Archive for the Structure Category

Why Atlas Sets?

Posted in Structure, Themes with tags , , on May 28, 2014 by glenncbach

I have been reflecting on the outlines and parameters of Atlas Sets as a project, a body of work, and an exercise in autobiography. The original impetus of the project–collecting a series of recorded sessions by a list of collaborators in a box set with a catalog in time for my 50th birthday in 2015, along with a celebratory publication party in Joshua Tree–has been supplanted by a more modest agenda. I see now that the real heart of Atlas Sets has never really been the recordings, the catalog, or even the impending mid-century celebration, but rather the conversations themselves, both in the moment and later in the office, transcribing the recordings into a coherent and faithful documentation of our exchange of ideas. By focusing on the conversation, I have been able to identify, articulate, and reflect on the questions important to me as a composer. What does it mean to organize sounds into structured compositions? What is my own relationship to improvisation and recording? Who, what, and where is my community?

I don’t necessarily have the answers; in fact, I’m more interested in refining the questions. The more I investigate my life in sound, broadly and deeply, the less certainty I have about finalizing my responses.

This process of questioning has been complicated and enriched by the addition of a new project and body of work, Atlas Place, in which I turn my attention to conversations with creative people about the places in which they live and work. This trajectory has been critical to my own process and self-identity as an artist for as long as I’ve been making work. The infrastructure of Atlas Place promises to allow for a wide-ranging, and long-lasting, series of conversations about how we relate to our geographical location, and how the places important to us have shaped our work and who we are.

What about Atlas Sets, then? If I’m no longer invested in finalizing a catalog and box set, can the project adjust to allow for a more open-ended structure? I’m still interested in meeting musician and composer friends for a meal and discussing the outlines of a possible collaboration, so could I not allow Atlas Sets to open up and breathe a little, let each collaboration run its own course rather than set a deadline? Perhaps a newsletter format, or an occasional release on MPRNTBL?

These questions received a new charge after reading Frances Morgan’s review of David Grubbs’ Records Ruin The Landscape: Cage, The Sixties And Sound Recording in the June 2014 issue of The Wire. Morgan traces Grubbs’ handling of the inherent contradiction in recordings of experimental and improvised music: how does a recording of an experimental composition or an improvised session coincide with the common artistic stance of open form and indeterminate results? I have been considering these issues in my own work and in conversations with collaborators such as Phil Mantione. Again, I can’t say I have the answers, but I believe I’m understanding the questions a little better. As Morgan writes in his review, there are now “more perspectives with which one can view the landscape.”

So, here’s to a fresh look at Atlas Sets, its connections to future conversations under the Atlas Place umbrella, and its role in the overall Atlas infrastructure.

Bach + Mantione: SSLLSS

Posted in Duos, Structure, Themes with tags , , on November 8, 2013 by glenncbach

Mantione: I’ve been playing with ideas for our RAM performance.  Writing a new patch that will double as a sample playback device and live input manipulator.  I think I’m going to use an electronic Aeolian harp I built for an installation some time ago. It has 12 strings and is made from Home Depot materials.  Completely untunable, but that’s okay.  Today I made a bowing structure from a cool tree branch I found.  Strung it up with a low E string, and will use that as one way to activate the harp.  So, I’ll divide my performance between live activation and manipulation of the harp and triggered samples.  Plan to record a ton of sounds (about 100) with contact mics to compile 4 banks of 25 which can be triggered with my little Korg KB.  Will also program some generative ideas in MAX.

I know we roughly discussed a 2 hour performance/installation.  Now I’m thinking that may be a bit long.  On the other hand, I’ve found that pushing the time frame just beyond the limit of comfort can yield unexpected and fortuitous events. How does 90 minutes sound to you?

It’s a square space and very reverberant with a high glass dome.  There are actually four balconies, one on each wall facing each other.  I’m thinking we could place speakers up there in stereo pairs facing each other on opposite sides and facing down.  This may require significant cabling regarding length.  I will bring my 8″ Mackies…do you have something comparable for the second pair? We could set-up on the ground floor in the center and run cable such that we would hear the other’s sound in the front and back and our own sound left and right.

This sounds perfect. I’m excited about the harp and sample alternation; seems like a fertile palette.

Following the Loud/Soft approach, I would love to take those initial recordings, overdrive them into feedback, and then parse them back out into the space as part of our performative conversation. A transmutation of quiet into loud and back into quiet.

I’m fine with long performances, and ninety minutes seems like enough time to investigate and explore the sounds as they are broadcast back into the space. That would also give us time to reflect on the space itself and the overall soundscape of that evening’s festivities. Did you hear back from Kathryn about an artist talk?

I will bring my M-Audio BX5 monitors, but I’ll have to invest in some longer cables. Yet another reason to visit the space soon and map out our intervention.

Soft Sound Loud Loud Sound Soft

Posted in Duos, Proposals, Structure, Themes with tags , , , on May 17, 2013 by glenncbach

Soft Sound Loud Loud Sound Soft

Proposal for a live sound performance/installation by Glenn Bach and Philip Mantione
@ the Riverside Art Museum

Sound artists Philip Mantione and Glenn Bach have agreed to collaborate as part of the Atlas Sets. Conceived by Bach, the Atlas Sets are “a collaborative conversation about musical map-making, contemplative practice, creative community, and artistic intention.” This event would be part of that series.

Artist Statement

Soft Sound Loud Loud Sound Soft

Glenn Bach’s music features typically loud sounds (ie. distorted guitar) that have been manipulated and drastically reduced in volume to contemplative levels, encouraging the listener to experience the subtleties and delicacies in timbre and texture which he creates. In response, Mantione will use manipulated samples of typically soft sounds (ie. pins dropping) and raise their levels to expose the sonic detail normally beyond the scope of our sense of hearing.

We propose the use of the Atrium area at the Museum. Each composer would set-up on one of the opposing balconies that jut out into the space and perform live for the length of the show (approximately 2 hours). Listeners/viewers will be able to freely enter and exit the space, and move about to experience the sound from various perspectives.

Proposed Time and Date

We would like the performance/installation to coincide with the Festival of Lights in Riverside and the Riverside Arts Walk on Thursday, January 2, 2014 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm.


Access to A/C power for each balcony set-up

Bach + Mantione: Idea

Posted in Duos, Structure, Themes with tags , , on February 19, 2013 by glenncbach

Mantione: Just had a thought about our collaboration.  I was impressed with your performance quite a bit and it occurred me that since you’re taking loud sounds and taking them way down in volume, it would be a nice contrast to record very soft sounds and exaggerate their volume.  To borrow yet another Cagean concept (from the directions for Atlas Eclipticalis) where he suggested that loud sounds be played short and soft sounds be played long, I would focus on short bursts of timbre based on recorded samples while you do your thing.  Sort of a blanket of sound periodically pierced and divided by points of focused aural saturation.  Of course we would need to secure a location and I still like the idea of capturing the sounds in the same space prior to the performance.

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.”

Bach + Schlarb: Discussion 1

Posted in Duos, Structure, Themes with tags , , , on March 15, 2012 by glenncbach

Schlarb at Hole Mole

Chris and I met at Hole Mole (Wardlow) in Long Beach for an engaged discussion about junkyards, music, Twilight & Ghost Stories, recording, Fire Music, Psychic Temple, documentation, and creativity. No session has been announced, but we agreed that I would send him a series of recordings to get things started. Chris will then digest the material and see what sparks. We’ll reconvene and take it from there.

A transcript of our conversation will be posted here at a later date. Stay tuned for more developments.

Bach + Schlarb: Materials 1

Posted in Duos, Maps, Scores, Structure, Themes with tags , , on March 1, 2012 by glenncbach

Twilight and Ghost Stories

I share this image with my students each quarter as an example of well-considered mix map. I hope to inspire them to think of the multi-track mix as an organic, complex system. Some of them get it, I think.

I certainly do, and I know that Chris does.

If the map is not the place, then every place is ultimately unable to be mapped. Let the map and the place to which it points coexist in a system not of binaries but of simultaneity.

Let there be a score for the recording. A proposal and then a transcription. Between the two are the learning and the discovery.

Atlas Sets

Posted in Structure on February 16, 2012 by glenncbach

Atlas Sets is the latest, and most musically-oriented, installment of the Atlas series.

For my 50th birthday in 2015, I plan to release a box set of recordings from collaborations with my musician friends. Beginning with a planning/brainstorming lunch meeting, each collaboration will be an experiment in performance, structure, intention, and the creative process.

I plan to include a companion catalog of the various drawings, sketches, notes, snapshots, scores, and session details from each project, all documented here in what I hope will be a noteworthy collective conversation about music, place, collaboration, community, and artistic inspiration.