The San Francisco Bay Area’s underground music scene will come together this coming July in an annual celebration of its tremendous range of styles, its love of improvisation, and its collective obsession with new and unusual timbres and techniques. It’s the 11th Annual Outsound New Music Summit! All events will take place at the San Francisco Community Music Center at 544 Capp Street near 20th Street in the Mission District, and tickets can be ordered online from Brown Paper Tickets or purchased at the door.
The ever-popular Touch the Gear Expo kicks off the Summit on Sunday July 15, 7-10 pm. It’s designed especially for anyone who’s longed for a closer look at an experimental musician’s gear on stage, and for the opportunity to mess with it. 25-30 sound artists will be there to demonstrate everything from oscillators to planks of wood with strings attached and answer questions. Visitors of all ages have free rein to make sound and experience how these set-ups work, and best of all, it’s free.
The second Summit night is also free, and this time the composers take over. In the Tuesday night Composers’ Symposium (July 17, 7-10 pm),John Shiurba,Christina Stanley,Benjamin Ethan Tinker,and Matthew Goodheartwill all discuss how they navigate modern compositional techniques, while combining them with improvisation and their own individual forms of experimentation. The public is invited to talk freely with the composers and ask them questions.
Performances begin at 8:00 pm on Wednesday, July 18th with the first of four themed concerts – Sonic Poetry. This night is curated by Outsound Board members Amar Chaudhary and Robert Anbian, who’ve recruited three leading poets to collaborate with Bay Area improvising musicians to create new word and sound compositions. Words are by Ronald Sauer, rAmu Aki, and Carla Harryman, with music by Jacob Felix Heule,Jordan Glenn,Karl Evangelista, Jon Raskin, and Gino Robair.
The Tuesday night Composers’ Symposium prepares everyone for the second performance evening on Thursday, July 19th – The Composer’s Muse.Christina Stanley, Matthew Goodheart, and John Shiurba will all premiere new works running the gamut from graphic scores for string quartet, to prepared piano with sonified metal percussion, to a major work for large ensemble celebrating the newspaper.
Thwack, Bome, Chime on Friday night, July 20th, curated by Outsound Board member Pete Martin, will feature the world of percussion in all its coloristic and dynamic glory. David Douglas will combine percussion instruments with custom-built delays, loopers, samplers, and other effects to create The Walls Are White With Flame, a series of highly spatialized sound sculptures. In Seems An Eternity,Benjamin Ethan Tinker will assemble three percussion trios of metal and skin percussion to explore the same musical material in canon. And finally the San Francisco percussion ensemble Falkortet will show off its versatility combining traditional percussion, hand drums, and electronics with influences from Indonesian music, Brazilian music, Jazz, minimalism, and rock.
The final day of the Outsound Summit, July 21st, will be a big one starting with a 2-4 pm Harmolodics workshop led by Dave Bryant. Dave will share material from his years of Harmolodic Theory performance and study with Ornette Coleman, plus his own compositional and improvisational techniques developed on his own and with his ensembles. The 8 pm final concert, Fire and Energy, curated by Outsound founder Rent Romus, will feature Dave Bryant with his Trio, along with Jack Wright, the Vinny Golia Sextet, and Tony Passarell’s Thin Air Orchestra.
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ETHEL will soon be reunited with our dear friend and collaborator Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the 2012 Winter Jazz Fest (January 7th @ Zinc Bar). Ayelet has composed a deeply heartfelt piece for ETHEL and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi entitled Shiv’a . We’ve been developing Shiv’a for over a year now, and recently recorded it. This January’s concert marks the beginning of a series of live performances of the piece.
Ayelet’s style combines tuneful folk influences with moments of abstract improvisation. Her tone color choices are unusual and interesting. In this interview she discusses her music, her projects, and the fascinating relationship between her music and her dreams.
Dufallo: Can you discuss Shiv’a — your inspiration for the piece, and how it came together?
Rose Gottlieb: Shiv’a is a meditation on the process of mourning. It referneces Jewish and Buddhist mourning rituals. I composed it following several deaths, including that of my good friend, drummer and percussionist Take Toriyama. It took a while to piece together the seven movements of Shiv’a, and to find the right “language” for it (the movements vary from graphic scores to traditional scores, with improvisation sections). It’s a very special piece for me, as it’s my first long instrumental composition.
Being a vocalist, I’m used to working with text, and in this case the composition process was very different from anything I had done before. Since there were no words, the way in for me was visual. Each movement in the piece is like a sketch that draws an image with sounds and textures. The titles of the seven movements reflect upon a quotation from the book of Kings:
There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks […] but the Great Spirit was not in the wind. After the wind — earthquake. But the Great Spirit was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake — fire. But the Great Spirit was not in the fire. And after the fire — a voice of thin silence.
The movement titles also reflect the four elements of nature, being slightly jolted and out of place — Geshem (rain), Ra’ash (earthquake), and Esh (fire). Air is referenced through the use of a unique instrument that was made specifically for Shiv’a by installation artist Michelle Jaffe: the “Blanket with 49 Bells (BW49B).” My dream life is at least as “real” to me as my waking reality… When I started composing Shiv’a I had an incredible, powerful dream of a blanket with bells on it, that was moved by the wind. Michelle took on the task of bringing this sound-sculpture into physical reality, and the BW49B is now an integral part of Shiv’a. The bells signify a soul that keeps ringing in the world after the body has passed…
Dufallo: Can you tell a little bit about your musical history?
Rose Gottlieb: From childhood through the end of high school I studied to be a classical flautist. When I was about 14 I started “flirting” with improvisation — first as a flautist, then as a vocalist. Saxophonist Arnie Lawrence moved to Israel in the 1990’s, and performing with him solidified my direction into the realm of vocal jazz and improvised music… About a year before I started singing I started having a recurring dream of swirling colors — a large, intricate orchestral piece would be playing, causing the colors to move. Every time I awoke from that dream I experienced a great frustration about not having the skill to “transcribe” this sub-concious composition… I decided to start writing music, in order to be able one day to write that piece that was asking to be born… Of course, once I started composing, the dream stopped. I’m still hopeful this piece will come to visit me again some day…
Dufallo: What are some exciting upcoming projects?
Rose Gottlieb: With Shiv’a — I’m very much hoping it will now have life as a performed piece. I feel that the combination of ETHEL, Satoshi Takeishi, and Michelle’s BW49B will be a real treat to see on stage. We’re starting this journey on the night between the 7th and 8th of January at Winter Jazz Fest (Zinc Bar, 12:15 AM). The album is in the mixing stages, and will be released toward the end of 2012/early 2013.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, ETHEL, and Satoshi Takeishi rehearse Shiv'a
Aside from Shiv’a I have a few exciting projects in the works. On March 28th my composition for trombone and piano, Carry On — Check In, will be premiered at Carnegie Hall by pianist Vered Reznik and trombonist Haim Avitzur.
In Israel I recently recorded Betzidei Drachim / On the Roadside — a project that features my settings of Israeli and Palestinian poetry. The music is a cross-over of jazz, prog-rock, and middle-eastern music… This project features my long standing collaborator, pianist Anat Fort, as well as Ihad Nimer on oud and violin, and several other leading Israeli musicians.
With Mycale — John Zorn’s a capella vocal quartet — we’re touring the US and Europe, and working on new materials. We’re also gearing up for an exciting 2013 — Zorn’s 60th birthday year!
Outside my musical life — I recently shifted my base (once again) to London, where my husband works as an animator. I am grateful every day that music is my life and I have such incredible people to share it with…
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The newly revived Roulette(on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn) is the site for a premiere this coming Friday (details here). Guitarist-composer Joel Harrison’s Still Point – Turning World (a veiled reference to a line in “Burnt Norton,” one T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets) is a polyglot work for diverse forces. In addition to Harrison’s jazz quartet, it also features the Talujon Percussion Quartet, and Anupam Shobhakar, who plays the sarode, an Indian stringed instrument.
Still Point… requires its performers to be in a flexible collaboration, reveling in polystylism. “Crossover” is a term that’s overused and sometimes misused these days. All too often the results of less cohesive collaborations find the musicians from multiple styles working at crossed purposes or, worse, musicians from different traditions uneasily try on each others’ chops for size.
One doesn’t get this sense from Harrison’s creative activities. Instead he seeks likeminded musicians who are interested in creating a sophisticated synthesis of different genres, based on mutual support, respect, and plenty of listening to one another.
He says, “I’m willing to bet that in ten years time, many more musicians will be comfortable playing both jazz and classical, and performing music from many traditions.”
Harrison’s ensembles aim to be pathfinders in this regard. Come to Roulette on Friday and witness these musical frontiersmen!
Take a seductive voiced art-pop singer and a post-jazz/alt-classical trumpeter. Add fragments of nineteenth century classical melodies, electronics elicited by a “mutantrumpet” controller. Then add influences ranging from ancient Greek mythology to the Hudson River Valley. What you have are the intricate yet intimate sounds on an evocatively beautiful new CD: Songs for Persephone.
The Persephone legend is one of the oldest in Greek mythology, with many variants that provide twists and turns to the narrative and subtext of the story. In the myth, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. During her absence, vegetation is unable to grow in the world; fields fall fallow and crops cannot be harvested.
To break this horrible time of famine, the gods come to an understanding with Hades. Persephone is eventually freed, but on the condition that, if she has eaten anything while in Hades’ realm, she must return to his kingdom for a certain length of time. Thus, each year she must remain in the underworld one month for each pomegranate seed that she has consumed. This serves to rationalize, in mythic terms, the change of seasons, times of decay and renewal, shifts in light and weather; even the autumn foliage and the falling of the leaves.
Vocalist Mimi Goese and trumpeter Ben Neill have updated the Persephone story, while retaining its iconic essence, on their new recording Songs for Persephone (out now on Ramseur Records). As one can see from the pomegranate on the cover, (a visual designed by Goese), the duo is mindful of the legendary Persephone’s history; but they are not hung up on providing a linear narrative.
In a recent phone conversation, Goese, who wrote the album’s lyrics, said, “The artwork that I did for the cover, featuring the pomegranate, is one acknowledgement of the myth of Persephone. And there are other images that I found in the lyrics. But we were interested in using what was evocative about Persephone to create our own story. That’s sort of how the myth evolved too – one storyteller picks up the thread from another down through the years.”
They started work on this music some five years ago, but originally presented it as part of a theatrical production by the multimedia company Ridge Theater, starring Julia Stiles. In 2010, it was produced at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival.
The theatrical presentation and the mythological story behind it are only two strands in a disparate web of influences that resonate with Songs for Persephone. Both Goese and Neill make their home in the Hudson River Valley. Both for its stunning natural surroundings and its history as a home for artists of all sorts, the valley is rich with reference points. Neill feels that these are subtly imparted to the music.
In a recent phone conversation, he said, “I found myself particularly interested in the Hudson River School of painters. These Nineteenth Century artists depicted the local landscape and the changing of season with a dimensionality and symbolism that seemed to have an affinity with what Mimi and I were after in Songs for Persephone.”
For Neill and Goese, these extra-musical influences – artwork, nature, and theater – are an important part of the music’s genesis. But the polystylistic nature of their music making adds still another layer to the proceedings.
Goese says, “I started in dance and theater and later moved to performance art. Singing came along later. But I don’t have the musical background or training that Ben has – I’m self taught.”
She doth protest too much. Goese’s voice provided the steely, dramatic center to the work of late eighties band Hugo Largo. One part art rock and another dream pop, the group incorporated bold theatricality and ethereal experimentation, releasing two memorable full lengths, Arms Akimbo and Mettle, and the Drums EP, an alt-pop connoisseur’s delight. She’s also collaborated on several occasions with Moby and, under the moniker Mimi (no last name) released Soak, a solo album on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label.
Goese is a powerful singer, but Songs of Persephone brings out the lyricism her voice also possesses. Cooing high notes and supple overdubbed harmonies are juxtaposed with the more muscular turns of phrase. Experience plays a role in Goese’s tremendous performances on the disc. But she also credits the musical creations of her collaborator Neill with spurring on her inspiration.
“Ben has been a terrific person with whom to work,” Goese says. “He’s inventive and willing to try new things. From the moment we first performed together, at a concert nearly a decade ago, I’ve felt an artistic kinship with him.”
One can readily hear why Neill’s music would be an engaging foil for Goese. His background as a producer, and his years of work designing the mutantrumpet, have encouraged Neill’s ear toward imaginative soundscapes. His 2009 album Night Science (Thirsty Ear) is an example of Neill’s nu-jazz arrangements and soloing at their very best.
On the current CD, Neill’s playing remains impressive; but his arranging and collaborative skills come to the fore. There are intricate textures to found, on which Neill’s trumpet and electronics are abetted by strings, bass, and drums, but it’s the melodies, floating memorably past, one after the other, that are most impressive here. Some of the melodic lines he crafts are imitative of the voice in their own right: it’s no accident that some of the most inspired music-making on Songs for Persephone are when Goese and Neill create duets out of intricately intertwined single lines.
Neill says, “The classical materials that I used as the basis of the compositions on Songs for Persephone were melodies from the Nineteenth century: from opera and symphonic music. Many of them were from relatively the same era in which the Hudson Valley painters worked. I found it fascinating to juxtapose these two genres that were in operation more or less at the same time.”
He continues, “I’d describe the material as fragments of melodies: small excerpts rather than recognizable themes. None of them are treated in such a way that most listeners will be able to say, ‘Hey that’s Berlioz,’ or ‘That sounds like Schumann.’ They were meant to be a starting point from which I would develop the music: it’s not a pastiche.”
At 7:30 PM on September 27th, Goese and Neill will be having an album release party at the Cooper Square Hotel, part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon series. Goese says, “It’s an interesting space – we’ll have glass windows behind us, which is unusual as compared with a more conventional stage. But it’s fun performing in non-standard venues. It allows you to try different things and to bring different elements into the mix in terms of theatricality, lighting, and the way that you play off of each other. I’m excited to see how Persephone changes as we take it into various performing spaces.”
-Composer Christian Carey is Senior Editor at Sequenza 21 and a regular contributor to Signal to Noise and Musical America. He teaches music in the Department of Fine Arts at Rider University (Lawrenceville, New Jersey).
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Last year, saxophonist Trygve Seim and pianist Andreas Utnem collaborated on Purcor,a recording for the ECM imprint (Seim’s sixth as leader). Drawing on material from a wide range of sources, including settings of the Mass, folk music, and Seim’s own compositions, it was among the recordings in frequent rotation when I got home from the hospital this past November. Needing a calm environment in which to regenerate and reflect, I found Purcor to be the perfect listening to accompany a healing respite.
Meditative yet soulful, earnest yet elegant, gently articulated yet substantively thoughtful, Seim and Utnem craft a series of duets that are spellbinding. Consistently succor supplying and diverse in mood and musical approach, the compositions on Purcor inhabit both jazz and an ecumenical kind of musical liturgy.
Given what they’ve crafted on the recording, I have no doubt that Seim and Utnem will provide an affecting evening of music this Sunday. Those seeking solace in artistic expression during this weekend’s commemoration of the September 11, 2001 attacks have many options from which to choose, including a marathon we’ve also mentioned as an excellent option. Seim and Utnem will doubtless provide calm in the midst of storms of media frenzy, terror alerts, and turbulent memories. Recommended.
Trygve Seim / Andreas Utnem
September 11th, 7pm
Norwegian Seamen’s Church
317 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022-6302
Free of charge
Trygve Seim: tenor and soprano saxophones
Andreas Utnem: piano, harmonium
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“The composer’s job is to create a context for music-making to reflect the emerging consciousness.” Hafez Modirzadeh
ETHEL performs music of Hafez Modirzadeh
By Cornelius Dufallo
Also published on Urban Modes
Hafez Modirzadeh, a visionary saxophonist, theorist and composer, has been developing his own style of inter-cultural improvisation for three decades. His mentors and collaborators have included Ornette Coleman, some of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and the great Iranian violinist, Mahmoud Zoufonoun. ETHEL first encountered Modirzadeh in 2007, and the two parties felt an immediate artistic sympathy.
Since that time, Modirzadeh has created a body of work for saxophone, flutes, karna, string quartet, trumpet, santur, tombak, daf, and voice. On July 23, 2011 nine musicians came together to perform this music at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA. The lineup included ETHEL, Mili Bermejo (Mexican Argentinian jazz vocalist), Amir ElSaffar (Iraqi – American trumpeter), Faraz Minooei (Iranian santur player), Amir Abbas Etemadzadeh (Iranian percussionist), and the composer himself on saxophone and Karna. The unforgettable event, which Modirzadeh entitled In Convergence Liberation, was met with enthusiasm from a large audience, and all nine artists spent the following two days together at Open Path Studios in San Jose, recording the music for a forthcoming CD.
Modirzadeh’s work combines fascinating musical and philosophical concepts. “Composting” (a specific type of improvisational dialogue based on pre-existing written material), “matching-spirit” (a process of group improvisation using shared interval structures), “intoning” (a technique of improvising within a unison, playing with the higher partials of the overtone series), “tetramodes” (a carefully calibrated microtonal system based on a synthesis of ancient and modern approaches to intervallic relationships), and “Makam X” (an overarching and inter-cultural musical system of various partials of the harmonic series) were some of the techniques that the nine musicians shared and practiced together. Rhythmic meters of 17/4 (5+5+7) –inspired by Persian poetry — were the foundation for improvisations that defied cultural boundaries. Persian modal systems, Iraqi maqam, Andalusian musical traditions, aspects of Indonesian gamelan, and references to western classical composers from the past three centuries were all called upon in this collaboration.
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While reading Conversing With Cage at a bus stop today, I stumbled across this funny yet in the end profound exchange (circa 1980) between John Cage and John Robert with Silvey Panet Raymond:
How do you consider new popular music – punk, New Wave?
What is the New Wave? I don’t really know what it is. If you could point it out to me, I might have some reaction.
It’s very simple, three – , four-chord stuff, aggressive, fast.
There’s a good deal of dancing on the part of the performers?
Usually jumping up and down
I’ve seen something like that. It was entertaining to see but not very engaging.
But they use very dissonant sounds; I wonder how you felt about that?
I have no objection to dissonance.
I know you have no objections, but I wanted to know whether you felt any pleasure that things were coming round to your way of thinking.
But this isn’t it, is it? Isn’t it a regular beat?
Not all the time.
I think it’s part of show business.
In a marginal way?
No. I’m much more a part of music as a means of changing the mind. Perhaps if you want to say that, I wouldn’t myself.
Opening up the mind.
A means of converting the mind, turning it around, so that it moves away from itself out to the rest of the world, or as Ramakrishna said, “as a means of rapid transportation.”
So your music in itself is not that important.
The use of it is what is important.
The use rather than the result.
That’s what Wittgenstein said about anything. He said the meaning of something was in its use.
As exasperated as I get by quotes attributed to John Cage regarding jazz improvisation, so-called popular music, and well, composing in general, I have been and will continue to be educated, provoked and inspired by his writings and music. My most recent work-in-progress for five electric guitars and electric bass is in part a homage to Cage’sImaginary Landscape No. 1 (1939) that utilizes notation borrowed from Leo Brouwer’s wonderful guitar quartet Cuban Landscape With Rain (1984) to realize various aleatoric events. How my new piece (or for that matter Brouwer’s) would sit with Cage and his desire that music realized via chance operations covert the mind of its performers and listeners is – since he’s no longer with us – open to debate.
Maybe including “…for John Cage…” in the title of my piece isn’t appropriate?
Cage also readily admitted he was “close minded…” about many things.
Does Cage present to you a similar grab bag of ideas – some valuable, some exasperating? Has your attitude and appreciation of Cage changed over time?
Skull courtesy of Casa Ramirez (photo by Chris Becker)
Skeletons! Witches! Vampires! No, I’m not talking about candidates in Houston’s midterm elections. I’m talking about Halloween and the two days that follow known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Like many other places in the Southern U.S., Houston culture is a healthy mix of the supernatural and the spiritual. In the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Meurtos, food, beverages, and sweets are placed on homemade alters as gifts for the spiritual manifestations of those who have passed who will, over the course of the 48 hours that is All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day, visit the people they knew before the afterlife. Gift giving and the ephemeral nature of playing music – particularly improvised music – have all been on my mind lately.
In his recent book Tradition and Transgression about composer John Zorn, author John Brackett includes a chapter describing Zorn’s music from the perspective of “the gift and gift giving.” The composer receives a “gift” from an artist – maybe an artist from an earlier time – in the form of creative inspiration and techniques that can be applied to their respective medium and then passes the “gift” along in various forms of musical homage. There are so many examples of this practice in music. Many compositions by Charles Mingus are named for musicians he knew and loved and directly referenced in melody, harmony, and/or rhythm (A few examples are Reincarnation of a Lovebird, So Long Eric and Goodbye Porkpie Hat for Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy and Lester Young respectively). Certainly there are parallels between creating art and celebrating our ancestors. Maybe there’s actually no difference between the two actions?
Who are some of the composers, friends, and/or family members you yourself have paid homage to in musical form?
Alexandra Adshead and Chris Becker at Avant Garden (photo by Jonathan Jindra)
For the month of November, the tireless Dave Dove and his organization Nameless Sound continue their They Who Sound “First Time Duo” series at Houston’s Avant Garden, every Monday from 7pm to 9pm. Each week, two to four improvisers who have never played together share the stage to perform a set of entirely improvised music. This is a great concept, and I wonder if it could expand beyond its current network of free improvisers to include pairings with members of Houston’s classical, jazz, and rock communities. Maybe some students from Houston’s School for the Performing Arts could share the stage with people with a history in Houston’s free improv and/or so-called noise scenes and try to find some common ground?
Also at Avant Garden on the last Wednesday of every month, keyboardist Robert Pearson presents a program of experimental music (Robert was kind enough to invite me and Alex to play last Wednesday, and we had a ball). These Wednesday shows are also an opportunity to hear Robert who doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever heard before. Imagine Matthew Shipp, former Birdsongs of the Mesozoic Roger Miller, and Erik Satie all at 200 bpm and you sort of get an aural impression of what Robert sounds like on the keys. The resulting music is almost Zen-like in spite (or maybe because of) the tempi. Go hear him for yourself!
On November 2, 2010, 7pm at Talento Bilingue de Houston, Cuban tenor Alejandro Salvia Cobas and belly dancer provocateur Ms. Y.E.T. perform at show of artist and longtime A.I.D.S. activist Lourdes Lopez Moreno’s show of hand built clay skeletons. Moreno’s work will be on display through November 7th. A short, spooky video featuring Cobas’ voice is up on YouTube.
On November 7, 7:30pm at Zilkha Hall, Houston’s composer led contemporary music organization Musiqa celebrates the work of Benjamin Patterson, a groundbreaking artist who was a founding member of the avant-garde group, Fluxus, and whose work explores the experimental and improvisational possibilities in music. The concert Born in a State of Flux(us) is free, and Patterson will be there for what should be a crazy evening.
Fort Worth-born Ornette Coleman will perform November 18th, 2010 8pm at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall with his son Denardo Coleman on drums, Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell on electric bass. I can’t think of a genre of music that hasn’t been influenced by Coleman and his recorded legacy. He had a profound impact on musicians as diverse as Leonard Bernstein, John Zorn, and Jerry Garcia and at the age of 80, Coleman continues to disregard geographical, political and cultural boundaries in a relentless search to build upon his palette of sound.
A recent interview with Ornette Coleman conducted by bassist, singer, producer Jeremiah Hosea can be heard for no cost at Earthdriver.org. It’s an unusually personal and far reaching conversation that you won’t hear anywhere else. Hosea has been instrumental of promoting the work of several exciting rock, jazz, and avant-garde musicians in NYC, and I had been meaning for awhile to direct Sequenza21’s readers to his site.
Besides helping out here at S21, composer Chris Becker has been racking up some excellent interviews at his own blog. One I wanted to share with you is his recent chat with brilliant, hard-to-classify musician Lawrence Sieberth. For the full interview just head to Chris’s blog (where you’ll also find a link to buy the Arkipelago CD, and a list of upcoming Sieberth concerts), but here’s the introduction and a sample:
After moving from New Orleans to New York City, I managed to stay connected to keyboardist/composer Lawrence Sieberth thanks to the Internet and email, keeping him posted on my music activities. My first memory of Larry is hearing him on piano performing his 1995 tribute concert Booker and Black at the Contemporary Arts Center which celebrated the music of New Orleans musicians pianist James Booker and drummer James Black with projected visuals by artist Jon Graubarth (Jon created the artwork for my CD Saints & Devils). More recently, Larry emailed to say he thought I might dig his latest CD Arkipelago and could hear the whole thing streaming on his website www.musikbloc.com. I downloaded the mp3 version, eventually got a copy the CD, and for several weeks listened to Arkipelago at least once a day. I just couldn’t get enough of the music and the production which reminded me of Peter Gabriel’s So, Jon Hassell’s City: Works of Fiction, and other recordings that artfully combine (to quote writer musician Michael Veal): “…the traditional conception of “note-based” music and the potentials of sound recording as an aesthetic medium on its own terms.” Larry is firmly grounded in the piano playing traditions of New Orleans. And Arkipelago will surprise some fans of that music and expand their perception of what “New Orleans” music is and has the potential to be.
Chris Becker: Your CD Arkipelago combines synth programming, extended through-composed compositions that include sudden unexpected breaks and rhythmic changes, and real-time “in the moment” improvisation. The title track (featuring Joo Kraus on trumpet) and the track ‘Le Serpente Volant’ (featuring Ed Peterson on saxophone) are two examples of what I’m describing. Can you talk about how you recorded those two particular tracks? Did you provide any specific instructions to Joo or Ed before tracking their performances? Or was that not necessary given your familiarity with their each musician’s approach to improvising?
Lawrence Sieberth: If I can backtrack a bit it will help help explain the way this project materialized. Over the last couple of decades I’ve been part of ‘free’ improvisational collaborations with other musicians, dancers and visual artists – the driving force of these performances has sometimes been spontaneous, a response to visual imagery or prerecorded tracks. There is a range as to what the word ‘improvisation’ implies – playing ‘changes’, manipulating the form, responding to the moment, etc. are all ways of perceiving the options inherent in improvisational music – all idioms and musical combinations of personalities have a built in set of expectations, manifest as compositions, styles, forms, tonal centers, etc. even when it is not predetermined. When the musician is faced with the option to create something new without preconceptions the creative mind is opened, allowed to connect with a communal state of being as opposed to reaching into the bag of tricks that our intellect builds – not to throw away that bag of tricks but to transcend it – for me, these situations have been some of the most joyful musical experiences of my career. This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed arranging and composing in the traditional sense. I like the balance between the two extremes – in truth, however, it can be self-indulgent and not something I want to listen to all the time. The ‘quality’ of the music, albeit quite subjective, can range from ‘totally happening’ to ‘totally boring’ whether I’m a musical participant or just a listener – it’s hard to convey why some ‘noise’ can be inspirational.
Arkipelago is the result of many performances of an ever changing group I assembled over several years called VooDooTek – the objective was to start with a blank canvas and draw upon the talents of the musicians assembled at the time – the idea was for everyone to contribute musical ideas to the direction of the music – responding and being open to the unexpected – whenever I felt the music had run its course I would abruptly change the musical context or mood. With electronics it is easier to cut through the volume of sound. The one prerequisite of the musicians was listening – for me a most important quality of musicianship. All the tracks on the CD started off as through composed synth soundtracks – soundscapes might be a better analogy – a combination of textures, industrial loops, otherworldly sounds – sometimes empty space – very sculptural – the charts are diagrams with emotional directives, sometimes a bass line, sometimes a tonal center – an integral part was the click that signaled sections and tempos that was removed – the core group, myself on more synths, Doug Belote on drums, Nori Naraoka on bass and Makuni Fukada on guitar, played with the prerecorded tracks – it was important for them to perceive those tracks as part of the improvised structure rather than a composition – since I was also incorporating more synth sounds and textures it was naturally impossible to separate what was virtual and what was live – so the whole track seems improvised but compacted due to its composition directives – most takes were the second take. Joo Kraus added his part in Germany and sent it back to me in New Orleans – I had played with him at a jazz festival and we really hit it off. I gave him no directions and the track you hear is virtually edit free.