Played this some time ago, still one of my favorite orchestral moments. It’s a great piece.
2 of my audition excerpts for tomorrow are on this. We’re playing it in March.
It’s awesome… and a pain in the ass.
You know why I am REALLY glad to not be an orchestral musician anymore? Because I don’t have to fret over excerpts any longer (not that this is a bad one: the real ass-kicker is the Romeo and Juliet Overture, at least for crash cymbals). It takes a lot of enjoyment out of actually listening to these pieces, at least for me: I find myself waiting, expectantly, for whatever excerpt to come up (since, as a percussionist, it’s always one person playing the excerpt, so it’s easy to pick out), and then evaluating every nuance of the performance like it’s some sort of game or something. This often means I place disproportionate weight, listening-wise, on something that is of little overall import in the music, and that I wind up missing a lot of the surrounding musical material which would normally be so exciting. Excerpts, as far as I’m concerned, suck the joy out of orchestral playing.
My general ill will towards excerpts is compounded when I look at the discipline of percussionists in a historical context. You see, before the 20th century, the percussionist in the orchestral tradition occupies the role of a “second-class citizen” within the ensemble. Mahler explicitly instructs extra tuba players/double bass players to play extra parts in several of his symphonies (the exact ones escape me, but I believe the offstage part in No. 2 is one of the moments in question). These were roles meant to be filled by non-percussionists, other orchestral musicians, who, one can be sure, had their OWN parts to worry about.
Why, then, are percussionists in the orchestral tradition expected to master this litany of excerpts? The technical challenges presented in the standard repertoire does not even approximate the challenges presented in percussion solo literature (even BAD percussion solo literature, of which there is a preponderance), and nuance and expertise in the instrumental discipline was obviously not something prized by either the composers or the performing forces until the mid-20th century, at the earliest (even Cage, writing some of the earliest/most important percussion ensemble repertoire, wrote for percussion because his ensembles, comprised largely of untrained musicians, could be taught to at least read rhythms). Is there any reason a student percussionist should have to investigate a century’s worth of a posteriori interpretative decision-making when the student could arguably be better served, overall, by learning the strategies and skills involved in constructing one’s own interpretation, based on the extant characteristics of the music rather than the non-existent tradition surrounding the orchestral percussion repertoire’s most challenging passages?
Now, granted, I’m not arguing that violinists, or clarinetists, etc., throw away their excerpt books and start playing all Ferneyhough, all the time (although I think there’s plenty of evidence elsewhere on this blog to charge me with this argument, and I’m not entirely ashamed of where I stand on the issue). There’s a storied and important historical tradition surrounding these instruments: my instrumental discipline (not even an instrument, really, just a set of techniques for hitting things of all sorts), as it exists, dates more or less to 1930, and the solo repertoire is even newer than that. The percussionist’s contribution to the orchestral repertoire is mostly reinforcement of cadence points (it is famously said that if a timpanist loses his part for a Beethoven piece, it can be duplicated by copying the trumpet score, and, indeed, this is basically the case), or, in the later repertoire, providing programmatic sound effects (basically everything Mahler or Berlioz ever wrote). Now, post-Schoenberg, it’s a whole different story, but how often does someone call an excerpt from Wozzeck or L’Histoire Du Soldat on an audition? If we’ve established that obsessive fretting over interpretation in pre-20th Century percussion repertoire is silly anyways, then why bother? For that matter, why have student percussionists play in the orchestra at all? If we’re so concerned with accuracy (period instruments and all that), why not have the tuba players do it?
Note: somewhere along the line, this morphed from my usual “I don’t like excerpts” dialogue into my usual “the orchestra is a museum for music” dialogue. Sorry to those of you who’ve heard this tired screed before, but, really, if you didn’t know by now that I like new music far better than old, why are you still reading?
Familiar Lives is an interactive, multimedia installation work for two dancers and electronics. The overarching concept of the work concerns a shared experience unique to those who create art: the idea of an individual’s affinity for a particular element of one’s creative discipline. These elements can take many forms: a single sound for the composer or performer of music; a particular hue for the painter; a comfortable working medium for the sculptor; an evocative and practiced move for the dancer. Each of these, well-worn and lovingly treated, is as natural and familiar to the creator as an old pair of blue jeans, broken in and molded to the body in an almost symbiotic fusion of internal and external, individual and object, creator and creation. And, of course, the concept of familiar spaces is a story as old as art itself: since man first painted on cave walls, artists have sought comfortable spaces in which to create: the quiet studio, the concert hall that resonates just so, the late-night coffee shop where ideas manifest as if from a wellspring.
To this end, a uniquely personal collaborative compositional process is used to produce and develop thematic material for Familiar Lives. Two dancers are asked to dance to their favorite music, in their favorite spaces, in their favorite ways. In a method derived from the work of Freida Abtan, these spontaneous, emotional performances are captured on video and this video is then edited to produce a composed choreography for the dancers to learn anew. The composer’s favorite sounds have been selected and sampled, and then processed using Logic Pro 8’s Space Designer plug-in. This unique reverb plug-in allows the user to load “Impulse Responses”: samples of a particular space’s resonant characteristics that are then interpolated to model the reverb characteristics of particular spaces. Visual source data for performance video projection is taken from both still photographs and video, not just of “familiar spaces”, but also of familiar images, films, etc.
In a performance of approximately 8-10 minutes, the dancers are placed inside of an environment wherein motion characteristics can be tracked (speed, direction, location within a fixed space, etc.) and the resultant motion tracking data is interpreted in the Max/MSP/Jitter software environment. The motion tracking data controls parameters of both the audio and visual components of the piece: audio parameters such as scrubbing speed, sample selection, pitch, etc., and visual parameters such as brightness, saturation, hue, playback speed, etc. The resultant output data is projected in an immersive audio/video environment consisting of a multi-speaker output system and a multi-output projection system surrounding the dancers.
The Great Silence - Tombs (Winter Hours. Relapse Records, 2009)
If I actually sat down and wrote out a Best of 2009 - y’know, rather than just pussyfoot around the whole topic - Tomb’s Winter Hours would probably find itself at the #1 spot (Everything is Fire would be #4, or something). A very moving blend of atmospheric black metal and hardcore that I’ve been listening to none stop since I got my hands on it.
Agreed. This is up there with Revolting’s Dreadful Pleasures and Goatwhore’s Carving Out The Eyes Of God on my list of best metal albums this year. Also, I was about to write that I wasn’t crazy about Everything Is Fire, but, just to be sure, I put it on as I was writing this, and I lied. I am crazy about Everything Is Fire. It slams.
This is actually a Prince song called “Take Me With You”, and it’s only nominally The Foreign Exchange covering it. I mean, yes, Phonte and Nicolay are playing on it, but so is ?uestlove, Carlitta Durand, and Zo! from Zo! and Tigallo Love The 80’s. Anyways, this is super-sexy and you’ll love it. Enjoy.