I had the honour to be invited to the home of Canadian composer John Beckwith in autumn last year. He came to see Tandem in concert at Toronto and I took the opportunity to sit down with him later on and have his thoughts on the art of musical composition.
Topics varied from writing music to text; hymn-tune and nursery-rhyme rhythms; operas; acting and performance in theatres, as well as electroacoustic composition. He even put questions to me about my improvisation projects – how we prepare an improvisation and the importance of human connections between improvisers.
Various names pop up, such as John’s long-time collaborator, poet, and friend James Reaney, and my ever-present late father, two problematic quotes of whose we chew over: “Various species of experimental music not made of notes might give pleasant listening experiences, but I don’t see why every pleasurable listening experience has to be called ‘music'”; and “Most music is a conversation with itself”.
The music you hear throughout the episode comes from various pieces of John’s repertory. The orchestral extracts featuring at the beginning, middle and end of the conversation all come from John’s 2016 piece, ‘Calling’, performed by the New Music Concerts Ensemble. You can also hear the first movement from ‘Pages’, for solo piano and performed by Barbara Pritchard, and the enigmatic second movement from the set of six fantasies for guitar, ‘Ut re mi fa sol’, performed by Peter Higham.
PS Don’t adjust your sound system! There’s an intermittent buzz in the right-hand channel of these recordings, due to my faulty Zoom microphone. Sorry.
A little over a year ago I visited Justin Evans in Charlotte, North Carolina, for his residency showcase at Goodyear Arts. I originally got in touch with Justin after coming across his indescribable experimental podcast project Mystery Meat, and was blown away by the group performance he gave of shouted texts he’d worked on for his residency. Before the show, we met at the Goodyear Arts building and recorded a little echo chamber.
But who is Justin Evans? He is a poet and electrician from Marietta, GA. He’s pursuing an MFA from Queens University and is the co-author of many local plays in his current home, Charlotte, NC and in his last home, Asheville, NC. He’s the former co-editor of the local lit mag Vanilla Sex, and current poetry editor of the Queens lit mag QU.
I’m overjoyed listening back to our conversation over a year later. We talked about so many things that light up my imagination, and hopefully yours: the need for catharsis, and poetry/art as necessary tools for outlet. Anti-literariness (slam). His podcast Mystery Meat. The importance and rarity of quiet spaces. Hallucinations and rhythmic attunement (cf. the famous Aix-Marseilles bus hallucinations that led to Brion Gysin’s Dream Machine) How contemporary art tries to put form the shapeless blob that is our experience of the world.
Music/Audio featured in this two-part edition come exclusively from various Mystery Meat episodes.
AND (Anouck Genthon, violin, Ed Williams, guitar) is pleased to announce the release of three new EPs taken from various performances. The first we’re releasing, AND in Leipzig & Kopenhagen, features recordings of our 2016 tour and also has Ed playing harpsichord.
A note from Ed:
These tracks are taken from two performances back in 2016. Both are extra special.
Straight after the tour I took the plane to the UK for my father’s funeral. As a Baroque music scholar, his influence on me was huge, and I went on to explore the themes of grief and musical philosophy with a podcast called ECHO CHAMBER and a sound installation, ECHO ORGAN, a year later. So in both of these recordings, I’m at the very beginning of the grieving process whose relevance to music I was only just starting to perceive.
KOPENHAGEN was the last concert in the tour, and not only did I have the funeral in my mind but Koncertkirken’s Bjorn proposed that I try the venue’s harpsichord. As a trained harpsichordist, I couldn’t resist. We’re very proud to have performed in this pairing, usually reserved for Baroque performances and here played, as always with AND, in purely improvised instant composition.
Although for LEIPZIG we used the usual instrumentation of electric guitar and violin, it was also a very strongly emotionally charged concert as I’d spent the afternoon in the Tomaskirche, the church where J S Bach had been cantor and where my dad had played many times. Thinking of this person I’d just lost, I cried just about all the tears in my body as I watched the flame of the prayer candle extinguish.
An update on some of the exciting things happening soon or that have just happened:
Super nice concert with Ben Grossman and Vincent Roussel at the Grotte de l’Hermite in the nature outside Marseilles (see photos below). I also took Ben aside to dig into his musical background and talk about Stravinsky, a discussion which will become a new Echo Chamber episode in the coming months.
A couple days ago the Bears were back this time with double bassist Nghia Duong in our first Heard Of Bears invite… concert since summer. Thanks Nghia!
UPCOMING RELEASE NO.1 Coming very very soon will be the final concert version of Echo Organ, electroacoustic piece featuring as part of my sound installation of the same name, and which has enjoyed broadcasts this year as part of Radiophrenia and Festival Futura. This is a highly personal project which I am extremely proud of, and have chosen to release it myself for free download for anyone interested.
I spent several days last summer with composer, improviser and spinet-player Christoph Schiller at his somewhat legendary studio in Basel. Given the concentrated subject matter, and the sheer length, of the discussions, I decided to make a three-part Echo Chamber special that deals overall with the question of freedom in musical composition:- composition as an emancipatory means to deeper reflexion and a more sincere gestural approach.
Toward the end of our three days of conversations, we focused on the problem of words; the problem of musicians trying to communicate between one another despite speaking different languages, ideas becoming lost in translation, and the difficulty of choosing the right words in even one’s own language.
We also look at the problems posed by the following quote from my late musicologist dad: “the more that people believe that music expresses or arouses emotions, the more they want others to agree.” This takes us onto the descriptive words used for music, and leads us to consider the deliberate theatricality of Baroque music amongst others.
The music featuring in this episode comes exclusively from the sublime album ‘Tse’ by Christoph Schiller in trio with Pierre-Yves Martel and Cyril Bondi.