Since a lot of people taking the survey didn’t know what the “Flashback series” was, here’s a little refresher: every so often, I like to post an audio clip here to remind people (and myself, I suppose) that I once was and may be again a composer of musical compositions and impresario of artistic endeavors. It’s terribly self-indulgent, I know, but I pay $10 a month for the privilege of putting whatever I want on the Internet and by gum I’m gonna take advantage!

(Speaking of which, if you haven’t filled out the survey yet – COUGHprocrastinatorCOUGH – you’re almost out of time. I’m closing this baby down at the end of the day Friday, so if you want your voice heard, you better click this here link now. Nearly 80 people have already chimed in – can we push it past 100?)

OK, back to the music. Way back when I was a senior in college, I composed a piece for our all-night new music marathon concert almost as a lark. It was easy to write and I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in retrospect it marked an important creative turning point for me. It was my first (completed) composition for what was, essentially, a rock ensemble: electric guitar, bass, saxophone, drums, and voice. Rather than a typical linear composition, the piece consisted of measure-long fragments that were to be repeated by each performer according to the performer’s discretion. In this way, it was rather like Terry Riley’s In C (which we also performed later that evening, or to be exact, the following morning as the sun came up), except that each instrument has different material and the “cells” don’t need to be played in order after the first one. Nevertheless, there’s a fairly long list of rules governing what’s played when, resulting in a performance that is similar every time but never the same.

excerpt of Drum Cells (2002-03), guitar part

When I graduated from college and moved to Philadelphia, I ended up falling in with a group of jazz musicians who were part of a collective called Risk Taking Type Music. They had monthly performances at the High Wire Gallery in Old City at which your $6 cover charge included a complimentary beer. I think those concerts are really what kindled my love for underground creative improvisation. They were so informal and friendly and yet the music was so good. Or if was ever not good, at least it was always different. Anyway, at the end of that year, a local band called the Way Blue Bucket joined by a friend of mine on electric bass gave the first public, non-university performance of one of my compositions. I contributed improvised, wordless vocals that were run through a series of effects processors. It was a strange day, as I found out literally as I was on my way to the concert that a very close friend’s father had just passed away suddenly. Nevertheless, it’s still my favorite live performance of this piece. The section starting at around 12:45 or so might be some of the best music I’ve ever created.

When I got to New York the following autumn, I decided to put together my own band, and Drum Cells was the first piece we learned to play. Here we are on our debut album, a second guitar added to the mix. This recording is an amalgamation of two different improvisatory sessions held together by the fast middle section, which required multiple takes.

You can hear the difference; it’s a little more studied this time, with some of the rough edges smoothed out but on the whole more contained. It’s almost like the piece got older with me.

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  • http://lubricity.wordpress.com Alex

    This is fantastic stuff, Ian — this is the perfect forum to be self-indulgent, and I’m glad that you’re taking advantage of it!

  • http://www.smartsandculture.com Maryann Devine

    What with playing at High Wire Gallery, I’ve got to believe that our paths must have crossed *some* time while you were in Philly … please keep posting the music when you can!