Queeries for Jeffrey Krieger, the Electric Cellist

He’s the principal cellist in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, but Jeffrey Krieger is widely known in new music circles as an electric cellist.

For some 20 years now he’s played the electrified instrument and collaborated extensively with a wide range of composers in the creation of multimedia performance works involving computer and videos.

A 1993 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts made possible extensive touring in the USA, and in 1996 he received the State of Connecticut Commission on the Arts Artist Fellowship for work in multi-media.


Where did you grow up and has that affected your sensibilities as a musician?
I grew up in Joliet, Illinois and came from a very middle class, somewhat Catholic, blue-collar background. Joliet is known for Stateville, the State Penitentiary. In fact, one of my uncles was an assistant warden. I remember as a kid going to family picnics on the grounds just outside the prison walls. Dad worked as a foreman at Reynolds Aluminum just outside of Chicago and my mother stayed home with five kids.

On my 9th birthday I was presented with a $9.99 ukulele from Mr. Zee’s Music Shop and I loved to learn how to play it on my own. Growing up I listened to a lot of radio, hearing music mostly out of speakers and never having the opportunity to attend live classical music concerts until much later.

Dad used to call from the living room for me to come watch the cellist, Charlotte Harris on the TV each time she would appear (which was frequently) in her full length red gown and 50’s hairdo smiling lovingly into the camera while performing The Swan on the Lawrence Welk Show. This was also the era when electronic organs became popular and the housewives in the neighborhood bought them to occupy their leisure time. You could hear the sound of Leslie speakers from across the street wafting in the hot summer breeze.

At the same time as learning to play the cello I also played electric guitar with kids in neighborhood bands and acoustic guitar at Sunday church services. So traditional classical music did not play as influential a role in my formation as a musician until much later.

What are you working on these days?
I recently premiered “Portrait of Jeffrey” by Pauline Oliveros, a mandala piece realized for electric cello and computer. Pauline created the score after some specific questions were answered about my birth date, place, time, etc. I constructed an interactive computer program in MAX/MSP software which allows the performer to click on various parts of the mandala image ­– Nature, Birth, Who Am I?, Quotation, Dream, Memory, Theater, and Signature. This in turn performs tasks like setting up the software that processes the sound and supplies the score for each section of the piece. The capabilities of the instrument are extended through the software. For example, a string can be used as a kind of slide controller to modulate the speed of a sound file. My goal was to go beyond the traditional expectations of the cello using the capabilities of technology.

Currently, I am experimenting with a multi-channel playback system. I am contemplating rewiring the output of the instrument so there are 4 separate channels, one for each string. This will allow the performance to become more ‘sculptural’.

Do you like to collaborate or be the boss?
I am definitely hands-on when it comes to collaboration because of the importance in sharing what I have learned about the electric cello, as well as at the same time leaving plenty of room for experimentation. After 20 years with the electric cello there is a wealth of knowledge to share. It is also a necessity to be an equal partner because of the interactive computer programs I create specifically for each project. The computer plays an important role in my performances. The more I help the direction of a project the more interesting the result.

Have you ever experienced discrimination in the music business because of your sexuality?
Not that I am aware.

Are you single or coupled?
I am single.

Are most of your friends from the music world or not?
Most of my close friends are musicians, composers and artists.  I especially like the later two because they are creative people who are outside the classical musician circle I work in as principal cellist of the Hartford Symphony, and I just admire their art so much. Perhaps because of my work on the electric cello I have come to appreciate much more the people who are the creators. I collect contemporary art so there is nothing more exciting than visiting an artist’s studio to see and hear about their current work, even more than visiting a gallery or museum. But I cherish all artistic friendships for the creative energy and inspiration.

Is there a relationship between your sexuality and your creativity?
Yes, I am very creative in both areas…….

How much do you travel for your work? Do you find it stimulating or a hassle?
I travel just enough for performances that it has not become boring or tedious. What helps to keep it interesting are the challenges of adapting a performance to a particular venue and the wide range of acoustical characteristics one may encounter. The electric cello and computer are very adaptable when it comes to these challenges.

An example of an ideal performance scenario took place recently at Radford University’s new state-of-the-art, Covington Recital Hall where my acoustical needs were accommodated on the spot by a technician who expanded and contracted the walls and ceiling with a control module. It is normal to be prepared to make adjustments for the acoustics in the computer software, but the technician was able to adjust the hall to the ideal acoustics. One may know ahead of time what sound system will be available for playback but the actual acoustics from venue to venue can be much more unpredictable.

I also use an untraditional configuration for placement of the speakers. Instead of the speakers out front with a monitor for the performer and house levels controlled by a sound engineer, I prefer to monitor volume levels, flanked by the speakers, which are turned slightly inward. This allows me to hear closer to what the audience is experiencing and to make constant adjustments in my playing. Each work is unique when it comes to its sound requirements and there is never enough time to teach a sound engineer these subtleties.

Otherwise, I like meeting people and everything that goes along with new travel experiences like food, climate, etc., especially in far away places. Chaotic experiences like dodging animals and motorcyclists while being chauffeured through tiny villages on dirt roads from Mumbai, India to a venue several hours away, wondering if we will ever arrive in time for the start of the concert (we didn’t), which may also include spontaneous power outages, can be very entertaining. It makes the actual performing of the concert a piece of cake.

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