Swelling Drones Carried by Electric Wind

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Listen to the Extradition Series Concert from July 23, 2016

If nothing else, the minute to dollar ratio and sonic quality of this concert, curated by percussionist Matt Hannafin, offers a great value. I was there to capture the room with a simple field recording setup, and to snap some pictures. The presentation of five uncommon niche works, both improvised and composed, new and old, focused on an area of music that many of us take for granted: dynamics and space.

With the increasingly compressed sound that we consume most of the time, the subtlety of this music might be disquieting. This is mostly acoustic instrumentation being searched and scrutinized for every inch of volume. We don’t usually think of music in terms of space, but sound pressure can be measured by millimeter intervals within your ear canal. Sound is what characterizes space.

Most of us living in cities are getting sounds piped into our eardrums with headphones because we’re trying to compete for sonic autonomy in a very loud environment. Fewer and fewer of us are going to church, and even less find time for the symphony. We get music from nightclubs, which are built to deaden sound, and the sound system compresses audio to amplify it to a deafening level.

Here, I offer audio from a church provided by players with few frills but their honest musicianship. What you will find are dynamics that just never happen in popular music, ever.

Of the five unique works, the most dynamic and “complete” sound came from Christian Pincock. He offers a solo improvisation within the computations of his electronic rig plus trombone. It brings rhythm, melody, and harmony together as a one-man band. The most sparse piece could have been “No. 4” from the Book of Musical Patterns, where Hannafin’s tam-tam and concert bass drum forged with Evan Spacht’s trombone to attempt a demonstration of geometry. This is an example of thinking about music as space.

This all happened at the socially progressive Redeemer Lutheran Church (Leaven Community Center) where a near-perfect acoustic space (lively but not washed out) did most of the amplification that any of these artists would need. Pincock electrified his trombone, as did Jonathan Sielaff his bass clarinet. Everyone but Hannafin played a wind instrument. The result is a study on dynamics and tonality.

The playlist above offers these tracks in reverse order from their original performance. The audio was minimally altered from the original recordings, only to normalize the volume. If you aren’t familiar with this kind of music, you might think it has stopped at times, but just let it run its course. Be patient.

Enjoy. The photos below provide illustration for the audio from track one until the end of the playlist. Below the photos, I have included the original concert program text, courtesy of Matt Hannafin.

THE PIECES

Robert J. Kirkpatrick, “No. 4” from The Book of Musical Patterns (2006–08): “No. 4” is one of sixty individual graphic scores that comprise The Book of Musical Patterns, a work that uses a small palate of elemental shapes spaced in regular and irregular patterns, creating landscapes of sound and silence. “These scores,” writes the Seattle-based composer, “present a challenge to the performer . . . to turn a minuscule amount of structural information into compelling music. . . . The choices that an interpreter makes are of the utmost importance.”

Mark Hannesson, Hoarfrost (2014): Scored for any instrument and electronics, this short text score is a sonic analogue to its namesake, which transforms any object on which it settles into a frozen, shimmering facsimile of itself. The performer is instructed to play single tones, “mostly long, mostly quiet, always calm,” sometimes freezing the sound “with thoughtful discretion.” Hannesson is a Canadian composer and sound artist and a member of the Wandelweiser Group.

Christian Pincock, composition/improvisation: This performance will comprise a selection of recent original compositions that combine trombone and computer, utilizing new techniques to make interesting sounds and tell an engaging musical story. “This particular period of my work began in January 2014,” writes Pincock, “when I built a MIDI controller from an organ pedalboard while looking for ways to play a second musical voice along with the trombone. From there, I build additional hardware (including sensors attached to my trombone) and program computer software to realize new compositional ideas.”

James Tenney, Swell Piece (1967): Comprising just 71 words, Swell Piece is one of ten short, mostly text and graphic compositions known as the “Postal Pieces” after the composer’s habit of sending them to friends on the backs of postcards. Dedicated to artist Alison Knowles, Swell Piece calls for an ensemble of any size larger than three, using any instruments, to play “one long tone after another,” beginning “as softly as possible, build[ing] up to a maximum intensity, then fad[ing] away again into (individual) silence.” Through the use of such a simple, unadorned, and unvarying musical structure, the work reaches beyond musical artifice and toward a meditative perceptual state. “After they’ve heard the first 20 seconds of the piece,” Tenney said, the audience “can almost determine what’s going to happen the whole rest of the time. When they know that’s the case, they don’t have to worry about it anymore. They . . . can begin to really listen to the sounds, get inside them, notice the details, and consider or meditate on the overall shape of the piece, simple as it may be.”

THE PERFORMERS

Joe Cunningham (tenor sax) is a Michigan transplant who studied at Central Michigan University and Wayne State University. In addition to being a member of and composer for The Blue Cranes, Joe has played with Wayne Horvitz, The Decemberists, Spoon, Laura Gibson, Laura Veirs, Cass McCombs, and Point Juncture, WA, among many others.

Matt Hannafin (percussion) studied with percussionists Kavous Shirzadian, Jamey Haddad, and Glen Velez, as well as composer La Monte Young and vocal legend Pandit Pran Nath. Active in Persian classical music, improvised music, and experimental music, he has performed with everyone from electronic musicians to chamber groups, at venues from the United Nations General Assembly Hall to CBGBs. www.matthannafin.com

Christian Pincock (trombone + electronics) is a trombonist, composer, and educator who creates and works within a wide range of music. With a firm background in jazz performance and composition, he performs and leads workshops in Seattle and across the USA, mainly on solo trombone with custom electronics. www.ChristianPincock.net

Andy Rayborn (baritone sax) lives in Portland, Oregon. He performs music for solo bass clarinet and electronics as Paper Gates and is currently working on a new project for solo baritone saxophone. He likes to write ’zines about music and spends a considerable amount of time trying to think of ways to sneak onstage with more popular and successful musicians.

John C. Savage (flute, alto sax) has performed and recorded with, among others, the Billy Fox Ensemble with Mark Dresser, the avant world-jazz duo Cartridge, The Brooklyn Qawwali Party, the Andrew Hill Big Band, The Kitsune Ensemble, Point to Line (with flutist Lisa Bost-Sandberg), composer-drummer Ken Ollis, and the poetry/music duo Thick In The Throat, Honey. He has received honors and awards from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, the Oregon Arts Commission, The College Music Society, and the Portland-based Regional Arts and Culture Council, and holds a PhD from New York University in flute performance. www.johncsavage.com

Jonathan Sielaff (bass clarinet + electronics) cut his musical teeth in rock bands, New Music ensembles, and various schools of improvisation, but most enjoys exploring the territory that exists between genres, often amplifying his bass clarinet and processing it with guitar pedals (he is also, conveniently, a guitarist). His primary musical project is the duo Golden Retriever, with electronics player Matt Carlson. They’ve released numerous tapes, CDs, and LPs, including albums on the Root Strata and Thrill Jockey labels. Jonathan resides in Portland. www.thrilljockey.com/thrill/Golden-Retriever

Evan Spacht (trombone) completed his undergraduate studies at the Colburn Conservatory School of Music in Los Angeles and mentored under Michael Pisaro, Ulrich Krieger, and Mark Trayle in the Composer/Performer program (Experimental Sound Practices) at CalArts, earning his MFA in 2014. He has performed as a soloist on bass trumpet, euphonium, and trombone with the International Ensemble Modern Academy, Innsbruck, Austria, and performs as half of the minimalist electroacoustic tape experiment duo PANTING. www.deepwhitesound.com/releases/panting

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The Extradition Series presents quarterly concerts of composed and improvised New Music and works from the 20th century experimental tradition. The series is directed by Matt Hannafin and presented by the Creative Music Guild.


All photos and audio produced solely by Sean Ongley for THRU Media.




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  1. Kathleen Dolan

    “With the increasingly compressed sound that we consume most of the time, the subtlety of this music might be disquieting.”

    This paragraph, the sound equalling space discourse, and then going to those public spaces in the next paragraph was a cool way to think about it. It made me feel an affection I haven’t before (at least not on the surface) for the experience of sound, like I would for the sense of touch or something.

    For some reason it made me think of the piano on W Burnside too, where people can just play. I like the sounds of a city, and that piano running along with the traffic and whatever else, sounds and looks and feels like perfect harmony. France now has pianos in over 100 train stations. For the public to just play.


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