Posts Tagged ‘Dialogic Music’

When I first arrived at queens, I did not know exactly what to expect from the weekly concerts that I had heard so much about in the music technology open days. I prepared myself to be open minded, to expect the unexpected and to appreciate the unconventional and as a consequence expand my mind. I’d like to think that this has happened because since coming here I have been exposed to new types of music that if anything, embody the concept of the unconventional. A strong emphasis has been put on exposing us all to performances of improvisation and I feel that it has eradicated my preconceptions of what music and in particular, improvisation entails. It dawned on me when I found myself being somewhat blown away by two performances in particular that six months prior, I would have merely sat in the audience confused whilst trying to work out a tempo or melody. The first of these two performances was “Faint” with Pedro Rebello on piano, Franziska Schroeder playing saxophones and Steve Davis sitting behind a drum kit and utilizing many other percussive items. The second performance was “Dialogic Music” with Paul Stapleton and seven other guest artists with interests and influences ranging from emo punk to medieval welsh harp to ring-tone design; an interesting mix to say the least! On my way to the faint concert I was telling myself to come with an open mindset and to interpret the entire concert as an improvisation. Before the performance even began it struck me that it had a set start time, performance location and I assumed, a time limitation which in a strange way, goes against the theme of improvisation. At the time I was trying to work out whether my analysis was overly pretentious or indeed true. I shall not deny that as a public performance to be enjoyed by the audience, a formal structure in the form of time and location would have to be established. I still could not help asking myself the question that because the performers had to perform at a particular set time and place, did it detract from the overall improvisation theme? As it is with all advertised concerts, the Dialogic Music performance had to conform to the same principles and obviously I cannot hold this against either performance as it would be ridiculous to do so, I am merely highlighting an aspect of improvisation and a topic that could be discussed in greater detail at a different time and place. I observed in amazement at the technical proficiency that was displayed at times during the Faint performance, however I was even more impressed by the creativity displayed during the improvisation which seemed to take the book of convention, shred it up and make it into confetti. Seeing Pedro Rebello playing the strings of an extremely expensive grand piano with a common drum stick was one of the many displays which took me by surprise as was the striking of tom toms by Steve Davis with what seemed to resemble a kitchen whisk. Both of these coupled with the, at times amazingly strange and always instantly engaging sounds which flowed from Franziska Schroeder’s saxophone made me feel immersed in a performance that was like nothing I had experienced before. Whilst the performers in faint played somewhat conventional instruments in a very unconventional fashion, the Dialogic Music performance consisted of instruments that where anything but conventional. On entering the room and seeing the performers sitting quietly and alert on stage, I felt that the performance had already started and consequently I felt instantly engaged and perhaps even a performer or contributor to the overall sonic performance. Paul Stapleton’s massive metallic square shaped musical construction seemed to be the centrepiece of the performance stage and throughout the performance the artists worked together in an almost effortless fashion playing the same or different instruments with an always extremely perceptive ear for the piece as one sound. The dynamics varied from the faint (no pun intended) sound of bare feet on the wooden stage to the thunderous striking of the metal construction with beaters by more than one artist at a time. Transitions between the different dynamic levels seemed to be seamless and communication between the artists, telepathic. However, one thought that crossed my mind during the performance was the layout of the stage and how it would affect the improvisation with different sound making devices scattered about the area. This applies not just to this performance only, but for any performance that has ever or will ever be performed by anyone. The thought was brought on when I observed a performer who whilst listening to the overall sound intently, suddenly looked about for a beater to strike his current instrument with. The beater was not within easy reach and he had to move to obtain it, after which he returned to his original position and struck the instrument to create the sound. I had to ask myself whether he struck the instrument because he felt he had to after obtaining the beater even though the moment may have passed or if he genuinely believed that the moment was still right for his action. Another small thought which crossed my mind was the use of pre-recorded sounds in each performance, through a lap top for the faint concert and a tape recorder for Dialogic Music. I wondered whether the pre-made sounds contradicted the improvisational nature of the performances as they were composed prior to the performance. However I felt that the timing of when these recorded sounds were played was significantly more important than the issue of them being pre-recorded since the idea of not allow oneself to use a sound source that is right for the moment just because it is pre-recorded is a limitation and therefore not desirable. Overall I felt engaged and enthralled during each of the performances and to be honest, I am not sure whether my experience of the two performances would have been as pleasurable for me a year ago or if I had not opened my mind to these new musical concepts. That being said, I’d like to think I have opened my mind as I did appreciate and to an extent feel part of both performances and their extremely influential displays of improvisation.

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The two concerts that I have been to in recent weeks that I have chosen to review are Paul Stapleton ‘Dialogue Music’ and The Gerry Rice Jazz Quartet ‘Afro Blue’ (Originally by John Coltrane). One main feature of both of these performances is that they were strongly based on improvisation.

Paul Stapleton’s concert consisted of the instrument that he created himself (which I like to call the ‘Box Factory’), a huge droning metal double bass like instrument again made by Paul, a series of Dictaphones with interesting sounds recorded onto it, a small amount of unusual stringed instruments, a play station like controller that was plugged into a laptop which was using a custom made music software and my personal favourite the ‘Pianosaurus’ (a toy piano shaped like a dinosaur). When I walked into the SARC concert hall and saw all these instruments I knew this was going to be like no concert I have ever witnessed. There was just so much variety and potential created by this huge range of instruments.

The beginning of this piece consisted of total silence as the light dimmed down in the audience leaving just a few desktop lights that surrounded the stage. One theme that was quickly introduced was the element of contact improvisation, it was clear that all of the performers were playing off each other. The artist closest to me was the first to move, although he showed great control as he didn’t move straight for an instrument he just walked on the spot. Perhaps because I was closest to him I got the greatest effect of what this created, his feet stuck slightly to the floor and when he lifted them off his feet made a noise close to the sound of ripping a sheet of paper. After a while more and more performers began to start playing, what I liked was the fact that most of the performers began on the floor either bowing or plucking the guitar like instruments used as legs in Paul’s ‘Box Factory’.

After several minutes one performer stood up and began to spin disk like top of the hand made instrument. This created a totally new effect on its own as before all that could be heard was the drones of string instruments. While the disk/cymbal like instrument was spinning she picked up a bow and began to bow it, this created a harsh metallic like sound that really enhanced the darkness of this piece. During this Paul stood up and began to use the copper pipes that he had made at the top of the ‘Box Factory’, to create some really interesting sounds he picked up a beater and began to strike the different pipes creating melody to the piece. He then began to do lift the outside pipe and let go, this created a domino like effect as the pipes crashed into one another this created an irregular rhythm as the pipes where banging together at different times.

At one stage in the performance a male performer began to strike a brass bowl with his palm. At first this was very hard to distinguish as it was very soft and he was far away. However he held the vibrating brass bowl into and out of the over head microphone this created a fantastic swelling effect which was picked up by the rest of the performers as they began to play softly at one stage then very loudly and aggressively at other stages. One moment that I really found effective was when one of the female performers was playing very loudly and aggressively, when suddenly she stopped all together and sat off the stage just watching the other performers. This showed great dynamics as one moment the sound was massive and then the next it became very soft.

In addition to this at one point in the performance Paul moved over to my side of the stage and brought the ‘Pianosaurus’ into action. He showed that this not only provided melody to the improvisation but also began to shake the instrument this made it almost percussive.

The improvisation ended with all the performers sitting on the floor playing the string instruments that were available. Some of the other performers played nothing they sat and hummed notes and one female artist began to do operatic like melismas. The piece was brought to a close with a large percentage of the performers playing the ‘metal one stringed double bass’ and one performer using the music software.

In addition to this I felt that some parts of the improvisation had a form as it both began and ended softly. There were parts with rhythmic patterns and there was even some very dissonant melodies.

For my second concert I thought it would be a good idea to review a completely different kind of improvisation. As with Paul Stapleton his improvisation was totally free as it had no rhythmical or melodic boundaries due to the instruments used. However with Gerry Rice’s Jazz quartet he was using much more conventional jazz instruments (Soprano Saxophone, Piano, Drums and Double Bass). The reason why I chose their arrangement of John Coltrane’s ‘Afro Blue’ is because it highlighted the bands improvisational talent to the greatest extent.

The improvisation begins with Gerry playing the famous theme on the soprano sax with piano chords beneath and a drum and bass accompaniment. After the theme has been played several times Gerry walks off the stage, this is what I gathered to be the queue for the pianist to solo. What I liked about the piano solo was the fact that it was improvised totally however at the same time the main theme kept coming back and leaving. At first the pianist played a leaping solo with the right hand which was impossible to characterise in any sort of key also there was no clear cut rhythmical pattern. In contrast to this throughout the solo the drum and bass kept a steady pulse this only highlighted further the improvisatory elements of this solo.

After several minutes and hundreds of piano notes later, Gerry walks back on stage and begins to play the main motif. However this time he plays a diminution of the motif, I noticed that this was sensed by the rest of the band as the music went into a free moving half time like rhythm. What I liked about this section was that I felt that their communication as a band was highlighted here as they showed great ability to work off each other. Towards the end of this improvisation Gerry begins a brilliant Soprano Sax solo that strongly highlighted his knowledge of his instrument. He begins by playing multiphonix which takes a real master of their instrument to be able to pull off; this is followed by his manipulation of the upper and lower registers of the soprano saxophone. He does this by creating extremely angular rhythmic patterns that irregularly move from the lowest to the highest of notes.

The improvisation ends with the theme being reintroduced by the soprano sax although this time very quietly. However this moment is shattered with a huge cymbal crash, all of a sudden all instruments are playing as loudly as possible with trills on the soprano sax, crashes on the piano and drums and loud bass drones played with a bow.

In conclusion, what I liked about the two improvisations was the fact that they were so different. One was completely free in all musical parameters and the other had small relationships and motifs that added a very slight structure. However as well as being very different they were also similar in a sense that they both were without a score, both began softly and were both strongly based on the theme of improvisation.

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