Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Further thoughts on the first two Gravity Wave discs

ricefall (2) (GW 001)

At the end of a beautiful, detailed passage describing all of the minute sounds of the rain in his backyard, John M. Hull in his book Touching the Rock writes:

The whole scene is much more differentiated than I have been able to describe, because everywhere are little breaks in the patterns, obstructions, projections, where some slight interruption or difference of texture or of echo gives an additional detail or dimension to the scene. Over the whole thing, like light falling upon a landscape, is the gentle background patter gathered up into one continuous murmur of rain.

I think the experience of opening the door on a rainy garden must be similar to that which a sighted person feels when opening the curtains and seeing the world outside. The rain presents the fullness of an entire situation all at once, not merely remembered, not in anticipation, but actually and now.

If only rain could fall inside a room, it would help me to understand where things are in that room, to give a sense of being in the room, instead of sitting in a chair.

[The book is a description of what Hull experiences as he goes blind in the middle of his life. Thanks to Matt Marble for recommending the book to me, many years ago.]

This passage, and the nearly endless refinement of the sense of hearing in implied was the spur behind the work on ricefall (2004) in its first version for 16 performers. I wanted to create something like that experience indoors in order to see if I too could “hear” a landscape. The grid I’ve pictured in the previous blog post on this piece is laid out in a space, with each performer allowing rice to fall (at various rates) on one of the materials. The field laid out for ricefall (2) (2007) as it was mixed for this recording is much more complex: the 64 parts with a greater variation of material are scattered throughout the stereo field. Greg Stuart and I thought that, on a recording with the ability to hear the acoustic situation many times, the landscape could be correspondingly complex.

Although the disc is constructed as one long 72-minute track, it is subdivided into four sections of 18 minutes each (each with 16 minutes of sound preceded and followed by a minute of silence). The whole has the shape of something like a brewing storm (which reaches its peak in the near white noise at the beginning of section 2) followed by a long aftermath, as the rain of rice slows to individual “drops.” Changes in density occur at one minute intervals.

July Mountain (three versions) (GW 002)

This piece also began as a response to something I had read, but this time, the provocation was direct. In the summer of 2008, Greg sent me the Wallace Stevens poem with the comment that he was “pretty sure we could do a piece using this”:

July Mountain

We live in a constellation

Of patches and of pitches,

Not in a single world,

In things said well in music,

On the piano and in speech,

As in the page of poetry—

Thinkers without final thoughts

In an always incipient cosmos.

The way, when we climb a mountain,

Vermont throws itself together.

It took me over a year to conceive of something, but then I hit on the idea of a crossfade between multiple field recordings and multiple percussion parts – and wondered what would happen as the one replaced the other.

The percussion parts are fixed in the score, but the field recordings may be supplied by anyone. For our first version of the piece, I made them myself (which is the “California version” on the disc). For a concert in Austin, Greg thought we might ask others to provide them, in part because we wanted to hear what kind of difference it would make to have different recordings. Thus in that version there are recordings made by Jez riley French, Greg Headley, Travis Weller, Greg Stuart and a couple others by myself. And it really does sound different. [Thanks to Travis, Greg and Jez for allowing us to use their work for this disc!]

We also thought that there were a couple good reasons to have a version with the percussion alone on the disc (i.e., without the field recordings).

First: I enjoy listening to it all by itself. It is actually extremely densely layered (increasingly so as the piece progresses) and in some way almost a shame that some of the details are inevitably covered by the field recordings. (Greg made beautiful recordings of his percussion for this.) The piece has to function that way, but on this disc we can have our cake too. I also think it is interesting, when one knows how the percussion sounds to hear all the effects of merging and masking that occur with the various sounds of the outdoors. The point at which the field becomes percussion is still quite mysterious to me, even when I know it is coming.

Second: If you have the percussion recording you can make a version of your own! Perhaps there are some industrious souls out there who would like to use 20 of their favorite field recordings in the manner indicated by the score, to hear how they eventually get “thrown together” in their contact with Greg’s percussion. Please email me (mpisaro (at) gmail.com) for a copy of the score.

Gravity Wave discs are distributed by erstdist [http://www.erstwhilerecords.com/distro.html] and can be ordered from that site or using paypal from this blog.


  1. Do you know how Vermont is involved in this poem ?

  2. I don't actually know how Stevens meant it - but I've always read it as a word for wilderness in his vocabulary. Or possibly even more generic - something akin to 'place.'