Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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!


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