Not your typical rock star

Michael Einziger of Incubus goes from rock to orchestral work.

By Olivia Damavandi / Special to The Malibu Times

Despite his 17 years of experience playing in rock bands, Malibu resident Michael Einziger is not a typical rock star. The recently-accepted Harvard University pupil and guitarist from the Grammy-nominated, multiplatinum rock band, Incubus, has penetrated a new genre of music with the debut of his first original orchestral composition, “End.>vacuum,” at UCLA’s Royce Hall this Saturday.

Born with overt musical and intellectual talent, Einziger, 32, has faced his share of anguish, which has, ironically, played a part in his inception of orchestral music. Due to a lifetime of playing guitar and a 17-year stretch of playing music with his Incubus band mates, his left wrist has become inflicted with carpel tunnel syndrome, affecting nerve controls sensations to his thumb and fingers (although not the little finger).

The malady has forced him to take a hiatus from both Incubus and the guitar, two formerly major constants in his life, but has piloted him to explore other musical realms and outside interests. Not being able to play the guitar has been burdensome for Einziger. “The fact that I was disappointing people by canceling concerts had an intense effect on me. It was difficult,” he said in an interview with The Malibu Times.

“Live musical performance is what I’m most familiar with,” said Einziger, who will play various different instruments throughout the orchestral piece, including piano, xylophone and percussion. “So I think it was natural for me to gravitate in that direction.”

Many things inspired Einziger to create “End.>vacuum,” one of which is a conversation he had with film composer Danny Elfman a few years ago.

“At that time, Danny had recently written his first concert piece and I found it intriguing that the music had nothing to do with being a part of a film,” Einziger explained. “It was stream-of-consciousness writing with no finite limitations other than a deadline to finish. The idea had a purity to it I found very attractive.”

It was this same attraction that made Einziger want to write a composition that was to be performed live, as opposed to one written for a film.

“End.>vacuum” is also fueled by Einziger’s love of science. When asked how his captivation with science affects his music, Einziger explained, “The music has been shaped by my struggle with the concept of infinity, and

how I understand the physical world around me. Scientifically speaking, our world is far more mysterious and truly bizarre than anything that could ever be conceived in a fictional story. Writing music is the only way that I know how to deal with the intensity of living in such a mind-bending place. When I think about such challenging ideas, I hear what I perceive as their musical equivalencies. ‘End.>vacuum’ is my attempt at manifesting those intangibles into aural expression, however successful or unsuccessful I may be in doing so.”

The sonata, consisting of nine musical movements and lasting approximately 40 minutes, will be performed by a chamber orchestra led by prominent Los Angeles conductor Suzie Katayama. Einziger’s decision to attend Harvard this fall was reached after he discovered how challenging it is to compose music for an orchestra. He will study musical composition and hopes to expand his branches of learning to physics, cosmology and evolutionary biology.

While there are many obvious differences between writing music for his band, Incubus, and writing an orchestral ensemble, one of the biggest disparities for Einziger is the absence of lyrics.

“An orchestra has no lyrical elements and nobody singing, so the songs are much more about implied imagery rather than a deliberate, verbal message,” he said. “It leaves a lot more to the imagination and to the ears of the listener.”

Inspired to write music by the range of his own human experience, Einziger said that “End.>vacuum” alludes to his perception of the outer edge of human understanding, “the finite place where rational scientific knowledge stops and pure speculation ensues.” Appropriately, “End.>vacuum” will be preceded with a 20-minute lecture by British physicist Dr. Brian Cox, about particle physics and scientific experiments being conducted at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).

The public performance of “End.>vacuum,” marks a new creative chapter for Einziger. While he can’t predict what the future has in store for him, he can say that what keeps him awake at night, but what also gets him out of bed everyday, is “the event horizon between what we know and what we don’t know.”

More information about the scheduled performance can be obtained online at www.endvacuum.com.

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