Seattle Improvisation Meeting
Treatise Workshop Report
Day 1: January 25th, 2006
|Day 2: January 26th, 2006
The workshop didn't reconvene until 5 pm so I had most of the day to kill in Vancouver. Considering my low volumes from the day before I was thinking of looking for a small amp. This was something I'd been meaning to get for a long time so I took this as an opportunity to finally act on this. There turned out to be a huge music store, Tom Lee Music, just up the road from my hotel. So I went there and poked around and finally found one very small, very red amp that had no price or info on it. It was exactly the size I wanted (a lot of practice amps, seem to range from super tiny, 1 watt things, and then not so small 10-15 watt things.) So I enquired about this amp and it turned out to be a discontinued floor model that they were ditching for CN$39! So a great deal, made even better with a bit of the exchange rate. So I grabbed this and a cable. Noting that it had a CD input for playing along with prerecorded music I decided to pick up a small radio to play through this. I have never played the radio, but I was thinking that this was the easiest and cheapest way that I could add some "incompatibilities" to my sound. Thinking about Tilbury's comment on the formality of our trio, I had to agree that it was a little staid. Normally I've been playing pure acoustic, surrounded by electronics and I had figured that this situation would reoccur here. Considering that my compatriots were even more relentlessly acoustic I felt I need to dirty things up. So I hit up an electronics store and picked up a small short-wave and assorted wires. Once again I struck gold and got a nice floor model of the radio at a discount.
John opened the second day of the workshop by revealing his plan for the performance. The entire ensemble would play through the first 35 pages of the score (or how much they could get through) for the first hour. Then all the wind instruments would leave the stage leaving only electronic and string instruments to play the next 30 pages over half an hour. The whole group would then return to the stage and for the next hour and a half the small groups would play with each group leaving the stage when done. It ended up that John liked my eBowed harp and decided that I would end the performance playing the final pages solo. John then made a few more comments about the score, beginning by pointing out that Cardew felt that you should repeat a gesture when the numbers came up, the number of times indicated - just as I had gotten from Rowe. He also stressed that one should not always play all the time, perhaps assign some symbols as a sign to listen. "We always play too much." Ultimately he said it's about how you play, your relationship to the players, the room and the audience. Before we moved to the score, John had us perform the following exercise: each play was to play 11 musical events over the next 20 minutes. This I think resulted in the best music of the whole ensemble; spare, attentive, contextual.
After this we then played the first group of pages as an ensemble and then the "electric" ensemble ala our performance schedule. There were definitely some good minutes in this, the group having learned somewhat and of course there being a lot more players. I used the radio sparingly, assigning a very specific symbol to it's use. Joda had gotten an amplifier as well so there was two radio's going at times. The electronic ensemble was much better, much more sparse and textured and without the wild volumes that wind instruments can bring. I think a lot of the group made it through most if not all of the pages in the allotted times - as if they felt they had to. Speaking for myself I made it through about 12 pages in the hour and half.
After this we broke and upon our return ran through all of the small groups with a slightly truncated timeframe. Again signs of improvement were visible, things settling down and more attention paid to the score. Still though all of the groups apart from mine still tried to play all of the material. We had decided to just play pages 189-192 and take our allotted time to work through that. John stressed multiple times that we could just play a subset of our pages, but I think most groups had too hard a time with that. When my group played, I did lag behind the others, but as they got to the last page I skipped ahead so that I could do the ebow solo. Even though we were playing truncated it was still pretty nerve-wracking to play for the group. Much hard to play for your fellow musicians then an audience in my opinion.
|Day 3: January 27th, 2006
The final day of the workshop was mostly setup and rehearsal before that evenings performance. Most of us arrived at 10:30am for the tech rehearsal, which was mainly the placing of microphones and the checking of levels. I was relaying on my small amp for my sound reinforcement needs so I was not miked up. I setup my gear and laid out all of my tools and participated in the sound checks. We broke for lunch then returned at 2:30pm for the dress rehearsal.
John was a bit late in arriving (and he didn't even have to come to the tech rehearsal!) so we took it upon ourselves to play the opening page. John arrived shortly into this and had us stop. Once again he gave us words of encouragement and some more ideas on thinking about the score and what had gone into its development. As an example he told an anecdote (that may have been told yesterday, but...) about Cardew and page 190 of Treatise. Apparently at some point Cardew and his wife were having a terrific spate and in a fit of rage she ran to his basement workshop and scribbled all over the in progress pages. Cardew liking the scribbling and incorporated it into those pages. So this sort of knowledge can be brought out as you play these pages - page 190 with the scribbling is certainly angry and violent. John also asked us that if a pause, a silence came up to nuture it, to let it grow and not to be afraid of it. "Nurture the Silence" he repeated. Then he had us do an exercise where we looked at a member of the ensemble and played for up to 30 seconds for that person. I played a single low bass note for the double bass player. After we had done this, John said that he felt we could have opened ourselves up even more, made definitive eye contact and really tried deeply to communicate with the chosen individual. This rehearsal was open and even through we didn't play much there were a couple people watching. As we discussed leaving the stage at various points a women in the audience commented that we should be without shoes for the performance. And so we were.
I arrived about thirty minutes early and made sure everything was prepared. People filtered in and did the same over the 15 minutes or so with the techies giving us time warnings. Finally the time approached and they let the audience filter in. John gave us a few words of encouragement and then stressed this point: "You need to be fully engaged in every sound and yet distant from them at the same time." Then he left the stage and the lights dimmed. Giorgio came out and introduced the ensemble, Tilbury and the workshop process we had been involved in. He also pointed out that the entire score would scroll by the video screen behind us but that we are not playing in sync with it. Then it went dark and a few moments later the lights came back up and we began.
The score begins with '34', so 34 repeated gestures. Good for settling down and get over initial nervousness, it is meditative to play the same sound over and over again. As people departed from this, some residual nervous energy brought things louder and a bit more chaotic. I felt this myself and try to channel it into space and silence. I played 34 bows strikes across a top string for the beginning and the next symbol was one I used for the radio. I had pre-tuned a broadcast in French and I let it play for a good while before fading it out. Things seemed to settle down and we moved through the score. I played the first 3 or 4 pages over about 35 minutes and then the score comes to a long series of pages of thin parallel lines. I was playing these as mallet strokes on the wire strings and that is more or less what I did for the rest of this time. These are faster pages in my view so I did make it through more of them before we switched to pages 35 and the electric ensemble. This was really the first time I've played live and the first time with this amp. I was worried about volumes quite a bit and overall things seemed much louder. Perhaps it was the sound reinforcement, or just group nervousness, but I had to turn up to be heard. At other times I felt too loud, especially when playing in my trio. For the most part in the large group I was probably okay, but things were generally louder.
Anyway the wind players left the stage and things immediately settled down. Once again the "electronic" group was more subtle more spacious and overall I think more interesting. Perhaps it was because everyone had been playing for an hour and was calmer and it for the long haul. These pages had more sections with the symbol I was using for the radio then the initial series of pages so that got more play. Mostly I used static but at one point some pumping techno got inserted into the proceedings. As people finished this group of pages they left the stage. Coming to a stopping point at the end of the third page I also left the stage. A chance to stretch a bit before the long small groups segment and I would have had to stop in the middle of the next page as there was only a couple of minutes left.
The remaining musicians wrapped it up and then the whole group returned to the stage. The small groups ran through in the same order as before (following their assigned pages of course) and you could say that stylistically they remained in similar spaces. Generally the groups had slowed down a bit, added more space and used more extended techniques. The initial trio had I think varied the most from their initial jazzier sound but still retained the bulk of their interpretive strategy. Likewise the quartet was a bit less EFI and a bit more consistent, but still rather rapidly played through the material. The Sextet and Quintet, remained the most interesting of the groups with their more nuanced sounds and less frenetic pace. The duo added a lot more space in their performance but in essence stuck with their interpretation. Finally only the three of us remained on stage and we were on to the concluding pages of the score.
I fired up the radio which I intended to have running static at a low volume throughout the first page. However the station it was on was broadcasting this frank discussion of female sexuality which I felt was just too good not to use. I had my volumes lower and I don’t know how this transmitted to the audience, but it had that extreme contrast that I wanted. I faded it in and out and began cutting it with static as it got increasingly graphic. At the end of the page I dropped it out and then we were onto p.190 with it’s extreme violence and anger. I turned on the amp’s overdrive and always at the edge of feedback scrapped my bow on the metal strings. Ellen blew increasingly sharp attacks on the flute while Rachel pounded her toy piano. Eventually they settled down and moved on to the next page. Lingering on the end of page 190, I coaxed a last few wails from the harp. I chose to play very sparse on the next page, interpreting many of the symbols as listening to my fellow musicians. They played gentler as well and not too long after Ellen left the stage as Rachel gently bowed her saw for the last page. Wrapping up on the previous page I switched to the eBow and our overlapping tones played for a while until Rachel also left the stage. At this point I turned my amp up and played a very high string, generating a pure piercing tone. The contact mics in the harp would pick up any movement and rubbing which to me represented the wavering of the last lines. I played just this tone for 3 minutes and then faded it out over a minute. Then I left the stage as well. The audience sat in silence for a good 10 minutes or so as the final 20 pages or so of the score scrolled by on the video monitor.
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