Jacob David Sudol(b. Des Moines, Iowa 1980) writes intimate compositions that explore enigmatic phenomena and the inner nature of how we perceive sound. He recently finished his M.Mus. at McGill University and currently resides in La Jolla, CA where he is working towards a Ph.D. in composition at the University of California at San Diego with Roger Reynolds, Chinary Ung, Philippe Manoury, and Rand Steiger.
Over the last five years some of Jacob's mentors in composition have included John Rea, Denys Bouliane, Philippe Leroux, Sean Ferguson, Dan Asia, and Craig Walsh. He has also participated in master classes with Danish composer Bent Sørensen and German composer Manfred Stahnke.
During 2005-2006, Jacob was the first-ever composer-in-residence for the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble under the direction of Denys Bouliane, in collaboration with the McGill Digital Composition Studio. He has also written music for the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, the Contemporary Keyboard Society, percussionist Fernando Rocha, saxophonist Elizabeth Bunt, and clarinetist Krista Martynes. As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, he composed the music for a collaborative dance project with choreographer Hillary Peterson, and he was the principal composer and pianist for El Proyecto de Santa Barbara, a chamber Latin jazz ensemble.
During the 2005 and 2007 Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques and 2006 MusiMars festivals Jacob was an electronic assistant for performances with Court-Circuit, Matt Haimovitz, Sara Laimon, Martin Matalon, Moritz Eggert, Manfred Stahnke, the Caput Ensemble, and the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble. These concerts were broadcast by the CBC and the European Broadcasting Union in over fifty countries throughout the world. He is currently a studio research assistant for Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Roger Reynolds.
During his free time Jacob takes an active interest in religious phenomenology, cinema, acoustics, literature, poetry, and visual art. As a composer and performer, he always attempts to bring insights from these other fields into his work.
All music posted on this blog is posted out of love and the idea that for the truly great music of our time(s) to be known it must first and foremost be heard. If you like what you hear please support the artist by buying the recordings, scores, and/or encouraging the performances of the music in every way possible.
If you are the composer, performer, performing organization, artist or directly represent the composer, performer, performing organization, or artist of anything posted on this website and would like your material removed please contact me and I will happily oblige.
Since I’ve previously written a long entry on Grisey I’m mostly going to let his music speak for itself this time. For this entry I’ve chosen three pivotal works, each of which was written about twelve years after the former, to demonstrate the various stages of Grisey’s personal development.
The first work “Dérives” for an orchestra in two groups (a sinfonietta and a standard larger orchestra) preceded one of the defining works of the spectral movement – Grisey’s “Partiels.” I’m actually posting “Dérives” following a suggestion from Julian Anderson (who has wrote a great little “provisional history of Spectral Music” for Contemporary Music Review a few years ago) who says that this piece is a “very fine and far too little know piece” (as the lack of digital recordings attests) and “possibly [Grisey’s] first characteristic work.”
“Talea (ou la machine et les herbes folles)” was written right after Grisey completed his 90 minute cycle of piece “Les Espaces Acoustiques.” For “Talea” Grisey began to move away from the mostly amorphous rhythmic motion of his earlier works by experimenting, for the first time, with micro-rhythmic materials.
The last two selections are the last two sections from Grisey’s last (and possibly finest) work – “Quatre Chants pour franchir le Seuil.” This work largely represents a seamless synthesis of Grisey’s earlier compositional techniques and experiments with an eerie spiritual core to create a compositional that both immediately moving and, afterwards, frightfully haunting.
As a result of the impasse in serial music, as well as other causes, I originated in 1954 a music constructed from the principle of indeterminism [or entropy]. …other paths also led to the same crossroads first of all, natural events such as the collision of hail or rain with hard surfaces, or the song of cicadas in a summer field. These sonic events are made out of thousands of isolated sounds; this multitude of sounds, seen as totality, is a new sonic event. This mass event is articulated and forms a plastic mold of time, which itself follows aleatory and stochastic laws. If one then wishes to form a large mass of point-notes, such as string pizzicati, one must know these mathematical laws, which, in any case, are no more than a tight and concise expression of chains of logical reasoning. Everyone has observed the sonic phenomena of a political crowd of dozens of hundred of thousands of people. The human river shouts a slogan in a uniform rhythm. Then another slogan springs from the head of the demonstration; it spreads toward the tail, replacing the first. A wave of transition thus passes from the head to the tail … The statistical laws of these events, separated from their political or moral context, are the same as those of the cicadas or the rain. They are the laws of the passage from complete order to total disorder in a continuous or explosive manner. They are stochastic laws.
In a former life, I studied Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona. What drew me to the subject the most were the explanations and discoveries of the beautiful entropic reactions that kept us alive. Although I’ve never been a religious person, every time I would learn about something like a simple internal cellular reaction it seemed like I gained some, however slight, insight into an internal perfection present in all things.
The nature of laboratory work and the politics of scientific research turned me off of ever completing my Bachelor’s of Science, but fortunately I think I found a place for a more sublime form of dignity through expression in music.
Recently, I discovered Xenakis’ remarkably lucid description (quoted above) of how through the movement of disorder, or entropy, music can display the exact same naturalism that one finds in organic life forms. Since early this the summer I’ve made a concerted effort to see this entropy beauty, not only in so-called “stochastic music,” but all forms of music that I love. So, this is my first attempt at finding a logical link (albeit a rather experimental one) for posting more popular song-form music at the same time as more abstract contemporary music.
Although Xenakis called “Herma” symbolic music – writing the piece as one his many early self-pedagogical experiments – I find that the piece beautifully contains the winds pelting from a storm that carries both varying intensities of rain and countless swells of electrically ricocheting balls of crystalline hail.
In contrast, the more conventional foreground in Yo La Tengo’s (who I saw put on one thoroughly ass-kicking show on Saturday) “Green Arrow” follows the pace of one walking through a field whereas the background is the slowly transforming sound-mass of cicadas (or grasshoppers or locusts) that Xenakis explains above.
In Grisey’s “Partiels” (which I just couldn’t resist posting twice), one primarily hears the movement of crowds from order towards disorder, from disorder to order, and crossing over each other.
Joanna Newsom’s “En Gallop” begins with a slow and almost tentative harp introduction before the long first verse paints a haunting portrait of the transience in our existence. Afterwards, in the second verse, a disordered and increasing emptiness surreal-y pulls the meaning from the lyrics almost representing the foreboding final dissipation that the first verse hints at. Over the summer, after taking a year to understand this song, I had a dream where I tried to help a ghost dissipate only to realize that almost everybody I saw was a ghost.
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Outside of the general topic of this post, I’d like to mention that I saw Joanna Newsom put on an amazing show last night to a silently rapt and sold-out audience at the Ukraine Federation as part of Pop Montréal. In the concert she alternated five songs from her last charmingly sloppy album ”The Milk-Eyed Mender” with four breathtaking epic songs from her forthcoming album ”Ys” (which was produced by Van Dyke Parks, Jim O’Rourke, and Steve Albini). Last night and on “Ys” Joanna Newson’s playing and singing have advanced light-years and her new songs inhabit such a unique and grandiose emotional universe that it is almost hard to recognize the transformation she has gone through. In a way, it is a hard album to take, but when it comes out on November 14th, it is definitely not one too be missed.
If you’d like to read a more detailed description of “Ys,” I recommend reading Jordan’s posting on it over at a favorite mp3 blog Said the Gramophone. I personally think I may still be a little too shaken up after last night and other things going on in my life right now to trust myself in being able to make that much sense.
Four summers ago I wrote a poem about a brief dream fragment. Although I’m hardly a poet it began with a few lines that I still love: “This morning I dreamt that Megan –/skinny-legged, tender, fragilely falling –/came up questioning time enigmas.” Since writing that, I’ve often thought of life in terms of this image where we are each fragilely falling at an intangibly slow pace.
In the last four years I have tried to capture this illusion in music. In my pursuit, I’ve encountered and been reminded of the ease visual artists can have in depicting illusions that contradict our visual perception. For example, I’ve been drawn to the works of Bridget Riley (see above) and other op artists like Victor Vasarely and Québecois painter Guido Molinari. (In contrast, in the last few years I’ve begun to find M. C. Escher’s art slightly hollow and inexpressive.) In musical auditory illusions, I seek something abstract, emotive, and fragilely intangible. The compositions I’ve chosen for this entry (and the next few this little series) are works that I feel explore not just auditory illusions but some of the key underlying phenomenological and emotive contradictions of our existence.
I consider “Le Mort de l’Ange,” the first song from Grisey’s "Quatre Chants pour Franchir le Seuil," one of the most consistently beautiful and horrifying pieces of music I’ve ever heard. After a brief prelude, where a percussionist rub a brush on a bass drum and three musicians blow into their instruments, the work begins with one of the best musical depictions of “fragilely falling” that I’ve found. This highly deterministic music, which features a three-voice polyrhythmic canon between three of the ensemble’s four groups, is at once clearly directional and eerily tranquil. As the voice and remaining instruments enter the music slowly becomes more indeterminate, expressive, and shockingly frightening.
“Treppenmusik” (Stairway music) refers to the piece Wagner wrote for his wife Cosima and the paradoxical staircases found in the famous works by M. C. Escher. To achieve this illusion John Rea uses, amongst other things, a quadraphonic tape delay system (poorly represented in this recording) and an acoustic adaptation of the famous Shepard Tone auditory illusion where one is unable to tell where a scale or figure stops or begins rising. To explore “Treppenmusik” further, I recommend a fantastic analysis (in French) that Michel Gonneville wrote for Circuit that can be found for free here.
…next time: Falling Fragilely… (the music of Bent Sørensen)
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”
“Of course in music too the problem of time is central. Here, however, its solution is quite different: the life force of music is realized on brink of its own total disappearance…
Time printed in its factual forms an manifestations: such is the supreme idea of cinema as an art…”
“…we may refer to the marvelous film by Werner Herzog, ‘Aguirre.’ The temporal structure of the film seems to be based on a continuous slowing down, the events becoming fewer and further apart until the end, even as the tension of the viewer grows. This film should also be seen for its evolutionary structure (density of events, behavior of the principal characters, photography, lighting, etc.).”
The last quote brings me to this post’s mp3. In the last year – after reading Grisey’s commentary on “Aguirre” and studying sections of “Partiels” – I have been preoccupied with the idea of a temporal cross-fade where, for example, events slow down and the tempo accelerates or vice-versa. The second song, “Le Mort de Civilisation” in Grisey’s haunting “Quatre Chants pour Franchir le Seuil” uses this technique on many levels (e.g. tempo, orchestration, harmonic movement). This song’s texts are taken from the scattered remains of Egyptian sarcophagi from the Middle Empire.
[Update: Check the comments where Steve Layton has generously included the song's text in translation (which I was too lazy to do)]
Recent online discussions and the unfortunate passing of one of my favorite composers, György Ligeti, have compelled me to post two works from one of my other favorite composers who has passed on – Gérard Grisey. Rather than write an entry entirely filled with my own thoughts and reflections, I’m going progressively let Grisey’s translated works speak for himself and save my own writing to few situating remarks and personal reflections. If you don’t know any music by Grisey, or any spectral music for that matter, I highly recommend you buy one of the two newly available recordings of Grisey’s monumental 90 minute cycle “Les Espaces Acoustiques”.
The first work I chose, “Partiels”, holds a special place in my heart. I first heard this scratchy recording on the listening list for my college introductory composition course. I was immediately struck by the clearly perceptible visceral thrust and sumptuous yet otherworldly timbres. Although I had no idea of the exact techniques being used, I soon became obsessed with understanding sound. As I later found out, this demonstrative work is one of the two central works (“Modulation” is the other) from Grisey’s six-part spectral ‘treatise’ “Les Espace Acoustiques.”
Today, “Les Espace Acoustiques” seem to me like a great laboratory in which the spectral techniques are applied to various situations (from solo to full orchestra). Certain pieces even have a demonstrative, almost didactic, aspect as if, in the euphoria of discovery, I had taken pains to make the characteristics of the language that I was gradually inventing be grasped as fully as possible.
-Gérard Grisey (from an interview with Guy Lelong trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
The spectral technique most often cited for pedagogical purposes is “instrumental additive synthesis.” This technique is inspired by the principal of additive synthesis – that any sound can broken down into a collection of sinusoidal waves which can then be combined to recreate the original sound. The beginning of “Partiels” directly transfers this concept to instruments. The work starts with a low trombone E followed the rest of the ensemble recreating the trombone’s timbre as sinusoidal waves would in additive synthesis.
It is debatable if this technique is effective in recreating the trombone’s timbre in “Partiels”; however, in his program notes to the work, Grisey makes it clear that a simple timbral reproduction is not his intent:
Numerous sequences of “Partiels” announce a new technique, that of instrumental synthesis. Analogous to the auditory synthesis used in the programmes of digital electronic music, this writing style uses the instruments (micro-synthesis) to express different elements of the sound and elaborate an overall sound form (macro-synthesis). The result of this treatment is that our perception, the different instrumental sources disappear to the advantage of a completely invented synthetic timbre. These different mergings allow for articulating and organizing a whole range of timbres going from the spectrum of harmonics to white noise, by the way of the different spectra of inharmonic partials.
-Gérard Grisey (trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
Another interesting feature of “Partiels,” which does not come across in the recording, are the visual theatrics at the work’s end.
The end of “Partiels” progressively moves towards silence, but perfect silence does not exist – there is always a spectator who coughs, musicians who drop their mutes or begin to put their things away! Therefore, I staged this impossibility of silence; in fact, two procedures alternate: the first goes from sound towards silence, and the second from silence towards a group of noises taken from the daily life of the instrumentalists (turning pages, horn players who drain the water from their instrument, string players putting away their bows…); but at the end, it is truly silence, for even the public is held breathless: the percussion who slowly separates his cymbals, while the other musicians quote a fragment of “Partiels.”
-Gérard Grisey (from an interview with Guy Lelong, trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
After completing “Les Espace Acoustiques” in 1985, beginning with the composition “Talea,” Grisey became less focused on constructing a new language. The compositional focus shifted more clearly towards the interaction between musical objects (or sound) and perceptible time or ‘musical time.’
By including not only the sound but, moreover, the differences perceived between sounds, the real material of the composer becomes the degree of predictability, or better, the degree of ‘preaudibility.’ So, to influence the degree of preaudibility we come back to composing musical time directly – that is to say perceptible time, as opposed to chronometric time [time determined by a clock or other conventional measurements].
…I believe that the compose who wants to give time a musical value must focus on this point. It is no longer the single sound whose density will embody time, but rather the difference or lack of difference between one sound and its neighbor; in other words, the transition from the know to the unknown and the amount of information that each sound event introduces.
…This brings us back to ‘composing around space,’ rather like sculptors (cf. Henry Moore) whose hollows are not holes bored into the material, but forms in negative around which the volumes are articulated.
-Gérard Grisey (“Tempus ex machina A composer's reflections on musical time,” Contemporary Music Review 2 (1987) 242-3, trans. by S. Welbourn)
It is in this more phenemological context that “Le noir de L’Étoile” was composed.
When I met the astronomer and cosmologist Joe Silk at Berkeley in 1985, he introduced me to the sounds of pulsars. I was seduced by those of the Vela Pulsar and immediately wondered, like Picasso picking up an old bicycle saddle, ‘What in world could I do with this?’
…When music succeeds in conjuring up time, it finds itself vested with a veritable shamanic power, that of connecting us to the forces that surround us.
…Of course, we know – or think we know – that with or without us, 0359-54 and the Vela Pulsar will continue their interminable rounds and sweep the intersidereal spaces indifferently with their beams of electromagnetic waves. But is it not by trapping them in a radio telescope, then integrating them into a sophisticated cultural event – the concert – that they will then send back to us more than their songs?
Indeed, the moment of a pulsar’s passage in the sky limits us to a precise date, and by pinning the concert on this faraway clock, it becomes an event in situ or, more exactly, in tempore, thereby linked to cosmic rhythms. Thus, the pulsars will determine not only the different tempi or beats of “Le Noir de L’Étoile,” but also the date and precise time of its performance.
Music with pulsar obbligato!
However, it should not be deduced that I am a follower of the Music of the Spheres! There is no Music of the Spheres other than Inner Music.
That alone beats even more violently than our pulsars and, from time to time, obliges a composer to remain listening.
-Gérard Grisey (program notes to “Le Noir de L’Étoile” trans. John Tyler Tuttle)
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Digression: The art of music is a violent art par excellence. It gives us to be perceived what Proust called ‘a little time in pure state,’ this time which supposes both the existence and annihilation of all forms of life
Music, impregnated by time, is invested with this violence of the sacred which G. Bataille (1986) speaks; a violence silent and without language, that only sound and its becoming can possibly, and only for an instant, evoke and exorcise.
…’The last work,’ Varèse said, ‘is imagination!’
To this I would add emotion which, ultimately, creates musical form as it is perceived
‘Music is number and drama,’ said Pythagoras.
Real musical time is only a place of exchange and coincidence between and infinite number of times.
-Gérard Grisey (“Tempus ex machina A composer's reflections on musical time,” Contemporary Music Review 2 (1987) 242-3, trans. by S. Welbourn)