Max EastleyInstallation Recordings (1973-2008) (Paradigm)
Max Eastley Aeolian Flutes
For those inclined to come to terms with the music of John Cage, it almost always comes in stages. The prepared piano is often the gateway, or perhaps the early percussion work. For some it might be the more wild electronics of the sixties, or perhaps they came to it via dance and Merce Cunningham. As one develops ones appreciation one accepts his various ideas: rhythmic structure, silence, the validity of all sounds and finally chance and the reduction of the will of the composer. The notions of chance composition, indeterminacy and attempting to remove from music the composer or performers taste’s and predilections are the most difficult hurdle for most to get past and many people, even those highly interested in contemporary composition, experimental music and the like never do. It is not at all uncommon to meet those who only really enjoy Cage’s early music, losing the thread when chance operations became his primary working method (also you meet those who only appreciate the number pieces, which while chance composed utilize a very carefully chosen set of constraints that reduce certain features that turn many people off of chance composed music. But that is another topic). But chance is the key to Cage’s work, one must accept it, get past that to really appreciate his music. It often is misunderstood as an expediency of composition (and perhaps it was in the European Avant-Garde’s aleatoric music) but for Cage it was the tool he found to help reduce forcing his personal tastes and predilections upon the music. Following this idea to at least one sort of endpoint, what could remove the composer more effectively than creating sculptures that generate sound on their own, often in response to natural events?
I lay my harp on the curved table,
Sitting there idly, filled only with emotions.
Why should I trouble to play?
A breeze will come and sweep the strings.
-Attributed to Po ChÃ¼-i (772-846)(2)
Max Eastley has been making sound producing sculptures since the early 1970s and this cd documents 36 years of them beginning in the year that I was born. His scupltures often relay on wind (aeolian harps and flutes) or collections of electric and mechanical parts assembled to maximize unpredictability, the use of field recordings and combinations of these with electronics, performers and other instruments. These sculptures naturally exhibit indeterminacy through use of wind or wave action or chaotic electrical parts but furthermore also in their very construction:
I chose not to use any system of tuning: the metals for example were chose visually and I put random pitches of Aeolian Flutes together, but I tuned strings to specific tone rows. (3)
This two cd set contains short little recordings from these scupltures, as well as performances from some of the more instrument like sculptures. As this set is a document of these installations it doesn’t contain any of the improvised music that Eastley has done with various other musicians. The discs are very well put together, the short excerpts are crafted into extended pieces that all crossfade into each other. The liner notes mark these into sections containing from one to seven tracks and these work quite well as pieces of music. The level of consideration in this assemblage is quite high, sometimes a particular sculpture is returned to several times in one of these “pieces”, which really gives it a flow and makes what could be mere documentation into an captivating piece of music. Of course not everything works, but nothing lasts so long as to dominate, to force the album into one particular shape. It is the sounds of the sculpture that dominate, often metal on metal, odd rotating sounds, clunking wood and the like. It reminds me of the best field recordings in a way, those that aren’t mere documentation but a piece of music. In many ways I think capturing the essence of the natural world, the way that sounds come in and overlap of their own according, those moments of near stasis and the wide range of dynamics, has been a goal of those working with chance based music.
While of course it is hard to tell, I’d wager that the least successful tracks here had the most intervention from humans. Whether as scupltures being played, or by transformation from electronics, there are several tracks that are smoothed out into rather new age soundscapes that are tolerable simply due to their brevity and transformation into another piece. The best pieces are all a-flutter with with the breeze, starting and stopping unpredictably, with big crashes sometimes, or a softly guttering unpitched tone. Rhythms driven by natural processes that fail capture by our senses but fully capture our imagination. There are sounds, rhythms, harmonies on this set that have captivated me more then anything else this year and even the bits that aren’t as interesting to me work in the flow of the album. The carefully constructed structure keeps it from feeling like a catalog of work; there are musical pieces here. I’ve never had a chance to experience one of Eastley’s sculptures in person but I dearly hope to get the chance. Seattle’s outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park would greatly benefit from one of these in my opinion.
Here in the NW corner of the United States November is the stormiest month of the year. Once past that month things enter a sort of stasis: rain, usually more a persistent drizzle then a downpour, grey skies, skeletal trees. On today, the first day of Winter, I present a little solstice gift: Season’s End, a piece I made just a few weeks ago that attempts to capture that sense of stasis. It is constructed from electronics that seem to burble and drift along with a cold edge to them, overlaid with a faint dry bowing that sometimes rises out of the background. But like the end of Autumn the stasis is a surface impressions, just below is a shifting matrix of activity. This piece works best, in my opinion, played open air fairly softly, keeping it right on the edge of attention. While I don’t think it managed to 100% capture what I was going for it works pretty well in this situation.
The Coffee Messiah has decided to close at 7pm from now on, thus ending all evening music. Cog-dis was an experimental music series, started by one “Ffej” as a place for primarily Seattle area experimenters to play as well as touring experimenters. A wildly adventurous series, it had tons of failed experiments, but a lot of great music. It will be missed
The SIL2k Ensemble was a group started in the year 2000 to explore modern improvised music. They do a lot of improv game pieces, starting with Zorns and eventually creating their own. They also play various modern compositions from structured minimalism ala In C to graphical scores ala Cardew. The SIL2k is a loose collective of Seattle based improvisers, with the Ensemble being a permanent sub section of these musicians. Over the years, they have become quite adept at playing this challenging music together and are especially good at game pieces. (When Wayne Horvitz curated his 3 night run of Zorn’s game pieces, many of the best performers were SIL2k alumns.)
In this night they did one set of game pieces and the second set was Paragraph 6 from Cardew’s The Great Learning The game they played was Meta-Game which was a simple set of rules for switching between the dozen or so improv games that they had developed. Very clever and well executed, I’d love to see Zorn apply meta game to his canon of game pieces. The SIL2k’s games are very post Zorn though some are clear descendants. A lot of them stray very far from what Zorn was exploring and are more irreverent and fun. One of the games required the players to only hum, another was all hand based percussion with strict rhythmic transition rules. As with Zorn’s game pieces these are tons of fun to watch, and they did generate a lot of interesting music.
After a short break they passed out copies of Paragraph 6 from Cardew’s The Great Learning and proceeded to work through this. This score is pretty interesting, it is text based score solely with instructions on what to play. The instructions are pretty detailed, but have few restrictions. An example:
SINGLY Make a sound. Wait for a general pause and follow it with four sounds, the second isolated, the third loud or long. Wait for another general pause and follow it with three sounds, the first synchronized, the last two separated by an isolated pair of sounds.
The ensemble took the tact that a section (marked by the capitalized word) is spoken by someone when they think that they have completed the previous section. Then they play the instructions until it is determined that they are complete. They used some of the game piece techniques, hand signals and such to try to work through it. Kind of hard to describe, and I have no idea what sort of precedence they have for this performance. I know that some of the SILk guys are faculty or alum from the Cornish Music school, so I’m sure they have had some opportunity to study or even perform this type of thing with those who would know more. Perhaps also The Great Learning features instructions on interpretation.
I’m interested in further exploring Cardew. Apart from sections of Treatise that I have heard from AMM and the on the Amplfiy recordings what is a good way to go. I’ve been planing on getting John Tilbury “˜CORNELIUS CARDEW PIANO MUSIC 1959~70.’ just because I’m a Tilbury nut, but how about the other Matchless Cardew release: “˜Cornelius Cardew – chamber music 1955-1964′ 2001Recorded by Apartment House directed by Anton Lukoszevieze
Other interesting recordings out there? Does anyone know where I can get a copy of Treatise or The Great Learning. Also is there a good Cardew biography.
I managed to catch a couple of shows from our local out music venue’s 2nd anniversary series. The two I saw were Kaffe Matthews solo on May 14th and Anne LeBaron, Wolfgang Fuchs and Torsten Muller & Ronit Kirchman the following night. I then went on vacation thus the delay in this posting.
Polestar is a tiny shotgun style store front space. They are able to get two columns of 3 chairs with a aisle in the middle. Maybe 10-15 rows of these. Up front is generally a small stage and a small PA. It is the best place to see music in Seattle though– no smoking, no talking, no bar and decent acoustics. People go there to see shows and attention to the music. The fine folkswho run the venue are in touch with several different creative music scenes and the bookings are quite diverse. Otomo Yoshihide, Eddie Prévost, Wayne Horvitz, Briggan Kraus, Carla Kihlstedt , John Butcher, Jessica Lurie, Wally Shoup, Fred Frith and many, many others have played here. Check out the list of past performances. Anyway just a bit about the venue to set the scene.
Kaffe Matthews was set up in the round with her quadraphonic sound system. She had a Powerbook, mixer, theremin and a midi controller. She began with a single pure tone, generated by the theremin I believe. She then proceeded to manipulate the very response of the room, layering samples of this tone in conjunction with new tones. At one point she raises a level on her mixing board and radio emanates. Clearly taken aback, a smile breaks out on her face and she goes with it. About 5
from the venue are 3 radio masts and clearly they were infiltrating her electronics. She proceeded to work this radio (which was primarily jazz singing) into the piece often to great effect. Over the course of an hour-fifteen or so Kaffe worked these materials into dense washes of feedback or spare hisses occasionally letting everything stop to simple amplifier hum. Really engaging, I truly wish we could have moved about the room, as the sound would change just by moving your head. She describes this performance as live room sculpting and I think that is an accurate description.
After the performance there was a little reception. Kaffe kindly explained her gear, software and process to those who asked. This was the case in both nights I went and was a welcome addition to nights of good music.