I’ve been working on a duet project (
me & you) with Sam Andreae for well over a year now. We started shortly after he moved back to the UK after spending a couple of years in Scandinavia. It started off innocently enough, just as drum/sax free improv. That later blossomed into the idea for Battle Pieces. The idea is simple enough, a kind of challenge/battle/etude where we perform (often) against each other.
In content it is very similar to what I’ve been doing with other recent compositions (.com pieces, Everything., an amplifier) where I compose interaction, behavior, and relationships, instead of ‘content’. In the Battle Pieces the challenges are much more difficult and intense and have forced Sam and I to change/adapt/improve as improvisers drastically.
In December 2013 we decided we had enough of these pieces to go into the studio.
Before I run at the gob some more, here is Glitch Beat from the recording session:
We recorded 8 pieces total, with alternative takes being filmed by Angela Guyton on the second day in the studio.
I’ve become less interested in the idea of “releases” over the years, particularly since I hate getting CDs from people. I do like the art object of a release, which is why many of my releases over the years have been hand-made in one way or another, but even that idea has been waning. This has coincided with my increased video output, not so much as a kind of documentation, but as the thing itself. I do think that
me & you is a live band, and we will play many gigs together, but as far as this recording goes, the current idea is to release each track individually, and for free. We’ve talked about eventually putting together a deck of cards with each piece written on each card, so at gigs we can pull out random cards and have our set determined that way, but we need to write many more pieces before we are at that point.
If the background looks familiar, it is because it is in the same studio where I recorded a follow up album with PA Tremblay in 2012. Due to PAs busy schedule, the recording is still in post, but it’s a doozy, and should hopefully be out in 2014.
My setup is equally stripped down, just being a 3-piece acoustic kit with 2 cymbals (1hat, 1ride), but after moving down to just a 2 piece setup, I’ve decided to add a single small (tiny) tom to complement the setup. I find that with
me & you in particular, the alternate color of the tom works really well.
Here is one of our newer pieces, Flurries:
This piece is quite a departure for us in terms of sound world, but we’re both very happy with it. It was composed a couple of weeks before going into the studio, and the interactions were only finalized in the last rehearsal before the studio.
We have not finished ‘notating’ most of the pieces, which requires careful consideration of the wording, but here are 5 of the scores.
Early in 2013 a close friend of mine, Linda Jankowska, asked me to write her a violin piece. Despite her being an amazing and dedicated violinist, I told her no. I added “I don’t believe in violin”. I don’t think she had ever heard those words before….
Fast forward to now, the end of 2013. I still don’t believe in violin, but I wrote her a piece. The piece does not specify instrumentation. The instrumentation is simply “for Linda”.
Here enters : an amplifier, a mirror, an explosion, an intention
This piece is very different from the kinds of things I’ve been working on lately. One massive difference is that I’m not playing at all. The trajectory of my work, as of late, has been to compose/perform/improvise myself, or with very close collaborations in which I am also a performer.
The intellectual framework of the piece is also new. The .com pieces, Battle pieces, and Everything. Everything at once. Once., dealt with memory, challenge/etude, and instrumentation respectively. In ‘an amplifier’ I shift the focus from ‘composition’ to ‘improvisation’ in terms of where the brain juice is poured.
Here are the performance notes from the score:
Thinking about decisions in time
Decision making, in time, is separated into four streams. These all happen at once, with your active brain shifting between them. Throughout the piece you will be asked to privilege one kind of decision over the other.
There is an amount of overlap between these decision streams, which is intentional. The decision streams are not meant to be codified or exhaustive, but rather meant to draw emphasis to a certain area.
Material – Decisions dealing with manipulations of local material. This can come in the form of instrumental behaviours or general development, but is open to context and interpretation.
Formal – Decisions dealing with form and transitions.
Interface – Decisions dealing with instrument, ergonomics, technology, and performance modalities.
Interaction – Decisions dealing with how materials interact. This is primarily dealing with simultaneous materials (as opposed to Formal decisions), but is not exclusively so.
The idea for decision streams came after creating the Everything. Everything at once. Once. videos (filmed, as always, by Angela Guyton). I began analyzing my improvisations in those videos in terms of the actual (honest) decisions I make in time. This is central to what I actually do in a performance. Make decisions, in time. The categories came from analyzing the types of decisions I noticed myself making, and trying to make them general enough to apply to other performances.
This is the first piece in which I apply this idea.
Another new idea is that of time resonances. The term is borrowed from Terence McKenna, though I do not use it in the same way he does. For me it is also central to what I do as an improviser. Occasionally things happen in improvisation, things beyond myself, beyond my ability, and understanding. The things that can happen when you become an antenna. These cause a rift in the universe and create a drawing about the future/past…oh wait.. I digress.
I got the idea for time resonances from realizing that all the snare/feedback stuff (.com pieces) that I had been doing had been born in a 30second bit of improvisation from a tour I did a couple of summers ago. That idea resonated into each of the .com pieces, as a ‘harmonic’ of that idea ‘fundamental’.
All of that makes up the intellectual framework, but that is not the piece. The piece is for Linda.
Following on from the compositional ideas I had been developing in my .com pieces (form as content) and Battle pieces (challenge as content), I’m working on a new set of pieces where the choice of instruments is the composition.
Instrumentation as content.
This is how I approach most of my improv stuff, particularly coming from a multi-instrumentalist/DIY place. The choice of the instruments/devices is very much part of the creative process. I hadn’t formally considered this as part of my process before, but it was definitely there. It zooms out on the scope of my compositional thinking from being about interaction/form/memory to happening before any formal elements take place at all.
Before I talk more, here is composition 1a from the series:
The seedling for this way of thinking was some recent collaborative experiments with honest and able violinist Linda Jankowska. She had me dust off my stringed-drum bits and was playing with that for a while. It got me thinking about how much an instrument/setup, particularly an esoteric one, lends itself to a certain kind of playing. What you did in context is, to an extent, articulating what you had in mind when you put those instruments together.
Shortly after Angela Guyton filmed her videos, I decided that I would make some videos of my own. I decided on the following setup:
1 x 12″ Pork Pie snare drum
1 x 13″ Pearl snare drum
1 x 12″ Rancan chinese cymbal
1 x 6.5″ toy cymbal
1 x 6.5″ Cast iron pot lid
1 x 4″ Coin dish
1 x Beaker t-shirt
1 x ciat-lonbarde Fourses (Electric Whisks)
1 x Fender Deluxe amplifier
1 x Ernie Ball volume pedal
At the point of making the decision, I hadn’t yet come up with this idea forming a compositional approach. It was just part of my regular creative process.
The title of the series of pieces is “Everything. Everything at once. Once.”.
I think it really suits this way of thinking about composition. I don’t know where this compositional approach begins and my normal creative process ends, and as such, I don’t think I will compose a gigantic amount of these pieces. But for now it is something I am exploring.
The .com pieces are a series of pieces I started in early 2013 dealing with form/memory as content. So far I have finished two of them, iminlovewithanothergirl.com (for snare, microphone and DMX lights) and ialreadyforgotyourpussy.com (for amplified wind instrument and amplified snare). I made a video of iminlovewithanothergirl.com at the start of the year demoing some of the DMX light interaction stuff I had been developing for use in a massive revamp of Takahashi’s Shellfish Concern.
The second piece was written for/with flautist Richard Craig after discovering that we had both been exploring similar sound worlds (instrument + feedback). That spawned a collaboration that ended up producing Amp/AL, an album by Richard which I recorded in late 2013.
Check out all the links to learn more about it, but this post is mainly about two videos. The first is an excerpt from a performance Peter and I did. The second is an amazing documentary (by Angela Guyton) about the workshop itself.
So I’ve been planning a piece for Richard Craig and myself after discovering that he, too, has been working on feedback-based instrument playing. The idea is to follow up my snare/feedback piece, iminlovewithanothergirl.com (score), with a piece for flute/feedback + snare/feedback. This will be the second of a planned trilogy of .com pieces. I’ve been developing a dynamic score display system which I will debut with this piece, but more on that later.
Here are some videos:
Since Sam Andreae moved back to the country late last year we’ve been working on a duo together. At first it was just straight acoustic improv, but lately we’ve started exploring “Battle Pieces”.
Here is a video of the first one we wrote, called “Yo Momma”.
The idea for Battle Pieces came about when we were thinking of ways to expand what we were doing together, but still retaining improvisation freedom. Essentially each battle piece is a game, but beyond being an improv game, it is also competitive, and generally dealing with an aspect of improvisation that we want to explore further and/or get better at.
Yo Momma is primarily about ‘endings’. During the main section of the piece we are trying to catch/bait/trap each other into an ending. That is to recontextualize what the other performer was doing such that it can be the ‘end’ of a piece. It’s been interesting/challenging exploring this idea as we’ve gotten much better and the ‘game’ part of it, so it’s becoming more chess-like, trying to do moves ahead, setting up false premises, muscling through the other players attempted ending etc… The punctuated endings give the piece an interesting cadence/microstructure, which gives it a depth beyond the less-than-apparent ‘game’ being played. When collaboratively composing these pieces this has been the hardest part. It’s easy enough to come up with a fun game to play, harder to come up with an interesting game to play/listen to, and even harder to have the game/interest extend into the structure of the piece.
We play 2 out of 3, so the first player to get two endings wins that part of the game. A tie (when we both claim an ending) doesn’t count, and we carry on. We can also claim a point when we think the other player has egregiously played through an attempted ending.
After one player wins 2 points, the ‘loser’ has to play a solo, and the winner ‘plays them out’ whenever they want. The loser has to go along with the winner’s ending.
Yo Momma is our first finished piece, we have several more which are works in progress. Here is a video of some of the interaction types/language in one of the works in progress. The game of this one is more complex, and is not present in this video. It basically deals with fast pre-composition, memory, and memory to structure all of which inform what methods of interaction.
Before I talk, here is some sights and sounds:
During my summer tour last year I improv-ed my way into using a condenser mic as a friction implement. The sounds were harsh, but very controllable and with a great continuity between vastly different types of sounds/playing. I instantly knew I was on to something, and wanted to explore this further.
Fast forward to one month ago.
I was starting to plan/conceive my next composition, having recently started a PhD at the University of Huddersfield, and wanted to explore this microphone/snare thing further. At the same time, I had decided that I was going to move away from the “middle man” of writing a composition, for myself, to perform. (More on this, and the implications of it in a future post). I decided to use this very limited mode of playing as the backbone of this exploration. No other implements, no electronics (other than amplification/distortion), no “easy” solutions to the problem I was trying to solve.
This video is not that solution. It is just a document of some of the sounds and playing techniques I’ve been exploring.
So I went on a UK tour recently doing solo drums + electronics.
Here is a ‘showreel’ of sorts, documenting some choice bits from the different performances.
This was the first tour I’ve done since moving onto a laptop as my performance setup. The center piece of that is The Party Van, my all-in-one laptop performance solution. It was nice doing a bunch of (relatively) back to back gigs to really get ‘inside’ the mechanics of my patch/setup.
The footage was shot and edited by my wife, Angela Guyton, who shoots most(all) of my videos nowadays. There’s a longer (10minutes) sort of documentary on me in the works covering my live stuff, instrument building, bands, composition etc… Very much looking forward to that.
Weak Without You is my latest composition commissioned by Distractfold Ensemble.
It looks and sounds like this:
It’s written for three female performers who sing and clap (with a bit of a pitched instrument at end). The performers (Linda Jankowska, Emma Richards, and Alice Purton) did a great job with the piece, particularly considering the nakedness of just singing/clapping.
This is the first piece I’ve composed since starting my PhD at the University of Huddersfield and it’s probably one of my simplest/cleanest pieces. The materials are super stark, and I think it really works.
‘Underneath the hood’ there are some further explorations into some of my ideas about ‘fake’ time. Sections B/C/D in the score make use of these ideas, and during the rehearsals the term “real time” and “fake time” were thrown around a lot (to the initial confusion of the performers).
Here is the full score:
Oh yeah, and it’s a ‘cover’ of Survivor by Destiny’s Child….
Here are a couple videos I made for the Art of Teaching project of my favorite drills for working your time and ears.
It sounds like this:
And looks like this:
So here it finally is. The post-jazz trio that I’ve been working on with Mauricio Pauly and Alex Tod (A Greater Horror) has finished our debut EP. As always the artwork is by Angela Guyton though this time we’ve gone with a commercially duplicated full-color sleeve type thing.
I’ve very happy with the integration of my software The Party Van into the recording, as all of these tracks were getting gigged before I had even started programming again. You can see/hear more of it in action with the live video we made a bit ago by clicking here.
You can listen to, or buy a download of physical copy of the EP on the bandcamp page here:
You can see The Party Van in action on my side, with some more Max/MSP goodness coming from PA. Sam? He kicks it oldschool with some ciat-lonbarde digs, some general DIY grunginess, and with a new school twist, an Arduino.
I am what I am today because a series of teachers who inspired, challenged, and believed in me. Today I received the Positive Impact Award in the Student Led Teaching Awards at the Royal Northern College of Music, where I teach Musicianship.
It is a massive honor to be nominated for, and receive this award. I have been very fortunate to encounter some amazing teachers in my life and I hope I can do for my students but a fraction of what they have done for me.
Many thanks to Thomas Trenkler, Joseph Bragg, Jo Foster, David Weissbrot, Jane Pyle, and all teachers who inspire students everywhere.