Wherefore Art Thou, “In C”?

So here I am, continuing to neglect my mission of celebrating “In C”, and instead, getting caught up in what the co-creative energy of the Universe keeps tossing to me. There are other recordings of “In C” that I want to talk about here, including one by the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble which forgoes the pulse. (Yayy!) And I must confess that the 12 hour version of “In C” is no where in sight.(Might not happen, crap!) At the moment my own work is taking focus. First, I reworked the central theme from last year’s 250 Degree show with Libby Lynn. The piece is called Shadowdoubt and I wanted to submit it to a filmmaker looking for a noirish, ambient, jazz-like soundtrack. I am listed on several music distribution sites and this is the first project that has come up that I had something for.

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Shadowdoubt was a part of the soundscape created for Libby’s show of new encaustic art last November at The Carrack Gallery of Fine Art in Durham. Encaustic is done with a medium made from beeswax, so bees figured prominently in the show. Matthew Yearout, a local artist and beekeeper, created an indoor hive that was on display during the run of the show. Recordings from “inside the beehive” became a sound installation that accompanied the visuals of the hive. Bee buzzes were a prime audio source for the sonic character of the soundscape. While I was shaping the sound of bees buzzing, the sounds of torches and scraping of the wax that encaustic art entails, this moody, tense, romantic theme emerged in the middle of the whole thing. I loved it! I felt then that this piece would stand on its own, outside the soundscape.

In order to prepare the piece for submission as a soundtrack, the voicings needed to change. For Hot Wax/Shadowdoubt/Bee Synthony, the sonic character was buzzy and pinched. Electric guitars, bees and hiss predominated the mix. When performing the soundscape at the opening, this buzzy sound hovered over the conversations in the room creating what I would call “undertones” throughout the Carrack Gallery. Several people told me they heard chanting and choruses of voices during the piece. In order to become a soundtrack, Shadowdoubt needed to soften; the buzz needed to be killed. So I pulled one edgy synth voice out, replaced the guitar with vibes (smile) and took the clanging bell feature into the background. I resisted the urge to eliminate it entirely.

The trick with a soundtrack is finding a emotional congruence with what is happening on the screen AND remaining in the background. The music needs be present but not TOO present. A soundtrack is like a good supporting player; it steps up at key moments, then retires, and remains in the background always adding to the emotional throughline. After reworking the piece for several days. I got it to a place where it could work as a soundtrack.

I went to the website for the film and looked at the trailer. The film is about an unsolved fire bombing of a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973. The trailer was clips of interviews and photo montages from the scene. Survivors and friends of those who died are interviewed. The music accompanying the trailer was dramatic, fast paced runs of violins, violas. The music was competely disconnected from what was being said and felt very “Muzak” to me- background music for the sake of background music. I could hear some of the sections of Shadowdoubt bringing emotional tenor to several of interviews. Here is what I submitted:

 

Shadowdoubt may have too much presence to function as a soundtrack, but there were moments during some of the interviews that I could hear those melancholy horns swell up. If this isn’t a good fit for this particular documentary, there is another film project that I could submit to. The description of the film sounds a bit too upbeat for the flavor of Shadowdoubt, but maybe some other tune would work.

Ooops, this just in: the filmmaker found that Shadowdoubt “did not quite fit the continuity of the film.” Ah, well- we will take a look at the other one.

In addition to the film track, Jody Cassell and I created a one hour sound and movement experience for the International Day of Peace on Sunday, September 21 (the Fall Equinox) at ADF Studios. It was a lovely hour with lots of appreciations all around for the grounding and healing and peace that was generated. Jody and I will be presenting movement classes for adults, and classes for several local grade schools with a focus on health and well-being. Here is a link to more information about the adult series: (you may have to cut and paste in your browser)

http://www.americandancefestival.org/events/embracing-health-through-movement/

And, as for “In C,” I still love the piece and it is still turning 50 in November. I plan to make some forays into the community to celebrate by playing bits and parts of some of the voicings for “In C.” Perhaps that is the way to celebrate the piece — never play it in it’s entirety, only in slices and sets. I plan to play all the long tones at a gig with TJ Goode at Open Eye Cafe the end of October. I will keep you posted. I am not finished with “In C” yet!!

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!