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Paul Hogan leaves Cincinnati behind and follows his muse to NYC

By John Stoehr · July 12th, 2001 · Locals Only
Unlike many musicians who leave an established band because of "irreconcilable artistic differences" -- which is usually record label-speak for "I'm a musical phenom, you guys are holding me back, and I ain't getting enough fucking money, fame or credit, so I'm outta here" -- Paul Hogan left local jam band Ray's Music Exchange in June 2000, because he felt the pang of musical growing pains.

It wasn't anybody's fault. There was no animosity surrounding his departure. Rather, his evolution from funkified signal-master to avant-garde protégé was just taking its natural course.

"The reason we parted ways was because I was ready to explore the avant-garde avenue," Hogan says.

Hogan remembers the epiphanic day he realized his creative energies were moving into wildly different directions.

"I once went into this shop in Clifton where this guy said, 'You're the keyboardist from Ray's. Man, I used to see you guys all the time. You were so funky. You would funk it out, and I would dance all night. But when you guys started doing all this spaaacey shit, then I just wasn't into it. It wasn't funky anymore.' Basically the guy was telling me, though he didn't realize it, that he didn't like what I was most into. At that point, I realized Ray's wasn't the right place for me."

Now, after a full year away from Ray's, this tall, gangly, wild-haired Maryville, Tenn., native is heading for New York City in the fall to study computer/electronic composition at Columbia University's Computer Music Center, where composition, history and theory are the focus, and performance is secondary. Columbia's music department emphasizes creative output -- not the rigor of conservatory training -- and values all musical styles equally.

"One of the best things about Columbia is they have what they call an 'open aesthetic," Hogan says, "which means they don't have distinctions between high art and low art, serious and not serious music. Their concern is that you're getting better at whatever you do. I think not all places are like that. I want to know if I'm getting better every time I create a piece, and if I'm getting closer to myself."

But composing in a way that best reflects his personality hasn't been easy for Hogan.

For most of his stint at CCM as a composition major, 1994-1998, He felt his loyalties were divided between school and Ray's. For CCM, he'd create Classical works that were perniciously informed by canonized 20th-century composers like John Cage, Terry Riley and Milton Babbitt. For Ray's, Hogan would tap into the huge well of popular music, digging out the corners of Funk, Jazz, Reggae, Rock, Blues, Punk, Pop and their innumerable sub-genres.

"What I realize now is that I was stuck in a world where I thought my music had to be a certain thing," Hogan says. "I wasn't following my gut. That's the best part about my experience with Ray's: It taught me as much about composition and about the music I love as school did. And in some ways more. When I was writing for school and writing for Ray's, they were completely different things. One was one aesthetic and one was completely another."

Much of Hogan's struggle has been to combine those two aesthetics -- the popular and the Classical -- and there have been many side projects that marked the way to Hogan's hybrid tunage. One of those was The Cobra Ensemble, a group based on a composition by New York avant-garde icon John Zorn. The group featured "guided improvisation," a conducting method in which the conductor creates the order of events as they're happening by using symbol cards and hand signals.

"Those ideas really knocked me off my rocker," Hogan says. "It totally changed the way I thought about improvisation. It was so fresh, because you have to abandon all the licks you'd learned."

From there, Hogan joined forces with fellow local composer extraordinaire, Mike Barnhart, to create Converging Currents Composers' Workshop (CCCW). The intent behind the union was to have progressive concerts performed in unique locations.

How progressive? How about three shows: one in rowboats on Miami Whitewater Forest Lake, one within the gorgeous interior of Old St. George Church, and one among the trees, trails and dells of Burnet Woods Park.

Because of the oddity of the venues, hardly anybody attended the CCCW shows. But Hogan considers them great successes, because what little audience he had was composed primarily of average Joes, not other musicians or other CCM students.

"Mike and I both had this idea that we wanted to bring this music that we, our friends and our mentors, were writing to the public," says Hogan. "Not only did we get these unique spaces, but they invited people who aren't musicians. We would get audiences with literally nobody from CCM."

His work with Barnhart and CCCW led the way to table, a live computer processing show they devised with the help of a local Jazz drummer virtuoso, Tony Franklin, and musical impresario, Tony Luensman. The scene was like this: Hogan and Barnhart would set up their laptops on a table on stage in front of the audience. Franklin and Luensman would play drums and percussion while Barnhart and Hogan recorded the two Tonys with their computers and altered the sonics for a strangely digitized/acoustic effect: live drumming with live computer processed drumming.

"Our set would be this mix of compositions -- a Jazz/Funk kind of thing, computer processing and a timbral sonic landscape all blended with poetry," Hogan explains. "One of the wildest sounds I ever heard was Tony Franklin playing the drums and Mike and I taking in that sound through our laptops and spitting it out the other side."

But it wasn't until he left Ray's and graduated from CCM that Hogan found the right amounts of the Classical and the popular in his music. It came to him last year during Music 2000, a music festival CCM hosts annually. He wrote a piece, called Variations and a Theme, for eighth blackbird, Cincinnati's magnum contemporary music ensemble, in which he allowed himself to draw upon all the music that had influenced him throughout his life.

"It was the first piece for Classical instrumentation," Hogan says, "where I let the Jazz and Rock influences in my life, that I had really started to develop with Ray's, integrate into a fully notated Classical piece. It was the first time I put these things in the same pot. And, for really the first time, it felt so me."

PAUL HOGAN has a Web site, featuring info and MP3s, at www.hoganmusic.com.


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