Generally, when Japanese Guy gets together to work on material and record, we start with a simple sonic idea, rhythmic cadence, or desired theme and build from there. Not too much scrutiny is put into a piece’s arrangement – the feel of the song will dictate when it is time for a change (or not). An idea will be tried a few times and decided if it’s interesting enough musically to be put it to tape. By approaching writing this way, not only does it require us to rely up on each other’s sensibilities for the sake of time in the studio, but also to stretch our own reactions to new directions to avoid any sort of redundancy.
As musicians or artists, even if you are trying to remove yourself from what you are comfortable with, you cannot escape the direction that your mind wanders. Through this, even the most dada of improvisation becomes directional. Your body and mind will react to what it comes into contact with and your ideas will take shape, even if subconsciously.
That being said, sometimes taking a single idea and stretching it as far as possible to let it unravel into something new, can birth exciting results. Sounds and feeling can grow into their own landscapes, letting each movement becomes incredibly significant.
For our session, we will be performing material from our records that focus on that challenge—simplicity and patience as a focus, but letting each addition’s significance move the piece to its final result.
Capital, for 6 musicians
Two months ago late at night while driving home, a very beautiful, almost ecclesiastical piece for string quartet was playing on the radio. This was a night when my mind and spirit were eager to be filled with this sound at this moment. Again and again, minute after minute, the piece moved between only two sections. The composition was elegant, with a clear developmental process that made itself plainly known after only a minute of listening.
The piece pivoted between a single drawn-out chord, free of time, and a lush harmonized melody played at an achingly slow tempo. The sustained chord was always held for about the same amount of time at the same dynamic level. But the extraordinary magic was held within the melody and its harmonization. Each time the sustained chord finally broke free into this melody, the dynamic level and intensity of emotion would rise in the ensemble. It went on like this, patiently building, each time receding back to the safe haven of the sustained chord, waiting to rise up again into the melody.
I’ve set out so many times to write music that mirrored someone else’s work. The piece was written by the great composer Arvo Part., and experiencing it at the right time and place had a lasting impact on me. I wanted a taste of Part’s music from my own pen. When I sat down to begin writing, I quickly recognized that I can’t write an Arvo Part composition, nor do I really want to. In this composition I was really trying to express an experience. What eventually took shape in the music of Capital were influences partially rooted in this Arvo Part experience, but also a sort of mosaic from other lasting experiences over the past couple of months—listening to music, reading and reflecting. These included: reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, Karl Marx by Peter Singer, re-listening over and over to the albums New York, Fall 1974 by Anthony Braxton,Reverend King by John Coltrane, and The Sun by Alice Coltrane, as well as my ongoing fascination with Roscoe Mitchell’s Nonaah.
The title Capital comes from my next project—reading Karl Marx’s epochal work of the same name. Naming this composition after something I’ve yet to experience is a kind of preemptive homage to a future influence.
I’m joined tonight by an amazing musical cast that will debut this new composition with me. I’m very grateful to Ivan, Rachel, Gregg, Chris and Greg for their time and energy.
When I set out to compose the music for this session, I didn’t have any particular concept in mind other than I wanted to view my session as an opportunity to explore the group and sound Jarred Katz created in his last Racer Session this past January. The group is the same and features Levi Gillis, Mark Hunter, Jarred Katz and myself. One of the pieces I consider a loose continuation of his piece.
As I was composing, my focus steered toward writing a lot of melodic fragments and variations on those melodies. I wanted to write a ton of stuff and not spend that much time dwelling on each thing. The goal is a sound and style that is natural, free/open, and not “over-rehearsed.” Hopefully the melodic content will serve as a vehicle for the musicians to explore form and timbre, and provide opportunity for their individual styles to shine.
In addition, we will also be playing “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” by Blind Willie Johnson. This piece ties into the concept of strong melody, and the use of variation. There are also slightly amorphous improvised sections in between reprises of the main melody. I these sections would be fun to explore, and could allow the group to create a natural and open form.
Some ideas for the session:
1) Thing and variations
Start with a “thing,” and see what ways to can tweak or alter it throughout the course of the piece. “Things” could be a melody, sound/texture, pitch, rhythm, pitch set…
2) Thing as a reprise
Again, come up with a melody, rhythm, pitch set, etc. and use that as a reprise. State it, explore other things, come back to it, explore again…for as long as you like.
You probably all played this game as a kid. One person whispers a sentence or two in the ear of another, and that person whispers it into someone else’s. This process continues until it comes full circle and the message usually has changed a lot by the end. So how this would work for the session: player 1 plays for a minute or two while the player 2 listens. Player 3 waits at the bar or outside where they can’t hear player 1 and steps in when player 2 starts playing. Maybe all in all, we could have 5 players or so. In general, the players will try to latch onto certain aspects of the previous player’s piece and natural variation will be inevitable.
Cow.Cow.Cow.Cacao.Cacao.Cow.Cacao.Caw.Caw.Caca.Caucous.Caucous.Cuss.Caucous.Cussed. Caucoused.Cussed.Custard.Cussed.Custard.Must.Must.Must.Mustered.Mustard.Mustard… Mustard.
The past four or so months I have experienced something new to me in the music world; writer’s block, or a lack of newness and inspiration, actually. I have suffered this before when trying to write prose or poetry in the English language, but I’ve somehow always had a constant source of musical inspiration. Up until recently. During this slump, I didn’t feel like practicing, composing, or having intelligent thoughts and conversation about music. Maybe the break was much needed, I don’t know.
Either way, when Gus Carns reintroduced me to Ligeti’s music a few weeks ago with “Lux Aeterna,” I was invigorated. Prior to this, I had been thinking about how our perspective colors our opinion of “things,” and how every being has their own unique way of viewing the world, and in particular, art. The Earth’s rotation is perhaps an overused example, but applicable nonetheless; to humans it is impossible to perceive this phenomenon with our immediate senses because we exist on it and are small in comparison. I also realized my attention span lessened the more I engaged myself in the ever-increasing electronic, upbeat, urban world of social media. Instant access to information had actually changed the way I “consumed” art, insofar as I now seemed more interested in sampling a bit of everything for short periods of time, rather than really pursuing an artist, song, album, or concept to the fruition it deserved.
Thus, to push myself in the opposite direction, I decided to pursue a more patient approach with my compositions for this Racer Sessions, focusing on gradual changes and drawing from Ligeti’s micropolyphonic ideas and Escher’s graphic metamorphoses as aural and visual fuel for my fire. Joining me are Ray Larsen on trumpet and Greg Sinibaldi on tenor saxophone, I’ll be playing alto. When the minimalist composers wanted to make a piece of grand-scale that changes gradually, I noticed they often made use of large ensembles, string instruments, electronics, or reverb to make it easier to achieve a pad or trance-like sound. We will be playing in a trio setting with none of the above resources at hand. In fact, our instrumentation will be three wind instruments, which creates another potential “problem”: How does one deal with wind instruments and breathing when trying to create a pad-like atmosphere that undergoes gradual change over the course of several minutes? In this session and my composition I intend to address this problem.