Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shanty Town Suite

(Photo above graffiti in Barcelona - I don't know who took the photo or who the artist is)

When I lived in New Orleans, I found a copy of a book called Cut n’ Mix by Dick Hebdige in a roommate,s expansive book collection. I was so taken with Hebdige’s short history of Caribbean music that I ordered my own copy. Several years later I am working on a piece entitled Shanty Town Suite for the trio of Lewis ‘Flip’ Barnes (trumpet), Lynn Wright (electric guitar) and myself (laptop) that – among other things – attempts to survey some Caribbean music such as ska and dub in a suite form with some scored parts, group improvisation, and DJing techniques. There’s even a moment of straight up musique concrete (albeit via a cassette boombox instead of reel to reel tape). I’m going to use this blog to put down some notes on this piece as it comes together this summer with a premiere scheduled for October 12 and 13 with the trio and guest bassist Grant Curry. I should quickly acknowledge that the premiere Shanty Town Suite is funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center.

In this piece I am playing with the ideas of time, place and identity using various performance and compositional options (or “tricks”) that on one level simply create some evocative sonic textures while on another level reference social and cultural displacement as well as the ongoing historical hybridization (is that a word…?) of musical styles. While Flip and his trumpet act as the fulcrum for the structure of this suite, Lynn and I are also characters in this versioning of musical landscapes. This isn’t exactly a new theme for me as a composer. My CD Saints & Devils is a similar journey across an imagined American South using stories, songs and iconography to create the sonic landscape.

The first movement (at the moment…this may change of course…) begins with a loop cued via Ableton live that is a sliver of an electric piano chord covered in vinyl static repeating like a bell calling the faithful to prayer…well…maybe not. In addition to the loop I cue up a few samples of police car sirens wailing across the stereo spectrum. I cue up one at a time half a dozen clips of Flip’s trumpet (recorded in a session for music I was creating for ESPN) following some sort of pulse suggested by the vinyl piano loop, the police sirens and a recurring guitar chord and bass tone each played on the one every five measures and three measures respectively (creating a sort of mobile effect with the two parts). Flip responds to each trumpet sample I cue – sometimes by mirroring the sample, sometimes answering it – sometimes by remaining silent. He and I are having a conversation, but the dialogue is stern, terse and not leading to a resolution. This is the beginning of the suite.

More to come…

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