Phrygia (Hera’s Saga): A new soundscape by the idiosyncratic beats of dejacusse

My dream is to co-create musical soundscapes for dance, theatre, yoga classes and art galleries. I am living this dream as I speak it. Since retiring, I have had the opportunity to create soundscapes for dance and art galleries. My next art gallery soundscape will be performed on August 15th at The Makery in conjunction with photographer Allie Mullin’s show Svadhyaya: Discovering Self Through Asana. I feel very connected to this idea as I have experienced shifts in my physical/emotional/spiritual body from doing yoga asanas.

I began the soundscape as I usually do by ear searching through the Ableton library for some basic sounds for the current project. Percussion and plucked strings came to the forefront, and I began laying down ideas. Several ambient synths made their way in to fill out the opening sonic pallette. Then tempo became a powerful consideration. I began with a languid, trance-like rhythm, perfect for the grounded still place from which asanas are approached. Now there was a need to energetically engage. The beginning tempo was 120 bpm, so I played around with increasing tempos and layering in more parts. For the grooves, I focused on a broad drum kit that contained pretty much every percussion hit one could ask for from samba whistles to four different floor toms to cymbals of various diameters and tonal qualities. Then I added a drum rack that was as small as the first one was large, containing maracas, cymbals, tamborines and agogo bells. These two racks allowed me to work out some lovely groove varieties that can be pulled in at whatever tempo at any given moment.

I got stuck mid-week- caught up in melodic figures feeling too facile, not enough depth for my ear. I am working in E Phrygian mode which makes E the tonic of the primary scale for the piece. In terms of chakra tones the E is related to the heart chakra, which feels very fitting given the theme of Allie’s exhibit. While E Phrygian is a natural minor mode, it can be shifted to a dominant mode by raising the third degree of the scale. So I played around with that for a while. Ableton allows me to play parts into a clip using a midi keyboard or I can insert a clip and draw in the notes where I want them. I can move notes around, change the grid to accommodate note lengths up to 1/32nd. I can adjust rhythmic relationships and even build in a “live” feel by adjusting quantize settings to less than 100%. I once told a friend that Ableton allows me to manipulate the molecules of music!

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Here is a screenshot of my Ableton template so far. The columns on the left are tracks that contain clips. Each track houses a particular instrument voice. Each clip is a phrase that can loop or play once or repeat two, three, however many times I choose. I can set the loop to play for a certain number of measures and then trigger a new behavior. The column on the right is the Master fader and trigger for each scene. The lines across are referred to as “scenes” which are full of melodic/rhythmic statements. The entire piece is divided into 5 sections that get increasingly faster with more complex layers. Sorry the picture isn’t clearer, but it gives you an idea of what I am talking about with using Ableton.

“In C” is influencing my approach to the work as I develop patterns that can be played in unison, or overlapped in counterpoint and still have sonic integrity. This is where things get fun. The melodic instruments I am using are a plucked samisen (a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument), a bass, something called New Age Strings, and, of course, vibes. I LOVE the sound of vibes and I doubt I will ever create a piece without them. I frequently end up crafting a long, conversational melodic line with them; no hook, just a stream of conciousness flow of intervals. I will someday challenge myself to solo for as many measures as I can. For now, the final scene, at 300 bpm, will be the space for the vibe conversation. It will be my Pattern 35.

I am spending this second week of work finding the organizational flow for performing the soundscape. How will I move from one scene to the next? How do the clips overlap rhythmically and sonically as the tempo rises? Today I color coded clips by scene and instrument type. I named some of the rhythmic clips so I would have an idea of the feel of each one. Some of the big drum kit grooves may need some tweaking. I am thinking about moving forward and then backward through the scenes. I want to add in some acoustic sounds like vocalized Sanskrit words and some rattles and bells.

This afternoon I played the piece forward through four tempo changes and then back three. I am really happy with the way the clips all hang together through all the tempo changes. I have some momentary off the beat grooves on high bells that really give a kick at the right moments. The piece ran 37 minutes- I was laughing with Trudie that my soundscapes always seem to come in at about a half hour- the length of my attention span! (Not bad) Anyway, I listened to the whole thing again and got this idea to take a half a dozen hand percussion instruments and invite the folks at the party to “talk” to the soundscape. Anyone who wants can carry one around and just talk back when they notice something in the sound as it unfolds. I think this would be cool.

Here is a sampling of the opening as it is at the moment:

So now I have a satisfactory backup recording to load onto the Ipad- I always like to be ready in case my main computer malfunctions. (Jody Cassell has ingrained in me the need for having backups. It is a smart practice.) And I am feeling very good about this piece being able to extend over a long period of time. The first section ran 8 minutes and it could easily go 20 maybe 30 minutes. The fastest section is short and then I start moving backward through the piece bringing the tempo down. I discovered (for myself; you probably knew this already) that raising the tempo abruptly works most of the time, but lowering it abruptly, not so much. So I will map the tempo adjustment to a knob on my interface so that I can turn it down slowly. This will also allow for a lengthening of the piece.

The name came to me as I sat drinking a spicy tea which warmed me into a lucid dream state. “Hera’s Saga” is an anagram of a special name for someone with whom I have a deep heart connection. Plus Hera was the Goddess of Marriage (particularly fitting in this case) and the reigning female deity of Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek Gods and Goddesses. Sagas are, of course, stories. “Phrygia” refers to the E Phrygian modality the piece is rooted in. I was looking for a Sanskrit name, but this one seems right and good to me. Reminds me of younger days when I thought I had finally found my religion in Wiccan/Goddess Spirituality. So powerful to move from a lifetime of God as old white guy to the vast, suppressed history of female deities.

Isis, Astarte, Diane, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna. One of my first chants.

I digress. If you live anywhere near Durham, NC and are up for seeing some wonderful photos and hearing some awesome grooves, please do come!

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Chinese Orchestras, Chamber Ensembles and Rock Bands, Oh My!

Over the course of the last 50 years, “In C” has been given voice by a group of what might be termed “strange bedfellows,” from the Shanghai Film Orchestra to a chamber ensemble of voices and marimbas to The Styrenes, a 1980s punk/prog rock band. So this week, I am listening, and having fun.

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Here is The Styrene’s version of “In C” that was (according to the liner notes) decades in the making. “In C” was always on Styrene’s founder Paul Marotta’s radar, “From the first time I heard it, I imagined “In C” as played by a rock band.” Marotta pays wonderful tribute to the piece in stating: “On any musician who came of age in the mid-sixties, Terry Riley’s “In C” exerts an immense influence.” The Styrenes version begins with a low C bass thump playing along with the familiar high C eighth note pulse, suggesting some funkiness ahead. And it doesn’t take 30 seconds for the drums to come in. This is a rock band after all. However, these drums are not about backbeat, the rhythms are all from the score and the drummer plays through each and every pattern from the first to the last.

In the liner notes Paul Marotta states that he “knew right away” that he wanted to use a mallet instrument, and he wanted to keep the sound as “rock as possible.” To this end, he loaded up on guitar players – four to be precise. I was impressed with the guitar playing on the recording, as they all maintained an ensemble feel for the most part. Recorded in 2000, multi-track overdubbing allowed for an incredible wave of sound from ALL the instruments, and the guitars drive it beautifully.

The modulation around the introduction of F# into the piece is really breathtakingly orchestrated. The Pattern 14 long tone phrase, which initially asserts the F# into the mix, swells and rolls in a time lag loop. Then that F# tone is overcome by the driving rhythmic movement of Patterns 15 through 19, which are dominated by 32nd notes in short runs or solitary notes. Even as this drowning out of Pattern 14 is occuring, a lone voice continues to toss Pattern 14 out in the background. Then the lovely Patterns 22 – 26, with their dotted quarter notes driving the pulse, rescue the F# by swirling it upward in a supportive tonal framework- WOW! It is a like redemptive journey for the F# tone. Another example of the stories that unfold in each moment when deeply listening to this piece of music.

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Paul Hiller orchestrated “In C” for mallets and voices in this 2005 Ars Nova recording. This is Ars Nova Copenhagen, a vocal ensemble and the Percurama Percussion Ensemble as directed by Hiller. Hearing “In C” through human voice is like a whirling dervish of sound. The CD cover visually replicates the wave of energy that is stirred up in the listening. This is what “In C” makes happen! I am using this CD to help me vocalize with the piece, which I intend to do next time we play! I am very excited to feel these tones rushing through me. Another thing adding to the feeling of “evoking other realms” that this recording elicits is that Terry Riley provided the singers with some sacred syllables to sing. So this recording really represents a whole other vibrational level beyond any other recordings to date. Remember that Terry is opening up a vortex for us. At the very least, this a chakra stirrer for sure! And it is stirring up more, I feel. I have not been this high in years!!!!!

(Focus, Jude! End blog post soon.) But first, I must say that I appreciate Robert Carl’s presence on this path. His book, Terry Riley’s In C, has been a wonderful companion to dialogue with about this incredible sound generating forever morphing work of sonic art. His writings are insightful and always give me much to think about.

And I hope to bring more recordings to your attention in the future. Like that Shanghai Film Orchestra – I really want to hear them!

But, till then, check out the second half of The Acid Mothers Temple version of “In C.”

 

 

Foible’s Fables Part 1 – Pattern 35

I love the word “foibles.” I have spent alot of time excavating and sitting with my own foibles. This is work made difficult by the thinking mind. Take for example, Pattern 35. I have already written about this pattern as it is so unusual in the great scheme of “In C.” And now a mystery has arisen around Pattern 35. Here’s what happened.

Last week I was reading Robert Carl’s extensive analysis of the text of “In C,” when I was brought to a halt by a table labeled “Duration of Modules.” The durations were quarter note values and Pattern 35 was listed as 30 beats in length, which would be 60 eighth note pulses. Wait a minute! I have been counting this pattern as 64 pulses in all that I have been doing. I looked at my score and counted through the phrase several times always coming up with 64 pulses. Robert Carl’s book Terry Riley’s In C contains a score as well. In comparison, the scores are different on Pattern 35. My score ends the pattern on a dotted whole note and Mr. Carl’s score has no such dot! That would account for exactly 4 pulses.

Well, my first thought was “which one is right?” But then I was gently reminded that I don’t live in the righteous world anymore, so THAT is not the question I want to ask. There! — I countered my first foible of the thinking mind. The extreme limitation of righteous thought creates complexity and “issues” out of rigid beliefs. For me, righteousness is much ado about nada. So let’s move on to the more interesting question- “what impact does the presence or absence of these four pulses in this pattern have on the larger work?”

Carl points out that Riley’s attention to the progression of rhythmic and harmonic content reveal a strong compositional sensibility, which may give guidance as to how to analyze this situation. My first thought is to look at the pattern durations that surround Pattern 35 to see if they sync better with 64 or 60 pulses. The four patterns before Pattern 35 are 3 pulses, 12 pulses, 2 pulses and 1 pulse in duration. The four patterns following are 3 pulses, 1 pulse, 1.5 pulses and 3 pulses in duration.

I am looking for a mathematical relationship amongst these durations that might suggest a more stable meshing of the parts when performed. I feel that Pattern 38 (1.5 pulses) is a subdominant rhythmic figure to Pattern 39 (3 pulses.) So, if Pattern 39 is synced, Pattern 38 will follow. Now we will take the remaining phrase lengths – 1, 2, 3, 12 – and see if a divisibility factor relationship exists amongst these patterns AND with 60 and 64. All factors are divisible by the lowest denominator 1. Next comes 2. While 2 doesn’t divide evenly into 3, the 6 feel that comes from looping the 3 IS divisible by 2, as are 12, 60 and 64. The next denominator – 3 – may shed some light here. Three will divide evenly into 12 and 60, but not 64. The divisibility factor relationship favors 60 pulses as a length for Pattern 35. This suggests that a 60 pulse Pattern 35 might ride a touch more steadily amongst the surrounding patterns.

Another compositional factor is the feel of movements of eight, which is the usual framework for the improvising musician. Phrase lengths run 8, 16, 24 on up to… 64. So a 64 pulse would make it easier for live musicians to get a feel for the movement of this longer line. Carl points out that Pattern 35 “combines almost every different rhythmic duration of the whole piece into a single melodic gesture.” So get this pattern down and you have a feel for all the others. A 64 pulse phrase would likely be easier for muscians to internalize and play against then a 60 pulse phrase.

So there is some reason to choose each of these durational increments. I decided to go to the source- Mr. Riley himself. I have had a few email correspondences with him during the course of this project, and he has always replied, which he did saying he favored the 64 pulse version. He mentioned that there are many hand notated copies around that contain “errors” or, as I like to call them, deviations from the score that Mr. Riley intended. It is to his credit that he allows this looser structure and holds more lightly the notated score.

As for myself, since I am experimenting with this piece, I will try both phrase lengths.

Oxford University Studies in Musical Genesis, Structure and Interpretation : Terry Riley’s In C

Several weeks ago, I discovered that “In C” was included in this Oxford University Series with a 2009 study done by Robert Carl. “Terry Riley’s In C” is the ninth book in this series. Past volumes were dedicated to “rigorous sketch studies” of individual works by Donizetti, Beethoven, Wagner and Debussy. In the Series Editor’s Foreword, Malcolm Gillies asserts that the inclusion of “In C” as a masterwork broadens the concept of “musical genesis” in signifigant ways. In C is recognized as a “masterwork” not so much for what it is as “what it causes to happen.”

Robert Carl proceeds to illuminate this idea through interviews with the composer and all the major figures from the San Francisco Tape Center, analyses of both the text of the score and recorded performances, and extensive archival research. He demonstrates that “In C”‘s West Coast roots, it’s non-Western musical tone and structured improvisational format – all of these elements give substance to it’s originality and importance. They illustrate why “In C”, as Gillies puts it: “now holds a crucial place in the legacy of twentieth-century music”

The book is a wonderful resource. It includes a whole chapter on the Premiere of the work and interviews with many of the musicians and composers who were part of the whole San Francisco Tape Center scene. Robert Carl has a deep appreciation of the piece, which makes reading the book a delight. I was particularly struck with his take on the way “In C” in performance creates a sense of community and democracy:

In C proposes a delicate balance between the individual and the group… Each musician must decide how many times to repeat, when to move to the next module, when to stop and when to return, what dynamic and registration are most fitting to the material played at every moment, when to join in unison with larger groups and when to stand outside the group…each entity retains its separate character and autonomy, a great tribute to American ideals of individualism and democracy.
But In C is very much a product of community…a musical ecology, where a network of relations brings forth a continually evolving aesthetic product that has its own genetic blueprint but can never be predicted exactly.

This describes perfectly much of what I love about In C as a piece of music with endless possibilities. There is much more that I will share from this book in future posts.

opening the ears to thought – April 15, 2014

The April 15th show at Motorco Music Hall was vibrant, interesting and witnessed by a small and attentive audience. I am so appreciative of Xopher Thurston for his playing and the sweet fidelity he brought to the space with his sound engineering. This fledgling outing for -the idiosyncratic beats of dejacusse celebrates “In C”- was just as I had hoped it would be. Xopher Thurston, Susanne Romey and Chris Eubank did the heavy lifting of playing the piece in the moment. They were fantastic! Susanne made the decision to play the recorder on the first set of patterns and the toy piano on the second set, which was brilliant as a new voice in the second set of patterns added interest. Chris really drove the first set by staying with the two sixteenth notes in Pattern 10. Then we all settled into a rather mournful staggering of the long tones in Pattern 14. The second slice was Pattern 48 to the end (53). This got going with such driving polyrythmns that I felt the underpinning of an African dance. A djembe solo would have been really nice there! Here is a short audio clip of a moment from each section we played:

I was very happy with this first big acoustic space outing of slices of “In C”. Plus we were sandwiched in between The Empty Sound (Xopher Thurston – Bass, Percussion and TJ Goode – Drums, Percussion) and about a dozen musicians free improvising as Triangle Improvisational Music Exchange or T.I.M.E. The Empty Sound were phenomenal as they embodied groove and free form with whimsy and solid musicianship. I loved their set. Listening to the recording of T.I.M.E. results in more kudos for Xopher as he really shaped the improv through his mixing. Mixing as an improvisational art form is where he is at!!

In addition to all of this – we have a great video of the whole thing filmed by Bill Romey who was all over the place getting interesting angles. He got the vibe of the evening!

I did walk around Motorco before the show and do some spectrum analysis. I was not able to make much of it and evidently the analyzer needs web access. Who knew? So not much to report on that front. I am studying the recordings made with the Zoom H2n which was placed on a mic stand on the lowest side step of the bleachers on the right by the hall to the bathrooms. The low cut filter was enabled and auto gain on concert. A spectrum analysis of the recordings may yield interesting information.

As Xopher said, “A good time was had by all!”

And a special thanks to Terri Murphy, Eleanor Mills, Jody Cassell and Jim Kellough for listening and giving feedback. Appreciations!

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!

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!