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Vivek Menon
Vivek Menon, B.Mus. 2018, at Dot Iso’s inaugural performance at Bar Freda in Brooklyn, September 2022, taken by Moti Benti (Photo courtesy of VM)

Alumnus Vivek Menon, B.Mus. 2018, has spent his post-graduation time continuing his violin studies and gaining more performance experience, both traditional and avant-garde. Currently, Vivek is working towards his Doctor of Musical Arts at Stony Brook University. In conjunction with these studies, he’s become involved in numerous performance groups including two avant-garde ensembles creating innovative music.

We caught up with Vivek recently to learn more about his DMA studies and these exciting musical ventures. Read on to hear what he had to say and to watch some recent performance clips.

UNC Music: Tell us a little bit about your DMA program at Stony Brook?
Vivek Menon: The Stony Brook DMA program is very performance-focused, which is great for me. We have to give 5 recitals of sizable repertoire, plus a lecture recital.

For my upcoming recital, I’ll be performing Nocturne by Kaija Saariaho, The Diamond by Vijay Iyer, Rhapsody No. 2 by Jesse Montgomery, and the Sonata in B Minor for violin and piano by Ottorino Respighi (recital date TBA!)

There is also a writing component, but it’s not as big of a focus as it is in other DMA programs (my DMA essay was a historiographical exploration of the work of rapper MF DOOM, and I really enjoyed working on it).

My primary teacher is Phil Setzer, violinist of the Emerson Quartet, it’s a huge honor to be able to study with him!

Overall the DMA is really open-ended, and since I don’t have to be at Stony Brook that often, it gives me a lot of time to focus on my various projects in NYC.

UNC Music: How did UNC help prepare you for this?
VM: When I was studying with Dr. [Nicholas] DiEugenio at UNC, he taught me a lot about efficient and intentional practice habits, which is very helpful to maximize the productivity of my practice sessions during my DMA. I have so much going on between the DMA and other work, and it really pays to be able to efficiently use whatever time I can carve out for practicing. UNC’s emphasis on music scholarship and knowledge outside of instrumental ability also gave me the skills to do really well in the DMA’s academic courses, like music theory and musicianship, as well as the essay writing portions of the degree.

UNC Music: Tell us a little about Dot Iso? How did the group get started?
VM: Dot Iso is an improvised music trio consisting of myself on violin, Dylan Delgiudice on guitar and saxophone, and Orchid Mcrae on percussion. Dylan and I met in Italy in the summer of 2019 at the soundSCAPE festival in Cesena (we’ve actually been roommates for the past year or so!) and I met Orchid through other friends in the city. I’ve always been interested in free improvised music, but never really had the experience of free group improvisation. Orchid and Dylan have experience in this tradition, and we started playing together for fun in 2021; eventually, we realized our sound was something special, and our shared love for many different styles and genres (free jazz, noise, hardcore, metal, and rap, to name a few) blended together in our playing in an interesting way.

The name Dot Iso comes from the filetype of Playstation 2 games (.iso), we came up with it during a “band field trip” to a Henry Threadgill concert in Brooklyn.

Playing in Dot Iso is very cathartic for me, there’s something quite powerful about just letting it all out through your instrument with no restrictions. We never really know what we’re gonna get when we start a piece, we just try to actively listen to each other and let the ideas flow and develop organically.

UNC Music: How did you get involved with orchiddBB?
VM: I got involved with orchiddBB through knowing and playing with Orchid in Dot Iso; when she mentioned she was looking to put together a quartet to play original avant-garde music I was obviously really excited about it. As Orchid herself says, “orchiddBB is a new project created by composer and percussionist Orchid Mcrae, an outgrowth of her solo project of the same name. Featuring violinist Vivek Menon, soprano vocalist Jennifer Sapiro, and bassist Mario Fontes, the group combines elements of improvisation, opera, and metal, and draws from a wide range of influences including songwriter katie dey, composer Henry Threadgill, and game director Yoko Taro.”

It’s really fun and fulfilling to work under Orchid’s direction and to serve her vision. Some of the music is notated, similar to the contemporary and new music traditions I’m already familiar with, and some of it is improvised. The instrumentation is also really unique and gives rise to a lot of different sound worlds, and each instrument often serves a nontraditional role in the group; for example, Orchid would tell me that some of the violin writing is supposed to evoke a guitar and fulfill the role of a rhythm instrument, rather than the violin’s main role as a melody instrument.

UNC Music: Do you have any exciting projects or gigs coming up (or recently occurred) with either group?
VM: Dot Iso recently recorded our debut album at Big and Tall Recording in New Jersey, it’s currently being mixed and mastered. We’re planning on getting some of the tracks remixed by a couple of my electronic music producer friends, which should result in a pretty interesting cross-genre moment. We’re aiming for a late spring 2023 release, and I am super excited to share the album with everyone, probably the most excited I’ve felt about a project in a long time.

orchiddBB will also be giving our inaugural performance on January 27th at Hart Bar in Brooklyn alongside some great musicians and friends, we are very excited! We’re also planning on recording an album sometime this year so look out for that.

UNC Music: What advice to current UNC Music students do you have to give?
VM: I guess my main piece of advice is to take advantage of your time as a UNC Music student.

Attend concerts in the department, soak up all the wisdom you can from the world class faculty (seriously, people don’t know how lucky we are to have a faculty roster like that), and don’t forget to do things outside of the department too. The Triangle has a lot of performances happening everywhere in lots of different styles, so explore and get out of your comfort zone, attend weird experimental music house shows or raves or rap concerts, try new things.

And also don’t forget to practice because you have less time for that the older you get, so do it now!

Some more specific advice: my favorite places to practice on campus are the elevator room in Hill Hall basement and the Hex room in Kenan [room 2002]. I always thought the acoustics were nice there.

Interview and editing by Catherine Zachary, B.Mus. 2010

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