Dan Plonsey was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned a BA in math and music from Yale University (1980) and an MA in composition from Mills College (1988). His teachers have included: Anthony Braxton, Martin Bresnick, David Lewin, and more briefly - though making a large impact - Roscoe Mitchell and Terry Riley. Plonsey is the composer of over 150 works for large and small ensembles, his most recent commission coming from Bang on a Can (composition to be premeired May 17, in New York. Plonsey plays in the Great Circle Saxophone Quartet, which has recently toured the East and West coasts of the US in support of its new CD on New World, and he performs his own music and the music of others frequently in the Bay Area in a wide variety of contexts, including, most recently, John Schott's Diglossia ensemble, Ben Goldberg's Brainchild and Eugene Chadbourne's Insect & Western. He is the resident composer and chief librettist for El Cerrito's Disaster Opera Theatre Co. (13 one-hour operas since 1994), the co-founder of two defunct composers' collectives (New Haven's Sheep's Clothing and the Bay Area's Composer's Cafeteria), the journal Freeway (and co-editor), and the weekly Beanbender's creative music concert series in Berkeley (since March, 1995). Inspired by Sun Ra, Charles Ives, and the dadaists, his compositions "arise from the drama of conflict: at least two ideas, one sensible and one absurd, set in motion together or against one another."
Plonsey's current projects include: a set of three CDs for solo and overdubbed saxophones (one released, the second completed), recording a set of music for small big-band, a commissioned puppet-opera for the Enormous Ensemble, recording a selection from among 144 short piano pieces, and the writing and recording of a semi-improvised symphony for full orchestra in which all the parts will be played by Plonsey.
STATEMENT (October 10, 1997)
"My aim in creating musical works is to create an entire world. Coincident with the composition process is a process of imagining the scene to which the composition belongs. This may involve imagining a time, a place, a purpose, and the personalities of the musicians, their sponsors, the audience, etc. Many of my recent compositions hav been written around a melody which runs the length of the piece without repeating. During the writing of the melody (based on humming) particular characters may emerge. I think of the melody as the spine of the piece; the characters will help me know how the skeleton and flesh is shaped. The final - and most crucial - details are supplied by the performers. Essentially they are required to supply the action which animates the scene which I have created. Recent compositions have been pan-modal: mode changes from section to section, and/or modes are superimposed. The modes I use are not uncommon to human music; the fact (and manner) of their combination has placed most of my music into a future which can't be more than a century away. The simplicity and crudity of the arrangements suggest a setting far removed from the university concert hall, yet there is a sense of complexity which results from curiosity and the perverse need to turn all that is natural upside-down. My music is the music of a formerly mighty culture which has lost most of its technology and its written history. It still has pride and pretence, and a sense of its own importance, and of the importance of art as nothing but art."
ANOTHER STATEMENT (June 14, 1996)
"My compositions arise from the drama of conflict: at least two ideas, set in motion together or against one another. The music tends to be polyphony or heterophony (i.e., many voices with melodies which are almost entirely different or almost exactly the same - but not quite: fuzzy), with each instrument or section holding its own, all parts of equal importance. I strive for simplicity: melodies which are memorable and forms and structures which are audible. I frequently find the inspiration for music in nature and accident. There is often a sort of dada absurdist humor in the music itself. In recent years I have been extending the narrative into other realms, incorporating stories, costumes and occasional props in service of a performance which becomes increasingly unified (as opera) while at the same time further from conforming to any one genre of art. As an improvisor, these same concerns carry over, and I try for a sound and intonation which reflect a volcanic heat, power, and liquidity. My overall goal is to be as puzzling and as entertaining as possible, while beneath the surface a simple mammal heart is beating.
86-88 M.A. in composition from Mills College. Teachers included Anthony Braxton and (briefly) Terry Riley.
80-81 A fitful year at the University of Toronto, writing lots of electronic music, and studying Karnatic music.
76-80 B.A. in math and music from Yale University. Teachers included Martin Bresnick and David Lewin.
78 Summer program at the Creative Music Studio, Woodstock, NY. Teachers included Roscoe Mitchell, Karl Berger, Braxton, Leo Smith.
Plonsey's Thoughts on Composing and Improvising