I have been living with Robert Scott Thompson’s new album, Phonotopological, for several months now. And the longer I live with it, the harder it is to write anything about it. For one, it is so complete and satisfying in and of itself that any words about it will seem feeble and impertinent. For two, I fear that the one thing I have come up with to say about it will give a false impression of what the piece is really like. And since I really like the piece, I don’t want to say anything about it that will convey the wrong impression. But too bad. I have promised Robert a review, so here it is.
Although divided into 13 tracks, each with an evocative title, Phonotopological is genuinely one piece, to be played without break, and which progresses from its arresting and captivating opening through a multitude of sonorous adventures to its soft and ethereal ending. Though I hasten to say that the piece does not so much “progress” as it exists. Time passes as it runs its course, of course, but the piece doesn’t really move from one event to another. It is more that Phonotopological is an event and one perceives different elements in it much as one perceives different elements in a painting. It takes less time to take in a painting, may be, but I think that time passing is equally impertinent to one’s experience of either art form. So soon as one is looking at a painting or listening to a piece of music, time ceases to exist—or at least it ceases to impinge.
The best I can come up with for the experience of listening to Phonotopological is to compare it to watching the smooth, brightly colored stones in the bed of a crystal clear stream. The piece as it sounds will remind no one of a stream. The stream is an analogy for how the various layers of sound strike this listener. Just as one is aware of the stream and of the stones and of any fish or insects or plants in the stream, just as the stream seems to be always the same even as it is in constant motion, just as variety and novelty are the real realities as soon as one attends to everything going on, so does this piece present the listening ear with a rich and constantly changing tapestry of color and activity, always the same, always different.
If you have listened much to either Morton Feldman or Eliane Radigue you will easily understand how sameness and variety can co-exist. If not, give this album a listen or three. You’ll see.
Thompson has been at his work for several decades now—since 1976 by his own account—and here’s hoping we can have several more decades of his distinctive sonic magic.
The clip is from the very opening of the piece, from the track entitled “Proximity.” I chose this bit because in preparing for this review it has become one of my favorite openings.
[N.B., this is a review from 2013, which I post here to lead into the review of Otondo’s new album, Night Studies, also from Sargasso, which came out last year.]
is a really splendid CD. I’ve listened to it several times, each time
as much a delight as the first. In the first place, the sounds are
gorgeous. All of them. In every track. Ear-grabbingly gorgeous. And
in the second place, the pieces are well made–so cunningly
constructed as to sound fresh and new even after they have become
well-known and familiar.
The first track, Irama, starts the album off with some of the most delightful clangor I’ve ever heard, with hard, bright percussive sounds mingled with rich, voluptuous electronic sounds. Delightful clangor is a particular favorite of mine, and this piece delivers it in spades. In fact, I have to confess that for awhile, the other three pieces on this CD seemed less engaging to me. So much so, that I had to come up with a stratagem for this review, which was to listen to them in reverse order. Success! Now they all seem equally engaging and delightful, and I can now write about each of them without any favoritism.
The next track,Teocalli, starts softly with a quick three note rhythm. Bumbumbum Bumbumbum Bumbumbum Bumbumbum. Crescendoes in waves, each wave a bit louder than the previous one. This is joined by a male choir singing something quite other, an almost rhythmless, church-like chant sung in a church (a resonant space) and with some subtle organ sounds, too. While the drumming gets softer as the chorus gets louder, it remains as insistent as ever.
after a tiny pause, the drums slam against your ears, and there are
now some shrill crowd sounds as well. This is a terrifically exciting
bit,for sure, partly because the drum sounds have changed
electronically into something quite strange and extremely gorgeous.
What a great imagination Otondo has. A great imagination and an even
“natural” drum sounds return, along with the crowd noises,
and very quickly, everything is soft and the drums are thick thuds
underneath a woman talking. Everything gets quite whirry and
electrified here. And the excitement just gets ratcheted up and
Until everything gets very quiet–but still rhythmical and still insistent. Then the woman’s voice returns, along with some very strange other sounds. And she and another woman laughing segues back into the men’s chorus which is almost immediately drummed off the (sound) stage. And then it’s all drums and drumming and electronically altered drum sounds and harsh electronic noises–a sonic thrill ride and no mistake.
is all whirry, wirey kinds of sounds, quiet at first but getting
louder and louder with sharper and sharper attacks–of the hard,
metallic sounds–and then a huge, rich, thick attack. And the sharp
attacks become quite rhythmical, dance-like. The sharp sounds are by
now extremely sharp. And the thick sounds are extremely thick and
sonorous. When some wood block-ish/marimba-ish sounds come in, the
effect is quite magical. Everything becomes less rollicking but no
less exciting. (This is a definite trend in these pieces–no change
from fast to slow, from rhythmic to calm, from loud to soft makes any
change to the intensity, to the excitement.)
The music becomes quite subtle and understated here with lots of sharp little clangs and bongs. Then the sharp little clangs become large, hard, harsh clangs. After some extremely harsh and delightful sonorities, Ciguri settles down to the relatively quiet and smooth harsh and delightful sonorities that carry it to its conclusion. What a treat!
last track, Sarnath, is the bell track. Bells clanging and clanging
and clanging. And lots of attacks but not so many natural decays.
That is, often as not, the sonorous decays are stretched impossibly
long and make drones for all the other sounds, drums, birds,
miscellaneous rustlings, and other bell sounds.
Eventually, even the attacks become very much softened, hardly more than a kind of swell in the long drones of the extended decays. A really rich and rumbling crescendo ends in a single, hard clang–followed by very soft park-like sounds–birds and people–and some various other percussion noises. In all of these pieces, that is another trend. No matter where this music goes, rhythmically or electronically, we are never far from the every day noises of the actual world, either as they have been captured by Otondo’s microphones or suggested by how he treats the sounds.
label, Sargasso, identifies this CD as Otondo’s first. May there be
many, many more from this very talented composer.
This is Felipe Otondo’s second album, the long awaited sequel to Tutuguri, from 2013. Anyone who already had Tutuguri has doubtless already bought Night Studies, probably several months ago, that’s how out-of-date this review is. (And that’s how eager Otondo fans were to get his next album.) But reviews aren’t really for people who already own what’s being reviewed, but for people who have yet to buy them. For those people, I would first say “buy Tutuguri. If you love your ears, buy Tutuguri.” As you know, Asymmetry Music Magazine was almost completely destroyed last year, and as time goes by, the articles that used to populate its pages will begin, slowly, to reappear. Since these two albums by Otondo are related, this seemed a good time to repost Asymmetry’s review of the first album. I would write it differently today. I would try to be more accurate in describing the sounds, and I would praise it more highly. But that’s as may be.
The first thing I thought when I first listened to Night Studies was that I was in a familiar sound world, one I knew already from having been listening to Tutuguri over the past five years. And while it is true that there are similar sounds, similar phrases, and similar uses of percussion, subsequent listens will convince you, I am sure, that the three night studies are quite remarkably different from any of the four pieces that make up Tutuguri. Not better, different. And different is, of course, a very good thing in a composer, I think. I also am sure that once you’ve gotten a copy of both, you will be twice as happy as you were before you had neither.
I’m only offering one clip from Night Studies, the first two minutes of the first one, but I will say that if I were so inclined, I could give you a detailed study (as it were) of how cunningly and intricately these three pieces are connected to each other. You can easily hear all that for yourselves, and I’m sure that if you buy one of these discs, you will also buy the other, and so will easily hear how clearly the two albums are related—and how vastly different they are. Otondo is a genuinely fresh voice and has something genuinely new to say in each piece he writes.
Michèle Bokanowski’s Enfance is already seven years old. I was at its premiere, which was grand, and am only now getting to this review, which is reprehensible. So first I have to apologize to Michèle and to the entire music-loving world. If you have already heard of this piece, great. If you have already heard it, even better. If not, here at long last is the review you didn’t even know you’d been waiting for, for a piece that you will shortly add to your growing list of favorites. For this is a rich and rewarding piece of music, cunningly made and a treat to listen to again and again.
There are a lot of things I could say about this piece, about the deep drone and the smooth textures and the utterly charming voices of the two young children (Bilal and Suleyman Bokanowski) who provide the vocal sounds. I could talk about the narrative and musical logic of the piece, about the recurring piano tune and the various ways it’s broken up as it meanders through the piece. But what really struck me, listening to it many times to prepare for this review, is that this is a very deceptive piece. It is made up, for instance, of lots of various, different bits that are juxtaposed, but the smoothness of the drone, the slowness of the pace, and the general richness of all the sounds all serve to conceal this structural reality. It’s as if you were to sit in front of a dense forest scene in a museum only to gradually discover that you were actually looking at a cubist painting.
Also, even though the drone and the smooth, rich texture is prominent, and engaging, a close listen to this piece will, I believe, reveal that it’s a piece primarily about rhythm. I would say that the drones and the pace and the overall smoothness of texture are there primarily as a foil for a kaleidoscopic plethora of rhythms and counter rhythms—rhythmic counterpoint at times. And where the rhythms come from is interesting, too, a speech rhythm morphing into song and then made into a different rhythm by being made into a loop, or a single syllable extracted and used to punctuate the texture, or just normal speech, which in the context is impossible not to notice as being equally rhythmical to all the rest.
Which brings us back to that drone, which I have rather mis-reported—the drone is as full of rhythmical subtleties and complexities as all the rest. I could go on and on. Best to just leave you to the piece itself, forgetting everything I’ve said about it to enjoy just it, itself, first in this five minute clip and ultimately, it is to be hoped, in the piece as a whole. I can’t imagine you’ll regret buying this album. After all, on the very unlikely chance that you do not particularly like Enfance, you’ve got a whole ‘nother piece to enjoy, Cirque, a piece quite different from Enfance, and quite delightful all on its own.
Asymmetry:I was intrigued the last time I saw you, at a Cascadia concert, that you described yourself as a Fluxus composer. That was interesting to me because I feel like those are my real musical heroes.
Senn:Well you know, I had never really given it much thought, and it wasn’t until I started to have trouble with performances in Portland by Cascadia musicians that I had to dig out what’s the reason for this. Why am I getting such poor performances?
Asymmetry:So, it wasn’t the audience, it was the performers?
Senn:Yes. And it’s always embarrassing to have a piece performed and have it performed badly.
One of those performed badly was a piece calledPrague Songs(later renamedMicro-Dramatic Songs from Prague, One) for a small ensemble and voice. I knew it was a really strong work, but the performers were childish and unprofessional. I thought, “What is the deal here?” After I had writtenMicro-Dramatic Songs from Prague, Two,for piano and voice, the two Cherry Blossom people in Eugene, Nancy Wood and Paul Safar, offered to do it. And the experience was like night and day. I’m talking about professionalism and skill. When I heard those songs, it was so uplifting to see these people embracing what they themselves found an odd piece.
Now, why were these works odd? Well, eventually I realized that it’s because they were Fluxus pieces. And one characteristic of Fluxus artists is not recognizing traditional disciplines. It’s not that there’s religion about it. It’s just that doesn’t make any sense to us, and you do what you do. The Fluxus movement came from Cage. He didn’t originate the movement; he just taught at the New School, and a bunch of artists came and studied with him, including George Maciunas, who spearheaded this movement and gave it the name Fluxus, meaning between, moving around, not discipline specific.
Working with Cascadia musicians meant that I had to acknowledge the traditional disciplines, but I brought to the situation my Fluxus tendencies. Now those tendencies are not all that prominent in the Czech songs; I wrote my own texts and invented my own ways of developing them is about it.
These texts are not poetic; but they have rhythms, speech rhythms that are mine. This is the way I talk, and so I usually use compound time, primarily because I can get closest to human speech rhythms with compound time. But this in itself makes them difficult to perform because there’s a lot of dotted notes. Also a lot of back and forth between different meters: one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, four. Again, nothing too extravagant.
The performers in Eugene had a problem with that right at first, but completely re-plugged into it and were game for the rest. Whereas the performers in Portland, a really professional ensemble, didn’t like it and gave me attitude even though they, too, had picked their piece to perform. So what I figured out was that what makes the music strange and difficult to perform is a Fluxus consciousness when I write this stuff because I’m not following existing models.
Asymmetry:You were also associated with Fluxus artists, though, weren’t you?
Senn:Well, yes. In 2001, for instance, I was included in a Fluxus retrospective at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. It’s a really great one to check out online.
I remember thinking, “Why are they including me in this?” Because I just work. I didn’t think about being connected with these people or connecting with those people.
They had all the original Fluxus artists there, including Joe Jones and Gerhard Trimpin, an incredible sound sculptor from Seattle who won a McArthur, and Phill Niblock, and Paul Panhuysen from Europe, another extremely important Fluxus artist. He has had this ensemble called the Maciunas Ensemble which plays things like a quartet for four cellos and not one of the people plays cello. It’s an incredibly powerful work. Paul is a big influence in my life along with Niblock. And of course, Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s wife, who was one of the original Fluxus artists and a good one, too.
But even then, I didn’t really come to terms with what made me a Fluxus artist, not until I got involved with Cascadia. The years before that probably illustrate my Fluxus inclinations better. If you are a composer, you tend to build your own instruments from scratch. My sculptural instruments, for instance; this is actually one of the first ones I built in Muncie, Indiana, years and years ago. All it is is just a found resonator on the bottom and then these are turned. If you turn these clockwise, they turn around the edges, rhythmically.
But if you turn them counterclockwise, they skip. From here to here, is a musical phrase and not unlike a human performance, it is different every time. And each instrument is unique.
Now this next one is a bit more complex. Underneath the base of this are four inch woofers filled with soft epoxy with a hook in the middle to transfer the movement of the woofer to items on top here.
I compose with sine waves that are below the hearing range. So, this is a composition right now. It’s algorithmically reassembling itself all the time. It’s actually a through-composed piece from beginning to the end. And I chop it up and then I just reconfigure continuously for installation. This is exactly the way I composed it. I composed it with a computer with these frequencies. I want it to hit exactly that. It looks random, it’s not. It’s just complex.
Now, the other thing that’s so amazing about this whole idea of sub-audio frequencies, you can put them on the same track as the audible sounds, which have no effect over the motion.
Asymmetry:Oh, of course, right.
Senn:It’s too high; it has no effect. And the string appears to be still.
Asymmetry:That reminds me of what Barry Truax said about how animals in nature have the sounds arranged so all of them can be heard. Because they occupy different areas in the spectrum.
Asymmetry:And the birds will even change their pitch when a train is coming towards them.
Senn:Yes, they go onto another channel.
Asymmetry:It’s just amazing.
Senn:So there’s just a cheap CD in here, and if you put it in a player to listen to it, you wouldn’t hear anything but some chicken sounds or my voice or whatever I’m working with in the album. I just use the random search to reassemble the pieces continuously. Or sometimes I do installations where it repeats on the hour.
Asymmetry:Oh right. The one at the art gallery at PSU that was a variant of the Czech piece.
It’s just the way I feel about the environment if I want that. So, I have all sorts of instruments based on this concept. Some of them are large, some of them, like at the University of Washington in Tacoma in the main campus, as you’re coming into the main foyer, there’s one that is eight feet wide, eight feet tall, two feet deep, and it plays large bells.
There’s a really nice installation coming at the Volunteer Park Conservatory that uses this sub audio technology. Using sub audio frequencies is so fascinating to me. You know I’ll die still working in it because it’s so fascinating. And it just came about one day when I was sitting talking with Matt Marble and Seth Neill when they had come over for dinner one time, and just like that I got an idea of how I could use sub audio frequencies to pump up bags, like in theAirliftpiece.
Your video of that on youtube was seen by a lot of people. You did me good.
Asymmetry:Oh good, I’m glad. I got a lot of comments on that one, too. I think that’s the most commented on video that I ever posted.
Senn:Because it’s really strange, isn’t it? Not to me, but, you know.
Asymmetry:No, not to me either.
Senn:Yeah, it’s from another world.
Asymmetry:It’s very fascinating.
Senn:I saw the tape and I laughed at it, it makes me laugh. People come in and they’re so serious about the whole thing. I was like, “Don’t you think this is funny for Christ’s sake?” I think they were kind of being respectful.
Asymmetry:You know that story about a person laughing at a Cage concert? Some guy was at a Cage concert and the person in front of him was laughing and laughing and just wouldn’t stop. The guy was just about to lean up and tap him on the shoulder when the person turned his head. It was John Cage.
Senn:He was laughing at his own music.
Asymmetry:In 2009, right after Kagel had died, I heard a bunch of his music all over Europe. There was such an incredible difference from performance to performance. Some people would play these pieces, and they were very respectful. And those performances were crap. Other people just got into it and played with vigor and humor, and those were magnificent performances.
Senn:They understood the work. I think that there’s a lot of protecting of your kind of intellect going on with that kind of seriousness. The fear is that if people should see us relax a little bit, that it would open it up too much to too many people. It’s like being bare.
Asymmetry:I also get the sense that one of the things you’re opening yourself up to is criticism that it’s not really serious, that it’s not really good art.
Senn:By your social grouping. And in fact, you’re damaging your work. You’re playing in a social grouping, and you really don’t want criticism. You don’t want your work trivialized. That might be another thing. It’s really interesting to me.
Asymmetry:I get into a lot of discussions with people about this since I have always loved contemporary music, unreservedly, from the first time I heard Bartok’sConcerto for Orchestra.
Senn:We’ve talked about this before I remember, that starting point.
Asymmetry:Yeah, I just plunged into it and with no sense that anything was wrong with any of this. This was just a fascinating new world. I quickly got the sense that other people hated it.
Senn: It’s shocking, isn’t it?
Asymmetry:It is shocking, yeah it is.
Senn:It’s a bad thing, you know, in our culture now.
Asymmetry:And it’s been marginalized out of the existence, practically. Now, for the people that are in that world, who are actively in that world, doing the music, and doing the performing and doing the listening like I do, it’s a very thriving, vibrant world. But it’s so far off of most people’s radar, even musicians. They don’t even know what it is.
Senn:A really good way I think to illustrate this is that, part of the reason why I left academia was because it was increasingly not a place for me. Where, when I had to go up for tenure and all of that stuff, I could only offer the front half of my left foot. I was willing to do that, but generally speaking, by the late 80’s, it had become, again, so narrow as it was before the Second World War within academia where I felt out of place. I needed to, in order to survive spiritually and artistically, I had to get out.
Today, the chance of, well I’ll say it again, a Fluxus-like artist being hired in a music department is extremely low, because they just don’t understand it. They think you’re ridiculous. They don’t think you’re legit.
Asymmetry:I know a guy who went to Davis to study music and I asked him if he had taken any classes with Bob Ostertag. What I didn’t realize was that Bob is not in the music department.
Asymmetry:No, he is in Technocultural Studies. It’s good place for him, naturally, but it means that Davis has music students who never hear of Ostertag, who is an incredibly important person in new music.
Senn:That’s right. And I feel that at this moment we are probably 50 years before the pendulum will swing back to like it was after the Second World War.
Asymmetry:Even in Europe, you think?
Senn:In Europe, it’s much much stronger and much much healthier in this respect. America’s really very conservative. Of course, fortunately, the big cities, like even this city, there’s an element of it, this thing that you and I used to…, you probably still go to the PDX Contemporary.
Asymmetry:I would, but that has not been going on for awhile. When it was going on, that was a lot of fun. I think I went to all their events but the first one, maybe. As soon as I heard about them, I attended every concert.
Senn:In any case that’s kind of the reason I went there. I was looking for some connections, more expansive connections in the music area. Of course, in places like New York, there are still galleries which are venues which cater to it. I was thinking that a really, really good way to demonstrate what we started with here is these lids.
I have an orchestra of these in Prague, each registered by hertz and pitch and all those kinds of things, but I do nothing to change them. These are just found objects from thrift stores mostly. When I first started, I picked up some of these lids because I was building something called scrap percussion. Scrap percussion is actually now in the sound art lexicon. Scrap percussion came from me. My first things were called Scrapercussions, one p.
I also made big trees of things, everything connected along a continuum of metal. You strike one thing, you strike the whole thing, you get that. I made them into Theremins, put wheels on them and they were dance partners. I worked with dancers along with this, really very effective, and performing them.
Then I was asked in Tacoma to be an artist-in-residence at a middle school. Well, this was an inner-city school, the kids were known for being rough and not obedient in classes and I thought, “Well, what am I going to do?” I had a couple of these lids, and within like an hour after getting the idea, they reached this form and have never changed.
They are portable, they are incredibly loud, and they are indestructible.
Senn:And the kids wrote beautiful compositions based on, “I want my composition to sound like this.” I have a full blown, graphic, systematized notation for this, called lyde notation, L-Y-D-E, which came about originally when I was working with these kids. So, I would say, “How fast do you want to hit it?” “Well, I want to hit it slow.” “Let’s say one line is slow, two is fast and three is faster. Do you want it irregular or regular?” Just general parameters. “Oh, I want it to go like that.” So, they’re going like this and, “Can I have a flower coming out of this?” You know, I was, “Alright, a flower.” They’re putting this thing together, and within 20 minutes they are making complex compositions.
Senn:It’s all texture based, and they can be performed, and the kids own these things now. And they are fussy. In fact, they get a little bitchy about things! So, we have a composition now that’s interesting and complex. If you were to write this music as a score, as a linear score, you could only use the most professional players. So, this was really interesting to me. The idea that I could get children playing stuff that only grown-ups like the Cincinnati Percussion Trio could play. Because to notate it is so complex when you’re using linear notation. But with nonlinear notation, you just cross this incredible gulf. These kids can play something of incredible complexity within an hour, because the notation’s efficient and because they are participating. They understand what they are doing.
It just was life changing for me working with these black kids in the inner city because they’re really smart too. They have high intellect.
To oversimplify, I think that we have in schools we have basically two types of people, those that are very adaptable to linear learning, who have difficulty actually with this really complex textual based stuff and those who naturally can work on these multiple levels, but they are not quite as successful at the linear approach. It’s different brain types fundamentally.
And kids with a nonlinear brain type are often considered stupid when in fact they are just different.
Asymmetry:And superior at doing the multiple and nonlinear things.
Senn:You know, what we’re talking about now, I believe, is connected to what we were talking about earlier about how difficult it is for a Fluxus-based artist to find a place in academia because it’s become more conservative. The people who don’t want to perform my music, that’s coming from this other brain type; I don’t believe that they consciously know why this stuff freaks them out. It’s coming from an alien place, and it frightens them. That alien place is nothing more than people who have a nonlinear approach to life and thinking.
Asymmetry:Right. What you were saying about this and how those kids within an hour were making compositions of high complexity and performing them; this, I think was the fundamental thing that pissed Boulez off about Cage. Because Cage was getting the same results he was getting, but without going into all this linear writing out and sculpturing.
Senn:Bingo. They were both working with a nonlinear result, but Boulez preserved the political structure, and then it was only the cream of the cream of the cream of this structure who could do his stuff, and he had the clout to get it done. But if Dan Senn writes music of that complexity, the chance of getting it done is next to impossible unless I have Charles Ives’ money, or if I have through some fluke got a kissable behind where people suddenly want it, it’s in, it’s popular, “I’m going to do a Senn.” Anything short of that, forget it. You’ve got to find another way.
So, I have these lids, and I realized that I could take like 30 of them in my bag to Europe. When you get groups of these, even just two of them playing at one time, you get this incredible acoustic phenomenon where you have these sub frequencies and overtones and mixing, all controlled by the space that you’re in.
Asymmetry:That sounds pretty cool.
Senn:It’s extraordinary, let me tell you. And that’s just with turning it. I’m not talking about all the other different ways of hitting them. When the kids were playing them, they were hitting on the button on the top, rolling things around, hitting on the sides and wherever.
So I took the lids to Europe, where I did workshops and community people would come, and I would teach them to play these instruments, the turning thing, hitting and all that stuff, just using imitation. There would be someone who would be the leader, copy that person. Let’s have two leaders, you copy that one, you copy the other one, and stuff like that. All ways of doing this without notation, which is really effective too.
Then eventually, we go into the city and everyone is turning and playing, and playing different spaces and of course the most conservative, the person who hates contemporary music more than anybody else, everyone’s an advocate after it.
Asymmetry:What a great experience.
Senn:My feeling is that art of this sort can be used as a real social lever. When you change people in that way, they can’t go back. It’s a fundamental change. So, next time, you go and listen to Boulez, you’re different. You are coming from a different base.
Then, just last year, because of Cascadia again, I thought, “How can I port these over, port these over into a linear context that can be performed by trained percussionists?” There’s all this infrastructure there. How can I somehow change this Fluxus stuff into something that they will understand?” So, that’s what I started to do. But from this totally non-linear context, which is closer to my heart, it’s very difficult. It means I have to enter into a really complex process of recording things. I have to play all my instruments, record all the basic sounds. It just takes an enormous amount of effort and of money, and it’s a very complex project. You’re talking weeks of every day recording this stuff. The problem with being a Fluxus artist is that this is a lot of work because you’re making all your stuff from scratch all the time.
But it’s our own damn fault.
The problem that I have is that when I write something that pleases me it’s hard, and I never set out to be hard, to write hard music but this is really shit-hard music to play.
I’m quite realistic that I might be coming up against a brick wall, I just won’t be able to get the Portland area people receptive enough to open up. That’s why when Florian Conzetti came by to get some of these to play, I thought, “Wow. This is really great,” but now a week or a week and a half ago, he calls up and he says, “I can’t. I’m way into it, I really love the piece, but I can’t do it on this Cascadia concert.” But then, they are going to be doing a video and a piece of mine with a sound not so different from the sound you heard at the last concert.
Asymmetry:Well, it was interesting to have your piece and the Miksch/Penrose duo in the same concert. They weren’t anything alike, but because of the context those two seemed much closer to each other than any of the others.
Senn:There are other elements that make them alike. He made this stuff from scratch and they were improvising.
Asymmetry:Oh, so that is a real connection.
Senn:That’s a strong connection.
So those sounds that you heard at the concert, they were done with this violin, which had belonged to my mother.
I tuned all of it to the gamelydes; I broke a string at the very end, but I tuned all of the strings to first the lowest gamelyde, and then the next and the next, and then I improvised for a solid day on it.
Then also, I’ll be able to get a sound like this. It works very well with a violin or a string instrument playing some kind of sound. You just can get this amazing palette of sounds.
When I’m actually improvising, of course, I never think of this stuff. I’m just kind of doing the best I can to make something interesting within the strict limitations imposed by the instrument. Trying to create something aesthetically beautiful.