Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Clarence Barlow and Jeremy Haladyna

Rohan de Saram and Benedict Mason

As a grad student there are a lot of interesting opportunities to encounter composers and performers. Last week I had the privilege to spend time with both Rohan de Saram and Benedict Mason.

First Benedict. He presented an overview of his work as a composer/sound artist. What I like about Benedict is that his initial training was in film and that shows in his approach. Now years later, he has acquired all of the baggage of vocabulary of a musician and that part is far less interesting to me, but I suppose that is part of how we are able to communicate. It does raise the issue in my head, should musicians communicate with a language that looks back and describes tried and true phenomena or should they utilize something that is outside the tradition, there-by enriching and expanding. I suppose in the end it all gets rapped into some music history overview text and then...
Benedict is a strong advocate of the notebook. He strongly advocated for the daily and compulsive use of this devise to record and experiment. He proposed that this was in opposition to the use of a computer, but here I must object. They are both means of documenting and compiling notes for ones use they simply are both better at certain tasks, it is up to the individual to use the correct tool for the job.

His presentation did surprise me a bit. It was largely the same one that I heard a year ago, so it was interesting to see how it has evolved as well as how he has. I have observed that artists often have a sort of canned self presentation. It is a valuable thing and interesting to compare different versions of the same thing. One thing that did change this time was a glimpse of what he was currently working on. This included some footage of an Inuit woman singing. He asked if anyone had any idea what it was. To my surprise I knew exactly what it was. Later at dinner Clarence asked me how I knew this. The funny thing is, I have no idea! I know that I often spend hours in libraries simply immersing myself in things that interest me, so likely this was something that I encountered while in the Alaska Public Library.

After the presentation we went out for dinner at Takenoya Japanese restaurant. It was a good deal of fun and after dinner Clarence had the idea that we should all go to the bus station and meet Rohan de Saram, as he was just arriving from LA. We did and then proceeded to the other late night restaurant in Santa Barbara, Edomasa . Here we a couple more drinks and Rohan was able to get some dinner. Even better, as had happened the previous year, Benedict fell asleep at the dinner table!

The following day, Rohan was presenting a solo recital. I was recruited to create a 2 second delay and ended up providing what I hope was tasteful sound reinforcement. Geiringer Hall, like all halls in Santa Barbara has it's problems. This one sucks the sound up into a wash of uninteresting diffuse reverb. This also meant that I spent much of my day with Rohan and heard him lecture at a master class and had dinner lunch with him. With all of this time talking we hit upon his collaborations with composers, after all the Berio Cello Sequenza was written for him. I was very interested to get his perspective on this process as this is something that I consider to be a very important part of the compositional process. He spoke of how the Prokofiev consulted a cellist and ruined a piece of his while Schotastakovish was very independent. When Rohan has worked with Berio on the other hand, they had worked together fairly closely and would have met for some final polishing had Berio not passed away. What struck me time and again with Rohan was his honest and straight forward approach. He is not like a lot of artists or people that I have encountered. Rohan in humble, wise and very warm. Over dinner after his concert a group of us spent hours discussing different composers, different aesthetic positions and the new directions that humanity will have o move in. This evening, at yet another Japanese restaurant!, will remain etched in my mind for years to come.

My time in Santa Barbara and as a graduate student has taught me a great deal. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by so many interesting people. But more important than that, I have had time to grow and investigate ideas that interest me. I remember Lyle Davidson about his time at Brandice University as a time to investigate very deeply things that have since manifest importantly in his career and artwork. For me, the opportunity to spend hours with a wonderful person and performer, Rohan, was an opportunity to investigate ideas about the collaboration between composer and performer. Rohan has years of experience, yet in the end it kept returning to the personality of the composer and the performer and how this manifest in the music. What really stood out to me was that when Rohan performed it was not a show in the sense that I was blown away or amazed by virtuosity of which there was a great deal. Rather, what I saw, was a person very comfortable and interested to play his instrument. This is something that I observed when working with Mark Broshinsky as he to has played countless concerts and come away from the experience relaxed and enjoying his relationship with his instrument, the music and the people he is paying for.

What I love about this picture is that you can tell that he is playing Nomos Alpha in the chord section simply by the position of his left hand. And yes, that sounded AMAZING!

Monday, January 26, 2009

8 :: a concert

This Thursday marks the eighth occurrence of student composers getting together to present new works.

WHAT :: 8:a concert
WHERE :: Geiringer Hall, Music 1250
WHEN :: 8:08PM Thursday January 29, 2009
WHO :: UCSB student composers and performers
WHY :: "Brought to you by people who care about what you hear."

Now that you know the 5 w's you can write a 3 paragraph essay for extra credit.

As always this is free to


I was just informed that I have been linked as "one of the Top 100 Musicology Blogs" here. I went through the list and there are some interesting people writing here. My favorite part is that behindEars is listed as "behindEars offers reactions to a variety of different music tastes." While not particularly accurate it is a very interesting concept, reactions to different musical tastes as opposed to reactions from the perspectives of various tastes or the reactions to various tastes. Also behindEars is listed as Music Theory, odd, I don't think of it as such, but others do. Enjoy the links. It also turns out that Musicology was an album by Prince! And here I simply thought it was an academic disipline.

I was talking with Christine today and mentioned that Liz Phillips was using my work Monodactyl in her course this quarter. Christine pointed out that I was now among the living composers who are being studied. I thought it would be rather poetic if I were to submit a tissue sample. But of course, musicians don't readily have microscopes and therefore the tissue would likely be placed in a refrigerator and forgotten. Not to be uncovered and cloned a full 50 years from now by a microscope wielding person.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

fisting in the white house

Leave it Fox to "let you decide."

Monday, January 19, 2009

sounds of sailing

Often birds play a prominent role in the sound scape of time at sea. This was an amazing site and sound. This point just at the harbor entrance had the largest collection of pelicans I have witnessed. Must have been a convention. Oddly, it was silent.

Dolphin's, we got this one shot of the aquatic mammals while we were in the middle of a pod of what seemed like thousands. Sails up and wind blowing well, we just watched them feed and speculated about how their feeding ground likely runs the length of the Santa Barbara Channel. This went on for something like an hour before they were off in the distance.

Now the Story.
So there you are, nice and warm, tucked into your v-berth while the boat lightly bobs in the water, when... whooooo. Now I write that and you don't have the proper image in your minds ear. What I mean is a sound near the amplitude of a freight train and roaring in waves that seem to undulate within the realm of loud and louder. There is no breaking of the waves and slowly drifting into the lulling of thousands of air bubbles dancing toward a silence as with water, no this is sustained. It howls through the rigging (the mast and all of the various lines and stanchions associated with it) of the boat. It is amazing that the sound of high velocity wind (I think it was around 35 knots) can activate these cables and ropes to produce sounds so beautiful.

Of course, I was not appreciating the beauty at the time. This happened Sunday AM and the only thing that went through my head was, "she will never sail again with me." Well if that wasn't enough, this goes on for 2 hours, the sun comes up. All the while I am maintaining a watch to make sure we are not moving and that our neighbors boats are not moving. She is able to drift back off, but I am calculating and figuring, what in the hell we are going to do. I know it is as simple as pulling the anchors and getting out of there, but this is the backside of the island and the wind is coming over the top and down to us, what is the channel going to be like on the way back? All that I can imagine are huge seas and even bigger winds. Of course as the captain, one must keep it all together and know exactly what to do. In this case the best thing to do was wait and have breakfast. I cook fairly well and if we were going to ave a hellish day at sea at least we could have a great breakfast. So, steak and eggs and I was beginning to relax.

Then I look out the window and notice that the boats are not where they should be. Shit. Then I hear an air horn sound two blasts. Shit! Our back anchor has pulled out. I should have increased the scope, this is the lesson in the end. But right now, it's life jackets and to action team!

We get out, start the motor, pull up the rear anchor and then I try my best to keep her bow into the wind while Christine pulls up the front anchor. Trouble is the front hook has a 40 foot piece of kelp on it. Now at this point it is important to point out that she not only helped me pull up the back anchor but then ran up to the bow and yanked up 200 feet of line and 30 feet of chain with a 35 pound anchor at then end. And it was quick! But we are getting pushed closer and closer to the rocks. I finally realize that she has the front anchor free (we have gotten our communication down! No ego just facts.) So I drive us across to the other side of the harbor and tell Christine to drive down the middle of the channel and out to the open water. I am trying to haul this thing aboard so it doesn't punch a hole in the bow. The best way to do this it have it up as far as it goes and hang over the side of the boat and rip kelp off.

After the fact Christine mentions to me that she was really scared driving through the kelp fields, that it might wrap around our prop and then.... Well yeah, the rocks. Turns out, I've broken the right pieces off. After going back to the cockpit to check on her progress and direct her to open seas, I go forward and can finally get the anchor aboard.

Out in the open water we make our way back to Santa Barbara, first under motor and then sail power, shaking out reefs one by one until we finally have to turn the motor back on as there is no wind!

So that is the exciting adventure side of it. Looking back now I am thinking about the sound. This would be one of the first times that I have been in a sailboat, had a diesel engine on and was motoring at cruising RPM's and not been able to hear it. The wind was so prominent in my perception that when I bothered to stop and think for a second about the motor, I had to look at everything to make sure it was on. It occurs to me that for all the visual cues that I use in sailing, much of what I do is based on sound. I have never broken it down before, but one of the first realizations that I had that taught me this was a fear of not being able to hear the diesel engine when I knew it was on, because if it wasn't we wouldn't be in one piece.

Later on in our channel crossing I began to reflect on the loud slapping that we had heard early in the morning. This had been our boat getting picked up and then falling back on to the water. With this there was also the feeling of the entire vessel going smack! It is indeed an interesting sensation when you realize that the vessel that is keeping you afloat can take that sort of beating. This did not worry me to much as this is very common when coming off of a big wave, but I did begin to keep track of them. Which was louder, how was their tone changing? From where did the sound radiate? Looking back, I can't answer these questions because I was not clearly articulating these criteria at the time, but I can see that they are what I was listening to.

Finally, the sound of balance. As we sailed back and the wind progressively tapered off, we were able to get all of the sails out and get the boat so balanced that I barely had to touch the helm. I would just sit back, set my hand on the wheel and stair off into the distance, while Christine stretched out in the sun, closed her eyes and fell asleep. It was then that I began to notice the sound. There was so little. The swell was so spaced out, we are talking 19 second periods between crests, that we just drove over them without alteration to the sound of the boat slicing through the water. At these times I noticed that I turn my head often to sense the wind. One of the best ways to know wind is feel it and hear it. I often point my face into the wind measure it's consistency of direction then turn my head to the side catch it with my ear. I use my ear to notice how it is changing or not. Again, none of this really occurs to me consciously because I can not really put it into words other than, "the wind is coming form there and it is about 10 knots." Looking at it now, I am aware that I can hear the spectral shifts in the broad band noise that wind produces by using my ear as a sort of instrument to catch the wind. This also means that I have to calibrate this process to the amount of directional variance and perceived by my face and that of the apparent wind that is produced by the boats motion.

In the end I find myself wondering about how to make this type of listening the subject of a composition. It has not yet occurred to me how to best deal with this in order to make a compelling piece, but then again I am impatient and have only been thinking about this as a project for a day or so. I also begin to wonder if so much time doing this type of listening has an impact on what I write or listen to as a musician? Musical hearing is largely event based, chords, scales, notes etc. yet I have always had a preoccupation with longer subtle shifts in timbre. Of course, nothing is exclusive with human preference, so I logically have not focused exclusively on unfolding of long timbre events (funny how I refer to this as an event!), but the pieces that feature this type of focus seem to be the ones where friends turn to me and say, "that really sounds like you". Which I take to be a huge compliment.

Be seeing you. (I am very sad about that).

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Text Synchonicity

I had a voice message this AM from a friend who wanted to know in what room a certain class was being held in. I sent a text message back and spent a long time entering it, as my user interface sucks At the end of the message I said "don't bother to send a text back as I will only have to pay to read it." Four hours later a get a text message from a different friend (who does not know the first) from the other side of the country, who says "No reply at all....."

sky full of bacon

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Sitting outside working on some programming, worshiping the sun as the worlds spinning slowly takes it out the range of my ability to warm in the glowing rays, a rather unremarkable thing happened.

A child, maybe 9 years old calls out from across the parking lot "Hey big chief kid.... Hey big chief kid. (a pause long enough to allow the reverberations of his voice to fully die away ) I should say big chief with mohawk kid." He then turns around and runs back to his other playmate.

The kid to whom he was broadcasting to is stationary, sitting on his bicycle on the path located 20 feet in front of me. He sits quietly, motionless on his bike looking out. He makes several growling type sounds to simulate the revving of his bicycles imaginary engine. He does this several times then stops and waits in the silence of little patches of evening bird flocks squawking away the end of the day. He then begins high pitched screams, different pitches with different contours, almost full voice but not the sort that indicates immediate anguish, rather loud enough that he knows the screams will be heard by all and so that it can echo off of the buildings across the way. He then stops after fifteen seconds of these yelps. He falls silent, stares out, never having moved and sits there staring for a minute or so. Then turns around his bicycle and rides off.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

electronic music

That sums it up.

Monday, January 05, 2009

sound heard

In the darkness, there is little quiet, rather there is a lot of quiet sound. The natural gas of the wall unit heater fills the darkness of the room with a dull, low frequency band of noise. The quieter it is the more the slight increases and decreases in amplitude stand out, a study of the evolution of the flickering of a flame, perpetual and continuously varied. CRACK the entire airspace of the wall unit is filled with a single staccato attack that rings within the metal casing. The size of the casing, where it is in the room are instantly known. It seems that these occasional attacks are sufficient to disrupt and and contrast the dull, yet fabulously rich roar of the gas.

Last week I spent two days in the Storke Bell Tower recording; loud, medium and soft attacks of each bell, there are 60. This took three people and two days. The samples will be used for the practice carillon, but I will also play a bit with them. You would not believe the amount of noise pollution there is from the airport, the trains and the buses. Oddly, all of these (along with construction percussion) were the most regular and obtrusive. Seems that we are a people continually on the move and that makes a lot of sound.

The Process.

Matt "the monkey" up in the bell loft, not much above that but the roof.

Matt"the crazed performer"Wright at the keyboard controls.

Setting microphones up. Doing my best to avoid interference from the many cell phone antennas 3 feet away, that was fun.

The view at a particular moment.