Neil Rolnick: Ex Machina
Disk One (63:31)
Breath (2014) 23:36
by Ted Nash, alto sax; Neil Rolnick, laptop computer
2. WakeUp (2013) 11:49
by Neil Rolnick, laptop computer
Ex Machina (2015) 28:04
by Ashley Bathgate, cello & laptop computer
Disk Two (39:53)
1. O Brother!
by Neil Rolnick, laptop computer
RAM & Concert Grand (2014) 30:13
by Kathleen Supovˇ, piano; Neil Rolnick,
compositions except WakeUp
are by Neil Rolnick, copyright © 2014, 2015 by Neilnick
WakeUp is by Neil Rolnick
and Felice & Boudleaux
Bryant, copyright © 2013 by House of Bryant Publications (BMI). WakeUp contains elements from ŅWake Up Little SusieÓ and ŅAll
I Have To Do Is DreamÓ performed by the Everly Brothers.
All Rights Reserved. Used by
permission. Under License from
Barnaby Records, Inc. By
arrangement with Ace Music Services, LLC.
Nikolitsa Boutieros (T.N.)
Miriam Hendel (K.S.)
Breath and Cello Ex Machina were recorded by Jody Elff
RAM & Concert Grand was recorded by Ryan Streber
at Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY
WakeUp and O Brother! were recorded by Neil Rolnick
All pieces mixed and mastered by Jody Elff
Neil Rolnick, producer
by Neil Rolnick
IÕve been performing with computers for many years. When I play, the computer becomes a
musical instrument for me. It drops
its other functions (email and web interface, word processor, spreadsheet,
sound, image and video editor) and becomes something which I can play and touch
and tweak in various ways to realize the sounds I hear in my head. The two laptop pieces in this collection
are my most recent solo efforts in this direction.
A lot of the music I write and perform, though, involves
processing the sounds of other players in real time. IÕve always thought that, rather than me
always playing the computer parts for these piece, it might be interesting to
integrate the control of the computer and the processing into the instrumental
part. Just as itÕs commonplace for
rock guitarists to control the quality of their sounds and audio effects with
stomp boxes, it seems reasonable to expect that classical players can do
something similar. The three
instrumental pieces in this album are my most recent explorations of this idea.
As described below, the pieces take varying approaches
to how the player engages with the computer. All three pieces involve looping live
materials and interacting improvisationally with
digital effects. Dynamic RAM & Concert Grand asks the
pianist to improvise with sounds she records in real time, and play with them
in much the way I play with sounds in my solo pieces. And Cello
Ex Machina actually takes the performance
controls entirely out of my hands, and turns them over to the cellist.
Silicon Breath (2015)
Breath is what animates us. Without breath, a saxophone is just a
bent metal tube and valves. Add
breath, and it comes to life. In
writing this piece, I had the image of the playerÕs breath animating the computer
as an extension of the horn. One
way of thinking about Silicon Breath
is as a catalog of ways the instrument and the computer can interact with each
other: from building layers of
loops, to complex canons, to using processing on accented notes to make a kind
of counterpoint, to building chords which take their dynamic shape from the
My New York neighbor Ted Nash is normally heard with the
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
HeÕs got an international reputation as an incredible sax player, but
had never worked with interactive electronics until he jumped into this
project. He jumped with both feet,
unintimidated by the technology, figuring out how to create and coordinate
loops of his playing, and how to trigger various aspects of the computer processing
with his articulations and dynamics.
The virtuosity and musicality of his sax playing seemed to elevate and
accelerate his integration of the technology.
Breath is a piece for solo saxophone, the sound world it creates is
multilayered and multi-textured in a way that is impossible for a solo
horn. Yet all of the sound of the
piece comes from the playerÕs breath, on stage, in real time. ThereÕs nothing pre-recorded, and Ted is
controlling much of how his playing is transformed by the computer.
Another way of thinking about Silicon Breath is as a story about us and computers. ItÕs not much of a relationship if we
think of the computer as an inanimate object which we use to do mundane
tasks. But if we breathe life into
it, and take it on as a partner to expand the scope of what we can create and
the breadth of our ability to express ourselves, then perhaps we get a whiff of
piece was made possible by an Individual Artist Grant from the New York State
Council On the Arts.
by Neil Rolnick and Felice & Boudleaux Bryant
Making new music out of old music is an old trick. ItÕs abetted by new technology, and the
ways in which digital access lets us move not just around the globe, but back
in time. The Everly
BrothersÕ recordings of the two songs which form the basis of this piece were
on one of the first LPs I owned, when I was about 10 years old. It was a first glimpse into what I
thought love would be: dreaming of
a special girl, and the embarrassment of being Ņfound outÓ by grown ups. Looking back, the songs have become
iconic, carrying with them the more innocent, but not necessarily benign
1950s. Don & PhilÕs harmonies
are still sweet, but they take on a different sound and different meaning after
60 years in our ears.
Ex Machina (2015)
Writing this piece for Ashley Bathgate, cellist for the
Bang On A Can All-Stars, was a unique and rewarding
experience, not just because sheÕs a spectacularly talented and accomplished
cellist (which she is), but also because she is utterly unafraid of technology,
eager to explore the possibilities it presents, and engaged enough to toil through
crashes and malfunctions, in order to get to the musical heart of the piece.
Ex Machina is the most recent of the
pieces on this CD. It was composed
with the explicit goal of eventually making the piece something that Ashley can
perform on her own, without me playing the computer. And this is, in fact, how she now
performs the piece, playing the very demanding cello part while controlling the
computer with pedals and with her articulations and dynamics on the cello.
This piece aspires to an orchestral sound world, with
the depth and variety of sound you might expect from a large ensemble, not from
a solo cello. There are layers of
voices, contrasting timbres, and opportunities for the performer to play freely
within the musical structures.
The title means: the cello emerging from the machine. But I donÕt think of it as describing a
futuristic sci-fi world of machine-like automated cellos. Instead, I imagine a symbiotic world in
which the cello motivates the machine to sing, the computer motivates the cello
to expand its voice, and together they can construct sweet, expressive and
complex musical worlds, different from what either can produce alone.
During my freshman and sophomore years in college, I
spent most of my evenings playing various kinds of folk music at a communal
house in Cambridge, MA called Old Joe ClarkÕs. On trips back to my parentsÕ home, I
taught my younger brothers and my sister the music I was learning. In the nearly 50 years since, IÕve moved
on to other kinds of musical pursuits, but my brother Peter has continued
making this kind of American roots music a major part of his life. And heÕs gotten really good at it. When we get together, we usually play
some of those old songs, but always in very traditional ways. I feel that I need to follow PeterÕs
lead, since the kind of performance I usually do is pretty much outside his
experience as a musician. But IÕve
often wondered what it would be like if I took the lead in re-arranging some of
these tunes. O Brother! is one answer.
The voice is PeterÕs, the mashup is mine.
RAM & Concert Grand (2014)
RAM: Random Access Memory. Dynamic RAM is the kind of small, cheap
memory chip which makes up the memory in your computer.
So, on one level, the title of this piece simply says
that itÕs focusing on the computer and the piano playing together. But perhaps more interestingly, it
suggests that the computer and the piano are somehow co-equal as musical
The piano part is a virtuoso romp which demands a lot
from the performer. The pianist needs to not only play lots of notes, but also
to keep a strong sense of a groove going, often in the face of constantly
changing meters and unanticipated sonic surroundings. The half-hour piece traverses a wide
range of moods and styles, and there are transitional sections where the player
uses musical materials from the rest of the piece to improvise, loop and
process the music in performance.
Kathleen Supovˇ has recorded
all my works for piano, and we perform together often. Her flamboyant virtuosity and
showmanship combine with a deep understanding of the music. Besides the kinds of interactions
sheÕs encountered in my previous works, this piece demands that she control the
processing of her playing in improvisational sections, using a specially
programmed iPad and foot pedals.
She ended up engaging with this challenge with the same musicianship and
spirit of adventure that IÕve come to expect in all our collaborations.
The computer may be co-equal, but itÕs different from
the piano. Much of the computerÕs
material comes from processing the piano in real time, creating rhythmic delays
or granulated clouds of sound surrounding the piano. Other parts use the ability to record
and play back loops of phrases.
There are several sections in which the computer uses percussion loops
to accompany the piano. But the
computer doesnÕt try to imitate a percussionist. Instead, it makes use of the
decision-making capabilities of the instrument and assembles combinations of
beats in a quasi-random way which varies from one performance to the next,
while processing and expanding on the percussion sounds in the same way as it
does the piano sounds.
Making music is perhaps the most intimate, emotional and
indescribable kind of artistic activity.
On some level, making music with a digital machine seems to contradict
that idea. But for me this piece
represents an integration of the machine into the very soul of music
making. ItÕs not a piano piece with
a computer track. ItÕs chamber
music in which we have to play together, listen together, make music together.
piece was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.
supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Blackburn, director, design
Campbell, operations director