Faculty Member Grooves to a Guggenheim

Danielle Dreilinger
April 21, 2011
Faculty member and new Guggenheim recipient Dave Fiuczynski performs at Berklee's annual First Night concert in 2008.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

What happens when you meld microtones, non-Western melodies, and fat beats? You get groove—and, in the case of faculty member David Fiuczynski, a Guggenheim.

The prestigious fellowship goes to an artist in mid-career with an important project to undertake. For Fiuczynski, that's a work to be called, tentatively, "East Asian MicroJam for J Dilla and Olivier Messiaen." The $40,000 award was announced April 7.

He isn't the first faculty member to get a Guggenheim Fellowship—Larry Bell and Armand Qualliotine, both of the Composition Department, preceded him—and it has also gone to alumni including Miguel Zenón and Rudresh Mahanthappa. In fact, Fiuczynski got the idea to apply from playing with Mahanthappa. "I thought I had unique ideas that are worthy to be supported," he says. But the honor remains rare in the Berklee community.

Read about Fiuczynski's Planet MicroJam concept in FUSION Magazine.

Fiuczynski won't bask in the glow of the news for too long. He has to get started "as soon as possible, because a year from now I'm supposed to present a pretty major work!" He adds, "and I'm excited to be doing it at Berklee."

Indeed, rather than taking a semester off, Fiuczynski plans to take a semester on. "I need to be at Berklee, because Berklee is the workshop for me right now," he says. His personnel on the piece will be students from his ensemble and from his fledgling Planet MicroJam Institute at the college, as well as musicians from the greater Boston area.

"I could do this down here in New York but I don't think it would be as exuberant," he says. It takes a flexible and open musical mind to synthesize microtones, international sounds, and grooves—and Fiuczynski has found more of that in his Berklee students than anywhere else. Furthermore, they're tuned into "new beats, new rhythms," he said. "4,000 experts currently enrolled." He recently ran a groove contest to bring some of those ideas to the fore.

For the Guggenheim composition, he's also looking for students with a background in East Asian music genres. J Dilla and Japanese court music have some similar rhythm structures, he says; Messiaen was influenced by Asian sounds. The piece will be partially written and partially improvised.

Fiuczynski thinks the project has something to offer the students as well. In fact, he thinks that every student who comes through one of his ensembles or classes leaves with a new perspective, even if they never want to touch microtones again. "It helps them to think outside of the box," he says. Oftentimes "they can play circles around me but they're all doing things that have already been done."

Exploring the Planet MicroJam ideas might even help their careers. "The last thing New York is waiting for is another great guitar player," he says. (Fiuczynski lives in New York.) Rather, he wants students to learn to trust and explore their own ideas and musical identity.

Who knows—it might even get them a Guggenheim.