New project alert: I’m writing the Sound Directions blog for the Baltimore Sun‘s Charm City Current site.
Sounds Like NowA blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for New Music
Sound strange? Find out why I feel that way by reading my guest post over on Baltimore Sun music critic Tim Smith’s blog, Clef Notes.
Now that we’ve pretty much got “Leo” from Tierkreis in the bag, it’s time to start moving on to some new melodies. Here’s a “chord progression” made up completely of multiphonics on soprano saxophone that mirror key pitches in the melody that I put together this evening. It sounds decidedly spectral.
Visuals at new music shows can be a slippery slope. There’s the danger that the visual component is so prominent that it overshadows the music or that it’s done so poorly that it ends up detracting from the performance. I’ve seen it go both ways. Yet, when done well, adding a visual element to a performance can do a great deal to enhance the total concert experience. At least that’s what we believe at Mobtown Modern.
We’re fortunate to be in good visual hands at Mobtown thanks to video whiz-kid Guy Werner. Guy’s work is so effective because of the way it compliments the performance rather than dominating it. Nothing is ever pre-set in terms of what’s going to be happening when. Prior to each show, we send Guy recordings of the pieces that will be performed, which he uses to get conceptual ideas for his presentation of each piece. For some compositions, like Jacob TV’s Lipstick (performed by Katayoon Hodjati shown above), the thematic material is obvious. But in other cases, like Wendy Richman’s performance of Manto III by Giacinto Scelsi, the inspiration for the visual element seems to come from unexpected sources while remaining ultra-effective. During the performance, Guy draws on the samples he’s prepared and mixes a visual layer in real time as the piece unfolds, lending an improvisatory quality to the work as well as making the video layer an integral part of the experience rather than a simple “visual soundtrack”. It’s this type of engagement during the playing of the music that makes Guy’s work so compelling.
P.S. Guy also curates an annual video event at the wonderful Metro Gallery called Videopolis. And guess what? They’re currently accepting submissions! Go here to find out more.
There is a project in the works, the details of which will not be divulged until June 12, which I’ve purchased a nice new red Schoenhut to get cracking on. (Hint: It involves Erik and 12 melodies.) Here are a couple of the melodies we’ll be working with—Cancer (Moon) and Gemini (Mercury):
In what is perhaps my greatest media coup to date, this week’s City Paper has picked both events I’m producing as Weekly Highlights and Critic’s Picks. I’m speaking of course of this Friday’s performance of Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night and Monday’s Mobtown Modern show Hard As F#@!. So, like, be there or be square.
The weather’s getting chilly, the lights are up in Hampden, and the Salvation Army bells are a-ringing outside the market. Yes, the holidays are just around the corner here in Baltimore and that means that it’s time once again for our annual performance of Phil Kline’s ambient Christmas classic, Unsilent Night, Baltimore’s best boombox Christmas parade. For the third year running, Baltimoreans will take to the streets and spread noisy Xmas cheer to everyone within earshot. This year’s festivities will kick off at 8 p.m. at the Male/Female sculpture in front of Penn Station, where tapes and CDs will be distributed. It is recommended that you arrive no later than 7:45 p.m. to claim your copy of the piece. We’ll then wind our way around the streets, head over to the Meyerhoff, inside the Charles Theater and finally end up at the door of the Metro Gallery, where the Unsilent After Party, featuring music by Parachute Musical, Pianowire, and The Noises 10, will be awaiting us. (N.B. There is a $7 cover charge.) Visit www.unsilentbaltimore.com for all the dirty details.
If you asked any new music player to describe the music of composer Jason Eckardt, chances are you’d get a simple one-word answer: hard. There aren’t too many other composers who’d elicit that same answer—Iannis Xenakis, Milton Babbitt, and Brian Ferneyhough come to mind instantly—which makes composers of the musical hard stuff into kind of an exclusive little club. Now clearly these composers have their reasons for doing what they do, reasons probably as diverse as the sound of their music. In a recent Counterstream Radio Spotlight Session, Jay spoke about why he writes such complex music:
I thought I’d write a little bit about Jay since I’ll be performing his new solo baritone saxophone piece, Still on the next Mobtown Modern show called Hard As F#@!. We also thought that it might be good to give some explanation as to why the music on Hard As F#@! is considered “hard” since a good portion of our audience is made up of non-musicians, who might just equate hard with fast. And while fast usually = hard, there are lots of other things that can make musicians strap on the seat belt, which is definitely the case with Still.
Compared to Jay’s other scores, Still looks positively barren—long held, slowly changing sustained events interrupted and punctuated with short punchy attacks of various sorts. Certainly not the 16-in-the-space-of-7-within-a-dotted-eighth-note we’ve come to expect. So what makes Still so hard despite it’s lack of nested tuplets, 17 notes crammed into the space of one quarter note, and no other players to contribute to the (written out) chaos? Well, here’s a list:
1. Multiphonics. By themselves as isolated occurrences within a work, I wouldn’t generally consider multiphonics to be an element that makes a piece difficult (that is, unless you’re Ken Ueno and like to interject them within long streams of ridiculous 16th-note runs jumping around every which register, illustrated below by yours truly performing Ken’s whatWALL?):
But the multiphonics in Still—even though they’re of the long, held variety—are one of the reasons I’d call the piece difficult; and for a couple of reasons. First, most of them occur at a very soft dynamic, which makes it difficult to balance the “chord,” especially when you’re contorting your oral cavity to produce the voicing that will sound the right notes. Along those same lines, each multiphonic is separated by vast expanses of silence and since it’s possible to sound several variations of the chord with the same fingering, it requires you not only to have to aurally anticipate the correct chord, but also the correct oral cavity configuration.
2. Phrasing. Okay, in addition to being a musician, I’m also an endurance athlete, so I’ve got a pretty well-developed set of lungs on me. But when you’re blowing through what is essentially a very large tube, even the best of us feel the need to tank up 75% of the way through a phrase sometimes. I hear what you’re saying, “Just circular breathe, you pansy!” Well, I would, except it’s simply not possible to do so while playing soft low A’s and Bb’s, multiphonics, and extreme altissimo notes (see below). So not much to be done here other than regulating better.
3. Extreme Register. Again, like multiphonics, altissimo is generally not an occasion to get all hot and bothered, but there are some really high notes in Still, like Xenakis high. In fact, I think this is the only other piece I’ve ever seen double altissimo A’s, A#’s and B’s besides XAS. Even though the Still altissimo notes are not careening by at breakneck 32nd-note speed, like they do in the Xenakis, they become difficult for a lot of the same reasons as the multiphonics in the piece (see above). They’re soft. And the expansive silence preceding each altissimo entrance becomes for the performer not the sustained stasis that you’re hoping to project to the audience, but rather a prolonged period of prayer during which you plead for proper partial to sound.
SLN is issuing an apology on behalf of Mobtown Modern to any early adopters of Mobtown’s podcast. Initially, we were calling the podcast, The Modcast. However, due to the large number of Modcasts in the iTunes podcast directory, we’ve decided to change our podcast name from The Modcast to The Mobcast. (You win, Erik.) Sorry about that. Please click here to resubscribe to The Mobcast (formerly, The Modcast). We’ll post a direct link to it in the iTunes store as soon as we receive that info. Stay tuned.
Update: The Mobcast is now available on iTunes. Click here to get it!