Community Building through Commissioning: Catharsis

Today opens David Crowell week for New Morse Code.  On the docket:

I met David at the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, where where Vicki Ray, Isabelle O’Connell, Brian Archinal and myself premiered his Mapfumo.  Since then, I’ve enjoyed following his work. He’s a fantastic performer and deft composer, touring with the Phillip Glass Ensemble on saxophone and playing guitar with Empyrean Atlas. I love the vitality of Empyrean Atlas’ music, the way in which the loops of West African-inspired riffs conspire to create deep harmonic textures.  Layers of rhythms become a sustained texture which drives the music inexorably forward.  No long tones in sight, but larger lines are inferred through the repetition gradual harmonic change. 

I followed with interest his album-length project with Brian Archinal, and when Ian Rosenbaum asked me to join an all-star consortium to commission a marimba+electronics solo from David, I jumped at the chance. I like the way in which the resulting work—Celestial Sphere—blended the two aspects of David’s music: long layers of slowly changing harmony, and fast-driving hocketing rhythms with asymmetrical verve. David expanded these ideas in his Music for Percussion Quartet, a really killer four-movement work.  In these percussion works, David takes interlocking patterns and slides them out of their grid, using clashing rhythms (quintuplets against sextuplets against 16th notes, for example) to create clouds of harmony. As it turns out, marimbas and vibraphones are well-suited to repeatable loops of fast, short notes.  I hear Sandbox Percussion’s recording of Music for Percussion Quartet is coming soon.  I can’t wait

After being in touch with David about performances of Celestial Sphere and Point Reyes in Kansas, Hannah and I asked him if he’d be interested in working on a piece for cello and percussion.  Since New Morse Code’s mission is to build community through music-making, we organized a consortium of 19 cellists and percussionists from across the country to commission David.  

We wanted a work that could be performed by the two of us, but could also be a platform for collaboration with our friends and colleagues.  Catharsis is written for 2 live performers and a number of pre-recorded cello, percussion, and vocal tracks.  The work can also be performed by 4 players, with reduced electronic forces. 

The demos David sent us sound amazing, with a great combination of vitality and sensitivity. After receiving a final draft a few weeks ago, Hannah and I have been busy preparing our parts.  I’m dusting off my 7:8 and knocking the rust off of my drum set chops. This week, David is coming up to Avaloch Farm Music Institute to workshop the piece.  After a few days, we’ll head to Guilford Sound for two days of recording.  I can’t wait to see how the whole thing sounds.

 Time to practice!

Time to practice!

Much of the work New Morse Code does is centered on building community through music.  In many instances, we think of relationships between performers and audiences, between composers and performers, and between communities and the common issues that unite them.  What’s exiting about Catharsis is that we’re working to build community among cellists and percussionists.  It’s been a joy getting to know other musicians through the commissioning process.  And, since the piece is performable by a quartet, I hope to play with everyone involved in the near future. Stay tuned for the results!