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Feb 22, 2013

strikethrough me & you – Battle Pieces

Tag cloud datafile battle_drawing

“Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.” — Ice-T

The Battle Pieces are a series of pieces composed, and performed, with Sam Andreae (as strikethrough me & you) which focus on complex games, improvisational etudes, and competition. The idea for the Battle Pieces came about during a rehearsal of a free-improv duo we had been developing where we decided we wanted to expand on what we were doing together, while still retaining improvisational freedom. This eventually took the form of the Battle Pieces. Essentially each Battle Piece is a game, but beyond being an improv game, it is also competitive, and generally deals with an aspect of improvisation that we want to explore further and/or improve on.

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Battle Pieces

So before I get into the Battle Pieces, it’d be foolish not to start with a yo momma joke.
Yo momma is soooo bad at improv endings that…

strikethrough me & you is a duo with Sam on tenor sax and me on drums. We had each been working on setups that involved solo improv on electronically augmented instruments but wanted to explore something using only stripped-down acoustic instruments. We initially began with just free improv, but during the compositional process of iminlovewithanothergirl.com Sam and I began testing out some of the formal materials (A/B/C pages) from that piece in a duo context. Some of the motivation to do this was to move away from the established canon of tenor sax and drums in free jazz. Those instruments just screamed “FREE JAZZ!” And as we all know, jazz is stupid. This exploration led us to expand and exaggerate the challenge/etude nature of iminlovewithanothergirl.com until the point that it became a competition – a battle.

This led to the idea of a “Battle Piece”: a musical game/challenge where winning and losing had material consequences in the piece. Much like in iminlovewithanothergirl.com, the actual content is not prescribed in any way. In these, the interaction is the composed material of the pieces. It is the idea of interaction as content.

The implementation of game theory in music has a history. Xenakis‘ implementation of game theory in pieces like Duel, although groundbreaking, lacks legibility in terms of the audience perceiving the actual interplay composed into the piece. The mechanics of the piece are primarily focused on balancing the zero-sum characteristics of matrices rather than aesthetics or non-mathematical interplay (Xenakis 1971). That isn’t to say that legibility (of the rules) is terribly important in Battle Pieces, but even the more complex methods of interaction produce legible artifacts, primarily in the form of visible emotion. Much like how it is not necessary to understand the rules of an unfamiliar sport in order to enjoy the game in some manner, the mere fact that there is visible interaction produces a kind of legibility which can be appreciated on its own merit. As Sam put it, “If we work hard enough on the interactions themselves so that we’re clear in them–clear on what our roles are–then it should generate quite strong musical results regardless of whether we tell people how we’re doing it” (Andreae 2013).

An example of possible tactics in Duel (Xenakis 1971, 115)

An example of possible tactics in Duel (Xenakis 1971, 115)

The general approach used in Battle Pieces has more in common with Zorn‘s game pieces than they do with Xenakis’. Zorn says of his motivation to create game pieces, which formed most of his compositional output from the late 70s to the early 80s, culminating in Cobra, that he “wanted to find something to harness the personal languages that the improvisers had developed on their own” (Duckworth 1999). So the solution for him was “to deal with form, not with content, with relationships, not with sound” (Duckworth 1999). This idea of relationships, or interaction, is a central concern in the Battle Pieces.

Guerrilla system Tactics in Cobra (John Zorn © Oct 9 1984 NYC)

Guerrilla system Tactics in Cobra by John Zorn

Although I was not directly inspired by the work of Christian Wolff, there is some similarity to the tension and confusion he worked with in his ensemble pieces of the 50s and 60s. Wolff’s use of relational notation, instructing performers to begin before/after a sound they have heard, or play a sound lower/higher in pitch to an existing note, gives the music a sense of immediacy and tension that would not be possible to arrive at another way. Even the pacing of the music is affected by these types of ‘games’, or more simply put by Philip Thomas (a long-time performer of Wolff’s music), “confusion is [used as] a rhythmic device in Wolff’s music” (Thomas 2014).

All Battle Pieces are composed collaboratively during rehearsals, with both of us contributing to the concepts, gameplay, rules, and mechanics of each piece. Although some close friends have tried the pieces out, they are meant to be performed only by Sam and me. The identity of each piece is made up of not only the rules/game/instructions and the type of material we improvise around, which can evolve over time, it is also made up of our personalities. As musicians, performers, and human beings, our personalities and general sense of play make up a big part of the Battle Pieces’ identities.

The core ideas for many Battle Pieces emerge from discussions following free improvisations during strikethrough me & you rehearsals. We sometimes end up finding something about the improvisation that could have been better and link that to tendencies or behaviors that we have as improvisers/performers. This leads to the creation of a piece, or pieces, that tackles that specific aspect of improvisation (endings, space, synchronicity, memory, density, etc.). Through learning, rehearsing, and performing those pieces we improve on the improvisation skills that we had originally found lacking. This process often leads to pieces becoming obsolete as they are no longer challenging or have become part of our general improvisational language and skill set, making the conception/composition/performance/obsolescence of Battle Pieces a microcosm of the feedback loop and intertwinement of my general practice.

The scores that we play from are the instructions for the pieces scribbled onto A4 sheets of paper, as can be seen in the sketches included with each commentary. Since we write the pieces for ourselves there is no need to create thorough notations for each piece, but rather, we jot down a compact set of instructions that we can quickly read to remind ourselves of the rules of the game. A long-term goal, once we have 78 compositions, is to have the instructions for each piece printed on Tarot cards, so that we can shuffle them and pull out cards (pieces) at random during a performance.

In the next section I will present the instructions, sketches, videos and recordings, along with explanations of the instructions, compositional thinking, and performative insight, of the following Battle Pieces:

  • yo momma – the creation and baiting/trapping of improvisational endings
  • glitch beat – variation/exhaustion, internal/external learning, and repetition
  • flurries – spectromorphological acoustic sound masses with fixed compositional elements
  • switches – unison playing with encoded/decoded musical information
  • eat, eat everything – memory, special events, and in/out/frozen time performance
  • sausage fest – space, silence, trajectories, and collective gesture playing
  • strains – rock, paper, scissors meets polyrhythmic memory games intertwined with improv
  • elbows – the creation of rapid shifts in musical material
  • AB(B)A – discovering and transplanting a spontaneous musical games
  • pop song – repetition, memory, and form in a freely improvised context

Continue reading »

Nov 16, 2012

Weak Without You (new composition)

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….

Apr 17, 2012

A Machine – New fixed media composition

Finished a new piece a couple of days ago. This one was quite difficult as it required me to work in a very different way than I normally compose.

First, here is the piece:

Continue reading »

Dec 11, 2011

New String Quartet (and 4 computer hard drives….)

Finally finished a new string quartet. It is called “It’s Made From Pieces Of From Of Pieces Of My Skin” and it is for string quartet and four computer hard drives.

I’ve been working with computer hard drives for a while (with the help of Richard Knight) and when it came time to write a new string quartet I decided to incorporate the hard drives. I’ve not heard it all put together, but the texture of ‘acoustic’ hard drives and strings I can imagine to be real nice fit.

Continue reading »

May 21, 2011

Life as an Academic

academic

So I started my MA in Electro-Acoustic Composition last September and the University of Manchester and have just handed in my course work for this term. This officially completes my first year (doing it part-time) of the degree.

During this year I’ve really tried to embrace the academic thing, and put my all into everything I was doing. Continue reading »

May 5, 2009

I AM YOUR DENSITY : Live in Glasgow

Density Glasgow

I submitted “I AM YOUR DENSITY” to an open call for works for the Red Note ensemble, and it was one of the chosen pieces. I asked my ‘usuals’, and Angie, Anton, Ramsey, and Holly all agreed to take part, and make the drive up with me (Anton actually did the driving). Continue reading »

Nov 2, 2008

“I AM YOUR DENSITY” Recording Session

Density Recording

My poor, poor neighbors. We blasted them with noise for about five solid hours. It was a pretty exhausting session, primarily because the material is so loud/dense.
I’m working on the mixing/editing at the moment, and I am incredibly pleased with the results. Expect a ‘single’ release before the end of the year. Special thanks to Angela, Anton, Sergio, Zoë, Ramsey, Wyn, Laurence, Evan, and Adam for being a part of the recording. Continue reading »

Oct 9, 2008

I AM YOUR DENSITY : Live at The Noise Upstairs

Density Score

Just performed I AM YOUR DENSITY at The Noise Upstairs. It was a lot of work to get this done. I am eternally grateful to all of the performers who stepped up.

Thanks to Angela, Anton, Sergio, Zoë, Sukh, Wyn, and Laurence, with a special thanks to The Noise Upstairs for putting it on.
Doing a studio recording in late October. Will likely release it as a single. Continue reading »

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ABOUT

Rodrigo Constanzo
-makes music and art
-lives in Porto/Manchester
-is a crazy person

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Composition, Performance,
and Making Things,
sitting in a tree :
Me-Me-Me-Me-Me-Me-Me

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