2005-11-06: Seattle Mavericks Creativity Beyond Boundaries

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SCP and Earshot Jazz Present:

Seattle Mavericks Creativity Beyond Boundaries

 

STUART DEMPSTER – Integrity29

for any performer combination
(SCP and all guest artists)

 

WILLIAM O. SMITH – Emerald City Imp

(World Premiere, Commissioned by SCP)

for clarinet and trombone improvisers with flute,
bass clarinet/clarinet, violin, and cello
(SCP, William O. Smith and Stuart Dempster)

 

TRIMPIN
For Solo Flute, 8 Pottery Wheels and Assorted Vinyls

(World Premiere, Written for Paul Taub)

(Paul Taub and Trimpin, Macintosh computer)

[Trimpin & SCP in Sheng-High - ecard from 11/16/05]

 

WAYNE HORVITZ
Improvisations and Conductions

for any performer combination
(SCP and all guest artists)

 

With guest performers

Stuart Dempster, trombone
Wayne Horvitz, piano
Eyvind Kang, violin (bio)
Peggy Lee, cello (bio)
Julian Priester, trombone (bio)
Dylan van der Schyff, percussion (bio)
William O. Smith, clarinet
Trimpin, Macintosh computer

 

 

PROGRAM NOTES

by Dr. Elena Dubinets

Seattle Mavericks: Creativity Beyond Boundaries

80 is for William O. Smith
70 is for Stuart Dempster
55 is for Trimpin
50 is for Wayne Horvitz

SCP celebrates the anniversaries of these exceptional and internationally important Seattle musicians by acknowledging their creative output with commissions and performances.

These artists do not represent a single school. They do not follow the same direction. They do not create music in a standard way. They are non-conformists, dissenters, iconoclasts, pathfinders, loners.

But they can be described by one word. They possess the quality from which American experimentalism was born in the early twentieth century: they are ambitious, aspiring and independent; they don’t submit to any stereotypes; they are fearless. That’s why we call them mavericks.

Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) was a legendary cattle rancher who decided not to brand a herd of cattle in the customary way, but to let them be free on an unfenced range. Since then any unbranded calf was called a maverick, and soon the term received an additional meaning identifying a person who departs from the established norm.

The Seattle mavericks, as well as other American experimentalists, depart from any kind of traditionalism or conservatism. They invent new genres, forms, instruments, ways of performing-all this will be demonstrated today, following up on SCP’s last presentation of music by American experimentalists one year ago, on November 12, 2004, when our program included works by Henry Cowell, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Kyle Gann and Janice Giteck.

American experimentalism has many facets which cannot be systematized or generalized. Its tendencies are summarized in the program notes for SCP’s November 12, 2004 concert. Today’s concert makes us think about the main currents in American experimentalism since most of them are represented in the art of the Seattle mavericks.

Their art has learned from the surrounding world, absorbing its ways of expression and reflection. These composers embrace all American musical cultures, including folk, ingenious, jazz, pop and rock music. They depend on technologies and multimedia. They use all possible traditional and newly constructed instruments and their combinations. They explore written and improvised structures. All of them join SCP in performing their works tonight. The ensemble is also joined by four extraordinary guest musicians to form almost a double-instrument band: one flute, two clarinets, two trombones, two violins, two cellos and percussion.


Composer and clarinetist William O. Smith was born in Sacramento, California, in 1926. He studied at The Juilliard School, Mills College, the Paris Conservatory and the University of California, Berkeley. His principal composition teachers were Darius Milhaud and Roger Sessions. He has received many awards and honors including the Prix de Paris, the Prix de Rome for the American Academy in Rome, two Guggenheim fellowships, and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His music has been published by Universal, Oxford University Press, Shall-U-Mo, Edi-Pan, MJQ Music and Ravenna Editions. It has been recorded on Columbia, Fantasy, Edi-Pan, New World, Contemporary, CRI and Crystal Records. He has recorded with Dave Brubeck, Enrico Pieranunzi, Bob Brookmeyer, Shelley Manne, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall and Eric Dolphy, among others. From 1966 to 1997 he was a professor at the University of Washington where he taught composition and co-directed the Contemporary Group. He is professor emeritus at the University of Washington.

Smith is also a jazz performer frequently appearing with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In 1946 he co-founded the Dave Brubeck Octet. His Schizophrenic Scherzo (1947), written for this quartet, was one of the first effective combinations of modern jazz and avant-garde techniques, which later became a determinant of a style called “third stream.”

Smith is a pioneer in the development of new clarinet sonorities, having invented many ways of using multiphonics, muted and extremely high sounds, and other previously unexplored performance techniques: playing the clarinet without the mouthpiece or with several mouthpieces placed at different joints; vocalizing while playing; silently clicking the keys; playing two instruments at once, etc. His Duo for Clarinet and Recorded Clarinet (1962) is considered to be the earliest work for clarinet and tape, marking Bill’s interest in exploring electrification and computerization of the instrument.

The quarter note
The dual personality of Bill Smith, jazz clarinetist extraordinaire, and William O. Smith, explorer of clarinet sounds and composer of complex, “post-classical” music, quickly blurs when one realizes that Bill brings the same passion and sparkle to all of his work. I have a particularly fond memory of his flawless performance of Henry Brant’s Concerto for Jazz Clarinet during a joint residency that Henry had at Cornish and the UW in the 1990s: impeccable style, fabulous playing, and a great example of Bill’s long career as a quintessential “crossover” artist. That now-over-used cliché fits Bill perhaps more than anyone else, given the myriad of musical worlds he finds himself in.

-Paul Taub

Emerald City Imp (Improvisation) is scored for flute, clarinet, violin and cello, with clarinet and trombone as improvising soloists. The parts of the quartet are written on staves that represent ten seconds of time each.

Within that ten second span, notes on the staff may be placed rhythmically at the discretion of the performer. The piece is in five main sections (Lyric, Bold, Playful, Drone and Energetic) of three minutes each with the first minute consisting of a solo introduction. The last movement is followed by a one minute flute solo. In response to this structure, the clarinet and trombone improvise and explore the space of the hall. I have been inspired by the idea of combining maximum freedom with a precise and simple structure. And I have drawn on the many improvisational adventures I have had with Stuart over the years.

The composition is dedicated to the Seattle Chamber Players. It was begun in Rome in August and completed in Seattle in September this year. Tonight it receives its first performance.

-Bill Smith


Stuart Dempster (1936), or Sound Gatherer as he calls himself, is a trombonist, composer, didjeriduist, and professor emeritus at the University of Washington. He has recorded for numerous labels including Columbia, Nonesuch, and New Albion. His New Albion recording In the Great Abbey of Clement VI at Avignon has become, in the words of one reviewer, “a cult classic.” Also from New Albion, Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapelconsists of music sources for a 1995 Merce Cunningham Dance Company commission. His grants include: Creative Associate at SUNYAB; Fellow, Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois; Fulbright Scholar (Australia); NEA Composer Grant; US/UK and Guggenheim fellowships.

Dempster, a leading figure in the development of trombone technique and performance, published his landmark book The Modern Trombone: A Definition of Its Idioms in 1979. As a regular member of Cathedral Band, and a founding member of Deep Listening Band, he has toured extensively. He produced the first three Deep Listening Band recordings including the award-winning Deep Listening CD on New Albion, the first CD made in the now infamous Fort Worden (Port Townsend, Washington) cistern with its 45-second reverberation. Dempster is also known for soothing aches, pains and psychic sores with his healing, yet playful, Sound Massage Parlor. These and other environmental/site-specific works, such asSWAMI (State of Washington As a Musical Instrument)U, have earned him a reputation as a composer/performer whose work is at once deep, meditative and amusing.

Dempster explores new sounds and techniques for his first instrument, trombone, as well as for many non-Western instruments such as the Australian didgeridoo. He has composed many works, but has also commissioned, as a performer, works from many important contemporary composers, including Luciano Berio (Sequenza V for trombone was written for Dempster in 1966), Barney Childs, Donald Erb, Robert Erickson, Ben Johnston, Ernst Krenek, Robert Moran, Pauline Oliveros and William O. Smith. Many composers have dedicated works to him.

The quarter note
Stuart Dempster brings a warm personal touch and a special humor to all of his compositions and performances. He has always been a wonderful mentor to younger musicians in the community, always encouraging, and attending many performances. He takes pride in being a composer who never uses manuscript paper and a trombonist who is equally virtuosic playing the didjeridu or a garden hose. Stu’s “sound massage parlor” performances-one listener at a time-are as legendary as his performances of the Berio trombone workSequenza V. Lesser known but equally wonderful were his performances of David Mahler’s version of the Star Spangled Banner and Take Me Out to the Ballgame (combined), with Stu wearing an old Seattle Pilots baseball uniform and carrying a bat and his trombone. Stuart often recounts the days when new music events in Seattle occurred less than once a month; he enjoys pointing out that these days, it is sometimes impossible to choose between multiple events on the same day!

-Paul Taub

Integrity29 was composed in February 2004, a series of 29 pieces written in celebration of leap year and as a response to the Composer Challenge by Seattle’s Monktail Creative Music Concern. The idea was to write a piece a day during leap month. The sources for my series came from an email to me from “sunshine.” Among the statements in the email was one quoted from John M., “Each piece must have integrity.” Each of the 29 pieces, therefore, contains the word Integrity along with one other modifying word selected from the “sunshine” email. Composed for any performer combination, any two pieces can be performed together, if desired. When this option is exercised, the performers can take advantage of the two meanings separately and/or together.

-Stuart Dempster


Trimpin (1951) does not use his first name. He was born and grew up in Germany. His father was a brass player, and since his childhood Trimpin had access to old brass instruments and could experiment with them, splitting them apart and combining them again in a new way. He was also interested in radio and kinetic experiments. He learned to play wind instruments, but later studied electronics and metal work and graduated from University of Berlin. Twenty-five years ago, in 1979, he moved to America and settled in Seattle, where he had access to used metal and technological components thanks to Boeing and other local manufacturers. For many years he taught electrical engineering and went fishing to Alaska to support himself.

Trimpin works with acoustical instruments and creates electronic devices that allow these instruments to perform without involving a human musician. His instruments, operated by computers and MIDI technologies, produce natural, acoustical sounds. Trimpin has invented and re-invented many instruments, such as an extremely long bass clarinet with extra keys for microtonal sounds rolled around the instrument. He has constructed machines to play all orchestral instruments via MIDI commands and achieved some impossible effects, such as unnoticeable bow changes on the strings. One of his first famous installations was a huge, six-story-high, microtonal xylophone installed on a spiral staircase in an Amsterdam theater, which produced computer-driven melodies running up and down the stairs in a very fast tempo. Another important discovery involved suspending the iron gamelan bells in air by means of electric magnets and photo sensors: the bells then produce extremely long sounds once rung since they don’t touch anything. His only work employing electronic sounds is the one which uses electronic rather than acoustical instruments. This is the famous sculpture monument of electric guitars installed in the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, where the guitars are able to automatically tune themselves when a sensor notices that the pitch is not correct. Besides inventing new ways of operating traditional instruments, Trimpin is concerned with visualizing sound so that the creative thoughts can be expressed and conceived both musically and visually.

In 1987 Trimpin met Conlon Nancarrow and persuaded the composer to allow him to transfer his piano rolls to an electronic system in order to preserve them from destruction. He designed a scanning system that could convert the data of punched holes from the rolls into computer code. Ten years later Trimpin was honored by a MacArthur “Genius” Award.

Beginning in July 2005, several museums in Washington state are participating in a year-long survey of Trimpin’s art to celebrate his 25th anniversary of moving to Seattle. One of them, Consolidated Works, presents until November 27, 2005, his first major sound installation since the 1990s, called Sheng High. The “sheng” is one of the oldest traditional Chinese instruments, and in Trimpin’s installation there are many shengs dangling from the ceiling to the floor and electronically activated so that air is forced through reeds to produce specific notes.

On November 16, 2005, at 7:30 and 9:00 PM, SCP premieres at ConWorks a new composition by Trimpin written for SCP and the Sheng High installation. Today, Paul Taub performs another world premiere, a piece written many years ago especially for him.

The quarter note
Trimpin is an inspiration to artists in many different fields. For the last twelve or thirteen years, every now and then he would remind me that he had written a piece for me, but he didn’t really know where it was, or what the proper venue or situation might be for performing it . . . . Then we would both become immersed in whatever else was more current and more pressing and forget about it, again and again. I’ve always been absolutely flattered that he would think of writing a piece for me to play, and wondered until now when the opportunity to premiere it might arise.

-Paul Taub

For Solo Flute, 8 Pottery Wheels and Assorted Vinyls

This composition interacts with a solo flute (bass to piccolo) and 8 automated record players made from objects such as pottery wheels, vinyl, and electronic elements. All pottery wheel—turntable—record players are controlled via a keyboard; they can be synchronized to play in unison, separate, or any other configuration desired.

The solo flute part was written in the late 1980s and dedicated to Paul Taub. After I heard Paul performing contemporary works for flute, he inspired me to write a piece exploring extended techniques and sounds on a traditional musical instrument.

-Trimpin


Wayne Horvitz (1955) is a composer, pianist and electronic musician who has performed extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. He is leader and principal composer for the quartet Sweeter Than the Day and performs regularly as an improviser on both piano and electronics throughout the world. He is currently forming a new chamber/jazz quartet.

He has collaborated with Bill Frisell, Butch Morris, John Zorn, Robin Holcomb, Fred Frith, Julian Priester, Philip Wilson, Michael Shrieve, Bobby Previte, Marty Ehrlich and Carla Bley among others. He has been commissioned by the NEA, Meet The Composer, Kronos String Quartet, Seattle Chamber Players, Mary Flagler, The Kitchen, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New World Records and others. He is the year 2001 recipient of the Seattle Artist Trust fellowship and the year 2003 recipient of the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture fellowship. In 2002 he was awarded a Rockefeller MAP grant for the creation of a new piece, Joe Hill: 16 Actions for Chamber Orchestra and Voice, which premiered in October of 2004 in Seattle with participation of the SCP core members.

Horvitz has also composed and produced music for a variety of theater, video, film, television and other multimedia projects, including two projects with director Gus Van Sant, a full length score for PBS’s Chihuly Over Venice and two films about the creation of Seattle’s Experience Music Project museum. His 85-minute score to Charlie Chaplin’s film The Circus, for two pianos, two clarinets and violin, was premiered in January 2000 in Oporto, Portugal.

His recent collaboration with Tucker Martine, Mylab, was on the top ten jazz CD list for 2004 in both The New Yorker and Amazon.com. In February 2005 he received Earshot Jazz’s Golden Ear award from Earshot Jazz for Joe Hill as “Concert of the Year.”

The quarter note
Wayne Horvitz seems to be everywhere at the same time: mentoring students at Cornish, writing music for the latest Jarmusch film, lending a piano to a club in Pioneer Square, touring Europe with Bobby Previtt or Robin Holcomb, writing a string quartet, taking his son swimming at the YMCA, starting a weekly gig at a restaurant in Columbia City, starting a new quartet (electric, acoustic, chamber, whatever). He brings integrity and ethics to his work regardless of genre or venue. I’ve always enjoyed his presentations to third- and fourth-year students at Cornish: provocative about the state of the world, brutally honest about the “business” of music, but equally direct and passionate about the art of music and music-making.

-Paul Taub

Improvisations and Conductions

I first spoke with the members of SCP about doing a concert featuring improvisation after attending one of their concerts in November of 2004. The program showcased music of the American “maverick” composers of the mid-twentieth century (John Cage, Earle Brown, Henry Cowell, etc.). I had been exposed to much of this music when I attended UC Santa Cruz in the 1970s, and then as now I was struck by many of the relationships, and some of the contradictions, that this music has with contemporary improvised music.

I say “contemporary” for a reason. Almost all music contains improvisation, and most music contains quite a bit of it. The great art traditions of Indian classical music, North and South, American jazz music, and Indonesian gamelan music are just three examples of profound improvising traditions. All traditional folk forms, and virtually all modern forms of rock, folk and other so-called popular music, include heavy doses of spontaneous inspiration.

European classical music has its share as well, in early music, organ music, figured bass, and cadenzas just to name a few. Of course one could argue that even “interpretation” is improvisation to some degree, and why not? Further along, where do we draw the line between improvisation and composition? How many composers have started with a spontaneous invention only to slow it down and take the time to notate it? My favorite story is of Bartók performing his work for two pianos and two percussionists. Choosing to depart from the score one night, and ad-lib briefly, the composer finds the conductor, Fritz Reiner, is furious with him after the performance! Whose music is this anyway? And is it an improvisation or simply an off-the-cuff re-write?

The focus this evening is on improvisation in the context of contemporary music. Just as the structure, language, and even intent of classical composition has transformed radically in the last century, so has the nature of improvisation. There is a growing tradition of performers and composers who use improvisation as a starting point for creating new music. Some of these artists have backgrounds in traditional forms that use improvisation, but just as many do not.

Cage, Cowell, Brown et al seemed to be looking for ways to free themselves from the constructs of formal composition. By using graphic notation, chance operations, and similar techniques, they were encouraging the possibility of a musical moment that could not happen otherwise. Some of these works were fabulously liberating, while others seemed oddly constrained by the notion of “score.” After all, if the performer has so much choice, should the performer in fact have an opinion? Ideas? Personal taste (god forbid!)? My epiphany came one night when I had the incredible fortune to hear Yvonne Loriod and Olivier Messiaen himself perform a program of his music for two pianos. At the time I was virtually obsessed with music of the phenomenal and virtuosic pianist Cecil Taylor, who had left behind the traditions of jazz rhythm and harmonic structure to create a radical new voice in the African-American tradition. Hearing Messiaen’s music for the first time, it seemed all of the same cloth, although created in an entirely different fashion. There were neither chance operations nor graphic scores here, nor any improvisation; every note was fully notated, and yet Messiaen looked for inspiration from the songs of birds, and in some way he had captured both the utter randomness and imposing structure of life itself. In the 1960s, jazz saxophonist Eric Dolphy spent his days practicing with bird songs, we assume looking for a similar inspiration. Listening to him now on record it seems to me that he found it. It was Dolphy himself who once said to the audience, “The thing about music is once it is in the air, you can never capture it again.” Of course that concert was recorded, including his remarks, and released on record and CD many times over. Go figure.

“Free” improvisers in the late twentieth century proposed that music of great depth and beauty could be made without a score, and without a pre-determined harmonic and rhythmic structure. Of course is anybody capable of truly improvising? All musicians have a personal language, and whenever we hear a brilliant improvisation, be it in a jazz standard, a slow blues, or a moment without pre-ordained structure, we hear the culmination of a life’s work banging up against the door of a new possibility. Some have argued that improvisation without structure can lead to music that lacks focus, is indulgent, and often devoid of substance. I am afraid I agree, but would only make the point that it seems to me no different than any other form! The gems are few indeed, and we take the same chances when we open the piano lid as we do when we take pencil to paper or press “record” on the tape deck.

A number of approaches to improvisation are presented this evening. In my portion of the concert I present two. One will be open form improvisation. My contribution to the piece will be simply as a member of the ensemble, along with some work during rehearsals where we spent time developing various strategies for improvisation. I feel strongly that the elements of good music are universal; structural integrity, development of motifs, a certain level of sophistication along with some level of emotional resonance. Just my opinion. Issues of orchestration, harmony and rhythm, dynamics, tone color, and the role of the soloist and accompanist exist in all music.

The other pieces will be conductions. I owe this entire concept to my good friend and mentor Lawrence “Butch” Morris who I originally hoped would be here tonight. Starting in the late 1970s, Butch began developing a language of improvised conducting which can be used with any ensemble that he employs to this day. I was very fortunate to be in many of his early ensembles. With a few exceptions most issues of harmony, melody and rhythm are left to the ensemble. Other parameters, including repetition, motif development, density, dynamics, and orchestration are cued and organized by the conductor.

Tonight will be the premiere of my own “conductions,” and I will only be using a small portion of his extensive language. Wish me luck.

-Wayne Horvitz

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