Archive for the ‘Contemporary Music’ Category

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.

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

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

Setting a Poem to Music

June 15, 2014

Title Track from OCTET ensemble’s album debut featuring soprano Mellissa Hughes.

The poem Scatter My Ashes is by my sister Sue Susman. I originally set this poem for voice and piano. It was subsequently arranged for OCTET ensemble. I like the sound of these words, their message and the movement they create in their meaning and  story. I try to let the music capture the narrative’s essence sculpting words into motion.

Scatter my ashes before I die.
Let me blow and fade
in the wind
over water
into nothing.
Watch me dissolve in air.
Scatter my old bones.
I am keeping the young ones
fresh, strong the blood circles
and weaves me into a whole piece
with long slender red thread
buried under my skin.

copyright © 1984 – 87 by Sue Susman. All Rights Reserved.

The Poetry of Sue Susman

April 29, 2014

I am drawn to my sister’s poems because they tell honest and flowing stories. They are truthful and insightful narratives about things we see or ought to see.

Recently, I asked Sue to talk a little about her poems sung on the album Scatter My Ashes. You can download the  album booklet  which includes the poems heard in the two song cycles. -William Susman

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“I wrote Scatter My Ashes when I was standing on a street corner handing out leaflets for a political candidate.  No one was around, so I had nothing to do.  I wrote this poem on the back of one of the leaflets.  It just came to me.

With Hot Time, I did have some inspiration.  Some friends and I had just come out of a movie theater.  We were on Clark and Division, an area in Chicago where there a lot of bars.  The whole poem is a description of the way I experience bars.  The “hot dark rooms filled with sweating, hungry bodies, dancing with fever into the morning.” “You can choose one to take home with you,”  is about “one night stands, people picking up strangers in bars and taking them home. “You can go on alone” is the choice not to pick someone up and just go home yourself.   “You can help yourself” has a double meaning—“You can help yourself” to the many people around you to take home with you or you can “help yourself”, as in you can take care of yourself and not need another person to do it.

In Begging the Night For Change, I was in a parking lot and a woman came up to me and asked me for money.  “I said, ‘No’ and walked away.”  I wrote the poem afterwards.  It was a real experience.

In Moving In To An Empty Space,  I was on a personal retreat, staying in a cabin in St. Charles, IL.  I went there fairly often when I was in graduate school.  I spent some of the time writing and some of the time just taking long walks.  I didn’t see anybody for most of the time.  That’s what I came there for, silence and peace.  I wrote “Moving In To An Empty Space” after standing outside in the cold.  It was winter then. I was looking up at the night sky filled with stars.  There was no sound and the words just came to me and I wrote the poem.” -Sue Susman

Quiet Rhythms and a little bit about the music

March 13, 2014

Quiet Rhythms is an ongoing series of short piano pieces that are written in pairs consisting of a prologue and action. In creating each pair, the action is composed first and is syncopated and rhythmic.  The prologue uses the same harmonic patterns of the action but is non-syncopated or “smooth”.

The prologue is usually performed first before the action of the same number. Each book contains 11 prologues and actions and, currently there are four books. You can view the first page of each piece here.

Here is the opening to Action 1 of Quiet Rhythms:

ImageThe action was written first and then the prologue was derived from it. Prologue 1 below uses the same harmony of Action 1 and, the rhythmic pattern is “smoothed out”. This process is followed with all 44 prologues and actions in Books I – IV.

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In this particular prologue, the harmony of measure 1 corresponds to measures 1 – 4 in Action 1 above. Measure 2 here corresponds to measures 5 – 8 in Action 1. Measure 3 corresponds to measures 9 – 12 in Action 1 and, measure 4 corresponds to measures 13 -16 in Action 1. This reductive technique is applied in all of the prologues throughout Quiet Rhythms.

Here is a performance of Prologue and Action 1:

Extraordinary pianists from around the world who perform Quiet Rhythms:

R. Andrew Lee

Francesco Di Fiore

Erika Tazawa

Nicolas Horvath

Elaine Kwon