Monday, November 5, 2012

At long last: Review of my Concert with Wayne Lovegrove, Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, 10/20/2012

What can I say? First, a computer virus attacked my computer, then an actual virus attacked me; so I’m really late in posting this. By now, most people are probably no longer interested, but anyway, here’s a review of my concert with Wayne Lovergrove (guitarist) on October 20th.

Actually, it’s difficult to have anything to say, because the concert was, roughly, perfect. That’s not to say that I didn’t make any mistakes – I had quite a few in my first piece, “Wind over Water” – but none of them detracted from the music. (Actually, I thought that my own playing during the first half wasn’t quite up to par, though Wayne’s was perfect; he said the same thing in reverse…)

For the first half, we alternated solo guitar pieces (by Wayne) and piano pieces (by me). One exception; Wayne played a drone on the organ to back up “Wind over water”. My longest piece was the nebulous, arrhythmic “SoundScrolls V” for piano and prerecorded sound – this had been a big hit at a Seattle Composers’ Salon in 2009, and oddly, at this concert, seems to have prompted a minor rush of listening to my piece SoundScrolls VII (which doesn’t even have a piano part) on my Soundcloud page. (SoundScrolls V is actually there; just scroll down.) Wayne followed this up with a complete contrast, a study in catchy, lilting rhythms called “Hop Along”. I followed with my own study in rhythms, the minimalist “Kijibato: Strange Repeating Bird”.

This has gradually become one of my more popular pieces, despite its initial frosty reception the first time I played it at the Fukushima Ongakudo Concert Hall in Japan in 1989. I first heard the titular “repeating bird” (きじばと, Streptopelia orientalis) itself while living in Tokuyama in 1987 – I was gently awakened in the morning by its weird, almost mechanical, hooting and cooing tones. I was a little disappointed a week or two later when I actually saw one and found it to be a type of pigeon. When composing the piano piece, I changed its intervals (the falling minor third and minor second sounded a little too mournful on a piano) but kept its rhythm, known as “de-de-po-po” in Japanese onomatopoeia. (The rhythm is steady enough for a Japanese musician to have composed a piece of ambient techno-pop around it – some of the other birdcalls near the end reveal a tape-loop, but probably not at the beginning…!) I added the changes of meter in the right hand of this piece almost without noticing them; they were at first merely to keep the minimalist development of the four-note motive interesting – it was only when people began remarking on the rhythmic interplay that I noticed that I’d actually been doing something difficult. Interesting. (A note for birders reading this: I’ve heard a similar, though less melodious, birdcall on outdoor scenes in British movies; a related species called the Eurasian collared-dove.)

Wayne started the second half with “Open Skies”. This is one of my favorite of his pieces, showing how unexpectedly pretty a rhythm can be on a single note – it also does a surprise reverse of “classical” expectations in that the slower, more melodic sections are much louder than the fast rhythmic material. Most of the second half, though, was taken up by improvisations. First, I did a version of “Eco Slab Gong” (the slab gong is a variation on Tom Nunn’s “Space plate”) with prerecorded sound made from the same – a microphone and a speaker were placed about one millimeter from it; the microphone picked up its sympathetic vibrations as I played sounds of nature through the speaker). Wayne added some skitterings on the inside of the piano. The result was supposed to suggest a natural ambience (hence “Eco” Slab Gong) but at least one audience member commented afterwards that it sounded quite frightening (always a problem with experimental music in a culture conditioned by Hollywood, though of course I’m not the only one to have noticed an intermittent sense of menace in nature). We continued with “Oceanic Music”, an improvisation for guitar and crywire (a piano modification of my own invention that produces whale-like sounds) and a long improvisation in 6/8 time. We’ve done “this improvisation” before – Wayne sets up the “beat” with the help of a delay pedal and I have certain riffs that I play over it – but this time the result was more unified, with a sense of overall development. It almost sounded like a composed piece (either a plus or a minus depending on one’s view of improvised music). To my ear, at any rate, it sounded spectacular, particularly as it echoed in the grand acoustics of the church sanctuary.

An atmospheric photo of Wayne (inside piano) and me (percussion) by Randall or Rita Kelley, who attended the concert. They also had some photos on display (this was a “music and art” event, after all), but those pictures appear to be copyrighted…

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