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.
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]:
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.
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.
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….
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:
If you want to know more about Cello Multitracks, and other people’s reactions, here are links to various reviews:
AND of course check out the album on itunes, or even better on Nonclassical Records online store:
Below is a short program note for the work:
Peter Gregson: ‘Cello Multitracks’ by Gabriel Prokofiev’ for Solo Cello and 8 loudspeakers (2010)
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.