New Music for Berimbau
1. Berimbau Solo no. 1: “Home-ing” (2:15) Gregory Beyer
2. Apenas seja (5:32) Alexis C. Lamb
3. Berimbau Duo no. 5: “Alexis” (5:16) Beyer
4. Mudanća de onda (5:24) Lamb
5. Berimbau Trio no. 1: “Harmonia” (5:47) Beyer
6. Queda de quatro (5:54) Lamb
7. Berimbau Quartet no. 1: “Chip” (5:18) Beyer
8. Palíndromo (5:12) Lamb
9. Berimbau Quintet no. 1: “Solkattu” (5:19) Beyer
10. Descobertas por pau e pedra (5:04) Lamb
11. Berimbau Sextet no. 1: “Kora” (6:16) Beyer
12. Um só (3:15) Lamb
Total time: 60:35
Arcomusical and MeiaMeia:
MeiaMeia (Portuguese for “HalfHalf”) is a chamber music cycle for the Afro-Brazilian berimbau. Co-composed by Gregory Beyer and Alexis C. Lamb, it represents three years of research and development of a compositional approach to the instrument which emphasizes its melodic and harmonic potential.
Beyer began working with the berimbau in 1999 and has since become a recognized pioneer of the instrument. In 2005, shortly after his arrival at Northern Illinois University, Beyer created the NIU Berimbau Ensemble as a training group for his students and as a vehicle for the commission of new works using a sextet model. In 2010, Dan Pratt, then one of the members of the Berimbau Ensemble, playfully renamed the group the Bau-House. The name stuck and instantly inspired Daniel Eastwood, another member of the group, to create the Piet Mondrian-esque design that we have painted onto the gourds of our instruments.
In the spring of 2013, Beyer and Lamb began working together in an independent study under the auspices of the Undergraduate Artistry and Research Apprenticeship Program at Northern Illinois University. The UARAP allows faculty "to engage undergraduates in their artistic and other scholarly activities in one-to-one mentorships.” Lamb’s first composition for berimbau, Descobertas por pau e pedra, was such a success that the collaboration continued, resulting in a plan to compose an expanding chamber music cycle encompassing solos through sextets.
Together they succeeded in creating a rich and sophisticated musical language that is like nothing ever before played on musical bows anywhere in the world. Performed by the ensemble, Projeto Arcomusical, the music is fresh, playful, rhythmic, colorful, and soulful. Everywhere Projeto Arcomusical performs, from the United States to Brazil to Africa, the music is met with accolades. Witnessing a performance of Projeto Arcomusical is a unique experience. The level of concentration, communication, and joy of chamber music performance is palpable. For more information, please visit: www.arcomusical.com.
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Berimbau Solo No. 1, ‘Home-ing,’ (2004, rev. 2015) is the first solo piece that I wrote for melodic berimbau. It came to me all at once when I first discovered that the cabaća resonator on a Mozambican xitende wasn’t located at the bottom of the staff in the manner of the Brazilian berimbau. That simple realization opened up a floodgate of inspiration and creativity, and has become the central line of inquiry which has sustained Arcomusical for over a decade. I dedicate this piece to my brother, Christopher, whose childhood nickname is similar to the title. - GB, Spring 2015
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Apenas seja (or “just be”) is a celebration of the past five semesters of composing for the Afro-Brazilian berimbau with Dr. Gregory Beyer. This sextet was written at a time when I was dealing with issues of self-confidence and a lack of clarity in my personal artistic statement. Writing this work helped me through that time and became a mental refuge that I could resort to for peace. One of the most inspiring mentors in my life once told me that I should, “just be” and everything will fall into place. This piece is dedicated to that philosophy. This composition explores various ostinati that pass through the ensemble, additive processes, and layered textures over seemingly simple and familiar harmonic progressions. Apenas seja is also inspired by the music of Imogen Heap, the XX, and Emmy Rossum. - AL, Spring 2015
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Conceived in the Spring of 2013 but not truly composed until later that summer, my Berimbau Duo no. 5, ‘Alexis,’ is dedicated to my student, Alexis C. Lamb. It was inspired by a duo improvisation that Alexis and I played together during the course of our first semester of this work together. Unpitched sounds, gently introduced under a simple hocketed melody in the work’s opening, eventually become the only remaining texture in the second section. The third section of the work re-examines the original melody, adding additional pitches to build up the texture. The final section re-introduces the unpitched materials against a four-chord progression that races towards the end of the piece. - GB, Fall 2013
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Mudanća de onda (or “wave shift”) is the fourth piece I have written
Similar to my other berimbau compositions, it focuses and expands on a singular
motive throughout. Prior to writing this piece I spent two weeks in the
Mediterranean with my family, during which I stayed four days in the
heart of Rome. There, I was struck by the omnipresence of ambulance sirens flying through city streets, a soundscape that reignited my fascination with the Doppler “effect” or “shift.” The rhythmic cloud of the opening gesture and the frequent glissandi are rooted in the memory of this exotic urban experience. The Bau-House’s recent performances of Alexandre Lunsqui’s berimbau sextet, Repercussio, were also “shifting” through my mind during the composition of this quintet. - AL, Fall 2014
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Berimbau Trio no. 1, ‘Harmonia.’ In July of 2013, thinking ahead to the prospect of writing a trio for berimbau, I sat down at the piano one evening and developed a 12-bar harmonic progression playable on three instruments in which no chord is ever repeated. This progression became the basis for the work upon which a series of increasingly dense rhythmic hocketing ensues. - GB, Fall 2013
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Queda de quatro (or “falling on all fours”) is a common defensive maneuver in the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Capoeira Angola. This title seemed appropriate for my berimbau quartet due to the falling patterns that are consistently found throughout the piece using both pitched and unpitched material. There are common themes in which the upper wire notes are ”falling down” in pitch while the lower wire notes are “rising up” in pitch. The two meet in the middle, creating a beautiful melody from both sides of the wire. During the course of rehearsals my colleagues and I nicknamed rehearsal letter B “sapinho” (“little frog” in Portuguese). Sapinho is another movement from Capoeira Angola named for its hopping, frog-like motions. The musical “frog” is portraryed in a series of 16th-note figures, one for each player that leap into the existing 11/8 rhythmic ostinato. This section was cause for great merriment in rehearsals. - AL, Spring 2014
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The opening harmonic
progression presented in Quartet no 1,
‘Chip,’ comes from two sources of
inspiration. My very first composition for berimbau, Bahian Counterpoint (2002)
began not so much as a
composition as an attempt at an arrangement of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint for the guitarist,
Pat Metheny. The first movement of Bahian Counterpoint hews very closely to the rhythmic patterning of Reich’s “long-breath” manner of presenting a chord progression. The second inspiration comes from a similar harmonic progression in Berimbau Trio no. 1. For the progression presented in this quartet, I developed a consistent way to voice lead from suspensions to chord-tone resolutions in six pairs of harmonies. The middle section of the piece was composed first, not for this quartet but as one segment of an original soundtrack for a short film entitled, Chip, by director Nancy Kiang. The film is an intriguing retelling of Anton Chekov’s short story, “The Father,” and includes gorgeous footage shot in South Africa. Given the ancestral roots of the berimbau to musical bows found throughout southern Africa, this geographical connection was very inspiring for Alexis and I as we created the music for the film. - GB, Spring 2014
Palíndromo. (or “palindrome”) Over the summer of 2013, I was experimenting with ideas for a berimbau solo. One of these solo ideas became the main theme of this trio, and I used the piano to define and expand the harmonic landscape of the piece. Using the rhythmic technique of hocketing, I created a melodic line using the shorter and longer lengths of wire on all three instruments. Over the course of the first several bars, I slowly reveal this melodic line, one gesture at a time. After this main theme is presented fully, the subsequent sections of the work form a set of variations. The work ends with a deconstruction of the main theme, creating a mirror to the opening of the work, hence yielding a sort of musical palindrome. - AL, Fall 2013
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In Berimbau Quintet no. 1, ‘Solkattu,’ it seemed natural to meditate on the number five and to consider how I might weave together a piece revolving entirely around a play of numbers. Inspired by the way five is made manifest in southern Indian rhythmic solkattu, I set about a creating a pleasing way to systematically string together every 3+2 and 2+3 binary combination. I came up with:
3+2, 3+2 3+2, 2+3 2+3, 3+2 2+3, 2+3
This numeric DNA can be found throughout many parts of the work, as I intended it to be the touchstone and unifying factor of the composition. The chord progression appearing midway through the piece is further exploration of harmonic possibilities to be found in a berimbau ensemble. I first explored this in my Berimbau Trio no. 1. Other influences in the piece are Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste (e.g. the accel/decel gesture in mm. 120 -124, and the utilization of odd meters) and, of course, Steve Reich (mm. 125-132), whose work, Electric Counterpoint, was the point of origin for nearly everything I do with the berimbau. - GB, Fall 2014
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I wrote Descobertas por pau e pedra (or “discoveries for stick and stone”) during my studies at Northern Illinois University as part of a semester-long independent research project with my professor, Dr. Gregory Beyer. The title of the piece reflects the discoveries that I made while learning about the instrument, and how I incorporated them into my own compositions. Two works by Steve Reich, Clapping Music and Six Marimbas, formed the point of departure for the compositional ideas I present in Descobertas. I dedicate this work to Greg as a thank you for all of his work with me on this project as well as his continuous mentoring and encouragement of my percussive endeavors. - AL, Spring 2013
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Some ten years ago an old friend presented me with New Ancient Strings, a recording by the master Malian musicians Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko. This recording is an exemplar of music for Kora (a harp-like instrument from Mali). When I first heard the music, I became completely entranced and imagined that someday I would be able to provide the berimbau with such music. The experience was similar to the sensation I had when I first heard Pat Metheny playing Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint. I could literally hear the berimbau inside of that sound world. The central ideas throughout Berimbau Sextet no. 1, ‘Kora,’ are undeniably inspired by the sound of New Ancient Strings, which has been my constant musical companion for the past several months. In a manner of summing up my writing for MeiaMeia, toward the end of the sextet I pay one last homage to Electric Counterpoint. - GB, Spring 2015
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Within the tradition
of capoeira, the berimbau is always performed with a caxixi rattle. Similar to
other instruments of African origin, the rattling is not only an additional
layer of color and sound, it is also considered a symbol of the presence of ancestral
spirits in the voice of the instrument itself. In all the
other pieces in MeiaMeia we opted not to use the caxixi, instead favoring our exploration of harmony anmelody. In um só (or “only one”) I chose to bring the caxixi back into the music to pay respect to the berimbau’s tradition. I utilize the caxixi both as an independent instrument and as an accompaniment to the berimbau. When these two instruments intertwine at the end of the piece their voices become one. This coexistence is reflected in the title of the work. - AL, Spring 2015
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Arcomusical is a multi-faceted resource for the Afro-Brazilian berimbau dedicated to performance, publication, research, and community building. Arcomusical has developed a vibrant culture for creative berimbau performance. Through composition, collaboration, and commission of new works, Arcomusical places the berimbau in diverse performance contexts. As a publishing entity, Arcomusical offers scores ranging from solos to sextets, from concerti to mixed ensembles, and from acoustic to multi-media environments.
Custom tunable berimbaus hand-crafted by: David “Snappy” White
Projeto Arcomusical Personnel: Gregory Beyer: all tracks except 12. Alexis C. Lamb: all tracks except 1. Christopher Mrofcza: tracks 2, 4-9, 11. Kyle Flens: tracks 2, 4, 6, 7, 9-11. Abby Rehard: tracks 2, 6, 11. Alexv Rolfe: tracks 4, 9. Daniel Eastwood: tracks 2, 11.
Producers: Alexis C. Lamb: track 1. Gregory Beyer: track 12. Alexv Rolfe: tracks 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11. Kyle Flens: tracks 5, 8. Abby Rehard: tracks 4, 9.
Engineer: Dan Nichols
Recording Information: All recordings created in Studio 173 of the Northern Illinois University School of Music, DeKalb, IL, USA. Recorded May 14-18, 2015.
Editing, Mixing and Mastering: Dan Nichols at Aphorism Studios
Design & Photography: Noel Childs (www.noelchilds.com)
Photography Location: Irene Road Bridge over the north branch of the Kishwaukee River, DeKalb County, IL, USA.
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation. Philip Blackburn, director. Chris Campbell, operations director. Steve McPherson, publicist.
Acknowledgements: Projeto Arcomusical wishes to thank Rich Holly, Dean of the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts, for his incredible dedication and support of everything we have done and continue to do in the name of pushing the boundaries of music and art.
We thank Elizabeth Allen Plotnick for her generous support of the arts at NIU.
We thank the NIU Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning as well as the University Honors College for their support of the programs that made this project and recording possible.
We want to thank the incredible artistry of Dan Nichols and his audio team at Aphorism Studios. as well as the amazing talent of Noel Childs and his graphic design magic.
We want to thank David “Snappy” White for building the most gorgeous hand-crafted berimbaus that have ever existed. We used his instruments exclusively in the recording of this album.
Additionally, Greg wishes to thank his mom and dad, his students, Mike Mixtacki and Robert Chappell, the members of Projeto Arcomusical: Chris, Kyle, Abby, Dan, Alexv, and, of course, Alexis C. Lamb for her unwavering dedication to this project and her incredible musicianship and vision.
Alexis would like to thank her Mom and Dad, Uncle Dave, Loren, Leah, Suzanne Lamb, Danna and the Webber family, Lauren Ryals, Robert Chappell, Mike Mixtacki, and Gregory Beyer for trusting her with the project and encouraging her in all aspects of life.
In closing, we would like to dedicate this album to the great Naná Vasconcelos (1944-2016), the original inspiration for everything for which Arcomusical stands. Naná’s vision gave wings to the musical bow in a profound way that has left an indelible impact on an multiple generations of bow musicians.