+ Karl Fousek - Grid Music [six.b]
Grid Music is a project that began with a submission to the nineteenth Disquiet Junto – a weekly communal music project calling for works in response to a defined brief – in this case, to read a photograph as a graphic score.
I had just built a small, twenty-note punch- card music box, and decided to devise a method for using the photograph as its input. The process was to trace some prominent lines in the photograph, interpret those lines as points on graph paper, and use those points to punch the card. The photo was reproduced as a melody. I played the music box through a filter pedal and the el capistan tape echo pedal for looping, sending that in turn through a granular delay and some crude buffer plugins that I had built in SonicBirth. I titled this initial track Grid Music after the grids involved in the process, but also because it seemed to speak, on a conceptual level, to the presence of “grids” in electronic music production, and even more generally in music itself.
Later, after Disquiet editor Marc Weidenbaum pointed out that the punch-card music box is itself computer technology (“the sort of thing computers of yore would read for their rudimentary data”), I decided to revise the system to a strict duet between music box and computer. Partially inspired by Keith Fullerton Whitman’s “Playthroughs” system, I added a component that generates sine waves based on live audio input, allowing the computer to play along to the music. Filtering and looping duties were also moved to the digital realm and my buffer plugins were updated to a more sophisticated set of effects.
Meanwhile, I had been collecting photographs of skylines and rooftops in Montreal: I had been drawn to the residential architecture (especially the cornices) since moving to the city. Many of these photos prominently feature power lines and seemed a perfect fit as visual inputs for the entire system: extending the connotations of “grid” beyond electronic music to the even more basic grids of cities and electrical flow.
Each track is recorded and processed in real- time. No overdubbing or tracking is done. In keeping with the mechanical and automatic nature of the project, tracks are given names that indicate their iteration.
Karl Fousek is a sound artist and electro-acoustic musician based in Montreal. He likes toy instruments, small sounds, sine waves, and loops that don’t repeat themselves.
Grid Music [disquiet0019-rojiura] was initially submitted to Disquiet Junto (soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto), a weekly communal music project.
Marc Weidenbaum’s review of Fousek’s Abacus can be found at disquiet.com/2012/07/18/analogue01-abacus/
+ Peter John - Sonata for Cello and Piano - I. A fifth
…as in a descending fifth or a fifth of bourbon. Equally potent forms of inspiration, this piece came to me from a combination of both.
I’d never heard of an antique player piano before I met Marc Goodman, an antique store owner and mutual friend of pianist Zsolt Bognár. We would go to his house and eat and drink, Zsolt and I inevitably ending up playing on the two pianos, reading duets and improvising and Marc would play us old piano rolls, like Horowitz’s Danse Macabre. On an antique player piano the “pianolist” controls pedaling, balance of both hands with the ability to dampen parts of the piano, the tempo and more – it’s really an active form of listening to a recording. But it doesn’t feel like a recording, it feels like a seance. What is striking is the absence of a person pressing the keys, yet there they strike with the exact pressure and velocity which the pianist recorded it. The feeling is surreal and ghastly;there is a sense of an immaterial presence in the room. It’s as if Horowitz’s fingers are reaching out from the grave to give one last encore.
While going through these rolls we came across a recording of a 20’s era piece called Thorn Torn Lips. The melody was almost ridiculous, yet marvelous all the same, a tango rhythm with a soaring theme. Many of these rolls have pictures and stories that go by as you play; this was about dancing a tango with a “Senorita” whose lips were stained red from dancing with a thorny rose. Hysterical. I had him play it for me and then I figured it out on the other piano, sometimes playing it for Zsolt as a kind of joke. Its lushness was really wonderful and I became really attached to this melody and the feelings I had connected with it, so I decided to use it in the first movement of the Cello Sonata (heard at 2:50). It is drowned and then taken over by the fifth motive, and returns in a new key at the end of the piece. In the context of my piece this theme has a really surreal and ghastly presence, seeming to reflect being drunk and playing the piano; visions that aren’t perfectly formed but are blurry and out of focus, a lush melody drowned by a fifth.
Peter John is a composer and pianist from Indianapolis, IN, playing most recently Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 with the National Orchestra of Belarus. As a producer, he has created the TAB artist concert series, bringing internationally recognised artists to perform in the Indianapolis area.
The featured recording was performed by Peter John (piano) and Cicely Parnas (cello).
+ Eugene A. Kim - zum schluss; in der frühe
wird die Sonne…
…still und langsam
auf uns sinkt…
…quietly and slowly
falls to us…
Eugene A. Kim is a Masters student at the Royal Conservatoire of the Hague. As a composer and proponent of contemporary literature, Eugene is constantly eager to share and disseminate new music.
+ Neil Luck - Ground Techniques
Ground Techniques was primarily an attempt to document a type of compositional strategy that I’ve been exploring for a little while. I was interested in directly exploiting the inherent physicality of performance practice, either through asking the players to follow physical (as opposed to musical) trajectories during a piece of music, or more prominently here, using my own body as a kind of ‘score’.
Most of the small units, or modules, in Ground Techniques take as their starting point a physical process that I put my own body though. This might be a completely pre- recorded event, or alternatively a direct interaction with live players. There aren’t really any fixed scores for the pieces; all were devised as systems. Most of the players involved were improvisers in some sense, and the pieces were all conceived for those particular players in mind.
The units were written over a long period, and some were devised on the days of recording. They all rely quite heavily on improvisation, so the musicians also had a lot of creative input. The performers were mainly drawn from the ensemble/company that I’m founder and director of, ARCO, as well as some key contributions from the singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan, and the Oxford Improvisers.
The whole recording is, more or less, in 13 sections:
1. Recordings of six consecutive held breaths are overlaid. Players listen on Dictaphones, imitating the guttural plosives. Final breath intakes also mimicked.
2. Ensemble improvise, I mask the recording mic with my torso as much as possible.
3. I deep-throat a microphone increasingly rapidly, with a singer/guitarist restarting a fixed chord sequence at every retake.
4. A pianist performs a Chopin etude; I introduce my feet under his hands half way though.
5. I attempt to imitate Japanese tongue-twisters on 3 Dictaphones. Players listen over headphones and interject where I stumble.
6. I have a mic taped to my leg. Two people wrestle me towards an amplifier which feedbacks more and more as I approach. Guitarist and Drummer simply follow the dynamic contour.
7. I connect a tube and mouthpiece to a trombone. I’m singing Dem Bones through the mouthpiece whilst the trombonist plays ascending and descending scales on the same instrument.
8. A series of body noises imitated by an ensemble - kissing, urinating, belching, sneezing, breathing out.
9. I hit record on 6 Dictaphones, and scattered them around my living room. I then blindfolded myself and attempted to find them, and shut them off as quickly as possible. Players listened over headphones and imitated/responded to any sounds.
10. Players improvise whilst I mask recording mic with my mouth.
11. Singer cycles though the melody of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles. I drink Coca-Cola as quickly as possible and belch accordingly. Dynamic of belching informs the singer’s ‘presence’.
12. Cracking knuckles are imitated.
13. This piece begins at end of 11. Drummer gradually accelerates. I try and keep pace with push-ups, counting as I go. The rest of the ensemble imitates either breath patterns, or guttural sounds. The sound at the beginning is me, taping a mic into my mouth.
Neil Luck is a composer and performer based in London. His compositional practice focuses on various approaches to non-standard notations, in particular those which implicate either the composer’s own body/movement in construction, or directly engage with the physiology of performance techniques themselves.
He is the founder of the experimental string ensemble ARCO, and is a co-founder of Squib-box, an artist led cooperative dedicated to the production, recording and dissemination of contemporary avant-garde music.
The Ground Techniques EP is available as a free download from Squib-box - squib-box.com/free/squib-treats/ground-techniques
Performers from ARCO and beyond:
Neil Luck (body sounds), Adam de la Cour (guitar), Ben McDaid Wren (drums), Fiona Bevan (vocals, guitar), Greta Pistaceci (theremin), Lawrence Tatnall (trombone), Matthew Lee Knowles (piano), Richard Thomas (cello, office furniture)
from the Oxford Improvisors:
Bob Nichol (tenor sax), Chris Brown (guitar), Chris Hills (percussion), David Stent (guitar), Dominic Lash (double bass), Jill Eliot (viola), Julian Faultless (horn), Martin Hackett (melodicas), Trisha Elphinstone (soprano sax)
Ground Techniques was engineered by Oli Whitworth (Boog Studios) and Richard Thomas, and edited and mixed by Neil Luck
+ Rúaidhrí Mannion - Pearly
The original inspiration for Pearly came upon my revisiting of the German artist Anselm Kiefer’s lead sculptures involving books, particularly Buch mit Flügeln (Book with Wings, 1992-94). The apparent earthly weight of this gargantuan sculpture seems to contradict the divine messages of the artist’s book:
“…it ponders a civilization in search of spirituality but grappling with the weight of its human condition, beyond cultures and religions […] is uplifting with its wings, yet earthbound with its thousands of kilograms of weight.”
The duality of these ideas filled my mind with thoughts of transmitting heavenly messages across earthly planes and formed the core structure for this new work.
Similarly to Debussy’s Et la Lune Descend sur le Temple qui Fut (which was also programmed on the night of the piece’s premiere), I sought to deliver the listener to a serene and unhurried landscape where musical objects are dispersed across the piano’s register like different characters.
Flashes of light and ‘morse code’ transmit an unchanging message between the piano and electronics, gently pulsing harmonies evolve but frequently usher in silence. In the final section both piano and electronics crescendo to reach a stentorian F# major chord that closes the work like the toll of an enormous bell, evocative of the earthly materials used in Kiefer’s original sculpture.
Rúaidhrí Mannion is a composer based in London. His music is published by The Contemporary Music Centre Ireland
Pearly is dedicated to Frances ‘Pearlie’ Mannion (b.1918 d.2012). The piece was premiered on the 26th of March 2012 by Joseph Houston at St James, Piccadilly.
+ Lvis Mejía - Æon Artifex
Instances normally need some explanation, a vague legitimation in its worst case.
Notwithstanding in many cases they stand on their own.
Lvis Mejía is a contemporary musician and intermedia artist, based between Boston, USA and Hamburg, Germany
Æon Artifex will feature on his forthcoming LP, AformA, published by CMMAS
Artwork by Christian Camacho
+ Kelly Moran - Tensile Conflux
A lot of my compositional process is rooted in improvisation, wherein I give up deliberate and conscious control of the musical decisions I make. This is how most of my pieces begin, as it frees me from having expectations for how events will transpire. I usually never chart out the structures of my pieces in advance, instead working on them gradually, letting the ideas eventually dictate the form to me as they evolve. I find that automatism allows me to get away from a lot of the tendencies that have become embedded in me from my musical training, and using electronics to manipulate my recorded improvised material helps me discover further possibilities for what I’ve created. I end up, often accidentally, finding connections between ideas much more fluidly when I work this way.
Tensile Conflux is a track off my debut album Microcosms. I can surmise my intentions with this record best by simply saying that a lot of my compositions feel like fantasies to me since most of my pieces represent sonic events that can’t happen (sequentially) in real life. Whether I’m recording myself improvising using a granular synthesis patch in Max/MSP to acoustically manipulate the timbre of an instrument, or splicing together improvisations to make a new musical thought, they are ideas that can’t be re-created faithfully in real-time.
To me, Microcosms seemed like a natural album title because each composition represents a completely unique sound world, apart from the rest of the pieces. Each track maintains timbral individuality by utilising different instrumentation and electronic processing. Only one track, Intermolecular Forces, for solo piano is completely acoustic. For Tensile Conflux, the process began at what is now the end of the piece. I created the chord progression in the last section of the work when I was improvising by myself on keyboard and immediately envisioned a really simple cello melody on top of it. I had a recording session with my friend, cellist Jake Saunders, in which I directed him playing different melodies over the progression and improvising off of them. Instead of trying to piece together the melody over the keyboard progression, I sifted through the cello recordings, improvising on them in real-time using a granular synthesis patch in the audio programming environment Max/MSP.
In addition to the long, sustained notes that begin the piece, the cello loop that fades in around 2:00 is a result of this recorded granular synthesis improvisation. I used the loop to drive the piece from its tense, ambient, and relatively sparse beginning towards a more climactic, melodically-oriented middle second that adds multiple keyboards and a sampled, processed vibraphone on top of the layered cello recordings. The ‘conflux’ part of the title comes from this section, where all of the different instruments finally converge and explode after a tense introduction that has been building gradually. Most of the keyboard melodies that emerge during the ‘conflux’ were born out of improvisations I did over the cello loop, and the progression I created under it. The improvisatory nature of the keyboard lines fits my compositional intent for the section because they’re meant to sound like a release from how anxious and strained the first part of the piece feels.
The conclusion to the climactic middle part gives way to the last section, a calm and repetitive keyboard progression which came first in the compositional process. I’m using a digital audio plugin by Destroy FX called Buffer Override that interrupts the audio signal to give the keyboard sound this bubbly stutter effect. Eventually, the Buffer Override also gets added to the viola melody (played by Joshua Holcomb) on top of the progression so that both instruments are using it, but each to a much different effect. The viola sounds pretty chopped up, almost as if there’s a high-speed tremolo on it, but the keyboard sounds much more smooth and continuous. The process for crafting the viola melody was similar to how I originally tried to create the cello melody: I gave feedback and a general outline to the performer about the direction of the melodic line, and allowed them to choose notes which I later re-organized and pieced together in the audio editing process.
Kelly Moran is a composer, performer, and sound designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Microcosms is available to stream and download for free at kellymoran.bandcamp.com/album/microcosms
+ Kumiko Omura - Sea Cloud II
During long flights, I enjoy looking out of the window. You can see so many clouds, always changing form and colour.
The idea for this piece came to me on one trip. I remembered an interview with a mountain climber who climbed Mount Fuji (the highest mountain in Japan): “…after I climbed through many clouds, I finally reached the top of the mountain, and I didn’t see clouds any more, and there was only one bright sky.”
When we see the sky from the ground, the view is always different depending on the weather, but essentially, the sky itself is a universal being. This piece has various processes, with more and more light appearing, and the music ends in full bright light, which expresses the universal world.
The chords in the last part are coming from the japanese instrument of Gagaku Music, a Sho (a mouth organ), which I personally see as a symbol of light.
Kumiko Omura is a Japanese composer of contemporary music.
She worked as a resident artist between 2006 and 2010 at ZKM (Centre for Art and Media) in Karlsruhe, Germany, where her portrait concert took place in 2009.
She has won the Irino Prize (1994, Japan), the Gaudeamus International Composers Award (1998, Holland), the young artist prize at the Nordrhein-Westfalen (2000, Germany), and most recently the Giga-Hertz Award 2012 Encouragement Prize from the SWR Experimetalstudio and ZKM in Germany.
+ Gustav Rye - study 1
When I set out to write, I was smaller. I was shorter, and I knew less. I knew less about painting, and I knew less about fighting. I couldn’t cook a dead bird on a spit. Now I splay them out with my knuckles: now I pound them into the coals until I’m red: more raw than the meat I’m mincing into notes every minute I’m carving the page with my hard-lead pencil. When I set out to write, it was easier.
And then I was writing. And the words flowed easy into notes. The page - my page? - whose purpose was to be written on - was written on. Tails - eyes and flags - forget them, and listen to me. I didn’t mean to hurt them, it was just a game. I don’t see how he could have misunderstood that. He got the wrong idea, he didn’t need to actually take it from the kitchen. He could have left it there; he could have. Nobody would have known, and we could have kept on playing too. You’ll see! And you’ll be writing too. You were!
I had been writing, when you walked in. Press play. Press play and shut up for a second, will you? It won’t work like you think it will, but it will work. It will, like it always has.
When I set out to write, that’s what I had in my head. And before I knew it, I had said too much. This time I stopped in time. I have said. That’s enough.
+ John Strieder - fractured 4 for Violincello Solo
fractured is a series of four pieces for solo violoncello. All four pieces use the same scordatura: the C-String is tuned down to B, the G-String tuned down to F#.
fractured 4 is the last in this series. It consists of natural harmonics up to the 10th harmonic.
The difficulties in letting the harmonics speak and controlling their volume is part of the piece’s sound. The result is a vague, flickering, “nightly” music
John Strieder is a composer based in Lübeck, Germany