Innova 656 (www.innova.mu)
with Kathleen Supové, Peter Eldridge and the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Electro-Acoustic Band
1. Digits [11:08]
performed by Kathleen Supové, piano
Making Light Of It
settings of poems by Philip Levine
performed by Peter Eldridge, voice
2. Wednesday [2:30]
3. Making Light Of It [2:16]
4. Words [1:53]
5. The Return [1:12]
6. Llanto [2:55]
7. The Last Step [2:57]
Paul Dresher, guitar; Karen Bentley Pollick, violin; Peter Hanson, bass clarinet; Marja Mutru,keyboard; Gene Reffkin, electric drums; Joel Davel, Marimba Lumina; Gregory Kuhn, electronics
sampled voices: Tom Ritter and Michele Ragusa
All selections © & p Neilnick Music (BMI)
Jody Elff, recording, mixing and mastering.
Neil Rolnick, recording engineer for Plays Well With Others.
The four pieces on this CD are very diverse in terms of their instrumentation, mood and style. We begin with Digits’ high energy, muscular romp to the limits of piano virtuosity, then to the quiet lyricism of Making Light Of It, then to the digital deconstruction of classic blues guitar playing in A Robert Johnson Sampler, and we end with the politically pointed Plays Well With Others, which combines notated and improvised ensemble playing of sampled voices and digitally processed acoustic instruments.
To my ears, there are strong similarities which run through the pieces, besides the obvious facts that I wrote them all and that all the pieces make extensive use of computers. All the pieces contain driving, syncopated rhythmic materials and simple, catchy melodies. All the pieces build clearly audible musical structures out of these simple materials, sometimes luxuriating in simplicity and beautiful sound, sometimes combining and layering the materials to create chaos.
The biggest similarity in these pieces, though, is reflected in one common reaction I’ve gotten from people working on the pieces. When I’ve been rehearsing with the Dresher Ensemble, or with Peter Eldridge, or working in the studio with engineer Jody Elff, after we’ve finished up and everyone is packing up to leave, I hear someone singing or whistling the tunes which are embedded in these pieces. I hear it after concert performances as well. Someone is always humming one of the tunes as they leave the hall. In fact, at one of the performances of the Dresher Ensemble in San Francisco, another composer in the audience came up to me and said he remembered a piece of mine he’d heard 20 years before, and he proceeded to sing the opening tune of the piece.
Because “new music” and “computer music” is characteristically difficult, or abstract, and avoids things as simple as memorable melodies, I spent many years a little embarrassed by my melodies. But of course, there’s really no need. This is new music, computer music, which invites you to hum along. I hope you enjoy it.
Digits are what we use both to play the piano and to operate computers. This piece makes some fairly extreme demands on both types of digits. The piano part, written for Kathleen Supové, exploits her incredible technique to play a bit more than is humanly [NR1][NR2]possible. The computer, which plays only sounds which originate from the piano, integrates with the live playing in a way which is seamless and, hopefully, a bit magical. In performance, the piece can also have a digital video track, created by R. Luke DuBois, which consists of processed images of the pianists’ digits.
Making Light Of It (2005)
settings of poems by Philip Levine
Since I first encountered Philip Levine’s poetry, I’ve felt drawn to its plain-spoken way of addressing the emotional content of the activities and relationships which make up our lives. These six songs speak of friends and family, of loss, and of the effort to define ourselves in relation to our work and our families. I think of this as adult poetry, about the transitions, responsibilities, illusions, disillusionment and love which give our lives substance.
Making Light of It was commissioned by Thomas Buckner..
A Robert Johnson Sampler (1987, rev.2005)
When I first began to play with tape music in the early-1970s, I was fascinated with my ability to use recordings of whole musical phrases as the basis of my electronic works. As I began to use computers a few years later, it seemed like this simple process was beyond the capabilities of the new medium: too expensive, too much memory and disk space would be required. Then, in the mid-1980s, along came inexpensive digital samplers. A Robert Johnson Sampler was my first excursion into working with this kind of sampling medium as a performance instrument. As a teenager in the 1960s I'd spent many hours listening to Robert Johnson's unique blues playing and trying to imitate and learn from his playing. Twenty years later, after enduring a PhD in music composition and then living in Paris for a while, in the heart of Europe's classical modernism, Robert Johnson's music seemed like something uniquely American, something which differentiated the American musical experience from that of Europe. Now, again twenty years later, after hip-hop and turntablism and rampant sampling, both the material and the way I play with it seem ripe for revisiting.
Plays Well With Others (2004)
Some kids only seem to get along with other kids when they get their own way. You’ve got to play by their rules. You’ve got to let them win. Otherwise, they’ll see that you get taken out of the game. Georgie told us he was the kind of kid who played well with others, but it turns out that he and Dickie had other plans.
Plays Well With Others was written for the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Electro-Acoustic Band.
MAKING LIGHT OF IT
poems by Philip Levine
© Philip Levine, from New Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.
I could say the day began
behind the Sierras,
in the orange grove the ladder
that reaches partway
to the stars grew
a shadow, and the fruit
wet with mist put on
its color and glowed
like a globe of fire,
and when I wakened
I was alone and the room
still, the white walls,
the white ceiling, the stained
wood floor held me until
I sat up and reached out
first for a glass
of stale water to free
my tongue, and then
the wristwatch purchased
before you were born,
and while the leaves ticked
against the window and
the dust rose golden
in the chalice of the air
I gave you this name.
2. Making Light Of It
I call out a secret name, the name
of the angel who guards my sleep,
and light grows in the east, a new light
like no other, as soft as the petals
of the blown rose of late summer.
Yes, it is late summer in the West.
Even the grasses climbing the Sierras
reach for the next outcropping of rock
with tough, burned fingers. The thistle
sheds its royal robes and quivers
awake in the hot winds off the sun.
A cloudless sky fills my room, the room
I was born in and where my father sleeps
his long dark sleep guarding the name
he shared with me. I can follow the day
to the black rags and corners it will
scatter to because someone always
goes ahead burning the little candle
of his breath, making light of it all.
3. from Words
I want to rise above
nothing, not even you.
I want to love women
until the love burns
me alive. I want
to rock God's daughter
until together we
become one wave
of the sea that brought
us into being. I
want your blessing,
whoever you are who
has the power to give
me a name for
whatever I am. I want
you to lead me to
the place within me
where I am every
man and woman, the trees
floating in the cold haze
of January, the small
beasts whose names
I have forgotten, the ache
I feel to be no
longer only myself.
4. The Return: Orihuela, 1965
- for Miguel Hernandez
You come over a slight rise
in the narrow, winding road
and the white village broods
in the valley below. A breeze
silvers the cold leaves
of the olives, just as you knew
it would or as you saw
it in dreams. How many days
have you waited for this day?
Soon you must face a son grown
to manhood, a wife to old age,
the tiny sealed house of memory.
A lone crow drops into the sun,
the fields whisper their courage.
5. Llanto - for Ernesto Trejo
Plum, almond, cherry have come and gone
the wisteria has vanished in
the dawn, the blackened roses rusting
along the barbed-wire fence explain
how April passed so quickly into
this hard wind that waited in the west.
Ahead is summer and the full sun
riding at ease above the stunned town
no longer yours. Brother, you are gone,
that which was earth gone back to earth,
that which was human scattered like rain
into the darkened wild eyes of herbs
that see it all, into the valley oak
that will not sing, that will not even talk.
6. The Last Step
Once I was a small grain
of fire burning on the rim
of day, and I waited in silence
until the dawn released me
and I climbed into the light.
Here, in the brilliant orchard,
the think-skinned oranges
doze in winter light,
late roses shred the wind,
and blood rains into
the meadows of winter grass.
I thought I would find my father
and hand in hand we would pace off
a child's life, I thought the air,
crystal around us, would hold
his words until they became
me, never to be forgotten.
I thought the rain was far off
under another sky. I thought
that to become a man I
had only to wait, and the years,
gathering slowly, would take me there.
They took me somewhere else.
The twisted fig tree, the almond,
not yet white crowned, the slow
tendrils of grape reaching
into the sky are companions
for a time, but nothing goes
the whole way. Not even the snail
smeared to death on a flat rock
or the tiny sparrow fallen from
the nest and flaring the yellow grass.
The last step, like an entrance,
is alone, in darkness, and without song
PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
texts by Neil Rolnick
Georgie says come out and play,
but he makes all the rules.
The rules are that he always wins.
If you’re not rich, you lose.
If you won’t play with Georgie,
well, here’s another twist:
he’ll lock you up as a terrorist
and then you won’t be missed!
Georgie says he loves the kids
he’ll leave no child behind.
He’ll test, test, test
til you’re the best, best best.
And if you’re not the best,
he’ll close your school.
Dickie sees evil everywhere.
Terrorists are in our hair.
They’re in Iraq, they’re in Iran,
they’re in our pots
and in our pans.
Dickie hides behind the curtain,
says he’s really really certain
there’s just one way we won’t be hurtin’:
we’ve got to hire Haliburton!
Georgie hates gay marriage.
He thinks it’s really sick.
If a boy love a boy
or a girl loves a girl,
Georgie just says “ick!”
Georgie want amendments
to make them all defendants.
Dickie says the bad guys
Are terrorists and thugs.
They hate us cause we’re free.
We should squash ‘em just like bugs!
Georgie says to bring ‘em on,
they want to test our will,
so send your kids to fight
and hope they won’t get killed.
He knows the good guys always win
but Georgie is no fool;
while he send your kids off to war
his own kids stay in school.
Georgie says come out and play.
MORE ABOUT THE MUSICIANS:
Paul Dresher Ensemble: http://www.dresherensemble.org
Peter Eldridge: http://www.petereldridge.com
Neil Rolnick: http://www.neilrolnick.com
Kathleen Supové: http://www.kathleensupove.com
All tracks except Plays Well With Others recorded by Jody Elff. Making Light Of It and A Robert Johnson Sampler recorded at Elff Productions, Brooklyn, NY. Digits recorded at Patrych Studio, Bronx, NY. Plays Well With Others recorded in concert at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco by Neil Rolnick. All tracks mixed and mastered by Jody Elff at Elff Productions. http://elff.net
Cover image by R. Luke DuBois. Booklet Design by Sozo Media.
PRODUCED BY NEIL ROLNICK