THE TRUE STORY Edit 1/14/91
It is with great satisfaction that we write these notes as the final part of a compositional saga, the evolution of which we could never have foreseen at its inception. This project was unusual for us in many ways, most notably in the length of time (4 1/2 years) during which we worked and reworked the material and in the number of incarnations which resulted from these efforts. The development of the music was closely linked to a parallel evolution in music technology, particularly in digital sampling, sound processing and computer-driven music sequencers. From the outset, this project was conceived as a marriage between two contrasting elements, the unique qualities of acoustic instrumental and improvised performance, and the detailed control, precision and new compositional possibilities offered by rapidly evolving technology. If we have succeeded, this recording will evoke a kind of musical techno-primitivism, a hybrid utilizing the tools of sophisticated technology to amplify and reshape the rawness, energy and wonder with sound which is at the root of, and the only inspiration for, this music.
We met in 1983 on a shared program at New Music America in Washington D.C. In spite of the radically contrasting surface qualities of our respective musics, it was evident that we shared many deeper sensibilities and and believed it would be exciting to work together. The opportunity arose in 1986 when we spent a week working with a specialized tape loop system (see description below) in preparation of a tape composition for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company.
At the conclusion of the week we decided that there was much more potential in our collaboration than had been explored in that brief period, and we agreed to continue meeting with the goal of producing a recording . In the Spring of 1987 we created more loops and samples and began the rather complicated process of mapping the form and progression of the record. We entered a recording studio, laid our basic loops to a 24 track recorder and recorded percussion parts with Gene Reffkin. In July we took the project to New York where, working closely with upright bassist Mark Dresser, electric bass guitarist Anthony Jackson and drummers Bobby Previte and Samm Bennett, we created and recorded the remaining basic tracks.
In evaluating these sessions, two significant and related problems became evident. Each loop was totally autonomous and it was virtually impossible to link or integrate one with another because of differences in tempo, harmony or tuning. In addition, that however interesting in themselves, the loops were static and limited our compositional freedom.
The solution to this problem did not become available (or affordable) until 1989 when advances in sampling technology made it possible to sample each track of each loop and then reconstruct the loops using a computer/sequencer. However, the greatest asset from this new technology was not the replication of what we had already created, but rather the ability to fragment, transform and reconstruct our material. A good example of this is in "Finale", where materials from 4 different loops are layered against each other. In addition to removing the impediment to integrating the diverse material, sampling gave us the option of playing with the loop material in a constantly varying fashion, allowing it to interact more effectively with the live instrumental parts.
In the Spring of 1989 an invitation from New Music America to perform the project at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival provided the impetus to realize the solution. We embarked on the lengthy process of sampling all the loops, editing the samples, writing basic sequences and then reconstructing and integrating all the material into a more cohesive whole. Over the course of two weeks we composed a single continuous 45 minute work which transformed and linked all the original loop material and more clearly developed our conception of the live non-sequenced parts. We assembled a band consisting of the two of us, Mark Helias on acoustic and electric bass, Samm Bennett on percussion, Richard Eisenstein on sampler keyboards and a computer-controlled sampler.
After the performances at BAM and the Guggenheim Museum (and with considerable consternation regarding the difficulties of performing live with a sequencer) we returned to the process of making the record, fortunately now with funding from the Mary Flagler Carey Charitable Trust in New York. While the work we created for the live performance formed the basis of this next incarnation, we reworked the material yet again, breaking the single continuous work into individual movements, and composing new material, such as "Skronk", the sounds of which consist of short fragments from the loops. We entered Home Base Studio in July, 1990 and working closely with engineer Drew Milano, were able to integrate our favorite performances from the 1987 sessions with the new versions of most of the material, working again with the original 1987 performers and the new sampled sequences.
The rough mixes from these sessions convinced us we were close but not yet finished. After 4 years of living so closely with the work, we felt it would be opportune to bring in an outside ear to lend perspective. We invited friend and producer Lee Townsend, who had long been interested in the project, to give his viewpoint. Before entering the studio, we worked with Lee in determining various edits and a new order for the material. The three of us returned to Home Base in December of 1990, rerecorded a few sections, and produced the final mix.
THE SOURCE SOUNDS AND TAPE LOOP SYSTEM
The loops and other samples created for this recording consist, with one exception, entirely of sounds from Ned's woodwind instruments (alto and tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, shakuhachi, flute and ocarina) and Paul's Stratocaster electric guitar. Electronic processing was often used to enhance and focus sounds produced through a variety of extended instrumental techniques. For example, the quiet percussive sounds of a bass clarinet's key clicks were heavily amplified by placing a microphone inside the clarinet and then were radically equalized to emphasize the sound's pitched characteristics. Other sounds were altered in the loop medium itself, for example by turning the loop around on alternate tracks, yielding both forward and backwards tracks, as heard on the shakuhachi loops used in "Orient and Tropic".
The tape loop system itself is a kind of analog multi-track recording system consisting of a 4 track recording deck with an added playback head. This head is located exactly halfway through the length of the loop thus giving an audition point for determining rhythmic synchronization. The duration of the loop is made variable by controlling the speed of the tape machine, which has been altered to allow speeds ranging from about 3 3/4 to nearly 30 inches per second. Each channel of each playback head on the machine (2 heads x 4 tracks = 8 outputs) has a separate volume control, as on a mixing console in a recording studio. Generally, one records continuously until satisfied with what is on the track, monitoring both the live sound and what was just recorded on the same channel from the added playback head. Then one simply proceeds to record the next track. One of the most prominent assets of this system is the ease of interaction with the machinery which allows a rapid and uninterrupted creative process.
Paul Dresher and Ned Rothenberg December 1990