Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Christian Wolff Burdocks, performance audio and some notes on the piece




CHRISTIAN WOLFF BURDOCKS PERFORMANCE



PERFORMANCE:

The piece was performed in this order: MVT 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 2 (QUINTET), MVT 4, 5, 6, (QUINTET + L.E.), MVT 7 (QUINTET), MVT 8 (QUINTET + L.E.), MVT 9 (QUINTET), MVT 5 (L.E.) overlapping with 1C, 1A (QUINTET), MVT 10 (QUINTET + L.E.). Matt Coyle performs MVT 3 the entire time, which states "Each player makes about 511 sounds, each sound different in some way."

QUINTET:
Matt Smiley: bass
Mike Gersten: clarinet
Kristen Dye: flute
Josh Reed: trumpet
Aimee Niemann: violin

LARGE ENSEMBLE:
Valerie Austin: flute
Danielle Kimbell: accordion, voice
Nathan Ahlers: prepared guitar/effects
Patrick Atwater: bass
Amber Johnson: cello
Brianna Carrasquillo: alto saxophone
Joel Harris: tenor saxophone

PERFORMING ONLY MVT. 3
Matt Coyle: percussion, keyboards, guitar and electronics

As part of the Aquila Summer Concert Series of Contemporary Music in Greeley, CO at Syntax Spirits on July 11th 2013.


REHEARSAL:

This rehearsal take (part 1) is in this order: MVT 5, 6, 8 (QUARTET + L.E.), MVT 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 2 (QUARTET), MVT 4 (QUARTET + L.E.)

This rehearsal take (part 2) is in this order: MVT 5, 6, (QUARTET + L.E.), MVT 7 (QUARTET), MVT 8 (QUARTET + L.E.), MVT 9 (QUARTET), MVT 10 (QUARTET + L.E.)

QUARTET:
Matt Smiley: bass
Kristen Dye: flute
Josh Reed: trumpet
Aimee Niemann: violin

LARGE ENSEMBLE:
Valerie Austin: flute
Danielle Kimbell: accordion, voice
Nathan Ahlers: prepared guitar/effects
Patrick Atwater: bass
Amber Johnson: cello
Brianna Carrasquillo: alto saxophone
Joel Harris: tenor saxophone

At Matt Smiley’s house July 7th 2013.



AN INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

The piece was performed in this order: MVT 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 2 (QUINTET), MVT 4, 5, 6, (QUINTET + L.E.), MVT 7 (QUINTET), MVT 8 (QUINTET + L.E.), MVT 9 (QUINTET), MVT 5 (L.E.) overlapping with 1C, 1A (QUINTET), MVT 10 (QUINTET + L.E.). Matt Coyle performs MVT 3 the entire time, which states "Each player makes about 511 sounds, each sound different in some way."

The piece started with the core quintet of violin, bass, flute, clarinet and trumpet playing the five-part mvt 1 (which could be a piece by itself easily!) followed by mvt 2 while the rest of the Burdocks orchestra waited for their entrances at mvt 4.  Matt Coyle, our guest musician from Virginia, was not able to make the rehearsals because of his travel schedule, so I decided to give him a large multi instrument set up, and perform mvt. 3 the entire time (playing different 511 sounds).  Matt’s setup was as followed:  electric guitar, electric keyboard, melodica, chains, snare drum, cymbals, cowbell, tambourine, radio, junk metal, circuit bent noise boxes, no input mixer, recorder, and probably some more stuff I’m forgetting about.  His part blended nicely with the control and specifics of our approach to playing the other mvts, always staying in balance with the direction of the quintet or the large ensemble, while providing short solo interludes between mvts. 

The quintet’s first mvt 1a quietly crept in with Feldman like long tones.  We were trying to match a specific player’s note a minor 3rd or perfect fourth away.  It resulted in a beautifully dark and quiet build, with Coyle’s guitar bending notes into our chords.  At 2:11 in (performance, part 1) the passage of a very close train interrupts the performance PERFECTLY as an interlude between mvt 1a and mvt 1b.  I personally would count these sounds as part of Matt Coyle’s “511 different sounds” from his performance of mvt 3 as a continuous overlapping section between that and the rest of the movements. 

Mvt 1b was a game of catch and mouse musically, waiting for a leader to play a series of notes, and then specific responses, but with the caveat of anyone at anytime becoming the new leader.  It sounds abstractly like it has it’s own logic to it without knowing the score, like cascading waves of sounds, solo then with the group.  This morphs nicely into Mvt. 1c, my favorite, which is splitting the quintet into fuses and detonations, bombs following the fuses.  There is a musical quality that comes out nicely in this text/conceptual idea.  The next mvt 1d got a little screwed up as me and another member of the quintet (we found after the fact) accidentally played mvt 9 while the rest were playing mvt 1d.  They were just similar enough in the text construction of how they worked, that both of us admittingly glanced at it for a moment before playing the wrong one…so it’s improvised loose overlapping of those two mvts!

The first five-part section ends with mvt 1e, one of the only specifically written out melodies in standard notation, that we play unison as a quintet, but in any transposition/range.  This entire time coyle’s electronics are making nice backdrops and interludes to the silences and sounds, and the high frequency tones fit the statement of this unison melody.  There is a great electronic interlude to help bridge the quintet to mvt 2’s stark downbeats.  We did a quick short arrangement of repeating each of the two sequences twice, with different people leading each sequence. 

There is a short snare drum interlude that brings the entire ensemble in, playing mvt 4, which we are playing downbeats together with the person closest to us, then next closest and so forth.  We were supposed to do this with 15 players, but because of the limits of the space I used an 13 piece ensemble, and Coyle did not participate in this mvt, except by other members of the ensemble reacting with his improvised sounds.  I chose a pizz low open e, bowed tremolo ponticello on an open g, and knocking on the wood of the bass as my 3 sounds for the mvt.  Matt’s keyboard bridges us into another mvt, which is mvt 5.

Mvt. 5 reminds me of Edges, but more of a specific version.  Edges is an open score where you can freely more around or stay in the same spot, which is the same as mvt 5, but with direct instructions.  You can freely repeat ideas, but the time between that and new phrase has specific seconds markings so that there is 3, 7 12 or 30 seconds between phrases.  Also someone has to play a long 16th note passage to unlock one of the sections of the piece for all the players.  I felt like this mvt could also easily be played as one of its own pieces.  This was an arrival point for the orchestra to get to and stay at for ten minutes or so.  There is a good variety of waves of sounds, clipped phrases, silences, intrusions, and lots of timbres going through this weedy rough mvt. 

Mvt.6 is the only mvt that I can so far pick out of other recordings of this piece like the sonic youth version, the tzadik version, and the WERGO version.  There is another normally notated melody, and in our version you primarily hear it played at a medium tempo by the alto saxophone.  The rest are playing accompaniments, or playing the melody so slow it’s not as easily discernable.  The guitar and flute are heard in the background also playing the melody not together but in medium tempos.  This seems to slow and fade into mvt 7, a difficult graphic score for quintet.  Mvt. 7 was one of the hardest to follow and rehearse, as you are using a large cueing system with improvised sounds/pitches.  I almost think we could have played it slower in retrospect, in order to stay together.  This reminds me that someone came up to us after the performance and talked about doing an acapella version of Burdocks, which is too bad I didn’t think about that before.  A lot of this music would be perfect for a choir, and having just 1 or 2 mvts that were strictly with voices would’ve worked great (or even with mixed voices and instruments). 

Mvt. 8 was 100 phrases split up equally in the ensemble.  We all wrote lines into our scores and divided the piece into 25 or 26 lines.  That way I assigned everyone 2 or 3 lines of those, so all played something on this mvt, and phrase was repeated.  This could’ve been taken slower and quieter (or more dynamically diverse) with silences, but it works and has nice ebb and flow of different short phrases. 

Mvt 9 was then played by the quintet with myself and the other musician just now realizing we accidentally played that earlier in Burdocks.  I went well at had a special kind of energy after the last few larger blocks of sound mvts.  It accelerates into more sounds and more frantics before a sudden rustling of papers as I recue mvt 5 for everyone.  I decided to extend the piece longer, so going to mvt 5 and having a quieter more spacious approach helped.  No one knew in advance I was going to do this, which is why people had to find their new scores.  While this was going on we had a rather loud audience member chatting us up, which I tried not let get to me, but is apparent on the recording.

Everyone was playing mvt 5, and then I thought we should do it differently, so with the openness of the score description to Burdocks, I overlapped the fuse and detonations of the mvt 1c in the quintet with others playing mvt. 5, we then moved onto the lusher long tones of mvt 1a, behind the backdrop of varied sounds by the orchestra.  The ensemble then melts perfectly into mvt. 10, which is flying, crawling or possibly sitting still, which provides a great uplifting coda to this large behemoth of a piece.

What I think I learned from putting this together, is to take advantage of rehearsals better, in recording more complete “takes” of a piece, as if it’s studio time, just to get more versions of what it’s like to play it, and how the transitions will work as a long scale piece.  Also if I can program it again in the future, now that I’ve done a maximalist version of it performing all the mvts, doing a version with only 3 or 4 mvts, and having them react to each other in different ways, and using orchestration better, different combinations of the same large ensemble.  I think there’s a lot more to get out of this piece, and hopefully I’ll be able to book it on future concerts and find more potential of varied sounds in it.  Vocals will also make a big difference in the performance and execution of the work.

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