Composer/Percussionist Olivia Kieffer Talks About Arranging and Performing

January 22, 2016

World premiere of William Susman’s Material Rhythms for percussion quartet performed by Reinhardt University’s Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Olivia Kieffer.

I recently asked composer/percussionist Olivia Kieffer to talk about her work on some of my percussion music. She and her ensemble, the Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble, premiered my quartet Material Rhythms. She also arranged some of my piano music from the series Quiet Rhythms. -William Susman

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Before we met, Bill and I exchanged emails in preparation for the premiere of his percussion quartet “Material Rhythms”. One of the first pieces of his that I listened to was a recording of Francesco Di Fiore on piano playing “Prologue and Action 1” from Quiet Rhythms Book I.

Francesco Di Fiore performs Prologue and Action 1 from Quiet Rhythms in a film by Valeria Di Matteo.

I loved it so much, and was immediately taken by the beautiful ringing tones and thought how marvelous it would sound on vibraphones and marimbas. I asked Bill if I could arrange it for a keyboard quartet of 2 vibes and 2 marimbas, and he was on board!  I stayed up all night and arranged “Action” and sent it to Bill in the morning. He came back with excellent suggestions, and I let the arrangement sit for a good while.

When Bill came to Reinhardt to hear the Percussion Ensemble premiere Material Rhythms, he gave me the bound score of Quiet Rhythms, Book I. Once I had that, I was able to truly start translating the piano score into a living breathing keyboard quartet. Taking apart the notes and rhythms in each hand, sometimes keeping them the same and sometimes rearranging them,  and fitting them in creative ways to the range and tone of the keyboards was a lot of fun and a new experience for me.

Turns out this solo piano music fits beautifully and naturally on marimba and vibes. Since it is less Right-Hand/Left-Hand and more Hands-Working-Together, it is physically familiar for percussionists to play.

Prologue 1

Prologue 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms for piano

“Prologue 1” starts with ascending and descending 16ths, and introduces the hand-to-hand clavé.

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Prologue 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms arr. Olivia Kieffer

In “Action 1”, there is a constant clavé rhythm, which changes from 3/2 to 2/3 alongside the harmonic changes. It starts with a busier amount of pitches, then simplifies, then moves into big chords.

 

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Action 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms for piano

 

The clavé is notated in the piano score with beams that cover both staves, to make the pattern visually clear. I had to find an idiomatic way to notate this for percussionists which led me to figuring out a 4-mallet sticking that would naturally ascend like the “right hand” of the piano. Another idea was to use harder mallets in the right hand.

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Action 1 (excerpt) from Quiet Rhythms arr. by Olivia Kieffer

Letter D in Action 1 is the first time that all four parts are playing together, it’s the first time full chords appear, and is one of two spots where the vibraphones represent one hand and the marimbas the other. Though Prologue has slightly similar music in its last section; it is pianissimo and subtle. So it felt important to bring those Action 1 clavé chords in with a bang!

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Action 1, mm.84-96 from Quiet Rhythms arr. Olivia Kieffer

 

Below, is the original with the clavé chords entering at measure 89.

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Action 1, mm.85-96 from Quiet Rhythms for piano

 

In Material Rhythms, each movement has its own rhythmic patterns which are passed from instrument to instrument, player to player, in various combinations. The first 3 movements are Wood (2 blocks), Metal (3 metals), and Skin (2 drums). The last movement is a combination of all 3. This passing rhythmic material creates its own melodies, particularly in “Metal”. I cut pipes to be very close in pitch to each other (in relation to low-middle-high across the players), to create a sort of Balinese Gamelan, shimmery sound. “Metal” has constant 3s, and the rhythms come out from the melodies of the pipes, and the stark dynamic contrasts.

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III. Metal (excerpt) from Material Rhythms for percussion quartet

Something I love about Bill’s music is that he is a master of layering. This is something that can be discovered while listening to the music and also from studying the score. The depth of his music comes to life, though, when being played.  There are beautiful patterns which fit themselves into all the chords. Like a beloved book often returned to, and every time something new appears, so these layers are found over time by the performer. His music speaks for itself! He can create a pattern that is, in a single line, harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic. Quiet Rhythms is beautiful and uncomplicated, yet goes as deep as one is willing to take it. When the music speaks on its own, the details are fresh to see and to work with. -Olivia Kieffer

 

Writing for Percussionists

January 22, 2016

For many years, I have written music for percussionists. Their diverse musical backgrounds generally gives them a very open mind towards the new and contemporary.

My music tends to be highly energetic, groove-based, pop/world-influenced and grounded in modes. In other words, the sound world of jazz and rock, a world that most percussionists of American origin are familiar with due to playing in bands as well as high school and college music programs.

So, if you’re going to write new music today, you’re probably going to find percussionists welcoming you. It is worth noting that the first classical percussion literature written specifically for percussion ensemble begins with Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation (1929-31) a seminal 20th century piece. And, by the way, it’s highly energetic with grooves and world music influences.

Here is the opening to my percussion quartet Material Rhythms. The world influence in the opening measures are found in the 3-2 clavé pattern in the percussionist’s right mallet layered over a 2-3 clavé pattern in the left mallet.

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Material Rhythms by William Susman for Percussion Quartet, Section I. Wood

William Susman’s Material Rhythms for percussion quartet performed by Reinhardt University’s Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Olivia Kieffer.

The Video Art of Valeria Di Matteo

October 2, 2015

Valeria Di Matteo, video artist

Valeria Di Matteo, video artist

Valeria Di Matteo is a video artist based in Sicily. She creates stunning videos that combine music, text and visuals. Recently, she created two beautiful videos. They are promotional album trailers for contemporary music CDs. One was for the composer/pianist Francesco Di Fiore and the other for pianist Erika Tazawa.

Her works are fantastic film miniatures that capture in moving pictures the essence of the music. Enjoy!

-William Susman

Zefir Records presents Pianosequenza, Francesco Di Fiore, pianist:

Belarca Records presents Rhythm of Silence, Erika Tazawa, pianist:

You can see more of Valeria’s work here.

FRAMEWORK

August 8, 2015

For the past few years film curator, scholar and archivist, Jon Gartenberg has presented Native New Yorker at many exciting film festivals such as the 50th Pesaro International Film Festival in Italy and the Athens Avant-Garde Film Festival in Greece in programs entitled A Panorama of American Experimental Narratives in the New Millennium. In May 2015, Jon curated a screening at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. called “AMERICAN EXPERIMENTS IN NARRATIVE: 2000-2015”

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Original DVD box cover for the award-winning film Native New Yorker, Best Documentary Short, Tribeca Film Festival.

Jon recently published the essay NY, NY: A Century of City Symphony Films, Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, Fall 2014. Here is an excerpt:

“…Photographed during both day and night, through distorting mirrors and prisms, as well as by more direct photographic methods, the films include scenes filmed from atop skyscrapers, under bridges, through parks, down Broadway, and in Coney Island. Such motion pictures have come to be identified as “city symphony” films.

In cinematic terms, such works represent the articulation of both a defined time frame (most often from morning until evening) as well as a carefully articulated geographic space (e.g., a loft apartment, a city block, the length of the island of Manhattan)…

…The tragedy of 9/11 is woven into other filmmakers’ works…

In Native New Yorker (US, 2005), filmmaker Steve Bilich employs a hand-cranked 1924 Cine-Kodak camera to shoot a geographical city symphony, extending from the northern reaches of Manhattan to the island’s southern tip. The Native American protagonist first identifies with soaring birds, clusters of trees, and rocky outcroppings, and then is confronted with the effects of modern urbanization. As the protagonist encounters the smoldering World Trade Center towers, the filmmaker challenges in apocalyptic fashion the conflict between who can be considered the American native as opposed to the foreign intruder.”

Jon Gartenberg
Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media
Vol. 55, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 248-276
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October 28, 2016, 6:15 p.m. at NYU Cinema Studies, Jon Gartenberg presents Native New Yorker in a special screening:

National Gallery of Art to Screen Native New Yorker

March 17, 2015
Terry 'Coyote' Murphy lead in the film "Native New Yorker.

Terry ‘Coyote’ Murphy lead in the film “Native New Yorker.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. will hold a public screening of the award-winning documentary film Native New Yorker, by Steve Bilich, as part of a retrospective entitled “AMERICAN EXPERIMENTS IN NARRATIVE: 2000-2015”, that has been programmed by curator and archivist Jon Gartenberg. This series highlights contemporary American films (made in the 21st century), that focus on formal experimentation with narrative structure and which incorporate reflections upon individual identity, the family structure, the fabric of the community, and the larger political culture.

The screening of Native New Yorker will take place on Saturday, May 30 at 2:00 p.m. in a program together with NYC Weights and Measures by Jem Cohen and The Time We Killed by Jennifer Reeves.

Native New Yorker is a cerebral and thought-provoking investigation and commentary on Native American influence on New York City. Filmed with a 1924 hand-crank Cine-Kodak camera, the silent documentary follows Shaman Trail Scout ‘Coyote’ as he travels from Inwood Park (where the island was traded for beads and booze), down a native trail (now known as “Broadway”), into lower Manhattan (a sacred burial ground). Shot before, during and after 9/11, the film comes together with a breathtaking original score by William Susman to portray this journey, transcending through time and space.

The film has won many accolades, including the Best Documentary Short at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival. Upon its release, The Austin Chronicle raved that Native New Yorker was, “the stuff dreams – and nightmares – are made of,” while New Internationalist called the film “…a conventionally unclassifiable short…In 13 minutes it brilliantly encapsulates aeons.” The film has screened at festivals worldwide, including the Sound of Silent Film Festival with a live orchestra, and most recently the 50th Pesaro Film Festival in Italy, as part of “Panorama U.S.A.”

Camille on Relevant Tones

February 19, 2015
Chicago new music radio show on WFMT 98.7 FM founded by Seth Boustead

Chicago new music radio show on WFMT Classical 98.7 FM hosted by Seth Boustead

The past few years, composer, pianist and Access Contemporary Music founder Seth Boustead has been hosting the show Relevant Tones on the classical station WFMT 98.7 FM in Chicago. Seth’s brilliant vision of a new music radio show in Chicago has grown from local to national and now international syndication.

Vitality from the piece CAMILLE was broadcast twice but with different ensembles and instrumentation.

Click on the links below to take you to Relevant Tones and listen to CAMILLE and a wide variety of music:

MODERN DAY MOONLIGHTERS

CAMILLE: Vitality performed by Piccola Accademia degli Specchi (flute, saxophone, violin, cello, piano 4-hands)

CD GRAB BAG 

CAMILLE: Vitality performed by OCTET Ensemble (saxophone, trumpet, trombone, double bass, drums, piano, electric piano, vocals)

Album of the Week

December 23, 2014

In Seattle, the radio show Second Inversion, on KING FM 98.1 FM, selected Scatter My Ashes performed by OCTET Ensemble as their album of the week. We also received some very nice accolades, especially about our vocalist Mellissa Hughes. Here are a few excerpts:

“Hughes’ dazzling vocals soar… her voice amplifies the sorrow, hope, and drama of the poetry, making each word glow.”

“A beautiful and texturally fascinating sonic landscape which fully encompasses the listener in its sinuous melodies and jazz-infused rhythms”

“The album stands as a timeless combination of contemporary classical music, minimalism, and jazz into a profound and dynamic multidisciplinary work” – Second Inversion

Second Inversion on KING FM 98.1 FM

Second Inversion on KING FM 98.1 FM

Experiencing a Live Performance

November 8, 2014

It’s a different experience watching a live performance of music than listening to a studio recording on your stereo (or earbuds). Here the Rome-based Italian ensemble Piccola Accademia degli Specchi perform the first movement of Camille at Zeeuwse Concertzaal in Middelburg, Netherlands in 2011.

Camille (2010) was commissioned by Piccola Accademia degli Specchi. The work is scored for the group’s instrumentation which is a hybrid of the traditional “Pierrot Ensemble”:  flute, saxophone, violin, cello and piano 4-hands. The saxophone gives the work a unique quality different from the traditional clarinet used in a “Pierrot Ensemble”. Having the piano part played by 20 fingers instead of 10 expands the rhythmic and sound possibilities. There are three movements in Camille with the titles I. Vitality II. Tranquility and III. Triumph.

Album of the Month at textura

October 6, 2014

textura honored Scatter My Ashes choosing it as an October 2014 Album of the Month. Here are a few quotes from their review:

“…resplendent and melodious, and easy to embrace when its fresh blend of neo-classical, jazz, and popular song-based forms sparkles so effervescently…”

“…ruminating on the self’s dissolution and communing with nature…”

“…the experience of big city alienation and its citizens’ insatiable appetite for sensory stimulation…”

“…rambunctious syncopations…”

“…both density and clarity…”

It was also a pleasure to participate in a thought-provoking interview where the album was described as a “genre-transcending fusion of contemporary Western classical, jazz, pop, and non-Western folk musics.”

textura October 2014 cover featuring Albums of the Month by Maya Beiser, William Susman and yMusic

textura October 2014 cover featuring the “Albums of the Month” by Maya Beiser, William Susman and yMusic

Melancholy, Unconscious, and Postmodern Solitude in Poetry

September 22, 2014

A recent review of the album Scatter My Ashes in The Voice gives new insight into the poems of my sister Sue Susman. Wanda Waterman discusses how they were set to music as well as doing some in-depth research into the compositional approach.

Here are some excerpts from the review entitled Where Multiple Streams of Inspiration Joyously Meet and Mingle:

“The poems of his sister seem to arrive, first, from a melancholy soul and, second, from the common unconscious of a culture unnerved by rapid transitions, growing shallowness, and ignorance.”

“…we explore the absurdity of postmodern solitude by means of the poem itself…”

“…the harmonious intertwining of jazz and Western classical, of straight rhythm with swing, of notes rich with sobriety overlaid by cheerfully rippling melodies. …”

“This album, in addition to being delightfully listenable, serves as a short introductory course in new developments in serious music…”

Scatter My Ashes - CD back cover

Scatter My Ashes – CD back cover


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