Sounds Like NowA blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for January, 2010
Last Wednesday Erik and I presented our arrangement of Stockhausen’s Tierkreis. The performance went extremely well and I think we were both very pleased with the outcome. In many ways it was a new experience for me when I place it in the continuum of my musical career and trajectory thus far. For one, it was definitely the most collaborative project we’d undertaken as Hybrid Groove Project. Erik composed the beats and I composed the saxophone parts that were extra-curricular to Stockhausen’s melodies. The actual arrangement process was a completely collaborative effort. We even kept a massive Google Doc so we could share ideas and update existing structures instantly.
This was also the first time that I performed with an involved electronics setup. I used Ableton Live 8, which I controlled with an Akai APC40, Behringer FCB1010 foot controller, and M-Audio Axiom 25. What’s funny is that I thought I’d hold off on getting the APC40 until after this show, since I thought it might be a little overkill and that I could just control everything with the FCB1010, but I’m glad that I decided to take the plunge before the show (Guitar Center giving me the Xmas sale price after Xmas also helped). Having multiple ways to control, manipulate, and perform the software was absolutely invaluable for this performance.
I have to say that working with Ableton and the various controllers named above was and is an awesome experience. I was prepared for it to be a nightmare, having worked peripherally with electronics over the last 10 years. However, nothing about it was hard. Everything worked right out of the box, which was shocking (to me), but extremely welcome! What I was not prepared for was the extra dimension this added to the act of performing.
Suddenly, not only did I have to play the saxophone, but I also had to learn new coordinations, whether it was playing an involved line on the sax while simultaneously launching clips and/or activating effects via the foot controller or simply having to ingrain the order of events and what sequence to launch various things with via various devices. A majority of this came from the fact that this was an hour long project, making the scope of everything just a bit larger. But it certainly engaged me in a new kind of problem solving that directly impacted the performance and execution of the music. I had to actually spend equal, if not more, time practicing the sequence of events and execution of the electronics than I spent on practicing the instrumental parts (did I mention that I also played synth, toy piano, and a variety of percussion instruments for the project as well?).
Our performance of Zodiacrobatic on Mobtown Modern won’t be the last time we play the work. It was conceived as a concept that we could tote around to different places. It is also a living thing that will continue to evolve over time. Though we spent a great deal of time planning the dramatic arc of the piece and structuring each melody, we also left ourselves latitude and flexibility within certain movements to allow for improvisation and recomposition as the mood strikes us. I imagine that as we continue to perform Zodiacrobatic we’ll become more comfortable and free in performance. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
As a coda to these reflections, we received wonderful coverage of the event, thanks in no small measure to the extreme professionalism of Mike Fila and the team at Himmelrich PR. A day prior to the performance Erik and I appeared on WYPR’s Maryland Morning, where we got to talk with Tom Hall about the project. And we also garnered some very nice reviews from Charles T. Downey of the Washington Post and Tim Smith of the Baltimore Sun.
Now that the Zodiacrobatic performance is over, I find myself somewhat in withdrawl since I suddenly don’t have to fill up all of my free time with urgent creativity. Though perhaps I should just enjoy the small bit of down time since I’ve got plenty of performances to keep me busy in the next four weeks.
Unlike the rest of the melodies in the Zodiac project, Erik and I aren’t adding any sort of beat-based material to Gemini. The overall feeling will be very rubato as the fragments of the melody are passed back and forth between Erik on melodica and yours truly on soprano sax. Gemini comes right after Taurus, which in our heavy metal setting will conclude with guitar smashing and feedback (okay, just feedback). Emerging out of the feedback, Erik will set up a feedback-y loop on melodica based on pitches from the Gemini melody and I’ll add the following synth part based on pitches from the accompaniment to further augment the texture:
For the Aries melody (i.e. “The Ram,” though not to be confused with this Ram) Erik wanted me to produce some ram’s horn, or shofar, sounds. So I watched this video to learn the four traditional shofar calls—Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah, and Tekiah Gedolah—and then learned how to make those sounds on the alto saxophone by playing without the mouthpiece. Witness the fruits of my labor:
Last month, Mobtown Modern presented Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night and we were fortunate to have Voice of America China on hand to cover the event. The story they did is below. Our portion starts at 3:28. Hope you know Mardarin!
Being admitted into a graduate program for music composition is extremely competitive. More and more young people are getting into classical composition these days, especially since institutions of higher learning no longer require students to check their popular music influences at the door. But the application process, especially for graduate programs, is still quite arduous and it’s always helpful to get some sage advice from someone who knows the ins and outs of what it takes to be admitted. So as a public service, we here at SLN have compiled some useful tweets for aspiring composition students from University of California at Berkeley Professor Ken Ueno. Ken was kind enough to share with the world the following tips on how not to apply for a graduate composition program.
First, if you’re applying to a graduate program in composition, chances are that you spent a good amount of time being a composer during your four years as an undergraduate. And during those four years, you were probably around lots of performance majors, or at the very least, a few decent music ed majors, whom you could have befriended and had record your music. A little effort on the social front would likely make Ken’s first piece of advice unnecessary:
Because even though you may consider MIDI a “real” instrument, the players in your Second Life Orchestra aren’t real people.
Gone are the days when students can simply pour themselves into one academic pursuit and hope to land a teaching gig as a professor of that pursuit. Nowadays it’s important for aspiring academics to be well-rounded individuals so they are more marketable, and that usually means supplementing your primary area of emphasis with a secondary discipline. It’s nice if they compliment each other—say, music composition and music theory—but not exactly necessary. However, make sure that when you’re applying for a graduate program in your primary area of emphasis that you gauge the proportions of your application essay to reflect that:
It’s imperative that students these days embrace technology. From notation, recording, and performance software to fluency with web design and various types of new and social media, we’re in the midst of a zeitgeist in our musical culture that may render “traditional” content delivery systems completely obsolete. The good news for composers is that because of all this technology, they can save bundles of money on printing and copying costs—money that they can use to purchase the latest software updates and buy beer and weed. Just email your scores and parts to the musicians and make them print out their own freakin’ parts. Yeah! But if you do this, make sure you follow certain protocols:
It’s also helpful to have a dictionary on hand so you can understand all those big words they use at graduate school. And though you’re likely a computer whiz, please don’t skip Chapter One of your PDFs for Dummies book:
Finally, be careful not to inadvertently insult the faculty at the institute you are applying to:
For more how-to tidbits, SLN urges you to follow Ken on Twitter.
No, this isn’t a post about how absolutely sick I am of riding the trainer in my basement; the title of that post would be way more explicit. Erik and I spent a good bit of time last rehearsal working out the Cancer melody. One neat thing is that the accompaniment is the melody played backwards. The movement will start with me playing the melody on alto sax. That melody will be looped in reverse as I continue to play it live. Next, I’ll add a layer of toy piano playing the melody and finally an obligato part (pictured above). This will form the first half of the Cancer movement. During the “exposition,” Erik will be triggering samples of triangles and other tinkly things that appear later in the beat layer. Below is a mock up with two loops of the melody: the first iteration is alto sax, reverse alto sax, and toy piano; the second adds the harmonized obligato line.
One of the problems I’ve been attempting to solve while preparing for the upcoming Zodiacrobatic performance was how to change the global tempo in Ableton Live without launching any clips in the next scene. This is important because the piece is a multi-movement work and sometimes there are segues between movements that require quick changes of the global tempo so that clips in the next scene play back at the proper speed. Changing the global tempo by naming a particular scene with the BPM and beat unit (see image below) and then launching the scene is very easy to do.
But until last night I hadn’t figured out a way to change the tempo with a scene launch without having to mute, stop the clips, and then un-mute everything. The solution I came up with was to create an empty scene with same BPM as the next scenes with the clips for the following movements (see image below). So for example, after the Intro which is 80 BPM, there’s a blank scene which is meant to reset the global tempo to 56.5 BPM, the tempo for the Aquarius movement.
I realize this is a very specific type of problem and not one that the majority of Live users will ever find themselves having to deal with. (And, now that I’ve discovered it, the solution seems pretty obvious.) But hopefully this might be useful to someone out there.