Archive for June, 2012

Glenn Bach and Alan Nakagawa

Posted in Duos with tags , , , on June 29, 2012 by glenncbach

Alan at the first gig for Southern California Soundscape Ensemble

The next installment of Atlas Sets features Alan Nakagawa, a mainstay of Los Angeles arts, improvised music, and cafe cultures. Our first meeting is scheduled for Sunday, July 1, 2012, here in Mar Vista, including what I’m sure will be a fantastic meal and inspiring conversation.

Bach + Mantione: Extramusical 3

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , , , on June 24, 2012 by glenncbach

Philip Mantione wrote:

But when you “toggle back to the point of view of the audience” aren’t you really still hearing from your own perspective.  How can it be any other way?  How can you group an audience together and conceive of some consensual experience they are having?  And even if you could, how would you determine the difference between that and your own?

Yes, I will always hear from my own perspective, as we all do. And the fact that there can be no agreed upon consensual experience doesn’t mean that there isn’t an experience going on that is more than the sum of the individual parts.

In projecting myself out among the audience and trying to experience the performance as an observer rather than an active participant, I aim to grasp the overall shape and tenor of the soundscape as an image in my mind. Since the soundscape has no discernible edge and is constructed out of infinitely shifting relationships between source and receiver, this process can only fail. Still, for my own curiosity, I assume the role of witness/caretaker of the soundscape with its musical, emotional, social, and psychological impact on the audience, estranged and idiosyncratic as they are.

For me, this hyper awareness of the soundscape-as-entity, multi-faceted and ever shifting, is one of the extramusical threads I’m currently exploring. The other is the idea of ‘critical distance.’ When we talk about a particular sound and its reverberation in a space, the critical distance is the point at which the level of the direct sound is equal to the level of its own reverb (from the point of view of the listener). Applying (bastardizing) that idea to the live improvisation, I’m interested in the precise moment when the sounds generated by my performance approach the level of existing ambience or room tone of the space itself. Often this is very, very quiet. It’s safe to call it the threshold of audibility. This type of inquiry happens primarily in my solo work and with my most recent collaborations: qqq and SCSE. With the Qs, the three of us share an interest in very quiet and very subtle alterations of the existing ‘noise floor.’ With SCSE, the hovering at the threshold is only possible because of our individualized amplification spread out through a space.

Is my interest in finding and activating these very quiet relationships extramusical or simply a technical nuance of the performance? Am I interested in these phenomena because I notice how profoundly they impact my participation in the ongoing improvisation?

Maybe I’ll just call it Slow Sound and leave it at that…


Bach + Roden + Roden: Transcript Excerpt

Posted in Structure, Themes, Transcripts, Trios with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2012 by glenncbach

Glenn: Knowing that when we’ve played before, based on who we are, it’s been a very complimentary, respectful space. I know that whatever we do is going to be great. Personally I’m interested in making it as rich as possible, so, for me I would like to have some kind of structure to help guide things, whether it’s this color coding system or…

Steve: When I did the Cage pieces with Mark Trayle we had to draw straws and make all these things, and basically what you end up with is all these different amounts of time, and within each amount of time there are a number of events, and it’s not…some of it was pretty specific, but most of it was…if you have five minutes you need to do three things. What was cool about it was that you could break the rules and the other person wouldn’t know [laughs]. But it did make you a little more sensitive to…”I have three things I can do in a decent amount of time, where do I want to drop them?”

Jeffrey: This was the thing you did at the Norton Simon?

Steve: Yeah.

Jeffrey. Yeah, that was really good. It didn’t seem improvised at all.

Steve: Right. And the structure was just enough of a skeleton in a way, it forced me to do less. Which was important. And he [Trayle] also tended to be quite active, so the dynamic between the two of us was strong because of that.

Glenn: I’m not seeing the structure as something as intense as the stuff that you [Steve] do with your paintings and systems for the different pieces, where you have a very poetic and deeply considered apparatus that you use to gain entry into the work, and whether or not people are fully conscious of that apparatus…

Steve: It’s of no concern to me.

Glenn. No concern. It’s just your way of accessing the…

Steve: In a way, for me, those structures work in a way…what Jeffrey was talking about in terms of anticipation, and knowing when the note is supposed to drop. It’s helpful at times to know that you don’t know what’s coming up or what you’re going to do, but somehow working with some sort of skeleton or something, there’s a sense, for me, I can be even more in the listening…

Glenn: Yeah.

Steve: Because I’m not quite so worried about what’s going to happen.

Jeffrey: Well, there are rules, that’s the thing. So you go, “I know I’m not going to do this.”

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: Like in my work I know that suddenly there’s not going to be this virtuosic explosion of activity. It’s just not going to happen. I mean, it could happen if I wanted it to, but it’s not going to. So, there are these limitations that aren’t limitations; they’re a sort of boundary.

Glenn: It’s a boundary of…

Steve: Even with the Cage pieces we had pretty specific timings and there were times when I was doing something and I thought, “I don’t want to cut it off right here. It feels like it wants to go on.” It’s just getting you to that space where you can say “Okay, I’m really listening to this and I want it to go on.” It’s not like I’m Mr. Virtuoso trying to wow people with my fast fingers. Yeah, having some kind of thing to bang up against is good.

Glenn: Knowing that you don’t have to worry about certain aspects of the performance, that you can then be in a position to listen. What I love about the Soundscape Ensemble [SCSE] is that since there are a number of people involved, the burden isn’t on me to keep the thing going, and because we’re all operating from different sources of amplification, there already is a limitation to overall group dynamics and levels. So, there are moments, and I absolutely love this about that group, there are moments when I can just sit for two or three minutes at a time, sometimes longer, and just not do anything [laughs] because there’s nothing for me to add. The sounds people are broadcasting are so interesting and peculiar and quirky, stuff that I never would have imagined using, that I don’t feel I have to add anything because it’s already complex. It’s already complete.

Steve: Right.

Glenn: Being in that moment where the group mind takes over, assuming the role of caretaker over the live improvised soundscape, nudging it along, keeping it alive and healthy. Those moments where all the other parameters have been taken care of. We’re not coming out of the same p.a., and so I don’t have to worry about everyone’s sound being washed out into one stereo channel. That’s already taken care of. It’s a very freeing position to be in. Sometimes in a performance I may only play two or three sounds. I have these recordings of the dawn chorus from these campsites, three or four in the morning, half an hour long. For the first half of the performance I could be playing just this section of birds and ambience, bring it down to the threshold of audibility, bring it back up just a little so that it just peeks through. And that’s all I do for ten minutes. I love that. I love having that freedom. So I would like to have a similar thing in switching voices, instruments, to ones I have less proficiency in. I’m proficient on the computer, I know what I’m doing, I know the limits of what I do, the dynamics. But on these stringed instruments I’m an amateur. I want to dive in to these instruments to see if I can find a similar type of freedom.

Another thing to think about: the catalog for this project will be a collection of all the accoutrements from the performances and discussions, so any kind of notes, sketches, photographs, scores, background images that could serve as raw material or inspiration, liner notes, gear lists, all that stuff is going to be included in the catalog. So, if there is a structure or a series of guidelines, we could have fun with that as well.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I’d be interested in looking at something that was directional rather than notational.

Steve: Right. That’s exactly…

Jeffrey: Not to get fancy.

Steve: That’s all I can read. All my scores are like that. Actions more than…

Jeffrey: That would be challenging and interesting. It would just be a thing to find that ensemble basis and then press on. If you [Glenn] are going to play these two things, then perhaps Steve and I could craft an orchestration around those things. And then from that you move forward into what you’re going to make. I think that would be logical. Piano, to me, would just seem too big and bulky. I don’t play it well enough, nor do I think it’s small enough…it’s a pretty freakin’ large thing.

Steve: [laughs]

Jeffrey: To play it as an instrument.

Glenn: To play it as an improvisational instrument?

Jeffrey: Any kind of instrument. If you want to do some kind of sound thing with it, which, frankly, I would have no interest in, then you can do a lot with it.

Glenn: Sure.

Jeffrey: But to just play it as an instrument using its note qualities, it’s pretty large. Large-sounding.

Glenn: Yeah. I also want this to be a chance for you two to explore some things you’ve always wanted to do or are interested in.

Jeffrey: It’s always very challenging when I have to play outside of any traditional musical environment, so that’s always challenging. One time we played with Damon and…

Steve: Oh, man, that was awesome.

Jeffrey: I played A flat for forty minutes. I just droned in A flat; it was perfect. There was nothing better I could have played on my bass. And when you do stuff like that, inevitably you do learn something.

Steve: Absolutely.

Jeffrey. I think the challenge is probably greater in a sense because sound instruments are more flexible. There are fewer restrictions on them. Musical instruments, if you want to play them as instruments, as opposed to making them a sound instrument, then they’re fairly limited.

Steve: They’re stubborn.

Jeffrey: Well, they were made for something. You could use a hammer for a screwdriver, but it’s better to just use a screwdriver. I think that’s why at some point the great virtuosic jazz players went to sound. That’s what Coltrane was doing when he died.

Glenn: Yes.

Jeffrey: He left and tried to find that bridge. That’s the bridge that hadn’t yet been discovered. It’s been discovered now, but not when he was alive. I think Feldman and Cage and all those people made a big discovery. But, even then, their big discoveries could not be replicated; they were unique to them.

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: It’s new territory.

Glenn: And with Coltrane it was this ecstatic vision, too, that only he…

Jeffrey: He wanted to play all the sounds that were possible in his mind that couldn’t be limited to just the changes. And the people that followed him and tried to the do the same thing, you think, “Really? You’re just making squeaky sounds on your horn. And it’s making your horn squeak.”

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: I think it might be helpful to compile an ensemble or direction, because it’s always easier to improvise off of a basis, rather than an open…

Steve: I think, too, it might be a situation where we find instruments that, for whatever reasons, are compatible.

Jeffrey: Yeah, that’s a better way of saying it.

Steve: So, having a group of things that we know how will work together, whatever that means.

Jeffrey: Sonically.

Steve: Yeah.

Glenn: And I’m open to working with other things. I don’t want to limit myself to just working with these two crazy instruments. I have a kalimba. I’m interested in manipulating objects that make sound as a quasi-percussionist. I’m interested in how things resonate in the space itself, and in the recording process as a voice in the collaboration.

Steve: Where is this going to take place?

Glenn: [shrugs]. Wherever we want to. Rent a space? Someone’s studio, a warehouse, a church? A venue? I’d like to set up some recorders and have that translation process as part of it. What happens when the sounds are generated in the room and the microphones then captures a copy of it? I want the specifics to come out of this conversation as well. I didn’t want to dictate that we would do it here or there, or use this mic or this approach. I wanted us to come up together with some possible solutions.

Jeffrey: Unfortunately the room with my piano is pretty tiny.

Steve: We can’t do it here [the restaurant]. [laughs].

Glenn: No.

Jeffrey: Well, we could. [cheesy saxophone solo plays]

Steve: Speaking of saxophone. [laughs]

Glenn: “Sax-a-ma-phone.”