Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Spacing out at this year's Monad Festival? or trying to look out of a house without doors and windows
When I'm sitting around at the piano messing about, up to no good with Seeger's ideas (not Pete, but Ruth Crawford) of dissonant counterpoint in a not-very-organized fashion, I often seem to create opaque structures that are a bit like living in a house without doors and windows when then trying to create ways to improvise over the material I compose. If I was on the case, each object would call up its own set of rules. But these bits, apart from being great for twisting the First Year's comp class heads around like in the Exorcist (I suppose that's why they hate me, at least for a bit), it usually leaves me in a strange state of suspension, like the moment of focus in doing bamboo breath when you disappear. (unfortunately, googling this phrase tends to bring up quite a bit of very dodgy New Age Music; just don't do it)
What I am usually faced with is a series of autonomous gestures; one or two bar fragments that create a tiny brittle world of their own, without much reference to outside stylistic models. In a sense, these things are art-object monads: opaque, small, self-contained totalities that contain a number of contradictions reflecting the larger world around us. (damn, did I just say that?) I know it's a bit of a cliché to refer here to the Rachel Whiteread work, but the image seems apt as I stare at a couple of bars of music, and trying to see out of it into the world beyond.
In a way, it's easy to create these things; the real difficulty arises as you try to do something with them... some kind of over-arching architecture that is so elusive, at least for me... especially one that is porous enough for improvisation. I tend to start with these frail ideas and little sense of where they're going to go. And then, I try to take Birtwistle's advice (admittedly stolen from Klee), and "take a line for a walk". But that's not enough: it seems easier to compose them out for, say, a trio or quartet reading exactly what you have written than to devise a plan that allows the gesture to inform and shape an improvisation. Life was so easy with Hard Bop: II-V's, tritone subs, IV-bVII, the occasional II-III-I or even the Trane turnaround exploiting mediant motion. (that's mediant, not deviant... oh those crazy cancrizons thirds...just do it - bust the cycle 5's butt)
See what I mean?.
So what the Hell do I do with that gesture? Just two dyads; life was simpler when the structure was supplied by a poem's narrative line, as was the case with this. we would play it, Malcolm would read, and we'd move on to the next gesture reflecting his text, ornamenting the gestures as we went. But now I'm sitting trying to turn this into something stand-alone the Riprap quartet can use without relying on a text.
Anyway, something will happen, I suppose - maybe I'll ask Mr. Chu
Other stuff? Well, it's Thanksgiving and I've just been sitting here marking and practicing all day - no turkey in sight... I think I'll make some pasta and wash it down with a strong rioja. Went out for a cycle this afternoon, and encountered a cygnet in some kind of mild distress, wandering in the middle of the road with a crocodile of cars in tow. Tomorrow I'm doing a gig with three bass clarinets to accompany a nearly silent film on the composer Scelsi, by Dave Ryan. Should be interesting; he was a very unique voice. After that, Riprap starts rehearsing next week to get ready to record the next CD, in order to have an epic push to get a few gigs in what's left of the jazz scene. Hence the composer's block.
And here's the track from Mifune and Paul recorded last Month. They did a great job on the re-written and expanded duet at the Cambridge Festival gig in October; I was really glad they decided to revisit it so I re-worked much of it and added a piano cadenza; you can hear the gig below..
Piano&violinduet by kevin flanagan
Posted by kbop at 9:15 AM