Thursday, January 20, 2011

Upcoming Concerts and the SoundScrolls Jinx

“New Music in the Library”: Sunday Afternoon, February 13th or 20th, Lynnwood Public Library:

I’d like to get the “New Music in the Library” concerts going again. Both of these dates have been approved by the library staff, but I’ll only do one of course. Depends how many musicians I hear from about which date. More on that later. As before, this will be a free improvisation concert, an “open mikeless” open to anyone who wants to bring an instrument – see the “rules” for participating in my 9/22/2010 posting.

Members of Seattle Phonographers' Union (and others) play compositions by S. Eric Scribner using field recordings: 7:30, Thursday, February 3rd, at the Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, Seattle.

The cover for my “SoundScrolls” CD. I’m going to give a couple of these pieces a retry, if nothing else, to try to break the curse…

“SoundScrolls” is the name of a set of short(er) pieces (that’s relative – they’re certainly shorter than the “StormSound” cycle). I’ve been composing them since the 1980’s, though the idea actually goes back farther than that. Each of them uses one graphic score that resembles a landscape; the musicians play or improvise on the notes thus suggested. Some of them have other parts that are more traditionally notated (though still with room for improvisation); others have prerecorded parts. I’ve put out a CD or the first four of them (which are appropriately titled SoundScrolls I, SoundScrolls II, etc.).

But these “SoundScrolls” pieces seem to by jinxed. (The following discussion is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, though the facts stack up oddly.)

SoundScrolls I has been performed a couple of times at open mikes, and once in at a concert in the Fukushima Ongakudo Concert Hall in Fukukshima, Japan (with Masahiro Kusaka on shakuhachi). It seems to be my most popular ensemble piece, and the jinx does not apply to it. The rest of them, though, have always been a problem. SoundScrolls II originally had a prerecorded sound part (I lost it years ago), and all performances of the piece have had at least one near-disaster. At one open mike (Freight and Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley, CA), I had some of the parts on tape but the soundman ignored my cues and never played the tape (he asked afterwards if my frantic hand-waving had in fact been his cue); at another concert, the gong had a dent in it so it didn’t resonate properly and (at the same performance) the mallet head fell off and rolled into the audience. During a recording session I accidentally dropped a mallet into a percussion bowl (ka-clank!) but in this case the resulting clatter went with the music so I didn’t edit it out. The piece has never been performed again.

SoundScrolls III? Never performed live; the second movement is a minimalist phase-piece that appears to be unplayable. Several musicians have tried it. All have failed. I faked it on the CD, in a way that makes the listener know that it is really not possible to play live.

SoundScrolls IV? Exists only on a recording (I invented it as a way to round out the CD of the first three), so there doesn’t seem to be a problem with it. However, the CD of the SoundScrolls pieces is, as far as I know, the only one of my CDs that has never sold well at my concerts – even though those who have heard it generally think it is one of my best. It’s just that few have actually heard it. Nobody buys it at my concerts (the others disappear regularly). Is the cover really that ugly?

SoundScrolls V and VI? I’ve composed several versions of these. The latest was for a well-known Seattle new music ensemble, for the upcoming February 3rd concert; but one or more of them decided that they didn't want to “participate” (my guess is that it would be too much of a bother to set up all their elaborate stage equipment for a set that’s less than a half-hour). Two previous versions have similarly led to non-performance; in one case, a flutist who was planning to play it suddenly cancelled and then ceased all e-mails and phone calls a day before the rehearsal. A mutual friend just said he’d decided not to play it. I’ve never heard from him again. Weird.

So with all that, why bother with SoundScrolls VII? Well, the prerecorded part is one of my favorites so far, and I’ve taken it in a different direction. I’ve decided that, since most of the prerecorded part is made from field recordings, that I should have some of the performers be “recordists” too, such as the members of the Phonographers’ Union (see my 11/22/2011 posting). I contacted one of them; he sent out a message to the others, and two have said they were interested. But, this being a SoundScrolls piece, problems have already surfaced. I’ll see what happens here.

I defy you, SoundScrolls hex!

(This posting is on 1/20/2011; 124 days until the first performance of the complete "StormSound" Cycle.)

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