I’ve come to think of life as a spiral staircase. Ever climbing, ever expanding outward. There are events / problems / places / points that I find myself returning to. I revisit the same spaces as yester-me. But when I return, I’m no longer who I was. I’m further up—and out. We don’t shed our past selves. We grow around them. Every return is with a wider self.
How did I handle this then?
Where did I go from there?
How do we handle this now?
Where do we go from here?
There’s something galactic about this spiral staircase. Which future will we see?
You will always return further than you were.
Step. Up. Out. Step. Up. Out.
George Lewis Seismologic (2017)
Seismologic is the third work in The Recombinant Trilogy, a set of compositions for solo instrument and electronics that use interactive digital delays, spatialization, and timbre transformation to transform the acoustic sounds of the instrument into multiple digitally created sonic personalities that follow diverse yet intersecting spatial trajectories. Advancing a conversational aesthetic, albeit in nonimprovised music, in these works foreground and background deliberately conflate. Doppelgängers are created that blur the boundaries between original and copy, while shrouding their origin in processes of repetition. As nonlinearity is invoked and uncertainty is assured, the electronics and the solo instrument blend, intersect, diverge, or they suddenly converge into unified ensembles.
With inspiration from Dr. Ben Holtzman, my musically oriented seismologist colleague at Columbia University, the work is structured as a series of explorations at the interface between the bassoon and the electronics, extending the instrument’s registral reach both upward and downward. The classic American trope of depiction found in Charles Ives, Duke Ellington, Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, and so many others is exemplified by moments of near-classical contrapuntal conversations, quasi-spectralisms, and pointillisms that recall the World Saxophone Quartet, as well as liquid voices, animal grunts, and Doppler shifts of train whistles going by. Dana Jessen’s own set of extended techniques are deployed to transform the bassoon into an ultra-contrabassoon, a brass instrument, a flock of alien geese, or a bassoon/drum duo. The landscapes evoked by the piece are often pensive and introspective, sometimes arid, but also exuberant or even violent, like the seismic movement of massive faults.
Software for The Recombinant Trilogy was written by Damon Holzborn, using the Max/MSP platform.
George Lewis Tales of the Traveller (2016)
The London Sinfonietta commissioned this work for the instrumentation of Fausto Romitelli’s Professor Bad Trip: Lesson II (1998-99), and an improvised solo part (“The Traveller”). The music for the ensemble is precisely notated; the Traveller’s solo part specifies entrance and exit points only, along with a few modest proposals: “Direct imitation of melodic or harmonic passages is to be avoided; use of noise (whatever that means in this context) is encouraged. Suggested strategies for dialogue with the written music include blending, opposition or contrast, and transformation.”
This performance of Tales of the Traveller features two soloists: flutist Nicole Mitchell, and Voyager, an interactive ‘virtual improvisor’ program originally programmed by George Lewis in 1987 and continually updated since that time. Performing on a computer-controlled acoustic concert grand piano, the Yamaha Disklavier, Voyager analyzes the sounds of the ensemble and the flute soloist in real time, using that analysis to influence its responses to the musicians’ playing. Voyager and Mitchell can dialogue with each other as well as the ensemble, and both are free to use the same kinds of blending, contrast, and transformation strategies called for by the score.
Software by George Lewis and Damon Holzborn.
Yamaha Disklavier™ grand piano provided courtesy of Yamaha Corporation of America, with special thanks to Makia Matsumura of Yamaha Artist Services, New York City.