I'm very excited to share my new album Lost In Translation from my chamber music project X10. The music on the album has been written on and off over the last 7 years.
When I started composing the music that makes up this recording, I was thinking a lot about music that could construct something more ‘fantastic' than ‘authentic’ - both 'of-this-world' and 'out-of-this-world'; borrowing musical constructs from both notated concert music and vernacular non-notated music, from both past and present.
As I composed, I often found myself thinking about the role of the 'composer' in concert music versus the 'composer' of popular music. The concert and popular music of the 1960’s and early 1970’s has always been a touchstone of mine for a number of reasons. By the 1960's, performers of popular music began creating their own songs, performing material that they composed. In concert music at around the same time, composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley began to cross that boundary too, from the other direction. They formed 'bands' to play the new music they were writing. Other composers wrestled with recreating a language out of the post-WW II historical vaccuum. Also, the art of recorded and electronic sound — already having unfolded in musique concrete and elektronische Musik in the decades following WWII, and developed in the US in a more maverick way in places like the San Francisco Tape Studio —became an art form in rock and jazz and other messy hybridized music in their own ways: Bitches Brew, Sgt. Peppers’, David Bowie, prog rock, Krautrock, Brian Eno, … the list goes on… and on.
Lost In Translation, as well as its sister piece, The Story of X10, is my own musical answer to recombine and rewrite these subjects through sound. (Another sibling of these pieces — Stripes with Plaid, for violin, electric guitar and orchestra — is not on this recording.) They were the first pieces I wrote for my own chamber music ‘band', X10; a very small group composed of violin - played by Angela Early - and guitar - played by me.
The choice of the guitar felt appropriate for me for this music, and my return to more active engagement as a performer; although I am trained as a pianist, the guitar was the instrument I taught myself while playing in rock bands and writing songs. My relationship with it is more 'instinctive' and more vernacular; I feel able to reach a part of my creative self that sometimes gets buried when I sit down at the piano. It's also more of a challenge for me to play, to translate what I play into notation, and also to translate it into something the violin could play as a full partner with. This all forced me to wrestle with my musical instincts and ideas in a new and ultimately rewarding way.
Angela and I have been making music together in various contexts since we were little. While Angela devoted her time to becoming an outstanding classical performer (she is active as an orchestral and chamber musician), I spent a large part of my musical energy playing and improvising and writing songs in bands, as well as starting to compose music on paper and on sequencers and on tape. One of X10’s main motivations (for me, at least!) has been to find a musical world where both of us can both stretch ourselves, and coexist happily.
Lost in Translation, the first half of this recording, was written between 2010 and 2012; it is made up of four interconnected pieces, each pairing with the every one of the other three in certain aspects. The first two - glitterweeks and honig mond - take their titles from literal translations of the word ‘honeymoon’ between the English and German words for this concept. (It was intended as a personal dedication to Angela and her partner, who had recently gotten married.) The titles retain the spirit of the actual meaning, but out of context they take on a whimsical and fantastical poetry that animates the core spirit of the music. glitterweeks is celebratory, dance-like, rhythmic; it offers a dialogue between the two instruments that moves in and out of sync, constantly evolving. honig mond is more introspective, perhaps tender; and where the first piece highlights rhythmic motifs, this piece focuses on harmony. Here too, each instrument follows its own path in an evolving dialogue, allowing the harmonies to unfold from guitar chords and violin lines that evolve with a certain wayward independence.
pin pomme (a literal translation into French of the word ‘pineapple’) picks up on glitterweeks rhythmic invention — but where glitterweeks was based around a 26-beat cycle which used phasing from a unison groove as its point of departure, pin pomme uses a 40-beat cycle, accented in different subdivisions or meters in each of the two instruments. The guitar of pin pomme repeats a riff in 5/4 against shifting groupings of 2 and 3 beats in the violin, while the harmonies shift underneath.
path of linen takes its title from a literal translation of a Russian expression - скатертью дорога - into English. This would be accurately translated as “have a smooth (or safe) journey” but has also come to mean “good riddance”. Its slower and more ‘singing’ quality recalls the introspective character of honig mond; but where honig mond was more ritualistic, ceremonial and formal (an intentional homage to the language of Arvo Pärt), path of linen’s language comes more from a folksy, earthy and improvisatory tenderness.
The Story of X10 is composed of 10 interconnected movements written between 2012 and 2015. Beginning from a riff built off a single string of the guitar, a drama unfolds as each piece adds a new string to the 10 strings available on the two instruments. The idea of multivalent ‘pairs’ continues, evolving from ideas in Lost In Translation. A recorded loop created from palinopsia (#6) becomes the wall on which graffiti aus wien (#8) is written. The single string riff from to the power of two (#10; the last movement was the first section composed!) is re-imagined for the opening of the sound of one string ringing (#1). two strings are better than one (#2) has the violin answer the guitar’s volley in #1. touche mécanique, touche débloqué (#3) answers #1 and #2 with the ghost of Stravinsky’s Solider’s violin against a gradually unveiled obstinate version of the original riff from the first two movements. tanz craniosakral (#4) and and aria de l’ange (#7) share the same rhythmic construction and harmonic foundation. Phrases, ideas, and textures adumbrate across movements, shadows and reflections from the past and future.
At the guitar, as both performer and composer, I feel more comfortable with contemporary, hybrid tonality, a language born out of popular music and concert music, out of the past and the present, out of the acoustic real world and the new electronic ether; a hybrid language with many dialects that we are all learning to speak. It is a messy language, rich with possibility; and by carrying this hybridity into the concert hall, it opens up new horizons for both the extended structures of concert music, and the gestures and expressions of vernacular music.
I’ve always liked to think of music composition as an art of storytelling without words. The title of The Story of X10 makes this explicit. The analogy may not fit all music equally well, but there is a rich history of narrative constructs in Western concert music, and more personal, idiosyncratic connections by composers to that and other histories — whether it be the personal manifesto of Ligeti’s Musica ricercata or the personal affirmation of Bo Diddley’s The Story of Bo Diddley.