminds them of spy movies from the 1970s—which I can totally see!

CR: I see. What motivated you to submit it for Kaleidoscope's Call for Scores?

NO: Well, I saw the inaugural Call for Scores that Kaleidoscope had hosted, but unfortunately I discovered the Call the day after submissions were due so I was not able to submit. I was intrigued by the idea of a conductorless ensemble, so I made a note to be on the lookout if Kaleidoscope put out another call. Luckily, they did! I have a computer file folder I refer to as ‘the vault’ that contains hundreds of opportunities for composers, and this Call for Scores was definitely in my vault and on my radar.

CR: Very cool! Have you previously worked with a conductorless orchestra?

NO: Yes. I coach large student chamber groups that do not use conductors, and for much of the creative work I do now does not require the use of a conductor. Instead, I use stopwatches to coordinate ensembles that utilize graphic notation and improvisation.

CR: I see, so this type of collaboration will be familiar. Speaking of collaboration, other than the Call for Scores, was there anything about Kaleidoscope as an organization that peaked your collaborative interest in wanting to work with them? What do you look for in collaborating with groups who perform your works?

NO: I define collaboration as working together in creating something new or presenting something in a new light in which all parties are more or less equally involved. To be totally honest, I feel that the word ‘collaboration’ is thrown around too much; the word holds a more weight than it is given credit for. But, my definition of ‘collaboration’ is also just my definition. Since improvisation has started playing an important role in my works, it has forever changed how I approach writing and who I write for. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a musician, it is to keep an open mind. If a potential ‘collaborator’ has a different definition than me of what collaboration means, I wouldn’t turn them away. In fact, I would be curious to find out what it means to them—who knows, it may completely change my way of thinking!

With that in mind, I’m excited to be working with Kaleidoscope, as I feel that together we can prepare [fuse] for this performance as a true collaborative effort.

CR: Is that a favorite aspect of yours as a composer, to be involved with people who adhere to your definition of ‘collaboration’? If not, what is your favorite aspect of being a composer?

NO: There are many things about being a composer that I could call my favorite. But yes, if I had to pick one, it would be that I’ve been given opportunities to meet so many wonderful, supportive, like-minded people. Also, if I hadn’t pursued composition in grad school, I would not have met my lovely wife, Kristin.

CR: That’s so sweet! In relation to ‘community’, a core value of Kaleidoscope is this idea of having all people be a part of the equation, regardless of their social and economic status, and be collaborative and engage with the Los Angeles community. We put on performances in different kinds of venues, providing free concerts, and this year they’ve implemented a “Pay What You Can” model by eliminating ticket sales. What are some of your own personal goals to try and connect to the community through your music?

NO: I love the “Pay What You Can” model. I remember as a student having to budget for concert tickets. I was thankful that many organizations offered student tickets. After I graduated, though, it became even harder to purchase tickets since I was unemployed and my privileges as a student expired. Some of my friends were also in the same situation. If I had had an opportunity to pay what I could, I wouldn’t have missed out on so much. To answer the question though, each individual person is a part of multiple communities. The decisions we make as artists lead us to form new communities and leave others behind. Being a composer automatically places you in a community with other composers. Being a composer whose primary instrument is the electric guitar places you in a smaller subset of that community, while also placing you within the guitarists’ community. It is not only who we are that defines our communities; it’s also what we do. And ultimately, the more opportunities we take advantage of, the wider our own musical community grows.

CR: That’s such a great perspective, so true. More to yourself as a person, what are some of your hobbies and/or other passions outside of music?

NO: I am always on the lookout for good food! I also love visiting parks, reading, film, and playing with Legos, because, you know, I am a grownup.

CR: *laughter* I relate to that so much. Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

NO: I just try to live life to the fullest and strive to be the best husband, teacher, and friend that I can be.

CR: Great! Any last final statement you’d like to leave our audience and readers with about you or your upcoming performance of [fuse]?

NO: In the not-too-distant past, I would log into my social media accounts and be overwhelmed with friends and colleagues sharing exciting news about upcoming performances, new recordings, commissions, job announcements, and engaging in meaningful discourse about art, literature, and music. These days my social media accounts remain, for the most part, unopened. In the last few months it’s been hard to get excited about the good things in life, however, when I sit in the concert hall something magical happens. All my concerns disappear and the only thing that matters to me are the sounds emanating from the musicians on stage. It is important that we continue to support great art and that we also recognize, encourage, and support the diversity among individuals making great art.

CR: Well said! Thank you so much, Nick!

NO: Thank you!

Carrie Rexroat