The first set of this fourth night would be JACK string quartet opening with my 2009 piece "The Boreal," and then performing the world premiere of "Tranzience," composed this past summer. For "Tranzience," I made "tube bows" out of ½" aluminum conduit, cutting it to appropriate lengths and then on one side carved a series of irregularly-spaced grooves using a jeweler's file. The musicians could use the grooved side on the strings ("metallo col grezzo") to make pitched but granulated noise and use the smooth side ("metallo col liscio") for glissandi, tremolo bounces, and slippery textures. The tube bow also works well on both acoustic and electric guitar. Besides these sound elements, the piece makes use of a variety of extended techniques on normal bows that have been part of my string-writing for years as well as some new ones plus compositional strategies including transformations of core materials into various realms, hockets, permutations, metric modulations, and hard grooving.
"Tranzience," at over 27 minutes, is a demanding piece, written with fast tempi and requiring incredible concentration and stamina - in other words, the perfect piece for the virtuosi that comprise JACK Quartet: Chris Otto and Ari Streisfeld-violins, John Pickford Richards-viola, Kevin McFarland-cello. The title reveals some of the provenance of the piece. The transient: the initial attack that defines so much of what a sound will be; the transient: the temporary, the passing, the fluid visitor.
In the first rehearsal at Studio zOaR the week before, we went through the score section-by-section discussing tempi, approaches, cueing, and resolving ambiguities and difficulties, some as simple as how to add a second of time in which to pick up or put down a bow. Though there were many "wrong notes," the overall playing in this first reading was excellent and I was confident that by the performance, it would be spectacular. We assembled at 6pm to run both "The Boreal" and "Tranzience" in "dress rehearsal" mode and after discussing a few tweaks, broke for refreshments with a quick trip to the nearby tapas bar, Bikini, for espresso. "The Boreal" is by now an old standard for JACK though their familiarity with the score and techniques does not make them lackadaisical in any way. They played with deep focus and energy, the passages using spring bows taking on new authority and the ball-chain bow sections sounding ethereal. "Tranzience" followed and from the first floating 5ths of the opening I felt the piece clarified and magnified. Unison passages rippled with power and some "process" sections revealed unearthly sounds and textures. The tube-bows could make the strings sounds flanged and delayed or make them sound like the instruments were being ripped apart. During an extremely quiet difference-tone section, one audience member slipped out to the sidewalk to have a long coughing fit. There were other Cage-ian juxtapositions of sidewalk noise with the music inside, inevitable for a streetside club at the corner of Avenue C and 2nd.
The second set on this night was the trio formation of my Aggregat project with Brad Jones on bass and Don McKenzie substituting for the touring Ches Smith on drums. I was greatly looking forward to playing the tenor sax again - an incomparable feeling to channel that rush of air into sound. Don was in a "power" mode so we were in-deep right from the beginning with an epic abstracted rendition of "Nucular" that rather than end discreetly as a "tune," morphed its way into the next number in which I played the soprano sax, then finally switching to the Godin LGX3 guitar for Hard Landing's sonic roller-coaster ride, Don thrashing and rocking while Brad kept things grounded and grooving and providing pithy counterpoint.
On Oct. 5, Orchestra Carbon performed "Quarks Swim Free" for the 8pm set. On this night, my large ensemble included Rachel Golub-violin, Judith Insell and Jessica Pavone-violas, Darius Jones-alto sax, Terry Greene and Curtis Fowlkes-trombones, Brad Jones and Reuben Radding-contrabasses, Jenny Lin-piano, and Danny Tunick-percussion. Most of the musicians had played QSF before but a couple were not familiar with it or my conducting so there was some initial reticence. This disappeared by midway through the set with the playing becoming ferocious. The tight quarters of the performing area made visual cuing occasionally difficult but we dealt. No amplification was used and though the strings were occasionally a touch quiet, the sound overall was well balanced. By the end of the set, the ensemble was positively roaring, the last module sounding at times like three metal bands at once.
The second set this night featured "Flexagons," performed by Orchestra Carbon. I had composed the first version of "Flexagons" in 2011, but it was never fully formed enough for performance. I salvaged some of the material from it to compose the tunes for the Aggregat trio last year and was left with the title and concept but no music. This was rectified this past summer during my composing jag. My strategy for the piece was similar to that of "Ile Tigre Lily": a set of modules that the players work through in sequence, choosing either the top or bottom line which may be looped as well as sporadic "popping out" with very short improvised statements which could be fodder for brief interactions by the other players Players could transpose the written material to any octave. There's always a strong rhythmic forward motion even though the players are not always synchronized. In fact, a player can have "The One" fall anywhere so that hockets and cascades are generated. Overall, it felt strong and hypnotic and the 40 minutes went by in a flash.
It had been awhile since I'd performed a Thelonious Monk set and so that was the plan for the penultimate concert of my residency on this final night of Oct. 6. Plugged the Godin into a reliable channel on the desk and had my sound pretty quickly giving me time to run out for a pre-show espresso at Bikini. The room was full when I returned so I quickly began the concert using "Raise Four" as a jumping-off point. I finished with "Epistrophy," but along the way visited "Well You Needn't," "Nutty, Hackensack," "Blue Bolivar Blues," "Rhythm-a-ning," "Misterioso," "Bemsha Swing," and "Round Midnight." In this project, the tunes are rarely played in typical jazz fashion of head-solo-head. On each occasion, the different tunes suggest various strategies. On some nights I might spend a large amount of time on one particular motive, one chord, or on an essence of a tune. Sometimes, I just want to hear myself playing the melody, over and over, but twisted. Occasionally, I do stick to the original structure and changes for my improvisation. The raw material of Monk's compositions is so strong, always sounding fresh—there's just so much to discover in it. I'm thrilled when I find myself bathing a pool of beautiful weirdness and then go over the falls.
For the final concert of the series, I performed "Momentum Anomaly," delving into this solo guitar workout recently released on the New Atlantis label and using a tuning of D, Bb, D', Eb', Bb', D''. The operations in each section of the piece are clearly defined and they may go down in any order though the signature riff of descending harmonics occur between each unit. Feeling both exhausted and energized, I found some new realms to explore in the 50-minute set before calling it a night, and a week.