Posts Tagged ‘brass’

Opus One Memphis Interview Part 4

February 26, 2012

I’m interested in hearing more about your chamber music group, OCTET. For all of you readers who aren’t familiar with OCTET, it’s an awesome New York-based music ensemble dedicate to performing contemporaary compositions that push boundaries. What inspired you to start OCTET?

What inspired me to start OCTET was the need to hear my music. It’s always been a challenge to get performances. I wanted to take control of getting my music performed and recorded. I also wanted to create a distinctive ensemble sound. Our instrumentation is sax, trumpet, trombone, drums, piano, keyboards, vocals, and bass. We are a scaled down big band playing contemporary classical.

(You can hear the ensemble at our website and on our blog.)

Let’s talk about the piece MSOs Opus One is performing on March 1 and 2, Zydeco Madness. You’ve told me before that this piece was your response and memorial to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. What connection do you have to Louisiana?

I lived in New Orleans for a year and a half before transferring to Champaign-Urbana. I remember the seasonal storms and floods and walking around in 3 feet of water years before Katrina. When Katirna happened, I asked myself why are these people being neglected and forgotten.

Initially, it was a solo accordion piece, because the lead instrument in a Zydeco band is typically a button accordion. I chose Bayan accordion which is a very large button accordion with a wider range than the accordions you see in Zydeco bands. The Bayan accordion is what one studies in the conservatory. You also generally play the Bayan sitting down because of its weight.

Stas Venglevski performs Zydeco Madness for Bayan Accordion solo in San Francisco

My piece does not emulate the Zydeco sound, which is very much tied into blues and creole music, so much as paint a picture or a mood around the events of Katrina using an accordion. The piece is episodic, jump-cutting from one event to the next like a news report.

It was premiered by a great Russian Bayan virtuoso named Stas Venglevski. I created a string orchestra version shortly after.

Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis

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Tempo is the Only Constant

September 9, 2009
Excerpt from Susman's Pentateuch showing divisi polyphonic and polyrhythmic wind, brass, percussion and string sections with three choir groups of tenors and basses in 5ths below the soprano lead

Excerpt from Susman's Pentateuch showing divisi polyphonic and polyrhythmic wind, brass, percussion and string sections with three choir groups of tenors and basses in 5ths below the soprano lead

Thoughts on the Typology of Central African Music:

Melody in Central African music is determined by the tones of the language. As I mentioned in a previous blog Steve Reich uses this approach in his work Different Trains. Also the melodic line can be transposed allowing a wider range of intervals. Often the lines descend in the form of terraced movement resting on “successve levels”. (Arom, 19)

Tempo is the only constant. The speed of a piece of music never varies. Only melody, rhythm and instrumental patterns may change in a musical discourse.

There are different techniques of plurivocality or multi-part singing: Heterophony, overlapping and homophony. André Gide relates his impressions of a ‘tam-tam’ in 1928, “but imagine this tune yelled by a hundred persons not one of whom sings the exact note. It is like trying to make out the main line from a host of little strokes. The effect is prodigious and gives an impression of polyphony and of harmonic richness.”

Simha Arom aptly describes the features of this heterophony which I will delineate in a list:

  1. A melody whose outline is refracted by a kind of halo
  2. The voices are slightly unfocused
  3. Minute variants
  4. A coming and going of dissonances
  5. Overlapping between solo and chorus parts (Gide called this ‘brocading’)
  6. Often in the middle of this process a singer will sustain a single note thus creating an intermittent drone. (Arom, 21)

Homophony on the other hand is the most common form of multi-part singing. This form of plurivocality involves parallel movement of the voices. Typically they are in intervals of 4ths, 5ths and octaves. Often certain tribes are known for singing distinctly with these intervals as 8-5-4 tribes and some sing in 3rds. (Arom, 22)

In Pentateuch (1983) a grand divisi orchestra, choir and soprano work written when I was 23 (with influences from Ligeti and Xenakis) the three male choir groups sing for an extended period in 5ths. Each group takes its turn singing a phrase in 5ths while the soprano voice predominates above in a quasi call and response. My intent was to create a very raw, basic and forceful sound in the midst of a constellation of divisi polyphonic and polyrhythmic wind, brass, percussion and string sections.