Graduate student talks violin, metalsmithing, musical sculpture
Corey Wolffs is an artist. Mediums, outlets, instruments — they do not confine or even define his craft. How could they? Wolffs is the inventor, the maker, the player, the adhesive that both literally and physically fastens his work together.
“For my undergraduate thesis project, I made musical sculpture — acoustic instruments with strings,” said Wolffs, a first-year student in Master of Fine Arts. “I worked with wood a lot, and metal and membranes and strings, which are musical instruments on their own. It wasn’t until then that I made that realization that a violin isn’t a magical thing; a violin and a guitar is a box with a string, and a little piece of wood that holds the string up.”
Working and experimenting with the physicality of instruments gave Wolffs new perspective on the social implications of music. Music is less about producing culture; rather, culture produces music.
“Every culture across the entire globe has a variation of violin, somehow,” Wolffs said. “They all sound different, and they all produce vastly different types of music, and they are all played predominantly the same way — and I find something very amazing about that. You can also take a violin, this magical thing, and put it in any culture, and every culture is gonna take that violin and use it almost how it was meant to be used, but use it in a completely different manner. So musical instruments are contextual and social objects, in a way.”
As a lifelong musician, Wolffs’ work with violin was both the catalyst and the product of his Bachelor of Fine Arts from California College of the Arts. Wolffs took a break from violin during the beginning of his undergraduate career, instead focusing his efforts to get a degree in metalsmithing and jewelry making. The years of consistent practice and playing were put on pause — but only temporarily.
“As a kid, I would have to go to violin lessons every Tuesday for lessons and every Friday (late at night) for group lessons, so I didn’t know what a Friday was like until I got to college,” Wolffs said. “For my first week at college as a freshman, I sat in my dorm and my roommate would ask, ‘hey, what do you want to do?’ And I’d be like, ‘I have no idea, I have never done this before.’ And I didn’t play music for about three years of college. I forgot everything, and I just focused on metalsmithing.”
Though Wolffs put down the strings, his hands never stopped moving. His work with musical sculpture — a seemingly impossible task for the intangibility of music — was a way for his music to find its way to the physical world.
“All crafts and all the creative work that we do — it’s kind of all the same,” Wolffs said. “You have a rough thing that you forge into a rougher, but almost finished thing, and then you polish that all out. The only difference between all of them is the skills that you have to use and the material. But the actual song, the actual drawing, jewelry making, painting, writing poetry — you start with something rough that’s from your brain, and you have to make that real somehow.”
Wolffs’s polished work takes many forms. With his musical project, CryWolffs Violin, his self-defined “urban” sound is a product of mastering many mediums: the physicality of his playing, the self-produced tracks that accompany his violin and the flexibility of his sound. However, Wolffs also attributes his music to situational factors.
“I graduated in 2010, which was probably the worst year to graduate with the recession,” Wolffs said. “And I had a few jobs here and there — not good jobs, nothing fulfilling or anything in particular — but they were all jobs I could do during the day, and just forget about after I left. So I had all this free time, and I started performing at open mics, and then I started helping out at the open mics and from those open mics people started asking me to play at their shows […] So after a period of time I was getting booked more, paid more, and it was kind of just something I almost accidentally fell into.”
Wolffs also draws inspiration from more unexpected sources. After working and performing at an open mic in Sunnyvale, California, Wolffs was inspired by his fellow performers. He explains, with genuine enthusiasm, that the vulnerability of performance is compelling — magnetic, even. It is what makes us human.
“What always inspired me to get up and play was watching other musicians get up and play,” Wolffs said. “The people who don’t necessarily do it for a living, or who are trying to do it for a living; there’s something very inspiring about seeing people take that step of performance, which most people are scared to do […] being able to step in front of other humans and materialize that thing in your head.”
Similarly, Wolffs’s “urban” sound is a product of his environment. As a classically trained musician — specifically, a student of the Suzuki method — Wolffs can easily cater his sound to that of his audience. And, because his beginnings in performance were as an open mic night performer and eventually as a privately hired violinist, his music edged into genres like hip-hop and pop.
“Performers have two avenues they can take: one, they can do what they do, and do everything in their style, or they can go with the route I chose, which is — you can do it in your style — but you have to tailor [your performance],” Wolffs said. “In festival work, you have to guess what the crowd wants, and obviously you never get it right all the time, but you can always bet that there’s one or two songs in a particular genre that they’ll like.”
To achieve such adaptability with his music and his performance, Wolffs is also a self-taught producer (with the exception of a friend that gave him a crash course in Ableton software). Wolffs explains that his violin is typically the melody line, but he can produce his tracks as a complement to his playing.
“Being able to create your own tracks, you have complete control over the sonic experience for both yourself and the audience,” Wolffs said. “So it’s not just for the audience, it’s having something you can follow along to, that you know you can create a musical conversation with […] As a producer, I have the ability to shape and perform the experience how I want it to be perceived.”
Moving forward, Wolffs is confident in the future of his music — not in its public success or his potential fame, but in its ability to satisfy a deeper, human desire to connect.
“I was always my own manager for CryWolffs Violin. I never got a manager or agent, so I kind of go wherever it goes. I never was trying to be a Bruno Mars. I was doing it because I like to get up on stage and perform, and that often manifests itself in other ways, whether that be a coffee shop or Quad stage […] Part of my humanity-ish thing is performing. And this satisfies that.”
Written by: Ally Overbay — firstname.lastname@example.org