So – two more concerts are now available to purchase from the Private Archive to kick off 2013. Both of these concerts are very different from each other and occurred just two weeks apart from each other…
1005021300 – Magic Mirrors came about through British Jazz impresario, John Cumming and was actually recorded by Jez Nelson on his portable DAT recorder and features some quite nauseating samples from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious film, Salo, coupled with Miles Davis’s most well-known version of ‘Round Midnight and George Crumb’s Black Angels, for amplified string quartet.
2605021500 – Bath Solo is only mildly less troublesome, with me learning how to play John Coltrane’s Giant Steps in the company of an Jamey Aebersold playalong, Homer Simpson and interjections from The Muppets’s Statler and Waldorf, and other characters. Thanks again must go to Steve Shepherd for begging the (then) Bath Festival programmer, Nod Knowles to let me do a solo slot. This proved to be an auspicious event, for it was the inaugural meeting of TECMO (Trans European Creative Music Organisers (who then merged with the EJN in 2004)) and, as a result of this one concert I received many invitations to play at European festivals for many years after. Also, little did I know that composer Brian Irvine and Moving on Music‘s Brian Carson would be in the audience – who would be instrumental in bringing myself, Steve Davis and Dave Kane together that same year. Bourne Davis Kane were commissioned by Bath Festival in 2003, culminating in the work Whatever Happened to Jack Jones and the Early Recordings of Johnny Mathis? The recording of this concert will also be made available on the Bourne Davis Kane BandCamp page VERY soon…
Enough rambling. As for 1912011047 – for Amy Walker, I’ve made reference to my PhD commentary for these two concerts – not out of laziness but, in re-reading the text, I’d forgotten just how unhidden the music actually was and the ensuing commentary that accompanies it. Well, I did say that the Private Archive was going to be a warts-and-all expose on all of this work. Here we go…
1005021300 – Magic Mirrors
“Unfortunately, I had the task of carrying around with me a number of structures and visualisations in preparation for both this performance and the Bath performance that followed two weeks later. Not only had this been the longest time frame given to date, but the prospect of structuring an hour-long solo performance in front of a predominantly French speaking audience limited the amount of cross referencing possible with spoken word samples. This performance turned out to be more sombre and include more disturbing elements than in the previous work [1912011047 - for Amy Walker].
The piano textures for this work were confined to the improvisational development of rather simple themes. Also, exploring all facets of the piano including the centre sustain pedal, inside framework and strings, keyboard lid and outer casing added more percussive effects to the piano vocabulary. Many of the textures explored here are of my own devising, many ideas arising during performance. Quite explicit reference is made to passages of Michael Tippett and Dmitri Shostakovitch. Other compositional material includes Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, Burt Bacharach’s A House is not a Home, John Barry’s Goldfinger and Blues Connotation by Ornette Coleman. Extraneous elements for this piece include voice, whoopee whistle, a toy violin, and one live dog. Film samples used for this performance included fragments of dialogue from Godard’s Eloge de L’Amour and Pasolini’s Salo. Musical fragments of Yamataka Eye, Ray Charles, Shirley Bassey, Miles Davis, Xenakis and Queen also feature. Additional to these samples were two pieces for voice by John Cage – triggered by a Mini Disc player. The particular combination of the voice pieces, Xenakis string quartet and dialogue from Salo is probably one of the more aurally challenging moments in the performance.
Execution & Analysis
The venue for the performance was a temporary structure – a wooden ‘Spiegeltent‘. Aside from the challenge of performance duration, foreign audience and usual pre-concert tension, the asphyxiating temperature, made anything after the first ten minutes extremely difficult. During the sound check a somewhat unwelcoming team of sound engineers did little to improve the situation[!].
‘00,01 – 03,31’:
Playing on the inside and casing of the piano extensively: the idea here was to delay the placement of hands on the piano keyboard. This was not only a way of exploring all other aspects of the instrument, but also to postpone any traditional and expected methods of playing the instrument.
‘01,30’ – 06,35’:
A very poor statement of Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation – more attention should have been devoted to this at the preparation stage.
‘06,36 – 06,49’:
The accidental triggering of a fragment from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody detracts from the surprise impact this sample would have had later on in the performance.
‘09,33 – 09,45’:
A few weeks before I had been given a small electronic toy Violin that played a number of famous classical melodies. In this section of the performance I began by playing it facing the audience, then throwing it over my shoulder where it landed a few feet away and smashed. In hindsight I think that this gesture was not executed or received as I had intended and the audience remained puzzled by this action [yes, how silly of you...].
‘09,56 – 11,50’:
Another textural idea where abstract notes fall into various V – I cadences.
‘12,18 – 15,13’:
A section built around the theme of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. There is an inappropriate reference to the ‘Postman Pat’ theme tune – this doesn’t really work here, and was a half-baked attempt at injecting some humour into this section. Again, I think that this either bypassed the audience or they were puzzled by it or thought nothing at all. An accidentally looped sample mama-mia further destroys the flow of this section. This coupled with an inaccurately played theme and erratic volume changes in the samples greatly reduced the planned impact of this section.
The opening motif of John Barry’s Goldfinger is developed with the aid of the middle pedal.
‘05,10 – 06,43’:
Barely audible on the recording is a barking dog outside the venue. This provides both humour and acts as a stimulus for probing chords over the existing sonority.
‘06,44 – 06,46’:
A brief outburst in an effort to silence the dog mentioned above.
‘00,01 – 07,40’:
A treatment of Monk’s‘Round Midnight and one of the most satisfyingly disturbing passages to date. The tension of this passage is released somewhat by an excerpt from a Shostakovitch Prelude.
‘07,41 – 11,38’:
Improvisation section: a Split second decision to add Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A-Train and an expansion of Zorn’s Le Momo techniques with both feet providing additional clusters at either end of the piano.
‘11,39 – End’:
A sparse interpretation of Bacharach’s A House is not a Home. Barely audible bells from a nearby church recall the rhythm of the Goldfinger motif. This completely coincidental occurrence prompted a reprise of the motif. This stimulus emphasised an underlying Shirley Bassey theme and the summing up of previous elements in the performance.
It was my ‘intention to end the work with a brutal scream from Yamataka Eye. However, because the final Bassey sample was accidentally looped meant that the entirety of this fragment was to be replayed a second time. Further triggering of screams layered over the Bassey provided a lucky escape from a technological mishap.
This work became more consistent from ‘Round Midnight onward. The balance of samples with sufficient performance intensity created the most coherent half of the performance. This performance also produced some rather effective and unsettling passages requiring a mixture of emotional responses. The elements that were less successful in this work have proved vital learning tools that have pointed toward possible solutions. The disaster of the ‘Queen’ section has highlighted the dangers of using this particular model of sampler in a live situation where the triggering pads are too small. The length of the performance also made it difficult to develop piano textures in a concise manner – leading to many passages becoming stagnant. There are, however, errors that result in more favourable outcomes such as those contributing to the ending of the work: the accidentally looped Shirley Bassey sample meant that there was an opportunity for the layering of some rather brutal screams from Yamataka Eye, which was the only solution that came to mind at the time and actually worked as a rather funny and unexpected foil to Bassey’s own vocal style. Events such as this work in support of the philosophy that the factors of physicalization share an equal footing with the fixed elements.
I was perhaps at a disadvantage in this particular situation in that I was not able to speak French, so I could not talk to the audience beforehand as I usually do. Before playing I have often found that this is a key factor in breaking down the formality of the classic ‘performer vs. audience’ rigmarole found, for example, at most classical music concert settings. This is still usually the standard at many concerts of Jazz and Improvised music. The audience present on this occasion were quite unresponsive for much of the performance until the incident with the barking dog, making reading their reaction as the performance progressed very difficult. It was a very different story in Bath however, where the audience was very much an active presence in the performance.
2605021500 – Bath Solo
Almost immediately after Magic Mirrors I began thinking about the Bath performance. Only two weeks to prepare and to realise certain visualisations meant that mental recovery and detachment from the previous performance was not possible. The first idea for this performance occurred while at the piano, in the form of a harmonic progression, which became a theme that recurs throughout this work. Secondly, my passion for the music of Gerald Finzi was expressed by including fragments from two of his works: To Lizbie Brown from Earth, Air and Rain and Amen from Lo, the Full Final Sacrifice; the main motif of Lizbie being developed during performance. Amen is heard at the close of the work. Compositional material includes John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, John McLaughlin’s Earth Bound Hearts and a musical setting of A.A. Milne’s Halfway Down the Stairs found on The Muppet Show LP. Extraneous elements for this piece include a duck call, and a whoopee cushion bought 20 minutes before the performance. Similarly to Magic Mirrors some of the visualisations were of a dark nature, particularly in the second half of this work. Subverting the innocence of Halfway Down with the opening scream from John Zorn’s Spillane and with fragments of speech and laughter from Zappa’s Absolutely Free makes for very disturbing listening. The connotations implied are evident upon hearing the recording. Samples from The Muppet Show LP and The Simpsons are used in combination with Giant Steps, producing one of the most memorable and effective passages in this work. Unlike the two previous works, this performance uses fewer sampled elements.
‘01,16 – 01,55’: Reference to the opening theme from Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand accompanied by whoopee cushion. This decision to include this reference was completely spontaneous as was the decision to use the whoopee cushion.
‘04,15 – 10,25’:
A successful deployment of samples in the realisation and development of a visualisation structured around John Coltrane’s composition Giant Steps. The idea of this visualisation was to ‘learn’ the tune during performance, highlighting any mistakes with Homer Simpson’s Doh! My main aim here was to illustrate that although this tune is considered a ‘test piece’ for all jazz musicians, one does not have to have mastered the tune in order to create a personal musical statement.
‘00,01 – 04,14’:
This section is based on the development of the opening motif from the Finzi song To Lizbie Brown.
‘04,14 – 07,33’:
The note at ‘04,14’ signifies the point at which my mind went blank. Not only that, but the lack of samples for the rest of the performance would shift the emphasis onto the piano. Also, had the ‘mark’ pad on the sampler been pressed on the word Fucking, I would have had chance to develop the repetition of this sample with piano accompaniment as in my original visualisation.
‘07,34 – 10,23’:
Controversial development of Halfway Down the Stairs: my original visualisation was to display a toy Kermit the frog and build up the amount of affection given to it, before smashing it up with a mallet and kicking it into the audience. A suitable toy could not be found before the performance – hence rather disturbing connotations caused by the interruption of repetitive screaming and Frank Zappa samples.
‘00,01 – 03,09’:
The dark sonorities of John McLaughlin’s composition Earth Bound Hearts provides a suitable setting in which to develop further the samples used in the previous section.
‘04,00 – End’:
Final statement and development of the recurring harmonic progression heard first at the opening of the work. This gradually descends to low register left hand activity where the work began, ending with Finzi’s Amen. A further scream near the close is heard and was an unintentional slip made on one of the sampler pads. This unfortunately destroyed the calming presence of this sublime piece of music.
[Folks Who Live on the Hill]
[Omitted from the original commentary, Folks Who Live on the Hill is one of my all-time favourite songs and, along with Annette Peacock's Kid Dynamite, became a favourite solo concert encore piece.]
Preparing and planning two different performances almost two weeks apart proved exhausting and there are moments in this performance where spontaneity failed to generate ideas. The performance did however generate more audience response than anticipated, considering the respective weightings of humour and seriousness within the work. This performance demonstrated the importance of the audience during a performance. As the spectrum of emotion progressed beyond humour toward darker areas, the audience withdrew their enthusiasm and this was very much felt at the time. At the close of performance however it became clear that the work had communicated to the audience in a very direct manner – as had Magic Mirrors, although the response on this occasion was more enthusiastic making it very clear as to the success of the overall performance despite there being sections lacking in conviction.
The examination of the last two works has illustrated the relative disadvantages associated with performing two separate works close to each other. Given that the amount of preparation time is reduced, sourcing the relevant materials under pressure can be difficult, the accumulation of new piano textures is not achievable, and visualisations may be subject to superficial realisation. In the case of the studio session, it had been around six months since I had designed a work for performance, hence the freshness of the work. In the case of all of the above, a lengthy period of exhaustion follows each performance. This is perhaps in compensation for the extent of mental preparation involved and the intense physical execution; solutions to this would be to increase the amount of physical exercise in being more prepared for the physical intensity of performing. Also, limiting this type of performance to only three or four times a year would allow enough time for preparation and new ideas – an ideal time for preparation would be between 3 – 4 months prior to the performance date, although (as illustrated in subsequent chapters) these ideals occur only very occasionally.
Many of the visualisations would not have become realised in performance without the aid of the sampler – although gestures that have been unsuccessful in performance have been largely due to technological considerations involving the sampler. The main problems associated with this particular model of sampler (Boss 303) are thumbnail size triggering pads and a small memory.
Alternative and (theoretically) more efficient methods of sampling were investigated using a laptop computer with a software sampler. At the time of these three recordings, I was still experimenting with the positioning of the sampler – usually placed either to my left or right. Not only did this make it slightly awkward and more physical, but also turning away from the keyboard to trigger the samples was, against my intention, at times visually confusing for the audience.
For future performances (please refer to the picture on the following page) the music stand was removed and the sampler placed inside the piano. This positioning is more integral and centrally aligned making it physically quicker and easier to carry out certain manoeuvres.
It is clear from examining the above works that performing in a live situation greatly influences the outcome of the performance in shaping a work. The audience is arguably the most variable physical factor – with their ability to signify, implicitly or explicitly, how well a particular gesture has been communicated. A gesture executed in a live setting tends to carry with it the weight of an audience reaction (or non-reaction) and is present in the recordings, whereas a studio setting carries with it only the acoustic environment of the studio. It is also clear upon listening to the performances that certain themes or connotations have arisen through chance or otherwise, and have in themselves become areas for exploration and development in later works.”
Works Reference List:
1005021300 – Magic Mirrors
Eloge de L’Amour. Jean Luc Godard, Optimum Releasing, 2001.
Salo. Pier Paolo Pasolini, BFI, 1975 (1998).
Bassey, Shirley. Goldfinger, Best of Bond, Capitol, 1999.
Bassey, Shirley. A House is Not a Home, Bacharach&David Collection, HMV Easy, 2000.
Cage, John. Solo for Voice – 22&79, The Barton Workshop Plays John Cage, Etcetera, 1992.
Charles, Ray. I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town, Genius + Soul = Jazz, Castle, 1993.
Davis, Miles. ‘Round Midnight, Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1997.
Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody, Greatest Hits, EMI, 2001.
Xenakis, Iannis. ST4, Arditti Quartet, Chamber Music 1955 – 1990, Montaigne, 1994.
Zorn, John. Torture Garden, Earache, 1990.
Scores & Musical References
Coleman, Ornette. Blues Connotation, MJQ Music Inc 1998 (The Real Book, Vol 1, Sher Music Co, 1988).
Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody, B. Feldman&Co. Trading as Trident Music, 1976.
Shostakovitch, Dmitri. Prelude No. 4, op.87, Boosey&Hawkes Music Publishers.
Strayhorn, Billy. Take the A-Train, Tempo Music, 1968 (Ibid).
Tippett, Michael, Sonata No.2, Schott Music Publishers.
Theme from Postman Pat, (Transcribed from memory).
Zorn, John. Le Momo, Carl Fischer, 2001.
2605031500 – Bath Solo
The Simpsons Film Festival, Matt Groening, 20th Century Fox, 1999.
Withnail & I, Ibid.
Aebersold, Jamey, Giant Steps, Vol. 68, Jamey Aebersold Jazz Inc., 1995.
Captain Beefheart. Trout Mask Replica, Reprise Records, 1970.
Finzi, Gerald. Amen, British Music Collection, Decca, 2000.
The Muppet Show, PYE Records, 1977.
Zappa, Frank. Absolutely Free, Rykodisc, 1998.
Zorn, John. Spillane, Electra Nonesuch, 1987
Scores & Musical References
McLaughlin, John. Earth Bound Hearts, (Transcribed from sound recording, Where
Fortune smiles, Dawn, 1971).
Ravel, Maurice. Concerto for the Left Hand, ed. Durand, 1957.
Theme from the TV advertisement Yellow Pages, (Transcribed from memory).