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A Discussion with Paul Dresher

Paul Dresher is a multi-talented composer who is uniquely able to weave contemporary classical, pop, minimalist, and South and Southeast Asian musical styles together into his own distinctive personal style. He creates in a myriad of different genres, including experimental theater, contemporary opera, acoustic and electronic chamber music, orchestral compositions, dance scores, and musical instrument invention. He will be leading a panel discussion entitled Contemporary Music in the Bay Area: A 10-year Retrospective at SF Music Day 2017 presented by InterMusic SF on Sunday, September 24, 2017 at War Memorial Veterans Building in downtown San Francisco.

Brent Miller: How did you come to be a musician in the Bay Area and why did you stay?

Paul Dresher: I moved here in the summer of 1968, the year after the Summer of Love. I was just out of high school and I was following my girlfriend. The counterculture of Berkeley was really exciting for me. I started playing in local rock bands, but I was making my living playing for change on Telegraph. In high school I invented and built some sitar-like instruments, and I noticed that I made more money playing invented instruments rather than guitar. Whatever money I had left over after paying the bills went to buying used records. I would go into Moe’s and buy one experimental record, one jazz record, one rock record, one world record, and one classical record, just to expose myself to as much music as possible. In 1969, I heard Terry Riley. In C and A Rainbow in Curved Air along with Sonatas & Interludes by John Cage inspired me to be a contemporary composer.

I stayed in the Bay Area because there was so much going on. I found a wonderful community that was interested in pushing every boundary. I traveled a lot and live in several places, but I always considered the Bay Area to be home.

BM: What is unique about the Bay Area music scene?

PD: The Bay Area is more geographically focused so there can be more commerce between the genres. You find really fine classical players working with improvisers, ensembles working with dance companies, things like that. Organizations like InterMusic SF really blew out all the boundaries between classical, contemporary, and jazz. There’s such a strong culture of collaboration in the Bay Area. It’s very exciting.

BM: What effect do you think the recent tech boom has had on the Bay Area music scene?

PD: There have been mixed results. The tech boom has given us tools have really changed music, both how we create it and how we experience it as listeners. The tech boom has also provided a way for artists to make a very good living while trying to make experimental music. The problem is that the tech sector believes that if there isn’t a marketplace for something, then it doesn’t have any value. Tech companies have a remarkable disinterest in philanthropy. The other problem is that the tech boom is really having an impact on the real estate market in the Bay Area. It’s becoming harder and harder for artists to find space to create their work. It’s forcing artists into areas that are now at the forefront of gentrification, creating tension between the people of color that traditionally live in these areas and the artists that are moving in.

BM: If you were an emerging artist in the Bay Area, what would you be most excited about?

PD: I’d be excited about the range of possibilities to explore my art form. The different communities and scenes are very accessible and open to newcomers. You can enter a community and be a part of it. There are so many things that are possible here. The challenge is paying the rent. If you can solve that problem, you can find your home and collaborators.

Find out more about Paul Dresher at


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