It’s Here!! – The First “In C” 50th Anniversary Celebration Event – Tax Day@Motorco

Great joy came this week with Xopher Thurston’s announcement of an evening of musical improvisation that will include the first of a series of “In C” playshops. I am calling the performances “playshops” because we will play around with the piece and all of its parts, not necessarily playing the piece in its entirety. I have ideas for approaches to the piece that will allow the musicians to look at and think about the patterns in different ways. I think of these approaches as templates.

The Quaker Meeting Template-
The musicians sit and meditate on the score until a certain pattern calls out to be played. Play as many repititions as loud or soft as seems appropriate. Play this pattern as often as feels right in the moment. This template contains lots of silence and the potential for great joy.

The Conversation Template-
The musicians choose from the amongst the patterns and make conversations with each other. This requires knowing the score a bit more intimately. It is important to keep the conversational flow, which would include silences, overlaps and some vocal tics. This template demands that more of the space be filled, that some conversational phrases be made up of multiple patterns strung together and that we engage in whatever feeling of connection we usually bring to a conversation – eye contact, laughter, turn taking for the most part. We will use the eighth note pulse to ground this template.

The Tristan Tzara Template-
Put all the phrases on large pieces of cardboard. One phrase per board. Divide the boards randomly amongst the players. If there are 7 people playing then each player would have 7 – 8 phrases. No one or everyone would have Pattern 35. The pulse would begin and everyone works in their patterns in what ever order. Very free form. It ends when it ends.

I have scheduled several attunments at my house with folks who are interested in playing. We might try some of these templates. If you are a musician, living in the Triangle area, and would like to participate in this project, please contact me and I will let you know more details.

Here is the lowdown on the whole show and some links to works by The Empty Sound:

opening the ears to thought

at Motorco Music Hall
Tuesday April 15th
show at 8pm
$ 0 (donations appreciated)

10pm Triangle Improv Music Exchange
Improvisational musicians from around the triangle have been invited to participate in this group. Featuring veterans of the MicroEast Collective, Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra and numerous adhoc groups, T.I.M.E. can also include you! Feel free to bring a sound-making device to join in or just be a part by listening. This is not an open-mic nor a “jam session” but an open group improvisation.

Everyone welcome to participate or just enjoy

9pm dejacusse
A sound artist and electronic music composer/performer who is spending 2014 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic composition, “In C” by Terry Riley. This will showcase electronic and acoustic elements of this exploration. https://judessoundlings.wordpress.com/about

8pm The Empty Sound (duo)
Improv music in the American idiom. The Empty Sound include some “traditional melodic” elements in additional to more textural sound. This is a strong incubator for incredible and reliable music!

Brother “TJ” Goode – drums, percussion, etc.
Christopher “X” Thurston – double bass,

Recording with Clotilde Rullaud, Paris France

This will be a “pass the hat” event in the Showroom.
Please alert folks whom might be interested in this!

Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble’s “In C Remixed”

During my computer hiatus, I decided to listen to other versions of “In C.” My search lead me to this marvelous 2 CD set from Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble et al released in 2009. Major newspapers in New York, Washington and Chicago named “In C Remixed” as a top ten classical music CD for 2009. The CD includes 18 remixes by David Lang, Zoe Keating, Todd Reynolds and others plus the original recording. First off, although last on the CD set, GVSU New Music Ensemble performs a highly satisfying 20 minute rendition of “In C.” Listen to this version before listening to the remixes. I just started in on the first few tracks, which were remixes. Then I listened to the GVSU ensemble’s version. The remixes resonate wonderfully against the original.

Over multiple listenings to the Ensemble’s version, I heard some interesting orchestral ideas that I just love. The choice of instruments was fantastic with strings, woodwinds, brass, mallets, piano, occasional well-placed percussion. The musicians demonstrated a powerful mastery of their instruments. There were numerous places where groups of three patterns were held for a time before moving on. Some wonderful layering of the long tones in pattern 6 and 8 with the stabs and space in Patterns 7,9 and 10. When the flute came in on the single note Pattern 15, the entire ensemble decrescendoed together. Wonderful idea to have a higher pitched or louder instrument use one of the single note pattern to signal a change. Dynamics, in general, were spectacular throughout the piece.

The GVSU New Music Ensemble made excellent use of the sustained single notes of Patterns 19 and 21. These two notes are on either side of the long tone pattern that introduces the modal shift with the F#. One of the notes is an F# and the other is a high G. These two notes are played on a low bass and a high piccolo sounding instrument. The contrast in this half step interval over an octave apart played on such contrasting timbres was a highlight moment in the recording.

The choice to play eighth notes instead of dotted quarters on Patterns 22 through 26 gave a whole different feel to a section that I think of as lulling and as a respite from the 16th note patterns that precede and follow. While the waltzy feel remained it was rather like being cocooned in a sound vortex as the group moved through these five patterns. It would be interesting to know the reason for this choice. It created some cognitive dissonance for me as I like the more gentle float of the dotted quarters. And the choice did create a powerful spinning that launched into the patterns preceding Pattern 35.

Pattern 35 was handled jauntily at first on wah-wah brass that sounded like drunks singing a line real loud over their companion’s chorus. It felt tossed out into the ring. I really loved the sound of that moment. In general, the patterns were introduced vividly and then blended into the whole with occasional echoes later. Each pattern was honored and interwoven. The pacing and energy of this version of “In C” is extraordinary.

Then there are the remixes!

Each and every one of the remixes is a gem in itself. My intention was to pick two to tell you about and that was hard to do. As a matter of a fact, I couldn’t do it. So I will tell you quickly about three of them.

Zoe Keating is the lone female remixer. And this is a comment on the genre itself as it is dominated by men. The first thing to notice in her “Zinc (after T. Riley’s ‘In C’)” is how she grabs the listener with space – wide, open space tinged with high metallic tones. Then long tones fill in and an eighth note ostinata swoops in. This grows into an “In C” style tapestry of eighth notes set against long tones. Instrumentation is various strings, mallets and piano. My favorite part is where she brings in the eighth note pulse close the end of the piece. We are so used to hearing that pulse at the beginning of “In C” that it tickled me to hear it announced later in the piece.

Todd Reynold’s remix reminds me to tell you to listen to this CD through good headphones to reap the neural benefits. WOW! I love to listen to Todd’s version. It starts off with a wonderful aural orientation to the sonic space in your head with contrasting high, roving clackity-clacks and deep booms. This bed of sound moves to the outer regions of the space and there is this large openness in the middle, then he starts parading the patterns up the middle of the space and playing with them. Finally, there is a swirl up the middle. I loved the moment of silence before the final minute of swirling voices. You will feel like your brain has been massaged if you deeply listen to this remix through good headphones.

And then there is “Counting In C” a remix by Jad Abumrad of RadioLab fame. The baby breath coos in the beginning were a little disconcerting until the gentle shush of the adult reassured me. The use of what I am calling the “this old man” pattern, fits nicely with the nursery rhyme story that evolves as the child and mother count together and separately. The remix is sweet and cool at the same time. Then the piece grows ominous in tone with counting over marching boots. I am still uncovering all the layers in this one. This is the type of story-telling soundscape I aspire to create. And I want to listen to RadioLab.

Where have I been?

Oh, yeah…In C.

Meditating with Xopher

This week the Universe said to me, “Jude, you need to get your ears out of Ableton and out into the world.” So the User Profile Service service failed at log in and my computer is in the shop. Alright, then, no playing with “In C” for a while. On to other things I want to spend time with. I am so immersed in my own sculpting of this piece that I am in danger of losing perspective by getting too close in.

So, after dropping the computer off at Intrex, rehearsing with Jody Cassell for our ADF School Target Grant Program, and shampooing the carpets, I headed over to Durham Central Park to meditate with Xopher. Christopher “Xopher” Thurston has been a great inspiration to me both musically and spiritually since we met playing with the Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra. Xopher has shown me the basics of sound reinforcement, counseled me about playing live and was, thankfully, my sound man when I first played original tunes through a sound system at The Pinhook a few years ago. In addition to being a sound engineer, Xopher is an in demand bass man and a Buddhist teacher in the Dharma Punx tradition. He has been gathering a group of us together in the leaf shelter at Durham Central Park for meditation since summer 2013.

Tonight four of us sat under the starry sky with Jupiter and the moon shining brightly above. Xopher lead us through a body scan and then we settled in and opened up to the huge space we inhabit both within and without. I enjoy meditating outside because the environment is so distracting-just like life. It is such a great practice to observe the movement of awareness from breath to perception to story to waking and back to breath. Xopher rings a bell and gives appreciation for our time and attention. We stretch and move on into our respective evenings.

Xopher tells me he cued up “In C” following a local punk show and the rapid eighth note pulse that begins the recording turned a lot of heads in the bar. We talked about how “In C” moves and breathes like an organism. I would love to do an attunement at Motorco one Sunday afternoon. X thinks that would be possible. We talk about how he goes about tuning speakers in the venues where he works and how he has met some sound engineers who can listen to speakers and tell you which frequency to adjust on a parametric equalizer, just by ear.

Then Xopher told me how he came to play bass and that he played in symphonic orchestras in college. He attended a Land Grant school in Georgia, which meant the arts departments did a lot of community outreach. One night, the orchestra had a gig in Rome, GA, pop. approximately 30,000. The orchestra would play in the local armory, which -as it turned out -had been skillfully treated acoustically. As the orchestra played, they could hear perfect sevenths and ninths popping up in the room. These harmonics were not part of anyone’s score, they were being elicited in the room itself by the composition and voices. Xopher said he knew this was possible, but this was his only experience with this phenomenon.

This story reminded me of an experience I had last year that has been shaping my ideas about my sound practice. We were in Griffith Theatre at Duke where Alexander McCall Smith was accepting the Duke LEAF award. The theatre was packed and abuzz with people chatting excitedly. A man was on stage playing the kora (a 21 string harp-lute from West Africa) to honor McCall Smith and the light he has shone on Africa. Our seats were about 3/4 of the way up sort of in the middle. I sat and listened to the wash of human voices with the kora tones floating over them. The sounds merged together in my ear body and I started humming low and slow to myself. I reached a pitch that resonated more powerfully than the other pitches I had hummed to this point. Then moving beyond that pitch, the resonance dropped. So I went back to the resonant pitch and hummed it over and over to myself. It vibrated deep into my chest and I wondered what could happen if I had amplification. This tone seemed to be the resonant frequency of this room, these people talking, and the tones of the kora all meeting together.

Since I had this experience, I have played two soundscapes in rooms full of talking people. The first performance suffered from unusual room acoustics and poor speaker placement. The second one was more successful with improved speaker placement, a rectangular room and the addition of Steve Cowle’s sax and flute. I heard myself, and I heard from others who were present, that harmonics were singing in the room. Some heard chanting, some heard sweeping high tones. Now I am interested in orchestrating this type of aural experience with greater intention.

My plan is to couple room analysis with frequency spectrums to heighten the resonance amongst “In C”, the musicians, the listeners and the room being played.

This should be fun and a challenge!

Pattern 35

Since I really want to bring “In C” to life for the readers of this blog, I am going to focus periodically on individual patterns and groups of patterns with audio samples to give you more of a sense of the tonal interplay that is going on in this work. I mentioned in a previous post that Pattern 7 is a unique pattern amongst the 53 due to the amount of space it contains. There is one other pattern that shares this attribute with Pattern 7, in addition to several signifying attributes of it’s own.

Indeed, it is Pattern 35 of “In C” that is truly a pattern unlike all the rest. It is the longest pattern at 64 pulses; twice as long as the next longest pattern. It contains both the F# and the Bb, which are the only accidentals in the entire piece. And, it introduces a movement into the C octave above middle C. Up to this point the notes in the patterns have only gone as high as the C above middle C. Now we move into that upper harmonic range and elevate the tonal center of the final patterns. Pattern 35 stretches out with lots of space. Even on the page, it stretches the entire length of the sheet of music.

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There, you can see it, the fourth staff from the bottom, Pattern 35 meandering across the page. You will notice that in addition to the Lydian Dominant mode brought in with the sharped 4th, flatted 7th, the phrase also contains the naturals of both those tones. Keith Potter, who does a deep analysis of “In C” in his book, Four Musical Minimalists, says this of Pattern 35:

“It comes as no suprise to realise that ‘In C’s’ single real melody comes not only at the point of maximum modal conflict, but also almost at the exact point of the Golden Section (module 35 being as close to two thirds of the way through the work’s fifty-three modules as it is possible to come).”

When I first began studying “In C” I calculated Pattern 35 as a signifigant line in the piece using PHI in relation to the number of patterns – 53. Interesting too that they are the same numbers reversed.

With all of these pointers leading back to Pattern 35, can we speculate on the signifigance of Pattern 35? Potter posits that it is a melody which he defines as an “extended lyrical utterance.” I like his use of the word “utterance” as this line does feel like a statement. Perhaps it functions as summary and transition statement showing us where we have been and where we are going? Perhaps it is simply a stone skipping across a pond? Or a Pied Piper leading the rest of us astray? Whatever way one might read Pattern 35 at any given moment, it stands out as an invitation to solo or accompany, to whisper or moan, to skip or drag. What is clear is- however you play this line -you want to make a statement!

It is interesting to look at the patterns that surround Pattern 35. Patterns 31,33 and 34 invert and extend the melodic content while mimicing the 16th note rhythmic pattern that launches Pattern 35. Patterns 36 through 41, all mimic the melodic and rhythmic content of that same beginning spot. So there are multiple soundings of the same four notes in 16th note loops creating the sound bed around this quirky little solo line. This sound bed is a great example of the built in accumulated lag within this piece. Those four notes are being flung hither and yon in the patterns surrounding Pattern 35. Listen closely at 6 minutes to hear some interesting harmonic artifacts creating a whole other part in the mix.

This recording begins with Patterns 31 and 32 coming in simultaneously. Pattern 32 adds a rhythmic variant that creates interest among all the other accumulating tones, so I kept that pattern fairly constant throughout the movement from one side of Pattern 35 to the other. Also I discovered that once Pattern 35 has been introduced powerfully into the mix, all other voicings of the pattern can be varied in dynamics. I liked the pattern blended in and in the background. Then I layered Pattern 35 into a 3 voice lag. I enjoyed playing around with the dynamics by bringing a pattern in strong and then fading back into the mix, which was quite effective in creating movement. While this post started out focused on an individual pattern, we end up with a look at the interplay amongst Patterns 31 through 41. This is an important grouping of patterns in the overall movement of “In C.”

While I was working through this section of the piece, I moved on into Patterns 42 and 43. Here is the point where I had to start recording:

I found the harmonics of that moment so very moving. “In C” is like musical DNA, it has all these strands and no matter how you pull them apart they find their way back together in most cohesive and interesting ways. Who knows if the beautiful song heard here will ever be created again? A certain confluence of sonic energy vibrates this moment in time and then disappears, leaving a trace, an imprint of potential future manifestation, perhaps?

I hope so!

Percussion Choir: The Rest of the Story

Ok, so last week I tantalized you with the first two sections of “In C” on mostly percussion sounds. Now I am playing with the middle section of the piece, which runs from Pattern 20 to 34. I am enjoying the variety of sounds and textures these Ableton instruments provide along with the artifacts they create. I am using artifacts to mean “extra sounds” such as the drum roll or the record scratch. All sounds are triggered at the moments designated in the written music, however, some of the sounds that are triggered carry over where some might say they should not be. I like this extra layer of active sound the artifacts lend to this piece. It feels a bit like excavating something, uncovering a hidden layer that this particular instrument in this exact moment discovered. This many-layered quality of “In C” allows it to be such a chameleon and shape-shifter. A new song emerges moment to moment in the playing.

And as I play and listen to the new song, I am making more orchestration decisions. For example, This recording starts on Pattern 21 instead of 20. I decided to do this because I like a sparse beginning for this section and 20 is a busy 8th note pattern. Also, I am paying close attention to what patterns the bass plays and when. The bass can drive the overall feel of the piece in a different direction really quickly, so I am being selective about the patterns the bass plays. Actually, this is true of all three melodic instruments-the bass, the woodwind and the vibraphone. The more I play with this group of voices, the more I am finding a balance of three strong melodic nstruments and all the big percussion sounds from the beatbox, the Irish toms, the pops and zings of Indian drums. I want to pay more attention to using these varied timbres and patterns to both create amazing moments and move the music along.

Another factor in how this recording moves through these patterns is the use of the Akai APC control surface, pictured here:

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The surface allows me to trigger multiple clips at once and to bring things forward and back in the mix easily. I am toying with the idea that I should keep my voices for “In C” to eight and create multiple ensembles to play through the piece. I would have a lot more control of the sound I am bringing when playing the piece with others. Eight voices total for each Ableton ensemble and each ensemble will bring a different sensibility to the piece. Each ensemble could target different sound spectrum frequencies.

So I stripped down the original 15 voices to a group of eight. Since the woodwinds and vibraphone melodically dominate the percussion ensemble, I removed them from this version. I was left with a lot of high shiny sounds. The grunge bass was too buzzy for this group so I switched it out for a bass guitar. This adds a bit of bottom to the sound. The tinny sound of this group of voices made me call it The Music Box Ensemble. With this name in mind, I may go back and make it more music box sounding. I will play more with this ensemble next week.

This morning I was up early and working with the percussion choir. I realized that the woodwind takes up a lot of sonic space and is difficult to blend with the other instruments. It was chosen for those reasons and now I see that simply dropping that voice out or keeping it low in the mix at times would allow the percussion voices more of an arena. This is an exciting discovery! Also, the first drum track has some loud, driving riffs where there are consecutive 16th notes. I want to use these sparsely, so I may cut some of those phrases out of that track. Again, I find myself making orchestration decisions.

Another milestone this morning – I played through the entire piece using the Percussion Choir. I moved at a pretty good clip and finished up in about 30 minutes. This was where I discovered the loud aggressive drum and the sonic overwhelm of the woodwinds. Then after brunch and a walk, I went back in the studio and played through from Pattern 20 to the end of the piece. Then I did it again and this time recorded it. I took the woodwinds out in places to let the percussive elements cut through. Before starting, I went through and eliminated some of the more obnoxious driving drum parts.

I have continued to work the voices in the Percussion Choir to create improved presence and balance. I have spent many hours reviewing and refining these voices. I wanted to make a short recording of Pattern 20 through the end of the piece-Pattern 53. I was using the Akai APC control surface, and did not realize that the frame had cut out the final pattern. Cripes! Then I started laughing cause Patterns 52 and 53 are interchangable once they get going. So, in a way, it did not matter. Plus, the recording wasn’t short! Ha!

Anyway, this recording contains a lot of wonderful moments: hypnotic grooves, suspense, shifting pulses and melodies, poly-rhythms. While this is not exactly the sound I want for the percussion choir, it is pretty close.

I feel this as a turning point in my approach to this piece. I have shifted from the idea of one big Ableton orchestra to multiple 6 to 8 voice ensembles. Each of these ensembles will bring a different sound to “In C.” Since each ensemble will be a different Ableton project set, they will not play together.

This is gonna be FUN!!!!