Posts Tagged ‘music’

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

 

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

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.

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

Brilliant Italian Composer/Pianist Francesco Di Fiore

December 5, 2012

Francesco Di Fiore with Prologue 1 from Quiet Rhythms

I met William Susman in 2011, in the Netherlands, for the first time. I was in Middelburg to attend a performance of my music by ensemble Piccola Accademia Degli Specchi. On tthe same occasion, the ensemble performed the beautiful suite Camille by William.

I was already familiar with William’s music thanks to composer Matteo Sommacal, my dear friend, who invited me to listen to his works. That was a fantastic discovery; William’s music world is absolutely fascinating, very original, personal, with a precise identity and so different from any other music or composer.

From left to right composers Francesco Di Fiore, Douwe Eisenga, William Susman, and Matteo Sommacal in the lobby of Zeeuwse Concertzall, October, 2011

Recently I had the honor to perform a selection from Quiet Rhythms for solo piano, in the Netherlands, at the same venue (Zeeuwse Concertzall) where William’s music and mine was performed in 2011. On that special evening in Middelburg, four composers were present attending a stunning performance in a unique gathering. In some spiritual way, I wanted to recreate that special event performing William’s, Matteo Sommacal’s, Douwe Eisenga’s and my music as well. Four different composers, four different experiences, four different sound worlds but one same language spoken.

Italian Composer/Pianiast Francesco Di Fiore

Italian Composer/Pianist Francesco Di Fiore

Approaching William’s music has been a very singular experience. When you think you have a clear idea of a composer’s purpose suddenly you realize that something is hiding behind it, and behind it, again and again, and so on. I will keep playing William’s music for a long time, as it piques my curiosity and I have so much to learn from him! Franceso Di Fiore

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Listen to Francesco Di Fiore perform Quiet Rhythms and watch Valeria Di Matteo’s video by clicking here.

Native New Yorker: From what did I draw my inspiration?

September 14, 2012

Filmmaker Steve Bilich and the 1924 Cine-Kodak camera used to film Native New Yorker (2005)

The film has an incredible emotional arc and I tried to echo that emotion in the structure and sound of the score. The layering of rhythms and the incessant drive of the music reflect the energy and the many facets of New York City as well as the motion and pace of the images created by Steve. In addition, the “flicker” caused by the use of that old 1924 Cine-Kodak suggest a tempo and pulse.

The instrumentation of the score is inspired by the abundance of New York City street musicians seen in the film. Violin and guitar buskers appear as well as drummers. The piano is an homage to the musicians who played in so many of the first movie houses. Native American chanting, as well as Middle Eastern vocalizing, reflect emotion, characters, action and events both on and off screen. The breathy sounds of the native flutes are emblematic of the life force present and shared by all cultures.

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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker

September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.

Native New Yorker: How did I approach composing the music for a silent film?

September 14, 2012

A scene from Native New Yorker (2005)

When I compose music for any film, I try to make an organic connection to what I see and hear on screen. I listen for music that may already be in the film or, perhaps performed by one of the characters using a particular instrument. I then develop my melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic material as well as instrumentation based on this pre-existing music.

 
Because Native New Yorker is a “silent film”, the emphasis was on creating a link between my score and the visuals. Unlike my other film scores, there was no actual “indigenous” music heard on screen that could inform my themes. So, I took another approach based on the many musicians seen in the film yet not heard.

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Native New Yorker won many awards including Best Documentary Short at The Tribeca Film Festival and appeared at over 25 film festivals. The Tribeca Film Institute now distributes Native New Yorker

September 16, 2012 The Moondance International Film Festival at The Tribeca Cinemas gives Native New Yorker a reprise screening. It won Best Documentary Short at Moondance in 2005.

The proof of the analysis is in the synthesis

August 25, 2009
Finding refuge in the shade of a Boabob tree, we discover a makeshift board setup of Mancala.

Finding refuge in the shade of a Baobab tree, we discover a makeshift board setup of Mancala.

The title of this blog today appears at the front of Simha Arom’s African Polyphony and Polyrhythm. It is attributed to Levi-Strauss and I agree with this statement. That is what I’m trying to do here. Take Mr. Arom’s analysis of the music of the Banda Linda and synthesize it. By writing about it, talking with friends and looking at my own music and the work of others through the lens of an ethnomusicologist I hope to see and hear sound differently. (more…)