Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Further thoughts on the first two Gravity Wave discs

ricefall (2) (GW 001)

At the end of a beautiful, detailed passage describing all of the minute sounds of the rain in his backyard, John M. Hull in his book Touching the Rock writes:

The whole scene is much more differentiated than I have been able to describe, because everywhere are little breaks in the patterns, obstructions, projections, where some slight interruption or difference of texture or of echo gives an additional detail or dimension to the scene. Over the whole thing, like light falling upon a landscape, is the gentle background patter gathered up into one continuous murmur of rain.

I think the experience of opening the door on a rainy garden must be similar to that which a sighted person feels when opening the curtains and seeing the world outside. The rain presents the fullness of an entire situation all at once, not merely remembered, not in anticipation, but actually and now.

If only rain could fall inside a room, it would help me to understand where things are in that room, to give a sense of being in the room, instead of sitting in a chair.

[The book is a description of what Hull experiences as he goes blind in the middle of his life. Thanks to Matt Marble for recommending the book to me, many years ago.]

This passage, and the nearly endless refinement of the sense of hearing in implied was the spur behind the work on ricefall (2004) in its first version for 16 performers. I wanted to create something like that experience indoors in order to see if I too could “hear” a landscape. The grid I’ve pictured in the previous blog post on this piece is laid out in a space, with each performer allowing rice to fall (at various rates) on one of the materials. The field laid out for ricefall (2) (2007) as it was mixed for this recording is much more complex: the 64 parts with a greater variation of material are scattered throughout the stereo field. Greg Stuart and I thought that, on a recording with the ability to hear the acoustic situation many times, the landscape could be correspondingly complex.

Although the disc is constructed as one long 72-minute track, it is subdivided into four sections of 18 minutes each (each with 16 minutes of sound preceded and followed by a minute of silence). The whole has the shape of something like a brewing storm (which reaches its peak in the near white noise at the beginning of section 2) followed by a long aftermath, as the rain of rice slows to individual “drops.” Changes in density occur at one minute intervals.

July Mountain (three versions) (GW 002)

This piece also began as a response to something I had read, but this time, the provocation was direct. In the summer of 2008, Greg sent me the Wallace Stevens poem with the comment that he was “pretty sure we could do a piece using this”:

July Mountain

We live in a constellation

Of patches and of pitches,

Not in a single world,

In things said well in music,

On the piano and in speech,

As in the page of poetry—

Thinkers without final thoughts

In an always incipient cosmos.

The way, when we climb a mountain,

Vermont throws itself together.

It took me over a year to conceive of something, but then I hit on the idea of a crossfade between multiple field recordings and multiple percussion parts – and wondered what would happen as the one replaced the other.

The percussion parts are fixed in the score, but the field recordings may be supplied by anyone. For our first version of the piece, I made them myself (which is the “California version” on the disc). For a concert in Austin, Greg thought we might ask others to provide them, in part because we wanted to hear what kind of difference it would make to have different recordings. Thus in that version there are recordings made by Jez riley French, Greg Headley, Travis Weller, Greg Stuart and a couple others by myself. And it really does sound different. [Thanks to Travis, Greg and Jez for allowing us to use their work for this disc!]

We also thought that there were a couple good reasons to have a version with the percussion alone on the disc (i.e., without the field recordings).

First: I enjoy listening to it all by itself. It is actually extremely densely layered (increasingly so as the piece progresses) and in some way almost a shame that some of the details are inevitably covered by the field recordings. (Greg made beautiful recordings of his percussion for this.) The piece has to function that way, but on this disc we can have our cake too. I also think it is interesting, when one knows how the percussion sounds to hear all the effects of merging and masking that occur with the various sounds of the outdoors. The point at which the field becomes percussion is still quite mysterious to me, even when I know it is coming.

Second: If you have the percussion recording you can make a version of your own! Perhaps there are some industrious souls out there who would like to use 20 of their favorite field recordings in the manner indicated by the score, to hear how they eventually get “thrown together” in their contact with Greg’s percussion. Please email me (mpisaro (at) gmail.com) for a copy of the score.

Gravity Wave discs are distributed by erstdist [http://www.erstwhilerecords.com/distro.html] and can be ordered from that site or using paypal from this blog.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

July Mountain: three versions (also now available)

Just a quick update: erstdist now also has copies of July Mountain: three versions (a bit sooner than expected). I will do a full post on the two releases soon. (Up top, a page of the piano part – just for fun.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"ricefall (2)" has arrived!

The first Gravity Wave disc, ricefall (2) has arrived at erstdist and may be purchased. (Yuko and Jon worked especially hard on the packaging and I have to say that it looks really beautiful!) Very excited to have this first disc out. July Mountain : three versions will be out in the next week or two.

Here are two images from the score — scroll down to have a look at Yuko's wonderful cover.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Second Set of Releases

We’re ready to announce the second pair of Gravity Wave releases, currently slated for February, 2011 – discs featuring works by Pisaro for electronic samples and live instruments.

Gravity Wave 003: close constellations and a drum on the ground

close constellations and a drum on the ground (2010) is derived from low frequency percussion samples by Greg Stuart which alternate with beating harmonies of high sine tones. To these crotales (played by Stuart) and electric guitar (played by Barry Chabala), are added at the threshold of recognition.

Gravity Wave 004: asleep, street, pipes, tones

asleep, street, pipes, tones consists of a bed of samples formed from field recordings, organ (air sounds, drones, overtones) and piano – along with sine tones. Sections of samples alternate and overlap with a duo for bass clarinet and electric guitar in this 65-minute piece. (Katie Porter, bass clarinet; Barry Chabala, electric guitar)

Reviewing the premiere of this piece at Experimental Intermedia in NY in December 2009, Brian Olewnick wrote: [T]he effect of the whole was one of sustained concentration and appreciation of sounds, their mingling with other sounds (and pausing to allow ample time for this appreciation), the artful pacing and the choices made of adjacent tones and beyond adjacency to the limits of one's memory. A gorgeous piece – hope to hear it on disc one day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Press Release for Gravity Wave

Gravity Wave, a new CD label, curated by composer Michael Pisaro, designed by Yuko Zama and distributed by Jon Abbey (via ErstDist) will release its inaugural recordings in October 2010: two discs of Pisaro’s compositions as performed by his close collaborator, master percussionist Greg Stuart. The label will at first primarily serve to release works by Pisaro.

Gravity Wave 001: ricefall (2), a 72-minute piece for 64 separate tracks of rice falling on objects. This recording is the second part of a trilogy of the first disc length works by Stuart and Pisaro (an unrhymed chord is the first part, and A wave and waves is the third). The dynamic range of the recording is extremely wide. In the second of the four sections, there is a storm of falling rice that is certainly the loudest music the duo have made; the final section is an unbroken 16 minutes of lightly falling, slightly pitched sounds. The release features a short essay by Pisaro on working with Stuart.

Gravity Wave 002: July Mountain: three versions, contains a re-release of this 21-minute piece for field recordings and percussion (the original .point engraved edition is sold out), along with two additional versions (one with alternate field recordings by a range of artists, and one with the percussion parts alone, which can either be listened to on its own or combined with field recordings of the listener’s choice). The work is a translation of Wallace Stevens’ poem “July Mountain” into sound. There are 20 field recordings and nearly 100 separate percussion tracks.

Reviewing the initial release, Brian Olewnick wrote in Just Outside, “[It] sounds … extraordinary, mysterious, life-abundant. Twenty phased field recordings done in mountain or valley areas mix with percussion extracts (performed superbly by Greg Stuart) sourced from specific instrumental orientations covering an enormous range of timbre and pitch, all sequenced in a temporally exact manner. A great, great work, one I can easily see listening to for many years to come.”

Jesse Goin in Crow with no Mouth wrote, “July Mountain is a universe in 21 minutes, and from my vantage point, Pisaro is creating some of the most vital and extraordinary music available to us today.”

Gravity Wave will be distributed exclusively via ErstDist (contact erstrecs (at) gmail.com, distributor inquiries are welcome). Contact the label at mpisaro (at) gmail.com.