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.
For soprano, flute, clarinet, cello, and live electronics
Performed by Stephanie Aston (voice), Christine Tavolacci (flutes), Przemyslaw Bosak (clarinets), Ashley Walters (cello), Jacob David Sudol (electronics/mixing), Robert Zellickman (conductor)
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‘Alas, when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here, With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all set aside, May I recognize whatever appear, as the reflections of my own consciousness; May I know them to be the nature of the apparitions in the Bardo: When at this all-important moment of achieving a great end, May I not fear the band of Peaceful and Wrathful, mine own thought-forms.’
–verse for traversing the Chönyid Bardo *
The Space Between was written in 2008. The composition intends to explore the experience of traversing through and inhabiting a great variety of constantly changing yet unified intermediate states. The primary inspiration for this work was the initial state of dying as described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead where one first begins to recognize “the dissolution of earth… into water, water into fire, fire into wind, wind into consciousness.”* These ideas were treated abstractly and combined with a personal vision of dying as a confused state where unusual simplified archetypal characters constantly bleed into and out of each other.
* Texts taken from Chapter 11 of the The Tibetan Book of the Dead: translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Oxford, 1960)
“...I pursued my work with a kind of marvellous serenity. I compose more slowly as I have more and more notes of my music to write! I have just completed the first six minutes of Croix-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme? I am almost doing ‘Dripping’! The whole piece uses two poles: mobility and immobility! Here is a text which I sue in an immobile part: I was cold, it was winter well I thought I was cold maybe I was cold. God had told me that I would be cold. Maybe I was dead.
I was not afraid of being dead as much as I was afraid of dying. Suddenly I got cold very cold - or I was cold. It was night and I was afraid. I believe that it is a beautiful text for the work I am now composing...”
Excerpt from a letter to Thérèse Desjardins by Claude Vivier, Paris, January 7th, 1983
(Note that all files are in m4a format, download the files first before playing them)
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For the last of this my five-part string quartet series (and my 100th blog post) I’ve decided to post more string quartets at once than I ever have before.
Following the work’s epigram “written In tempore belli” (in time of war) “Black Angels” is one of George Crumb’s most mystical and emotionally affecting works. To evoke the subtitle ““Thirteen Images from the Dark Land” the work requires a plethora of other-wordly extra-instrumental techniques and that the performers of the quartet also sing and each perform a number of percussion instruments including a glass harmonic (the sound of which it has been rumored to cause insanity). In our current era of extended and seemingly endless bloody conflicts this is still a very necessary work that still resonates strong.
Roger Reynold’s “Ariadne’s Thread” refers to the Greek legend of Ariadne and a method of problem solving called Ariadne’s Thread. In this work the string quartet weaves darkly with electronic sounds to create an environment and narrative that is both eerie and haunting.
“Tetras” represents a culmination of many Xenakis’s compositional techniques and successful virtuosic writing for string quartet. For many years I admittedly had a lot of trouble dealing with and understanding Xenakis’s music. The first piece that I began to actually appreciate was “Jalons” particularly because of one moment with a kaleidoscopic view on a synthetic scale. A few years later I heard “Tetras” and it became the first Xenakis piece that I really enjoyed.
With moments of strong tonality and an aching third movement that sounds as though it were lifted from a long lost late-Beethoven string quartet, George Rochberg’s third string quartet caused a large amount of controversy after its premiere. Early in his career George Rochberg was one of the strongest and finest proponents of serial music in the U.S.A. until his son died in 1963 and after an esthetic crisis he found that tonality was the only way that he could write that accurately expressed his grief. In my opinion, this quartet (along with the other three in the series of Concord Quartet) stands as the culmination of this emotional development in this later phase of George Rochberg’s music.
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.
Yesterday afternoon I submitted three copies of the three volumes (analysis, score and documentation, and DVD and CD) of my thesis along with the proper forms. Once the internal and external examiners review them and I make the final edits, I will be able to receive my Master’s of Music at Convocation this upcoming February. But until then, since all the difficult work is now behind me, I can at least say that I am practically a Master of Music.
I have been meaning to write some sort of celebratory post along the lines of the Tangka (minus one syllable) that I wrote after picking up the first bound draft of Time Fixtures or the joyous ramblings I wrote after the premier of Time Fixtures but haven’t really been able to figure out anything to say. In lieu of any particularly obvious celebratory remarks I thought I just quote the one thing I’ve read from a book in the last week since it seems to be a good mantra to use in fighting the inevitable swell of letdown that’s on its post-thesis way.
On Saturday I randomly picked up my copy of the ”Bardol Thodol” (or “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”). When I quickly flipped all the pages a dried leaf from two autumns ago fell out. I picked the leaf up and placed it on a random page and then read the strangely appropriate prayer on the page:
Alas! when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here, With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all set aside, May I recognize whateve appear, as the reflections of mine own consciousness; May I know them to be of the nature of apparitions in the Bardo: When at this all-important moment of achieving a great end. May I not fear the bands of Peaceful and Wrathful, mine own thought-forms.*
Bent Sørensen probably said the best thing I’ve ever heard from composer when giving a talk about his music – “I don’t want to talk about what musical materials [e.g. harmonies, rhythms] I use; it’s too embarrassing.”
Bent Sørensen’s music is obsessed with death and endless decay as he said “From the moment we are born, there is only one way – a slowly sliding decay. Time eats away at us.” It is a transient music filled of passing phantoms, funeral processions, distant bells carried by the wind, time-destroyed frescos, overgrown gardens, and fading dreams, hopes, and longing.
Some of my colleagues have complained that there is little to hold onto in Bent Sørensen’s compositions; but I contend that that is exactly the point. The music constantly slips from your hands so clearly that if you pay close attention you can almost watch the ebb and flow of your own thoughts and attention.
It seems almost silly to talk about music that is always fragilely falling and teetering on a threshold of non-existence. In the liner notes for an out of print disc of Bent Sørensen’s musicen lieau of a written description for “The Deserted Churchyards,” there is a black and white photo showing a crumbled tombstone against an arid autumn landscape.
Similarly, I cannot think of words to explain “The Echoing Garden.” I can only think of how I first heard this piece in the McGill Digital Composition Studio in February and how, on this coldest day of the winter, you could hear the horrifyingly dark wind blow against and batter the sealed-off windows.
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)
Vivier’s last work “Crois-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme?” (“Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?”) aside, I consider “Wo Bist Du Licht!” (“Light, Where Are You!”) to be Vivier’s most disturbing work.
A few months ago a friend of mine made a good argument against this piece by saying that, unlike some of Claude Vivier’s other masterpieces like “Lonely Child,” “Wo Bist Du Licht!” lacks the clear personal expression that makes Vivier’s music so profound. I considered this argument valid, until a few days ago when I listened to “Wo Bist Du Licht!” again. It sent chills up my arms, back, neck, and head and frankly left me in a stupor for quite a while. As a result, I now think that what makes “Wo Bist Du Licht!” so achingly beautiful is that it’s not directly personal.
When contemplating aesthetics I often return to the dialogue in James Joyce’s “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” where Stephen Dedalus argues that beauty in art requires pity ‘which arrests the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant in human sufferings and unites it with the human sufferer’ and terror ‘which arrest the mind in the presence of whatsoever is grave and constant...and unites it with the secret cause.’ Although, I often think that beauty also requires direct personal expression, the seemingly objective perspective in which Claude Vivier places confused fragmented nonsense against the found text in “Wo Bist Du Licht!” invokes an almost universal personal sense of terror and pity that imbues the work with a frighteningly beautiful current that I think one rarely finds in music.
The following commentary on the textual and poetic focus of “Wo Bist Du Licht!” is taken from one by my friend, the Montréal composer, Michel Gonneville and uses large extracts of a quote by Claude Vivier.
“Hölderlin’s text “Der blinde Sänger” is superimposed on three types of texts:
1. ‘An emotional one that is extremely significant for America: Martin Luther King’s last speech and a recording in situ of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.’…
2. ‘Abstract text, with no signification’ (invented language)…
3. ‘Finally, a descriptive text about torture. This text has an enormous emotional power due, in part, to the almost neutral tone [of the two radio speakers]. Hölderlin’s text, “Der blinde Sänger,” holds the key to understanding my composition. An old blind man remembers his past, beautiful picturesque scenery; greenery, clouds, etc. The present is evoked by harsh sound images: thunder, earthquakes. He longs for light, freedom, death perhaps…’”
“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)]