Junto Profile: Paul Beaudoin

From Tallinn, Estonia (previously Boston): studying with Morton Feldman and adding beats

This Junto Profile is part of an ongoing series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s your name? My name is Paul Beaudoin, though lately I have been toying with being DJ Shostakovich — somehow, that name amuses (and inspires) me.

Where are you located? I live in a former Soviet Union military zone in Tallinn, Estonia — though I was born in the US and spent most of my professional life in Boston. Today, I am a full-time interdisciplinary artist working fluidly with sound, paint, video, and text. But it hasn’t always been that way: long story, mostly happy ending.

I have a Ph.D. in music theory and composition from Brandeis University in the US and have pursued the academic ladder of success for many years. I didn’t realize that the ladder was disintegrating until recently. It left me frustrated, lonely, and angry. Two years ago, I read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. One of the final chapters changed my life.

So, while I have been a hard-core academic composer (read somewhere between Milton Babbitt’s twelve-tone serialism and Morton Feldman’s softly repeating sonorities — both, by the way, had been my teachers), today I find myself using these strategies but within the ambient soundscape. I still think about sets and orchestration, but far removed from academia. I still compose music for the concert hall, which is radically different. That work is now published by editions wandelweiser in Haan, Germany — something I am proud of.

What is one good musical habit? Do not try to please your teachers or public or impress your friends or neighbors. Don’t make art to show you are a genius, a misunderstood giant, or to get laid. Make art you love, want to live with, and be at peace with. And, if you are lucky, others will respond.

And for that, yeah, be a good person.

— it’s one of the quotes I post annually on my social media.

What are your online locations? I am on the usual social media culprits for artists: Soundcloud, Instagram, and Facebook — just search by my name.

What was a particularly meaningful Junto project? The Junto Project prompts challenge me to step out of my comfort zone. For nearly my entire life, I have been a “beatless” person — with Junto projects, I find a way to include rhythm tracks and use traditional harmony and forms. I often thought I should use a pseudonym for these projects, but then I thought: Hey, this is me! Many years ago, a student told me, “All you have to do is put a beat to it, and people will listen.” So I did. For a Junto project called “the best advice I ever got,” I started with a dance hall beat and harmony and then layered all kinds of animal sounds, chanting, and noise. Before the track was released, it had more than 350 listens, which is “huge” for me.

I recently compiled a few Junto projects into a recording called “Disquiet Music,” released by Camembert Electrique. You can download it for free here: camembertelectrique.bandcamp.com.

Could you tell a story or two about studying with Morton Feldman? What a paradox Feldman was. His music lives at the border of silence (or so the canon likes us to think), but Feldman was a very imposing man. Brash and large, he spoke with the voice of an authority that was not to be questioned. In a composition seminar, there was a heated discussion about musical motion — that music somehow “moves.” Feldman insisted that music did not move, and to prove his point, he picked up a chair and threw it across the room. “There,” he practically yelled, “that’s motion.”

Does being in Tallinn sound different from being in Boston, and if so, has the location change had an impact in some way on your music? There is no doubt that my move to Tallinn influenced the radical shift my music took. There is a kind of continuous low rumble in Boston — whether it comes from the “T” or the roar of the crowd at Fenway Park (which I always heard from my apartment window). And since Boston has so many colleges, there is a constant influx of young people who come to benefit from their new independence. Parties, college-style shenanigans, arguments, you can hear it all. Here in Tallinn, the sound world is entirely different.

Estonians are, by their very nature, quiet. They do not engage in small talk and very much keep to themselves. I can go for days without having someone talk to me. There is also a deep respect for the natural environment here — so many lakes, forests, and meadows have been untouched for millennia. This quiet landscape was the perfect prescription for me to regroup. It gave me the resonance I needed to look inward; it forced me to slow down — like, really slow down. My music softened, it also got quieter, and it began to incorporate field recordings. A composer’s world is a kind of autobiography, and there can be no doubt that their environment finds its way into the work. I remember being in Boston and being asked what my music might sound like in 30 years. I joked that it would be so quiet one might doubt its existence. Now I don’t think it is a joke but a real possibility.

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