“If you love something, set it free”? Easier said than done!
With that maxim in mind, here is the third and final movement of my piece The Analyst, performed at Vermont College of Fine Arts in February 2015.
Movements I and II tell the story of the rise and fall of a hubristic Wall Street company man. In this third movement, the analyst has died and finds himself at the pearly gates to Heaven, where four angels assess his worth. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for him.
This piece was influenced by my experience working in finance during the subprime mortgage boom and bust of 2008 and my attempts to reconcile that culture with my own desire to do good in the world (in whatever small way I can). I suppose I speak through the angels and assess the Analyst’s moral character from a number of lenses. I modeled the piece of medieval morality plays; people have heard echoes of Baptist, Methodist, and gnostic Christian teachings in the text (which wasn’t intentional but I’m sure it’s in there!).
The score is noteworthy because at no point does it give the singers a specific pitch (as you can see in the preview image). The singers are only given intervals in relation to the note they just heard. The piece makes much use of improvisation and small scale indeterminacy. I drew on works by Stockhausen, Alvin Lucier, and Robert Ashley while writing this piece.
A huge thanks to the performers, Aliana de la Guardia, Carrie Cheron, Alexander Nishibun, and Jonathan Nussman, for tackling this weird thing with gusto and all of their skill and bringing my very personal vision it to life!
When I had just finished my schooling and was looking for a job, a friend put me in touch with an absurdly well-connected British biographer who, she assured me, would help me find the professional position of my dreams. I wrote and asked him whether we might meet, explaining that I would appreciate his advice on securing literary work and enclosing some of my early efforts. He duly invited me for tea. The advice I had in mind sounded like this: “You must call so-and-so at this number and say I suggested it and he will publish you and give you loads of money.” After giving me a cup of weak tea—no sandwiches, no pastry, not even sugar or milk—he said, “I have only one piece of advice for you. Have a vision and cleave to it.” We then discussed the weather for twenty minutes.
I love a good prose score. I love how a few direct lines of text can unfold into a rich, varied piece.
My favorite is possibly La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #10:
With this piece, Young trusts the performer to start with their own theme, musical motive, or gesture and then expand it in a linear fashion that makes sense to them. The audience is guaranteed a changing experience because whatever the performer deems to be the core concept of the piece will progress.
My OTHER favorite thing about good prose scores is how they can can reduce a complicated musical concept to just a few concise words. Christian Wolff was a master of this; the instructions for rhythm in his piece “Stones” (“for the most part discretely; sometime in rapid sequences”) guarantees the existence of two repeating (and therefore unifying) elements that will never sound exactly the same, due to the nature of the “instruments:”
Make sounds with stones, draw sounds out of stones, using a number of sizes and kinds (and colors); for the most part discretely; sometimes in rapid sequences. For the most part striking stones with stones, but also stones on other surfaces (inside the open head of a drum, for instance) or other than struck (bowed, for instance, or amplified). Do not break anything.
– Christian Wolff
There is a similar graceful efficiency in this week’s Disquiet Junto project, which tasked participants with creating a solo rendition of Ethan Hein’s piece Convergence/Divergence.
With Hein’s permission, here’s the full score:
* Each performer loads a short, shared sample. It should have a distinct attack and decay, for example a bell or gong. It can be pitched or unpitched, musical or unmusical.
* Each performer triggers the sample repeatedly, either as a steady loop or at any arbitrary time interval.
* After a few repetitions, each performer manipulates the sample as they see fit, via pitch shifting, time stretching, filtering, or other effects. Transformations should be gradual and clearly perceptible.
* Once the entire ensemble is playing altered versions of the sample, the performers begin to undo their manipulations, preferably in the reverse order that they were originally applied.
* When all performers have resumed playing back the original sample, the piece ends.
I love the efficiency of this piece because Hein guarantees the statement, development, and final restatement of a theme–which is pretty much a staple of common-era classical music and also jazz–in a just a few words.
I couldn’t help but imagine how a group performance would provide constant evolution and change, much like how a classical composer would move a theme through various accompaniments and tonal centers, or how jazz musicians play a song’s melody, improvise over the melody’s chords, and then restate the melody at the end of the tune.
I’ll be revisiting my college days by playing at the “Final Fridays” noise show tonight in Newark, DE.
I just got my (new!) setup all tweaked and ready to go; I am super super excited to have a rig that I can take out into the world and use to not just play my pieces but to actually interact with and construct stuff on the fly. So very cool. I’ll be doing reconstructed versions of three pieces off of my Infrared Leviathan album, making heavy use of Ableton’s Follow Actions and also doing my own interpretation of Ikue Mori’s setup as she described in the first Arcana book.
(I’ll explain my fake-Ikue setup in further detail in a subsequent blog post).
I’m billied as Robot Monster; R0B0T M0NST0R is supposed to be my name for manic pop and raggacore mashups, but I didn’t quite get those pieces together in time for the gig, so I’m doing some more sedate stuff (it’ll still be face-melting but there won’t be any beats).
Anyway, if you’re in the area, I hope to see you there! The show starts at 9 and is being hosted by Rainbow Records.
At times, the three distinct spacial qualities of the instruments isolated them, allowing their different ideas to exist simultaneously without drowning the other out. But there were moments, particularly in “Individuation,” where the three players began using similar ideas, unifying the imaginary spaces from which each instrument was being broadcast, and making the small room bigger as a result.
They also had some insightful comments about Carte Noire (it helps when the reviewer is an improviser and composer also – you know they’ll “get it”)
This was tragically Ben Zucker‘s last show with us before he goes off to grad school to become even more awesome.
Our next show was a duo with just Trevor and I – it was an interesting challenge and change.
The next step is for us to find some more kindred spirits and expand the ensemble a bit. Or not? (DUN-DA-DUNN)
I belong to a Facebook group where we post photos/screenshots of whatever we happen to be listening to at that moment. It’s actually a lot of fun because it’s FULL of music nerds, and there’s always some funny and irreverent discussion.
Some cat named Tim Bender posted an old corporate promo record for a bacon-making machine. He included a link to the recording via the (always awesome) WFMU blog so we could hear it ourselves.
I’m a big fan of the sound of audio recordings that have been slowed-down, so I simply had to nab the audio track of children singing praises to their corporate overlord and slow it down by about 75%.
I had also recently seen someone who turned to the Teletubbies intro into a black and white David Lynchian nightmare, so it seemed a natural pairing.
I took a break from my grad-school work (rotational arrays!) and made this weird thing – enjoy!
Just a quick heads up that my ensemble with Trevor Babb and Ben Zucker, the Après-Garde Ensemble, will be performing at the Uncertainty Music Series today (5/9/15) at 8 pm. We will be sharing the bill with Carte Noire.
Here’s how we describe ourselves:
The Après-Garde Ensemble is dedicated to performing music that blurs the distinction between avant-garde jazz and experimental classical music. The group’s repertoire primarily consists of works that use free improvisation, alternative methods of notation, experimental instrumental practices, and aleatoric methods within a compositional context. While the Après-Garde ensemble functions as a composers collective playing original works, the group also performs works by established experimental composers such as Daniel Goode, Frederic Rzewski, and Gavin Bryars.
For fans of experimental music trios with french names, this will be your dream night!
The Après-Garde Ensemble is also performing as a duo Sunday night (5/10/15) at the Outer Space Jazz Series, with sound sculptor David Torn going on at 8:30. It’s going to be a great evening of sonic exploration – bring your mom!
The Outer Space Jazz Series
I’ve got a piece on this “Cities and Memory” compilation, in which 63 musicians from around the world took field recordings and turned them into “sound art” using prompts from Brian Eno’s famous Oblique Strategies.
I made a recording of the sounds of the New Haven green, including city buses, flapping flags, boisterous pedestrians and one a-little-too-close-to-the-mic skateboarder and turned it into a short piece (which you’ll find as #12 on the playlist, if you’re curious). My card “Try Faking It” gave me the courage to roll up my sleeves and dig into this project without overthinking it, and the card “Idiot Glee” told me what parts of the field recording I should use as the foundation of my piece.
It was a fun twist on my explorations into fixed media and musique concrète!
I can’t seem to embed the audio here, but you can listen to it on the Cities & Memory: Oblique Strategies homepage. My field recording is #11 on the playlist and my piece is #12.