Monday, December 01, 2008

Notes on Cycles

From the Maria Schneider interview that's been circulating amongst the blogs, this is her perspective on sharing the stories behind compositions:
I like it when people get it because I think it helps bring people inside the music and relates the music to their own worlds. They kind of dive into it as a story, especially people who aren't musicians.
I agree. The majority of my music is programmatic to an extent, be it a full-on tone poem, or merely that the catalyst for the piece comes from something I've experienced or read. Much of the music on the album, Cycles, is coming from a very specific emotional place. Consider these the program notes.

1. Driscollage - Named after our friend, drummer Chris Driscoll, who passed away in January 2005. After former Indigone Trio drummer Liam O'Neill called me to tell me the news, this melody popped into my head. I was thinking of the music Driscoll loved, especially David Binney. He and I shared a love for bad puns in song titles. I wrote the majority of it on the bus to Prince Edward Island for his funeral, finished it at the house where I was staying, and it was premiered at a memorial concert for Chris, in PEI.

2. Bella
- A text setting of a Pablo Neruda poem from The Captain's Verses. It was the first Neruda poem I read, and as I was reading it I immediately heard the voice of Caetano Veloso singing the words, which is the bass solo at the beginning. The rest came from there.

3. Shahgely
- Bassist Graig Earle brought this traditional Egyptian melody into our ensemble at the Banff Centre, and the group, led by Dylan van der Schyff, came up with an arrangement that juxtaposed a drone with burning free-bop. This arrangement is very similar.

4. Love is the Reason
- Written by Alex Mallett for his girlfriend, Lina. As he writes, "When I was in my third year of college, I was exchanging e-mails with my good friend in New York, Dave Moore. Lina had recently moved to Montreal and (as always) I was having trouble balancing everything. I wrote him that things were going well, but I was finding it distracting having Lina around. Dave wrote me back, 'Love is never, never, never a distraction. Love is the Reason.'" Lina's been a great supporter of the band - that's her cheering on the live EP.

5. Smacked
- I wrote this at the Banff Centre, and was really stuck on it. I met with Dave Douglas, and he shared some sage advice that I rely on to this day. But even after the meeting, I was still stuck. I left to go to the club, and while putting on my sweater outside, a bird flew into my head. Once I got to the club, the tune wrote itself. I'm never sure whether to credit Dave, or the bird. Michael Bates came up with the idea for the backgrounds.

6. Piece for Open Strings
- Alex's experiment with minimalism, exploring the basic texture of a string group based on rhythm and timbre, rather than pitch. It was originally written for just strings and bass, but Alex later revised it to have Phil and I improvise texturally to contrast with the strings.

7. Heraclito
- A tone poem based on the Jorge Luis Borges poem of the same name. I was taken with the structure of Borges' poem, and allowed that to guide my writing. I assigned musical phrases to the phrases that repeat in the text.

8. Visions
- All this music grew out of an assignment in advanced arranging class to write for trio and string orchestra. I couldn't decide which song to use, so I booked the recital (which later became the EP) as an excuse to write all the arrangements I had in mind. This was the assignment. Stevie Wonder's melody is gorgeous, and though we're working on achieving the vision in our mind, we're not quite there yet.

9. Erghen Diado
- Dave Douglas gave a lecture on his work with odd meters and Balkan music at the Banff Centre, and gave the names of artists I'd never heard of before, like Le Mystère des voix bulgares. When I got back to Montreal, I found their first record, and this song immediately captivated me. I had a visceral reaction to the music, similar to the first time I heard A Love Supreme. It's really a simple song, and its power and beauty lie in that simplicity.

10. Throughout
- This Bill Frisell song has become incredibly important to me. It was played as part of Driscoll's funeral; saxophonist Becky Noble and I performed it in Banff; and that summer I got to meet Frisell at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The song in all its contexts came to epitomize the cycles of life and death, and provided a means of closure. On another level, it was the last piece on the recital, which was the last concert of my undergraduate studies. In French, undergraduate and graduate studies are sometimes referred to as cycles. I feel that this is my best string writing on the whole album.

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