Music and Language

This week dear friend, Terri Murphy, sent me a link to an old Radiolab podcast on Musical Language. I am a Radiolab virgin and I have been anticipating listening to a broadcast soon, so now seems a good time.

The program was chock full of interesting stuff and, of course, I LOVED the sound based format, which went very far in illuminating THIS topic. One section focused on the work of music psychologist Diana Duestch who studies the relationship between tonal languages and musical abilitites. She demonstrated an interesting phenomenon with tonality, music and language. She took a recording of her own voice talking about her work and isolated a phrase where she put a distinct tone with each syllable. When this phrase was looped, it became a song fragment. The show really emphasized the song fragment by having musicians and singers add harmonies and improvisations over and around the fragment. Then she played the recording of her talking where this phrase was used and the brain hears her burst into song at the moment of the phrase. I laughed out loud when I heard it. I am always looking for “sound jokes” and this was one. It is the shock and joy (there’s a concept) of re-cognition. She has CDs of sound illusions, which I am going to check out.

In another segment, a neuroscientist has recorded the sound of the electrical firings in the brain when we hear sound. When we hear harmonious, consonant, rhythmic sounds these firings are very steady and even. When we hear sounds that are dissonant and arrhythmic, the firings are more erratic. Now current scientific thought is that consonance and dissonance are fixed positions in the ear. Radiolab asks the question, “What if the auditory cortex is more malleable than science thinks?” Then the hosts used the premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” as an example of the possibility that people’s auditory cortex can be shaped by exposure to new musical relationships. At the Paris premiere in 1897, the audience rioted and left the theatre. A year later, the Paris audience sat enraptured. This example is fraught with cause/effect issues (a provocative ballet choreographed by Najinsky and artistic rivalries all factored into the premiere, but were not a part of the performance a year later), but the idea that the pounding, dissonant chords that drive “The Rite of Spring” contributed to the flare up is not too much of a leap for me. Especially when they talked about the neurons whose job it is to “render things pleasant” in the auditory cortex. One of the hosts even goes so far as to throw out the possibility that music/sound artists are in a tug of war with the brain. Given what we are learning about neuroplasticity, this may be the case.

There have been times when I have worked on a piece of music and cringed for a moment at some chord or passing tone that did not sound quite right to my ear. Most of the time I bring it in line with the tonal center, but, occasionally, I leave it and listen to it 5 or 6 times as I am working. If it passes this test, then I put some time between listenings. If on the next listening, it is still working in a quirky way for me, I will leave it. At these moments I feel like my auditory cortex is being redirected and reshaped to allow in some new and strange relationship. It feels expansive and I usually go for the expansiveness.

Here is a link to this very fun podcast. Enjoy !


https://judessoundlings.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/radiolab0421061.mp3

“In C” as Midi-Trigger for Bass and Percussion

Earlier this year, I said I wanted to play around with this idea of the musical text of “In C” as a midi-trigger for percussion grooves. OMG!! I did it this morning and, to my ear, it is the most interesting, organic sounding take I have had to date. This is what I am talking about with this piece of music- there is so much to be explored outside the traditional renditions of this piece. I am finding possibilities in the electronic domain that are not readily available in a traditional acoustic “live musicians” rendition of this piece.

For example, once a voice has started playing a pattern, it must be maintained for a duration, so the live acoustic rendition will be subject to the shifting entrainment of the members of the ensemble. Humans playing music together can really shift the focus and feel of any piece of music through nuances of rhythmic and melodic expression. (Reading about this right now in a great book called GROOVE a phenomenology of rhythmic nuance by Tiger C. Roholt) The live musician must play this piece with a metronomic pulse (played throughout by another musician, so not a real metronome), sync with the pulse and not get confused by the other parts coming in, AND make decisions about when to start and stop and move on to a new phrase. All of this while paying close attention to what is happening in other parts. So, there is alot of “breathing” that goes on in a live performance of “In C”. I would imagine there would be some quite chaotic moments and the making of space would be more difficult, as well.

In Ableton, the patterns are locked into the midi-clip. They never vary and always play the same. One thing I heard in the recording below that I think would be nearly impossible for live musicians- when Pattern 35 makes a brief appearance, the melodic instruments (bass and vibes) play the phrase one pulse apart. It sounds like a stagger more than an echo, it is very interesting. People can do some amazing things, and maintaining an exact one pulse stagger on this long phrase (that includes every tone and note-length in the entire piece) would be an amazing thing to witness; in Ableton, it can happen every time. I can bring parts forward and back in the mix and discover nuances that emerge from the shifting relationships amongst the voices. A good sound engineer could do a similar thing with a live performance of the work where each voice is amplified. Over the course of this year, I have played alot with tempo- I chose to slow this piece way down and let some of the languidness and playfulness shine through. The fastest tempo was around 110 pulses per minute. I found 60 ppm to be too slow – that is what we played at Motorco. The average tempo was 80 to 100 ppm. Recordings of “In C” are usually twice that tempo or more. Speed emphasizes a frenetic quality by glossing over the long tone patterns and pattern 35. Slower tempo gives more access to harmonics, space and dynamics in the piece.

I can now confess to something that I have resisted and denied for years- I am a control freak. Ableton Live allows me to control so many nuances of sound and music that I am in bliss much of the time while I work. When I collaborate with others, I do not want to be a control freak. I want my collaborations to be a more fluid give and take. If anything, I acquiesce more frequently in collaboration due to awareness of how controlling I can be. (Is that true?) It is my intention. So one of the major distinctions in my approach to “In C” is that I am the orchestrator of what you hear. And here is how I approached orchestrating this version of “In C”. I chose the voices based on two parameters- variety of timbres and frequency ranges. The percussion instruments all have very nice areas of blend and areas of complete separation in the sonic spectrum. The Special FX voice is the one that adds most of the very industrial and metallic sounds (scraping, whirring) that hang out on the outer edges of the sounding space. One of the voices is a favorite of mine, Kit-Ethno, and has been used in other soundscapes. Some of the percussion has “sour” tones like odd plate or pipe sounds, which adds a whole other melodic dynamic. I toyed with the idea of NO melodic instruments, but there was too much material lost with that approach. So the bass and vibes provide the main melody voices. None of the voices have a long sustain, so all those long tone patterns have alot of space in them. I liked this aspect very much. Also, because there are fewer melodic instruments, the entrance of the F# is not that evident. These characteristics attest to this being a percussion driven version of “In C”.

As I pointed out last week, Ableton and “In C” were made for each other. This recording reveals that in a big way. When I played out the recording I did not carefully track the beginnings and ends of phrases for each pattern as I played. Instead, I used the Akai APC 40 control surface to be able to trigger the clips quickly and in whatever order. I set up a visual pattern on the APC 40 and then triggered the clips in time to the pulse, recreating the pattern each time just moving down through all 53 patterns in each voice. I did stay within 3 – 5 patterns throughout with a few times of all playing the same pattern, but not in unison. I was trying to create an extremely short version of “In C” with these voices, but too many really cool grooves and ideas emerged for me to rush through.(You will hear what I mean if you listen.) One of the ways I orchestrated the melodic phrases was to move back and forth between them on the bass and vibes. This is not normally done in a performance of “In C”. There are a number of consecutive pairs of patterns that create a sing-song, rocking feel and I wanted to bring those out and play with them at times. I also used the back and forth between consecutive patterns to create some extra movement in the drums.

This mix of voices creates an amazing soundscape that is together and apart and has sound all over the sonic space. In spite of my quick, short version intention, it runs about 19 minutes. Please try to hang in through the first three minutes, the piece really picks up after that point. There are definitely invitations to dance!

And, here is a pretty short version played on strings and woodwinds. Thanks to Project SAMS for the gorgeous sound of these instruments. The original version was 8 minutes and, in order to come in at the length I had to cut off longer phases – not good. Pattern 35 was not even there! Just the first 9 notes which are exactly like Pattern 36 complete. So, in essence I had two Pattern 36 and no Pattern 35. It disappeared… So, I recorded a 10 minute version, which is as short as I can make it at this time (some part of me longs to hear a “Minute ‘In C'” like the “Minute Waltz.” eh- maybe) Here is a picture of the “score” of this recording in Ableton.

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I think it is fun that the trigger patterns look like compression and rarefaction – you can see where the piece opens up and breathes and where it closes in on itself. Such a beautiful energetic pattern of life- it is part of what creates the fractal.

“In C” – Long Tones Only

I was pleased to see that a group of local musicians did play “In C” at King’s in Raleigh on November 4, the actual 50th anniversary of the first performance of the piece. I did not make it out to hear it and have heard nothing further about it. The Indy Weekly was supposed to have a review, but that never materialized. I hope it was fabulous! I am disappointed that I was unable to realize the vision of playing “In C” for hours with a large community of musicians and dancers and other artists. I will continue to play around with the pieces and parts of “In C” for the remainder of the year as I think it still has much to teach me.

I am exploring the long tone patterns. The majority of the 53 patterns in the piece contain 8th note runs of varying lengths. The long tone patterns are dominated by whole and half notes, some are even dotted. A dotted whole note gets 12 pulses. Whoa! These notes take up alot of space. There is one quarter note thrown into one of the patterns, but not an 8th note in sight.

There are 8 long tone patterns total and they are parceled throughout the piece to give some breathing room and add sonic interest. Patterns 6 and 8 are the early arrivals, and Patterns 42 and 48 bring up the end. In between come two significant patterns that introduce and contextualize the shift from Ionian mode to Lydian mode with the introduction of the F# into the C tonality. (This is the sound of the tritone which was forbidden in church music due to its tense and dissonant vibration.) Two of the long tone patterns contain the F#- one is a 12 pulse sustained F# and the other is a C-B-G-F# with each note held for four pulses. Playing any of the other long tone patterns against these two patterns engenders a feeling of dread in me. The other patterns are so sweet in their “C”ness that the F# patterns sound intrusive, ominous and unwanted. The F# can create discomfort in a listener.

With this in mind then, how to arrange these long tone patterns into a satisfying interplay? The movement seems to organize itself around introducing, getting used to and then enveloping the tritone tension. (As a side note: a small group of women I met through some Coursera courses on sound and music have been chatting and sharing work on line. It was recently suggested to use the concept of tension-release as a prompt for exploration. This is feeling like an exploration of tension-release to me.) So first to establish the C modality, Patterns 6 and 8 create a simple lulling motion back and forth. For me, there is tension immediately due to the rocking back and forth on the G to F of Pattern 8. While a whole tone is pleasing as it passes, rocking back and forth on it creates some dissonance and tension. At the same time, we are hearing the C-G stabilizing fifth relationship, but even that sounds a bit off to the ear because the C is high and the G lower. Very interesting!

So the introduction of the F# will layer into and heighten an already existing tension. The manner in which the F# is introduced will dictate the quality of this next level of tension created in the piece. When the F# enters with alot of immediate presence, the startle response is triggered. I opted for an accumulation of tension by bringing the F# slowly up into the mix. At almost the same time, another layer of tension is created with the Pulse. I love the voicing of the eighth note C pulse on high strings and a quarter note pulse on the low end. It sounds very cool, and adds alot of tension due to the drive it creates. The floaty feeling of the long tones gets washed away by this incessant pulse.

Once the F# and the Pulse have fully arrived in the mix, the urge is to find some relief from this confluence of dissonance and drive. While the urge could be heightened by layering in the voices in a cacophony of pattern changes, I opted to move toward resolution pretty quickly. There are two phrases that contribute to resolving the tri-tone, the C-B-G-F# with its C root and fifth providing the beginnings of a stable path for the F#. The pattern that brings it home is Pattern 42 with its iteration of the first inversion C Major chord: E-G-C. When that Pattern makes an entrance there is just a feeling of calm and “everything will be alright” that comes into the mix. And, to be honest, even though the F# is left behind in the end, the feeling it engendered still lingers in the sonic landscape. So the tension never quite releases. Hmmmm! What do you hear?

 

A Podcast (of sorts)

So many projects right now and much work getting done. The last few weeks I have been up every morning between 4 am and 7 am working on new ideas for soundscapes. What I am hearing is very influenced by our study of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 22. A very fun piece that truly illustrates how a simple theme can be restructured in multiple relationships to itself to create a thing of beauty. The Divine WoW is leading to collaborations, collaborations falling apart, which leads to more collaborations. And the most beautiful thing is that I am inspired by these collaborations and not clinging to them. I get some impetus out of each and every one. And I continue to be endlessly available to myself in the studio.

As I was going through some files this week, I came across this recording I made of myself (there I am again!) playing a slice of “In C” in the Sun(Ra) Room. I loved this piece that begins with the dotted quarter swaying of Patterns 20 to 26 then travels up to and a bit beyond Pattern 35. The movement is from a holding back to pulled into a gallop, and then jump into the free flight of Pattern 35. I invite you to crank this up and let it carry you away as it does me every time I listen. It has the form of pleasure to my ear. As always I am very interested in what YOU are hearing.

I am calling this a podcast because I talk a little bit in the beginning.

Something About Waking Up

Going through the Jude’s Tunes file, I came upon a piece called “Awaken”. Hmmmmmm, I had just titled the first part of another piece that same thing. So I listened to it and heard immediately why it was called “Awaken” – this piece tells a story of waking up to the heart-opening joy that lies in the midst of chaos. The place of the true anarchist! So I renamed the piece, “Into Great Lightness”.

This piece exemplifies a sound painting to me. The theme is one of emergence and unfolding. The point of view is first person, which means that headphones give the full experience of the piece. The movement is out and through. The ending is not right- as is so often the case! I invite you to listen to it again with these ideas in mind. As with most painters, I am curious if others hear the story, or a variation on the theme. It amazes me that so much can be said with just 12 tones in shifting relation to each other.

I want to wake up and I want to sleep. Daily I feel less of the world, and yet more in the world than I have ever been. While oppression and injustice abound, none of it seems to hold a candle to the self-inflicted variety that most of us suffer from. I think the institutionalized oppression is the mirror for our own focus on suffering. One of the ways to shift the oppression is to focus on the day-to-day joys within this gift of lived experience. Most everything else is none of my business.

The Premiere of “In C” November 4 and 6, 1964

(Thanks for your patience while I emphasized the “My” in “My Year ‘In C'”. I am ready to refocus on the piece itself now, but will always maintain the perogative to express what is happening in my life as this year progresses.)

Two important synchronicities occurred in early 1964 that opened the door for the premiere of “In C”. First, Terry Riley returned to San Francisco from Europe where he had been living and working for several years. Second, the San Francisco Tape and Music Center decided to devote its 1964-65 season to music by local composers. (The story of the SFTMC will be the subject of a later post.) Morton Subotnik, one of the mainstays of the Center, said of this time:

…we decided that in the 64-65 season it would be time for all the local composers to do a concert of their own music. So I did a concert, Pauline (Oliveros) did a concert, Ramon (Sender) did a concert, and I knew that Terry was coming back, so I wrote to him or called him, I can’t remember, and said, “Will you be back by November?” He said, “I’ll be back in time for November” and I said, “Why don’t we do a concert of your music and you write a piece that we can all play?”

Riley returned to SF in February of 1964, recieved” “In C” in March and this became the piece that everyone would play. There were runthroughs and tryouts at various venues, including several house concerts, throughout the spring and summer of 1964. The ultimate players for the November premiere included Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Subotnik, Ramon Sender, Jon Gibson and others, 13 musicians in all. An additional performer was Tony Martin, who designed and performed a collage of movement and color during the piece. As Robert Carl points out in Terry Riley’s In C, the inclusion of Tony Martin’s visual component made the premiere of “In C” a multimedia event.

The final instrumentation for “In C” was two trumpets, sopranino recorder, clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones, accordion, two pianos (with two players each) and Wurlitzer Chamberlin organ. Ramon Sender played the Chamberlin which was housed in the upstairs studio at the Center. As it turns out, the Chamberlin is a type of analog sampler that could play prerecorded loops. Again from Robert Carl: “Reich remembers a ‘kind of roundness’ in the overall sonority, and it seems likely that the background wash of sound from the organ may have been responsible for much of that effect. It is thus important to realize that In C from its earliest incarnation had an electroacoustic component, and so was a pioneering instance of live electronic performance integrated into an ensemble of acoustic instruments.” I was very excited to read this as this is the vision I have for this 2014 celebratory version as well. I like synchronicities like that.

The official premiere happened on November 4, 1964 with a two part program. The first half included Music for The Gift, three short electronic works and a solo piano piece. The second half of the program was devoted to a 45 to 60 minute rendition of “In C.” Reich remembers that the players worked together very well:

There’s alot of listening to other people, alot of laying out when it made sense, and alot of trying to play the same pattern as someone else but to sound interesting in a canon way, and to be aware of where people were and how far ahead you were. I think it was very good ensemble, good listening ensemble.

One signifigant feature of this performance, as recollected by Pauline Oliveros, is the tempo. The first performance of “In C” moved along at around 138 pulses per minute about half as fast as the initial 1967 recording. I have found playing this piece at slower tempos creates a spaciousness that allows more changes in dynamics. Slower tempos allow and encourage the kind of deep listening Reich describes. Faster tempos result in a frenetic feeling that never lets up, especially with that pulse pounding throughout.

The audience for the premier numbered about 100 and Subotnik remembers:

The audience response was wonderful. There was a buzz…It was a kind of warm, vibrant, happy…it was like something had happened, maybe not historical, but something had happened that night that was really special. It was different than other concerts.

But it was the second performance, two nights later, that garnered the now famous review by Alfred Frankenstein with the title “Music Like None Other On Earth.” Next post I will discuss the importance of this review not only for “In C” but for minimalist/avant garde music in general.

Music and Language

This week dear friend, Terri Murphy, sent me a link to an old Radiolab podcast on Musical Language. I am a Radiolab virgin and I have been anticipating listening to a broadcast soon, so now seems a good time.

The program was chock full of interesting stuff and, of course, I LOVED the sound based format, which went very far in illuminating THIS topic. One section focused on the work of music psychologist Diana Duestch who studies the relationship between tonal languages and musical abilitites. She demonstrated an interesting phenomenon with tonality, music and language. She took a recording of her own voice talking about her work and isolated a phrase where she put a distinct tone with each syllable. When this phrase was looped, it became a song fragment. The show really emphasized the song fragment by having musicians and singers add harmonies and improvisations over and around the fragment. Then she played the recording of her talking where this phrase was used and the brain hears her burst into song at the moment of the phrase. I laughed out loud when I heard it. I am always looking for “sound jokes” and this was one. It is the shock and joy (there’s a concept) of re-cognition. She has CDs of sound illusions, which I am going to check out.

In another segment, a neuroscientist has recorded the sound of the electrical firings in the brain when we hear sound. When we hear harmonious, consonant, rhythmic sounds these firings are very steady and even. When we hear sounds that are dissonant and arrhythmic, the firings are more erratic. Now current scientific thought is that consonance and dissonance are fixed positions in the ear. Radiolab asks the question, “What if the auditory cortex is more malleable than science thinks?” Then the hosts used the premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” as an example of the possibility that people’s auditory cortex can be shaped by exposure to new musical relationships. At the Paris premiere in 1897, the audience rioted and left the theatre. A year later, the Paris audience sat enraptured. This example is fraught with cause/effect issues (a provocative ballet choreographed by Najinsky and artistic rivalries all factored into the premiere, but were not a part of the performance a year later), but the idea that the pounding, dissonant chords that drive “The Rite of Spring” contributed to the flare up is not too much of a leap for me. Especially when they talked about the neurons whose job it is to “render things pleasant” in the auditory cortex. One of the hosts even goes so far as to throw out the possibility that music/sound artists are in a tug of war with the brain. Given what we are learning about neuroplasticity, this may be the case.

There have been times when I have worked on a piece of music and cringed for a moment at some chord or passing tone that did not sound quite right to my ear. Most of the time I bring it in line with the tonal center, but, occasionally, I leave it and listen to it 5 or 6 times as I am working. If it passes this test, then I put some time between listenings. If on the next listening, it is still working in a quirky way for me, I will leave it. At these moments I feel like my auditory cortex is being redirected and reshaped to allow in some new and strange relationship. It feels expansive and I usually go for the expansiveness.

Here is a link to this very fun podcast. Enjoy !