Local Composer Peter Stopschinski Releases 50 Free Albums in One Summer

That’s just the kind of guy he is


Photo by Jana Birchum

Let me introduce you to a little game called "the Fox and the Hedgehog." The way it's played is, you sort artists into one of two categories based on this sentence: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." The internet told me that sentence came from the ancient Greek bad boy Archilochus, a poet and a mercenary. More recently, the great writer Isaiah Berlin really refined the game by applying it to other writers. Chekhov is a fox because he mastered multiple genres, writing some of the world's greatest short stories and also redefining what realism in the theatre meant. Dostoyevsky is a hedgehog because he wrote in one style and one genre his whole life, basically struggling with the same question in book after book. (Spoiler alert: Every Dostoyevsky novel could be subtitled WHY ARE WE SO BAD WHY?! and those cap locks capture his tone.)

So Taylor Swift and Paul Simon are foxes. Billie Holiday is a hedgehog. And it's not better to be one or the other. Pablo Picasso is a fox. Frida Kahlo is a hedgehog. And there's no great call to be accurate in your assessment; being wrong can be as fun as being right. Winter in Austin is a fox. Summer in Austin is a giant, oppressive, suffocating hedgehog. This discussion among friends at a bar is meant to entertain. It gives language to the dual measures of genius, breadth and depth. And it gives me a couple of doorways, tall and wide, through which to bring Peter Stopschinski to your attention, a musician and composer who may be one of the only local mutants who is both fox and hedgehog.

If you don't know Peter yet, take a moment to go through your house and collect your three least favorite albums, MP3s, CDs, or cassettes. Now throw them away. Delete them. You've been wasting your time. And you'll want the room for Peter.

Peter plays every instrument they make and makes his own by attaching contact microphones to his boots or his cutlery. I've been over to his house to find every bowl and dish laid out on the kitchen counter and half-filled with water so he could make a piece of music about how hungry he is. But if you were hunting Peter, I'd bait your field with pianos. They seem to attract him the most. And I'd also get serious about your armory, because Peter's a burly fellow with hundreds of friends who will protect him to the death.

This posse which hovers around the good man Peter Stopschinski is made up largely of other artists. Symphonies require a bunch of musicians loyal to the composer, dedicated to doing what's been instructed. Peter's symphonies have been performed by the Golden Hornet Project, which is as good a place as any to enter Peter's catalog. The Golden Hornet Project makes and promotes contemporary classical music, which is weird. It's like a cultural Renais­sance festival. "Look, mom, we can still act old-fashioned." It's not my cup of thing, but my actual mom likes it, and I'm sure the mom inside plenty of you digs it, too. And I hope that pisses some of you off, because my point is not to make you like me, but to introduce you to the foxy side of Peter. Peter loves contemporary classical music. He dedicates large swaths of his life to making it and promoting his own and that of other cultural anachronistics.

You could listen to some right now. Just go to www.peterstopschinski.com and scroll down to Symphony #1, a piece Peter composed for the second-ever Golden Hornet Project concert in 2000, a traditional symphony dedicated to Peter's father, "immigrated from the Free State of Danzig, which was a country that existed from 1919-1939. He was essentially Prussian, kinda part German, part Polish. He was born in 1930, and by 1939, the Nazis had taken over his town. He spent a full year as a homeless refugee. His childhood was robbed from him by international warfare. This piece is a romantic tone poem describing his story ...."

Now, Golden Hornet Project is named in part to honor Peter's other band, Brown Whörnet, the Austin experimental-punk disaster that really keeps our weird cred on point. For every Starbucks and Old Navy in Austin, there's been a Brown Whörnet show to help us battle the crushing conformity. I once invited a bunch of my grad school colleagues to hear Brown Whörnet freak us all out. Instead of playing the wild, intelligent, formless music I love as much as my mom loves that old-fashioned classical noise, Brown Whörnet dressed up as chickens. They wore construction-paper beaks and white cloth wings. They strutted around the stage for 45 minutes, the length of a full set but with only a small percentage of the notes you'd normally expect to be played. The only music was when one of the human/chickens pecked a snare drum or a keyboard or a bass string. Whatever sound it made would terrify the whole flock, making them run around like crazy until things slowly calmed down again. Half of my grad school friends loved it, and I don't know what happened to the other half; I don't keep up with them anymore.

If you wanna hear some actual music by Brown Whörnet, which is gorgeous and wild, you can go to the same website and scroll further down and find the demos to "Valamaranaro." This is an album Peter and Brown Whörnet made when he was "living at the Rogge House. ... We had a full PA in the living room, and we worked and made music pretty much all the time every day."

You may have caught on by now that if you go to this website there's a bunch of free music there – 35 free albums as of now. That's the secret of this article for those who've read this far! No one else deserves it. I'm just telling you, the faithful, that Peter Stopschinski, as a summer project, is mixing, editing, refining, and releasing 50 albums before our mild winter sets in.

It's actually hard for me to imagine what it must be like to live in such a way that you would have 50 albums of material lying around to be mixed and given away one summer. I bet there's easily a half-dozen Austin artists who could do this, but I only know of one who has. Peter Stopschinski! And he's done it through some serious hedgehog living. Making music every day, all day, season after season. Like the most disciplined artist in our community.

But then the music itself is so, so foxy, beyond my own aggressively catholic taste. There's an album of harp music, Rough Night Harp Concerto Live Bootleg Featuring the Louisiana Philharmonic With Peter Bay Conducting and Elaine Barber Solo Harp, with a funny little story in the online liner notes about Peter Bay, conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, asking Stopschinski where he was staying. Peter replied, "at a brothel," leaving out the word "former," which was the actual case, but Maestro Bay, so used to Peter's eccentricities, simply smiled and shook his head.

There's dance music, ambient, glitch, country, and lots of rock & roll. It all shows the breadth of a fox's feral, spritely agility.

Here's how I remember meeting Peter: A Golden Hornet Project concert was being held at the Off Center. The arts world that I have known in Austin has revolved around that old cinder-block warehouse managed by my theatre company, Rude Mechs. And like Pluto, the revolution has been far out and irregular and not always considered a real part of the system by everybody. The night I remember meeting Peter, our A/C had stopped working and an entire audience and a string orchestra was waiting in the gravel parking lot, together, for a repairman. Apparently, stringed instruments are so delicate that sudden changes in temperature and humidity warp them and throw them out of tune. It seemed like a disaster at the time. All the Rude Mechs were there, calling A/C repairmen, trying to silently mouth to one another whose repairman could get there first or passing out water to the crowd or passing out. And while some of the composers were not helping a bad situation by glowering, I remember Peter came up with a brown paper bag in his hands. It was his concert we were ruining. It was his audience, too, we were frustrating. But Peter opened the brown paper bag full of treats and offered them to us. I remember him saying, "Everybody's freaking out, but I think it's going to be all right."

And it was.

And it continues to be. Better than all right. Fifty albums are being given to me. And you. An act that is perfectly Peter Stopschinski. Generous and free.

READ MORE
More Peter Stopschinski
Texas Platters
Peter Stopschinski
Now Would Be a Good Time (Record Review)

Greg Beets, Aug. 9, 2013

'Steinway to Hell'
'Steinway to Hell'
Stopschinski and Reynolds face off over the ivories

Barry Pineo, July 9, 2010

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Peter Stopschinski, Kirk Lynn, Graham Reynolds, Brown Whörnet, Golden Hornet Project, Rude Mechs, Off Center, Peter Bay, Elaine Barber, Archilochus, Isaiah Berlin

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