Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reflections on the concert at The Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, WA, 11/20/2010

Here I go again, reviewing my own concert...

This concert came up rather abruptly (as regular readers of this blog will already know); there was a cancellation of a concert at the Chapel, so I grabbed it and pulled in two other musicians – Beth Fleenor and Bruce Greeley, both clarinetists. We played what we could on short notice (for what audience showed up at the last minute), and at least the two clarinetists pulled it off admirably.

We did three pieces (two relatively short, and one longer) from my StormSound Cycle.

First up, Beth played “Desert Bloom” (#3 in the Cycle). Essentially a drone piece more or less in the manner of Phill Niblock, it features microtonal variations on a single chord. Over the prerecorded sound of the kaen (Thai mouth organ), the clarinet is supposed to improvise more microtonal variations. I emailed the instructions and the prerecorded part to Beth, but there was some kind of a glitch in the email and she didn’t receive the instructions. For the warm-up, she played a beautiful modal cadenza over the prerecorded drones. I actually liked that better than how I’d originally conceived it; so (after we realized what had happened) we combined the styles: she began with microtonal drones, then gradually added pitches (with their microtones) and finally let the music blossom into melody. It was strikingly beautiful, and I think I will make sure that the piece is performed in this way every time (it will only take a minor adjustment of the written score). There is now a co-composer of one movement of the Cycle.

The second piece was “Frogscape” (#18 in the Cycle), which I played on piano almost to break the tranquility with something humorous. The piano simply plays rhythmic chords over prerecorded frogs; in a sense, it acts like another frog. The piece perhaps sounds trivial, particularly after the deep peace of “Desert Bloom”, but it occupies a similar space in the complete Cycle: coming on the heals of the only other piece in the set that doesn’t use processed nature sounds, “Song from Deep Silence”, it serves as a reminder that not all is well in nature… It is a slightly comical interlude no matter when it is played, and, as an audience member pointed out later, frogs (like chickens) are inherently funny.

We followed with a free improvisation. Here, the clarinets worked out counterpoint with one another, ranging from melodic to chaotic; for my piano part I mostly commented on what they were doing, or provided a momentary tonal center. One of Bruce’s friends got a video of this; if it came out well, it may make it onto YouTube – I’ll keep readers posted on this.

After the intermission, we played “Spherics” (#8 in the Cycle). One of the Cycle’s “medium long” pieces, (about 40 minutes), this one alters the prerecorded nature sounds to such an extent that they sound like, well, outer space. Yes, I know that there are no actual “sounds” in space that can be detected by the human ear (despite the din that things always make when they blow up in Star Trek), but these deep drones and strange reverberations always sound like they’re from somewhere else in the universe. Over this, the instrumentalists play scores based on the planets: cloud decks become long held tones; craters become single points of sound; the terminus of a night side becomes a sudden shift in the tone; the swirling cloud bands of Jupiter become a flurry of trills (Beth played these with particular flair). I thought the clarinetists ran out of steam a little before the end, but that could also be the fault of the prerecorded sound (which simply loops back to the beginning to finish up). I actually had originally written it for ‘cello and/or trombone anyway (rather than bass clarinet) but I liked the overtones and breathy sounds that Bruce was able to produce on his bass clarinet. I will admit, though, that altogether it was not as successful a piece as I would have liked (this was not the fault of the other two players). The prerecorded sound is from a different sound world than that of the "live" music, and the two don't blend as well as I had hoped. I have an idea, though, to fix it...

Anyway, as always, I’m going on too long about my own concert. I’ll sign off for now.

(This posting is Nov. 23, 2010; 181 days until the first performance of the complete StormSound Cycle)

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