Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reflections on the concert at The Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, WA, 2/3/2011

This was the first of my two concerts in February.

Jazz trio Hexafone opened, though as Mike Sentkewirz (bass) said to the audience beforehand, “We’re Hexafone, for now, but maybe not for long… I just found out that there’s another band by that name…” Whatever, their music was interesting and often beautiful. With the combination of bass clarinet (Bruce Greeley), drums (Ryan Burt), and the already-mentioned standup bass, theirs was a sparse, dark, bass-heavy sound. They seemed to take a few minutes to actually get started; the tempo dragged a bit at the beginning and the solos in the first piece failed to gather any momentum (and that floor creaked!) – but once into the second piece, their sound coalesced into a single entity, their “groove” started up, and they never looked back. They played several of their own compositions and a couple that they didn’t give a name for, so I’m assuming that they were free improvisations (though these pieces were somewhat more restrained and subtle than “free improv” sometimes implies). They also played a piece by “Johann Sebastian Strauss” – that being Johann Strauss Sr.; a bass solo evolved into a waltz and a vehicle for a series of improvised solos. Throughout the set, there was particularly interesting drum work (nice use of the toms, superball mallets, and brushes – swishing at one point in the air without actually touching the drums).

I then joined them for my graphic score “SoundScrolls VI”. Intended as something of rude interruption between “SoundScrolls V” (in a late-Cage/Feldmanesque style) and “SoundScrolls VII” (which consists almost entirely of field recordings), this is a free-jazz slam with a recorded interlude of phasing, off-key violins. Though we’d run through the first movement once before the show, our performance was essentially unrehearsed. I think it worked better that way. Again, Ryan showed some inventive drum work; Mike followed the cues from the other instruments and the prerecorded sound almost intuitively (does he have perfect pitch?) and Bruce’s clarinet wailings and buzzes were the icing on the cake. Afterwards, an audience member said it had reminded her of Varèse, particularly the electronic (prerecorded) parts. I hadn’t thought of Varèse especially. (A friend once commented that there are two artists whom he can never listen to while driving: one is Edgard Varèse; the other is Pink Floyd – both for obvious reasons.) At any rate, the prerecorded sounds in the last movement are intended to sound like the early “electronic music”, that strident, beeping, atonal style of the first synthesized music in the 1950’s (Milton Babbit, etc.) – and, since the sounds were ultimately derived from birdcalls (transformed via MIDI into clamorous bleeps and klaxons), they are a comment on human’s tendency to spoil nature by, in this case, attempting to control it with machines.

The second half was my solo, all pieces with prerecorded sound. I did two pieces from the “StormSound” Cycle, including an excerpt with an improvisation on found percussion. Included were seashells, and “This chair counts as a found object – I found it in the stairwell about an hour before the show.” The latter provided dull metallic thumps like a muffled gong. Throughout the piece, I had to resist the temptation to attempt to play the seashells and the chair in some type of steady, syncopated rhythm – a little Harry Partch would have been fun but completely out of style and not representing nature sounds (the point of the piece) at all. The same for the hammer dulcimer in one other “StormSound” piece, though here I just improvised the part over a piece that doesn’t actually include any “live” instruments.

I concluded with the meditative “SoundScrolls V”, the longest of the SoundScrolls pieces so far. Here the piano plays slowly and (usually) quietly against other piano sounds, hammer dulcimer, field recordings, and snippets of guitar played by Neal Meyer. Many of the piano sounds are processed to become microtonal – and here is a curious paradox. This is not academic microtonality or “just intonation”, but merely random detuning – and so it should sound off-key and discordant. But, as John Cage (and others) discovered, in the right context, this is not the case – these sounds can become “correct”; not tuned according to the standards imposed on the spectrum of sound by humans, but according to a wider field; the sounds of nature, the music of the spheres. Such is my intent; I am encouraged that three people in the audience came to me afterwards and reported much the same feeling when listening to the piece.

My compliments also to the soundman (Alan Burt, Ryans' brother), who expertly mixed the prerecorded sound with the “live” instruments – “SoundScrolls V” in particular needs a perfect balance, which he provided.

(This posting is on 2/5/2011; 108 days until the first performance of the complete "StormSound" Cycle.)

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