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.
Here is an interview, or rather, a series of questions, from Alex Harker.
AH: What are you trying to achieve with the piece?
RC: This is complex as there are lots of layers. One is part of the trajectory of the ideas in my last few pieces that If I’ve shrunk what composition is, I need (want) to talk about, and articulate ideas in the way that is honest to how I actually think/work. Decision streams (not sure I’ve talked about this to you already) and time resonances are part of that. This piece has those two ideas as the intellectual trusses.
There are other layers where she had wanted a (violin) piece from me a while back, which I refused. So writing a piece for her, for HER, is a massive gesture.
This answer can go on a bit longer, but I can summarize it by saying that what I’m trying to achieve is creating a piece that’s a synthesis of my current (new) thinking and the friendships/relationships therein.
AH: What is your role in creating (as compared to Linda’s role also)?
RC: Conceiving the ideas, machinery, and framework for the piece.
Linda articulates all of that. The piece doesn’t exist without her (in conception or actuation).
Although it does say “by rodrigo constanzo” her name is the first on the cover, and quite a bit bigger.
AH: What would make a good performance of the piece (or a bad one)?
RC: Without being too trite, I don’t think there can be a bad performance of this, unless she doesn’t engage with the idea/framework, but she’s not that kind of performer.
It’s all about her experiencing that decision making process, and everything it entails.
I’m very curious to hear what it sounds like as I will be listening for the ‘sound’ of that process.(more on this below)
AH: How does Linda understand how to perform the piece well (and who decides what that means – you or her)?
RC: The piece was written for/with her in mind, so she just needs to be herself, and it will work.
She can ask me questions and I will answer them, but part of giving her the piece (and not being a performer) involves an element of trust.
AH: Is it important that the score is not an isolated object, and there is also a parallel direct communication with her?
RC: Like above, I will answer questions if she has them but she has everything she needs. It should be mentioned that there are many things about the piece, and the language therein that carry meaning beyond what is communicated in the score. No one else could play the piece, and no one else can hear ‘all’ of the piece. That is also part of the identity of the piece, and part of what I was trying to achieve.
AH: I’m also interested by the way in which you are intervening in / working with the decision making process. For me this is key.
RC: The decision stream thing is quite interesting. I will likely explore it further in other pieces, as well as carrying on using that framework for analysis of my own performances (and possibly this piece etc..)
Sound/gesture have always been part of my improvising, but for many years now it hasn’t been the principal thing. I’ve been more about interaction, context, decision, direction, form, memory, etc…
AH: What trace of this process if anything is apparent to the listener (and does it matter)?
RC: There is a deliberate form/behavior to each of the four sections that will be apparent to anyone. As far as the decision streams, I don’t think it will be apparent at all. I’ve been doing it for years and have only now thought about it as an articulation plane.
The specifics of that mechanism as it pertains to audience perception doesn’t really matter.
AH: How do you make a priori decisions about how to make decisions without contextual information about the moments these apply to?
RC: Part of this is serendipity. I had the title of the piece before I had anything else. I was independently working on analyses of decision streams, and how to categorize the streams. There happened to be four of those. That was the first ‘spark’ of the piece (and why the diagram is included in the score).
This gave me the idea to link streams and sections.
After that it was a balance of specific instructions, poetic inflection, and generally flow.
I should mention at this point that the whole process (from conception to pdf) happened in a few hours. (section two required some additional thinking/wording the next day).
Going back to the idea of synthesis, the spark happened, and in that state all of what is there came into focus.
AH: How do you (as someone writing such pieces) get better at making pieces that deal with this kind of material and the above problem. What would your criteria for better be?
RC: This piece is a big departure for me, so I don’t know if I will write more pieces like this. The concepts behind it I will explore further for sure. For the moment I want to get a better understanding of how I operate inside that decision stream framework, and then I will explore ways to articulate ideas there (similar to form/memory in previous pieces).
As for criteria, that is a difficult one. I feel that with this (and recent) pieces, I’m operating somewhere between intuition and intellect, or more like relaying between intuition and intellect. I guess it’s successful if it comes out of that machine at all.
AH: Does all this mean that the skills you are requiring are different from those of a “unchoked” improviser?
RC: The skills required for this piece are “being Linda”, so in the case of this particular piece, it is quite different. I guess part of making decisions ahead of time involves some kind of choking (one day I’ll figure out the reason why I don’t like that term so much in this context). Normally I’m the performer, or one of the performers, with the other being chosen specifically for what/how/who they are, so that sidesteps that problem too.
AH: How free is the performer to preference/include their own natural biases/stream of thoughts/decision making processes?
RC: Again, for this piece, all of that bias (“being Linda”) is part of the piece. In other recent pieces, the performers are fully free to do so. This is the first piece that intervenes in the actual decision making process, so this is new territory, but in general, I try to only prescribe things that get out of the way of those parts of what another performer will do (by composing form/memory/interaction/game etc…).
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