In the studio: ”Evolving Patterns” CD
”Stockhausen once compared the recording of one version of an open form to a photograph of a bird in ﬂight. We understand the picture as showing but one of a multitude of shapes the bird may take. But which is the artwork, the bird or the photograph? And which is the composition we are hearing, the abstract open form that we might intuit with the aid of score or program notes, or the realization on the ﬁxed, carefully engineered recording?”
(Jonathan Kramer 1988)
The main way to play our music is in concert. I perceive this as the best way to share the experience of the musicians, and to get the physical experience of the sound. However, recordings are important to me as documentation of the process, a way of reflecting, and as a marketing tool to be able to play live.
The CD ”Evolving Patterns” was recorded in two separate sessions. The first session took place in Stavanger, at NRK, during the Earwaves festival in October 2015, and the second session took place at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo in April 2016. We have done several studio recordings both before and after these two, but I felt that there was some special material worth releasing from both of these sessions.
Playing music with this level of improvisation in a studio is of course quite different from performing in front of an audience. My music is not really dependent on longer periods of high energy and a lot of feedback from an audience for the musicians to ”get into it”, so in a way I think it works to record it in a studio, but the nerve you get in a live situation can be lacking. Another problem can be the fact that you feel like you have to play ”well” since it’s being recorded for posterity.
This can be detrimental to flow and make some players more timid and self-conscious, especially the less experienced ones. Yet, I think the studio situation can be helpful in some respects: We have had a tendency to be a overly active, playing too much in a live situation, and not leaving enough space for my taste. This can work better in a studio situation, where the atmosphere is usually more calm than in a live situation.
We can also be a bit quick to leave a section, moving too fast to the next. In the studio the opposite tendency can sometimes occur, allowing for more patience, slower change and a stronger feeling of vertical time.
The Ripples piece heard in chapter 5 (ch 5 ex1) is an example of a slow changing pattern which usually can be a bit too fast in concert. The slowness and its movement back and forth from the massive to the intimate is a quality that we hadn’t been able to do before playing it in the studio.
The main challenge, recording wise, is usually to be able to get some separation between the instruments, and still be able to hear everyone. We have begun to alleviate this by being as close as possible, and recording almost like a classical ensemble: The room microphones, picking up the total sound of the ensemble are the most important, and close mics are only used for extra balancing if it’s necessary.
Three acts of composition
Recording of improvised music is in a way an act of composition in itself, fixing something which would have had a different shape and sound in any other moment than the moment it was recorded.
The first session, before Earwaves 15, we used as a kind of rehearsal, recording everything, and tried out the form of the whole piece to be played two days later. I wasn’t too happy about it at the time, but when I got around to editing it, I discovered several parts I felt were good improvisations, renditions of Li or of more Gugak-inspired compositions. I liked them more than most of the version we played in concert: They seemed more focused and intimate, and just expressive enough, whereas the concert version was a bit too frenetic.
For the second session, I only had a very loose idea of form, and gave the musicians a lot of written parts to play, some Li and some improvisations. I wanted to get good
documentation of layered Li, of spatial etudes, pitch based material and so on. This proved to be a much more tiring and frustrating process, with no real visible goal of the session. It seems that recording a whole ”piece” gives us more opportunity to portion out our playing, think about which approaches and sounds you have already used etc. I later found that the recordings I enjoyed the most from this session were the ones that had pretty explicit instructions (Like the spots/ripples over electronics, track two) and some of the free improvisations early in the session, pre-fatigue.
The editing process becomes a third act of composition (the two first being the precomposed material and the fixing act of recording). In this process I’ve composed a form consisting of material from two different points in time, and used only the parts I liked, fitting them together with other parts in a way I find to be good and interesting. A couple of places I have even layered recordings of two different events. I will usually keep everything as it is in a live recording (like for example Li 2 and 3), but in a studio session I do not see any problem in ”cheating” by adding something if it helps the music. This music is not completely free improvisation anyway.
The mixing and editing process is very similar to the way I have begun composing the concert pieces. The main difference is that I have to imagine the sounds and behaviours of the Li and improvisations in the latter, while in the editing process I work with the concrete sounds of the ensemble as building blocks. I do think the mixing and editing of music recorded by the ensemble has influenced my composing greatly in this way. The reduced complexity allows me to to think in a more broad way form wise, knowing that there will be more than enough complexity on a local level to keep it interesting sonically. If I want to I can also zoom in on some parts and compose more detailed music here and there.
Listening, choosing and mixing is not only about preparing the music for release, but also a way of meditating over it for me. A slowing down of the process that can be hard to do without the purpose of the mixing, and an integral part of my method. It allows me to think about the music in a slow way, and it forces me to ask questions and make aesthetic choices which decide the way forward in the next cycle of research.
Despite this, during editing and mixing is maybe the only time during the process that I have thought about ”finishing” a piece of music. A CD produced in this way feels more like a final composition than a concert, even though it’s composed by snapshots of our playing at certain points in time, and in reality is a documentation of a process. It has a different context and and it feels very different physically. I have created a different narrative through the editing, and I can only relive small parts of the experience of playing the music through listening to it.
Complete live recordings on video, on the other hand, can be more useful as a way of reliving the experience of playing the music, although from a very different perspective. You will not get the physical sensation of the space, the instrument, the closeness to the other musicians, the social setting (was the atmosphere good in the group?), but a recording can be a way to help you remember it. For me there is always a slight feeling of seeing someone else, though. Almost like when you hear a recording of your own voice speaking.
I also think that my experience of listening back can vary depending on when I listen: The focus can be very different when listening to a piece at different times of the day, depending on my own state of mind. Sometimes I will have more patience, sometimes less. This makes it hard to be analytical about one’s own music, as the perception of the music changes. Some of it sounds worse than I remember it, some of it sounds better. What would I think about the music if someone else were playing it?
The material on the CD is a mix of improvisations, Li and predetermined material inspired by Gugak. It is a kind of ”best of” collection of the main periods I have gone through. Some raw scores exist, but much of the music has been altered significantly in both the recording studio and in the editing process.
Bjørnar Habbestad – flutes
Martin Kuchen – alto/sopranino sax
Andre Roligheten – tenor sax, bass clarinet
Erik Carlsson – percussion
Dag Erik Knedal Andersen – percussion
Sofia Jernberg – vocals
Ole Henrik Moe – violin/banjo
Morten Barrikmo – clarinets
Raymond Strid – drums
David Stackenäs -guitar
Per Zanussi – double bass/electronics
Recorded by Per Ravnås and Ulf Holand. Mixed By Ingar Hunskaar.
Listening to Evolving Patterns
This piece is an example of my interest in slowness, as found in Gugak.
There is a circular rhythm in the percussion throughout the first part, which uses the idea of rhythm as the main method of structuring.
Notation wise, it is either graphic (a line meaning ”play whatever you want”) or a few notated, held chords in the winds. These gagaku-sounding chords are composed of pitches from an analysis of a noisy, arco bass note, and have been added during the editing.
All of this gives a very slow result, and we focus on the timbre of the ensemble. This can be very frustrating to play, and feel unnaturally slow. However, I think it results in a very interesting music, clearly referencing asian, vertical time: The movement is so slow that the musician has time to really listen and focus on the timbre.
At a certain point, the ”Jangdan” or rhythm is let go, and an Angles Li is introduced. Then we return to the graphic rhythm notations and written chords.
The slowness is brutally broken by a contrasting ”Clouds” part, where the density and speed increases, building to a climax, and fading out.
The last part of the section is a unison line or ”Meander”, which is accompanied by bass clarinet and bass drum. This is based on the idea of meandering rivers, and the ornaments are inspired by rules for Korean court music: When the interval between two notes is smaller than a falling minor third, there is a glissando between them. When the interval is greater than a falling minor third, there is a upward glissando and a pause before the next note is played.
This is an example of a processed electronic track based on a trio recording of myself, drums and guitar. On top of it, we work with a rhythmic, percussive hybrid of the Li ”spots” and ”ripples”, creating a rhythmic texture. This is changed into a more held ”ripples” material in part of the ensemble after the electronic track ends.
The section ends with an improvised trio, referencing an open ”clouds” material (the way we chose to interpret it in April 2016: As iterations on one sound at a time, creating a cloud together), which returns in other forms in later sections of the recording. This way of playing the clouds contrasts the clouds from both Patterns 1, and the clouds found in the piece Li 3, which will be discussed later.
This is a section based entirely on 8 pitches. In the first part of the section, some of the musicians play the pitches with ornaments, inspired by the way one assigns specific ornaments to specific pitches in Gugak.
We then gradually move on to holding the pitches, improvising slow chordal harmonies together, with a circular notation.
Short parts of Li, where the Li and who plays when is strictly notated. This is part of a longer, older Li piece called ”various activities”, and it is an edit of the parts I found most successful.
We then transition to a longer tutti ”ripples” Li, where the focus is on slow variation. The instrumentation is changing over time, and we end up with only reeds and flute playing key sounds.
This is a Li piece where dunes, ripples and lines are layered, entering and exiting.
The bass starts solo, and the rest of the ensemble enters, playing Dunes Li.
A percussive Ripples pattern enters, and a Meanders Li comes in on top, sounding almost jazzy for a second. this on/off pattern continues for a while, until a duo of clarinet and percussion begins. A microtonal held chord in guitar, flute and violin is cued in, and a drone section begins. The bass enters to signal the end of the section, and we segue to a dramatic Waves section, using the pitch C as an anchor.
This track starts with a Clouds section. It is kept quite open, and iterations of a single sound is the main approach. It develops into a Ripples improvisation.
It then proceeds to an alto flute solo. The Clouds material returns, and transforms into iterations of the pitch C.
It then segues into a section where the guitar is in the foreground, working with a predetermined set of pitches. The ”accompaniment” in the other instruments starts with noise and air sounds, before gradually going into set pitch materials.
Final presentation of the artistic results: ”Li 3” at Earwaves 17
The festival ”Earwaves” has been organized in Stavanger three times during my fellowship, the first time in 2014. I started the festival together with Signe Irene Time, and it features improvised music in various forms. It includes local musicians and students, which helps building an audience, and hopefully uniting the very small scene for improvised music in Stavanger.
We have also included some more well known names from Norway or abroad, like 1982 (with Nils Økland), John Russell and Anders Hana.
The most important reason for me for doing it this way, was to have the opportunity to invite the entire PZ Ensemble to stay for several days and record, rehearse and discuss the music. It is much easier to secure funding for a festival than for a one-off concert, and I also believe that gathering the band in a town like Stavanger, where they are away from home, helps the concentration on the music. The ensemble also gets more closely knit socially, living and eating together.
This would of course have been nice to do at an already established festival as well, but so far it has not been possible. Playing any kind of non-mainstream music today depends on the artist doing most of the additional practical work, and I would say it’s a prerequisite to be an organizer (on some level) to have any chance of realizing your own musical projects frequently.
On the first day of the festival, we play in small groups, and the idea is to simply get some experience in improvising together in the room. This helps the playing in the large ensemble on the second day, when we play a new piece for the whole ensemble.
I believe that this way of organizing the festival around the ensemble has been an important, positive factor in the ensemble process.
For each festival I have assembled a new piece, and the final artistic presentation of the fellowship period consisted of an hour long concert piece named ”Li 3”.
This is the final ensemble piece made during my fellowship, and the closest I’ve felt to achieving the balance between predetermined and improvised music that I have been looking for. I think that this piece landed closer to my idea of expressing a culture in our music than earlier pieces. It is also the piece where I feel like I am using all of the different parts of my new musical toolbox, built throughout the research period, with more usage of semi-improvised Li in general, and more Li influencing the behaviours of the musicians.
After listening back to previous pieces, I have always been frustrated and felt that I need to develop the toolbox even more. The result after this piece was that I got more ideas about what to do within this method, rather than immediately after the concert thinking about how I could fix it, or what I should have done. I felt that I had arrived at something good and effective which can be used to create music in the future by me or others.
The score is simpler and more text based than earlier performed pieces, with less graphic or regular notation, allowing a greater focus on listening for the improvisers.
The score is linear, but based on open spaces of vertical time-encouraging Li or free improvisation. The idea of circularity within the linear form is still present, by sections recurring in the form:
The centers-material comes back in mutated forms three times.
The ”melody” in the beginning is repeated in the duo by Sofia and Morten.
AudioLi give a feeling of cycles, and sections of a ”soloist” with Li accompaniment also appear several times.
The sections with a ”soloist” can hypothetically have these outcomes:
Only soloist (everyone else chooses silence)
An overweight of one of the Li: F.ex a lot of spots, no dunes and vice versa.
Something in between: Equal amounts of the two Li
Most emphasis on following the soloist. Which means that it can be anything the soloist wants, with the rest following her or ”following her” as in contrasting her.
In Li 3 I tried to use all of the tools in my “toolbox” which I have collected throughout the research period. I was thinking about the piece’s macro form and instrumentation in terms of possible choices in free improvisation: Lead, follow, support, contrast, change musical direction, or be silent.
Bjørnar Habbestad – flutes
Martin Kuchen – alto/sopranino sax
Lotte Anker – tenor/soprano sax
Emilio Gordoa – vibraphone/percussion
Dag Erik Knedal Andersen – percussion
Sofia Jernberg – vocals
Ole Henrik Moe – violin/banjo/saw
Morten Barrikmo – clarinets
Raymond Strid – drums
David Stackenäs -guitar
Per Zanussi – double bass/electronics
Recorded by Inge Engelsvold
Video recording by Bjørn Ketil Undem
Score: Li 3 at Earwaves 2017
Listening to Li 3
The piece starts with an echo of a Gugak-inspired piece, originally written as three heterophonic melodies in ”Earwaves” in 2014. It was reduced to a duo (Vocals and clarinet) for the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, in ”Li 2”, with two written parts.
This version of the ”melody” consists of only the vocal part in a unison B. I didn’t write any dynamics, because I wanted to try it out in rehearsal. The section has been tried in both very dynamically soft versions and in a almost free jazz sounding, expressive version.
I also wanted to see if it would be naturally heterophonic, when we played it by just following Sofia. With only one of the melodies being played, it sounds more abstract, and I thought it would fit the tone of our current playing better than it has before, in its more complex, polyphonic form.
We tried playing the melody tutti, with everyone playing the ornaments and all of the pitches, but to me it didn’t sound good. Too heterophonic, but not heterophonic enough.
The solution was to let bass, violin and vocals start, with only vocals doing the ornaments in the beginning. The rest entered ad lib after a while, making the timbre change gradually, and the dynamics increase.
(1) Clouds enter over Db drone
Bass, clarinet, vocals and violin go directly from the B in the melody up to a Db, which is then held quite softly for a while. The pitch can be changed gradually, and we go into a tremolo after about thirty seconds.(?) The rest of the ensemble were told to enter with Clouds or Angles material. This material should be coordinated within the group, and have long pauses.
Again, no dynamics were indicated. I decided in the rehearsal that the drone should be played piano, so that the Clouds would mask it at times. The Angles material was discarded, to make the sound of the Clouds Li more homogenous. We also decided that the wind players should be led by Bjørnar, playing and pausing together with him, making phrases together. The same was done in the percussion group, but without a clear leader. This made the Li more structured and restrained, making phrases or blocks that turned out more or less the way i had envisioned them.
There was less change in the drone than I had anticipated, probably due to the fact that Ole Henrik was using a mute to get the violin to resonate around the Db frequency, and subsequently stayed around that pitch for most of the section.
In hindsight, I see this as the Li taking over the ”old” Gugak material and approaches in the ensemble: The textural Li clouds gradually overtaking the drone. The old music being washed out by the new.
(2) Trio Raymond, Lotte, David (3-4) min
The trio improvisation enters, and was influenced by the Clouds, as anticipated. In the middle it goes into a more open landscape, with lots of pauses, the end the guitar starts playing a more rhythmic figure. The improvisation ends with percussive punctuations by Raymond.
(3) AudioLi 1+Percussion trio
This section was substituted with section 4: Aggregation in rehearsal, because I felt the need for something relatively clear after the improvised trio in (2).
The basic idea of Aggregation is that one starts with something open, and gradually makes it more dense. In this version of the Li I have split the ensemble into three groups. The first, drums, bass, guitar and clarinet start playing the pattern. Then the next group enters : Violin, vibraphone and percussion. The last group enters next, and consists of vocals, flute and the two saxes. The whole process is repeated three times.
The text notation describes how to behave (gradually going from open to dense in groups). The translation happens in the musicians mind (her interpretation of the text), through listening/feedback when we rehearse, and the same in the concert situation.
Substituted with section 3: AudioLi 1+Percussion Trio
The trio starts improvising. I then start the AudioLi, creating a turning point in the improvisation. The percussion trio adapt.
Instruction in rehearsal: Play something reminiscent of the bass/guitar/violin line in Evolving Patterns 1 on the CD.
(6) Centers 2-material enters
The Centers material is a group of pitches organized in a circle.
This was supposed to be a more linear version of the material, where we finish each other’s lines. Not entirely successful, possibly because of the circular notation, which encourages vertical time.
(7) Sofia, OHM, David enter with improvisation
We decided not to have David play, as he had been playing a lot in the preceeding sections. The improvisation clearly contrasts the drony chords in the ”Centers 2” material, and Sofia and Ole Henrik made this choice in rehearsal.
(8) Sofia, OHM, David continues improvisation
David still lays off.
(9) Clouds tutti
Both behavioral and textural and indeterminate because of the high tempo. A tutti Clouds section. This sounds quite similar to the one on the ”Evolving Patterns” CD, recorded more than a year before. I find this quite interesting, as it may mean that this Li is either easy to remember, or the musicians have certain ways of playing this material that feel natural. It may also be because of its high tempo.
(10) Duo Martin/Raymond enter, coming out of clouds.
The duo comes out of the clouds, so to speak, with a disjointed, angular improvisation on sopranino sax and drums. They are listening and conversing with each other, but also responding to the preceding texture, and the preceding sections.
We decided to let the improvising trio wait, and come in after a little while. The different Li work well together, resulting in a varied, open landscape. This way of restricting people’s material has proven quite successful, I think. Everyone knows their assignments and possible referents, but they can still listen and make the materials fit and contribute to the overall sound and form of the music. The free improvisers are also influenced by the Li being played by the others, and can choose to contrast them or play along with them.
(2) AudioLi 2+Dag Erik/Martin
The only instruction here was to play along with the AudioLi. In rehearsal we also decided that vibes should join in at some point.
(3) Tutti enter with Centers 2. Note to noise.
Again the centers pitch circle enters, this time the instruction was to make it a bit more rhythmic, taking over the role of the AudioLi. I’m not sure it was successful, and it has a more held quality. Maybe this is because the note heads were whole notes?
Dag Erik plays a slow pulse on the bass drum, which we rehearsed in advance. We skipped note to noise here, which i think was a bad idea in hindsight.
(4) Sofia Solo
(5) The rest enter with Silence, spots, clouds, dunes, or follow sofia
Another Li-grouping, this time tutti under the soloist Sofia in stead of several groups. I tried to make it even more clear by limiting the amount of Li. I removed Clouds from the list of possibles, but I think removing one more of them would have been even better. It feels a bit unclear now, with too many choices to make.
(6) Breaking, two groups
This Li was simplified, removing the instruction to change your sound into a new one.
I also assigned a leader to each group. Percussion (Dag Erik) led group 1 and Emilio led group two, starting each sound.
There was also an instruction to make the gaps between sounds smaller and smaller, ending up in an almost continuous, changing sound.
The game of having to make a split second decision about how to imitate the sound of the leader gives a nice energy.
(7) AudioLi 3 + Ripples in strings/winds
This section was cued by me, just before the AudioLi started. An additional instruction to the drums to replace the AudioLi after a while was given
(8) Drums enter
(9) Sofia + OHM + Bjørnar enter with dunes, then improvisation.
The rest: Repetitive sequence of ripples -> dunes->silence
(10) Sofia, OHM, Bjørnar tacet
(11) Trio Raymond, David, Per improvisation
This trio was very open and slow. We began with pizzicato bass, but I can hear myself changing to arco very quickly, maybe due to the fact that guitar and drums changed into a quite noisy section very quickly. At a certain point, I think I hear Raymond pushing us to leave the form of phrases of similar length.
(12) The rest enter, flocking from low/mid to high register
This section was removed, and we went straight into Ole Henrik Moe solo.
(13) Solo Ole Henrik
(14) The rest enter with Flocking, following OHM
It was not easy to follow the violin, as he deliberately made extreme changes in dynamics, register and timbre. This might have been a good idea though, as it may have sounded too obvious if we were able to follow him completely. This way it sounds more interesting and multi-dimensional to me.
(15) Per solo+ gradual Li in the rest: Silence, Spots, Ripples, Center (follow)
I enter with long notes, consciously trying to contrast the tempo and intensity of the preceeding part. I was feeling some fatigue here, and struggling to go into a ”soloist” mindset.
(1) Sofia+Morten play an improvised version of their duo piece from Li 2 (Kongsberg). Per, David, OHM, Dag Erik enter after a while (Lines-material?)
This piece is played from memory, and is supposed to be a version of the duo from Li 2 (Kongsberg). The interesting thing is that this was last played some months before, and both Sofia and Morten had played a lot of different music since then, making it hard to remember, especially the clarinet part. (The vocals part is identical to the introduction of Li 3). Even if Sofia obviously remembers some of the vocal part, the word ”improvised” in the instructions seems to make her vary the melody, making her own interpretation of what she remembers more different from the original.
Morten’s playing seems to be more related to what Sofia does, not so much what he remembers. Before the concert he had remembered more than in rehearsal, but I told him to not think too much about it, but rather play more freely. The idea of playing something you barely remember is interesting to me, and I think it adds a very different approach, very much in the field between something predetermined and improvised. The old melody becomes a referent, in a way that changes the focus.
(2) The rest enter with Dunes/Waves/Silence. The others join in.
I left Dunes in because I wanted a more complex, layered sound. However, it could have been even more extreme dynamically. I hear the spectral music influence on our improvisation here, and some of the chords remind me of the notated spectral chords in Li 2 (KB).
This is either because people remember them or because they hear something similar to what we have done before. Maybe they also make the same choices when they are reacting to what the others do, resulting in a chain reaction, which in turns yields similar results as earlier improvisations/spectral pitch pieces
(3) Trio Dag Erik, Bjørnar, Emilio improvisation 3 min.
Expressive. More Gugak sounding than anything I would have written.
(4) Quartet Lotte, Per, Raymond, David. Improvised.
We start out softly, due to the violent ending of the previous section, but quite quickly move to a higher dynamic level. This is the closest we get to the sound of ”free jazz” in this piece, with high energy, a loud sax, pizzicato bass and ride cymbal, but it’s constantly broken up and changed.
(5) The rest join with Crystallization.
The rest of the ensemble enter, with chaotic, fluid, moving contributions, which are then turned into a held, fairly static chord.
(6) Angles tutti. Note to noise.
On my cue, we go into the Angles material. The sound changes from fairly clear pitches (Note) to noise in the ensemble.
(7) Various Li on cue. Groups of two and two. Back and forth between Li and free improvisation or silence.
On my cue we go into this section, where two and two musicians focus on one Li. There is also the option to improvise.
I start a low bass note to signal that we are moving into (8), Mass.
(8) Tutti: Mass or Clouds
The idea here is a static mass of sound. You also have the option to play Clouds material.
It sounds more extatic than static, maybe.
(9) AudioLi 4
Tacet, then follow the electronics, using Centers 2-pitches, quotes from the start or free pitches. 4 min, make ending.
The first piece for large ensemble (Earwaves 2014) starts with this group of pitches and the last concert (Earwaves 2017) ends with them, going full circle.
It sounds like the musicians are a little afraid to play here, maybe the AudioLi should have been a bit higher in volume. The Audioli is a recording of five of the musicians playing the Li centers 2 in advance. The recording has been altered electronically by me, using ring modulation.
This section illustrates how the form being composed differs from an improvised form: The instruction is to play for the whole duration of four minutes. If we were to improvise the section, I don’t think we would choose to keep playing for that long, but rather end after a minute or two. This four minute coda would seem unnecessarily long to me if we were improvising. I might still be, but at least we feel like there is a reason to do it. We also have a common experience of what his feels like, which might allow us to use the same device in an improvised way at a later point.