Tag Archives: improvisation

Recent goings-on

Here’s a quick rundown of some stuff I’m really excited about lately:

Bloodshed Love (September 12-13)
My composer friend Adam Conrad wrote the musical score for a fantastic short film directed by MCTC student Mason Makram, and enlisted me to play on the recording. Adam and I have worked together on quite a few projects like this and they keep getting better and better, no exception here.  Adam likes working with me because I give him everything I’ve got (including tons of constructive criticism haha) and I keep coming back because he always writes me cello solos and he’s a tolerable person.  There’s really nothing like recording a film score without a click, conducted to the film with the full ensemble.  It’s a huge rush, and huge pain in the ass, and so worth it.  I just attended the premier at the St. Anthony Theatre the other night, having only seen snippets of the film, and I was totally blown away by how it came together.  Keep checking back into the Bloodshed Love <facebook page> for info regarding the movie’s release on DVD and/or other media.

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Light, Motion and Sound (March-April 2011)


(Vanessa Voskuil - photo by James Sewell)

This collaborative work of challenging-to-describe art was organized by Zachary Crockett, and served as the dissertation for his PHD in music composition (at the University of Minnesota).  Months before I entered the process Zac joined forces with choreographer Vanessa Voskuil, and at her suggestion invited visual artist David Mehrer to the team.  They’re all amazing so check out their respective pages!

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Reflections on Journey

This project fell into my lap when a cellist compatriot sent it my way, along with a slough of other gigs and one of his students!  Thanks Geoff!  The music director/composer of this production was looking for an improvising cellist, but beyond that I had almost no coherent idea of what this production would be, but how bad can a gig be if it involves cello and improvisation?  I don’t have an answer to that question, but I signed an agreement to do the show nonetheless.

I attended a production meet-and-greet party before rehearsals began, and within minutes I knew I was going to get along with the cast/crew.  My first impressions were of a very intellectual, artistic and easy-going group (which turned out to be 100% true), but what had me a little concerned was that after talking with everybody at the party, the only new information I had about the production was that the composer hadn’t written a line of music yet.  Turns out, the reason nobody knew anything about this piece was that the director, Mohammad Ghaffari, intended it that way; his vision for the piece was 360° of collaborative creation, in which drama, dance and music all took form simultaneously during rehearsals with as little premeditation as possible.  Ballsy to say the least.

(Eddie Oroyan, photo credit: Damon Lynch)

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ATQ: Making a Score

It’s a remarkable sensation, performing a musical score scribbled on the backs of pages in a script; there are so many translations/relations/references going on simultaneously, it boggles the mind.  Many of the aesthetics associated with ‘beautiful music’ also apply to ‘beautiful speech’ in a very big way such as phrasing, articulation, dynamics, idioms of rhythmical and intervalic motives, tone quality, and emotional content.  Take Orson Welles, for example: watch the first 5 minutes of this clip of “F for Fake” if you don’t believe me.  or if you do.  It’s cool.  So what I’m saying is that it would be counterproductive for me to think of myself as a solo musician since in this setting the actors are filling such a similar role; I try to think of it more like they’re soloists and I’m providing accompaniment, as I’m definitely playing a supporting role in this production.

Currently I’m working on creating a combined music/dialogue score to read off of, mostly to cut down on the 87 page-turns I’ve been going through every run of the show.  And if you’ve ever written a score you know that it’s damn time-consuming, especially the time spent tidying it up for ease of reading during performances.  To give a better idea of what kind of bullshit one goes through, here’s a page without any time spent formatting (about 3 pages worth of content):

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Experiencing After the Quake

My inaugural post was about my preparations for After the Quake with the Walking Shadow Theatre Company, a play for which I am writing and performing a solo cello score (opening May 6th).  I’ve come a long way in about 2 weeks and naturally, some of my original plans have been left by the wayside, like so many boom boxes and buckets.  I was working on developing a rather bizarre fusion of guitar/cello/koto by modifying a cello and strumming it with a guitar pick, but it was like hiking up a mountain with a backpack full of unnecessary anvils.  It wasn’t long before I got my priorities straight and ditched the metaphorical ballast, and now I’m doing my best to think simple, although in this case ‘simple’ still has its distinct difficulties (the lesser of two anvils).

(if you’ve ever worked with a looper, you know that they’re infernal machines designed specifically to torture musicians by only playing back their mistakes)

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Preparing for After the Quake

So I was hired as cellist and composer by the Walking Shadow Theatre Company for their production of “After the Quake;” the play is a mash-up of two short stories by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, the titles of which are “Honey Pie,” and “Superfrog Saves Tokyo“.  This production’s original instrumentation was cello and koto, but there is only one koto player in town and her demands were apparently too great to meet, so it was decided that solo cello would have to suffice.

My first instinct was to begin conceptualizing an extremely naked/minimalist, intimate and largely improvised score, focusing on simplicity and the vocal/melodic nature of the cello.  As alluring as that sounds, I began straying from simplicity the second I remembered that I have a loop pedal.  And after watching some amazing koto videos on youtube I felt inspired to sit at my cello and plink out a vaguely Japanese-sounding pentatonic-ish chord progression.  Here’s a recording of me exploring melodic possibilities by improvising over the top of that loop (track #1), as well as a much more minor loop with similar improv. over the top (track #2).

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