Thursday, October 14, 2010

Arthur Jarvinen - Carbon for Bass Clarinet Solo

(You can read about the Arthur Jarvinen Memorial held October 30, 2010.  Or read my initial post called Arthur Jarvinen 1956-2010.)

In 1982 Art Jarvinen wrote a solo piece for bass clarinet entitled Carbon.  I performed that piece a lot.  (For me "a lot" was still less than a dozen times.)  One of those performances was at the New Music America Festival held here in Los Angeles in 1985.  I did a solo clarinet recital at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute, then located at USC.   (You can read about that recital in the MM post Two Marks of Good Music Criticism.)

I often introduced the pieces I performed directly from the stage.  That was a lucky thing at this event because the programs didn't arrive until the concert was nearly finished. 

Listen to my introduction of Carbon by Arthur Jarvinen on New Music America 1985  (142 seconds)

Here is a transcription of Art's program notes and biography as I read them to the audience.  My other verbal interpolations are only available if you listen.
Arthur Jarvinen provided the following notes for Carbon: This work was through-composed on a purely intuitive basis at a time when I was infatuated with Antarctica. I imagine Antarctica to be the place on the planet with the most nothing or the least of everything. The work is now dedicated to David Ocker for repeatedly bringing his considerable talents to bear on an odd and difficult piece.

Art also provided the following biography and noted that some people thought it uninformative. Arthur Jarvinen was raised in Finnish communities in the midwestern United States and Canada, the son of a Lutheran clergyman. A boy scout for three years he once snowshoed twenty miles in one day. Mr. Jarvinen has been a student of Thai cooking for several years and enjoys entertaining his friends. In 1983 he made dinner for Drumbo. His favorite footwear is a pair of jump boots he got in 1975.
Listen to Carbon by Arthur Jarvinen (482 seconds)

Here's an email which I received from Arthur.  It's dated March 17, 2007, at 3:10PM:
As a composer, I have really valued my relationships with people like you, Marty Walker and others who chose to play the bass clarinet, and focus on it, and do it so well. God's gift to me was the ability to easily play the vibraphone, the most boring instrument on earth. I would have asked for bass clarinet chops, were that an option.
I always wondered why he called the piece Carbon.  I can't remember ever asking him directly.  Possibly he chose the title because there's so little of the element carbon in the Antarctic.  That would mean it is music about things which are not present.  The music is filled with a great deal of emptiness. 

After an opening section of about 90 seconds, Art abruptly discards most of the material he has set forth, choosing to keep only a few simple musical phrases characterized by long steady tones.  These are unpredictably repeated over and over, contrasting loud and soft.

At each successive performance I remember trying to make those long tones even steadier and even longer.  And to make the silences between them longer as well.  Art eventually noticed this and told me that's not what he intended.  He didn't specifically say 'don't do it'. I remember ignoring his comment.

Today, based on this performance, I don't feel that the piece is too long.  But Carbon does feel like it speaks about things which are missing.  Foremost among them now, of course, is Art himself.  I suspect that the meaning of all of his music will change for those of us who knew him, now that we must live in a world without him. It's a poorer world now - one without the one-of-a-kind creativity of Art.

A note on this recording.  My 25-year old archive tape was afflicted with horrible print-through, a condition where the magnetism of one loop of recording tape magnetizes the next loop.  This results in little echos of things which are about to happen.  Needless to say, the listening experience is ruined - especially for Carbon.  

Through the miracle of digital audio editing and because of the reptitive nature of this music,  I've been able to remove the print-through artifacts and restore the music experience.  Audiophiles who listen critically at high volumes will be scandalized.  The rest of us, who listen at normal volume, should have no problem in contemplating the musical events as Art himself intended them.

Carbon Dating Tags: . . . . . . . . .


Kraig Grady said...

Thanks for posting, David.
I remember the live performance, but blessed to hear it again and also your own wonderful playing.

Amy Knoles said...

I think the artifacts make some little sense now....