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.
Sound is a physical phenomenon. It emanates from its source(s), travels through the air, bounces off of some objects, and resonates in others such as our bodies.
For all we may theorize about sound’s constructions, organizations, and its other abstract non-physical properties it is my belief that this physicality is the primary source of music’s power. The visual arts and letters can directly appeal to our strongest sense – sight – but the physicality of sound that literally touches and caresses our bodies and minds is what engenders music with its unique and undeniable emotive strength. This is why often I like to refer to music as the most sensual of all art forms.
Sound and music take on a different character when their physical presence is increased. When sound waves are allowed to really build up on themselves they take on a pure phenomenological force that is both enigmatic and impossible to deny.
In this poorly recorded piece for 400 electric guitars it is obvious that with enough physical presence electric guitars can cease to sound like electric guitars. The rhythmic accuracy fuses into what sounds like a bowed continuum. With this mass their harmonies no longer clang or merely even shimmer they can now truly ring, resonate, and caress.
This last week the Conservetoire de Montreal has held a festival on the music of Luigi Nono titled: Le Maître du Son et du Silence. Although I’ve been far too busy completing “Inner Music” to attend many events I have seen a concert of his chamber music and another concert of his music for large ensembles.
I’m always approach a loss of words when I attempt to describe Luigi Nono’s music. The first time I posted Nono it was in the guise of a post on the esthetics found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s cinema and in my second post of Nono I just wrote some jumbled phrases that resembled nonsense. The most that I can get from Nono’s music (particularly the later works which I prefer) is his acute awareness of sonic and psychological phenomenology.
I suppose it is because of my difficulty that I’m fascinated by how many people have written about Luigi Nono’s music. Although I’m sure that his early serial procedures, frequent use of text, and far leftist position provide a large body examinable material I think there is something more integral to his esthetic that demands attention, examination, and scrutiny. The two concerts I’ve seen this week demonstrate in more ways that I could have imagined that Nono’s music that is a music best heard live and, possibly more importantly, amongst others engaged in the same active auditory attention, examination, and even some scrutiny.
It appears as though I have just taken the longest break in writing entries since I started posting mp3 blogs in late May. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing a long lecture on “Time Fixtures” that I gave on Tuesday, figuring out what is needed for my doctoral applications, and resuming work on two compositional projects. I used to think that I could easily concentrate on many different things at time but, as my recent absence seems to indicate, that may not be the case.
Excuses aside, I’ve decided that I to need resume posting entries regularly and, to signify this, I might as well start off with a bit of a bang.
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Romanian composer Horatio Radulescu is considered by some to be the first Spectral composer. Despite this distinction Radulescu’s music differs greatly from the early explorations of his French counterparts such as Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. Where the latter largely used techniques such as temperment quantization (i.e. quarter-tones, sixth-tones, and eighth-tones), “instrumental synthesis,” and “frequency harmonies,” Radulescu’s music concentrates on what he considers to be the ultimate sonic archetype – the harmonic spectrum.
Both of these tracks have compositional demonstrations of what is arguably one of the most famous auditory illusions – the Shepard tone, a veritable auditory barber pole where, in the constantly rotating movement, it is nearly impossible to identify where one line ends and another begins. Although this auditory illusion can easily come across as one of the cheaper contemporary music clichés to an ear well versed in contemporary compositional techniques, I find that the dirty raw striving in Glenn Branca’s Symphony #6 (Devil Choirs at the Gates of Heaven) holds up consistently on multiple listenings.
In contrast, Jean-Claude Risset’s “Mutations” is one the original classics in the digital acousmatic age and was the first composition ever to use a Shepard tone. This short, delicate, and almost perfect work seamlessly transforms (or “mutates”) into the first Shepard Tone ever found in a musical composition – a one ten octave glissando reiterated in a ten part cannon.
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)
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.
Charlemagne Palestine: Strumming Music (recorded 1974) Improvised composition for piano
La Monte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano (1964-73-81-present) (excerpt from NYC 1987) Improvised composition for piano
I began my musical life at the piano. When I was really young, I typically improvised compositions more than I practiced music for lessons. I would depress the sustain pedal and repetitively play a few notes, chords, and melodic fragments while swimming in the resonance and thoughts about musical unfolding.
In the last few years, I’ve heard many composers describe the piano as a boring monochromatic and timbrally blank instrument. This opinion greatly offends me. Few instruments have a greater spectral complexity in each note than the piano. Furthermore, almost nothing in the acoustic world compares to the sound of piano strings sympathetically resonating. I chose this week’s mp3 selections to demonstrate this latter property – the magical resonance of the piano.
Charlemagne Palestine’s improvised work Strumming exemplifies the intense ritualistic musical experience at the center of early minimalist music. In the 1970’s, Charlemagne Palestine was infamous for performances similar to this one where he rapidly repeats a few notes with a depressed damper pedal to cajole rarely heard piano resonance. Often these performances would last for many hours and would end after his hands were bleeding.
The Well-Tuned Piano is considered by many to be La Monte Young’s masterpiece. This extended work (which in recent performances extends beyond six hours) features an ingenious tuning system which Kyle Gann cracked in 1991. One of my favorite features in this excerpt is how the repetitive clouds transform from percussive motivic centers to sound masses inhabited by fleeting phantasmagoric just-intoned intervallic melodies. The effect is breathtaking – one that I never imagined before and forever changed my way of hearing.