Background Count

Electroacousticmusic by James Brody

Innova 314

 

James Brody (b.1941) studied composition at IndianaUniversity with Iannis Xenakis and Franz Kamin. Brody wrote the liner notes forthe original Nonesuch LP of 'Iannis Xenakis - Electroacoustic Music'. He wasco-founder of the FIASCO group in Bloomington Indiana and CAPASA in San Antonio(both organizations dedicated to presentation and performances of works bylocal composers and other artists). In 1970, he taught composition, theory andelectronic music at East Texas State University. He has written many electroacousticand instrumental works. The following works have been presented at the annualInternational Computer Music Conference(s) (ICMC): Barzakh for tape (1984),7-1-7…for tape (1996), Background Count, percussion and tape (1998), Syllepsis- Hommage ą Iannis Xenakis (2002). Traces for solo woodwinds and brass, piano,harp, percussion and strings was commissioned and performed by the HarrisburgSymphony in 1994. Theta Ticker was performed at the IV Brazilian Symposium onComputer Music, August 1997 and the Beckonings series at Stanford University,June 1999. and A Glance into the Garden for flute and tape was played at SEAMUS2000. Brody was a guest composer at the Electronic and Computer Music Studio ofThe Peabody Institute and is an active member and past president of theBaltimore Composers Forum. Brody currently resides in Central Pennsylvania.Background Count was recently performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DCas part of a concert of the SONIC CIRCUITS International Electronic Music Festival.Several of Brody's works are available for audition through the CollectiveJukebox Project, now playing at the Mamco (Musée d’art moderne etcontemporain), Geneva. Syllepsis was played on a concert at MAXIS, a Festivalof Sound and Experimental Music, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield,England, Spring 2002. DRD4 for flute, clarinet, contrabass and piano, based onthe genetic code, was performed by Washington Musica Viva in 2003. TechquaIkachi!, for four channel electroacoustics, four instrumental groups, chorus,singers and actors with a text by Frederick Schreiner based on the Hopi storyof creation, was premiered at York College of Pennsylvania in 2004. CurrentlyBrody is a member of the adjunct faculty of York College of Pennsylvania.

 

Program Notes of Selected Works

 

Syllepsis -- Hommage a Iannis Xenakis (2000) is built out ofexperiments with varied repetition. Two shareware programs on the PC, Granny byRasmus Ekman and Crusher by Joerg Stelkens, both granular processing programs,assisted me in creating much of the raw material of the work, sounds derivedfrom single woodwind and piano notes. Many of the percussion sounds wererecorded in sessions with percussionist Barry Dove. Syllepsis is (a figure ofin which a single word appears to be in the same relationship to two others,but must be understood in a different sense with each of its pair..."(from the Web site of Dr. Ken Barker at the University of Ottawa). The titlecame after the piece but I found that the phenomenon of syllepsis occurred manytimes during the work, even on a larger scale. The dedication to Xenakis cameafter hearing of his passing. Besides working (with difficulty) through hismathematics classes, I was deeply influenced by his conception of worlds andmasses of sound. This influence has gratefully found its way into my music.

 

 

Theta Ticker is the result of an ongoing (naive) soundexperiment to see if there might be some direct correlation between musicalrhythm and brain waves. The obvious repeated sound is at a frequency of 5.2 Hzright in the middle of the theta brain wave band. A penetrating quality to thissound seems to have some kind of hypnotic effect. If some listeners find thesound environment unendurable, they should feel free to leave for a minute. Structurallythe other sounds in the piece are organized in the proportions of the Fibonacciseries, 1-1-2-3-5-8-13. The transformations of a small number of 'real-world'sound sources were accomplished using the Sound Forge and Cool Edit programs ona Pentium 150 computer in the composer's home studio.

 

Background Count is the result of fascination, serendipity andpainstaking editing. I have been fascinated with the sound of the geigercounter ever since I was a child and given a Gilbert Atomic Energy Kit as apresent. It contained a cloud chamber (which I couldn't get to work), a geigercounter and a collection of radioactive samples (which, I am sure, would beconsidered very dangerous today). I remember listening for long periods of timeto the random clicks of the geiger counter, speeding up and slowing down. Oneday as I was surfing the World Wide Web several years ago, I did a search for'geiger counter' and discovered a site in Switzerland which said that one couldlisten, in real time, to the discharge of a counter picking up the backgroundcount of cosmic rays. I recorded a sample of the sound, transferredit to the computer and painstakingly 'edited in' a different sound at everydischarge point, keeping attention to form and movement. The percussion part iscompiled, using the magic of the computer, from a visual representation of thepoints.

 

 

 

Entrainments, completed in October of 1995 was composed ona PC with a Pentium 75 Processor using the Cool Editor. Sounds were gatheredand recorded from many sources. Entrainments is a representative of the musiqueconcrete genre. The object in this work is to present a 'standalone' sonicenvironment, one which has life and inner workings of its own. The music isdeveloped in small cells which are joined, juxtaposed and overlaid, with theaim of inner coherence and sometimes surprising variety. Sounds have an intrinsictemporal logic. The experiment comes from discovering this logic and findingappropriate antecedents and consequents to the sounds. This kind of sound workis an ongoing preoccupation of the composer.

 

Turning (1999) was inspired by a Macintosh software programcalled ‘Metasynth’. The program allows the composer to work in the graphicsdomain on the computer screen and, for example, interpret a complex on-screendrawing by assigning a sound, say a single percussion tap to the picture. Thepitch of the sound is transposed according to its position in the y-axis of thepicture, and unfolds in time along the x-axis. Many Different sounds weresubjected to the same kind of treatment. Actually, the sound elements werecreated on the Macintosh, then brought over to a Pentium II PC and composedusing Cool Edit Pro.

 

7-1-7...is a work of musique concrŹte completed in February of1995. It was composed and constructed using the Cool Editor 1.34 by DavidJohnston on an IBM clone 486-25. The title and the music are based on therhythm of an ancient breathing practice taught to the composer by Reshad Feildand having a history that dates back, at least, to egyptian heiroglyphics. Inthe practice, one inhales for a count of 7, holds for a count of 1, exhales fora count of 7, holds for a count of 1, etc. The inbreath is perceived asentering through the soft fleshy area under the sternum; the outbreath exits atthe sternum. The music roughly parallels the in and out breaths, but there is ahidden turnaround in the middle, like the Persian carpet that must have animperfection in it. One may do the breath while listening to this music, or anymusic, or no music at all; or one may simply listen.

 

Salat (for the memory of my mother) was composed in 1970 atthe electronic studio of East Texas State University. The university chorusgathered for a recording session and provided most of the raw sounds for thework, the others coming from several sets of oriental bells and a few tonesproduced on a Buchla synthesizer. Several of the words sung by the chorus arewasifas or mantras from the Sufi tradition. Some sections of the work wouldhave been much easier to produce using modern samplers, but such things werenot available, tape loops, a voltage controlled gate and a tape player with acontinuously variable speed control were used.

 

Barzakh (1983). The word barzakh means ‘connection orthreshold between different levels (of existence or consciousness)’. The pieceis a contemplation after the death of the composer’s father and was realized atthe University of Texas Electronic Music Studio on a Fairlight. There are bothconcrete and generated sounds in the work.

 

Miralia (1967), an early work, used the original Moogsynthesizer to create all of its sounds. Some sounds are routed through a hugeEMT reverberation device, a popular feature of studios of that time. Thechallenge of this work was to use only electronic sounds to produce anenvironment which sounds ‘alive’. The work was substantially edited and revisedin 1997.

 

A Glance into the Garden (1998) is a commission fromthe Baltimore Composers Forum. The composer was asked to choose a painting froman exhibit at the Gomez Gallery in Baltimore of the works of 3 artists andwrite a work based on the chosen painting. The work chosen was The SecretGarden by Nancy Scheineman. The music was then performed at a concert in thegallery with the chosen painting, a large triptych, as a backdrop to theperformers., Rather than being a literal programmatic work, the piece is basedon certain of the work’s images which seemed to suggest audible events. In theabsence of any image, however, the work may be approached from a purely musicalperspective. Software used: Metasynth and Cool Edit Pro. Flutist Leslie Marrsgave the premiere and plays on the recording. Marcia Odden, a flutist in theMinneapolis-St. Paul area, has performed the work at numerous venues in theTwin Cities region. The work has also been performed at the Taos Chamber MusicFestival and the 2000 SEAMUS conference in Baton Rouge

In the early 1970s, James Brody was an aspiring composeron the verge of a brilliant career. Having studied composition at IndianaUniversity with Xenakis, Brody was an authority on electro-acoustic andstochastic methods, writing the liner notes for the original Nonesuch LP'Iannis Xenakis - Electroacoustic Music'. He was awarded a position incomposition, theory and electronic music at East Texas State University…andthen he disappeared.

 

Tomorrow is Yesterday: James Brody talks about music… andthe peculiar influence of time travel.

 By Marc Wolf

 

I know of many composers who left the music scene topursue other careers; can you tell us what prompted you to ‘drop out’, and whatinfluence your time away from the music scene had on you and your process ofcomposition?

 

Besides raising a family, I was involved in severalbusinesses. The first was a restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. It was a naturalfood restaurant and health food store. It was a tremendous social ‘experiment’that lasted about 5 years. Most of the people who worked there were youngpeople, associated with various spiritual paths and movements, about 22 peopleat any given time. It was a bit like working in a giant pressure cooker; a poetwho worked there (Naomi Shihab Nye) wrote a song about the place which began:"I'm living in a circus...." It was a lot of fun and incredibly hardwork.

 

Other businesses have been computer-related and right nowI am very interested in all kinds of recognition technologies, especiallyspeech recognition.

 

The result of the involvement with these businesses hasbeen that I did not compose for a very long time (one or two pieces in the 15years between 1975 and 1990). In 1990, at the end of a particularly difficultmarriage, I moved to Baltimore and decided to start composing again in earnest.One break during this time was that I was commissioned to write a piece for theHarrisburg (PA) Symphony which was subsequently performed in 1994. At the sametime as moving to Baltimore I met Dr. Geoffrey Wright of the PeabodyConservatory who invited me to be a guest composer in the Peabody electronicmusic studio where I first took advantage of the many advances in personalcomputers that allowed for a flexibility in the handling of sound which wasalmost impossible in the early days of electronic music. After the involvementwith Peabody I was able to set up a personal studio along these lines andentered into one of the more productive phases of my musical life.

 

What is your earliest musical memory?

 

I listened to a lot of music as a child, it was like in areverie, listening to the radio or records, lying on the living room floorsometimes listening to children's records, sometimes listening to symphonies orconcertos or chamber music…Whenever I hear certain music of Rachmaninoff, itreminds me of that time. My mother loved modern music and introduced me toworks of Schoenberg and Stravinsky.

 

How did you start composing?

 

I first started composing in the mid-60s as the result ofmeeting my lifelong (from that point on) friend and composition teacher, FranzKamin. After numerous discussions about music, life, and many other subjects,he said to me, (I was studying musicology) "it's really stupid just tostudy other people's music, you have to write some of your own." We wereboth enrolled in some of the composition seminars at Indiana University andthen we started these weekly meetings called 'Fiasco' where artists, composers,poets, painters, creative artists of all kinds would bring their works andpresent them for the enjoyment and critique of their peers. This providedplenty of opportunity to create short works, a way to try them out, getfeedback, and then go on to something new.

 

How do you determine when a work is finished? In otherwords, when are you satisfied that the process is complete?

 I drift inand out of satisfaction with my work. It is almost as if there are two people,the one who thinks of musical possibilities and the one who works them out oneat a time. I know there are certain places in my music that I'm glad I wrote,each for different reasons, some more emotional, some more that I was able torealize some kind of particular event in a sound world that I was creating.

 

Tell us about what kind of music you like, and what hashad an influence upon your work.

 

Different musics at different times in my life areimportant to me. I guess I find that some music is for me what I call'generative'. What this means is that I listen to the music and there isanother music going on the same time. The other music is, of course, my music.Examples of this are Milton Babbitt, Elliott Carter, Zia Muhyiuddin Dagar,Webern, Bach... etc. You see a pattern there? Perhaps it's a kind of intricacy.I don't know for sure.

 

I was very much influenced by the sound world of IannisXenakis and it is an influence for which I am grateful and which I need tostruggle with as time passes, not because the sound world is bad but because Imust keep creating my own.

 

As far as favorite composers, in addition to those alreadymentioned, I might say Mahler, Stravinsky, Jerry Hunt, individual works by manycomposers, Mozart, Stockhausen, Josquin, music of many periods, many countries,Risset, John Adams, Beethoven, Brahms, the Beatles.

 

The music of Franz Kamin, almost completely unrecognizedto this point, provides, for me, solutions to many of the questions andproblems of 20th-century music, and has made a deep impressionon me. The musicitself is inimitable, so I don't try to imitate it, but the ideas behind itlead far beyond the music.

 

In "The Enclosed Garden", one reader intones aKaballistic text and another reader follows a series of 3 by 5 cards each onewith a highly charged emotional phrase on it. All this is accompanied by anensemble of piano, cello, slide whistle, percussion made up of junk and kitchenutensils.

 

Another piece called "Behavioral Drift 2" forlarge ensemble is one of a few pieces that solves the “20th-century problem” ofpresenting a complex and transforming texture, while preserving theperceptibility of events.

 

Another very early work, "Structures I" forChamber Orchestra is a piece where silence is structured between short eventsin such a way that the sound of the events carries through the silence as akind of after image. Each of the events has in itself a part in a structure of'meaning'.

 

You spent a great many years away from the classical musicscene. Do you have any comments on how it feels to hear your compositionsperformed after this hiatus?

 

It is indeed very exciting; a whole new experience withmany mixed emotions.

 I still feellike I'm learning something with every piece that I write. In fact, in somestrange way, I have to learn how to compose all over again with each piece.It's surprising to listen to old pieces and find that I actually have a style.

 

What is the process of composing like for you, and whatare you working on currently?

 

It is perhaps one of the most exhausting activities I cando. There are decisions to be made at every instant. One even has to considerwhether one is falling into one's own cliches. Constantly monitoring for formand content, applying what ever rules are set up for the piece, monitoring forappropriateness, interest, surprise, boredom, truth to the idea of the work,receptivity to the idea that one has not yet thought of for the piece.... Youmight think that I don't like this activity. But not only is it exhausting, itis also regenerating and necessary, and I get very strange if I don't do it fora long time…right now I am revising a piece for electroacoustic sounds andthree trumpets (spaced around the audience).

 

What was the most important performance of a work for you?

 

The orchestral performance mentioned above was kind of awatershed in my career. Also pieces of mine have been chosen for performance atInternational Computer Music Conferences in 1984, 1997, 1998 and 2002 (still tocome, in Gothenburg Sweden) as well as the performance at the SEAMUS conferenceof 2001 and this gives me some kind of feedback that my peers in theelectroacoustic music community recognize that my music has some qualities thatthey can take note of.

 

All the performances under the auspices of the BaltimoreComposers Forum give me a feedback from piece to piece that is important for myongoing compositional effort. I've been very active in the Baltimore ComposersForum in terms of both administration and participation. The forum has beenactive since 1993 in presenting new works by Baltimore composers.

 

In the summer of 2001, "Background Count" forpercussion and electroacoustic sounds was performed at Kennedy Center inWashington DC as part of the series of Sonic Circuits Concerts.

 

What do you do in addition to composing?

 

I collect LP records, still certain that LP records, eventhe worst of them, have better sound than compact discs and gives me a chanceto listen to all kinds of music. Also, the art of recording instrumental musicreached a peak in the mid-to-late fifties and early '60s, and has been in thedecline up till recently. Along with that I am fanatical about good audioequipment because the quality of the sound is important to me. Most soundenforcement equipment used in live performances these days sounds horrible andabusive to the listener, yet people just love it.

 

My interest in mysticism, especially from the Middle East,has led me on some very interesting journeys through life.

 

Is there anything you can tell us about "A Glanceinto the Garden"?

 

The piece was commissioned by the Baltimore ComposersForum to be auctioned off after a performance at an art gallery, a benefitreception for the forum. Pieces by three different composers were played andthere was bidding for the piece, actually bidding by someone to have a yetanother piece composed for them. It seemed that none of the people who came tothe reception at the gallery had any idea that having even an insignificantcomposer write a piece for them was worth much. Eventually, after much badgeringfrom the auctioneer, a church organist from Baltimore bid to have all threecomposers write a piece for him. Each of three composers was asked to write apiece somehow to accompany or convey the meaning or significance of one of theworks by one of the three artists currently being shown at the gallery. Thework that I chose was called "The Enchanted Garden" by NancyScheinman and is a triptych showing a commedia dell'arte scene and a formallydressed dancing couple in a dream embrace. How to set a visual scene tomusic?... There was a Pierrot figure balancing a golden hoop on the end of astick and this suggested a metallic sound with an echo. Well, that was all Ineeded to get started and the rest of the sounds arose from that to create adreamlike atmosphere. I composed a three-minute electroacoustic section andthen set to work on a flute part. Strangely enough, and I don't know if I'vetold very many people this, I started to think of the original Star Trekepisode where they are suddenly catapulted back in time and are seen by an AirForce pilot. They have to beam the pilot out of his airplane, beam themselvesinto the Air Force Base, remove the records of the pilot's sighting, and beamthe pilot back into his airplane at a time before the sighting so he doesn'tremember.

 

Yes, actually that episode is called “Tomorrow isYesterday”; I believe they had a near-collision with a black hole or something…

 

There's a recurring musical motive in this episode, whichI kept hearing while I was composing "...Garden" so I created a tonerow containing this motive and wove it into the flute part. As far as timingthe flute part and he electroacoustic part, I marked the score with the tempoand a starting indication such that if the flute player were in tempo, shewould end at the appropriate time. This particular piece has enjoyed moreperformances than any other that I have written.

 

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming release forthe Furious Artisans label?

 

Yes, the album is called “Background Count:Electroacoustic Music by James Brody”. It is due out in August, and willinclude mostly recent compositions. The great thing about working with FA isthey have the same commitment to high fidelity as I do, so I feel confidentthat the sound quality will be impeccable.

 

Where can interested parties learn more about you and yourwork?

 

The best thing to do is to do a google search under JamesBrody, and you can find my website.

 

Works List

 1965

 Seven Haikufor Soprano and String Quartet

 1966

 Piano Trio

 SevenTemporal Ectostructures for Piano

 Transformations, a duo for violin and cello

 1967-1969

 Interplacefor tape

 Miralia fortape

 Yaft for tape

 Wei Wu Weifor tape

 Fornandltiminzit for tape

 1970

 Salat fortape

 1978

 When? Now!

 Hold theMoment in your mind,

 See how itextends beyond you....for soprano and bass voices with chamber ensemble(Setting of haiku by Michael Satterfield)

 1983

 Barzakh fortape

 1989-1990

 Traces forOrchestra

 1992-3

 Intersect fortape

 1992-1999

 Melencholiafor 41 Speaking voices and 16 instruments (in progress)

 1994

 The Man Whowas Always Standing There for 3 Speakers, flute, harpsichord and trombone

 7-1-7... fortape

 1995

 Entrainmentsfor tape

 1996

 Filaments for2 flutes and bassoon

 Theta Tickerfor tape

 1997

 BackgroundCount for percussion and tape

 Time Slice Ifor 3 trumpets and tape

 1998

 44544 forstring quartet

 Dialog forviola and cello

 A Glimpseinto the Garden for flute and tape

 1999-2000

 Turning fortape

 Syllepsis fortape

 2001

 What is theQuestion for flute, tenor saxophone and piano

"High-techelectroacoustic music fills the new disc by James Brody. Yet it sounds morephysical than technical. Itreminds me somehow of the distant and lonely sound world of Vladamir Ussachevsky's musiqueconcrete of the 1960s, except that Brody's sounds attract the ear more--no surprise after 40 years oftechnological development. Brody's real inspiration is Xenakis, to whom bededicates Syllepsis, the longest and most recent piece. Over the course of aquarter of an hour, it builds up several layers, creating a white heat ofintensity that only barely subsides in the last few seconds. What pleases me most aboutBrody's music, however, is how it straddles the divide between deadlyseriousness and whimsical humor. Perhaps for that reason I prefer Turnings. Brody createdit using the Metasynth software package "which enables one to work in thegraphics domain". It's a gentle barrage of quick bleeps, bursts,squiggles, shakes, saws, and low drones--ear-candy for the electroacousticmusic aficionado. All of the music on this release explores percussivesounds--acoustic, electronic, or both together. Yet two of the works alsodisplay Brody's fondness for pulse rhythms. Supposedly, Theta Ticker explorespossible correlations between musical rhythm and brain waves; I hear it as anexploration of evenly spaced percussive pulses layered together. ...If you already enjoyelectroacoustic or percussion music, then you won't want to miss thiswell-produced release.."  Josh Mailman, American Record Guide - January2004