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This is posted in observance of Antonin Artaud (Sept. 4, 1896) – playwright, poet, actor, visionary.
“We do not mean to bore the audience to death with transcendental cosmic preoccupations. Audiences are not interested in whether there are profound clues to the show’s thought and action, since in general this does not concern them. But these must still be there and that concerns us.” – Antonin Artaud
a tone-poem for gamelan, strings, and 2 synthesizers by Patrick GRANT after a scenario by Antonin ARTAUD (La Pierre Philosophale – 1931), commissioned by the Cornell Gamelan Ensemble 2003
The Picasso Connection
tHE pHILOSOPHER’S sTONE
music for gamelan, strings, and 2 synthesizers – 2003
PDF Score – 120 pp – 8 MB
Musical Instruments: These will be used as objects, as part of the set. Moreover they need to act deeply and direct on our sensibility through the senses, and from the point of view of sound they invite research into utterly unusual sound properties and vibrations which present-day musical instruments do not possess, urging us to use ancient or forgotten instruments or to invent new ones. Apart from music, research is also needed into instruments and appliances based on refining and new alloys which can reach a new scale in the octave and produce an unbearably piercing sound or noise.
Theater of Cruelty – First Manifesto (1931) – Antonin Artaud
One could say that one of the main reasons that Theaterlab is presenting The MMiX Festival of Interactive Music Technology is to make good on Antonin Artaud‘s vision on the future of music and sound in the theater. There is no doubt that Artaud’s manifestoes were ahead of their time and, like most visionaries who are born into that situation, he paid the price, mentally-spirtually-and physically, of not seeing many of his ideas become reality in his lifetime. As a result, his writings and his work have become inspiration for generations of artists that followed, myself included.
One of the projects I undertook was a commission from The Cornell Gamelan Ensemble when I was a visiting composer there during 2002-2003 in a joint venture of the Digital Music Lab (David Borden) and the Dept. of Enthomusicology (Martin Hatch). Through that I was able to create a tone poem for gamelan, keyboards, & strings based upon The Philosopher’s Stone (La Pierre Philosophale – 1931), a scenario by Artaud in which I tried to fused his passion of the Balinese theater with the vision of new musical sounds via the synthesizers as laid out in the excerpt above.
As curator of The MMiX Festival, and in doing it at Theaterlab, I hope that we can show how close we’ve come to Artaud’s vision, how far we have yet to go, and can look forward to its multi-disciplinary application on the stage in the future work of all artists. For right now, enough theory. Let’s see where were at in 2009 (MMIX) and have a blast doing it!
Antonin Artaud (September 4, 1896, in Marseille – March 4, 1948 in Paris) was a French playwright, poet, actor and theatre director.
Artaud believed that the Theatre should affect the audience as much as possible, therefore he used a mixture of strange and disturbing forms of lighting, sound and performance.
In his book The Theatre and Its Double, which contained the first and second manifesto for a “Theatre of Cruelty,” Artaud expressed his admiration for Eastern forms of theatre, particularly the Balinese. He admired Eastern theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized and precise physicality of Balinese dance performance, and advocated what he called a “Theatre of Cruelty“. At one point, he stated that by cruelty, he meant not exclusively sadism or causing pain, but just as often a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality. He believed that text had been a tyrant over meaning, and advocated, instead, for a theatre made up of a unique language, halfway between thought and gesture. Artaud described the spiritual in physical terms, and believed that all theatre is physical expression in space.
This blog wouldn’t exist if not for Les Paul (1915-2009). So many know of his innovations in the development of the solid body electric guitar, but there is also his work in the advancement of multi-track recording, tape delay, sound-on-sound looping, reverb etc. that we take for granted today. Before the software replicants that we use today, there was a time where, if something didn’t exist, you went into a machine shop and made it out of wood, metal, vacuum tubes and electrical components. That’s hardcore analog. That calls upon a wider range of skill sets than most of us have today and, in Les Paul’s case, than most anyone ever had.
Video: Les Paul and Mary Ford are hosted by Alistair Cooke on a 1953 broadcast of the legendary CBS show Omnibus doing a “sound-on-sound” performance of “How High the Moon.”
I’d been thinking a lot about him this week before his passing. I haven’t owned a guitar in years and I had just gotten tired of either borrowing my friend Gerald’s Gibson SG for recording or playing clean guitar sounds on my keyboard and running them through guitar FX plug-ins, that I decided to get one of my own again. The first electric guitar that I bought for myself was a silver Les Paul Standard copy made by the Cortez (!) company when I was a freshman at Wayne State University in Detroit. I’d decided to skip school that semester but still lived in the dormitory keeping up the pretense of going to classes. Money that was supposed to be spent on books was quickly converted into the cash needed to buy that guitar and an amp, so I could make spending money playing in original music bar bands at night. My days were spent giving myself a crash course in guitar playing that, thanks to years of violin, piano and theory that came before it, went very quickly. After moving to NYC and fully embracing the new paths that MIDI technology was taking us to, my bar band aspirations became a thing of the past. The guitar broke and was never replaced. Plus, I was surrounded by friends who were/are guitar wizards now so, why bother?
Yes, after moving to NYC with one of the number one bands in Detroit, that all fell apart. I returned to “serious” music, as I understood it at that time (I had classical training, J.S. Bach to Steve Reich, but the bands were a more immediate form of expressing Cold War angst, for this young man). I worked for John Cage’s publisher and then later, his editor, so that, coupled with my incipient work in avant-garde theater, saw me through a phase of trying everything possible: indeterminate music, serial music, prepared piano, percussion quartets, electronic soundscapes, etc. This led to a World Music phase in the 90s that was followed by a Neo-Minimalist phase because, with my keyboard-based ensemble, I was able to use non-tempered gamelan tunings within the guise of pattern-driven mini-epics for chamber ensemble. Still, it wasn’t completely ‘me’ yet. One of the best compliments I received from a live performance of a piece of mine for microtonal keyboard and gamelan at Celebrate Brooklyn! came at me like the kid who speaks up in The Emperor’s New Clothes: “I really liked your piece. It reminded me of The Who.” I laughed them off. But later, when I thought about it, when the piece was removed of all the ‘new music’ trappings, they were right. The road I chose may have been different, but the destination was the same. Since then, it’s all been about returning to who I was all along. My music has become a synthesis of everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve done and that includes restoring the sound of the solid body electric guitar to my work, though with a lot more history behind it this time.
When I arrived in NYC, I almost felt I had to hide my punk rock/new wave ‘detour’ when I re-entered the classical world. I guess I was embarrassed about my incomplete music school pedigree. Worse yet was the embarrassment I felt (and still feel) for the Ivy League composers who dominate the NYC scene when they try to “rock out,” or decide to get all “downtown” on us. I guess it works both ways. To see it you gotta be it and, well, I don’t see it. Much. If hanging-in-there has brought me anything, it has made me come around full circle and feel comfortable in my own skin again with what I’m doing and where I want to go now musically, and there ain’t no degree you can get for that.
So here I am last Sunday, 20+ years after that silver Cortez, looking at all the electric guitars hanging on the walls at Guitar Center on 14th Street in Manhattan. So many new models and guitar gadgets since I last looked. My trips to music stores had always centered around the keyboards, electronics and software. So, if I’m coming full circle, why not go all the way? After a half an hour of trying out different ones, I decided on a particular Les Paul Standard that seemed to call my name and felt just right.
Mind you this was before Les Paul’s passing today. I’m sure I’m not special. I’m sure that there were millions of musicians somewhere thinking about him every day. In the months, weeks, and days leading up to that moment, I’d been talking about him with my guitarist friends, building up the courage to get another Les Paul some day soon. My research led me to remember all the innovations that he’d made besides the solid body electric guitar: multi-tracking, overdubbing, looping, tape delay, reverb etc. Now these live on in the little machine before me that I’m typing into.
I had an Akai APC-40 to control my laptop on order from B&H Photo since late May, until they emailed me that it would not be shipped within the quoted 2-4 weeks. I would have to wait until September! Screw it, I’ll make do with how I’ve been doing things up until now. I canceled the order and put that money towards the Les Paul Standard sitting beside me right now. Sometimes musical expression has to be more immediate than a chain of gear that needs to be turned on, booted up, opened up, mixer on, speakers on, controller on… sometimes it has to be something you can just reach out and grab, touch, pound on if you must, and make some music with, dammit. Like now. That’s classical and that’s rock’n’roll.
Thank you, Les Paul for always keeping a beautiful and musical balance between man and machine, and for an electric guitar that will sustain a note almost as long, but not quite, as your legacy surely will.
My introduction to a musical world beyond the Motown & rock’n’roll I heard all around me growing up in Detroit, and the pop hits from the BBC as filtered through the CBC from across the river in Canada, to where I am now was, judging by the length of this already overly lengthy sentence, a circuitous one.
Dad was all about Johnny Cash and Scottish bagpipe music (being a cop will do that to you), and Mom was all theater and movie music. Despite begging for music lessons at an early age (Dad wanted me to be a hockey player; he was on the Detroit Police team), I was at least given a Magnus chord organ and lessons on the guitar and banjo from my Dad’s drinking buddies at many an impromptu late night “soirée.” I took to that chord organ like mad. I was a 7 year-old Phantom of the Opera in my mind, going waay beyond the “On Top of Old Smokey” by-the-numbers type books that came with it. Even so, my most creative outlet was visual art, being the best “draw-er” in elementary school, mostly geometrical patterns (and I was great at Spirograph too!) and the gruesome gore I emulated from Famous Monsters of Filmland fan magazine. “Why don’t you ever draw anything nice?” It wasn’t until my parents divorce and my Mom married some Harvard-trained CPA ne’er-do-well when I was 11, that I found out “music lessons should be a part of every gentleman’s upbringing.” Yeah, right. BUT, if that was my way in, I went for it: piano and viola/violin lessons began, and a nerd was born.
Around that time, the film “A Clockwork Orange,” originally released as Rated-X by the incipient rating system (along with “Midnight Cowboy” and “Last Tango in Paris” due to their adult themes) got reduced to an R-rating and re-released. The porn industry had made a joke of the X-rating by saying, “Well then, we’re XXX,” so it became meaningless. So, with an R-rating, “Clockwork” was able to air commercials on the TV. One day I heard it: the “glorious 9th Symphony by Ludwig Van” but, as we know, being “performed” by Wendy (née Walter) Carlos on the Moog synthesizer. However, I didn’t know what that strange sound was at the time. I shoveled snow like mad that weekend to make the $4.95 needed to purchase, what was to be, the very first LP that I ever bought for myself. Coming home, I was reading the back of it (who were these guys?) and couldn’t figure out which track I had heard on TV. I dropped that needle everywhere on the disc, but could not find it. What was up with all this classical stuff? I thought that was only used for goofing around in Warner Bros. cartoons! I noticed that one of the tracks looked a bit different in the middle, a darker color due to less activity in the grooves. I cued up that spot, and there it was: bum – – – bum – – – bum – bum – bum – bum – etc. It was the march section of the 9th’s choral movement (please pardon the WWII imagery).
It rocked my 11 year-old world
I took to reading and writing music right away, often well beyond my means of playing it (what else is new?) probably because I understood the visual representations of the patterns coming off the art I practically abandoned since hearing that first Moog. In fact, most of the music I naturally like also makes for fine visual art when it’s written down. A favorite joke of mine: Beethoven was so deaf. How deaf was he? He was so deaf he thought he was a painter.
At that point in the 70s there were a lot of “classical goes synth” type albums out but, despite some bits of 1960s Japanese anime, “Kimba the White Lion”, composer Isao Tomita’s takes on Debussy and Stravinsky, I was a dedicated Carlos fan (as was Glenn Gould). Aside from the Beethoven for Kubrick, the mostly baroque output of Carlos, beginning with “Switched-on Bach” in 1968, the attention to detail is still stunning, especially when you consider the means and the pre-planning that had to go into every track. Only was I to discover later that this was due to the use of “hocketing,” a medieval vocal technique where a single melodic line would be broken up amongst a number of voices. The best definition of a hocket I heard was from one of the curators at de Ysbreker while on tour in Amsterdam: “It is a monophonic way of suggesting polyphony.” That’s it! That’s why I like what I like. I like music that is made up of many interlocking parts, be it Bach, Steve Reich (“Music for 18 Musicians” was a 14th birthday present), Eno & Fripp, the Balinese Gamelan (three trips to study there), or now, in using looping software and hardware as compositional tools.
Here’s a gem I came across: a long out-of–print album by Wendy Carlos called “Secrets of Synthesis” recently re-released on East Side Digital. The MP3 here, using harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti as realized on Carlos’ “The Well-Tempered Synthesizer,” are given as examples of how she applied this hocketing technique to, essentially, two-part material to get multi-layered and multi-timbral results, all on the 1970s rig shown above and two Ampex 8-tracks bouncing back and forth:
A long time ago at the Chelsea Hotel, producer, tenant activist and now author (!) Scott Griffin once told me, “You should never make pieces for solo instruments. Your music works best when it’s dense with layers.”
You know, I think he was right.
I’ve been a member of Gamelan Son of Lion, on and off, for 15 years. I explain it to my friends as my “poker night.” It feels that way. The members are all composer/performers who are known for their works in many different styles who unite once a week in their shared love of playing and performing on the gamelan, an orchestra of metallophones, tuned gongs and percussion indigenous to Java and Bali. One of the members that I’ve been playing with for the last couple of years, John Morton, has been getting good notice for what he does at his “day job,” creating sound installations. This time the locale of his work is a pedestrian tunnel in New York City’s Central Park. About as far from a gamelan as one could get, Morton used Cycling ’74’s Max/MSP software in the creation of this work.
The official blurbage from the New York City Dept. of Parks & Recreation reads thusly:
“This summer, avant–garde composer John Morton’s sonic collage, Central Park Sound Tunnel, will be installed in one of Central Park’s iconic pedestrian tunnels between the Central Park Zoo and the Tisch Children’s Zoo at 65th Street. Beginning every half–hour with the ringing of the Delacorte chimes, this 20–minute, 6–speaker sound installation incorporates field recordings made in Central Park over the last year.
Using computer technology, a randomly generated selection of ambient sounds such as horses clopping, baseball games, birds, and chime tunes are woven together to form ever–changing compositions that echo through the cavernous tunnel.
John Morton’s Central Park Sound Tunnel enables visitors to experience the sonic landscape of the world’s most famous park,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “This multi–faceted installation furthers our commitment to presenting innovative public art by leading contemporary artists and provides another exciting reason to visit Central Park this summer…”
MP3 sound examples on this page.
Recently, the New York Times published their own review of the piece and the artist.
John Morton, Central Park Sound Tunnel
June 8 to September 10, 2009
8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
North of the Zoo and Delacorte Clock