"LET YOUR WATCHWORD BE ORDER AND YOUR BEACON BEAUTY."
How do These words of architect Daniel Burnham apply to music?
I SEE A PARADOX in the interplay of beauty and order, when applied to sound, a fascinating mystery that arises when you take the idea to a 21st century extreme. Can each moment of music be fantastically beautiful and utterly unique...and yet also be beautiful because of its place, its function, its relationship to the sounds before and after?
I would tell you that I am a composer of metamodern music...but then I would have to try explain what in the world that means. Labels can only get you so far anyway.
Music connects people in a way that transcends borders, backgrounds, languages—even words themselves. As a composer, this soul-connection is WHY I make music.
I don't think you have to understand the style or the musical language for the music to do its thing. You just have to listen intently. Listen in a way my earbuds-in, neverending-streaming-playlist generation often forgets to—with your full attention. After one performance of my man-vs-piano opus Map of Trees, during which the audience watched and listened spellbound (horrorstruck?) as I played the piano in all sorts of verboten ways in an otherwise quiet library, a stranger told me:
Only my music can really speak for itself, because if you force me to the wall to describe it, you'll get something true but opaquely prolix, like the following:
I compose the music of 'and.' In my music I seek a balance between complexity and accessibility, between the unique beauty of individual moments and the interrelated intricacy of formal structures. My music is powered by the dynamo of dichotomies and paradoxes—monolith and labyrinth, cohesive and fragmentary, the ancient and the digital, the city and the jungle. I savor the effects of sound on both the physical and spiritual senses. In my music, melodic intimacy is contrasted with swirling masses of sound; improvisation coexists with rigorous systems. My music is traditional, wrapped in the avant-garde, oscillating inside a distinctly twenty-first century 'in-between,' 'and' or 'metaxy'. Vermeulen and van den Akker describe this metamodern 'and' state as "a pendulum swinging between...innumerable poles." As a composer I am aiming to "transcend, fracture, subvert, circumvent, interrogate and disrupt, hijack and appropriate modernity and postmodernity" (Moyo).
tl;dr—I may be educated but that hasn't bred the life out of my music.
And: My music is not just one thing, it is 'all the things.'
A composer whose beacon is beauty and whose watchword is order; who believes that the best music has not yet been written and that music should be poetry for things that words fail to express, crafting a balance between complexity and accessibility. Officially a Doctor (of Musical Arts) as of May 2017. Current visiting professor at Brigham Young University–Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho. Successful Kickstarter project creator (KarelianSounscapes.org).
OKAY, SO...WHAT DOES THE R. STAND FOR?
R. is for Robert, but my dad is Robert and so I've always been Michael except on paperwork. Can't have the folks on ratemyprofessor.com confusing me with my chili pepper-rated father! I'm R. Michael Wahlquist to avoid online confusion with a Mike Wahlquist who works for the postal service, and honestly just because it looks grand on a musical score.
INFLUENCES AND BACKGROUND—I.E. GOD (AND THE INTERNET) MADE ME
Raised in rural towns in the Mountain West, I was exposed to two of my most important influences—modern music and Slavic culture—only thanks to the advent of home Internet. Online I found inspirations and influences that would have been much less open to the small-town kid of any other era—Slavic music and culture, avant-garde classical music, obscure science fiction, eclectic modern visual art and guilty-pleasure indie hipster music.
As an active Christian and Latter-day Saint, my idiosyncratic music is infused with a vibrant spirituality particularly notable in a growing body of hymn tunes (120+) and in the titles and inspirations for many of my instrumental works.
My late grandpa Charles P. Wahlquist once told me that if I wanted to really make a difference, I should be a teacher. I realized that to be the composer and teacher I want to be, I would need to get all the education I could. Education has been an important priority me—I earned a Bachelor of Musical Arts degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho (2009) in Jazz Studies (Piano) with a minor in Russian; and a Master of Music degree from Brigham Young University (2013) in composition, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition at Arizona State University (2017). I worked as a part-time theory/dictation teaching assistant during my graduate studies starting in 2010.
Since fall 2019 I have been living in Rexburg, Idaho where I am a visiting professor of music (theory and composition) at Brigham Young University–Idaho’s Department of Music. From 2016-2019 I worked as a full-time Music Lecturer at Texas A&M University–Kingsville. My angel wife Qait (her way of spelling Kate) is a professional harpist. Together we have three children—Ender, Scarlett and Nikolas. It's not hyperbole to say that the greatest joy I know in life is in these family ties!
I have continued to study music and Russian culture in college. From 2004-2006 I served as an LDS missionary in the Russia St. Petersburg Mission, including time in the cities of St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Petrozavodsk and Pskov. I'm fluent in Russian as a second language. My professional ties and involvement in Russian culture were strengthened by the recent Karelian Soundscapes project and ongoing research into Russian composers and musical traditions.
What do you mean you are an experimental musician?
IN ADDITION to my work as a composer, I am also an improvisor. A 'comproviser,' if you will. I got my start in jazz piano, and I've continued to hone my chops as live music maker on the piano....and with anything I can get my hands on that will make sound.
Building on the work of many other jazz and experimental musicians such as Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, John Cage, and my own mentor Christian Asplund, I've striven to develop the ability to create intense and one-of-a-kind solo and collaborative improvisational experiences. From leading in BYU's GEM ensemble (Group for Experimental Music) to my solo piano concert series Map of Trees, to my piano/percussion duo with Eric Retterer and my work with LORKAS (Laptop Orchestra of Arizona State) I've been exploring the boundaries sound making, the possibilities of heavily extended piano techniques and live computer music, and the very question of what it means to 'make music.'
There is nothing quite like the act of performing music in the very moment it is created. There is nothing quite like creating and performing music in ways quite unlike anything that has come before. New instruments—new technologies—new sounds on old instruments—sharing the joy of the discovery live. Though I love composing—writing out music for others to perform, the grand old tradition of putting your ideas on the page for posterity—there is something powerful, unfiltered, even primal and perhaps drawing on a deeper, more instinctual level of musicality when I turn 'comproviser.'