I think it was about two years ago that I stumbled upon Julia Mermelstein’s soundcloud page. It was one of those experiences on a social platform when you begin to see a recurring person who is following, and being followed by, your existing connections. Upon listening to her music, which I found alluring/intriguing, I had the further joy of being disoriented as to her musical encampment—where precisely does she fit in Toronto’s new music scene? That she did not immediately fall into one of my arbitrary composer taxonomies meant my ears listened a little differently. Julia’s work over the past two years has been impressive, and I had the chance to work more closely with her as she participated in the Opus Testing workshop for voice and electronics in the fall, and is now a participant in EQ: Women in Electronic Music. It is worth noting that she has decamped from Toronto, and is now based in Kitchener-Waterloo. This discussion gave me a bit of added context for her artistic life.
Canadian Music Centre: What got you excited about music at a young age?
Julia Mermelstein: I grew up listening to The Grateful Dead on family road trips, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky at ballet class, and opera performances at home on VHS. I was lucky to be introduced to classical and orchestral music at a young age. But my interest in creating music really piqued as I started to write songs for my own rock band and listening to artists like Land of Talk and St. Vincent. It was during a couple summers spent at the Creative Music Workshop in Halifax that I decided to pursue composition.
CMC: What was the most important music concert/event you attended?
JM:There have been many important concerts that I’ve been to! A few that really resonated with me were David Lang’s The Whisper Opera presented by Soundstreams and CONTACT’s performance of Professor Bad Trip by Fausto Romitelli at the Music Gallery. I was really captivated by The Whisper Opera’s meditative and extreme intimacy in its sound world. Experiencing that piece changed how I thought of theatricalities and the use of space in music. Professor Bad Trip was on the opposite spectrum. The overwhelming and disorienting mindset that the piece provoked was unusual and different from what I’d experienced in that kind of musical setting. It definitely was a memorable concert.
CMC: What is on your personal playlist?
JM: Right now, I’ve been listening to Jörg Widmann’s string quartets, Corps Exquis by Daniel Wohl, Michael Pisaro’s Tombstones, and ICE’s album On the Nature of Thingness with pieces by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen.
CMC: How do you define your musical/artistic community?
JM: My community is made up of the composers and musicians I connect with, the dancers/choreographers I collaborate with, and the collectives that I’m a part of. For example, the Kitchener-Waterloo Composers Collective and ACWC Piano Collective. Together we open doors to new projects, new audiences and connect to the larger community. As I’ve recently moved to a new city, I’ve become more aware of how powerful it is to be connected to larger groups of artists elsewhere in the world through reading blog posts, watching and listening to what other artists are creating through social media, Youtube, and Soundcloud.
CMC: Tell me about a project/work of yours that you are particularly proud of.
JM: Last May, I composed a chamber piece, Impressioned, for The Array Ensemble. I was exploring new musical territory: more open musical structures and ways of utilizing the breath to create individualized durations of how notes would be sustained. I’m really happy with how it all came together.
Check the CMC community page regularly for more composer profiles! To learn more about Julia you can visit her personal site.