Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bill Dixon Recording Residency
Firehouse 12/New Haven
Project Journal

July 10, 2008/Climbing the Mountain

Yesterday we worked from 10 in the morning until 11 PM, with breaks for meals. Much was accomplished, but the way ahead was not easy initially. Bill spent the first half of the day working relentlessly to get the ensemble members to surrender so that they could receive and fully inhabit the music. When we finally did manage to cross this creative threshold with the completion of the first fully-realized ensemble piece, it was a relief. The material for the first piece was a suite-like combination of the line for Judy Dunn, delivered as a chorale, and a page of new lines that Bill had written for the residency week. He ended up dividing the line finally, giving each brass player a part of the material and instructions to use the material as the basis for individual voice in the composition.

After lunch, a spontaneous trio emerged with Bill, Ken Filiano and Warren Smith. No directions, just pure music created in the moment between three sympathetic individuals. The first piece was a long arc, slow-moving and beautiful. Suddenly, Bill leapt into aggressive movement: bursts of pure sound driven by force through the horn, visceral and vocal. Ken laid a rhythmic bed and Warren moved across the vibraphone, marimba and cymbals. The music made us all want to dance. Michel was in tears when Bill finished. Pure joy!

Next, Bill developed new music for the full ensemble through dictation, employing a deceptively simple grouping of three pitches (‘call this an exercise’) that, when employed independently by the brass created either subtly phased unison lines or clusters of pitches. What I would call cloud sound. On top of this, Bill built layers of sounds with the rest of the ensemble and weaved through the entirety with his singular trumpet voice.

During a break, in conversation with Graham, he talked of one of the primary and persistent difficulties that flowed from this instrumentation: finding one’s place in a cluster of brass players who all, though possessing distinct voices, have consistently dark sounds. Both Graham and Rob have employed electronics freely, but even that method does not solve the problem completely.

We ended the evening in a sound environment that was unlike any I have ever heard or participated in before. Again, no instructions, not even a signal to start. Bill began slowly and softly intoning pitches. I added a chant, a single pitch in the pedal register, and stayed in that position invariably. What unfolded was almost dreamlike in quality, and had the feeling of suspension, with motion so slow as to be almost imperceptible, shimmering like light on water. For a moment after we finished, no one spoke or moved.

Today, we will begin with a group interview of the ensemble by Robert O’Haire. There will also be a formal photo shoot of Bill, as well as a group image in front of our short term home, Firehouse 12. Throughout, Nick Ruechel and his assistant have done a wonderful job moving through the musicians during rehearsal and break periods, managing to capture image without disrupting the energy in the room. No small task.

Hard to imagine what will occur musically today.

Images by Nick Cretens

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