Saturday, April 21, 2018

Recording: Composing for Improvisors Ensemble

Artist: Composing for Improvisors Ensemble

Songs: In Sensorium [two excerpts] [composer: Bea Labikova] + Soundpainting [2nd piece] [composer/conductor: Brian Abbott] + I Ching Study No. 1: How Do We Save the Bees? [composer: Zach Clark]

Recorded at The Tranzac's Main Hall (Somewhere There Creative Music Festival – Show 2), February 24, 2018.

Composing for Improvisors Ensemble - In Sensorium [excerpt 1]

Composing for Improvisors Ensemble - In Sensorium [excerpt 2]

Composing for Improvisors Ensemble - Soundpainting [2nd piece]

Composing for Improvisors Ensemble - I Ching Study No. 1: How Do We Save the Bees?

This relaxed afternoon set turned out to be one of the festival's highlights, putting together an ad hoc ensemble of notable locals improvisers to tackle three different approaches to the question of "how can a composer create works for an ensemble of improvisers?"

Bea Labikova went first, and if the plastic sheeting under the players wasn't enough of a sign this wasn't going to be business as usual, then the blindfolds probably drove the point home. The goal of the piece was to get the players to react to sensual stimuli, but shifted the terrain to the realm of smell and taste, which are less-often used as musical guides. Along with assistant Raphael Roter, Labikova "conducted" the group by giving them a morsel to taste (chocolate and hot sauce both made appearances) or odours to sniff (ranging from pleasant herbs to the astringency of a struck match) and having the players react. There was an interesting exchange of vulnerability and trust here, and it was rather a delight for the audience to watch the visceral reactions to some of the sensory experiences. (A couple drops of ice water of the back of the neck provoked some of the most immediate reactions.) The piece made a clear and obvious connection between sensory input and musical output — this could be used as a primer to expose people to the idea of musical improvisation.

Brian Abbott then lead the ensemble in a session of Soundpainting, a "multidisciplinary live composing sign language" devised by Walter Thompson. The system can get as deep and complicated as required — there are over 1500 formally-defined gestures in use — though the group here stuck to a more basic vocabulary. Large ensemble improvisation can lead to great bouts of full-on squonk-honking (and indeed, one of the pieces essayed here kinda became an accidental version of Powerhouse) so it was most instructive here to see some more subtle interplay, especially in this piece (that also incorporated some scored elements for the musicians) that established a rather pleasing dronefield.

Last up, Zach Clark combined ancient prognostication and modern improvisation in a couple versions of a piece that deployed the I Ching. A question for the oracle was obtained from the audience, and once the coins were tossed to derive the responding hexagram, the musicians interpreted that with the aid of a score that gave several musical cells that could be played for each of the trigrams. Changing lines in the hexagram also imposed musical transitions on the players, though like the oracle's gnomic responses, there was plenty of room for interpretation.

The full ensemble consisted of:

  • Brian Abbott (guitar)
  • Zach Clark (bass, electronics, harmonium)
  • Bea Labikova (alto saxophone)
  • Kayla Milmine (soprano saxophone)
  • Cheryl O (cello)
  • Heather Saumer (trombone)
  • Joe Sorbara (drums, percussion)
  • Kristen Theriault (harp)
  • Laura Swankey (voice)

No comments:

Post a Comment