News / Blog

Detailed Program Notes for Currents: Democracy Looks Like

One of the new works we’ll be premiering this Sunday at Constellation is democracy looks like by Adam Cuthbert.  This is a TCP commission and we’re really excited about it!

Here are some more detailed program notes on the piece:

 

 photo by matt finch

democracy looks like is thematically built on some of the memorable call-and-response chants spoken within the protest marches which erupted all over America last year.

The structure is meant to mimic the organic development of chants within a march. Voices rise up as protesters join the call and the response. With a manner of immediacy, the energy gains momentum as voices join, and recedes as voices fatigue. During an efficiently functioning protest chant, the momentum is paced so new voices step in to support fatigued voices, creating a consistent cycle, and static rhythm plays host to a constantly shifting ensemble timbre. These chants are all a communal effort a beautifully synchronized human spirit.

I wanted to facilitate this same kind of communal effort in the performance, so the ensemble shares a DJ controller to manipulate each others’ timbres with live effects processes in real time via special just-for-kalimbas software fx racks. The backbeats are framed from some of my favorite rhythms found in dance music, including the Chicago-born 160bpm footwork style.

Posted in Events
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

Detailed Program Notes for “Currents”: Jonathan was killed in a battle against the Philistines

Sunday we will premiering not one but TWO commissions.  Jonathan Pfeffer was one of the composers selected in our Emerging Composers Partnership Program and we’re looking forward to sharing his composition with you.

Jonathan was killed in battle against the Philistines is a one-act metatheatrical savage noise comedy for four percussionist-actors. Its form is appropriated from American psychiatrist Dr. George Vaillant’s four general classes of ego defense mechanisms: unconscious responses that regulate the perceived impact of sudden conflicts with conscience and culture. Jonathan employs Vaillant’s model, as well as references to Sufi poetry, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the first Book of Samuel, post-Cagean composition, and verbatim slices of pop egomania to examine the futility and necessity of modern cultural production.

The percussionists embody caricatures that loosely represent each of the four levels of defense:

• Sean Connors as the pathological archetype, whose megalomania and delusional projections reshape external reality in order to maintain an inflated self-image at any cost. Not unlike an extreme case of bipolar disorder, he vacillates quickly between feelings of narcissism and persecution. This archetype freely exchanges characteristics with the immature archetype during the play.

• David Skidmore as the immature archetype, prone to paranoid and jealous outbursts in which he blames others for his own deficiencies. This archetype couches a self-serving agenda in half-informed pseudo-Marxist rhetoric. His scathing cultural analysis, while highly astute, more often than not comes across as self-righteous indignation. It could be argued that this attribute impedes his ability to negotiate a place in the modern world. Both immature and pathological archetypes tend to retreat into fantasy, engaging in delusions of grandeur of often Biblical proportions.

• Robert Dillon as the neurotic archetype, who also provides running commentary as the narrator/voice of “reason”. Suspicious of pleasure, he mistakenly equates satisfaction with suffering. As a result, he disassociates from intense sequences by concentrating on their purely intellectual components. While this archetype is associated with rationalization, this quality more frequently arises in the immature and pathological archetypes. At various points, this archetype appropriates the immature archetype’s incessant hypochondria.

• Peter Martin as the mature archetype, whose patience, gentle wit, and references to Eastern philosophy temper the heated exchanges between hot-headed pathological and immature archetypes. He is an exemplary model for how to cope with stress in a socially acceptable manner.

These thinly veiled, cartoonish exaggerations of the composer engage with one another in a series of intersecting monologues. The characters dissect the contemporary roles of both composer and percussionist within a culture increasingly detached from context. In a narrative device reminiscent of Joe Matt’s self-flagellating comics, the composer openly acknowledges and even incorporates his internal struggles into the libretto with a confrontational degree of intimacy.

Composed in a series of think-tank-style workshops with the ensemble, the music bears the mark of a true collaboration. The percussionists conjure a broken glass sound tapestry—gongs, cymbals, bowed brake drums, prepared crotales, amplified objects, and processed microphone feedback—which they execute concurrently with the dialogue. Alternately industrial and sensual, the division between acoustic and amplified timbres becomes illusory as pure sustained tones unravel into aleatoric melodies that re-emerge as pointillistic clusters. The soundscape ebbs and flows as a dynamic organism that directly responds to the descriptions of debilitating and often comical anxiety, like an abstract expressionist Peking Opera.

The result is an immersive and often disorienting sonic experience that owes as much to Richard Foreman as it does to Richard Pryor.

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

Detailed Program Notes for “Currents”: Trio for Harold Budd

We’re fortunate that flutist Rachel Beetz is able to join us this Sunday to perform Tyshawn Sorey’s Trio for Harold Budd.  

Here are some more details about the piece from the composer:

In the Fall of 2011, I began to study composition in Columbia University’s DMA program, and I found myself with a kind of identity crisis. I had recently completed a composition entitled Ode to Gust Burns, and I felt that it … lacked … sincerity. Although I thought at the time that it was a somewhat decent composition, it didn’t sound like myself, but it sounded like the music of someone who thinks they have something to prove. I was writing music that I felt would be more appealing to my colleagues (at Columbia) who wrote beautiful, challenging, complex, and theoretically dense music (but of course, the latter adjective is in no way a value judgment of their works, because I love the thought, daring, and care that goes into their music as much as I do Harold Budd’s process of his music making).

I began working on the Trio in 2012, in Woodside, California, during a residency at the Other Minds Festival. Among the attendees were Harold Budd, Gloria Coates and other composer-performers. I felt that Budd’s outlook resonated the most for me. We had shared influences – from improvisation, La Monte Young, John Coltrane, and Pharoah Sanders, to name a few. I remember him mentioning how beautiful some of that music is. Unlike the perpetuated stereotype that posits “free jazz” as a turbulent, fiery, furious energy music, the music that Harold Budd mentioned by some of these artists was that which is melodic, and exhibits love and a sort of patience. And he remarked that he wanted his own music to have that quality. That is what I had been going for – a music that is about people…a music that is melodious, and resonates emotionally and spiritually with listeners while retaining the idea of beauty, and of patience.

But where I found in Budd not only a fascinating mentor but a kindred spirit, was that I had a very strong sense of “dis-belonging” to “new music” and its social categorizations. I began the Trio in response to those feelings. I decided to limit myself to a small pitch collection, and to find as many as possible things that I could do within that. At the same time I was listening to lots of traditional and vernacular musics from Ethiopia, and Bansuri flute music, as well as revisiting some of the “free jazz” recordings that Budd mentioned in his talk. So some of what is happening in the Trio derives from all of this. When I first interacted with Harold, I was preoccupied with how the music is made versus how it sounds. Harold’s methodology was quite the opposite. He was only interested in how music sounds. When I played him the Ode, he told me that there was no need to prove anything. However, when I began to play earlier music from 2007 – it had a spatial quality to it, while it also maintained the same sense of musical boundary erosion as the Trio – he jumped out of his chair and said immediately, “Now THAT music sounds like you.”

It was probably during the last three days that I was at the Other Minds Festival that I began to create a musical commentary on that feeling that culminated in this work. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for making me realize and confront one of biggest mistakes I have ever made as a composer. It was written during a time when I had considered discontinuing my pursuit of composition indefinitely. The Trio for Harold Budd is essentially a celebration of the conquering of those thoughts. I have since never thought once of giving up the pursuit of my artistic ideal as a composer – to remain committed to cultivating an aesthetic that demonstrates an expression of life experience and a grounded relationship and understanding to various historical musical lineages. It was essentially a composition of perseverance – Harold Budd IS perseverance, and much more.

Posted in Events
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

Detailed Program Notes for “Currents”: Straitjacket

We’re coming up on a really exciting show this Sunday at Constellation, where we launch our new concert initiative Currents. We’ll be premiering new works, and performing some other works that are new to us. The composers have some really deep and interesting stuff to say about their music, so we’re posting more detailed program notes on our blog this week than will be included in the program book at the show. Enjoy!

Mark Applebaum

 

Mark Applebaum- Straitjacket

(notes by the composer)

When Steve Schick asked me for a new work to be commissioned by the Banff Centre for the Roots and Rhizomes Percussion Residency I worried “What kind of percussion piece do you write for a percussionist who has done everything?” I’m still not sure what the proper answer is to this question. But along the way I thought about putting ontological pressure on the boundary conditions of the medium itself; I considered the idea of paradoxically expanding Steve’s seemingly comprehensive domain of musical experience through focused constraints; and I gravitated, perhaps habitually, toward a kind of super-disciplined absurdity—as if invoking a parallel world whose eccentric culture is governed by elaborate rules perceived but not understood. In short, I managed to compose Straitjacket, a provisional answer of sorts.

Straitjacket, privately subtitled “four restraint systems for solo percussion and percussion quartet,” intersects conceptually with formal techniques employed by the French literary group Oulipo: the palindrome, the isopangram, the lipogram, and the taquinoid.

Movement I- Palindrome

The palindrome reads the same forward and backward, as in “A man, a plan, a canal—Panama.” The first movement is scored for six drum sets played in unison and with excruciating fastidiousness (despite a profusion of metric modulations and abundant coordination challenges for the limbs), the quartet playing matched kits consisting of kick drum, snare, and hi-hat, the soloist playing two analogous kits with substitute timbres of the player’s choice. At the epicenter of the piece—its palindromic mirror— the soloist switches kits.

This palindrome, however, is a bit irregular. The first side is built up using a technique accurately, if pretentiously, dubbed sequential metamorphosis censorship. The scheme is mind-numbingly elaborate, but the gist is that the musical narrative gradually increases and decreases the degree to which adjacent musical materials are transformed. For example, the second measure is a clear modification of the first measure; however, the third measure is a bit more distant from the second, as if an intermediary transformative step were missing; and so on. The conceptual gap widens and narrows, producing moments of logical consequence as well as profoundly incongruous ones.

But when this sequence folds back on itself, only some of the prior measures are sounded. New measures appear instead (algorithmically selected among those unsounded, intermediary bits that conceptually bridged the earlier gaps). At the same time there exist other composed intermediary bits that are never sounded on either side of the mirror. Perhaps it is clearer to imagine that my tasks is to first compose a number series and its retrograde: 12345 – 54321. But then the palindrome is distilled: 125-541. As such, certain bits (1, 5) are heard in both directions; certain bits (2) are heard only forward; certain bits (4) are heard only in reverse; and certain bits (3) exist conceptually, but are never sounded. Consequently, discursive gaps of varying size abound, from the most gently evolving discourse to the most fractured and surreal.

Movement II- Isopangram

A pangram uses every letter in the alphabet at least once, as in “A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy brown dog.” Whereas this 38-character phrase repeats some letters, an isopangram uses each letter in the alphabet once and only once.

The second movement of Straitjacket replaces the notional alphabet with a lexicon of 118 hand gestures, a kind of index in which each gesture is performed by the soloist once and only once. (That is, material is invented and then explicated only one time, without the tedium of development.)  These silent actions are precisely described in the score (each with a corresponding paragraph of detailed instructions in an eleven-page appendix) and arrayed in a carefully specified rhythm. Although silent, they are accompanied by a quartet of “foley artists” who give voice to the gestures through a battery of instrumental timbres, each heard exactly twice.

Movement III- Lipogram

In opposition to univocalism—in which a text is written with just one vowel, such as Georges Perec’s What a Man!, a short story using only the vowel “A”—the lipogram avoids a particular letter. The most arresting example is Perec’s astonishing novel La Disparition that manages to avoid the letter “E” throughout its several hundred pages (and whose translation into English by Gilbert Adair—A Void—is perhaps an even more remarkable feat). More concisely, Harry Matthews explains that the phrase “To be or not to be, that is the question” becomes, by way of lipogram in A, “To be or not to be, this is the question;” by way of lipogram in E it becomes “Survival or oblivion: that is our quandary;” and by way of lipogram in T it becomes “Being or non-being, such is my dilemma.”

To me the idea of avoidance conjured a corresponding musical act of removal. Hence, in the third movement the ensemble plays a single vibraphone, the quartet articulating unison chords and the soloist muting particular bars in an act of sonic elimination.

Movement IV- Taquinoid

A representational painting in the shape of a square, if cut into a matrix of smaller squares and reassembled in random order, would likely result in a jumbled meaning. But a taquinoid works in any ordering because each piece has a visual narrative that makes sense when extended to any adjacent neighbor.

In movement IV five pictures are drawn by the ensemble, their scrawling amplified by contact microphones attached to the easels. A visual continuity appears horizontally across the pictures (and if they were placed in a vertical column). Admittedly, the pictures are not optimized for just any order. However, a new accord emerges across all five pictures: the players have arrived at their unique pictures through a unison rhythm, a harmonized quantity (but not comportment) of visual strokes and dots.

***

Why must these program notes be so verbose, loquacious, effusive, and prolix? And why even tease the audience with program notes when they can’t hear any of this blather in the music? Paper or plastic?

These are good questions, an occasion to shift toward a more essential if prosaic matter: the composer wishes to express his deepest gratitude to Steven Schick for requesting, with characteristic verve and nerve, yet another new piece—the latest project over a multi-decade span of wonderfully collaborative and endlessly revitalizing musical high jinx; to Barry Shiffman for the invitation to Banff and the unwavering courage and intelligence to indulge such a fine summit of talented, forward-thinking, and passionate percussion wackos; to the Banff Centre for their interminable support, uncommon competence, and unquestioning empathy; and to the intrepid players of Straitjacket who have lent their enthusiastic moxie and assiduous attention to the enterprise of realizing idiosyncratic art.

PS—can a program note have a post-script?: If you should demand a metric by which to evaluate my music, the works always aspire to engender two questions—“What the hell was that?” and “Can I hear more?”

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email

TCP welcomes Liz Pesnel

Third Coast Percussion is excited to announce our first staff hire! Liz Pesnel is joining TCP part-time starting this month. She will be acting as an office manager and additional support for TCP’s production and marketing efforts. Since TCP’s inception, the artists have comprised the entire administrative staff, and we’re thrilled to be adding a new member to our crew!

photo credit: Booth Photographics

Here’s a little more about Liz:

Liz Pesnel was raised in a musical family in Albany, NY.  She grew up playing upright bass, and at a young age, had the opportunity to study with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and perform at Carnegie Hall.  She went on to receive a Bachelor of Music from Syracuse University, majoring in Music Business and Music History, with a focus on Upright Bass and Harp Performance.

Since 2006, Liz has held a number of key positions at The Windish Agency. Alongside radio promotions expert Robbie Lloyed (Interscope Records), she launched the agency’s Tour Marketing Department. As the Tour Marketing Manager, she oversaw marketing strategies for tours of various artists like The xx, Pink Martini, Lorde, and First Aid Kit.  Prior to the launch of the Tour Marketing Department, Liz worked as an agent alongside founder, Tom Windish, booking acts such as Foster The People, Lykke Li, and M83.  Previously, she has held positions at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, The Lincoln Center Festival and Blue Note Records.­

In addition to her new position with Third Coast Percussion, Liz teaches at Columbia College Chicago and performs in Gussied, a bluegrass wedding band.

Posted in News
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • MySpace
  • Pinterest
  • Email