This music is composed and performed by a group who came together as students in a course on Improvisation that I teach at UC Berkeley. We dedicated the 2020 spring semester to the study of Charlie Parker, in anticipation of his 100th birthday, and were in the midst of analyzing our transcriptions of Mr. Parker’s 1942 recording of “Cherokee” when the pandemic hit. Classes moved online (not a good venue for playing together), and suddenly a course based on group improvisation no longer had a group.
We decided to record an album. Each person in the group would compose a piece, and everyone would, in isolation, record parts for each other’s pieces.
As we got started, I spoke with the students of my feeling that we needed to meet the present moment with the full force of the imagination. The quarantine had isolated us and narrowed the ways we could collaborate. But could we find new possibilities within the lockdown?
The composer was in an unusual situation, unable to work in person with their musicians, essentially operating as a hub, sending materials and instructions to the performers. Within these restrictions, here are some things we found:
• A task could be assigned to a musician without their fellow musicians knowing what it was – even without a particular performer knowing anything of the larger piece to which they were contributing.
• Material could be generated by directing someone to do things in which sound is a by-product. Just turn on the recording device and, for example, wash the dishes, yawn, etc.
• With people in isolation, time perception is no longer a shared experience. So fluctuations in tempo, or about how to arrange sounds in a given amount of time, remain, at the moment of performance, completely personal and not subject to compromise.
These are three examples of how the musicians found ways to turn restriction into liberation and isolation into connection. In other words, “use what you’ve got” -- a useful principle of art.
Music is momentarily unable to perform its important task of gathering us together, whether in the classroom or performance space. But, as you will hear in this extraordinary album, the work of the imagination continues to surprise and enlighten.
The Of Yousuf Hashmi
The central idea of this composition stems from Charlie Parker’s use of out-of-time ad-libs, particularly in his blues, that sound like verbal utterances, seemingly adapted from the practice of Bessie Smith and other singers. For my composition, instead of playing together in space or in time to a metronome, the musicians recorded themselves using their instruments to read an oration by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the famous “I have been to the mountaintop” speech. The aim was to use phrasing with a very distinct dynamic quality. Dr. King’s language is such that, even when read on paper, it has an almost audible landscape.
As another effort to evoke the early blues, two-thirds of the musicians were asked for material in pentatonic minor. Francesco, Tom, and Vi were asked to record a recitation in E pentatonic minor, Chris, Gavin, Kelly, and Graem in C pentatonic minor, and Noah, Gabe, Miles and Nathan were given no guidance. Gabriel was asked to record a repeating pentatonic bassline. An additional recording of Ben talking to the class was used as a recurring motif.
As I received material, interesting characteristics began to emerge. Francesco and Vi’s recitations lined up in uncanny similarity of tempo and contour. Certain phrases were almost played with the exact same notes. No tempo was coordinated, yet Nathan’s synth recitation contained a passage distinctly in my prior chosen tempo of 200 bpm. Interestingly, Tom literally spoke the words into his saxophone, and Noah recited the speech through a talkbox. Gabe recorded two takes playing the kalimba in both a percussive and melodic manner. Miles, Kelly, and Gavin took the most liberty with time. There were various sounds of people messing up, picking up and putting down their phones, breathing. I wanted to use all of it.
I began trying to plan the composition’s form. It only hit me after a discussion with Ben that we were in this predicament because nothing was going as planned, anywhere. I tried instead to picture each track as a key on a piano, and force myself to improvise. In terms of adding effects to each track, I followed the trademark Goldberg principle of taking what a sound already is, and making it “more of itself”—Kelly was underwater, Graem was made of tin, Miles was inside of a radio. Eventually, the composition became like a quarantine roommate. Calling a project finished is extremely difficult, especially when you cohabitate with it. And although the circumstances surrounding the piece are unfortunate, I feel lucky to have such a wonderful group of musicians to share uncertainties, small victories, and half-asleep zoom calls with. Thank you all!
Early Morning Victor Morand
My composition is based on the reflection that we might have some interesting and creative melodies in our head when we wake up, that we never get to use or explore.
What is the first melody that we want to play when we wake up? Could they be better or worse compared to when we have started the day after some breakfast and a quick instrument warm-up? I wanted to explore this idea and see what my fellow classmates would come up with when I forced them to submit recordings to me early in the morning.
The idea came from a brainstorming session with Ben where we talked about that weird state of mind when you just woke up. Maybe you still have dreams or nightmares lingering in your head? Or maybe you are just fully rested and ready start the day? We both wondered what type of music that would come out of a person who just opened their eyes after a night’s sleep. That was the basic idea of it all. Then we started thinking about some guidelines for the composition itself. We decided that it should be done during three consecutive days and that each day should contain something different. We ended up with the idea that the first day should contain 5 notes and the alarm should be set for 8 AM. The second day should contain 8 notes and the alarm should be set for 6 AM. The last day should contain 10 notes and no alarm should be set. So that was basically what the email contained for my classmates. I told them to grab their phone and start a recording, say a short morning message to me containing something in the style of “Good morning Victor”, date and time of day and then just play the instrument that was basically closest to their bed or they could also sing if they wanted to. I wanted the instructions to be as clear as possible and that it wouldn’t require too much of my classmates, besides having to wake up early of course. But I figured that everyone was going to be bombarded with tasks and I wanted to keep my task fairly simple so that I wouldn’t have trouble getting all my material. When the recordings started coming in, I was pleasantly surprised with the melodies that people were producing and the innovative feeling that came with it. It was also fun to hear what instruments everybody chose to play since I didn’t have the requirement to play your main instrument. Another great thing about the recordings that came in was the spoken word part. I never really thought of it being a big part of my Victor Morand composition before I heard it. I realized that it would have to be incorporated in the composition one way or another.
Once I had gathered all of the material I had a few ideas of how I was going to put it all together. I was thinking about isolating certain parts from the recordings and trying to pair them together in maybe pairs of two or three. However, the first thing that I did was to place the recordings after each other according to day and also in the order in which I received them. This was mostly to get them in to GarageBand and listen to how they sounded in the program.
I tried putting them in different orders so that they would play just after one had finished but it turned out quite boring and too long. Instead I just tried putting them all together at the same time, meaning that day one’s recordings would sound together, then short break and then day two and so on. This turned out amazing. Playing everything together at once created this really weird and interesting piece of music where everyone is talking over each other, playing different instruments, in different keys and without any sort of metronome marking. Especially hearing everyone talk over each other in the beginning sounded really cool and almost chaos like. It was also cool how you could hear the different tones in everyone's voices. To me, it sounded like some people didn’t mind having to wake up early but other people had a really tired voice while funnily enough trying to send me a nice morning message. Hearing everyone at once like that made feel a bit sentimental as well. I started to think about the time before quarantine when we were all in the same classroom and making music together. It especially made me think about how we started every class where we always created something new and exciting together without even thinking about it and it sort of sounded like I was back in Berkeley.
After the three days of recordings had been played I was advised by Ben to take snippets of each recording that I had received and just put them in a random order and loop things that I thought sounded nice and then play a drum solo over that. So, I did as I was advised. I took pieces of everyone’s recordings and just randomized the placement and I also used a lot of spoken word in that section and looped when different people were giving me their morning messages before starting to play their melody. It became a very interesting and contrasting Victor Morand section to the wonderful chaos that was found in the previous sections. On top of that I just played a single take of a drum solo where I almost got the feeling of being back in the classroom and communicating musically with all of my fellow musicians.
Despite this whole situation and the fact that our in-person classes got shut down, I really found this project to be very rewarding for me. It gave me a sense of being back in Berkeley which I truly miss a lot. Because this was my one and only year at Berkeley I am very sad that it came to this abrupt ending and that I never got a chance to say goodbye to all my friends. This project gave me a little bit of comfort because the entire class was cooperating in a way like never before and it really made me happy to see that it worked and I feel like our class handled this difficult time very well. I was actually a bit scared at first that people weren’t going to be sending recordings to each other and that we might even have some arguments about people not doing their part in this massive project. But I think that this project has brought us even closer together as a group and everyone really stepped up their game to make this happen. It didn’t take long for my worries to go away and I realized that everyone wanted to take this assignment very seriously and really do their part which really made me feel glad.
In conclusion, I am very happy about the way my composition turned out and I feel very grateful to have been a part of this wonderful class.
Hymn as One Francesco Pestrin
The following is a translation of the original document, written in Italian. If it is true that any form of art is personal, then there is nothing more personal than thinking and writing in the language of your fathers. This is something that Sándor Márai wrote, somewhere. I guess.
Silence. The sound of a synthesizer, faded in. Time: flowing. Inverted, distorted, non-linear. So is the time.
A distant note, which grows in intensity and dissolves. It is a call. Like hunting horns vibrating before a sortie.
Something in the air is changing. Something already happened, but we have not noticed yet.
Then, the message. From the saxophone. In it, the essence of the composition.
But it is too short, too elusive.
We will figure it out later, we will figure it out late. Will we ever figure it out in time?
I have never had fourteen musicians available to perform my own compositions. In the past, my work, my doodles, and my ideas were directly translated into digital media, through stiffer or soulless sounds. I had never hoped that someone would have reproduced something of my own one day. They would have given a new meaning to it. They would have made my music, their music. With the beauty that unites every men and women with their instrument.
After all, even in a situation like this, we are always the same: musicians with an instrument.
It is our job.
A continuous solitary preparation that blossoms, in rarity, in an ensemble.
An experience often denied to a classical musician as me. Often alone, just with a piano.
When I understood that I was part of this Jazz class, I realized that I had given life to four words that have accompanied me forever. Studying-Jazz-in-America. An ancient dream, but now more vibrant than ever.
Then, it made its appearance: the «Event» of my twenties.
And it pushed everyone, again, in the condition of the musician alone except for his own instrument.
Yet, this time something has really changed: because there was a group, in the beginning. And there is technology. A virtuous case, in which elements that, in my experience, have always been separated, found a way to compensate each other. Creating something memorable. A series of original compositions that reflect on the new reality we are living.
On the time that is no longer being heard – because now lives in the memory of the listener – the painful chords of a piano impose themselves.
It is a reflection on what was there, on what has been lost. On the influence of external events on the starting material of a musician.
A solitary reflection.
Not anymore. (We have never been alone.)
The guitar enters and tries a dialogue. But it is a difficult dialogue because it is made of monologues. Of conflict and surprise. Of recalls and repetitions.
It lacks direction, a voice is missing! Let it talk. Let it guide.
And it talks. And it guides.
The pianist understood. He attempts to craft a melody. Everything, now, turns into his notes.
When he seems to have come to an end, the time returns.
Fast, inexorable. And it pushes everything towards a new episode.
Thus, I created a song myself. And I assigned different tasks to the fourteen musicians.
These tasks can be grouped according to the accuracy and specificity of the requests made.
The first group was asked for some reflections in music without details about the notes, or the time, or the duration, or intensity of the recordings. So, to Gabriel Sarnoff (Acoustic guitar) I asked to perform a series of II – V – I that I then incorporated into the central episode of the composition; to Christopher Amezquita (Electric guitar) to play long notes that had a peculiar significance to him; to Nathan Blair (Synthesizer), to write a music paper on time; to Noah East (Piano), a stream of consciousness after listening to a recording. To Graem Krietzman (Piano), after thinking about an initial task, I decided to ask for silence.
"Man, there's no boundary line to art!" This is a quote from Charlie Parker. I gave it to Yousuf Hashmi—his is the piano in the middle of the song. A reflection on how the sound that an instrument produces is reflected on the instrument itself. That is why, in certain parts, you can clearly feel the pressure on the keys, or the sound is not always sharp, but airy. I gave the same sentence to Tom Xie (Saxophone): he had to identify his musical comfort zone and go beyond his own mental borders, often returning to the principal statement. Providing a nuance of Charlie Parker in this work seemed to me appropriate, given our research done so far on the great saxophonist. It had to be just an idea, emerging somewhere in the composition, and so it has been.
The third group consists of Kelly Zhong (Clarinet) and Gabriel Giammarco (Electric Guitar). To them, I provided the skeleton of the last section of my composition. They had to identify a common note between each of the two chords in the sequence: Kelly had to play as she preferred to, but without ever producing the note she thought about; Gabriel had to perform only that note.
The others were given the last section’s score with precise directions of time. I asked them to play it three times in a row. Miles Tuncel (Saxophone) took care of the melody and improvisation; Vi Hong (Keyboards) worked on the organistic accompaniment; Victor Morand (Drums) played the rhythm; Gavin Resnick (Electric Bass) took care of the harmonic support; Maggie Camillos (Voice) colored the composition with her interventions, redistributed in different parts of the work.
When I received their contributions, I was surprised. They all had the ability to adhere to my requests, but at the same time to make them personal. It was that ‘personal’ I have always missed.
What struck me the most was being able to actually combine the sound of those who had to follow literally my composition to other elements of pure randomness. Between them, there was a special relationship. At certain times, it was enough to put certain traces together, without any editing, to find valuable patterns. The power of chance, its shuttering force. Not only around us, but also in this work.
For audio editing, I used Ableton and Reason.
Again, the saxophone heard at the beginning. With a theme.
There is time to understand now.
No one is alone anymore. The whole class plays. Everyone is giving its contribution.
Minimum or generous. Strong or flat. Fast or slow. Smooth or bright.
It is a hymn.
In this composition, you can find Charlie Parker. Jazz and spiritual. Abstraction. What I have heard so far and what I will hear. What I am and what I will not be.
Unbridgeable silences, indomitable sequences.
I started with a concept, thoroughly planned: a short musical motif. I knew from the beginning that it had to be the climax of my composition, but through those differentiated tasks each musician gave shape and intensity to an otherwise motionless song.
For example, when I found out that in the improvisation of the saxophone, in the second take, there was a revealing moment. And that it had to go at the beginning, as if to start a circle. An announcement. An epiphany, a call for attention. Like Coltrane's first saxophone words in "A Love Supreme, Pt. 1."
Time coming back...
Silenzio. Il suono di un sintetizzatore, in fade in. Il tempo, che scorre. Invertito, distorto, non lineare. Così è il tempo.
Una nota lontana, che cresce d’intensità e si dissolve. È un richiamo. Come i corni da caccia che vibrano prima di una sortita.
Qualcosa, nell’aria, sta cambiando. Qualcosa è già successo, ma non ce ne siamo ancora accorti.
Poi, l’annuncio. Al sassofono. In esso è contenuta l’essenza della composizione. Ma è troppo breve, troppo sfuggente.
Lo capiremo dopo, lo capiremo tardi. Lo capiremo mai in tempo?
Non ho mai avuto a disposizione quattordici musicisti per eseguire una mia composizione. In passato, il mio lavoro, i miei scarabocchi e le mie idee si traducevano su supporti digitali, in suoni legnosi o senz’anima. Mai avevo sperato che qualcuno, un giorno, avrebbe riprodotto qualcosa di mio. Gli avrebbe donato nuovo senso. Avrebbe reso la mia musica, la sua musica. Con la bellezza che accomuna ogni uomo con il suo strumento.
In fondo, anche in una situazione come questa, siamo sempre lo stesso: dei musicisti con uno strumento.
È il nostro lavoro.
Una continua preparazione solitaria che sboccia, nella rarità, in una musica d’insieme.
Spesso negata ad un musicista dagli studi classici, come me. Spesso solo, con il pianoforte.
Quando ho capito di essere parte di questa classe di Jazz, ho realizzato di aver dato vita a quattro parole che mi hanno accompagnato da sempre. Studiare-Jazz-in-America. Un sogno antico, ma più che mai vibrante.
Poi, è arrivato lui: l’«Evento» dei miei vent’anni.
E ha spinto tutti, nuovamente, nella condizione del musicista solo di fronte al proprio strumento.
Ma, questa volta, qualcosa era davvero cambiato: perché c’era un gruppo, nel prima. E c’è la tecnologia. Un caso virtuoso, in cui elementi che, nella mia esperienza, erano stati sempre separati, hanno trovato un modo di compensarsi a vicenda. Creando qualcosa di memorabile. Una serie di composizioni originali che riflettono sulla nuova realtà che stiamo vivendo.
Sul tempo che non si sta facendo più sentire, perché ormai vivo nella memoria dell’ascoltatore, degli accordi dolorosi di un pianoforte.
È una riflessione su quel che c’era, su quel che si è perso. Sull’influenza degli eventi esterni sulla materia prima di un musicista.
Una riflessione solitaria.
Ora non più. (Non siamo mai stati soli.)
Entra la chitarra, e tenta un dialogo. Ma è un dialogo difficile, perché fatto di monologhi. Di conflittualità, di sorpresa. Di richiami, di ripetizioni.
Manca di direzione, manca una voce! Che parli. Che guidi.
E parla, e guida.
Il pianista ha capito. Tenta una melodia. Tutto, ora, si trasforma nelle sue note. Quando sembra giunto alla fine, torna il tempo.
Veloce, inesorabile. E spinge tutto verso un nuovo episodio.
Così, ho creato anche io un brano. E ho assegnato dei compiti ai quattordici musicisti.
Queste tasks possono essere raggruppate in base alla precisione e specificità delle richieste fatte.
Al primo gruppo, sono state chieste delle riflessioni in musica, senza dettagli relativi alle note, o al tempo, o alla durata, o all’intensità delle registrazioni. Così, a Gabriel Sarnoff (Chitarra acustica) ho chiesto di eseguire una serie di II – V – I che ho poi incorporato nell’episodio centrale della composizione; a Christopher Amezquita (Chitarra elettrica) di suonare delle note lunghe che avessero significato per lui; a Nathan Blair (Sintetizzatore), di scrivere un paper in musica sul tempo; a Noah East (Piano), un flusso di coscienza dopo aver ascoltato una registrazione. A Graem Krietzman (Piano), dopo aver pensato ad una task iniziale, ho deciso di chiedere il silenzio.
“Man, there's no boundary line to art!” Questa, una citazione di Charlie Parker. L’ho indicata a Yousuf Hashmi—suo è il piano nella parte centrale del brano. Una riflessione su come il suono che uno strumento produce torna sullo strumento. Ecco perché, in certe parti, si sente chiaramente la pressione sui tasti, o il suono non è sempre nitido, ma arioso. La stessa frase l’ho data a Tom Xie (Sassofono): doveva individuare una sua comfort zone musicale e spingersi oltre, tornando spesso sulla frase principale. Dare una sfumatura di Charlie Parker nel mio lavoro mi sembrava doveroso, vista la nostra ricerca fatta fino ad ora sul grande sassofonista. Doveva essere solo un’idea, indicata in qualche parte della composizione, e così è stato.
Il terzo gruppo è composto da Kelly Zhong (Clarinetto) e Gabriel Giammarco (Chitarra elettrica). A loro, ho fornito lo scheletro dell’ultima sezione della mia composizione. Dovevano individuare una nota comune tra due accordi in sequenza: Kelly doveva suonare a piacere, senza mai produrla; Gabriel doveva produrre solo quella.
Agli altri, è stato dato lo spartito dell’ultima sezione, chiedendo di eseguirlo tre volte di seguito. Con indicazioni precise di tempo. Miles Tuncel (Sassofono) si è occupato della melodia e dell’improvvisazione; Vi Hong (Tastiere) dell’accompagnamento organistico; Victor Morand (Batteria) del ritmo; Gavin Resnick (Basso elettrico) del sostegno armonico; Maggie Camillos (Voce) ha colorato la composizione con i suoi interventi, ripresi anche in parti precedenti.
Quando ho ricevuto i loro contributi, ero sorpreso. Hanno tutti avuto la capacità di aderire alle mie richieste, ma nello stesso tempo di renderle personali. Quel personale che mi era sempre mancato.
Ciò che mi ha colpito di più è stato poter effettivamente unire il suono di chi doveva seguire letteralmente la mia composizione ad altri elementi di pura casualità. Tra loro, c’era un rapporto particolare. In certi momenti, bastava mettere assieme certe tracce per trovare dei pattern preziosi. Il potere del caso, la sua dirompenza. Non solo attorno a noi, ma anche in questo lavoro.
Per l’editing audio, ho utilizzato Ableton e Reason.
Di nuovo il sassofono sentito all’inizio. Con un tema.
C’è il tempo per capire, adesso.
Nessuno è più solo. L’intera classe suona. Ognuno sta dando un contributo.
Minimo o generoso. Forte o piano. Veloce o lento. Soffocato o luminoso.
È un inno.
Qui, c’è Charlie Parker. Jazz e Spiritual. Astrazione. Quel che ho sentito finora e quello che sentirò. Quello che sono e quel che non sarò.
Silenzi incolmabili, sequenze indomabili.
Sono partito da un concetto guidato, un breve motivo musicale. Sapevo sin dall’inizio che doveva essere il climax della composizione, ma il lavoro che è stato fatto dagli altri musicisti ha dato forma ed intensità ad un brano altrimenti immobile.
Come quando ho scoperto che nell’improvvisazione del sassofono, nel secondo take, c'era un momento rilevatore. E che doveva andarci all'inizio, come per far partire un cerchio, come un annuncio. Un'epifania, un richiamo d'attenzione. Come le prime parole in sassofono di Coltrane in "A Love Supreme, Pt. 1.”
Il tempo che ritorna...
Emotion Locomotion Gabe Sarnoff
I wanted to see what I could do if I asked my classmates to send me recordings of themselves playing a concert-C with varying directions on the timbre of the note. Additionally, I asked them all to record themselves breathing. I constructed an audio-processing patch (a virtual circuit) in a program called Max8, and used a technique called granular synthesis. This is the art of splicing audio samples into small grains which become individual components of a greater soundscape. I did not use any audio effects besides playing these grains at different speeds and with different transpositions. For example, the “gunfire” at the end of the piece is made only from rapidly triggering individual grains of my classmates’ breathing. That being said, some of the samples given to me were heavily processed electronic sounds, which is evident in the piece. Lastly, I included two full length samples from Victor on drums and Miles on saxophone. Hope you enjoy!
Something Outta Nothing Noah East
I truly enjoyed tackling the challenge of composing a song with an all-virtual ensemble. This is my first time where the band members had no clue on what the other musicians would contribute to the song. I think that allows each person to do whatever they want their instrument, explore many possibilities, and improvise as much as they can.
Here were my tasks:
• I had EVERYONE send me two recordings: (1) of them singing ANY note of their choosing in the E major scale, and (2) ANY note in the G sharp major scale, and to hold the note for as long as they could. My vision was that I would get a variety of notes would sound nice when I put them all together.
• I had the piano, guitar, and some saxophone players play me a melody; however, each person had different conditions. For example, one keyboardist had to play as if he heard great news, and another play as if he was watching the sunset. Another person had to feature all 12 notes in the F sharp major scale in his melody, but the rest was up to him. Another person had to give me a rubato melody, but their age determined how many notes were in the melody. I had some people play to a 70 bpm metronome, and others could choose how long or short the notes were. Another person had to have the sustain pedal down for his whole melody. My vision for these was to get melodies with different moods, styles, key signatures, and lengths, and I encouraged them to have no limits to what they want to create.
• I had Miles record his favorite Charlie Parker line/melody/riff and transpose it to E major concert. I had Miles play that exact same rhythm but harmonize those notes again (while staying in the E major scale).
• I had Yousuf send me a recording of him closing his piano lid as well as several melodies.
• I had Maggie send me a video of her clapping freely with her friends and also some improvised singing in the key of E major.
• I had Nathan play me two different grooves on a shaker to 70 bpm. I left it up to him to choose everything else (rhythm, dynamics, intensity, style, etc)
When I sent out instructions, I had no clue what I would receive in return and where I would place people’s recordings into the composition. I was nervous that I would receive a bunch of recordings that just did not go together or perhaps the sound quality was just poor. My goal was to make several requests so I can have a lot of material to work with, knowing that I may not use all of it. One I started receiving the voices, I was very excited as I got a wide range of notes and ranges.
I created the song on Logic Pro, ending up with a total of 51 tracks. I tried to make use of everyone’s recordings some way or another. To be honest, I was figuring out what my song would be on the go, determining what I liked by moving things around and testing it out. Most of the tracks consisted of all the singing recordings everyone sent me. I doubled and tripled the voices so it can have some nice layers and depth. I added reverb to the voices as well. For the beginning portion of the tune, I added people’s melodies to add ornaments to the voices. If I only liked a certain part of the melody, I would trim it. I also stacked different musicians’ melodies on top of each other. The reason I asked some people to give me melodies in E and F sharp is because together, I think they sound really nice. For the percussion sound, the “kick” drum is Yousuf shutting the piano lid, and the “snare” is Maggie and her friends clapping. For the shakers, I layered both of Nathan’s two recordings and put a lot of reverb on it to give it a smooth sound. After putting everyone’s recordings in a place I was satisfied with, I added some Rhodes keyboard and some electric bass throughout the whole piece just to give it more layering and depth.
In a way, the form of my composition represents the structure of the class. The first segment of the song is free form, as I was aiming for it to resemble our routine warm ups at the beginning of class, where everyone begins to play freely with no prior instruction. The music that we create during that first part of class has no tempo or set direction, just like the beginning of my composition. The middle of my tune features Miles Tuncel playing the saxophone melody that he transcribed AND transposed from Charlie Parker. I wanted to include Charlie Parker in the tune some way because he was who we were studying this semester. The end of this song was essentially everything combined, the rhythm section and the vocals. It represents how the class all plays together whether it is to a jazz standard or something you have us improvise.
Although I miss being able to jam with everyone in person, this was a unique opportunity to discover our capabilities of making music without being together. It is a testament to everyone’s passion for creating music that we were able to do such a project during the coronavirus pandemic. We have proved that we can still keep music playing during these hard times! I want to thank everyone in this class again for making a contribution to my composition, as each individual musician brought something unique to my song. Likewise, I truly enjoyed being a part of everyone’s project and helping contribute to your musical vision. Because we had to write a composition under such strange circumstances, I call my song, “Something Outta Nothing.”
Swerving into Corners Gabriel Giammarco
My composition took form in stages and over time. It is very much a collage and the digital technology in the software was a vital instrument in the stitching process. The project is filled to the brim with multiple tracks from each person so organization was key – proper labeling and trimming. I gave people numerous tasks but ended up using only portions of what was sent from each person, though it was important to me to have everyone’s voice featured at some point in the song.
I asked all the musicians to make a shaker. As they used found materials of their choice, the tonal variety was wonderful. I wanted everyone to connect with the most crude form of playing an instrument as a reminder that the listening and feeling of playing music can be channeled in anything. I knew everyone would feel their shaker part differently, playing to a metronome at 99 bpm, and I was so excited by the sound of them all in concert when I got the recordings. Part of my project was to use the shaker as a strong and very serious instrument – it is nothing more than playing matter itself. It became an issue of using this resulting sea of texture and shaker percussion at the right times while still allowing the song to breathe and swell.
The first incarnation of my composition was one based in the circle. I created a regenerating loop of augmented chords going through the circle in fourths and added some MIDI percussion. I was planning to assign groups of players to separate passes through the circle. I still like this idea but decided to abandon it coming upon something else. I wrote a poem in a journal one night while making dinner – rice, broccoli, fish, tilapia that I botched – and it wasn’t a very long poem so I started to think it was something I could use for my composition. I thought it might work to have my lines delivered by the others because although mine was inspired by a pool of my immediate experiences, I imagined there was a common feeling for anyone stuck in their familiarity. I probably would not have taken this approach if not for the equalizing ramifications of the pandemic forcing everyone to quarantine. Everyone is home, and alone most often. I let the poem sit for a few days and rewrote it a few days later with some small edits – I went through it line by line and matched each musician with the line I most wanted to hear them say. I then asked everyone to recite the line in three vastly different ways, to play it on their instrument and clap the syllables out loud. I took a few words from the poem – “corners,” “crazy,” “material” and “static” – and asked everyone to include 6 juicy rhymes for each at the end of their recording. My request was for everyone to be extremely liberal with their rhymes, and seeing all the funky wordplay that came back was my favorite part of the project. When I first stuck everything onto one project and hit play, I couldn’t believe the sound. It was phenomenal and a fantastic sensory overload though it had no good shape.
I gave individuals specific tasks – three 30 second drum grooves from Victor, high vocals from Maggie alternating between G and A in half notes, low hums from Gabriel Sarnoff. I asked everyone to record the lick at the end of “Perhaps” – the three-part series of two note bursts saying “perhaps” – going into the opening lick of Cherokee. I thought this might be a fun way to end my piece with an exclamation mark of Charlie Parker hybridity and asked everyone to play it as if they were swinging in the band playing a late-night TV theme song, almost cheesy. I decided against using all of this entirely.
I thought about cutting everyone’s recitation so the chronology of the poem would be preserved but decided against it. I liked hearing a certain line more than once as it was delivered differently and liked the sound of voices overlapping, stepping on each other. I like the sound of speaking voices melding together even as the content of speech gets lost. Even though many of the lines themselves are overcrowded in translation, their core is still in the song at some level as the poem is represented in musical terms. The instrumental bits are in response to the language. I thought this could be a good way to give direction that was not too vague and would still allow for wild interpretation. This is opposite to every song I have ever written in the past where music comes first and before any lyrics.
I laid down some tracks once the goods were in – some walking bass, ascending chromatic glockenspiel lines, distorted electric slide guitar. Miles sent me a cooking improvised bit and I love the way it moves. I took some time learning it so I could track a double of his incredible playing on a nylon string acoustic guitar – I was inspired to do this after watching something about Brian Wilson in the studio having two instruments playing the same part to create a new sound. This was common between piano and guitar in their time and a technique he borrowed from Phil Spector and the wall of sound. I wanted to bring back all the shakers and then cut everything out to let Victor’s drums groove for a bit. He got such a clean and punchy drum sound and with just one microphone, it makes me jealous of how easy it is for him to get a great sounding track. I wanted the song to bask in his rhythm at the end, the drum kit being the antidote to a sea of shakers. I copy and pasted every shaker track to resurface again at the end of the piece.
Most of the mixing process was volume automation with a little EQing and basically no use of compression. I put some wet reverb on Yousuf’s voice to sound as if he were god and a phaser on Kelly’s clarinet to sound underwater. For the pianos in the beginning, I panned Vi’s piano to the left and with some wet reverb to make it feel really far away as if it were recorded in a stone castle high on a hill, with Yousuf’s piano panned to the right to sound right up in your ear as if he were playing Thelonious Monk’s upright on 52nd street. There is some reverb on Gabriel Sarnoff’s humming in the beginning and a tiny bit on the master track to give it some body.
I wanted the song to cover lots of ground and go between movements as if changing rooms in a house or driving through different landscapes. I am interested in this project as an opportunity to put sounds together that are literally from all over the place to make something divinely haunting and uniquely weird. The thing I find most compelling about this project is the difficulty to come up with something that would sound remotely like anything else, considering how disjointed the ingredients are. At the same time, we strive to make a stream of some kind of coherency from all this gobbledegoop – if we are successful, it will be very special. This album is not borne of regular circumstances.
Dream Lark Miles Tuncel
Since being quarantined in my home I have been having vivid dreams. More vivid, more often than before this all began—I have been remembering them more often than previously as well. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it is my subconscious mind’s way of feeling in control of something in a time where so much else feels unbelievably out of control. In any case, it feels like dreaming harder is just one of many mysterious side effects of these uncertain times.
In my composition I wanted to reflect not only the nature of dreams but also the peculiar narrative style of dreaming: several different stories—sometimes with a connection, sometimes with none at all—fused together in such a way that you might not know where you are and you certainly don’t know where you’ve been… but there’s a secret afoot. You aren’t sure if you’re the main character of some theatrical production, an invisible observer of a macabre scene, or perhaps a supporting role in some prophecy. Sometimes you wake up grateful for reality, sometimes crestfallen, and on some days a memory may come to mind and you’re not sure if it came from reality or was a dream you had; like the memories of a stranger were implanted in your mind. I decided to create a composition consisting of several short sections—each like a segment or scene from a dream—each with a distinct feel, fused together with some mystery and randomness.
To achieve some of the randomness of dreams I asked each member of the class to pick up the book nearest them, flip to the page number corresponding to the number of letters in their name and pick a word on that page using that same method. This generated a list of random words unique to the members of the class—this list could only have been created with this unique selection of people and looked like this: “Earth Cities In 12-262 Fit Place If This Switch At Piano Launch Duly Masochism +1s Write”. My plan was to send the majority of the class instructions to make these words the last thing they read before going to bed, to place them under their pillows as they slept, and to record themselves saying the words as the first words they spoke in the morning. Additionally, I manipulated the words, grouping them in different ways, adding punctuation in different places for each person so that the meaning and feeling of the phrase would be different for every person. Here are a couple examples: “Write this: If place 12-262. Piano Masochism. Duly Switch Earth. Launch at this cities. +1s fit in.” and “Write in piano masochism. If At Earth 12-262. Duly fit place. Launch +1s. this switch cities.”. I also asked each of these people to record 2 different sounds with an object that they either saw or heard during their dreams the previous night. I also asked Victor to provide a recording within which he played a groove that was the soundtrack to the dream he had last night and to list a few words that described that dream.
I wanted to capture some of the beauty and simplicity of the act of dreaming through music. It occurred to me that a logical way to do this would be through the study of melody. Melodies have been stuck in my head throughout this entire crisis: John Coltrane’s “Wise One,” Miles Davis’ “Nefertiti,” Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” to name a few. Melodies are enchanting creations that tell complex stories in a way that at first sounds very simple. I wanted to involve some of my classmates in this investigation of melody so I asked a few of them to ruminate on a melody of my choice for a while, listening to several versions and thinking about what lay behind the music. I asked Maggie to listen to and record Cole Porter’s “Everytime We Say Goodbye,” Yousuf to investigate David Raksin’s “Laura,” and to Gabriel I suggested Johnny Mandel’s “Emily”. I selected these melodies for both their deceiving simplicity and because each is so strong in its story that it may stand alone, away from any harmony. To extend the investigation of these melodies and add to the content I already had, I also asked these classmates to contribute an additional task like “say the lyrics of the song backwards before singing it,” or “play an idea like you are welcoming Ella Fitzgerald onto stage to sing the song,” and “play 3 of the most mysterious chords you can think of”.
Using these recordings I had collected, I began piecing together my song like the landscape of a dream, some recordings I kept unchanged in their entirety, others I took snippets of to loop or repeat, and still others I slowed down until unrecognizable to create new sounds. I also added recordings of myself accompanying this mosaic in certain places to create the final product.
Through this song I hope to convey a message about dreaming and about imagination in times of crisis. Dreaming is like a cry from the depths of one’s subconscious mind to take part in creativity and imagination—a task that it takes part in always but rarely boils over to the surface of consciousness. We must answer this call for creativity in these times like our lives depend on it because reclaiming that piece of control from a chaotic world is absolutely essential for life.
A Study of Dreams Gavin Resnick
Spring 2020 has been a very strange period in my life. There have been huge obstacles in my learning but also great opportunities. Although we could no longer practice Charlie Parker tunes as a class or put on a performance at the end of the year to showcase our work, I think we have still created something beautiful. Making a record with my classmates without much more communication than occasional emails was not something I ever expected to do in my musical career. I did not even think it would be possible. However, it has probably been my favorite assignment in any class I have ever taken in my life. I learned so much about making art and I also got to know my classmates on a very personal level from the tasks they asked me to complete for them as well as the work that they returned to me for my own composition.
Because of the unique challenges created by the COVID 19 pandemic both within, and outside of Music 116B, I wanted to give my classmates unique challenges in contributing to my composition. Making music as a group without seeing each other in person seems like an impossible contradiction. I wanted my music to reflect that challenge. My instructions to my classmates were as follows: I asked Maggie Camillos to sing music backwards, I asked Nathan Blair to play upside-down, I asked Yousef Hashmi and Noah East to play the exact same notes together without any coordination, I asked Victor Morand to play the taste of a lemon, I asked Vi Hong to play music that would bring him to outer space, I asked Francesco Pestrin to play something at the bottom of the ocean, I asked Kelly Zhong to play something inside out, I asked Miles Tuncel to play something that would make him heavier, I asked Gabriel Sarnoff to play something that could break my arm, I asked Graem Krietzman to take in sound with his instrument rather than release it, I asked Tom Xie to play music that would reverse time, and I asked Gabriel Gianmarco to play something that would slow down and then speed up time.
Garden of Ladon Vi Hong
The song I composed, “Ladon’s Garden” is a turmoil and balance between chaos and sorrow. Ladon is a mythological dragon who guards the golden apple in Greek mythology in Garden of the Hesperides. The beginning passage describes a young hero who attempts to steal the apples and sneak past the dragon. Ultimately, he fails and is killed by the dragon. The first section of the piece is an improvisatory section that continues to build momentum and energy until it completely explodes at the end. I created this section by giving everyone the task of imagining they were with one another and improvising at the same time. The improvisations were recorded at the same time during the day. However, When I put everything together, I cut up almost every recording. I kept most passages around the same area but within the local, I cut notes and phrases to create and even bigger effect. Nathan’s improvisation ultimately directed the entire beginning section. The sound design of Nathan’s recording lead all the other recordings in a clear direction. The song however starts with a single guitar note from Gabe’s recording. Gabe eventually builds up into a really cool repetitive interlocking pattern. I thought this part was really cool so I copied this part many times, pitched it at different intervals, and slowly layered it as the intensity grew. I looped the first couple seconds of Noah’s organ recording because I really like the C pedal point he had. Other parts of recordings, I cut up small snippets and added effects to them to add to the chaotic texture. The second and third section of the song is from a 3rd person perspective looking over a sad lonely garden littered with human bones. Miles and Tom’s recording of the melody I wrote is simple yet melodic. The piano accompanies the melody. Along with the chords I play, I asked a lot of my fellow classmates to send recordings of them singing random notes as I cut them up into patterns to help add more texture to the second section. I also put in a couple lines that I dissected from the recordings that Kelly sent me. These short phrases accompany the melody. Eventually, the melody cuts into a solo. The piano is filtered in a way that highlights a more grey dimension. I tried to continue to build off of this tragic garden idea. A big bassline cuts in which represents the presence of the dragon in this garden. This third section is a solo for the Rhodes in which I improvised. This improvisation was a lot more free for me and I didn't really have time or pitch in my mind. I also continued to add the harmonies and phrases that I cut up from the recordings I got.
This composition was completely shaped by the situation our class was put in. Though we weren’t able to have a live performance, the odd nature of this situation actually gave me even more opportunities. My first task was to imagine improvising with the class. Obviously none of us could hear each other. All of our perceptions of what we “imagine” are quite different so in the end, I ended up getting really different interpretations and recordings from everyone. This came to my benefit in shaping my first section. I was able to utilize the plugins, effects, and digital sounds in my song. Second, this situation changed my creative mindset for this project completely. The emotions I felt, which completely governs the music that I make, were ones that I wasn’t used to feeling in typical class. This obviously showed in the composition I put together. Ultimately, the situation we were placed in forced me to make music in a much more diverse and different way from the way I am used to in a classroom setting. I am really grateful that we were able to thrive in a situation that may seem hard to see the good in. On a more personal reflection, this project has humbled me. In a time period where it is so easy to get lost in the sadness and tragedies of this situation, it is easy to overlook the miracles and greatness that can also arise from these situations. I think this whole project of 15 students coming together digitally to make music is a prime example of the greatness that can arise from these situations. I look forward to collaborating with these musicians as well as others in a similar manner for not only the remainder of this pandemic, but for the far future as well.
Journey Through the Land of Keys Kelly Zhong
The inspiration for this piece was when Ben mentioned to practice the “dark side” of the circle of fourths. Subsequently, I thought of the hero’s journey: the ordinary world, call to action, new world, meeting of mentor, trials, hardship, reward, learning, and then the return to the ordinary world as a hero. I felt the hero’s journey was similar to a musician’s process of learning the circle of 4ths, usually starting with C major and ending on G major: first learn the flat keys, increase in difficulty until Gb/F# major with 6 accidentals, then switch over to the sharp keys and decrease in difficulty until G major, then C major again. After synthesizing these ideas together, I came up with the idea of a song that takes listeners on a “Journey through the Land of Keys”, in which the circle of fourths, a hero’s journey and musician’s journey all intersect and parallel one another.
To achieve this piece, I assigned everyone to play in one particular key, major and relative minor (except drum track makers). I also separated the hero’s journey into 4 parts: the ordinary world (zone 1), the intro to the new world/problem/meeting of mentor (zone 2), the learning and undergoing of trials and hardship (zone 3), then the reward and return to the ordinary world as a changed person (zone 4). People who were assigned G major, C major and F major were assigned into zone 1; Bb, Eb and Ab to zone 2; Db, Gb, B to zone 3; and E, A, D in zone 4. I also wanted everyone to incorporate their own experiences into the piece, so I assigned writing prompts to everyone based on zone. People in zone 1 wrote about their hometowns and/or when they began playing music, people in zone 2 wrote about a turning point in their lives or when they met a mentor, people in zone 3 wrote about a time they encountered hardship, and people in zone 4 wrote about a time they overcame hardship. Then, I had everyone read aloud their writing and play a 1-2 minute musical passage based on the vocal inflection, sentence structure or word shape of their writing. People assigned to make drum tracks were also assigned a writing prompt to base their tracks off of.
All pieces were played at tempo 60 (which was chosen to represent time and make editing
easier) and everyone within each zone played a different instrument. Additionally, everyone was assigned a writing prompt relevant to the hero’s journey, a ratio of major/minor, a range of their instrument (High, Mid, Low) and a particular method for creating their musical piece: the sentence structure (phrasing), word contour (sound or visual) and vocal inflection from reading aloud their written responses.
The tables below summarize all the logistical planning:
High + Low
Once I received all the recordings, I soon realized that my original plan to combine the
recordings into distinct zones would take some clever maneuvering. Since everyone was
playing in a different key, I had to fragment and kaleidoscope everything to make it sound
harmonically pleasant. I also had to think about transitions between each zone. To do so
properly, I had to carefully listen to all recordings to determine which segments fit with one
Furthermore, I think Logic Pro X sampled some pieces at the wrong frequency, so some
recordings were in a different key than what I assigned. In reality, that made it slightly easier to create my recording.
When I began piecing the recording together, I realized there was little sense of cohesion
because there wasn’t a main melody. I initially thought of combining snippets of everyone’s
recordings into a single melody. However, I ended up deciding to scrap my own part and have the sound of the clarinet cohesively tie everything together and smoothen transitions between different musical ideas. To transition parts that were a couple of key signatures away, I played around with 7ths and made each key sound like a dominant chord so it would resolve to the next key in the circle.
The final recording doesn’t contain exact 4 zones, but rather contains a conglomerate of musical ideas with transitions in-between. It doesn’t strictly adhere to the order of the circle of fourths (C, F and Eb major aren’t represented either), though it follows quite closely. Some
zones/transitions were extraordinarily hard to create, while others seemed to line up on their
own. Tempo also fluctuates depending on zone: zone 2 is at 72 bpm, zone 3 is partially at 66
bpm and the rest of the piece is at 60 bpm. I originally planned to keep tempo constant at 60
bpm (to literally represent time); however, I discovered that certain parts in the middle sounded better at faster speeds.
Honestly, this is one of the hardest projects I’ve ever done. All parts were difficult: coming up
with the idea, putting all recordings together (different keys and different ratios of major/minor!), and recording my own part. It took a lot of time and attention to detail to create 4.5 minutes of decent-sounding music. However, I am also quite proud of what I’ve created, especially because I managed to start and end the piece with a guitar/clarinet duet in G major (coming full circle!).
Hopefully, the listener can still get some sense of the hero’s journey: the ordinary world (guitar + clarinet duet), call to action/new world/mentor (alto sax + drumline), trials and hardships (guitar + vocal + drumline, tenor sax + clarinet + electric piano), and the return to the ordinary world/new lessons learned (acoustic piano + electric bass + clarinet). Within the broad “hero’s journey” theme is also snippets of everyone’s own experiences with aspects of the journey, and the overarching theme is the journey of a musician who must conquer the “dark side” of the circle of fourths.
Quarantine Conversations Chris Amezquita
The goal of my composition was to create a flowing conversation between the members of this ensemble, except with a twist: each person was only aware of their own side of the conversation. I asked each musician to play as if they were having a conversation with their own instrument under these four contexts: catching up with an old friend, debating on national television, talking to a classmate about an exam, and then talking to someone that rambles over you. From there, I just tried to figure out how these naturally flowed together by looking at where they intersected and the things that resonated together.
First Take Tom Xie
It is a strange time to be in right now, especially for all musicians around the world. We cannot congregate together to make music anymore like we are accustomed to, but that does not necessarily mean that our ability to make music has been hindered; rather, we have been provided a very unique opportunity to take advantage of this unprecedented event and turn it into music that could never be achieved otherwise. Ben Goldberg has expressed one advantage has been pivotal to the creation of my composition: the ability to keep your actions secret from others. In other words, if one is writing a composition for several musicians to perform, the musicians do not necessarily need to know what the other musicians or even what the composer is doing or trying to accomplish; it is all up to the discretion of the composer. I decided to take this idea and create a composition that attempts to reflect the pandemic itself.
My composition plan was split into three phases. The first phase involved creating an initial recording consisting of solely woodwind players, which includes me (alto sax), Miles (tenor sax) and Kelly (clarinet). I spent several days crafting a tune for all three instruments; the tune is of a similar format to most jazz standards, with an A section repeated twice, a bridge (B section), then a C section with a coda for the ending of the piece. With a funky groove in mind, I started off with picking the chords for the A and C section and later writing the melody and harmonies over the chord changes. I had some trouble with creating the bridge, but I eventually found that a ii-V-I-vi progression contrasted well with the minor-sounding chord changes in the A and C sections, so I had settled on that and wrote a melody while adding passing chords before and after the bridge. After I had finished writing the piece down, I sent Miles and Kelly their parts to both record the written part and improvise over the whole tune, with the improv instructions being to play as if I were improvising along with them; I was planning to have a couple soloing sections after the main melody. After I collected their recordings as well as my own recordings of my written part, I pieced them together in GarageBand to create the initial recording. My second phase involved every other musician listening to the recording and playing along with it, so I had added my own piano backing track playing the chords over the soloing section so that the other musicians would not be too lost. With the initial recording, the main phase was ready to begin. The second phase of the plan was to get every other non-woodwind player to listen to the initial recording for the first time and play over it while they are listening to it. To ensure that they would listen and play over it for the first time, I decided to schedule Zoom calls and share my audio with them while they recorded themselves playing as suggested by Goldberg. Since time was a constraint for me as well my fellow musicians, I only got 10 out of the 12 remaining musicians to schedule a zoom call with me (Gabe, Nathan, Francesco, Vi, Yousef, Noah, Maggie, Gabriel, Chris, and Victor), and ended up with 9 individual recordings as Chris wasn’t able to send his. My third phase was sending the pianists and guitarists the lead sheet of my piece just containing the chords and asking them to play the chords “in any rhythmic fashion” that they preferred; this was to replace to unseemly initial backing track I had placed in the initial recording. I received recordings from Gabe, Gabriel, Yousef, Noah, Gavin, and Chris. Finally, I had all the materials I needed to play around with in GarageBand. For the written parts at the beginning and end of the piece, I had to do a bit of splitting and moving so that I could get all the woodwinds synched. The rest was fairly easy; I put all of the recordings from the Zoom meetings together and simply shortened them to play over solo sections I wanted them to be over such that there were different groups of musicians playing together in a section and the music didn’t sound too crowded. I put each backing track in a different spot so that for each section there would be a different musician offering the accompanying chords. Some of the Zoom recordings had really nice sounding lines that I wanted to feature in my piece, so I made sure to increase the volume of just those parts in my piece; this included Maggie in my third soloing section and Yousef for the very end of the piece. In the end, my piece consisted of an intro of woodwind harmony following the written parts for the woodwinds. I decided to have the accompanying tracks come in on the second A so that the first A could be established by the woodwinds and drums themselves. After the written melody comes the first solo section consisting of Miles. I thought Miles’ improv sounded great on its own, so I decided not to solo with Miles. The second solo section featured Kelly, and I decided to add to her soloing as her improv called for a very explicit back and forth response. The third and final solo part features both me and Maggie, in which the amazing lines that Maggie sings come to life. After the bridge of the last solo, the song goes straight into the original A section and ends with a coda where it is just the woodwinds and drums. The very end of the piece is Yousef’s amazing new ending to the piece coming from his Zoom recording; I liked it so much that I decided that it would become the new ending.
In my discussions with Goldberg during the creation process of my piece, he strongly emphasized taking advantage of the current situation and doing something strange and novel that is fueled by the current circumstances. When I first told him about my idea to send others an initial recording to play over, he suggested that instead of just sending them a recording through email and letting them get used to the piece before playing over it, only have them do one take, and make it the very first take. This idea was very intriguing to me, as I never really thought about making a composition in this unconventional manner. Goldberg went on to explain that “art comes from people who don’t know what they’re doing”; musicians are able to break the orthodox by fooling around and just trying out new things. I remember listening to a song during one of Goldberg’s listening sessions where it was Charlie Parker playing live over a tune he has not heard before. Yet, it sounded like he knew exactly what he was doing on the first take, although he probably did not know exactly what he was doing. I wanted to try to replicate that, so I kept that as my first guiding idea throughout my composing process.
A little later, I noticed a certain parallel between what I was creating and the ongoing health emergency; I began to see my composition as a sort of experiment replicating the pandemic. The initial recording I created in phase one was the virus itself. This virus was spread in phase two, representing the pandemic, where everyone who I did a Zoom call with was an experiment itself to see how people react to an unforeseeable event. Some were confused at the beginning, some could not figure out the chords, while some just dove in headfirst and tried different things out. Towards the end, everyone was able to adapt along with the virus and push past it, breaking free of the pandemic. After receiving all of the Zoom recordings, I found it fascinating that everyone had their own response to an unprecedented, sudden occurrence, and in the end each response accumulated into a beautiful piece where all responses seem to work together in controlling the virus.
Personally, having my final product gives me hope about this pandemic. After seeing that eventually the piece worked out in the end, it makes me believe that the pandemic will also work out in the end as people respond together in different ways. Although this pandemic is a first take for many of us, where many of us are still scared, confused, and frustrated, we will come out of this as a whole and thrive as the virus plays out it’s whole tune.
Anemone Nathan Blair
This was supposed to be a pop song. Yousuf, Maggie and Graem wrote it about a sailor.
There was a chorus:
Oh sailor don’t you see
Your voyage can never be
I want to dock your boat
But you can’t keep my heart afloat
And some goofy rap verses:
You're like an otter
But only way hotter
I love your dark brown hair
And the glow of your stare
Victor sent drum samples for me to sequence. Gabe G. sent me guitar and bass loops for the rhythm section. Chris sent me distorted guitar loops, because I originally intended for there to be a heavy breakdown towards the end of the otherwise light song. I had Gavin send me a catchy melody that I was going to use for a lead instrument, and potentially for the vocal melody. Francesco sent me some audio for different ambiences that I was going to sneak into the background of the track including running water, breathing, and screaming. Vi and Kelly both sent me audio of them playing full songs that I intended to chop and resample. Kelly played Charlie Parker’s Cherokee solo and Vi sent me audio of him playing a classical piece. Tom sent me audio of him playing saxophone chromatically that I intended to create a virtual saxophone instrument out of. Miles was going to have an epic and fast sax solo at the end of the tune.
With all of the materials in my hand, I quickly realized that a pop song was not the direction I wanted to go in. For one thing, it would have been very difficult to create the clean pop sound I had in mind out of the materials I got. And for another, the nature of the pandemic and this project made me want to create something beautiful and moving, more than fun and silly.
Breaking Down the Composition
The piece opens with a melancholic melody played on the virtual instrument I created out of Tom’s saxophone samples. The melody is harmonized and panned across the stereo field. I add rhythmic interest to one of the samples in the low register by automating a low pass filter that the sample in and out. Throughout the first section ambience from Francesco sits in the background. A tambourine sound from Victor is introduced but fades out as a sample of Kelly’s clarinet is added for additional harmony. Next, I arpeggiate short repitched vocal samples from Maggie as the central and final harmonic layer of the first section. Next, I bring in drum and percussive samples from Victor to fill the space above and around the harmonic content.
The first section ends abruptly after nearly 3 minutes, and Maggie’s pitched vocals go from being the fastest to the slowest element. Maggie’s vocals now are playing the main melody that Tom’s saxophone played in the first section, but slowed down and pitched up. Chris’ guitar crackles pitched down below the vocal to create an eerie and uneasy feeling. Vi’s classical piece plays in the back of the mix sped up, increasing the sense of unease, while Gavin’s melody floats in and out. Yousuf speaks pieces from the rap verse while Miles responds with fragments of his solo.
The final section of the piece begins at the end of Vi’s classical performance. In this section, Maggie sings the chorus of the pop song she wrote. But instead of a triumphant chorus, it is melancholy. Gabe G’s bass floats under this section given it a drunk and tired feel. Tom’s rhythmic sax sample also makes a return in this section, calling back to the beginning of the piece.
The piece was originally written at 125 BPM. In my opinion, this didn’t give the listener enough time or space to take in all of the elements of the piece. So, after arranging the composition, I slowed the piece down to 100 BPM and pitched down everything except for Yousuf’s vocals accordingly.
The Space Between Maggie Camillos
Ben’s initial prompt was to “respond creatively with the full force of imagination to the situation in which we currently find ourselves”.
So to get started, I explored what exactly the situation we currently found ourselves in was. This is something I wrote from that first deliberation:
“We are disconnected by space, but not by time. In fact, time is what is uniting us in a way we’ve never experienced. We’re all going through this time (experience) together — we’re all slowing down, not running around on our own, disjointed schedules. Usually, we rely on place to bring us together, as a realization of our schedules crossing paths, intersecting for a moment, but in general, we all run on our own time. Now, our worlds, our senses of and lived experiences of time, are much more similar — slower, more present, more existential, more anxious, less stimulus, more observation and pondering, more questioning, more space.”
So I sought to get people to experience time together through my composition — to use shared conceptual experiences to transcend our spatial boundaries, and put us in the same metaphysical space. I tried to manifest how, while we are all in different places and very different conditions right now, we are yet somehow connected in a way we’ve never been before.
I soon realized that the idea of polyrhythms was friendly to this task. Polyrhythms are an example of how playing with the vessel of time can be a medium for transcending our established sense of order, not to mention adding incredible texture to our music.
In all of these thoughts about time and space, I also couldn’t help but dabble in concepts about the time-space continuum and the universe. I am by no means a physicist, my exposure to these concepts goes as far as Introduction to Astronomy and the movie Interstellar… But I can gather that time and space are just manifestations, interpretations, of whatever deeper thing, whatever essence, this universe we belong to is made out of. And if we are made out of it, deep down, we must have some intuition for this essence. Moreover, if it’s what allows time and space to warp, I thought if we put our attention in this direction, perhaps that’s another way we can transcend our physical isolation.
In the back of my mind throughout all of this was the blues. I was diving into Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker’s relationship at the time, listening to lots of Bessie ballads, listening to moments where Charlie Parker emulates her voice and dips into the blues in his solo. Ben brought up the fact to me that when Parker does this, he really messes with the time structure of the piece. Rhythmic stability gets thrown off, and he moves into his own sense of time, for a brief moment, seamlessly entering back in right on track when he’s ready… The blues in general has transcended time for ages. It is a time machine, transporting us all to the same space of cathartic, troubled release and acceptance of pain. All of these ideas made me think the blues would be another useful tool to employ in my tasks.
With my tasks, I tried to get people to think about time in a container, and to reach someone else through that container. I aimed to do so my giving people a certain amount of notes to play in a given time, attempting to make them think explicitly about the duration of time they were given. Each person was allowed to use only certain specified notes, belonging to either the I, IV, or V chord of the Am blues scale, to see what kind of effect this kind of sound would make. They were each told to do something to someone else in the class with these notes, in an attempt to get them to connect across space with one of the other musicians. The number of notes I gave each person to play belonged to one of three ratios of multiples of two, three, or five, to see if some kind of loose polyrhythmic conceptual structure could illicit an interesting, strangely unifying pattern or texture. No two people had the same set or number of notes, or person to think of. The people given these tasks in sum served as the primary textural component of the piece.
I had a few people play either more melodic or underlying roles as well, to add more dimensions to my sound. I told Victor to drum to the breath of a forest, to see if it would bring an underlying sense of life and flux to the piece. In attempts to highlight the blues sound, I gave some horns and pianists looser instructions around juxtaposing minor and major sounds in the Am blues while thinking about something else or physically doing something distracting.
In order to initially get everyone in a similar bodily state, I also told them to record themselves breathing for the first minute of the recording, four seconds in, four seconds out, four seconds in, four seconds out, and so on… At one minute, they were to all say “one minute”. They were starting in the same place.
And the last task I gave everyone, just to see what would happen, was to sound like the universe for one to two minutes.
The first part — my attempt at a polyrhythmic-minded, multi-dimensional, textural blues, does not sound like a polyrhythmic blues… But it is very textural and dynamic, and despite all the different sounds going on, feels spacious. In assembling it, I layered each recording on top of one another, and you can really sense everyone there. The only voice I decided to leave out was Victor’s. The presence of drums seemed to force a sense of rhythm that was already mysteriously, organically there amongst the various melodic lines. While people are all following their own trains of thought, the sounds wind together in a captivating, confusing way. Listening to it, I'm constantly noticing new voices and trying to figure out what’s going on and why it’s working the whole time, suspended and perplexed until it’s over… and surprisingly satisfied at the end.
And the universe sounds just came together beautifully. Some people took a darker, more ambiguous tone, some took a brighter tone, some did both. I roughly layered the brighter ones in the beginning, adding on the more obscure sounds on later in the piece. The brighter recordings thus ended earlier, and the ladder took over, finding their own ways out one by own. Miles’, Tom’s and Kelly’s solos bounced off of each other almost perfectly, fitting right in with Victors’ escalating drums. Nathan’s synth sounded like real space creatures. I decided to let his sound finish the round off, tossing my own vocal recording of the universe in the end, because the voice, to me, evokes the most visceral sense of humanity. And that’s how I wanted to end off — with the piece of the universe that we all embody.
My overarching sense of this piece is that we all start off seemingly disconnected but mysteriously united under something that makes the sound work. And then we transition into what that something is — we manifest the space between those disjointed notes and melodies holding us together in the first half, when we all cue into the universe. And ultimately, I bring us back to what we are — human embodiments of this beautiful reality.