Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beyond Baroque, Art Jarvinen and Me

This Friday the series Beyond Music will present a concert of the music of Arthur Jarvinen at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center in Venice California.  I've already written about the music on that concert in this post.

Beyond Baroque has a long history of presenting music concerts.  I performed there several times, including at least two solo clarinet recitals.  On one of those I performed Art's piece Goldbeater's Skin, in the arrangement for clarinet and ratchet.

On another concert at Beyond Baroque, the percussion trio The Antenna Repairmen (Arthur Jarvinen, Robert Fernandez and M.B. Gordy) premiered my piece Bombed! which they had asked me to compose for them. More on that below.

My solo concert was given June 11, 1988.  It was reviewed in the L.A. Times a few days later.  I got a pretty good notice, although Terry McQuilken, the critic, liked Art's piece least of all.  He still referred to its "droll humor."  The ratchet, played by my friend David Johnson, elicited laughter from the audience.  You can hear the laughter on the recording.  Apparently I played the piece a month earlier on the Bang on a Can Festival marathon in New York.

Art's catalog lists the date of Goldbeater's Skin as 1987.  It started as an ensemble piece for XTET.  He had received some prestigious grant which allowed him to compose it.  I was a member of XTET then and we played Goldbeater's Skin a lot.   There's a commercial recording of a version for wind quintet.  I do not remember how or why the solo clarinet version came to be.  In fact, until I was looking through my trove of cassettes last year, I had completely forgotten that this version ever existed.  Or that I had performed it.

Goldbeater's Skin consists of many repetitions of the same melody.  The melody gradually changes with one selected pitched transposed down each time, until the melody reappears at the end in identical form, only lower.  The appearance of each changed pitch is highlighted by the ratchet - a surprising sound in this context.  The ratchet makes a raspy, grinding sound.  Harsh.  Ugly.

Like many of Art's serious chamber works, this one requires concentration from the listener.  He used a certain process in the composition of Goldbeater's Skin.  This process is remarkably easy to hear.

Listen to Goldbeater's Skin by Arthur Jarvinen.

version for solo clarinet with ratchet - © 1988 Leisure Planet Music - 535 seconds
David Ocker, clarinet
David Johnson, ratchet
performed June 11, 1988 at Beyond Baroque, Venice CA

If you want, you can listen to Carbon, Art's solo bass clarinet piece which I performed often and which he dedicated to me.  I briefly used the melody of Goldbeater's Skin in my memorial tribute to Art, Solstice Lights.  Art named this piece after goldbeater's skin.  Here's a picture of some goldbeater's skin.  (It came from here.)

My piece Bombed! was written in 1991 for the Antenna Repairmen.  They premiered it at Beyond Baroque - although I don't remember the date.  Or much else, for that matter.  I do remember that at one point in the concert Bob, Art and M.B. sang Papa Oom Mow Mow.

Art played electric bass, M.B. played drum set and Bob played vibraphone.  I dedicated Bombed! to Frank Zappa - this was years after I had ceased working for Frank.  Bombed! contains a lot of Zappa-esque musical devices - metric modulations, mixed meters and the like.  I played it for Frank once.  He was underwhelmed.  He tactfully reminded me that my future was not in rock and roll.  In most instances Frank had always been very supportive of my activities as a composer.

Bombed! is in three movements which explore the idea of bombed-ness from different angles.  The titles are "Into the Stone Age", "Pan Am 103" and "Out of Your Mind".  Here are the program notes for each movement which I worked into a kind of a sort of a plot:
  1. Into the Stone Age – Three young Americans, believing the sound-bites of their leaders, participate in the destruction of a less significant culture.
  2. Pan Am 103 – Wrapped up in their own problems and fears, they have no conception of what is happening around them.
  3. Out of Your Mind – Our heroes, trying to walk home after the bars close, cannot remember the music they heard that day.
This is not a delicate piece.  Not even the very quiet middle movement - which is about bodies falling out of the sky.

I don't have a recording of the live performance.  This particular recording was made in a studio after the concert.  In the manner typical of my career as a composer the recording has gathered dust on a shelf for over twenty years.  This is the first chance anyone other than myself has had to hear it.

Listen to Bombed! by David Ocker

© 1991, 2012 David Ocker - 515 seconds
Performed by The Antenna Repairmen
Robert Fernandez, vibraphone
M.B. Gordy, drums
Arthur Jarvinen, bass

Movement I: Into the Stone Age
Movement II: Pan-Am 103
Movement III: Out of Your Mind

On the playback page you can find a link to download pdfs of the score and parts to Bombed!  A bit of the third movement "Out of Your Mind" is quoted in my own piece This Is Not The Title.

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