Friday, January 10, 2020

New Digital EP from Chris Becker and Misha Penton: Mallarmé

Chris Becker and Misha Penton (Photo by Dave Nickerson)

I have to thank soprano and multi-disciplinary artist Misha Penton for introducing me to the experimental writing of the 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé. After hearing an ominous, ambient track I created out of a recording I made of toads and insects croaking and chattering away after a Houston rainstorm, Misha offered to record herself improvising over the piece, and chose for the text an excerpt from Mallarmé’s “Le Phénomène futur.” Not only did Misha record two wildly different and dramatic vocal performances, she also recited Mallarmé’s verse in French. We continued our collaration with two more poems by Mallarmé, "Summer Sadness" and "Renewal," and I invited a few musician friends from across the U.S. to contribute instrumental performances to complement our readings. 

This album was conceived of as a suite, so ideally, the listener will take time to listen to each track in order, just as if she or he were reading a story or poem, or watching a short film.

Listen to and download Mallarmé on Bandcamp

Music recorded by Chris Becker except:
Misha’s Vocals (Summer Sadness, The Future Phenomenon, Renewal) recorded by Misha Penton
Electric Guitar (Summer Sadness) recorded by Lynn Wright
Classical Guitar (Renewal) recorded by Dan Sumner
Percussion (Renewal) recorded by Breeze Smith and Tony Green

Edited, Mixed, and Produced by Chris Becker 

Mastered by Doug Henderson

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Widow's Walk and Vigil screenings in 2020.

Two videos I scored for multidisciplinary artist Jil Guyon will screen next year. Our most recent collaboration, Widow's Walk has been selected for the Rome Prisma Film Awards and will be screened next month, January 2020, in Italy. And an earlier collaboration of ours titled Vigil will screen at Traverse Video in Toulouse, France in March 2020.

Widow's Walk (Trailer) from Jil Guyon on Vimeo.

Widow's Walk, 2019
Created and performed by Jil Guyon
Original Score: Chris Becker
Cinematography: Valerie Barnes
Voiceovers: Chris Becker and Lainie Diamond
Singer: Lainie Diamond
Audio master: Douglas Henderson

Shot in southern Iceland, Widow’s Walk portrays the Widow character as fated with the Sisyphean task of walking up and down a desolate hill in an effort to conquer her grief. Her existential dilemma is further destabilized by troubling memories and a precarious future.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Ambient Avenues Concert Series at the Silos on Sawyer, November 16, 2019

Sculpture Month Houston at the Silos on Sawyer is up through November 30, 2019, featuring some of the most innovative multi-dimensional site specific work out there. I will be performing a 30-minute set of orignal music on Saturday, Novemver 16th at 3 p.m. I'm imagining the music as a soundtrack for a walk through the Silos. My understanding is I'll be set up somewhere inside, hopefully pushing the air a bit. Live programming curated by artists Felipe and Meghan Lopez continues throughout the month, you can check out the full schedule here >>

I wrote about Felipe and Meghan for the magazine Houston CityBook. That article is online here.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Music for 150 Carpenters at the Berman Museum, October 26, 2019

I am honored to be a part of this upcoming performance of composer, sound artist, and sculptor Douglas Henderson's epic Music for 150 Carpenters at the Berman Museum of Art, October 26, 2019. I will be assisting Doug in teaching the piece to a team of "lead carpenters," who will then conduct their crews in two performances of the work. It should be a lot of fun.

I interviewed Doug back in 2009 ahead of the Brooklyn premiere of Music for 100 Carpenters, and he provided plenty of insight into his compositional and recording processes. You can check out the interview here.

From the Ursius College website:

In celebration of Ursinus College’s 150th anniversary, the Berman Museum of Art’s 30th anniversary, and the many individuals who have collaborated in the building of our remarkable institution, the museum will present a special performance piece by Douglas Henderson titled Music for 150 Carpenters.

Based on Henderson’s Music for 100 Carpenters, first conducted in 2009 in Brooklyn, this site-specific, multimedia piece will include a 30-minute live performance, where the audience will sit in the middle of the Main Gallery. Surrounding them along the perimeter will be 150 carpenters, consisting of not only professional, regional carpenters, but local artists, museum professionals, Ursinus faculty and staff, and of course, students. Henderson will compose an immersive sound performance featuring 150 workers, 150 sawhorses, 150 hammers, and some 10,000 nails, working in unison to create a unique score. Under the guidance of job supervisors, the sounds of construction will become waves of tonal murmur throughout the gallery. Tool belts, sweat, and lunchboxes will also be a part of the score that celebrates the college’s anniversaries with pomp, while acknowledging the diverse sources of physical and intellectual labor that are at the core of every academic and art institution.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Full score for Who You Once Were now available on Bandcamp

This is the full score for Who You Once Were, my collaboration with visual artist Lillian Warren and dancer Annie Arnoult. Who You Once Were was performed August 23 and 24, 2019 at Aurora Picture Show, Houston, TX.

“The idea for this piece came from the personal experience of my mother’s gradual and intermittent memory loss, and my emotional reactions as our relationship changes. Annie, Chris, and I worked as a team to draw on our collective experience of how memories are embedded in objects, splintered and fractured by time, triggered by sounds, and lived through the body.” - Lillian Warren

All music composed, recorded and mixed by Chris Becker. Beckeresque Music (ASCAP)

Talking drum patterns in "Chairs" created and recorded by Joseph Benzola. Guitar solo in "Writing Music" created and recorded by Dan Sumner.

Rehearsal and performance photos by Lillian Warren.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Who You Once Were Video

This is a four-minute composite of just a few segments from Who You Once Were, a multimedia collaboration between Lillian Warren (video and project direction), Annie Arnoult (movement), and Chris Becker (original score). Performed at Aurora Picture Show on August 23 and 24, 2019. Both performances were sold out, and the audience response to the work was incredible.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

On Composing Music for Who You Once Were

Video image by Lillian Warren
Who You Once Were is a live, multimedia performance created in collaboration between, myself painter and video artist Lillian Warren, and choreographer Annie Arnoult. Performances will take place at Houston's Aurora Picture Show August 23 and 24, 2019. Lillian writes, “The idea for this piece came from the personal experience of my mother’s gradual and intermittent memory loss, and my emotional reactions as our relationship changes. Annie, Chris, and I are working as a team to draw on our collective experience of how memories are embedded in objects, splintered and fractured by time, triggered by sounds, lived through the body.” The 40-45 minute performance combines Lillian's images from four separate video projectors, improvised movement by Annie, and my score, cued in realtime from a laptop computer and played through Aurora's mixer and P.A.

Ableton Live session for Who You Once Were
I am a composer. I began my musical training at the piano, learning to play Bach, Mozart and Chopin, and composing for traditional classical ensembles, jazz ensembles, and solo performers. Although I started out as a pen on paper composer, my main instrument for composing is the computer, specifically, the popular software music sequencer and digital audio workstation Ableton Live. When people ask me what instrument I play, I tell them the recording studio, which I use both as an instrument and (to quote Brian Eno) a "compositional tool." To create a composition, I record musical performances, sometimes notated, but often improvised, and combine those recordings with my own field recordings. The process is not unlike recording so-called "pop" music, or music in any number of other genres outside of classical or jazz. But what I do with Ableton Live certainly has its roots in the earliest years of musique concrète ("concrete music") created in the years after World War II by Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry, and John Cage. The "studio technology and compositional strategies" of Jamaican dub music have also had a profound impact on how I conceptualize and engineer music, even if the results sound nothing like King Tubby or Lee "Scratch" Perry.

Although I have scored several videos for performance artist Jil Guyon, and composed music for dance companies across the U.S., including choreographer/director Rachel Cohen's New York-based Racoco Productions, this particular project was quite different than scoring a film or a choreographed dance. From the very beginning of our collaboration, Lillian provided video-in-progress to work with, which was very helpful in mapping out a timeline for sections of the score. But initially, there was no choreography for me to watch, so it was up to me to decide how tempo, harmony and texture could work in relation to Lillian's video and her suggestions to Annie for movement.

I began creating musical sketches in Ableton Live, using sounds inspired by conversations Lillian and I had about the subject and themes of this piece. She told me her mother is a fan of classical piano music, and four chords I played on friend's grand piano became an idée fixe that recurs and is transformed throughout the score. Bird songs appeared in these early sketches, and became another crucial sonic leitmotif after Lillian told me her mother is a bird watcher. Throughout Who You Once Were, both in Lillian's projected video and in person, Annie walks through doors into rooms only to encounter more doors, as if she were navigating a mental labyrinth. This image inspired me to incorporate the sounds of opening and closing doors throughout the score. The sound of a door slamming shut is so primal, loaded with emotion and meaning. But when that sound is drenched in reverb, and combined in layers with the sounds of different doors closing, you end up something closer to Taiko drums, or a tree falling on a car, or something from outer edges of so-called "industrial" music. Still, I believe no matter how much I may transform my source material, the original reference remains, like footnotes to a poem.

Speaking of poems . . . to help with the creative process, Lillian shared with Annie and I a poem she wrote about visiting her mother. The poem became yet another "way in" to the work, and I recorded myself reading the lines, and used fragments of that recording in the score. I also recorded Lillian and Annie reading the poem, and their voices are hear at key points as well, which I feel speaks to the personal and emotional investment each of us has in this project.

There's a scene in the film Bladerunner 2049 where a woman who creates fake yet vivid and emotional memories for replicants explains, "They all think it's about more detail, but that's not how memory works. We recall with our feelings. Anything real should be a mist." I use reverb in my score is to create this "mist" and give the listener a sense they are hearing something that is present but not entirely in focus, like a dream image you can't recall when you wake up.

I tend to work quickly and intuitively when I compose. If the material I'm working with is inspiring, I find it will lead me to ideas I could not have planned out in advance. This is when composing (and recording) feels more like performing. That said, like any studio nerd, I will spend countless hours mixing, comparing one mix with another, and taking apart and rebuilding what already sounded good in the first place. I figure, as long as the process feels good, and I'm not missing a deadline, what's wrong with going down the proverbial rabbit hole? When is a recording "finished"? I'm not always sure. However, at some point you have put down the brush and walk away from the canvas.

Video image and photo of Annie Arnoult by Lillian Warren
Each composition I create is its own landscape, in the literal sense of that word, with its own indigenous elements, just like the plant and animal life and weather of our planet's remote regions. Identifying, being aware of and composing with these elements can give the score a unified sound and help bring all of the components of a complex, multimedia performance like Who You Once Were together into a complete work.