about new CD

A few people have asked me about my process and intentions with the pieces on my latest CD “Melting the Darkness” (CD available from the Store page, digital release by Urlicht on Nov. 11). So I thought I’d take a quick moment to write some more about these things.

Unlike most of my CDs, the programs of which were each recorded in one chunk of a couple consecutive days, this CD was recorded over three years. This was because a couple of the pieces were being written, and because I was seeking opportunities to perform the pieces before recording, amidst my schedule of other repertoire. The Sigman and Rowe pieces were commissioned by the New Spectrum foundation and Glenn Cornett, who introduced me to Robert and who also knew Alex Sigman. Robert, like my father Robert, has a daughter named Miranda, and he titled his piece after a line from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, Act V scene i: “Melting the darkness”. We did not discuss the line and its context in the play but I do not think he was giving it any programmatic significance as to the “meaning” of his music. Likewise, I decided to use it as the title of the CD because the phrase “melting the darkness” seemed to draw out a thread among the works, of light and human warmth asserting itself amidst trouble.

The pieces on the CD were originally going to be two projects, one microtonal and one electroacoustic, but I decided to put these seven pieces together and I felt the various strands of exploration bring the works together effectively. The emotional heart of the CD is Georg Friedrich Haas’ “de terrae fine”, a remarkable, almost 20-minute, highly microtonal work of great emotional intensity and sustained quiet tension which builds to a wild, furious release. Oscar Bianchi’s sparkling “Semplice” provides a scherzando, spritely contrast after this, with microtones coming into play only in the middle section. Chris Burns’ piece is part of an ongoing adventure, as he wrote it in response to our collaboration on Luigi Nono’s substantial work for violin and electronics, a piece we both love and have performed around the country a number of times. In this piece and the three preceding it on the CD, the violin sound was miked up close and the sound was left much as is, so that the very real details of the physical action and the intimate quiet sounds – the friction noise of the bow, the creaking of the fingerboard under my fingers in the Xenakis – are intact and clearly audible. The Xenakis is the only piece here by a deceased composer- I began the CD with it because I love it, it’s short and strong, and because its sliding double-stops that buzz with microtonal beating (as in Scelsi’s music) anticipate the microtonal experiments of today. 

The three electroacoustic pieces were sound-mixed by the composers themselves. Ileana Perez-Velasquez’s is an older work, which I was asked to play on a concert some years ago and enthusiastically included in my performing repertoire. There is some reverb on the recording but the violin sound is much as in live acoustic performance and is recognizably my own. I hear the work as a swirling jungle of animal, insect and water sounds, with the violin singing freely and rather folk-like.

In contrast to this evocation of howling emotion and the natural world, the Sigman and Rowe pieces inhabit a machine-made environment. The two pieces were obviously processed in the studio and the sound world is, at times, quite synthesized. I was intrigued to contribute my violin playing to such experiments – and to master the extended-technique challenges of the Sigman – and to see what these composers would create using my sound-making on an old wooden instrument as a component of their imaginings. This is the opposite of recordings like my two Ralph Shapey CDs: Shapey, as a violinist, was focused on expanding the possibilities of traditional violin playing and the music demands the traditional qualities of warm cantabile tone, refined intonation, defined rhythmic articulation from the bow, and so on. I enjoy working between these poles of interest in the use of the instrument and combining it with other sounds.

Regarding recordings, I’d like to say: I love to perform, with all the glories and fun of personal interaction, ephemeral experience and risks and goof-ups that it entails. In recording, I enjoy the extreme focus on the sound itself and the chance to explore many ways of playing a passage or a piece. Of course most recordings are edited (and very easily) these days. I enjoy the sculpting of an interpretation from various possibilities that I’ve recorded in the studio. Because I’ve recorded a lot, there are people who think I’m all about the modern cliché of perfection on recording, but my editing process is not fussy. I became a musician for the music, not to achieve some kind of technical perfection. Nonetheless, I do work hard on my craft and there are some long sections in my recordings (Shapey solo Sonata No. 1 as one listening example) that consist of one take. I dislike to boast but then, it’s frustrating these days when people just assume you cut and spliced everywhere!  🙂

Hope you’ll enjoy checking out the music on the new CD. Wishing everyone a wonderful season.