As I book out into 2019, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got to this point in my musical life. There’s the received wisdom for most artists in any field that until you make it, you should keep your day job so you can have a solid financial foundation while you work at your art. The downside is, with a day job, you generally have less time to focus on your art which in turn decreases your ability to turn it into a full time career. It’s a delicate balance between having no time to do your art because of the time you put into your day job, as opposed to spending less time at a job (and thus having less financial security) to focus more on the art. The ideal balance is to transition into turning your art into your full-time job.
The risk of that, though, is burn-out.
As I was looking for scores for my students who performed at the ISSMA Solo and Ensemble Contest this past Saturday, I came across a number of my collection of sheet music for new solo cello works. I’ve not looked through them until lately as I’ve started up my two lastest new music projects (The Mothership Ensemble and Camera Lucida). The photo above barely scratches the surface of what I’d collected in that last half of the 90s before transitioning into more Performance Art and Experimental Noise Music.
I know that I said I was going to go directly into part 2, but I think this short detour through 1.5 is warranted as I’ve been slowly coming back into doing this repertoire again.
During my senior year at the DePauw Music School, I actually performed my senior recital in the first semester. The repertoire was pretty traditional–though I did include a number of early 20th century works on it (Webern’s Three Short Pieces for Cello and Piano, Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Cello, and the sublime movement from Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus”) in addition to the Beethoven and Schubert works I performed.
My plan was to do a “second senior recital” which would be a lecture/performance and I would focus on new music. That never happened as I was quickly getting burned out on the whole conservatory and traditional music scene. By then I was already exploring the more experimental side and often performing/premiering new pieces by student composers. Also, my cello professor, Eric Edberg, was starting to get his cello students into improvisation which is an essential skill for any well rounded musician doing new music. I would often just spend a couple of hours improvising alone or with friends and we occasionally recorded those sessions.
Eric also started getting into looping and we’d sometimes go over to his house for cello studio parties and just play with the Jamman Looper he had. I seemed to take to it intuitively enough as this first attempt with any looper shows:
I would later spend a summer house-sitting for him and record dozens of hours worth of improvisations with the looper such as this one in which I explored microtones (yeah, I was heavily into Harry Partch at the time).
During this that early Chello Shed period, I performed a number of these solo cello works. Sometimes this was within the context of presentations or lectures, such as Xenakis’ Nomos Alpha.
Other times, these would simply be “recitals” where I’d often also include many of my own experimental compositions. In that two year period of Chello Shed events I probably performed a couple dozen pieces for solo cello, cello and electronics, or experimental cello pieces–including a good half dozen of my own.
Since I’ve come back to new music for solo cello in the past couple of years, I’d already spent nearly the past decade exploring a variety of other techniques and genres which incorporate the cello. I’ve recently become very interested in repertoire that focuses on the cello and voice (and there are a fair number of works like this) since I’ve spent nearly all my time back at the cello regularly singing while playing the cello. Repeat performances of “Wormhole:Caesura” (string trio and baritone) by Rachel Short (the other director of the Mothership Ensemble) had me singing the Baritone line while playing the cello due to vocalist issues after the premiere performance. I’ve also recently performed Joan LaBarbara’s “a trail of indeterminate light” which requires the cellist to sing while performing during one section.
A piece I’m looking forward to performing in the near future, as this year will mark the 75th birthday of Louis Andriessen, is “In Voce.”
I’ve been surprised (and pleased) at how quickly some of these skills have come back to me–and I remember how quickly it was to pick up and learn new repertoire–especially as you get immersed in it. And with my two current (and yet to be announced upcoming) new music projects I imagine I’ll be all over the map with new repertoire and tricks in the near future. It’s good to be back in this scene on my own terms and without the constraints of academia bogging me down.
Next post in this series will definitely be about the Indianapolis activities and the INDYtron festival and resource website and how that is the intermediary link to NuMuLu–I promise!
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started a new organization that focuses on featuring and promoting new and experimental music in the Kentuckiana region. In that post I mentioned the Chello Shed which was a similar kind of initiative I started in late 1996 after I finished my degree in cello performance in Greencastle, Indiana. In my post about DePauw University School of Music’s 21st Century Music program I spent blogged in some detail about it. As I said, it was
a brainchild of mine that was a concert/lecture series and alternative venue that I created in 1996. It’s been revived at various locations since many of the events took place in the various places I lived in Greencastle. Sometimes other music students requested I do an event in their dorm room and often events would be “site-specific”–taking place around Greencastle or on DePauw’s campus.
Some of the presentations were more formal while others, like “The Packing Tree” (1997), was essentially a Flash Mob performance with audience participation. While I can’t claim to have done this several years before Bill Wassik’s first official flash mobs in Manhattan (and really, performance artists have been doing things like this for decades) it and some of the other impromptu performances I did or organized had a similar vibe.
One of the reasons I created the Chello Shed was educational–as much for me as for anyone who attended the events. I’d started it not long after the internet was becoming available in educational institutions primarily because I’d spent so much time reading (in traditional print media) about all the experimental activity that had been happening since the beginning of the twentieth century.
The net at the time didn’t have these resources as readily available (no ubuweb.com, for example) at the time and I’d also created some websites (via free hosting services like angelfire and geocities) dedicated to specific topics. for example, my “Green Music Box, Even” was a site that was dedicated specifically to the music of Marcel Duchamp (such as his Erratum Musical from 1913) Here’s a mirror of the old geocities site main page. There had been several recordings released of Duchamp’s music, and I’d slowly accumulated articles and other written pieces about his music and I felt the world wide web would be a great way to disseminate info about it. Now, these works have become something of a repertoire pieces performed in various interpretations, such as this piano version by Stephane Ginsburgh:
I was just as interested in performing all these works I had learned about (as well as composing my own) so the Chello Shed served that purpose. The first performance I did was actually in the woods behind Blackstock Stadium on October 5, 1996.
The program included Raoul Hausmann‘s short phonetic poem “fmsbvtzu pgff kwie” (1919); La Monte Young‘s “X for Hentry Flint” (1960) which I performed on the frying pan; La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #5 (1960); Emmet Williams‘ “Voice Piece for La Monte Young” (1962); and two movements from Kurt Schwitter‘s epic 40 minute long phonetic poem, the “Ursonate” (1922-1932)–which was originally based on the Hausmann poem above.
Here’s an excerpt from the first movement of the Ursonate (below) and here’s the score with streaming audio excerpts to all four movements.
The second performance (October 26) after I attended a four day Symposium “Performance Art, Culture and Pedagogy” at Penn State (read a report about it by my late friend, Lisa Wolford, at the Theatre Topics Journal). By that point I would be performing my first experimental performance art pieces (“Something or Other” and “Five Aphorisms of an imagined wise man”) in the vein of the early Dada, Futurists, and later Fluxus artists.
The third Chello Shed event was a reading of John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” followed by a discussion. I would eventually read several of Cage’s “Lectures” as well as perform several of his works at the Chello Shed.
Occasionally I did delve into non-arts related presentations but for the most part during that one and a half year period from 1996-1997 the Chello Shed had presented well over a hundred performances, presentations, and discussions. I had the opportunity to perform several dozens of my own and others’ experimental works which spanned genres like the Fluxus Event Scores, Phonetic Poetry, Text-Sound-Art, Performance Art, Experimental Theater, Electro-acoustic and acoustic compositions.
I’m in the process if finding the old programs and flyers from those activities and have started listing them in a note at the Chello Shed facebook page here. As you can see, the NuMuLu thing is really just a continuation of something I’d been doing nearly 20 years ago (I still can’t believe it’s been that long) and now that I’ve settled back into the Kentuckiana region, I might as well do it here. In part II of this, I’ll talk about the Indianapolis activities and the INDYtron festival and resource website and how that is the intermediary link to NuMuLu.
Sometimes it’s good just to reflect on your musical experiences. I know I’ve said that in the grand scheme of things the Grammy Awards don’t mean much and given what I said in my previous post even a figure some of us might consider to be the elder statesmen of post WWII Anglo-American pop doesn’t seem to be known by a wide swath of younger audiences, it does still matter to some folks.