Monday, July 28, 2008

Repost: "The Orange Blossom Special" - 10m38s

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Recorded on June 11th, 2008, at Magic Closet Studios, in Portland, OR.

A note from the artist.

Hello all. I can be forgetful. I can be so forgetful, in fact, that in taking a short break after playing three improvs inspired by paintings, I can forget my initial goal and sit down at the keyboard with an empty head. So, the session is not completed, but there are no more paintings to be seen.
I do think that the artwork idea is an interesting one, and for my next session, I will try to adhere to it, but in the meantime I've got three more pieces to post – three uninspired (in only one sense, I hope!) pieces.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Repost: 11 June 2008, #3a. Thiebaud - 2m01s; and 3b. "Nighthawks" - 5m58s

The bad links have been fixed; you should be able to listen to these pieces now. Sorry for the inconvenience!

The next artist I wanted to try was Wayne Thiebaud. He is one of my favorite painters. He is famous for his cakes and candies, but I like his landscapes, especially his cityscapes. The problem was that I did not have the image of a specific painting in my head, only the style he works in. Here is one of his cityscapes, "Hill Street (Day City)" that is similar to what I was imagining (click on it to enlarge):

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Recorded on June 11th, 2008, at Magic Closet Studios, in Portland, OR.

As you can hear, this piece never goes anywhere. I was not satisfied with where I was getting, and when my left hand started walking without me into a blues, it tripped and, well, I put an end to that right there.

I should have realized that using such a hazy, unspecific image in my head would not work, but I didn't, so (after a little shake out and sip of water) I tried again, with a different, more melancholy tack.

download (option-click for Mac users, right-click and save for PC users)
Recorded on June 11th, 2008, at Magic Closet Studios, in Portland, OR.

I was not far into this new improv when I realized that I was no longer imagining a Wayne Thiebaud painting. Instead, a different painting had crept into my head, one which I could see specifically: Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks." Here is the painting (click to enlarge):

The melancholy of this piece did not fit the sunny Thiebaud style at all, and latched onto another urban American painting with a more personal gloom. Strange how the subconscious works, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

11 June 2008, #2. "IKB 191" - 6m14s

For my second painting, I chose Yves Klein's indelible "IKB 191." That's actually a fib. I chose International Klein Blue, and "IKB 191" is one of a number of monochromatic paintings Klein made with that color. Here is the painting:

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Recorded on June 11th, 2008, at Magic Closet Studios, in Portland, OR.

There is a physiological/psychological phenomenon called synesthesia that affects a great deal of people. Synesthesia is defined as the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. Different people experience it in different ways - for some, it means associating different words or letters with different colors ("Tuesday seems rather bluish!"). Some people will see colors and imagine them having particular textures. It's not just imagination, either; the person will actually feel the color, or smell it. It is a fascinating condition, and I recommend that you read more about it.

So, without listening to it, I bet you can guess that this piece will be the most synesthetic by far of my painting improvs. While for "Christina's World," I mainly used the image as a launching pad, a font of inspiration, with "IKB 191" I grabbed on to the bright blue idea, and kept it in the forefront of my mind. Now, I am not a synesthete, so this piece is not a transcription of what I heard as I imagined the painting. But I did my best to translate the viewing experience into music, and throughout the entire piece I tried to play the painting, play the blue.

Still, there seems to be an arc, a dramatic line to the piece; I'm sure it is harder to avoid in a time-based art. (I suppose I could have just played a big, fat B flat major chord.) After all, it needs to start, and it needs to finish. "IKB 191" (the painting) is dazzling and upfront, but it doesn't feel abrupt to me. So maybe the music fits after all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

June 11th session - Paintings!

Hello, and welcome to a new session of Permutations of 88. With this session, I tried a few new things. First of all, I went in to a recording studio - The Magic Closet, in Portland. That provided challenges in itself: I had to schedule my inspiration, then wait for mics to be set up, levels to be taken. Though I was playing in a room by myself, there was an engineer sitting (listening!) not fifteen feet away.

The second thing I tried was manufacturing inspiration. A friend had suggested that, in order to engage the listener (you!) more, I might try pairing each pieces with an image, perhaps a piece of visual art. I didn't want to do so after the recording was done, for that feels artificial to me (in the same way that I don't give titles based on the feel of the piece). So my friend suggested using paintings as inspiration. I was resistant to the idea, preferring to let the pieces burble up of their own volition. However, when it came time to record this session, I was not feeling inspired. So I dusted off the paintings idea in my mind and sat down to play.

I did not have actual images in front of me, only in my mind's eye, so I had to choose paintings I am quite familiar with. This process wasn't perfect – it was easy to forget what I was supposed to be imagining as the music would carry me away. But it did give me a bit of a foundation for each piece — a jumping-off point.

So for these next few improvs, I will give you the painting to look at while you listen to my music. Let me know if it is more or less engaging, and any other interesting effects you may experience. I am also curious if you notice a marked improvement in sound quality with these new "studio" recordings, as opposed to my previous lo-fi ones. Please keep me informed so that I can continue to make improvements to this blog and podcast.


11 June 2008, #1. "Christina's World" - 11m49s

For my first attempt, I envisioned the famous Andrew Wyeth painting Christina's World. I know this painting well, so it wasn't difficult.

Here is the painting (click on it to open up a larger version in another window).

download (option-click for Mac users, right-click and save for PC users)
Recorded on June 11th, 2008, at Magic Closet Studios, in Portland, OR.

The piece starts delicately, which seems appropriate, but I am surprised at how strong it gets at 1:49. It becomes so vibrant and vital. The tune at 1:49 (which I absolutely love) sounds very American, very New Englandy. It becomes delicate again, and swirls into a minor contemplation. Suddenly at 3:32 it begins swinging, picking up steam. The left hand falls into a repeated descending line (6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 in F# minor), and the right hand flashes rhythmically above it before they die together.

At 4:32 there is a fundamental change, a modulation from B major to E flat minor. The tone becomes much darker and more ominous, much more rhythmically steady. The left hand begins an ostinato that lasts for practically the rest of piece. The right hand continues on violently through the ninth minute before it settles down and, in the tenth, delicately becomes E flat major, slowly dragging the left hand to a stop.

P.S. I hear in this piece at least three direct references to other pieces of music: "El Condor Pasa," by Simon and Garfunkel; "Take Five," by Dave Brubeck; and the theme from The Terminator, by Brad Fiedel. Do you hear them? Any others?

P.P.S. The score for The Terminator (as well as for its sequel) is brilliant, one of my favorite original film scores of the last 25 years.