Violin Concerto No.1 ‘1914’

I’m writing this blog in Istanbul airport, on the way back to London after two days of very promising rehearsals with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, conducted by the extremely dynamic Sascha Goetzel. As ever I am posting these notes just the day before the world premier of the Concerto… It’s been such a nonstop busy period of Orchestral composing over the last hie months or so, that it’s only now that things are finally winding down (with the composing of my last big project of the summer, a collaboration with brilliant choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh and Rambert Dance company, just coming to an end last week).

The first discussions of this Violin Concerto began two years ago when I met Daniel Hope in Berlin at the recording session for ‘Spheres‘ (which I composed for his recent album of the same name). Spheres had originally been the second movement of a sketch for an incomplete Violin Concerto I had started the year before, and when Daniel heard this he said that he would love to perform the completed the Concerto, he even joked that seeing as he had recently been performing my grandfather, Sergei Prokofiev’s 2nd Violin Concerto, this would be ‘Prokofiev 3′ (no pressure!). Nearly a year later Daniel emailed me with the exciting news that there was a chance that the BBC Proms and Luxembourg Philharmonie would commission the new Concerto to be premiered in 2014. As these premiers would be in the centenary year of the out-break of the first world war, Daniel suggested that the concerto could commemorate the Great War. I had recently read how many visual artists who had survived the war found it very hard to create after such a devastating experience and particularly struggled to depict it artistically, so I wasn’t immediately sure about the idea of composing a ‘war concerto’. However, I have always been very interested in WW1; studying the war-poets and also acting in Oh What A Lovely War as a teenager had a big effect on me, and more recently I had been really stuck by Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ Trilogy. I then had the idea that the concerto could be about the broader events of the year 1914, not just the devastation of the war, but the time leading up to it, the optimism as well as the devastation… This led to the loosely chronological approach that I’ve taken for this Concerto, but it also meant that the previous Concerto sketch that I had was no longer suitable and this concerto should be completely new.

The ‘1914’ theme would also allow me to explore the dramatic and personal aspects that I think are inherent in the Classical Concerto form. The soloist (facing the audience) gives a concerto a strong personal connection with the audience; add to this the multitude of timbres and characters that are present in the orchestra, and the concerto seems to be an ideal vehicle for creating a dramatic work with many different characters, emotions, and images.

A ‘Programmatic’ or ‘Cinematic’ Concerto?

So, the concerto is subtitled ‘1914’ – but as I said it is not a ‘war concerto’ – rather it tells the story of the events and a wide range of characters of 1914. The concerto looks backs to 1914 in different ways, sometimes stepping back in time quite authentically with clear use of musical styles of the time (almost like a costume-drama), but other times observing events from a distance, aware of the bigger-picture, or going deeper into personal emotions in a more abstract way – to the point of losing obvious historical placement.

I’m not sure if this concerto is ‘programmatic‘ in 19th century way, I’m tempted to call it ‘post-cinematic’. The perspective often changes, from more personal views & individual characters to wider historic & political aspects – often quite quickly – like fast edits in a film (but edits that would not necessarily work in film). Daniel Hope on Solo Violin plays many characters, and different sections of the orchestra join him in painting a range of scenes and thoughts from various perspectives; moving from very personal close-ups, then zooming out to much wider global over-views.

In fact, I think Orchestral composition allows us to illustrate historical events and human experiences in quite a different and often more fluid way than cinema or literature, and though my approach has certainly been inspired by growing up in a culture heavily influence by cinema, I’ve been able to play with perspective and emotion in a way that is unique to music.

Influences & Objective approach to WW1

Also, it’s important to note that though my personal education growing up in the UK gives me the British perspective on WW1, I worked hard to make the piece have a more objective view-point, and I think I have drawn a picture of 1914 that doesn’t take sides and illustrates the suffering of both camps. Just before I started composing I read Joseph Roth’s ‘Radetzky March’ which gives a brilliant insight the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and this was a big influence.

Form of the Concerto

The concerto has 4 movements:

I  Andante (introduction) – Marcia Triofante – Meccanico aggressivo – Furioso
(Last March of The Old Times)

II  Maestoso – Punto morto – Preoccupato
(The Cavalry ride again – Stalemate)

III  Lento – Mesto Riflessivo – Terrificante -Caotico
(The trenches at night)

IV  Andante Nauseato – Allucinante – Adagio Luminoso
(Shell-shocked)

The first two movements have clearer references to older musical voices of the period, but with the monster of modern warfare gradually rising as a more contemporary, mechanical sound starts to dominate. The last two movements focus more on the experiences of the individual soldiers, and in particular the desolation of trench warfare. On a broader level, the concerto also charts the end of the ‘old world’ and the inevitable rise of the ‘modern world’, and over the whole work, it increasingly moves into more and more contemporary sound-world.

Ideas behind each movement

I’ve been questioning how much detail a listener should know before listening to a ‘programmatic’-type work like this… Knowing the title of the work is important, and also the titles of each movement give helpful directions to the listener, but after that I’m keen on the listener finding their own meanings, images and stories in the music. However, a lot of listeners really like to have more details behind the music. So below are some ‘pointers’ for images and themes in each movement:

I
Introduction: a prayer, evocation – from the Solo Violin over a shimmering, whispering texture of distant voices from the orchestra. A moment to set the scene, rewind back 100 years to that unprecedented ‘Great War’

Andante Marziale: The last March of the ‘Old Times’
Images of Cheerful optimism & nationalism of 1914, and the out-dated 19th century attitudes of the ruling Generals, Kings, Kaisers, Tsars that still dominated in 1914. But the unescapable rise of industry and the modern age is disrupting the status quo, cracks are showing, the old-marches are interrupted, frustrated, and ultimately mechanicism dominates. The movement ends with panic & excitement over the reality & fear of war, and includes panicky trio between 3 solo Violins: Daniel Hope + the leaders of 1st & 2nd Violins.

II
The last Cavalry Charge:
Inspired by the disastrous French Cavalry charges of the Battle of Frontiers (22nd August 1914), that started with patriotic excitement and ended with complete obliteration of the French Cavalry (some of whom who were actually dressed in Napoleonic, brightly coloured uniforms) by Modern Machine-guns & Shells. This battle epitomises, in the most explicit way, the end of an era, in particular that calvary had been the dominant force in all European battles – but never again.
Stale-Mate:
Both sides are forced into stale-mate as trench-warfare emerges, every offensive is met with a blockade.
Then – a moment aside, with an ‘indifferent’ Violin solo that reflects the continuing naivety some of the generals (e.g. Tsar of Russia, Austrian Emperor)

III
The Trench at Night:
The numbing existence of trench warfare, the long sleepless hours waiting… The soldier exhausted, hoping for an end, dreaming of home, family and lost friends – rising to an emotional climax in the middle.
The Battle will not stop:
The heavy march of war returns, the inevitable & inexorable mechanisms of modern warfare will not stop, and ends in a chaotic battle.

IV
Shell-shock:
The soldiers are mentally damaged – shell-shocked.
The release:
Death, injury or madness becomes a welcome fate as the young soldier is finally released from the pain.

 

Further notes on musical features:

- Regular, predictable, safe, duple, march metres of the old times = All easy 2s & 4s. The new world pushes against this with 5s & 10s (the metric world crushing the old imperial system).
– ‘Poly-stylistic’ approach to paint 1914 from a range of perspectives: References to popular march rhythms & idioms of the period. + References to modernism (the emerging new direction). + Less traditional harmonies and textures symbolising the modern world & contemporary society that developed after WW1.
– The impending rise of the modern age: insistent driving percussion. The ‘unnatural’ noises and non-diatonic harmonies of modern warfare & industry,
– The stillness, the waiting of trench-warfare; moments of harmonic stasis in the orchestra – with the Solo Violin searching, the individual hopes, emotions.

 

PERFORMANCES:

// 29 July 2014 //
G Prokofiev Violin Concerto No1 ’1914′ (world premier)
Violin: Daniel Hope // Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic / Conductor: Sascha Goetzel
6:30pm @ BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London.
http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/bbc-proms/prom16/default.aspx

The concert will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 at 6:30pm 29 July (available worldwide on BBC iplayer).
Televised on: BBC Four TV on Sunday 31 August

// 13 Sept 2014 //
G Prokofiev Violin Concerto No1 ’1914′
Violin: Daniel Hope // State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia / Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski
Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, Moscow
info/tickets

// 15 Sept // Tyumen, Central Russia
// 16 Sept – Chelyabinsk, Central Russia

// 22 October 2014 //
G Prokofiev Violin Concerto No1 ’1914′
Violin: Daniel Hope // Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg / Conductor: Sascha Goetzel
Salle de Concerts Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte, Luxembourg
http://www.philharmonie.lu/en/programm/war-and-pieces/438

Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot

I’ve just woken up in Seattle – in complete daze – having been working nonstop for the last 25 hours finishing the editing of the score & parts for my new Violin Concerto (premiering in 2 months) – which along with the 8 hour time difference makes this coming Friday’s world premier concert with Seattle Symphony feel even more unreal….

Background

About a year and a half ago Seattle Symphony invited me to compose a new orchestral piece inspired one of the musical icons of Seattle, as part of their Sonic Evolutions program. The artist that I found most interesting and exciting on their list was hip-hop legend Sir-Mix-A-Lot.

I have got a long-standing relationship with hip-hop, having produced over 50 hip-hop tracks (or at least, UK sub-genres of hip-hop: like Grime & Garage) in my previous life as a hip-hop/electronic producer, plus I’ve been a big fan of hip-hop & related genres ever since I was a kid.

So, the chance to compose an orchestral piece that is explicitly inspired by a hip-hop icon, was naturally very interesting to me, but, as is always the case with this kind of cross-genre project – quite dangerous, with the potential of being an embarrassing ‘cross-over’ rail-crash between two musical worlds. But I think these risks need to be taken; many musical innovations have been made in hip-hop music that can bring new energy, sounds and rhythm to the classical world. But it would essential that I was continuously critical of what I composed and make sure that the piece was had musical integrity. Fortunately, my past life of programming beats and making dirty bass-sounds, is still embedded in my musical mind, so I hoped that doing a more openly hip-hop inspired piece would still result in a natural and honest piece of music, and lements of hip-hop and related genres have already appeared in many works of mine (e.g. Jerk Driver from Cello Multitracks, 3rd movement of Concerto for Turntables), and that has always happened in a very natural way.

sirmixalot-b&w

Sir Mix-A-Lot

Fortunately when I was in Seattle back in October 2012, (when Seattle Symphony were performing my Concerto for Turntables), I had the chance to meet Sir-Mix-A-Lot in person. He was really one of the softest spoken rappers I had ever met, a real gentleman and really passionate about all aspects of music. Though he is best know for his mega-hit Baby Got Back (which over the years has practically become a cultural institution in the USA, even featuring on the TV program ‘Friends’…), his biggest passion is working in the studio as a producer (hence his moniker ‘mix a lot’) and the success of Baby Got Back has often meant that his impressive contribution to production and musical history of hip-hop doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Unlike many of his contemporaries one of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s main influences is Electronic Music, and he is quoted as saying that it was watching a performance by German Electronic act Kraftwerk that first inspired him to make music. This interest in Electro gives Sir Mix-A-Lot’s music a tougher, more minimal, and metronomic feel, and makes him stand out from a lot of other 90s hip-hop which tends to retain a more of a funk & sample based sound.

In fact Mix-A-Lot personally programs all his beats with a Roland 808 drum-machine, rather than sample James Brown drum breaks. And it is his relentless, detail-laden beats which make him so unique, and give his music that colder, starker feel which perhaps reflects his Seattle roots. He also pioneered an unusual approach to sampling by actually reprogramming the microchips of the DMX drum machine with new 8 bit samples he had made himself, giving his productions a very unique sound.

Seattle-Symphony-Performance

Compositional Approach

So my aim with this new Sir-Mix-A-Lot inspired Orchestral work was to really get inside the musical mind of Sir Mix-A-Lot; to understand how his rhythms, textures, sounds and harmonies worked, and to create a contemporary orchestral composition that was true to the music of Sir-Mix-A-Lot. My aim was to make an orchestral fantasy that evolved out of the wildest musical elements of Sir Mix-A-Lot, and took all the central elements of his music into a contemporary classical orchestral setting.

The first step for achieving this was to deconstruct several of his tracks and get inside the inner workings of his beats and his raps. The next step was to actually orchestrally recreate two of his tracks: Posse On Broadway and Baby Got Back. I made these orchestrations as faithful to Mix-A-Lot’s original electronic arrangements as possible, and therefore I had to build an orchestral pallet that created the same sound pallet as Sir Mix-A-Lot and I became very familiar with many of his rhythmic patterns.

And these two Orchestrations will be performed with Sir Mix-A-Lot rapping live with Seattle Symphony this Friday (6th June 2014) in Benoroya Hall.

To recreate Mix-A-Lot’s ground-breaking range of sounds, I’ve had to ask the orchestra to use some unusual playing techniques and use several customised percussion instruments, including an acoustic ‘Scratcher’ (made by scratching a credit card against a metal guiro), a ‘jackdaw’ (a friction drum that creates a frog like noise), bunches of bamboo cracking agains the sides of drums, and various drums laden with chains and cymbals to create distorted drum and clap effects.

Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot

- The new ‘Sonic Evolutions’ orchestral piece, commissioned by Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot.

This work moves through five sections, and explores several aspects of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s music and lyrical character.

It opens with a declamatory introduction, with big orchestral outbursts inspired by the rhythms of some of his most famous lines of rap performed orchestrally. For example, from Posse On Broadway, there is “I’m the man they love to hate, the J.R. Ewing of Seattle”, Then his infamous line: “I Love Big Butts” (from Baby Got Back, also the source of the title ‘Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot’ ) - which becomes a central motif in the work, at times becoming an insistent haunting call (which I’m sure it sometimes feels to Sir-Mix-A-Lot).

Then a dark, syncopated dance-rhythm enters, inspired by a particularly creative drum pattern from his track A Rapper’s Reputation, this then gains an almost Russian sounding orchestral character when a aggressive String theme enters, driving insistently forward like a fast Mix-A-Lot rap.

The next section shows the darker more mysterious side of Sir Mix A-Lot, with hi whining flute & clarinet creating an electronic type effect above the menacing bass, also a xylophone enters recreating the ubiquitous 808 electronic cowbell type effect.

Then follows a contemporary classical evolution of a Mix-A-Lot type groove in the less usual time signature of 5 beats to the bar (hip-hop almost never strays from 4 beats to the bar).

After this we can imagine that Mix-A-Lot’s drum-machine gets overloaded, as the tempo accelerates into mayhem, and then the triumphant final section gradually emerges, and the “I Love Big B….” mantra gradually takes over, crescendoing to reach a final tutti climax.

I hope that the man himself approves…

LudovicMorlot+Sir_Mix+symphony

So I’ve just arrived in Toronto. It’s bitterly cold (-17˚C), everyone’s complaining that it’s been the coldest winter they can remember, but I’m thrilled to be back here.

About a year ago I came to Toronto to perform with Andrew Burashko’s brilliant Art of Time Ensemble. At that time I met professor of composition, Norbet Palej and he invited me to be the guest composer in residence at the University of Toronto New Music Festival 2014. 11 months later, after a lot of planning, the festival is about to start, and I’m really honoured to be the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition” for 2014 (previous guest composers include: K. Penderecki, Chen Yi, Anders Hillborg…).With this residency I have the rare opportunity (for a living composer!) of many of works being performed over one week – in 9 concerts over the next 9 days. Most of these performances will be the Canadian Premiers (with only my String Quartet no.1, Cello Multitracks & Piano Book No.1 having been performed in Canada before). Works that I wasn’t expecting to get repeat performances soon: such as my ‘spoken-word opera’ The Ghost of Gunby Hall, and ‘Stolen Guitars’ (for Electric Guitar Quartet) will get their North American premiers, as will my Cello Concerto No.1. My brand new Flute Trios will get their world premier, and ‘Sleeveless Scherzo’ for solo violin & solo dancer will get a completely new interpretation.

Here’s a promo video that choreographer Angela Blumberg, and Violinist Lynn Kuo have made:


And here’s a video about Bryan Cheng, the super talented young Cellist who will perform my Cello Concerto with Canada’s no1 contemporary classical orchestra: Esprit Orchestra:

 
Also, I’ll be presenting new suite versions of two recent electronic ballets I composer last year: ‘Howl’ & ‘Strange Blooms’. And I’ll be presenting the first NONCLASSICAL TORONTO club-night in association with the Canadian Music Centre.
 
 
Here’s the listing of all the concerts I’m involved in:
UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL 25 January – 2 February 2014
Norbert Palej, coordinator
Gabriel Prokofiev, Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition
 
Saturday, January 25, 2014 // Festival Opening Concert
University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra
David Briskin, conductor // DJ Madhatter, guest artist // Rebecca MacLeod, violin solo
S. Prokofiev: Selections from Cinderella (Matthew Poon, graduate student conductor)
G. Prokofiev: Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra
G. Prokofiev: Spheres for violin and string orchestra (Maziar Heidari, graduate student conductor)
S. Prokofiev: Selections from Romeo and Juliet (arr. David Briskin)
7:30 pm. MacMillan Theatre. $30 adult, $20 senior, $10 student
https://www.facebook.com/events/399021520233924

Sunday, January 26, 2014 // Strange Matter // Esprit Orchestra
Alex Pauk, conductor // Bryan Cheng, Cello solo
Gabriel Prokofiev: Movement from Concerto for Cello #1
Samy Moussa: new work (Esprit commission, world premiere)
Peter Ruzicka: Satyagraha
Zosha Di Castri: Strange Matter

Gabriel Prokofiev: Movement from Concerto for Cello #1
Unsuk Chin: Graffiti
8:00 pm. Koerner Hall. Pre-concert talk at 7:15 pm. For tickets call 416-408-0208
For further information: http://www.espritorchestra.com/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1384226641834079/

Monday, January 27, 2014
Guest Recital: Roberto Turrin, piano
Incl. Entrance and Clockwatt from Gabriel Prokofiev’s Piano Book No. 1
7:30 pm. Walter Hall. Free

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Composers Forum with Gabriel Prokofiev
8:00 pm. Canadian Music Centre.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
NONCLASSICAL Night TORONTO
Gabriel Prokofiev DJ-sets // Rose Bolton (violin/electronics) // Bryan Holt (solo cello) //Laura Silberberg (piano/turntables)
Presented by the Canadian Music Centre. Powered by Audio Blood.
9:00 pm. Canadian Music Centre Performance Space. Free
https://www.facebook.com/events/417837738319139/

Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Chamber Music of Gabriel Prokofiev I
G Prokofiev: The Ghost of Gunby Hall  // Patrick Murray, conductor
Amanda Smith, stage director Performed by U of T students
G Prokofiev: Bogle Move G Prokofiev: String Quartet # 1 // Cecilia String Quartet
Gary Kulesha: New work // Susan Hoeppner, flute // Patrick McGraw: Glass
7:30 pm. Walter Hall. Free

https://www.facebook.com/events/621162924624287/

Thursday, January 30, 2014
Chamber Music of Gabriel Prokofiev II
Piano Book #1 (excerpts) // Youngun Kim, piano
Sleeveless Scherzo // Angela Blumberg, dance // Lynn Kuo, violin
Flute Trio (excerpts) // Camille Watts, Tristan Durie, Jacky Tam
Stolen Guitars // David Occhipinti Electric Guitar Quartet
Includes the presentation of the Distinguished Visitor Medallion to Mr. Prokofiev
12:10 pm. Walter Hall. Free

https://www.facebook.com/events/472489672872332/

Friday, January 31, 2014 // Electroacoustic Concert
Multimedia works with electronics, images, and surround sound by graduate students and festival guest composer Gabriel Prokofiev: presenting suites from recent Electronic ballet works: ‘Howl‘ (2013) & ‘Strange Blooms‘ (2013). Presented by Dennis Patrick.
12:10 pm. Walter Hall. Free

https://www.facebook.com/events/196074970599181/

Friday, January 31, 2014 // Karen Kieser Prize Concert
Gabriel Prokofiev ‘Cello Multitracks’ + Live Remixes // Shauna Rolston (live Cello) / Peter Gregson (multitrack cellos on 8 loudspeakers)
+ 2013 Karen Kieser Prize winning work Walking by Chris Thornborrow, recent pieces by Katerina Curcin and Kevin Lau, Cecilia Livingston.
7:30 pm. Walter Hall. Free

https://www.facebook.com/events/558896130854921/

Sunday, February 2, 2014 // Choral Concert
featuring the MacMillan Singers and Women’s Chamber Choir Concert conducted by Hilary Apfelstadt. Includes music by Gabriel Prokofiev Simple Songs for Modern Life
and a premiere of the winning work of the Faculty’s 2012 choral composition competition.
2:30 pm. Church of the Redeemer. By donation at the door.

StrangeBlooms-promoSTRANGE BLOOMS – compositional approach
A new Contemporary Dance work by The Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
Choreography by Shobana Jeyasingh
Music by Gabriel Prokofiev

Tonight is the world premier of a new composition of mine called Strange Blooms. It’s a collaboration with Choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, and has been a fascinating and very enjoyable experience that started back in April 2013.

At our first meeting Shobana explained that she was very interested in the concept of the ‘remix’. She knew that I had been exploring the form of the remix over many years, and wanted us to work on a project that was focused on remixing a work from the baroque era. She was thinking of theme based on plants, their inner formal structures (which seemed to connect to the formality of baroque music) and how plants cross-polinate – which brought in the idea of remixing.

When we were listening to various Baroque repertoire, Shobana remembered that as a student at Edinburgh University, she had a flat-mate who was a Harpsichord maker and he often played a Chaconne by Louis Couperin (uncle of Francois) called La Complaignante. We found a recording and I was stunned by the simple beauty and yearning of the piece, and agreed that it would be an ideal musical seed for this new work.

It soon became clear however, that my music would be more of an electroacoustic composition than a remix, as we wanted to create a musical world that went deep into the inner workings and life of plants and far from the sound of the harpsichord.

So the remix concept is taken to a point of extremity, and the original work of music is barely recognisable, becoming an extended ‘sound source’ for electro-acoustic composition.

After further discussions and research Shobana arrived at the title, Strange Blooms and a clearer themes emerged:

ideas of plant growth and plant evolution; exploring how plants often evolve in very different and seemingly exotic ways; ultimately creating an imaginary world of Strange Blooms, which is perhaps a metaphor for continuing evolution and mixing of different cultures and peoples that we find in many modern cities. Also, Shobana brought many references to our first creative meetings, including stop-frame films and mathematical diagrams of plant growth, as well as historical descriptions and photographs of ‘exotic’ plants. All this fed into composing the music.

The first stage of the process was to make a recording of the Chaconne, and in May I spent a day recording brilliant harpsichordist Jane Chapman perform the Chaconne on a period harpsichord, at various tempi, with different settings on the harpsichord, and with period tuning (mean scale) and modern, equal temperament. Then the composition process began in the studio using a wide range of electroacoustic and remix techniques to create new music ideas from the original material. By using the Couperin as the only sound source, I was very restricted: the harmony of La Complaignante  barely modulates beyond the tonic key, stays just within a four octave range,  and of course the harpsichord itself has quite a narrow timbral and dynamic range.

Particularly challenging  was the restriction of Louis Couperin’s early diatonic harmony, and many of my early sketches didn’t feel like my own music at all; in fact, taken out of context from the yearning melody of the original, much of Couperin’s harmony loses it’s original impact. This led me to pay particular attention to tuning, and play with the different micro tunings used in Baroque music. I made subtle re-tunings to give the harmonies extra nuances and to create new harmonic inter-attractions and magnetisms (inspired by the way that seedlings learn and search for the sun, or climbers are drawn to supports).

Other important approaches were:

- To vertically layer harmonies, often with dynamic movement so that shadows and light moves across the sound.

- To the stretch the spiky harpsichord tones to more wistful, singing lines.

- To freeze small grains of the sound – in particular the more earthy timbres of the harpsichord – in order to create much more muscular and physical sounds, representing the strength and persistence of root growth.

- To race quickly through molecules of sound, creating an agitated growth-type movement.

The original version of the chaconne is finally revealed in the fourth chapter of the composition, as a metaphor for the act of blooming, after a period of growth, survival, discovery…

info on live performances here:

http://www.shobanajeyasingh.co.uk/new-commission-from-southbank-centre/

Links to future performances coming soon.

HOWL

Choreography: Maurice Causey // Video: Martin Grega // Costumes: Bodo Breg // Music: Gabriel Prokofiev /// [all photos of Luzerner Ballet by Ida Zenna]

Luzerner Ballet, Switzerland, March – June 2013

Howl-teaserfoto_1

 

Since September this has been my main instrument:

Gps-arp-odyssey-iphone

The ARP Odyssey

 

How did that happen?

Well, I’d been approached by choreographer Maurice Causey to work on a new commission for Luzerner Ballet in Switzerland. It was a collaboration that I’d wanted for some time as Maurice had already choreographed three of my compositions (and what I had seen of his work, was really special). We agreed that I would do an all electronic score for the 25 minute work.

I hadn’t composed a large-scale all electronic piece for at least 10 years, sure I’ve done lots of remixes for Nonclassical and also made many dance, grime and electro tracks up until quite recently, but not a big piece over 20 minutes, and as I’ve recently composed quite a few large-scale Orchestral works I was really curious to see how those experiences would affect my electronic composing.

Also, I decided to only use electronic source material. When I studied electroacoustic composition at Birmingham and then York, the standard approach was to make recordings of acoustic sounds as the source material and then process and sculpt them with electronics (usually computers). I really like this approach because acoustic sound sources instantly give you quite complex sonic material, and can quite quickly generate a very inspiring pallet of sounds after just a bit of processing. It seems that in the classical world less and less composers are working with purely electronically generated sounds, which were much more prominent in the early days, in the electronic work of composers like Stockhausen, Milton Babbit,  Varese. In particular stand alone synthesisers are now mainly used in dance music and electronica and don’t seem to appear in modern classical compositions (except occasional use of ugly synth preset sounds in mixed ensembles). 

So I thought why not try a large-scale composition that just uses a beautiful synth as it’s source. The early synths of the 1960s an 70s have now become highly collectable ‘vintage’ instruments, and a few companies (Moog, Korg, etc…) have re-issued their classic models; I think eventually these classic synths will be seen as instruments in their own right. They have a purity, simplicity and character of sound which continues to gain popularity in the popular music world, so why not enjoy their sound again in the classical score?

 

For my source sound for this work I chose a vintage Arp Odyssey synthesiser that I bought on bay a few years back. I’ve amassed quite a decent collection of analogue synths over the last 15 years and the Odyssey stands out as having the warmest and most beautiful tone, plus it has very powerful self-oscillating features, and can still create sounds that sound very contemporary.

I then spent many hours programming the Arp and finding the sounds that would suit the themes of our collaboration…

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‘HOWL’

Maurice and I agreed that the main inspiration for this ballet would be the socio-political turmoil of the last few years; the protests, the battles and the revolutions.  Like many people we had been greatly affected by watching these revolutions unfold live on TV, witnessing the struggles and desperate battles to change repressive governments. The work would be a semi-abstract exploration of the energy and emotions of those events; the desperation, the anger, the hope, the pain, the disappointment. There would be no exact narrative or continuous characters, rather a reaction/exploration through dance and music to the events, the images and the feelings. Then, Maurice made personal research into the broader theme of rebellion and in doing so remembered his favourite poem by Alan Ginsburg, ‘Howl’ which he felt was a perfect title for the piece and which also increased the focus on group/pack behaviour, and the idea of a desperate howl for freedom.

 

Meanwhile I realised that having a completely electronic score would reflect how electronics and computers have help facilitate a whole new wave of political expression. The way in which new technologies have empowered many previously unheard people is very exciting. Who would have expected that Facebook, Twitter and Skype of all things, have helped facilitate revolutions!

[And perhaps it’s also no coincidence that though Maurice Causey and me met through our respective art forms over two years ago, we didn’t meet in person until last November, I had only seen youtube videos of Maurice’s choreography, he had just downloaded my music on itunes, and out face-to-face meeting was on Skype! we were electronic collaborators already]

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Maurice led the next step of the creative process by sending me a mood/emotion/tempo structural outline for the work, how he wanted it’s overall structure to be shaped. Then I got to work on composing many sketches and reactions to his basic structure:

Working method:

Once I had recorded source sounds from the Arp, I heavily processed, sequenced, and multi-tracked the various motifs, noises and sounds inside my computer. In particular, I focused on digitally degrading the sounds, in the same way that the digital signals on mobile phones, youtube videos, and skype calls are often distorted and degraded. Yet, despite using electronic sounds, I strove to create very expressive material; rhythms and gestures that have a soul, and at times a desperate driving energy. 

Using electronics also allowed me to do certain compositional effects such as micro-tuning, and subtle layering of several different tempi simultaneously. At times I have also played with our experiences of time and tempo, placing fast pulses against slower tempos to create that ‘time-stands-still’ feeling we experience at tumultuous moments in our lives.

Of course once I got started working on ‘Howl’ I remembered one of the main reasons why I had stopped composing long electronic pieces: It takes so damn long! What I love about composing scores for live musicians, is that there is this second stage after the composing is finished; the interpretation by the musicians when they bring the score to life and bring all their experience and musicality to the score; turn it into a living work of art.

With electronic composition, everything has to be done in the studio, that magic of live performance that happens in an audience filled concert hall, has to have all been completely constructed in the studio, each nuance, phrase, rhythmic idea needs to be shaped and crafted in the studio; and ultimately that means listening through the piece many, many times! So it can be very slow work [Even in live electronics performances the amount of preparation needed to make sure the electronic instruments work as planned is incredibly time-consuming.] But at least I had the collaborative feedback from Maurice so I didn’t drive myself into complete delirium.

The exchange of demos from me, and feedback from Maurice continued for a couple of months and we actually restructured the ending of the work right up until the last 3 weeks before the premier. One sketch that we both loved but just didn’t work in ‘Howl’ eventually ended up as a humorous bonus piece called ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’ which kind of acts as ‘live still goes on as usual’ epilogue.

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Sound wise this work opens up quite a new sound pallet for me, and I can’t wait to release a CD of ‘Howl’, alongside several of the other sketches I made during the composition period, I’m curious how people from the electronica world will react to it.

As with my other work, I’ve not stopped influences from electronic dance music: techno, grime, hip-hop, etc.. from entering the language, but it never really falls into any of those genres. I rarely used any ‘standard’ drum sounds; I programmed a few ‘kick drum’ and fizzy Hi-hat type sounds (on FXpansions’ programmable analogue drum box), but I stayed away from standard electronica arrangement formulas, and the structure is generally less repetitive.

There are some lyrical moments, and I can’t deny being influenced by Messiaen’s seminal Ondes Martinot work ‘Oraison’ (1937), a work that shows just how sensitive and emotional electronic music can be.

Also, there are some slightly symphonic moments, with some quite thick harmonic progression rising out of more abrasive electronic textures.

 

The driving energy of this work is pushed against various distortions that the computer and the digital world force upon it… then through all the circuitry, the shouting, the drumming and the cries come calling out: just as millions of voices did during the last few years, and will continue to do so….

 

 

Maurice Causey

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I have to write a few words about this masterful choreographer and dancer. His work has an incredible energy about it, not a showy or athletic energy, but a passionate emotional energy; and that’s what makes his work so captivating. I’m very fortunate that he discovered my music, and has already choreographed my first two string quartets and Concerto for Turntables & Orchestra.You can check out clips of his work on youtube, but really you need to see it in the theatre. Keep a look out for his next show, and check his biog: he has worked at the most progressive dance companies and was a lead dancer for Forsyth, who was one of the first to spot his serious talent.

Also, very important in this collaboration is Martin Greger, who has done the entire lighting of the show with 3 video projections. He has spent countless nights re-rendering his moving graphics to work with the dance, and was also a very positive part of the collaboration process. Lots of his more detailed video work was eventually cut from this production as it didn’t leave enough space for the dancers; however I’m hoping that we can make some kind of video piece out of that unused material at some point.

As shown by the photographs, star costume designer Bobo Berg, helped create an other-worldly setting for this ballet, with hair-pieces and shoulder & hip pads. And of course the brilliantly confident dancers of Luzerner Ballet under the suberb direction of Kathleen McNurney have brought this whole project howling into life…

 

Our collaboration ‘Howl’ will continue in Luzerner Theater until June.

Dates:

9 March 2013 (premier)

13 ,14 ,22 ,31 March 2013

4, 25, April 2013

19 May 2013

8, 12, 16 June 2013

 

more info: http://www.luzernertheater.ch/snap-crackle-pop

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As usual, I’ve not had a moment to ‘blog’ for ages, but two really special gigs in Paris and Berlin + the launch of Nonclassical’s first Remix competition have given me the incentive to get my sh…act together.

Cello Multitracks is my new album collaboration with cellist Peter Gregson and was recently released on Nonclassical Records. It’s for Cello Nonet, but conceptualised as a multitrack work to be recorded by just one cellist, and it continues my interest in taking influences from both electronic dance music and older, more traditional classical forms. 

As with most NONCLASSICAL releases, the album is divided into 2-halves: the original composition followed by a the second half of remixes. 

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In 2013 we’re going to release an EP of the 3rd movement ‘Float Dance’, for which NONCLASSICAL has just launched our first REMIX COMPETITION; allowing anyone to download all the individual Cello parts and create their own remix.

The REMIX COMPETITION CAN be found here [deadline is 10th December, so if you’re interested please have a look ASAP]:

http://www.nonclassical.co.uk/?p=2777

As a composer it’s always an exciting, yet strange experience having your own work remixed. Very personal material gets re-presented in a way you’d never have imagined, or an idea gets taken further than you could have thought. I’m really curious to see what comes back from this remix competition.

The two live performances of Cello Multitracks coming up are: from Peter Gregson on Cello, with me mixing the multitrack & mashing-up the Remixes:

NEMO Festival, Paris, Tues 27 Nov 2012, MAISON DES ARTS DE CRÉTEIL, Place Salvador Allende 94000 Créteil www.arcadi.fr/nemo

NONCLASSICAL Berlin, Weds 28 Nov 2012, @ Chalet, Vor dem Schlesischen Tor 3, 10997 Berlin.  http://www.nonclassical.co.uk/?p=2883

The NEMO festival is seriously worth checking out. It’s focused on Electronic music, but Nemo’s not afraid to go into contemporary and classical as well. We’ll be playing alongside Ligeti’s Viola Sonata (set to visuals by Quayola) and Detroit Techno collective Underground Resistance.

Then NONCLASSICAL Berlin, will be our debut club-night in Germany, in happening new club ‘Chalet’, we’ll be playing alongside  some stunning local musicians: Matthias Engler, Stella Veloce, Matthew Conley, Caleb Salgado & guest DJ Joey Hansom. check the website for details.

 

Anyway, back to….

The story of Cello Multitracks

If you had to name the ‘ultimate classical instrument’ I think the Cello would be the inevitable choice; it’s beautiful tone, it’s wide range (that spans beyond that of male & female voice), and of course the incredible pallet of sounds it can make, give it an unrivalled versatility. It’s timbal range is remarkable; there are the traditional examples: pizzicato, arc vibrato, col legion, double-stopping etc; and then in contemporary music it often feels like the Cello is leading the exploration of extended techniques and new sounds, with so many grunts, whispers, clicks, sighs, and stutters being produced by the beautiful box. I’ve often found it strange that there isn’t that much original repertoire for an ensemble of an instrument of such potential. I’ve only seen Cello Ensembles in concert a few times, the first was when the Cellist’s at my secondary school performed Pärt‘s Fratres for 8 Cellos (thanks Mr Jenkins); then later I also heard Villa Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras on the radio… (only after composing Cello Multitracks did I listen to Steve Reich’s ‘Cello Counterpoint’, or Boulez’s ‘Messagesquisse’).


Cello Multitracks nearly happened years ago. Back in 2002, I had bumped into Cellist Laura Moody and she told me she was playing in her teacher Natalia Pavlutskaya’s Cello Quintet. That was the first time I properly imagined writing for 5 Cellos together, and I was already excited by the idea. But just when I was getting started, Laura joined The Elysian Quartet, and instead I composed my String Quartet No1. 

It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally started sketching out Cello ensemble pieces. By that time I had learnt much more about the capabilities of the instrument and of course encountered more Cello music (including Ligeti’s super engaging Cello Concerto, Lachenmann’s technique defying ‘Pression’ and Larry Goves’s very dark ‘Sinew’). I had also met many brilliant Cellists each with their own style and each contributing to the growing mental picture of the Cello in my mind.

It was Cellist Olly Coates who originally got the idea of Multi-tracking Cellos in my head. He said he had recently heard Steve Reich’s ‘Cello Counterpoint’ and would be interested to see what I did with a similar multitrack approach. However, I was still really taken by the idea of a large ensemble of Cellists, and the power of that machine; but I realised the Multi-tracked Cello idea was perhaps a more practical approach. I could still compose with the full ensemble in mind but also have a version that could be toured by a solo performer, plus the multitrack recording process would encourage a slightly different compositional approach.

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Themes that were important in the composing of Cello Multitracks were: 

- Using the tough & dirty sounds of the instrument, in particular the dark, driving bass tone that can be produced. In Jerk Driver, the initial idea was  to show how the Cello can easily rival a synthesizer when playing a gritty bass-line. I then juxtaposed a jerky solo-line (slightly reminiscent of the more ‘broken’ electronica style) against it, and added a variety of unusual Cello percussion sounds.

- Exploring the vocal, emotive quality of the instrument; most explicitly shown in the extreme vibrato melody in Outta Pulsor, which is part empassioned middle-eastern voice, part electric guitar scream..

- Enjoying the effect of layers of the same instrument interweaving with itself. As it was all going to be played by the same Cello, the overall sound would not be like that of a normal ensemble and would have a subtly homogenous quality that would bring it slightly closer to the sound of electronically generated music (but still with a human touch). In Float Dance the focus was to create a hocketting pattern that recalled both programmed electronica and renaissance dance music, and in Outta Pulsor the obstinato accompaniment has 4 Cellos very subtly bending their tuning against each other to create a detune ‘chorus’ type effect.

- The tough, percussive funk potential of Cello pizzicato. This was most deeply explored in physically challenging polyphony of Tuff Strum.


I found composing for Cello Ensemble one of the most inspiring mediums I’ve ever written for, and subsequently material from the many sketches I wrote has since found it’s way into several Orchestral works and String Quartets, as well as Cello Multi-tracks itself. In fact, I can’t wait to start on more Cello ensemble work, this suite is only the beginning of an exciting adventure with the Cello Ensemble.

 

Peter Gregson

Of course Cello Multi-tracks only truly came to life when it was recorded and then performed in concert by the brilliant Cellist Peter Gregson. I first met Peter in a pub in his native Edinburgh and a few days later saw him perform one of his very stylish solo Cello and laptop performances at a small Nonclassical night in Edinburgh.

Not only is Peter a very skilled Cellist, but he is one of the leading proponents of performing Solo Cello with Electronics, and he has toured the world with his Cello & laptop, playing in a great range of venues from Alcatraz in San Francisco to The Round House in Camden.

One of the things that really appealed to me about Peter is his love of technology; he is one of those rare examples of a brilliant musician who is completely at ease with computers and studio equipment. So many musicians need a technician to help them set up or rescue them when a bit of music technology fails, whereas Peter regularly tests new bits of kit and has even co-designed music software. Therefore recording and performing Cello Multitracks with it’s dependence on studio gear was a very natural process for Peter, and he was able to engage in the multitrack process to a level beyond that of just performing musician, and worked tirelessly making the first set of multitrack recordings in an engineer friend’s studio.

But the moment when the magic really happened was at the world premier of Cello Multitracks at LSO St Lukes, on 27th April 2011.

In classical music, the adrenalin and the atmosphere of a concert performance always takes the music to another level, and Peter’s performance at the premier was stunning. I knew he was very talented, but until that moment, we had only been rehearsing and working on the details, so to finally to hear him play the solo lines and have the freedom of the concert to express himself, I was suddenly struck by his incredible musicality – it was a really moving experience – the score really came alive. And, this was magnified by the fact he was playing with a virtual Cello ensemble. Set in a curve across the stage were 8 egg-shaped loudspeakers (kindly provided by Eclipse) sat on chairs and each playing one of Peter’s multitrack parts. The spacial effect was quite unique, especially in the acoustic of St Luke’s; quite different to stereo, yet more spatially separated than an actual Cello ensemble.

 

After the premier, we then continued to work on the final recorded version for CD release, after some discussion we resigned ourselves to re-recording all the multitrack parts that Peter had recorded for the live premier! This was mainly because the recording quality and microphones used didn’t quite give the the width of sound and dynamics that we wanted. Also, as Peter had been through the whole multi-tracking process once already, and had had that magical performance experience of the premier; a completely new session would have a deeper understanding and relationship with the music. Several long days of recording and then mixing in my studio in East London followed….

 

The Remixes:

Once the original was finished, we sent out the all the Recorded tracks to a selection of composers and producers for remixing. We have an in-house rule, that only sounds from the original recordings can be used in the remixes – so producers should’t bring in their usual arsenal of drum-sounds and synths, but create everything from the original source material.

Due to the extreme range of sounds produced by the Cello and the strong rhythmic elements of Cello Multitracks, I had high expectations for the remixes, and I wasn’t disappointed. The producers who contributed, produced a range of truly genre-traversing remixes, and each brought a different and exciting approach. I can’t really single out any of them, but rather want to mention every one of them:

Waves on Canvas, Marcas Lancaster, DJ Spooky, Tim Exile, Monster Bobby, Wayne Roberts, Medasyn, Kid Kanevil, Tivannagh L’abbé, PixelH8, Louis D’Heudieres. AND the Remixes from the Jerk Driver EP release: Majiker, Keith Beattie, and Back to the Source. All contributed to a fascinating and unique musical journey. [+ I should reveal that a couple of the remixers broke the rules and imported some electronic drums, but the results worked so well that I had to agree that rules are there to be broken… sometimes].

 

The live gigs have also been special. From the more traditional premier at LSO St Lukes and the full ensemble performance (from the Trinity Gold Ensemble, directed by Alexander Ivashkin) at the Festival Hall, through to more ‘nonclassical’ sets, when I’ve interspersed short DJ-sets of the remixes with Peter’s live performance (at gigs like ‘How the Light gets in’ festival, Nonclassical @ XoYo, and small mid-west USA tour we did).

JERK DRIVER music video

We also made a music video for the Jerk Driver single release, collaborating with young Latvian film-maker Andrey Prijma and his partner. You can watch it on youtube or my music & video page. Here are some behind the scenes photos:

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REVIEWS:

If you want to know more about Cello Multitracks, and other people’s reactions, here are links to various reviews:

I Care If You Listenhttp://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2012/07/truly-nonclassical-gabriel-prokofiev- peter-gregson-cello-multitracks/ 

Independenthttp://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/album-gabriel-prokofiev–peter-gregson-cello- multitracks-non-classical-7808247.html

Texturahttp://textura.org/reviews/prokofiev_cellomultitracks.htm 

Igloohttp://igloomag.com/reviews/cello-multitracks-nonclassical 

Attnhttp://www.attnmagazine.co.uk/music/5795 

 

AND of course check out the album on itunes, or even better on Nonclassical Records online store:

http://nonclassical.greedbag.com/gabriel-prokofiev/

 

 

 

Below is a short program note for the work:

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Peter Gregson: ‘Cello Multitracks’ by Gabriel Prokofiev’ for Solo Cello and 8 loudspeakers (2010)

Outta Pulser

Jerk Driver

Float Dance

Tuff Strum

Peter Gregson: Solo Cello + multi-tracked Cellos.  

Peter is the only live human in this ensemble; he plays live and in concert he appears alongside a virtual cello ensemble of 8 loud-speakers which play back multi-track recordings of his Cello.

‘Cello Multitracks’ is a dance suite for cello nonet; originally conceptualised as a multitrack work to be recorded by just one cellist.  The four contrasting movements continues Gabriel’s interest in taking influences from both electronic dance music and older, more traditional classical forms. Recorded using a range of performance techniques which often go conventional classical requirements, combined with the multitrack effect of all nine parts recorded by Peter Gregson on the same instrument, a unique sound world is created: an impossible ensemble; acoustic yet also ‘post-electronica’. 

 Jerk Driver is based on an aggressively urban Grime / Dub-step rhythmic pattern, with a rave-influenced refrain that then develops into a Russian influenced waltz-like central section.

Outta Pulser, starts with a post-minimalist ostinato, but becomes more expressionistic as a heavily vibrato, almost vocal, solo line emerges.

Float Dance is marked in the score to be played ‘as mystic Viols'; it is inspired by both ambient electronica and the renaissance Pavane.

Tuff Strum is a physically challenging pizzicato led groove, with dancing polyphonic syncopation.

 

The world premier was at LSO St Lukes, London on 17th May 2011, with Peter playing one part live with the remaining eight parts through an ensemble of 8 loud-speakers.

Recorded and mixed at Sweatshop Studio’s between July-October 2011.

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Also known as the la Grancassa (italian), basstrommel (German), and la Grosse Caisse (French) -which can literally be translated as ‘fat drum’ (or even ‘phat drum’), the Bass Drum produces the lowest frequencies of the Orchestra, is used to create some of the most thunderous climaxes, and heaviest punches, but it’s never been considered as a ‘solo’ instrument or been given a Concerto. As it’s un-pitched, and on the surface seems quite a limited instrument, that’s not surprising; but about a year ago I perversely thought it would be interesting to attempt to compose a Concerto for Bass Drum… Now after 3-4 months of composing, and a few hours of rehearsing it’s being premiered by British percussion virtuoso Joby Burgess with Princeton Symphony (conducted by Rossen Milanov) in Princeton, New Jersery, 9th Feb 2012; then being performed by The Chicago Composers Orchestra on 21st Feb (conducted by Matthew Kasper); and then have it’s European premier with the LCO (conducted by Hugh Brunt) in the Round House, Camden, 3rd March 2012.

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A Concerto for Bass Drum is by no means a gimmick or a joke piece, there are real reasons why the Bass Drum deserves a Concerto:
Firstly, the Bass Drum is actually one of the most ubiquitous instruments of our time. Where ever I go in London I hear Bass Drums thumping out of people’s car stereos, out of shops, out of night-club and bars; the bass drum is everywhere… More often than not the Bass Drum is the first sound you hear when you approach a club or music event; in electronic dance music most produces obsess over getting the perfect Bass Drum sound; and though it can drive you crazy when its pounding through your walls at 4am when your neighbours having a party; it’s one of the essential instruments of the 21st century.

In classical music it only gets occasional and very simple use, but it has a serious range of sonic possibilities and once you experiment with the Bass Drum many sounds emerge:
- wooden ‘tocks’ & ‘clicks’ from hitting the rim of the drum
- metallic snaps from striking the metal lugs
- Whale-like moans through to rubbing the skin with a wet finger or Super-Ball
- Then hitting the skin itself can give so much variety depending on what type of mallet is used; where on the skin it is hit; and very importantly how much the drum is dampened… and there’s more. [photos below show all the mallets used]

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This Concerto grew into quite a monster with 5 movements, 26 minutes long; all inspired by the range of sounds, colours, textures that the B.D. can produce.
Each movement explores different possibilities and moods of the drum; and it’s relationship with the Orchestra. Also many of the different rhythms & beats that are often associated with Bass Drum are explored, and of course the power and energy of the Bass Drum were a big inspiration:

#1: Adagio maestoso – allegro trepido (21 Ways)
the Bass Drum is heavily dampened with 2 towels (plus one towel taped to the underside), and struck with ‘poly’ (plastic) mallets and hard felt mallets, for a really punchy tight sound. The movement opens with Ligeti inspired Wind chords, which then cycle into a slightly hip-hop inspired groove (marked ‘Andante con un po’ di hip-hop’). The second half of the movement has a irregular groove that is in 21/8 (notated as 5/8+5/8+5/8+6/8 to read easier), which gives a little nod to Stravinsky’s rhythmic stabs in Rite of Spring.

#2: Lento Scuro (Bass War)
The dampening is taken off the drum and it’s full bass & power is revealed with a super slow crescendoing roll. Then there is a sort of ‘bass-off’ between the Bass Drum and the low-end of the Orchestra. Then Joby places a chain on the drum to give a grimy, aggressive rumble to it (a dirty, metallic, snare effect), playing a ‘half-step’ type groove. At the end of the movement he rotates the drum to reveal a gut-string coming out of the centre of the drum which he bows to give a Lion’s Roar effect.

#3: Largo Mesto (in the Steppes)
The mood is more contemplative, less dissonant with a slightly Russian, modal-minor feel (hence the sub-title: in the Steppes).
Joby uses only his hands for the entire movement: gentle tapping it with his palms, fist and fingers, using thimbles on his fingers to create clicks and ticks on the rims and lugs.
The second-half freezes to an open, non vibrato strings chord over which Joby rubs the drum skin with a wet finger and a super-ball to create haunting whale-like moans and super-deep sub-bass tones.

#4: Allegro Moderato Leggiero (four to the floor)
A Concerto for Bass Drum wouldn’t be complete without a section dedicated to the ubiquitous ‘thud thud thud thud’ four-to-the-floor bass drum beat of club music. Though it’s rhythmically simple, the subtlety is found in the way Joby alters the damping of the drum, starting completely dead; just like an electronic bass drum, and then musically varying the tone. The Orchestra play a repetitive off-beat chords (based on a corrupted B minor chord), starting with 1/8th notes, but subtly slipping in and out of triplets, playing with the difference between a swinging & straight groove.

#5: Allegro Brilliante (May Speed)
This is a break-neck-speed finale, in which Joby smacks the hell out of the drum with 2 wooden sticks (slightly reminiscent of Japanese Taiko drumming at times), and the Orchestra play a spiralling Hindemith-esque continuously modulating melody.

There’s much more to say about this Concerto. The Orchestra’s role is equal to that of the Bass, and of course they carry all the harmony and melody, but the bass drum is definitely the soloist  and is still able to lead most of the melodic shapes; Joby can produce several clearly different tones, with the Bass Drum marked to help consistency. There is also a strong sense of musical journey in the Concerto, influenced by the simple excitement of composing for a huge drum! through to subconscious (and slightly conscious) influences from the events that have been happening in the world around me over the last year.

Here are the dates for the first performances:

9th Feb – Alexander Hall, Princeton, NJ, USA with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra
21st Feb – Ruth Page Theater, Chicago, IL, USA with the Chicago Composers Orchestra
3rd March – The Roundhouse, London, UK with the London Contemporary Orchestra

 

As I’m never one to miss the opportunity to put on a NONCLASSICAL club-night. I’m also DJing and hosting 5 NONCLASSICAL club-nights in the US while I’m over. All featuring Solo percussion performances by Joby Burgess (as Powerplant), and Cello & laptop performances from Peter Gregson – doing the US launch of our forthcoming album ‘Cello Multitracks’ (more info on that soon(-ish)). Here are the club dates:

10th Feb – Nonclassical @ Joes Pub – Manhattan. with Peter Gregson (playing upcoming release on Nonclassical: Cello Multitracks) & Todd Reynolds.

11th Feb – Terrace Club, Princeton, NJ @ 8pm – solo Powerplant set, dancers Susan Marshall, Rebecca Lazier and DJ G Prokofiev

15th Feb – The Moct, Milwaukee, WI @ 8pm Nonclassical in association Present Music – solo Powerplant, Dj Madhatter, Peter Gregson, G Prokofiev, & Unlooped Vs Dilla.

16th Feb – The Brink Lounge, Madison, WI @ 8pm Nonclassical in association with Classical Revolution – Powerplant, Peter Gregson, G Prokofiev + local ensemble

18th Feb – Experimental Sound Studio, Chicago, IL @ 9pm Nonclassical + Chicago Composers Orchestra – Powerplant, DJ G Prokofiev, Peter Gregson & more

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