MICROFEST 2001 CONFERENCE

CONCERT 4

Saturday, April 7, 2001 8:00 PM
Lyman Hall
Thatcher Music Building
Corner of Fourth and College
Pomona College
Claremont CA


-- P R O G R A M --

Two LullabyesGeorge Zelenz
I. Sentimental Trifurcations ( for Ariel Mira West )
II. The World is not mystical, that the world is, is the mystical (for Finn Domingoe West )

mind is moving (I)Michael Pisaro
GuitarMichael Pisaro

Fibonacci Suite for retuned piano, seven hands [*world premiere]David Canright
Piano (Primo)Bruce Brode
Piano (Secondo)Rick Tagawa
Piano (Terzo)Steve Lockwood
Piano (Quarto)Brian Vessa
1. Canon (quasicrystal)
2. Fantasy (bird calls)
3. Fugue (redder)

-- I N T E R M I S S I O N --

Custer and Sitting Bull
a musical document for voice and electronics
Kyle Gann

George Zelenz was born in 1968 in San Diego, California. Besides being a composer, he is also an architect and builder, a fine woodworker, painter, and poet. Although self-taught as a composer, his work has been informed from friendships with the composer Lou Harrison, and the intonation polymath Ervin M. Wilson. Recent performances include the premiere of X, only better by the New York ensemble Essential Music at Dartmouth College, with repeat performances at the 2000 Spoleto festival in Charleston S.C. and concerts in New York and Japan. His music has appeared often in national radio, and television broadcasts. He most recently scored music for the award winning PBS documentary about international glass artist Dale Chihuly, entitled "Chihuly over Jerusalem." Zelenz has performed, and lectured widely, including New Music Research Day at P.A.S.I.C. 97 and a "Music & Architecture" series of lectures at SCI-ARC.

mind is moving (I) is the first of a series of eight pieces for various instruments, each of which is based in some on the way on the overtone series. The works can be played (as in this performance) as solo pieces, or in simultaneous or alternating combinations. I am fascinated by the concept of the vanishing point; the point (often represented in sketches as a horizontal line near the center of the sheet of paper) from which all the objects in the foreground originate and to which these objects recede. The vanishing point defines the limit of what the work will view, and the point beyond which nothing can be seen. In mind is moving (I) states of sound and "silence" point to the actual silence, which, as John Cage observed, does not exist in human experience. The sound elements of the piece represent many different gradations of softness, with some of them audible only to the performer. In addition there are degrees of silence: breaks between sound, sections where no intentional sound is to occur and larger pauses between sections. The effect is hopefully one of bringing the vanishing point, the point at which all sound is finally released to silence, into varying degrees of focus over the course of the work.

The pitch realm is also one of many gradations. All plucked notes with the exception of one stopped or fretted note per section, are either open strings or natural harmonics(with the 17th partial as the limit on the wound strings and the 13th as the limit on the unwound strings). Higher harmonic may also be related to the concept of the vanishing point, as the sound has a tendency to disintegrate, becoming more unstable and harder to distinguish as the higher partials are reached. These partials and their relationship to the open strings (microtonally altered) create myriad tiny distinctions of intervals, beat patterns and noise/tone combinations. Once again the realm of pitch points to the region of the unheard or might be heard, as small distinctions move beyond our grasp.

In attempting to conceive of the unity between music and silence I call to mind the following Zen Koan (taken from The Gateless Gate):
Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: "The flag is moving."
The other said: "The wind is moving."
The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them: "Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."

A note on the tuning:
The guitar's open strings are tuned to overtones of the fundamental E (the lowest string):
Sixth string: E1 (fundamental)
Fifth string: A1+ (Transposed eleventh partial)
Fourth string: D7 (transposed seventh partial)
Third string: F# (transposed ninth partial)
Second string: B (third partial)
Firths string: F17 (transposed seventeenth partial)

Michael Pisaro was born in Buffalo in 1961. His main compositional studies were with Geage Flynn, Alan Stout and Ben Johnson. His music has been selected by the ISCM jury for performance on two World Music Days festivals (Copenhagen, 1996; Manchester,1998) and has also been part of festivals in Hong Kong (ICMC 1998), Vienna (Wein Modern, 1997), Aspen (1991), and Chicago (New Music Chicago, 1990, 1991). He has had extended composer residencies in Germany (Kustlerhof Schreyahn), Switzerland (Forumclaque/Baden), Israel (Miskenot Sha'ananmim), Greece (EarTalk) and in the US (Birch Creek Music Festival/Wisconsin). Concerts devoted to his music have been given in Munich, Jerusalen, Brussels, Curitiba (Brazil), Berlin, Chicago, Dusseldorf, Zunich, Cologne, Aarau, and elsewhere. Most of his work of the last eight years is published by Timescaper Music (Germany). Two CDs of his work have been released by Edition Wandelweiser Records. He taught at Northwestern University from 1986 to 2000 and has recently joined the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts.

Fibonacci Suite. Leonardo Fibonacci was a twelfth-century Italian mathematician, on of whose discoveries was the sequence of numbers that shows up in a patterns of nature (such as plant forms), probability, and other surprising places. The Fibonacci sequence begins: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, ...where, after the beginning, each number is the sum of the previous two (e.g., 13 = 5 + 8). The ratios of successive Fibonacci numbers approach the "Golden Mean" (1.6180339887...), considered by many throughout history as the most esthetic proportion (it appears in the design of the Parthenon). The three movements of "Fibonacci Suite" each utilize rhythms and forms based on Fibonacci numbers.

The form of the "Canon (quasicrystal)" was inspired by Indonesian gamelan music, which is built of layers of rhythms, where melodic motion in one layer is twice as fast as the layer below (and half as fast as the layer above). The Canon has seven layers, on in each octave of the piano. Each layer plays the same melody of long and short notes, with durations based on successive Fibonacci numbers, with lower levels using larger Fibonacci pairs. So the top voice plays in ones and twos, the next in twos and threes, etc., in such a way that lower voices always line up with upper voices. The basic 21-note melody repeats, in whole or in (13-note) part, forward or backward, as required by the alignment pattern. The dynamics vary to bring out the various layers and their relations. A recently discovered form of matter, called quasicrystal, has atoms arranged with spacings that are not strictly repeating but instead alternate long & short, with the same pattern as in the Canon.

The "Fantasy (bird calls)" consists of phrases, each with a descending (or ascending) line and a repeating note, inspired by a haunting bird call. Each phrase part has notes of a constant Fibonacci duration (some Fibonacci number of them), so this movement features the resulting cross-rhythms (e.g., three quarter notes versus two dotted quarter notes). Each total phrase duration is also a Fibonacci number, and the whole movement is the length of the slowest phrase.

The "Fugue (redder)" treats the Fibonacci numbers sequentially rather than simultaneously as in the previous two movements. (This same approach was used in an earlier work, "Rosier Sands," for Partch instruments.) In each section, each voice consists of simple phrases (often single notes) of successive Fibonacci durations, hence it gets slow quickly. Each later voice enters such that at some point two phrases of the later voice fit into one phrase of the earlier voice (based on the Fibonacci property that each number is the sum of the previous two). This same idea also appears in reverse, where voices speed up and drop out. The sections, punctuated by percussive sounds, are themselves of successive Fibonacci lengths, until the middle, when the pattern reverses. Hence the overall form of the movement is a palindrome.

The tuning uses just intonation, based on the harmonic series of overtones of an ideal string. (The overtones of piano strings go progressively sharp of the harmonic series, due to string stiffness.) Standard Western harmony utilizes (or approximates) intervals up to the sixth harmonic. This tuning extends to the seventh harmonic, and so includes some nonstandard ("bluesy") intervals. (The frequency ratios are 1/1, 28/27, 9/8, 7/6, 5/4, 4/3, 45/32, 3/2, 14/9, 5/3, 7/4, 15/8.)

David Canright is a mathematics professor and self-taught musician. He first became interested in just intonation through a copy of Lou Harrison's Music Primer, and later through Genesis of a Music by Harry Partch. He has refretted two guitars to just intonation, and has composed for guitar, the Partch ensemble, and jazz-rock band. His interests include the mystery of musical affect, hunting wild mushrooms, and rock climbing.

Bruce Brode is an accomplished performer on both piano and French horn. He has played in a wide variety of ensembles, stretching stylistically from historical European concert music and music for wind ensembles to jazz, blues, and rock. He studied music and composition at UCLA and has composed several works. His musical interests include all types of music, including American folk music, music from other cultures around the world, etc.

Rick Tagawa studied composition with Elliot Carter and Luciano Berio at the Juilliard School and later did graduate studies in ethnomusicology at UCLA. It was there that he developed an interest in Ugandan traditional music with its sophisticated use of a 5-tone quasi-equal temperament. (In this music the seconds can vary from 190 to 279 cents over a 3 1/2-octave xylophone.) He has published a composition for percussion and has numerous other works to his credit, including a large-scale work for orchestra using Kiganda musical techniques and 72-tone equal temperament. His interests include the intonational nuances in American popular music, Indian music, and other musics.

Steve Lockwood is a classically trained jazz musician. He finished his conservatory training at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory as a piano performance major in 1971. He formed his own group in Minneapolis, where, in 1974, he met and performed with theater director, vocalist, and composer Meredith Monk. He moved to New York in 1976 to perform with her and her group and his own. With her group, he played major theater venues in New York, Europe, and Japan, and appears on three of Meredith's recordings for ECM records: Dolmen Music, Turtle Dreams, and Atlas: An Opera in Three Acts. With his own, he recorded and toured the East Coast and Europe. He was solo accompanist for Meredith during the sacred music festival at the Getty Museum in October 1999. He has been a fixture in the Los Angeles new music/jazz scene for ten years. He will release a new CD with his ensemble this year, and is happy to perform Samuel Barber's Excursions for piano with the San Pedro City Ballet.

Brian Vessa is a drummer, keyboard player, and composer, largely self-taught, with experience in jazz, rock, blues, and other styles. He is a professional audio engineer with decades of experience, and is currently producing a CD of original works with his band. His musical interests are broad and include the harmonies of just intonation. His other interests include home brewing; his brews with Mr. Brode have won numerous medals.

Custer and Sitting Bull, for voice and electronic background, is a musical document of two male egos, taken as symbolic of the tragic clash of two cultures.  My aim was to juxtapose statements each made throughout his career, many of them mutually self-contradictory; the complexity of their personalities thus precluding a simple or unequivocal response.  At greatest issue, of course, is the alleged guilt of George Armstrong Custer: once a hero to many generations of American schoolboys, more recently a scapegoat for everything considered culpable about the white male.

The text to "Custer: If I Were an Indian..." is mostly taken from Custer's autobiographical My Life on the Plains, which was first published serially, starting in May 1872, in a belles lettres magazine called The Galaxy (which later merged with The Atlantic).  The middle part of the movement evokes the 1868 "battle" of the Washita, in which Custer claimed to have killed 103 Cheyenne warriors; what he actually achieved was to kill 11 warriors and massacre 92 women, children, and old men.  The band stormed in at daybreak playing Custer's favorite tune "Garry Owen," quoted here.  The last section, beginning with a litany of military crimes Custer didn't commit, is taken from Custer's written defense at his 1867 court-martial.  The final words -- "Judge me not by what is known now, but in the light of what I knew when these events transpired" -- serve as a defense for Custer's entire life, and perhaps by extension as an epitaph for the white male in general, of which he is so archetypal a symbol.

Custer's ambivalence is nicely matched by that of his enemy Sitting Bull, whose recorded statements make up the text for "Sitting Bull: Do You Know Who I Am?"  This movement contrasts statements that Sitting Bull made in various parts of his life -- from newspaper interviews, speeches, songs, and transcripts of negotiations with American military authorities - and is based on a song attributed to Sitting Bull and written down second-hand after his death.

"Sun Dance / Battle of the Greasy Grass River" depicts the fateful encounter of the two men, the Battle of the Little Bighorn (called the Greasy Grass River by the Sioux) -- the greatest military victory the Indians were ever to enjoy over the American army.  Before the battle, Sitting Bull performed a sun dance, cutting notches of flesh in his arms and legs and letting the blood run down until he had a vision.  The vision he had was of white cavalry and soldiers falling down, as a voice said, "I give you these because they have no ears."  The Sun Dance uses motives from a war song recorded from Isna'la-wica', or Lone Man, a Teton Sioux who had participated in two sun dances and who fought with Sitting Bull at the Little Bighorn.  The rhythms of the battle scene are based on the text of the frantic note that Custer dictated to his aide during the battle, his last words to posterity: "Come on, big village.  Be quick.  Bring packs. P.S. Bring pacs [sic]."

According to a Lakota Sioux tradition, Sitting Bull visited the battlefield after the battle, where the ghost of George Armstrong Custer appeared to him.  "Custer to Sitting Bull" is a setting of the alleged text of Custer's posthumous speech, taken from an old astrology book by psychic Martin Schulman, who claimed to have channeled it from the spirit of Sitting Bull.

The music of Custer and Sitting Bull is entirely microtonal, in the pure system of tuning known as just intonation. "Custer: If I Were an Indian..." uses a scale of 20 pitches, actually made up of two pairs of major-minor scales 257 cents apart.  In short, there are two tonalities related more or less by quarter-tones.  Where Custer rationally contrasts Indian and White cultures, the music flows smoothly between the scales.  Where Custer retreats into a narrow, White man's vision of life, only one of the scales is used.  And where he indulges in hypocrisy and dissembling, the two scales combine, contradict, and sour each other.  "Sitting Bull: Do You Know Who I Am?" weaves nuances around Sitting Bull's quoted song in a 22-note-to-the-octave mode. The third movement uses a complex scale of 30 pitches; 22 are used in the Sun Dance, capitalizing on various dissonances between the perfect fourth and perfect fifth, including the "wolf fifth" that European music spent centuries avoiding; the other eight, outlining a tonality a tritone away, come in during the Battle to depict the attacking cavalry.  "Custer's Ghost to Sitting Bull" is set in a more consonant 31-pitch scale over a drone, meant to allow a sighing motion like that of the wind.

Custer and Sitting Bull is dedicated to my teacher Ben Johnston, who taught me to tune correctly.

Kyle Gann, composer, was born 1955 in Dallas, Texas.  He has been assistant professor of music at Bard College since 1997 and new-music critic for the Village Voice since 1986.  He is the author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and American Music in the 20th Century (Schirmer Books, 1997); he has also written scholarly articles on John Cage, La Monte Young, Henry Cowell, Mikel Rouse, and other American composers.  A collection of his Village Voice columns, It's Only As Good As It Sounds, will appear in 2001 (University of California Press). Gann studied composition with Ben Johnston, Morton Feldman, and Peter Gena, and obtained a B. Mus. (1977) from Oberlin College and an M. Mus. (1981) and D. Mus (1983) from Northwestern University.

Gann's music is often microtonal, using up to 37 pitches per octave, and his rhythmic language, based on contrasting tempos both in quick succession and at the same time, was developed from study of Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo Indian musics.  His works have been performed on the New Music America, Bang on a Can, and Spoleto festivals, and across Europe.  He received a 1994 commission from Music in Motion for his Astrological Studies, and in 1996-97 a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artists' Fellowship.  His music is recorded on the Lovely Music, New Tone, and Monroe Street labels.


For more information about this concert and MicroFest 2001 conference, call (909)607-4170 or email alves@hmc.edu

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