Saturday, July 31, 2010

Discarded Poems, Part Three: Concert at the Chapel, 7-24-2010

Some wonderfully atmospheric pictures that my wife Arleen snapped of me practicing before the concert: the altered “Gust Burns” technique (see my 6/28 posting); one of the slab-gongs.

At the Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center (Seattle), we (Neal Meyer and I) played “Discarded Poems” in concert last Saturday night… (So this blog update is a little late. Been busy lately…!) The concert came off pretty good, though it had a number of minor mishaps (perhaps “mishaps” is the wrong term for a concert of mostly aleatory music).

At the beginning Neal played a half-hour edit from his Gradus, a hyper- universal-length study of all the possible combinations of notes on the piano. This is a continuation of the “Gust Burns” type of music, with the silences and outside noises highlighted by the instrumental sounds on stage; the difference here is that this is a piano piece (for piano played in the “conventional” manner, on the keys) and it has some pretty extreme dynamics. It is rather startling to hear for the first time, however – since at least this section is a half-hour of all A’s and chords consisting of all A’s. At first one might think it’s nothing. And maybe that’s the point – listening to it over the course of the half-hour increases one’s awareness of the pitch A, and then the fact that all other pitches (including those filtering in from outside) are related to A. And, though this is only one note, the timbre of that note is infinitely varied; Neal used different techniques of duration, holding, releasing, half-releasing, pedaling, half-pedaling, and various combinations – to bring out the various harmonics of the note as he played it. Sometimes it was as loud and strident (figuratively) as a Hendrix guitar solo, completely drowning out the silence as it commented on it. At other times it was a quiet as the ambient sound from out the window: birds, distant voices, little bits of traffic sound, and a police siren at the end that went by in glorious stereo. That Neal accidentally played two G’s and one B shouldn’t worry us here – these notes could be considered part of the ambient sound surrounding the A’s, as they literally surround it on the piano keyboard.

The next couple of pieces were short, and the first of the mishaps started to occur. I played an improvisation on piano, with Neal playing electric guitar – I started with just A’s, spinning off of what I’d just heard, then threw in some G’s, while Neal went all over the pitch and effects range, then we went from there into other territories. Upon listening to a playback, however, I heard a problem: neither Neal nor I could tell how loud our respective instruments were to the audience (not the soundman's fault; neither of us were plugged in to the system), and throughout the performance, either the piano was too quiet or the guitar too loud. Not that this was necessarily a problem (electric guitar is known as a loud instrument, of course); one audience member commented on the piano part afterwards, noting that whatever I played, it was still “A” – so obviously the piano was audible to him. (And yes, I was generally basing everything off of that initial “A”.)

Next I played “Water”, the prologue to my set of compositions, “SoundScrolls”. Usually I play it as “Wind over Water” with an added part for (any) wind instrument; here, however, I played just the (prepared) piano. One of the pen-caps I’d stuck between the strings worked its way loose and popped out partway through, changing the timbre of the piano. It seems that the audience thought the change was on purpose so I won’t comment further (there’s another change later that is on purpose).

Then came “Discarded Poems”. This time we did destroy the slab-gongs intentionally, though not with as much élan as the first time. Right after that came the poems that give the piece its title: one about (an unpleasant memory of) childhood; one a stream-of-unconsciousness a la Finnegan’s Wake; and two satirical commentaries on modern culture. One of the latter contains, after a long description of the beauty in a given piece of experimental music, this:

“They listened, and decided.
This is not music.
It is not popular.
It is wrong.
It must not continue.”

Having had two record producers tell me more or less exactly that, I could have written it: "This is not music. It is not popular. It is wrong. We must prevent anyone from hearing it." The audience, however, definitely thought it was music, and they bought my CD’s to prove it.

I’m rambling, and I guess there’s a sort of conflict of interest here in reviewing my own concert, so I’ll leave it at that.

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