This Thursday's Musical Ecologies concert by Chris Mannigan and Danny Tunick includes the premiere of my new piece Underground Suite. It was commissioned by this saxophone and percussion duo in 2013 and is part of a larger commissioning project they've undertaken over the last five years that also includes composers Drew Krause and Rich Woodson, both of whose commissioned works will be included on Thursday's program.
Underground Suite is now the second piece in a row I've written that's based on direct quotations of other music, the previous bieng last year's Satellite Canons. It's a relatively new direction for me, though much earlier in my musical life I explored various kinds of appropriation, all in the context of tape music in which I employed various kinds of primitive sampling.
But outside of my own work I have long had an interest in musical quotation, a practice which of course has a long history in various traditions. However, as recordings and sound manipulating technologies have proliferated, so have musical forms based on appropriation – Pluderphonics, mashups, re-mixes and many other variations – all of which I have avidly followed. (A favorite is the Illegal Art Exhibit complilation that was given away for free at Stay Free!'s Illegal Art exhibition at CBGBs 313 Gallery in 2002).
My use of appropriation, however, has no political agenda. My reasons for borrowing other music has more to do with a growing sense that my musical practice is increasingly becominging a form of musicology. The broader conditions that have brought about the mashups etc. are only intensifying, and as an engaged participant, fan, student and presenter, it seems that the incredible abundance of music, recorded and otherwise, in our midst today calls for a different kind of musical practice that takes into account more directly all the listening we are all doing.
In my case I've been listening to a lot of "underground' music. That is where I come from – the underground, though it's not so easy to say what excactly that is. But my piece, with it's specific collection of quotations (see below) offers one vision of a musical underground. I'm of course a big fan of all these artists and tracks and it was fun and instructive to transcribe them all (and many others I did not ultimately use) and try to figure out a way to make a new piece out of them.
And I've always been attracted to the idea of a suite. In this case I've constructed one in five movements that includes three distinctly tune-based movements (I, II and V) separated by two "etudes" based largely on simple non-quoted rhythmic material. This process has certainly had its challenges, and while I'm not totally satisfied with the resulting work, I think it ultimately works. Come hear for yourself, tomorrow night (Thursday March 12th, 2015)!