We’ve finalized the program order for our four concerts in mid-October in Orono. I’ll be performing four pieces, along with my UMaine colleagues Marcia Gronewold Sly, Liz Downing, and Ginger Yang Hwalek.
All privacy issues aside, GPS is a great thing.
I spent almost all of the past weekend driving around New England, usually on rural roads, sometimes in the rain, sometimes in the dark, all in the service of what is essentially pretty non-mainstream music. Which is not what one would expect to be doing in your basic middle-of-nowhere..
A few years back, Davy met a young European composer at a festival in NYC, and when Davy mentioned that he preferred doing his composing outside of the city, the visiting musician barked at him “Art is Urban!” This particular musician would have been confused by my travels this weekend.
First, I had to deliver a small synthesizer to ensemble mise-en, a Brooklyn group that was in residence at I-Park, at the edge of a state park in Connecticut.
This particular synth, with a full-featured vocoder, was probably small enough to ship to the group (see above), but then I wouldn’t have been able to walk the pianist through the patches, etc., in person. So, before the school year’s schedule could make travel more difficult, I put the address of I-Park into my GPS system and off I went to meet the group’s director, Moon Young Ha, in the wilds of CT.
The I-Park campus was fairly well camouflaged, but after being directed only about half a mile off by the GPS, I found the nicely appointed studies, and was able to show off the synth using the ensemble’s own sound system. The pianist now has a few months to get used to speaking parts of the poem “Introducing the Nissan Jet-Pack” (by Miriam Gamble) into the vocoder’s microphone while playing the piano part in my piece for the ensemble’s November concert. (The piece is a musical setting of Miriam’s entire poem, with the various instrumentalists speaking at different times against both acoustic textures and some electronic accompaniments.) Yumi Suehiro, the pianist, tried out the vocoder while I was there, and I think she’ll be having a good time practicing her part.
It looked like the residency at I-Park was a good deal for the ensemble and the composers working with them at the studios, though Moon explained that getting to the facility from NYC was a little tricky. With the ensemble having to get from subway-to-train-to-car with all the rehearsal gear, there was a fair bit of problem-solving going on at either end of the residency. But, while at I-Park, everyone could focus on the rehearsal process for the project at hand with few distractions. Unless you count a nice walking/hiking environment as a distraction.
The GPS had no trouble getting me back to Maynard in good time, as the rain had stopped by then. It turned out to be an excellent driving afternoon, with all of the road construction crews having left because of the earlier weather.
The very next day, I traveled back to Maine, but instead of going directly to Bangor, I went off to participate in Leslie Ross’s first Sound Improv Festival at her place in Penobscot, Maine (not far from Blue Hill). There was an impressive group of musicians, mostly from Maine but with a few Bostonians and New Yorkers mixed in, playing for each other and a pretty good-sized audience for, again, the middle of nowhere.
Leslie is building her own workspace, concert space, and community from the ground up after leaving New York’s ever-rising rents behind. It was impressive to see and hear everyone there, and I had a particularly good time playing in a duo with Boston reed player Steve Norton. One audience member came up to me after that and said “the last thing I expected to hear in rural Maine was a bass clarinet duet.”
So, maybe art isn’t always urban.
However, driving home from Leslie’s, I was very grateful for the light of my GPS unit as I drove on the time roads away from Penobscot in the dark and fog. Middle-of-nowhere is fine, but going to and from these rural musical outposts requires reliable maps.
The internet thinks my husband would be enticed by a reasonably priced security system, with an iPhone app and that cool black new-tech look. The internet is correct.
We now have access to our home even when out of town, and get regular “activity” updates on our phones, our iPads, our emails, really everywhere. Of course, some of the “activity” is kind of small scale.
We got alerts about this lighting change in the dining room this very morning. Granted, seeing it on a loop is kind of hypnotic, but I imagine that the whole experience will pale soon. It will become “the tech that cried wolf.” But at least Davy can check on things like the power going out (or, can he?).
Not that I’m against technology – I’ve been editing the new piece for ensemble mise-en, which has not only some prerecorded electronic sounds, but also a vocoder for the pianist to use. Based on a poem by Miriam Gamble, “Introducing the Nissan Jet-Pack,” the tech sounds fall into place fairly naturally, I think. We’ll see how tricky it is to put together, with the necessary cueing and all, when the piece gets played in November in Brooklyn.
I’ve also been editing some demo tracks from the opera I’ve been working on with Jennifer Moxley. The recording sessions we had in May went very well, and I’ve been adding the electronic tracks impost, as they say. As with the mise-en piece, in real life there may be more or may be less of the electronic sounds. Everything will depend in the venue and placement of the sound system, who will be assigned the sound cues, etc. For now, the demo track has a bit less electronica than I originally planned, but the editing process has made me more aware of having the singers remain front and center. We hope to be able have these scenes workshopped in Maine next summer, so this was a good prep for that theatrical version.
The last bit of tech that’s part of this summer is a set of speakers that I (not the internet) enticed Davy into purchasing – a Sonos system, which was demonstrated to me by Jennifer Moxley. Thankfully, this technology does not send alerts.
So, now we’re really into winter. Which means some snow days. And although the beginning of the semester has featured lots of administrative tasks, these are just about under control. Which means that when we have snow days from now on, I can get working for real on a new piece, with my snazzy new gear that Davy got me. (See above – synth/vocoder with new speakers)
The piece will performed at an “acoustic+” concert by the ensemble mis en in Brooklyn. I’ve known the director of the group for a few years now, as I played in a piece of his at a festival in France. He’s a very good musician, with lots of organizational as well as musical skills, so I’m looking forward to writing for and working with his group. The piece will feature both an accompanying prerecorded part along with some live vocoder processing of the instrumentalists. Right now, I’m just playing with the vocoder myself, adapting patches and carving out the basic harmonic materials. The underlying structure will be a setting of a poem by Miriam Gamble titled “Introducing the Nissan Jet-pack” – parts of the poem will be heard as part of the prerecorded sounds, and some will be spoken by members of the ensemble. So, lots of possibilities for text-painting, as well as lots of logistical planning. But fun planning. Especially on snow days.
What about the rest of autumn?
Anyway, since the last post, the Vermont camp has been closed up, all of our outdoor furniture has been put away in Massachusetts, and the garage in Bangor has been reviewed for some patching before the long winter really takes over. I had thought I was doing this last task early enough in the year, but today could prove me wrong.
The fall season has certainly felt jam-packed, continuing on from the VSO Made-in-Vermont tour (and its Green Room appearances) to more driving to other concerts. I played in a full orchestra for the first time in a while, and then subbed in the SPA production of Little Shop in the pit, also for the first time in years. I had forgotten about the counting-many-bars-of-rests that is part and parcel of large ensemble playing, but this was really a minor distraction compared to the whole musical experience of being part of a big sound. It was particularly enjoyable to play with a mix of fellow faculty, students and recent UMaine grads on both occasions, all of whom were cheerful and sunny in what were perhaps less-than-ideal surroundings.
The next part of the semester features less clarinet playing on the schedule, but lots of concerts to attend and record. There are upcoming premieres of a few songs of mine on a couple of these concerts – one set of songs on poems by Rosalie Calabrese, and one single song on an old (really old) text by Robert, the Earl of Essex (When Silly Bees Could Speak). I am hoping that all of the performers involved in these concerts have the same good driving fortune I have had lately (particularly the performers driving up to Orono from NYC). We can also hope that the snow from today’s storm goes away quickly enough that we have a chance to forget about that kind of weather for a few more weeks. Or, for at least enough time for me make sure the Subaru and its tire treads are ready for the next few months.
Lots of miles on my car, but totally worth it.