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)
For almost two months I’ve been working on gathering and constructing the materials and initial sketches for composition to be played by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne. During I come up with a number of ideas based upon piano improvisations, continued some of my previous explorations in rhythm, harmony/timbre, microtones in OpenMusic, and spent some time taking apart pieces by Lachenmann,Rihm,Vivier,Scelsi, and Grisey. Despite this work I have largely felt that I’ve lacked a method to unify these elements in a manner that would satisfy my formal conceptions for the work. To try and rectify this I’ve spent hours listening to new works in the hope that they might demonstrate part of a solution to my dilemma.
After hearing Enno Poppe’s “Öl” for the first time a few days ago I found what I think is probably be the solution – long exotic melodic lines. In “Öl” Enno Poppe bases most of the music and form around these long melodic lines exotically filled with ornate non-equal tempered embellishments and intervals. Although these resemble and allude to non-Western folkloric melodies they seem entirely in place in Western instruments in this contemporary composition.
Coincidentally these are exactly the types of melodies I have improvised singing and whistling to myself since I began college. A few years ago I had the idea to record a number of these improvisations and then montage and transcribe them for a solo instrument like a clarinet, oboe, or viola. However I have never had an opportunity to realize this idea and, until now, I frankly have been too afraid to even attempt to.
Most of my anxiety towards this material stems from the fact that it alludes to folkloric music from cultures that I am not a part of and, therefore, do not know their their complex and delicate subtleties and implications. Over the last few days and occasionally in the last few months I’ve commented on this fear to a number of my friends emphasizing issues such as “How can I pretend to use folkloric music from cultures I don’t even know?” and “How can I have the audacity to pretend I know this music so well as to insert it into our so-called Western ’art’ music?” Furthermore I’ve long had a deep respect and fondness for various traditional like Afro-Cuban drum chants and Gamelan orchestras and despise commercial world-beat and other world music that superficially use any much more deep-seated folkloric traditions. My real fear is that if I were to use the type of melodies that I like to sing to myself is that I would do so similarly superficially and risk creating the very type of music I despise.
My initial anxiety towards using exotic melodies is similar to my anxiety towards using more popular music elements in contemporary “classical” or “art” music. Because I don’t want this entry to turn into a personal polemic I won’t site specific compositions or composer, but I often that composer who fail in this latter regard do so because they do not fully incorporate this elements into their compositions’ sound world or – even worse – attempt this incorporation as a superficial attempt to make their music more widely accessible.
On the other hand, there are a few contemporary composers I’ve heard who I think succeed incorporating popular music with “classical” or “art” music. For example I think of think of Glenn Branca’s fully conceived guitar orchestral symphonies that practically ooze with the angst and visceral energy of a no-wave punk New York. I also think of Fausto Romitelli and how he completely incorporates certain psychedelic mutations, mutilations, and over-the-top histrionics into compositions like Professor Bad Trip.
Now if one considers our popular music to just be a different form of the world’s continually changing and vibrant folk or folkloric musical traditions there really isn’t too much of a distinction between incorporating exotic and popular music into one’s own so-called “classical” or “art” music.
This immediately brings to mind one of my favorite jazz albums Duke Ellington’s “The Far East Suite.” Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn composed the music for this suite after an extensive tour of the Middle East and Asia. In the liner notes they admit that this tour led them towards the suite’s more exotic elements but they also admit that they did not conscientiously borrow or learn exotic materials or musical procedures. The result is something that, although it sounds at once exotic, also seems more distinctively theirs than any other of their works.
I feel that this is also what Enno Poppe does so successfully in “Öl,” or what Claude Vivier did in works like “Lonely Child” and “Zipangu,” or what Scelsi did with his explorations of Eastern Mysticism, or what Bartok did with Hungarian folk music, or what Ligeti did with the endless folkloric laments in his late works. In fact upon further reflection I can think of almost a countless number of examples to illustrate this point.
To make a long story short, I think I may for myself to overcome this anxiety of the exotic by attempting to let it come fully from what I would do naturally or, in other words, to more strongly bring out the personally exotic in what I already do. For me, I find this often comes out in hypnotically tangling and unwinding visceral laments. To achieve this I’ve begun spend more time trusting my ears, imagination, and more experimental abstract explorations to guide me and it’s starting to become a lot of fun.
A few summers ago my friend Bryan first came up with the idea of writing a piece that used extreme vocal nonverbal emotive gestures such as crying, screaming, and panicked breathing. We talked about the idea quite a bit initially but it wasn’t until last winter that he set out to finally try the idea. When he first proposed a similar idea for a seminar we were both taking with Philippe Leroux his idea was to use vocal samples, possibly from one character in a foreign film, and cross-synthesize them with an acoustic instrument such as an oboe.
It didn’t take too long before this proposed idea was abandoned in favor of sampling extreme emotive vocal sounds from a number of movies by Lars Von Trier, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Ingmar Bergman. Following extensive cataloguing, studying, and a test montaging these samples it became clear that the idea of cross-synthesizing this material with an acoustic instrument would probably not work. Despite this, he found a number of ways to bring out the more pitch and harmony-based elements from this material and create an acousmatic piece with these movie samples that, although it lacked any conventional acoustic instrument, used elements such as filtered noise and ring modulation to focus the listener’s ears on the harmony and more conventional musical elements in extreme vocal nonverbal emotive gestures.
This piece has ended up being quite successful and, although I think it a bit too clean and didactic compared to Bryan’s initial esthetic goal, it has been since selected for playback in a number of festivals.
Since then he wrote another piece using the same materials for a large chamber ensemble and is also currently finishing a piece with the same materials for the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble with the assistance of the McGill Digital Composition Studio but I think that, so far, the most successful of his pieces to use these samples is “Into Callous Hands” which was commissioned for the 7th Biennial International Competition “Concours Luc Ferrari” competition in France.
Unlike the Byran’s other pieces exploring this esthetic the music in “Into Callous Hands” entirely focuses from these extreme vocal nonverbal emotive gestures. The difficult to relate instruments, pitches, as well as the harmonic and didactic qualities of his other tape piece are missing in this piece. All that remains is the voice and its utmost intimate and dirty dramatic extremities with an engaging formal construction that draws the listener into what really constitutes these sounds. It may not be emotionally easy music but it is definitely worth hearing.
Socrates said that “No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death” and I think that the same holds true for good memories. This latter idea is a perennial theme in song, for example at the end of “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan finds consolation after catharsis singing Little red wagon, little red bike/I ain’t no monkey but I know what I like/I like the way you love me strong and slow,/I’m taking you with me, honey baby, when I go and Tom Waits more simply centers one of his finest songs “Take it With Me” around a chorus iterating the exact same idea.
Daniel Bejar (otherwise known in his many disguises as Destroyer) in his axiomatically referential manner hits upon the same point in the song “In Dreams.” However, unlike Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, he doesn’t see much value in directly stating this idea, for him it is only an idea that slowly reveals itself under a repeated chorus only after he first describes a personal polar repulsion and the related movement from “heartbreak to heartlessness.”
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Nancy is many different things to different people, many different identities for some people. She is at least three different people intimately known to me – all dynamic yet frozen in my mind’s wintry time. She seems to long to be none of these and One. She gives and has given endlessly to try and find her communion yet still feels something missing as she examines her memory’s frozen crystals. We all want the best for her because her longing seems too great for one person to bear. In her mind there seems to be only one possible horrible solution left and no guaranty was ever possible. I only want the best for her because the longing seems too great for one person to bear, I only want the best for her because the longing seems too great for anyone to bear,
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.
”Schwankungen am Rand” (1974-75) For brass, four percussionists, two electric guitars, two pianos, and strings Performed by SWF-Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg conducted by Ernest Bour Available on this compact disc
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I am a little reluctant to say much about Helmut Lachenmann besides laugh that I’m posting this after posting an mp3 blog entry featuring Philip Glass.
Although Lachenmann’s music is rarely heard in the United States, or the Western Hemisphere for that matter, he is considered one of biggest names in contemporary composition in most of Europe especially in his native Germany. I’m also a little reluctant to write much about Lachenmann because I’ve seen his esthetics exert something close to a cult-like dogmatic influence amongst some of my colleagues, because so much has recently been published on his music (for example see the recent issues of Contemporary Music Review, an English translation by Sequenza 21’s own Evan Johnson, and – for those who read German – the recently published collection of Lachenmann's writings) and furthermore – to be completely honest – I’m still struggling to fully understand what Lachenmann does and aims to do in his music.
That said I have a great respect and admiration for Lachenmann’s forward thinking compositional approach. These two works demonstrate something that I would feel confident in calling “Lachenmann-esque” – a focus on what one would call in other contexts “extra-instrumental techniques” and the pure physicality required to produce sound from all instruments to create a new (possibly more natural) hybrid ensemble which is largely treated as one instrument or entity. I personally find that these formal, structural, and timbral exploratory techniques engender his music with a certain highly imagination excitement.
“Gran Torso” (the first Lachenmann piece that ever made any sense to me) achieves this aim by largely focusing on the string players’ excessive bow pressure (or grain/”granum”) to create an alternatively dramatic and unaffected disembodied entity (or “torso”). “Schwankungen am Rand” works similarly but on a much larger scale with a sonic focus on brass and sheet metal in its many manifestations. The larger palette in this piece creates a sound world that is both ripely volatile with abandon and delicately intimate.
The other day while talking to a friend about the elegaic qualities in Morton Feldman's works I ended up describing the circumstances under which Feldman decided to write "For Philip Guston." Afterwards I realized that it may have been a good idea to include this in my Mp3 Blog post that features the end of "For Philip Guston". Fortunately, this is why the internet's digital ether allows for addendums.
The following excerpt is from an introduction that Morton Feldman gave before a performance of "For Philip Guston" at Kloveniersdoelen, Middelburg, The Netherlands, on 6th July 1985. You can find the complete text here (scroll down on the link for the original English text).
"...The reason it's called For Philip Guston is that for the last eight years of his life we didn't speak to each other, though he had asked his family - and he knew he was going to die - that he wanted me to say kaddish in his grave, which I did. One of the reasons we didn't speak to each other, in fact the only reason we didn't speak to each other, was because his work changed, and I got very upset. I went to this very big show, I saw the new work and I didn't say anything. Where for twenty years I was excited - he meant more to me than anything in the world - and I was always responsive. I would see all the pictures [...] he would talk for hours, and then he went to Italy, came back, something happened, his work started to change, and when I went in and he asked me: "Well, what do you think?", I was silent for half a minute, and in that half a minute I lost his friendship.
So, in thinking about how we're so committed to aesthetic considerations, as if the Shi'ites and the Jews and the Sunni's and the Catholics and the Protestants, the same thing in art, you see. So I was no different than any kind of fanatic. I felt that only an abstract kind of art could exist, only an art like his earlier work, which I thought was sublime, more like Rothko or Pollock. I thought that no other work could exist.
And I noticed that I myself was changing the way he was changing. Not completely the way he was changing but at least to make me see what he was going through. And there wasn't just the times. It wasn't the fact that the times were changing, that I had to change... And then I understood his work only because a young man was writing a book about him and he came to visit. He asked me: "What do you think was on his mind?". I thought for a minute and then, without really formulating any point of view, I said: "Well, he stopped asking questions." And that's when I knew I wanted to write a piece in which I too stopped asking questions. Stop worrying whether you sit here or you walk out, whether someone wants to play it or they don't want to play it, what this one would think... I just didn't want to start with any preconception of what I was supposed to be doing. I felt that I worked long enough to decide that maybe I too would stop asking questions..."
Uaxuctum "The Legend of the Maya City which destroyed itself for religious reasons" (1966) I II III IV V For 4 vocal soloists, ondes martenot solo, mixed choir and orchestra Performed by the Polish Radio-Television Orchestra Of Krakow with Tristan Murail (ondes martenot)
Currently Out of Print
Konx-Om-Pax "Three aspects of sound: as the first motion of the immutable, as creative force, as the syllable 'om'" (1969) I II III For mixed choir and orchestra Performed by the Polish Radio-Television Orchestra Of Krakow
After finishing my last composition “Time Fixtures” and my masters’ thesis that explains some of the procedures that I used to write and construct “Time Fixtures” I had a little trouble finding a way to start writing music again. After a few months of deliberating and countless hours spent improvising at the piano I found a solution by constantly playing one note or chords derived from iteratively combining an intervals simple frequency components.
When I finally started to compose again with what I discovered while improvising at the piano I was reminded of the story Alex Ross told in his article from November 2005 about, how after composing incredibly complex pitch-based music, Giacinto Scelsi had a mental breakdown and recovered his sanity by sitting at a piano and spending many days on end playing one note. While starting my current composition projects I would occasionally joke to friends that I felt like Scelsi must have felt after his mental breakdown. However, in all seriousness I was really just beginning to think that there is a lot to explore or emote in music that concentrates more on other parameters such as timbre and rhythm than the succession or organization of pitches.
I’ve wanted to post something big for my 50th mp3 blog posting. When I discovered that two of my favorite CD collections (the complete works for chorus and orchestra and the complete string quartets of Scelsi) are inexplicably out of print I decided that the works listed above would make be appropriate for this post. I won’t explain much more about these pieces or Scelsi for that matter since one can find some good information online here and here. Also, since these are compositions that focus on a mysticism that largely defies words I think anything else I might say will only muddy the waters.
Jacob David Sudol: ”Resonances” (2004-2006) For metallic percussion and interactive hexaphonic electronics
Performed by Fernando Rocha
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Although I feel a little silly posting one of my own compositions to my mp3 blog since I previously posted ”Time Fixtures” and ”Black Stream” and I really like this piece, I see no reason not to.
Last week I recorded my good friend Fernando Rocha playing the newest version of “Resonances” (the second revision) in the McGill Digital Composition Studios. Although this mixed version is not yet complete (I’m yet to add the subtle live electronics to the interactively cued and mixed audio files) and it is only a stereo version of a piece that sounds much better in six speakers (for example there is no way a stereo version can replicate how all the gongs and one other really loud soundfile sound when they sound at an equal amplitude in all six speakers), I’m willing to consider this mix and version of the piece valid and simply excited to post it here.
Before I include my programme notes I thought I just want to briefly mention one other personal but unrelated item – I just found out my masters’ thesis was approved today.
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Would that the sound of the bell might go beyond our earth, And be heard even by all in the darkness outside the cakravala; Would that, their organ of hearing become pure, beings might attain perfect infusion of the senses, So that every one of them might come finally to the realization of supreme enlightenment.
-bell gatha enchanted after reading the Samantamukha-Parivarta
“Resonances” is entirely based upon the physical phenomena of resonance. In this work, metallic percussion is emphasized. This compositional interest stems from the Zen/Buddhist philosophy that a bell’s ringing, or resonance, represents the fabric of eternity. For this work the ringing of the bell has been expanded to include the resonance of metallic percussion instruments (bells pitched and unpitched), the spatial environment of the performance, and the psychological resonance of musical ideas.
The work was written from November 2004 through December 2004 and the electronics were constructed from December 2004 through March 2005, during winter. It was revised in August 2005 and October 2005. The work is dedicated to Fernando Rocha who premiered original version in March 2005 and the revised version in October 2005.
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.
I’ve never really understood Postmodernism and, although I’ve spent some time researching and learning on the subject, I don’t really care to. It may be that living in Montréal (supposedly one of the most Postmodern cities) that the little bit of a punk in me feels the need to rebel and express my own independent identity. On the other hand, I simply cannot agree with how I understand that Postmodernism dismisses grand theories and ideologies to favor of viewing one solely as a culmination of external influences. Although I am by nature skeptical, I believe that art and expression speak to and come from something far greater and more objective and universal than that which Postmodern proposes.
I’ve often found that I agree far more with Modernist philosophies; however, I obviously cannot agree with the “Zero Hour” European Post-WWII ideology that produced some of Boulez’s, Stockhausen’s, and others’ failed experiments. For me there is simply something exciting and effervescent in an artwork that seeks to create an eternally new object. Of course – as Postmodernism claims – art is bound to one’s own influences, but to primarily focus on this or deny art’s fundamental power try and find the means to supersede these mundane concerns seems, to me, a grave error.
To finally come around to the featured composer and mp3 of this entry, although this may be a slightly flawed view, I’ve always seen Luciano Berio as the first and most important Postmodern composer. Despite this, or possibly in spite of this, I’ve always wanted to love Berio’s music. For example, I’ve tried so hard to really appreciate and enjoy “Circles,” “Coro,” “Oh King,” “Recital for Cathy,” the Chemins and Corale, “Points on a Curve to Find,” “A Ronne,” the Sequenzas but – after dozens of listens – I find that Sequenza 21 is the only one that I regularly go back to. Currently, besides “Folk Songs” (which I have studied intensely and always love to listen to) the only pieces of Berio that I still like (albeit, mostly on a Platonic level) are “Sinfonia” (only for the ground-breaking “sampling” in the third movement), “Thema (Ommagio for Joyce)” (particularly for the Bloo-bloo-bloo-bloom-bloom-oom-oom-ooming-ing-ing and how the words finally drown in sound), and the ever-disturbing “Visage.”
The Montréal composer Justin Mariner brought up a good argument once about Berio –the reason his music may seem to “remain new” (or have aged that well) is possibly because he has had so many imitators and – while his music may have sounded revolutionary at one time – the ever-expanding line (and this is my mildly naïve addition to the argument) of "Postmodern composers" like Osvaldo Golijov, Louis Andriessen, Gorecki, John Adams, and even John Zorn have only weakened Berio’s initial impact.
Despite this, I continually turn back to “Visage.” Although this work seems to take a Postmodernism approach by seeming to focus on the language’s historical development, there is some almost primordial in the drama and emotions that the work conjures up. Truthfully I’ve only listened to “Visage” twice, but each listening is firmly etched in my memory. I’m not much an expert in criticism, but if that doesn’t speak of a work’s power I don’t know what does.
I finally got around to watching Maya Deren’s documentary Devine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti last night – a great anthropological study with insightful commentary and stunning footage and music from traditional Voudoun rituals. I highly recommend downloading it from UbuWeb (on of my favourite websites).
I’ve long been drawn to traditional rituals. Growing up I Tucson, I fondly remember seeing and reading about the rituals of people native to Arizona and the rest of the American Southwest.
Musically, I’ve long been drawn towards traditional Cuban ritualistic music. When I still lived in Tucson, I had the honor of becoming friends and playing music with a Cuban percussionist, Guillermo “Bubba” Faz. We met when I joined in a salsa band, quickly hit it off, and decided to form our own more traditional and experimental ensemble.
Bubba taught me about some of the traditional Lumuní rhythms, Cantos, and rituals for the various Orishas. At one point, I even underwent a ritual that cleansed hands so that I could play the bata drums. On another occasion, he introduced me to the head drummer, Jesús Alfonso Miró, for Los Munequitos de Matanzas (the preeminent interpreters of traditional Cuban music from the Matanzas, or rural, region)
I’ve always been struck by how these traditional rituals inform contemporary or modern art. Furthermore, I’m often amazed at the esthetic force achieved when one incorporates the ritual in contemporary art or music. For example, off the top of my head I think of power in the music of Vivier, Radulescu, Grisey’s Quatre Chants Pour Franchir le Seuil, La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano, late Feldman, and parts of Stockhausen’s two best works – Mantra and Stimmung.
For my current project, Inner Music, I see this ritualistic element as the archetypal formal and structural model. The work unfolds like a series of Cantos structurally bound by some similar parameters that each seeks to invoke a different individual, yet unified, character. As the work progresses the intensity grows and the dance’s freedom and ecstasy intensify until finally an ultimate threshold is reached and, well, I don’t want to give away the ending because that’s a secret…
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.
Obvious meta-ironic philosophizing aside, I wanted to step in on this post to return to some things I left out of my more recent post...
Last summer I discovered that the McGill library has a fantastic collection of DVDs available to students for free three-day checkout. Ever since then I’ve been in veritable (mostly) foreign art-house film heaven watching great works by directors such as Bergman, Kiarostami, Fellini, Rossellini, Antonioni, Pasolini, Kurosawa, Ozu, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scoresese, Godard, Buñuel, Almodovar, Kieslowski, Wajda, Dovzhenko, Forman, Polanski, Eisenstein, Von Trier, Herzog, and Fassbinder a few nights a week. Last autumn, on a particularly patient night I watched Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.” It haunted me like few films had and even made me reconsider what I had long considered as perfection in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odysessy.”
John Rea and another friend later recommended Tarkovsky’s “The Passion According to Andrei” (or “Andrei Rublev”), which I had to watch over two days to emotionally handle. Over winter his other films “The Mirror,” “Nostalghia,” and especially “Offret Sacrifacatio” left strong impressions on me. Later Tarkovsky’s book “Sculpting in Time” significantly shaped my esthetic stance in a way that only Joyce’s “Portrait of an Artist as Young Man” can directly match.
As for Claude Vivier, to learn more about his music I highly recommend seeking out recordings of all his later (post-1978) works. The Canadian Music Centre is a good place to look for these. I’d also recommend the DVD “Reves d’un Marco Polo” which features a documentary and an extended concert of Vivier’s music featuring the Schoenberg and ASKO Ensembles. The documentary, although insultingly Euro-centric, provides a shattering view on Vivier’s tragic life. The concert features great performances of some of Vivier’s most significant works such as his opera “Kopernikus (A Ritual Opera of Death)” and the only recording I’ve found of “Crois-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme?” The DVD also has subtitles so you can understand the French and language fragments if you, like me, can’t fully comprehend French. If you read French the excellent Montréal-based contemporary music journal “Circuit” has published an issue which features Claude Vivier’s complete writings and tributes by the likes of Ligeti and others that is well worth a good read.
If you want hear some music, here's the last track from the Café Spies album I produced and performed most of – “Less is More (Parts 1-3).” This track was recorded sans plan in one take as I watched the four-track’s tape run out. Agent N8-10 speaks and I play and process all the instruments and sounds on this most note-y track from a very note-y album. Oh yeah, I’m also ripping off some of the two-keyboard stuff I did on this track for “Inner Music.”
The cinema, she is a whore. First she charge a nickel, now she charge five dollars. When she learns to give it away, she will be free!
-Andrei Tarkovsky, Telluride Medal acceptance speech for “Nostalghia”
Time is a condition for the existence of our ‘I.’ It is like a kind of culture medium that is destroyed when it is no longer needed, once the links are severed between the individual personality and the conditions of existence…
Time and memory merge into each other; they are like two sides of a medal. It is obvious that without Time, memory cannot exist either. But memory is something so complex that no list of all its attributes could define the totality of the impression through which it affects us. Memory is a spiritual concept!...
However, the past – mercifully – cannot be brought back; individual self-awareness and the status of personal views on life are becoming more important…
A work becomes dated as a result of the conscious effort to be expressive and contemporary; these are not things to be achieved: they have to be in you.
In those arts which count their existence in tens of centuries the artist sees himself, naturally and without questrion, as more than narrator or interpreter: above all he/she is an individual who has decided to formulate for others, with complete sincerity, his truth about the world...
I see it as my duty to stimulate reflection on what is esentially human and eternal in each individual soul, and which all too often a person will pass by, even though fate lies in his/her hands. One is too busy chasing after phantoms and bowing down to idols. In the end everything can be reduced to one simple element which is all a person can count upon in his/her existence; the capacity to love. That element can grow within the soul to become the supreme factor which determins the meaning of a person's life. My function is to make whoever sees my films oh his/her need to love and to give his/her need to give love, and aware that beauty is summoning.
…I want to create my own world on the screen, in its ideal and most perfect form, as I myself feel it and see it. I am not trying to be coy with my audience, or to conceal some secret intention of my own: I am recreating my world in those details which seem to me most fully and exactly to express the elusive meaning of our existence…
“Nostalghia” is now behind me. It could never have occurred to me when I started shooting that my own, all too specific, nostalgia was soon to take possession of my soul forever.
’I want to know – do you yourself believe in God or don’t you’ Nikolai Vsevolodovich looked at him sternly.
‘I believe in Russia and Russian Orthodoxy … I believe in the body of Christ … I believe that the Second Coming will be in Russia ... I believe …’ Shatov began to splutter in desperation.
‘And in God? In God?’
‘I … I shall believe in God!’
-Fyodor Dostievsky, “The Possessed”
By means of art man takes over reality through a subjective experience…
A masterpiece is a space closed in upon itself… Beauty is in the balance of the parts. And the paradox is that the more perfect the work, the more clearly does one feel the absence of any associations generated by it. The perfect is unique. Or perhaps it is able to generate an infinite number of associations – which ultimately means the same thing…
The fate of the genius in the system of human knowledge is amazing and instructive. These sufferers…, doomed to destroy in the name of movement and reconstruction, find themselves in a paradoxical state of unstable equilibrium between longing for happiness and the conviction that happiness, as a feasible reality or state, does not exist… Real happiness, happy happiness, consists, as we know, in the aspiration towards that happiness which cannot but be absolute: that absolute after which we thirst…
It is natural, therefore, that not even specialist critics have the delicacy of touch required to dissect for analysis the idea of a work and its poetic imagery. For an idea does not exist in art except in the images which give it form, and the image exists as a kind of grasping of reality by the will, which the artist undertakes according to his own inclinations and idiosyncrasies of his worldview…
Clearly the hardest thing for the working artist is to create his own conception and follow it, unafraid of the strictures t imposes, however rigid these may be…I see it as the clearest evidence of genius when an artist follows his conception, his idea, his principle, so unswervingly that he has this truth of his constantly in his control, never letting go of it even for the sake of his own enjoyment of his work.
And so the discovery of a method becomes the discovery of someone who has acquired the gift of speech. And at that point we may speak of the birth of an image; that is, of a revelation.
Over the last few months I’ve been working on the written part of my thesis – an analysis of Time Fixtures – and today I’m one section away from finishing the first draft. While looking back at this work I spent almost two years working on, I’ve started to question my esthetic stance and prepare the framework for my next composition – a work for percussion, piano, harpsichord, and tape. (I’m writing this new composition for three friends in Montréal, who founded an ensemble called The Contemporary Keyboard Society.)
One thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to favor exploring and using abstract phenomena or principals and have trouble revealing deep personal and formal decisions. This may perhaps explain why, with this blog, I so frequently write mp3 or other simply descriptive entries and so rarely write personal reflective entries. To a certain extent, I’m beginning to fear that my tendency towards the abstract stands in opposition to my affection towards more emotive and contemplative music and art.
This personal conflict is probably why I’ve titling my next piece Inner Music. Unlike Time Fixtures, I plan to write this piece at almost manic feverish pace and I won’t plan out the exact development or processes for each section beforehand. There will be no recapitulations of materials or themes. The music will simply consist of gradual progressions, uncertain fluctuations, and sudden dramatic and possibly shocking textural contrasts. Granted I plan to advance the rhythmic and harmonic/timbral explorations I started in Time Fixtures but this time, above all, I hope to write something personal, emotive, and – if I really succeed – haunting.
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)
* * *
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)