Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An experimental improv (some assembly required)

Monday, one day after the 2009 Grammy Awards show, found some of Three Fried Men in the home recording studio of Adam Long, where Adam had mixed two records that were nominated this year. How do you get your records onto the Grammys? By laborious attention to detail in the studio.

Adam spent the evening methodically copying source recordings we would need for the poetry score we are working on this year onto the Poetry Scores hard drive. I was eager to start combining source recordings into fragments of the score, and Tim McAvin was really itching to do some live recording from scratch, but Adam would have none of it.

First things first. First get all of the source recordings onto the hard drive and back up the hard drive because, as Adam noted, the failure rate of hard drives is "100 percent." A producer working on a project with only one hard drive (with no backup) is a producer begging to have all of his hard work disappear into the mysteries of zonked circuitry.

Here are two of the source recordings Adam copied onto our hard drive and backed up last night. One is a fretless guitar improvisation by St. Louis musician Frank Heyer. The other is Australian poet Les Murray's interpretation of his poem The Sydney Highrise Variations in a form he called "mouth music".

Free mp3s

"untitled fretless guitar improvisation"
(Frank Heyer)
Frank Heyer

"mouth music improvisation to
The Sydney Highrise Variations
(Les Murray)
Les Murray

Basically, Les scanned through his poem and made noises with his mouth that he associated with whatever was happening in the poem at the time. Les' biographer at the University of New South Wales (in Sydney), Peter F. Alexander, has been keenly interested in hearing this truly remarkable performance.

By posting these two tracks up together, I am trying to let folks in on our creative process. This is sort of an experimental departure on a poetry score, with some assembly (or, at least, imagined combination) required.

My concept for this piece of The Sydney Highrise Variations score, to be titled "In ambiguous battle at length," is to sequence Les' mouth music with Frank's fretless guitar improvisation. We won't stop there. I also plan to invite our secret weapon, the classically trained vocalist Heidi Dean, to freestyle over Les' mouth music - to, in effect, enter into "ambiguous battle" with it - and, indeed, "at length"; Frank's guitar piece is slightly longer than 10 minutes!

From our first poetry score (to Leo Connellan's Crossing America), we have always had one or more experimental set pieces on each record. It occurs to me that (with his permission) we have actually made use of the great Les Murray as a performer on an experimental piece on a previous score!

Free mp3

"Bats without wings; wet guns"
(Middle Sleep, Les Murray)
Middle Sleep, Les Murray
From Blind Cat Black

This is a fragment of an improvisation by Middle Sleep (post-progressive rock from Los Angeles) with an excerpt of Les reading his poem "Bat's Ultrasound". Half of the poem is written in what Les calls "Bat English" - the words are all drawn from the English language ("row wry—aura our"), but selected and arranged to approximate what he think a bat hears.

In our piece of this score (to a bizarre Turkish poem - Les had nothing to do with Blind Cat Black the poem), Adam Long also flipped Les' "Bat English" backwards and dropped the backmasked reading onto the music too. Paired with the noir improv from Middle Sleep, I think it illustrates nicely this pregnant phrase from the poem (by Ece Ayhan, translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat): Les' voice is the "bats without wings," and the murderous rock music is the "wet guns".


Image borrowed from a husband/wife team of St. Louis small business bloggers.

No comments: