10 Questions for Rick Sacks

Rick Sacks

An older photo of Rick Sacks

Richard Sacks has been a force on the Toronto creative scene for more than 25 years, as a composer & sound-designer, percussionist, mentor, and likely a few others roles i didn’t think of.  He performs with Arraymusic, Art of Time, Aventa, The Evergreen Club Gamelan, The Glass Orchestra, New Music Concerts, Red Sky Performance, and others.  Sacks also works as both a performer and a composer/sound-designer in contemporary dance and theatre productions. He has toured extensively through Europe and Asia. Sacks also works as both a performer and a composer/sound-designer in contemporary dance and theatre productions. He has performed with Robert Desrosiers, Dancemakers, Le Group de la Place Royal, Bill James, Carbon 14, and Toronto Dance Theatre. In theatre, recent work has been as composer/performer for Canadian Stage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Park at High Park, Midsummer Night’s Dream at Passe Muraille, the hit show ‘Sibs’ (Tarragon), and the award winning children’s shows, “Dib and Dob” and “Danny, King of the Basement” and “Rocket and the Queen of Dreams” (Roseneath). In 2010 Sacks received a DORA award for music creation of TONO for Red Sky Performance.  “Rick Sacks Solo Electronic Show” is coming up on January 14th 2012.

I ask Sacks ten questions: five about himself and five about his work.

1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?

Rick Sacks

Rick Sacks' current photo from Array New Music's site

I probably most resemble my father. I can hear his voice when I speak.  People from my hometown who haven’t seen me for a long time say, “You’re just like your father.” I know I have traits from my mother, but I think my dad’s stamp is predominant. There’s some question as to whether my great grandfather on my father’s side came from Russia but my grandfather was born in Palestine before it became Israel.

As a teenager, with a couple of uncles, at the turn of the century, my grandfather, traveled from Palestine, by horse and buggy, to South Africa.  In Capetown, he met my Lithuanian grandmother. It seems there was migration by Lithuanians to South Africa and Australia while the Polish Jews went from Europe to North America.

Rick Sacks once more

Rick Sacks' picture from the Evergreen Club site

I asked my grandmother on my mother’s side where her family was from and she answered,, “The Austro-Hungarian Empire. Traced that to a small town in Poland. Her father was a “woodsman”.  He owned a saloon that served flavoured vodkas and would travel the forests reporting to the Emperor’s men on where the good hunting, berries and timber could be found.

2) What is the best thing / worst thing about what you do?

The challenge of new works for percussion has been a great adventure. Works by Boulez or Wuorinen that require great concentration and stamina (both physical and mental) gives the player a sense of accomplishment and a sort of Zen sense of refreshing your life daily, a rebirth with each performance. Other works, the gentler or slower compositions, require a delicacy of approach, a maturity and ability to let go of those activities that call on the ego to be in the moment, propelled by a history of ‘hearing’.

Traveling the world as part of what I do has also been a great joy. Recent travels to Mongolia and China have led to new friendships and a view of a world broader and more beautiful than I could have imagined. Trips to Europe, the “old World” are so fulfilling in the way the Europeans celebrate their artists and Art that it refreshes the spirit.  New Music in North America is often looked at as superfluous or too hard to understand.

What’s the worst thing? At some point, a freelance artist is convinced to “take every gig”. This can lead to getting stretched too thin. The balance between paying the rent and playing at your best is compromised. The constant pull to justify Art with audiences and sales that can only apply to popular music is frustrating. The desire to advertise with hype and manipulative ‘spin’ degrades the real reason for composing, listening to and performing new music.

3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?

Arraymusic, Continuum, New Music Concerts, Trio Fibonacci, SMCQ, Berlin Phil, Ian Desouza, Dixie Chicks, Jimi Hendrix, Zappa, Miles, George Russel’s Othello Ballet Suite, Stravinsky, anything by Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold, Morton Feldman, Boulez, violinist Mark Fewer…

4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

reading minds, invisibility, flying.

5) When you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favourite thing to do?

Watching movies, having good food and drink, reading books. playing computer games.

5 more questions concerning Rick Sacks’ solo Electronic Show Jan 14th.

1) How does working with an electronic drumkit challenge you?

It’s easy to be cool on an electronic drum kit, and the MaletKat is a compelling midi controller that can impress a viewer easily. The challenge is to get good compositions that use these instruments in ways other than the ways they were meant to be used (primarily for pop and jazz).  I  have been soliciting and commissioning new works for these instruments for some time.  This concert will bring together the first batch.

2) What do you love about the compositions in your January 14th concert?

Each composition requires a different set of performance elements.

  • David Lidov and Luke Nickel use MAX, the programming language to bring text into play in different ways.
  • Darren Copeland uses MAX as well but through Kenaxis, a ‘MAX front end’ developed by Stefan Smulovitz, himself an electronic music composer.  Darren’s piece is very complex, requiring the performer to understand different banks of keyboard configurations that enable the MalletKat to control, using only the keys, volume, transposition, granular synthesis, pan, looping, recording and playback of folders of pre-recorded material. Very challenging.
  • My own works are ‘sketches’, one using mbira samples and recorded sequences, the other, using a piano and string sound tuned to the Bolen-Pierce scale, a microtonal scale used by Peter Hannon in a piece that I performed in Boston last year. Peter configured the MalletKat with this scale, claps of thunder and a bass ostinato and gave me permission to improvise using his compositional elements.

I had been commissioned by Red Sky Performance, Toronto’s premiere theatre and dance company focusing on the world’s indigenous peoples to create music for a collaboration between Red Sky and New Zealand’s Black Grace Dance Ensemble. For this project I bought a set of Roland V-Drums. With the MalletKat I was able to become a one-man-band switching between the drum kit and the mallet instrument, triggering sequences and soloing along, following the dancer’s movements with punctuations and grooves, occasionally listening to a discreet ‘click track’  programmed to make tempo changes along with pre-recorded bed tracks, filling with huge samples from Native Instruments and East West technologies. I have been collecting and creating sound libraries for years now and have almost unlimited choices in various hard drives accessed by a laptop. The pleasures of an electronic percussion geek.

Red SKy

Rick Sacks with Red Sky friends / collaborators. Click on the picture to get to the Red Sky page including a video sample.

3) Do you have a favourite composition?

I have favourite pieces to listen to and favourite pieces to perform. Last year, with Aventa, I learned the vibraphone part to Boulez’s Derive II. It was a tremendous challenge to learn, and performing it was the closest I will get to jumping off an airplane and skimming a mountain with webbing between arms and chest. This year I also performed in Charles Wuorinen’s Percussion Symphony produced by Robert Aitken’s New Music Ensemble. These works require extreme concentration, stamina and preparation.

As for listening to music there’s a lot that I love: Ives and Feldman are American transcendentalists. Linda Catlin Smith’s music has elements of this genre but includes a layer of beauty sculpted using an intuitive, yet meticulous, technique.

I can listen to country music, minimalist pattern pieces, electronic music, baroque and romantic works, all channeling into slightly different places in my brain, triggering memories, oddly familiar emotional ‘places’ or new insights into the immediate place and time I am experiencing them in.

4) How do you relate to new music as a modern citizen of he world?

No matter when a person lives, there is good and bad music.  Music that panders to popular trends or the supposed requirements of the genre are destined to be unsuccessful or worse, distracting and detracting from the truer forms of expression required to reflect or propel a culture. As a musician, I have a responsibility to perform even the most obvious travesty to the best of my ability. Tiring and frustrating, I try to avoid taking jobs with music I can’t feel committed to. However, the freelance life sometimes makes this impossible. So I do my best and hope to realize the composer’s work in the way they envisioned. New Music is a catalyst for cultural growth and a way to awaken the aspirations and thought processes that can be otherwise anaesthetized by the bombardment of market forces and easy listening. This is not to say that new music cannot be a source of comfort or distraction. Sentiment, humour and irony are not forbidden areas. My main relationship to new music is more exploratory. Arraymusic, for example is much more of an R&D organization than one which pursues ‘known’ works that have been already been successfully tested.

5) Is there a composer you especially admire?

I admire all composers.  This is not a field that brings popular appreciation or monetary wealth. To be a composer is to dedicate oneself to a life of solitude, risk and constant critical observation by (hopefully) a discerning audience.

Rick Sacks in motion

Rick Sacks in motion

Rick Sacks Solo Electronic Show” is coming up on January 14th 2012.  Saturday, January 14th,
8:00 pm
The Array Studio
60 Atlantic Avenue
Suite 218
INFO: 416-532-3019

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1 Response to 10 Questions for Rick Sacks

  1. Pingback: Polar Bears and Lullabies | barczablog

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