September 13, 2022  

PBLA Instructor Spotlight: David Aguila

At Point Blank, you can expect to be taught by some of the best in the business. Each of our instructors is selected for their combination of talent, music industry experience, and tangible success – which they pass on to you in the classroom. Each is a true professional in their field and our team in Los Angeles is no exception. For this Instructor Spotlight, we will be interviewing renowned trumpet player, audio producer, and key Point Blank Audio Mastering instructor, David Aguila.

If you’d like to study Audio Mastering with David, or any other courses at Point Blank LA, sign up here. Additionally, if you’re not in LA, you can always study a degree course with us in London and Online.

David Aguila is a performer and composer currently based in San Diego, California where he is pursuing a doctorate in Music in Trumpet Performance from the University of California San Diego. Aguila’s multifaceted practice focuses on trumpet, electronics and music production; working in the fields of contemporary, experimental, electro-acoustic and improvised music. In the realm of audio production, Aguila has worked with the band Snow Nerds, performing electronics on their 2018 EP, It’s Really Rampart, and mastered the most recent album, Midnight Masquerade.

When did you first know that music was something you wanted to pursue?

Music was something that caught my attention early on. I remember as a child watching a cartoon where there was a trumpet player in it and I became completely focused on the sound that I heard from that instrument. I knew at that age that someday I was going to play that instrument.

When I was 10 years old, I had the opportunity to pick an instrument in school and without hesitation, I immediately picked the trumpet. Like any beginner trumpet player, I was awful but with a lot of practice and dedication, improvement was made. I knew music was a career I wanted to pursue midway through high school after I attended an arts camp in Michigan. I’d auditioned well, was placed as top chair in their top band and won an outstanding camper award that summer.

The following summer, I was selected to be an ambassador for the US with their international orchestra – I was the only student trumpet player chosen. I remember traveling around Germany, France and Austria, blown away that music could take me so far and allow me to do so many things. This was one of the main experiences in life, especially at that age, which drove me to pursue music as a career. I’m forever grateful for that experience.

You are currently pursuing your doctorate in Music in Trumpet Performance from the University of California San Diego – what led you to pursue a doctorate?

I’m not sure anyone sane pursues a doctorate degree. Maybe that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I think I was just ready to pursue a doctorate. Prior to that moment, I actually took a three-year break from playing the trumpet and focused on composition, electro-acoustic, electronic performance and doing live sound. I had really transitioned my life away from the trumpet and more toward this kind of live-supportive musical role.

I spent the summer of 2017 at the Stockhausen courses and concerts in Germany as a sound projectionist. I had the experience to work with amazing musicians and learn a lot about what the role was in multiple aspects of the music industry. I could see the impact it would have on my practice, both as a performer, a composer, an electronic musician and a trumpet player. I was very grateful for that.

One particular experience that stood out from that was listening to this work by shock housing, Cosmic Pulses. That year there was a 19-speaker array, with eight subwoofers completely surrounding the audience. I remember during the dress rehearsal, just laying in front of the mixing console as they were just doing a run of the electronic tape. I could just feel myself floating up through the cosmos. It was a truly unique experience to hear that music in that type of environment.

There were two other instances that drove me back to the trumpet. In combination with the sound projection work I had been doing, what really solidified my return to the trumpet and academia were the Stockhausen courses. Marco Blaauw, the trumpet instructor for the course, is who I had the opportunity to play for prior when I performed a work Harmonien at the courses. I couldn’t take my eyes off Marco during the dress rehearsal and concert. The performance was fully encapsulating for the performer. You had to wear attire and there was lighting and choreography.

In a way, these experiences showed me what I needed to do to fully bring my practice together across all of these areas. I knew that I couldn’t begin a program that would only have me viewed as a trumpet player. I needed somewhere that would allow me to hone this unique practice. UCSD was the place and I’m very happy to have landed here.

Which trumpeters have inspired you the most? Do you find yourself emulating them while performing or composing?

I think everyone has trumpet players that inspire them over the long run. I’ve already listed Steph and Marco, but there are a few others who inspire me.

I draw inspiration from Franz Hautzinger’s use of amplified blown air through the horn, Birgit Ulher’s integration of objects and spaces, Mazen Kerbaj’s extension of the instrument with resonators, Axel Dörner’s ability to mold sounds like a synthesist and Nate Wooley’s collaborative work with composers, re-envisioning what the trumpet can sonically create. On top of that list, I’m inspired by Miles Davis, William Vacchiano, Wynton Marsalis, Chet Baker and so many more. A big loss in the trumpet and music community was the loss of Jaimie branch. Her work will inspire generations of musicians. Take some time and check out Jaimie’s record, Fly or Die.

There is an exhaustive list of musicians who inspire me as much as trumpeters. I don’t know if I could ever say that I’m emulating them while I perform. Although I find inspiration in how they perform, the inspiration that I get from these musicians also comes from the fact that they are all unique and distinct from one another. If anything, it’s the ability of each of these artists to carve out their own creative path with this instrument. That is what I’m emulating. It’s allowing me to be truly authentic to my art.

You’ve worked on a plethora of compositions and have been involved in several projects – what has been the most memorable thus far?

I’m always extremely grateful for the different types of projects that I’ve had the opportunity to work on over the years. From my time in LA, I can remember a few that stand out for different reasons. Playing on a loading dock for a scene in the opera, Hopscotch, where the audience traveled around LA and limousines. Vocalists would get out and start singing with four trumpet players on the loading dock. The scene would end with the audience speeding away in a limo and leaving the vocalist. A truly bizarre and surreal performance was playing music for a melting ice cream cone in Death Valley for a video thesis. This was definitely the most memorable project I’ve ever had the opportunity to be a part of.

More recently, I presented a work that was written for me by Nasim Khorassani, a colleague of mine at UCSD. The work, Shabah, was for solo double bell trumpet and was premiered at the International Women’s Brass Conference in May at the University of North Texas. It was recently performed at the Chosen Vale International Trumpet Seminar, held at the University of Delaware in July. I am extremely grateful for the work and Nasim’s dedication to composing for trumpet.

All I’ll say, in terms of memorable experiences in music, is that it’s best to be open to whatever opportunity arises. It’s just another day playing the trumpet inside or outside of a tent, on a roof or on a loading dock.

So I have to ask. There’s an iconic video of you solving a Rubik’s Cube while playing the trumpet on Jay Leno. Can you tell me more about this? 

This talent for solving the Rubik’s Cube and playing the trumpet at the same time began in high school. My band director, who was always so encouraging, had seen me grow as a trumpet player and make progress at the same time in solving puzzles. One day, he said, “I bet you can’t solve the Rubik’s Cube and play the trumpet at the same time”.

I took that as a personal challenge. I went into the practice room in the back and 10 minutes later, I came out and showed him. My mom and I recorded a video not too long after and sent it to The Tonight Show, not really expecting anything of it. Well, surprise, I got a call and from there we were flown out to California for the taping of the show. The whole experience didn’t sink in until a few days after.

I guess it was just two things that I really enjoyed doing. It was instigated by my band director and encouraged by my mom. You never know what’ll happen. Just put it out there and see. Now it’s out there for everyone to see.

How did you get into teaching? What do you like best about teaching Audio Mastering at Point Blank? 

Teaching has always been something that was encouraged from an early age. Ruth, my trumpet teacher in high school, would encourage me to sit in on my peers’ lessons and see where they were at. She was doing this to help me understand what needs each student had and how to address them as a teacher. As the years went on, studying in high school with Ruth, she would ask the student who was taking the lesson a question and if they didn’t have an answer, she would ask me.

After years of this, I’d built up a vast knowledge of things I’d heard during the lessons that helped address the needs of the students. If anything, there’s a similarity to what we do as mastering engineers with critical listening. We have to think about what we’re hearing in our role as mastering engineers and use those critical listening skills to identify what needs to be done to enhance the music, what tools to use, what the reasoning is behind this and where and how much. That’s all the practice we do for critical listening and also the practice we do in trumpet playing. We have to sit and listen to our sound and be reflective of what we heard and why.

There’s this feedback situation with these types of practices that I now see very clearly in the role of teaching. I’m always appreciative of the students. They’re always the best part of teaching, especially at Point Blank. The students here are on a level. The students come in and they’re ready and they’re energized. They come in with great questions, this yearning to ask why and learn and gain as much knowledge as possible. To me, that’s really energizing because I see these students who are hungry, hungry like I was – and still am. The students want to do something with their craft and that inspires me to really encourage them. Just like I was encouraged by all my teachers. The students are the best part of teaching at Point Blank.

What can we expect next for David Aguila?

There are a few things I’m currently working on. A record of my own music that I’m hoping to release by the end of this year. A little bit about this record that I’ll reveal now is that it encapsulates my practice. The trumpet is going to be a thematic recurrence throughout, whether it’s explicitly heard or not.

The point is to take the listener on a journey of these facets in my practice. I have curated it in a way that will allow for that type of listening experience – and be open to other manners of listening. So, I’m really excited for the record, Configurations of the System, to be released this year and finally be shareable with the world.

At the end of October, I’ll be doing two shows with a group called 5Hz. We’ll be performing at the Blacktronika festival down here in San Diego for the opening of the amphitheater at UCSD, as well as up in LA at MOCA Geffen. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to play with great musicians and colleagues from UCSD. I’m really grateful to King Britt for asking all of us to perform and giving me the opportunity to play on a line-up that’s filled with people who inspire me. Everyone on that roster is someone whose work has shown me so much about where I can go. So, it’s just an honor to be included and be on the same stage as these folks.

Additionally, I have this trio with a violin and flute player. Our trio name is in^set and we are preparing two concerts from ourselves, the Japanese-Canadian composer, Kotoka Suzuki, and some of our colleagues here in San Diego. We will also be including some very cool composers from all around the world. I’m really excited to be working so closely with Ilana and Teresa on these pieces.

I recently finished mastering a record, life as reptiles, with my good friend, Ted Taforo. I’m really excited about this and really happy with the work that we’ve amassed over the years together. We released another record in May, Belief In Reality, which has some wild work from both of us.

Finally, I’m finishing a record with this group called Pigimichi, which is indie-pop meets experimental Cumbia. The music is great! A few weeks ago, we were able to do tracking and I’m really excited to be mastering that record. I think that this group is something special and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to lend my ears to this.

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This post is included in Instructor Spotlight, Point Blank LA