First “In C” Attunement – April 2, 2014

Today has been an exciting day with many energetic boosts along the way. This morning, I started researching first person accounts of the 1964 premiere of “In C.” (I would love to get my eyes on a copy of Alfred Frankenstein’s review whose famous headline, “Music Like None Other on Earth,” is oft quoted in writings about “In C.”) I did come across one first person account from Leah Garchik’s column in SF Chronicle, May, 2009:

— One last thing about “In C”: Harpsichordist Margaret Fabrizio, who used to be on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, reports that it was raining during the premiere performance of Terry Riley’s piece, and the roof of the old building leaked. “About 10 minutes into the piece, I had the distinct feeling that I was in a tropical rain forest. Seconds later, an umbrella went up. Then more, until the hall was filled with people sitting under their umbrellas. Unforgettable.”

I would think humidity would really add to the overwhelment people must have felt on that first hearing. I love this evocative recollection. And then there is the suggestion that Leah Garchik wrote more about “In C” in previous columns, so that lead needs to be followed up on.

And now, two days later, can YOU say, ‘Ask and it is given?’ I have in my possession the compete text of Alfred Frankenstein’s review of the program in which ‘In C’ premiered. I am ecstatic to this moment with this find. More on that later. Just noticing and appreciating the manifest.

Another ecstatic root of the moment is the first ‘In C’ attunement with Xopher Thurston and Susanne Romey on April 2. They were the perfect folks for this my first encounter with musicians who will play the score in real time on an instrument. This piece is a workout for musicians and instruments. Xopher and Susanne jumped right in as we played through the first seven patterns. I like to aim for Pattern 7 because it is an aural resting point and a wonderful illustration of accumulating lag in the piece. However, it is not a resting place for musicians because all the rests demand to be counted.

So we discussed how to count this pattern. In Ableton, the pattern is a loop, so I suggested that once you have counted in the first group of rests and played the 3 quick Cs, you could simply count 16 beats between interations. Xopher pointed out that counting in that way undermines the form of the phrase by placing the iterations on the one. In which case, why not just write the phrase as the three notes and 16 pulses of rest? Excellent point to ponder. Do these two different forms create two different feelings of Pattern 7, and, if so, is one more “correct” than the other?

One of the things I learned from this attunement is that we can collect questions like this and play with them. So as more players attend an attunement, we can get more voices in the conversation and use this interaction to explore them. For this reason, I have decided to schedule several attunements a month during this year. This will allow a community of musicians to engage with this experience however they want and take something from it and give something back. And all that is required is presence and openness and willingness to go where ‘In C’ takes us.

On a basic level, playing “In C” is a really fun way to practice riffs, runs, appeggios and modulations. So, if nothing else, playing this piece will sharpen all of our chops! Another thing I learned from the attunement is that I need to engage with this piece with my instrument, so I am working on vocalizing the patterns. This will help me in communicating with the instrument players and in being more sensitive to the challenges this piece presents.

Finally, do not forget April 15th @8 pm – Motorco Music Hall.

In C postcard






“In C” and Ableton Live

In the performance instructions for “In C,” Terry Riley lays out a fluid foundation to guide the players. The directions read like suggestions and gentle admonitions: “The tempo is left to the discretion of the performers. Extremely fast is discouraged.” “It is important not to hurry from pattern to pattern…” “The ensemble can be aided by the means of an eighth note pulse played on the high C’s of a piano or mallet instrument.” In addition, Riley’s instructions allow for improvised percussion, amplification and electronic instruments. The tone of the text invites and encourages (me,hee hee) us to dive into the mix and try some things on!

This work is usually played by an ensemble of musicians live in an acoustic space. When he talks about “In C”, Riley emphasizes ensemble playing and the integrity of the ensemble. His instructions encourage freedom and deep listening as the means for creating ensemble. But what does ensemble mean when the voices are a group of digital instruments in Ableton Live?

An ensemble is made up of strong, distinct individual voices that join together in a common creation. When I listen to an ensemble, I want to hear each voice AND I want to hear the “voice” of the common creation. Unlike an orchestra or chorus, the ensemble isn’t working toward a blended single voice. Especially in a piece like “In C,” the choice of voice and timbre that brings in each new phrase will shape the melodic and rhythmic movement of the work in performance. Attention must be paid to each phrase and how the entrance of each voice affects the whole of the work.

With this in mind, I spent several months auditioning voicings in Ableton. Ableton Live is an amazing digital audio workstation that allows me to call upon any instrument/sound/synth as a voice in my ensemble. Ableton Live was developed by Ableton AG, a Berlin-based music software company founded in 1999, as a platform for creating, recording AND performing music using instruments, audio and midi effects. It has gone through 9 upgrades since its inception. I have been working with Ableton Live 8 for three years creating music and soundscapes for performance and installation. (To hear samples of my work, go to Soundcloud and look for DeJacusse.) For “In C,” I knew I wanted the voices to cover the sonic spectrum from 60 hz to 18 khz. (I will explain the reason for this in a moment.) Using the spectrum analyzer (one of the many audio effects tools in the Ableton toolbox), I assessed each voice for its presence on the sonic spectrum, and listened for a pleasing blend of timbre when all the voices played an individual phrase together.

Over several months, thirteen voices emerged as the current ensemble for the piece. Two percussion voices-one a more traditional drum kit and the other a world percussion kit-will emphasize the rhythmically interesting patterns. A grunge electric bass and an ABS electric bass cover the 70 hz to 130 hz range. The grunge bass has a buzzy sustain that adds an interesting texture in the low range. Some pizzicato strings, staccato strings and a ceramic plate EP round out the voices in the percussive pool with strong attacks and weaker sustains. For the longer tones. I chose woodwinds, a jazz organ, brass, mallets, ascension choir and harpsichord. The harpsichord has a high end buzzy finish that complements the grunge electric bass low end buzz. The spectrum analyzer indicates that these voices give full coverage of the sonic spectrum. And they sound pleasing to me as I play with the overlapping patterns. The voices may change in the future, but I am happy with what I have right now.

I am paying close attention to the sonic spectrum of the voices for several reasons. Since I plan to play this piece with other musicians this year I want to be able to back out the voices in Ableton that would sonically interfere with and muddy the contributions of the live instruments. In addition, I am studying acoustics and psychoacoustics in order to explore the rich sonority that will emerge when a variety of voices in a variety of acoustic spaces play this piece.

Here is a short sampling of the voices in Ableton that I have chosen thus far. In this recording you will hear each voice individually and then hear them layered together as they play pattern 17.