Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bach Chorales and Scratch Music

We had another meeting/rehearsal of the Cobra ensemble last sunday, and for the first time tried out some new pieces.  We started out with an idea that came second/third hand from Paul Elwood, which was to play Bach.  The Cobra ensemble specifically plays music that has improvisational elements and can be played by any instrumentation.  So with than in mind, how does Bach's music play into this?  I took three Bach chorales, and I put them into finale, to have transposed parts for Bb and Eb instruments to play, as well as C instruments.  For rehearsal I did not know who or what instruments would be there, but we ended up with an octet.  We had two double basses, two violins, guitar, piano, accordion and alto saxophone.  We equally distributed the parts and played the chorales in non-traditional ways.  We took the melodic lines from the chorales, and had the performers play them at their own tempos, or using the lines as ordered pitch sets, that were played until every fermata was reached by everyone in the group.  I would then cue them to move on after everyone hit the fermata.  The second way we played this, was to not stop at the fermatas, and everyone just eventually got to the very last chord together.  So half of the piece, most of the group had already reached the last chord, with 2-3 people still playing their lines slowly.  We tried it with everyone specifically playing their parts in free tempo, but slowly, which worked out very well.  The last attempt we made was to play the Bach chorale lines with playing them in non-normal registers, or transposing the melodic lines into different octaves.  Overall it was a good experiment, where the only thing that made the piece confusing was the non-balanced instrumentation.  The piano got buried, and didn't have the sustain of say the accordion or the electric guitar.  This might be a good thing to try out later with more similar instruments (brass, or only strings, or only keyboard instruments), but fun to try out.

Scratch music, by Cornelius Cardew, was also performed in the rehearsal.  Currently the scratch music is on my myspace page, but for how long who knows, I update the page after every Cobra ensemble rehearsal with the most current rehearsal takes.  Scratch music went very well, and it was good to finally realize what that looks/sounds like.  We performed it by initially having everyone pick one piece, and play the one piece until 3-5 minutes are up, when it sounds like its winding down.  This part worked incredibly well.  I was playing the piece "Chant," so I started chanting buddhist mantras, while someone else was playing the piece "Stand up and say 'Is there anybody here?' 6 times," while there were a few percussion or other light sounds happening.  After that, we attempted two different versions where people were freely moving around, going from piece to piece, and having a general crazy environment of recitation, performance art and sound.  It was fun, but very akin to being a child and playing.  Due to the instructions of the some of the pieces, people were yelling out profanities, telling stories, ripping up paper, playing on the floor, bouncing balls, scraping metal on concrete, running around like a bee, etc...  It was utter chaos!  

I am attempting to get this piece, Scratch music, performed at a Music of our Time concert in the fall, and think it needs modifications to perform it.  I would like to treat it more like our first run through, and have everyone pick the piece they want to play, get the necessary materials together to play it, and when both of those are accomplished, give a downbeat, and everyone plays their piece until I give a cut off 5-10 minutes later.  This total musical action would be looked at as a movement, and if we performed it, we could play 2-3 movements, where each movement a performer picks a new piece to play.  I also edited the pieces down, and took out a dozen or so of them, so there are more of the "musical" pieces left in, and the performance art pieces are on the cutting floor.  For instance I took out "Swear," "Tell a story," "Bounce a ball," and ones that are generally silly, and involve movement.  I want to try this piece next rehearsal with the modifications, and see how it sounds with less silliness, and more thoughtful musical consideration.  Sonically, the piece turned out really well, but it is somewhat difficult to not laugh upon hearing it when people in the group are telling silly stories, or suddenly yelling out swear words.

Next up on the rehearsal schedule for the group are James Tenney's Postal Pieces, and Christian Wolff's Edges, along with some more COBRA action.  

As a quick side note, check out Jamie Saft's new label Veal Records.  You can purchase the entire Veal catalog at www.myspace/com/vealrecords or at and  Lot of albums with configurations of two great drummers, Mike Pride and Bobby Previte.  I can't wait to purchase and hear the two records "Whoopie Pie" with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry as well as "Angel Ov Death" with alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo.

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