For the fifth time since May 2010, I made the 5-hour drive from my house to Garry Kvistad’s home to perform in the Woodstock, NY area – this time with NEXUS in the Quimby Theater at the State University of New York in Ulster County. The concert by NEXUS on November 20 was be the final event of Garry Kvistad’s residency on the Larry Berk Artist-In-Residence Series at S.U.N.Y. Ulster. Earlier in the semester, Garry had presented several workshops at the University with guest performers.
The November 20 NEXUS concert opened with Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood,” for which NEXUS was joined by Chris Early of the S.U.N.Y. Ulster faculty. Next came the premiere performance of my new arrangement of “The Crystal Cabinet,” followed by John Cage’s “Third Construction. The second-half of the concert featured the NEXUS arrangements of “Tongues” and “Fra Fra” as well as Bob’s and my arrangements of George Hamilton Green compositions. Prior to the concert – as the audience entered the Quimby Theater – students from S.U.N.Y. Ulster performed Pauline Oliveros’ “The Greeting Meditation” on a harmonically tuned set of Woodstock™ tubular chimes selected by Garry Kvistad.
“The Crystal Cabinet” is the most recent piece of mine to be premiered by NEXUS. The work was originally composed in 2008 for the Pendulum Percussion Duo (Susan Powell and Joseph Kryieger), and this was an expanded version arranged in 2010 for the four members of NEXUS.The composition takes its title after the poem by William Blake, the poet, painter, engraver, and mystic, born in London (UK) in 1757, who in defiance of his age, ardently believed in the freedom of the imagination and the rejection of rationalism and materialism. In addition to the fact that I found such an outlook to be very appealing, the second stanza of Blake’s poem also provided a resonant spark of inspiration to get started on writing the music:
This cabinet is form’d of gold
And pearl and crystal shining bright,
And within it opens into a world
And a little lovely moony night.
The “cabinet” in the poem serves as a metaphor; for me the “Cabinet” is music that is free, open, and meterless, for which – thanks to the formative NEXUS improvisations of the 1970s – I have long had a fascination. Among the interesting aspects of such music is the way that seemingly independent and unrelated streams of music, when occurring simultaneously, can be perceived as connected, much in the same way as independent events in everyday life are seen as related in hindsight. Free meterless music can evoke mysterious, otherworldly atmospheres, as for example, in “Poèmé´ Electronique” by Edgard Varése or in Gagaku (traditional Japanese court music).
Another feature of “The Crystal Cabinet” is that it’s also scored for a prerecorded CD. This device stems from another fascination I’ve had since my college days – the interaction of prerecorded percussion sounds with live acoustic percussion sounds in a live performance.
One of my earliest compositions “Etude for Taperecorder and Percussion” (1969) was written for Bob Becker’s senior recital at the Eastman School of Music. The music was an interplay between live percussion instrument sounds and recorded sounds made by similar instruments and manipulated on audio reel-to-reel tape. The process of creating the final tape assembly involved literally slicing the audio tape into segments and then reassembling the segments in the desired sequence. It was a laborious task that left little room for editing mistakes.
Another composition, “Fauna,” was written for NEXUS after our second tour to Australia in 1988. This piece uses digitally sampled sounds that can be played back in performance on a MIDI keyboard. The digital composition process was much easier and better sounding than the old cut and reassemble technique, though there was definitely a learning curve that absorbed significant amounts of time. The interaction of the prerecorded sampled sounds and the live acoustically performed sounds can be heard on the NEXUS CD “Nexus Now” (CD #10262).
The prerecorded CD for “The Crystal Cabinet” was created using Garage Band software on a MacBook. Improvised percussion sounds were recorded using a single SONY stereo mic and then the tracks were edited and reassembled in the desired sequence. The poem was read in a single recording session by the distinguished basso, Thomas Paul, into the same mic on separate tracks that were strategically integrated over the percussion tracks. The final assembled Garage Band file was then converted to an iTunes file that was burned onto a master CD for performance. In performance the CD is played monaurally through one electric speaker placed within the percussion ensemble setup.
The acoustic percussion instruments for “The Crystal Cabinet” are all metallic, except for one set of glass wind chimes. The instruments used are; vibraphone, glockenspiel, crotales, 3 triangles, 2 suspended cymbals, 3 sets of brass windchimes, 2 Chinese Opera gongs, one small tamtam, 2 sets of schellen (globular bells), one Japanese cup bell, 3 kartal (Indian finger cymbals), a set of chains, a small elephant bell, 4 chang-chikis (Japanese bell plates), one vibra-tone, one vibra-chirp, and an A-natural tone bar.
The premiere performance of “The Crystal Cabinet” went incredibly well and the audience seemed to receive it with some enthusiasm. It’s my hope that NEXUS will continue to perform it again on future programs.