I’ve always been a CD lover, since when the CD industry started. By that time there were cassettes, tapes and vinyls of course, but nothing was clean from noise like CDs. I remember the time when it was possible to rent and copy CD, and I’m nostalgic of that time. The internet era of course gave us the possibility of discovering many more tracks, and gave us access to an infinite range of things. So why publishing a Cd now? I’ve found out that most of people in our sector do not really listen to music on the internet: they just check it out. After my first son was born, I’ve discovered again the pleasure of putting in my stereo a CD that I liked, from the beginning to the end. This choice made me more conscious of what I like, without the distraction of algorithm-related connections from youtube.
A special thanks goes to SENA, a dutch association who knows how difficult is today to make a CD, and supported me financially in the production of the release. And maybe the best thank goes to Micha de Kanter, a man with precious ears and sensitivity in sound, who recorded all this cd, and edited with infinite patience.
So why Tenney? First of all I wanted to record a CD that I really wanted to listen to, but which did not existed before. Moreover the music by James Tenney, especially the postal pieces, would have offered me the chance of expressing myself in a more creative way: the idea of interpretation is here challenged in itself, as well as the idea of virtuosity. In one interview Berio was talking about who is a virtuoso nowadays: “he is someone that sees his instrument as medium to research, and who is able to contribute to the musical thinking without the fake humility of those who say that they only serve the music”. If a Virtuoso is someone who puts his virtues into music, I believe that today musicians should not necessarily be judged if they play more fast and louder, but also for the amount of conscious choices that they do in their interpretation.
The scores of James Tenney allowed me to do all that: first of all thinking a CD as a different experience, alternative to a live concert: something that you can listen at home, able to walk around your familiar space, sitting on your sofa, or even while doing other things, something different from the live experience. I admired the James Tenney recording since when I was a bit more than a teenager, and one of my favorites was the solo percussion Cd for HatHut Records by Matthias Kaul. It’s a big honor for me to be today part of the same collection.
But let’s get into the details of BASS WORKS.
The first issue that i have encountered in recording these pieces by James Tenney regards the way this kind of music should be recorded. Actually all this music is conceived to be listened live, and any recording requires to make choices that limit the wider range of casualties that occur during a live performances.
Beast was written for Buell Neidlinger, jazz and classical player; it is a double-entendre of the word beats. The score of Beast requires to perform a variable amount of beatings between the open III string and a glissing IV string. The piece is devided in four phrases, or large humps, which have different lengths according to the Fibonacci Series.The composer prescribes these oscillations in number of beatings on a diagram. So far, no problem , if we consider 1 beat per second as a sixth-tome, 3 beats a flat semitone, 6 beats a flat major second, 10 beats a quarter tone flat major third, and 15 the triton. In reality, during a live performance, the listener will perceive a continuous crossfade of beatings in accellerando or in ritardando, overlapping at different speeds. The overtones of the stopped strings will also produce beatings, actually at a different tempo than those some octaves lower. The result is a continuous mutation both in time and space. Actually, due to the long waves of the bass frequencies, the amount of beatings that we perceive psychoacustacaly, vary if we move in the space. How to translate all this sound experience on a recording? We’ve using 10 mics more or less, spread around the room, in front of the bass, on the back of the bass and next to the scroll in order to capture different partials. if you play in your HiFi, pump it up, pump the bass and move around the room to enjoy all these details.
The score of ( night) prescribes that the piece should be played ” on percussion or…”. This encouraged me to make a version for doublebass. And not even one version, but 2. Why 2 versions? My Idea It is based on the will of defining an object through its negation and its contradictions. Hermeneutically, I’m trying to define ( in this case through performance) something which is too wide to be presented in just one way.
The only indications in the score say:
The 2 versions read the score in 2 different ways.
In the first one , I’ve chosen the first line to refer to the duration of the piece, the second to the dynamics used in the piece and the third to the timbre, evoking the white to be represented as a certain amount of noise.These parameters never vary, and are kept constant and static throughout the performance
The recording is extremely close mic, picking up all the noises of the hair of the bow. The left hand performs one unique glissando from the nut to the bridge, in flageolet pressure. The result of the pitches is very interesting, as the occurring pitches are specular in their distribution in time, as the periodic nodes of the partials overlap. A glance at the spectral view of the recording makes this evident.
In the second version, after having decided to which characteristic of sound assign which parameter, I performed a variation in their application. The result in sound is something extremely dynamic and changeable throughout the piece. I assigned the first line of the instructions to the durations of each bowing, from very short at the beginning of the track to very long at the end. Assumed that the bowings use the same amount of hair length, the pressure implied goes from flautando to overpressure. Extremely soft: My interpretation then goes from extremely loud to extremely soft. And what about White, almost white?White Noise elements in the sound have a maximum concentration at the beginning and at the end of the track, and swell to a minimum in the center. I have used a small preparation on the second string of my bass using some patafix placed at one specific node.
The first time I’ve got in contact with this this score was because Bob Gilmore was showing it to me. It was never recorded before, and perhaps only performed once, probably because of the inconvenience of the tuning of the bass. Actually the doublebass needs to be retuned at every movement and starts from an extreme scordatura, which lowers the 4th string to a low C. The piece uses a tape delay system, an object which is nowadays easily substituted by digital delay, which avoids the problems that occur in performance when the sound can tilt the machine through its vibrations. The whole composition explores glissandi on different angles.
For this recording I’ve asked some help from two friends of mine: William Lane, excellent viola player from Tasmania, now based in HongKong, and Francesco Dillon for me a kind of a legend of cello playing. Glissade is a later piece of Tenney, and was composed more than 10 later than the postal pieces, and is completely notated in a traditional way. But even if the score tends to be descriptive, in all the movements the perception of the final result generates psycho-acoustically something completely different from what expected. For example, in the 4th movement, Trias Harmonica, a unison expands gradually through slow glissandi in a octave and a fifth. The different ratios between the pitches occurring (precisely notated by Tenney) generate a constantly changing amount of beatings: the overtones overlap in a way that magic chords get generated. This is something that Boulez would have called the perfection of the number!
For more information please read the liner notes of Eric Smigel