Round-up of small, temporary, intentional communities.

AuthorCraig Shepard

When studying trombone with Frank Crisafulli at Northwestern, I got in the habit of going to the practice room immediately after the lesson to review our work together, and begin practice on the next week's work. When I did so, I found I retained a great deal more from the lesson, and the following week's practice was more effective.

Last week, I took a four-day seminar, and thought how I could complete that experience. As I sat down with some generous quiet time to go over my notes from the course, the following questions came to me:

  1. What resonated with me?
  2. What did I learn about myself?
  3. What do I want to retain/implement going forward?
  4. What next actions or areas of further investigation are indicated?
AuthorCraig Shepard

A nice french review of the On Foot (Switzerland) CD by Julien Héraud is here:

En 2005, le jeune compositeur Craig Shepard faisait une radonnée d'un mois et de 400 kilomètres à travers la Suisse. Chaque jour, il s'arrêtait à un endroit précis pour écrire une courte pièce liée à l'environnement où il se trouvait, et la jouait en public et en extérieur dans l'environnement (square, pont, etc.). Un projet que Shepard a intitulé On Foot, composé de 31 pièces, dont six ont été réalisées pour cette publication de 2011 aux éditions Wandelweiser.

Les cinq premièrs extraits de ce projet sont de courtes pièces de moins de dix minutes. La première est un solo de mélodica réalisé par Christian Wolff, la deuxième un solo de clarinette par Katie Porter, la troisième un quartet avec Antoine Beuger (flûte), Jürg Frey (clarinette), Marcus Kaiser (violoncelle) et Tobias Liebezeit (percussion), la quatrième un solo de Frey, suivi d'un solo de Beuger. Contrairement à de nombreuses compositions issues de wandelweiser, les sons utilisés pour On Foot sont clairement mélodiques sur ces cinq pièces. Il y a toujours du silence, un silence qui révèle plus l'environnement de l'auditeur que celui des musiciens (pour remarquer celui-ci, il faut jouer le disque vraiment fort), mais entre ces silences, ce n'est pas juste du son, ce ne sont pas de longues notes tenues ni des bruits, ce sont bien de courtes phrases mélodiques, écrites la plupart en mode majeur, avec des rythmiques sautillantes. Shepard a bien écrit ses pièces en retranscrivant l'atmopshère que lui évoquaient les environnements dans lesquels il se trouvait, ainsi que son état d'esprit à ce moment j'imagine. Du coup, la plupart sont plutôt joyeuses et légères, et paraissent moins sérieuses que ce qu'on peut avoir l'habitude d'entendre sur wandelweiser.

Pourtant, la dernière pièce - la plus longue avec ses trente minutes, interprétée par Liebezeit aux percussions et Kaiser au violoncelle, montre très bien avec quelle science et quel sérieux ces pièces ont pu être écrites. L'équilibre entre le son et le silence est ici ultra précis, chaque son paraît arriver au moment idéal. Il ne s'agit plus vraiment de mélodie, à moins que ce ne soit une sorte de mélodie très étirée et plutôt solennelle (effets des cloches obligent), car chaque silence - qui dure presque une minute - est suivi d'un son de cloche accompagné du violoncelle qui joue les harmoniques de la cloche. C'est extrêmement précis, savant (et superbement réalisé : on distingue à peine le violoncelle tellement il se fond dans les résonances des percussions) ; Shepard sait vraiment comment écrire de la musique, qu'elle soit plutôt mélodique, plutôt  abstraite, plutôt sonore ou silencieuse.

Quand j'écoute ce disque, qui se démarque pour son côté plus musical et mélodique, j'ai vraiment hâte d'écouter les nouvelles versions disponibles sur On Foot : Brooklyn. Shepard propose des pièces qui semblent vraiment bien interagir avec l'environnement dans lequel elles ont été composées, elles semblent en retranscrire un grand nombre d'émotions et d'atmosphères relatives. C'est beau, poétique, sensible, profond, et précis. Conseillé.

AuthorCraig Shepard

I am sitting in the front row at Phill Niblock’s Experimental IntermediaChris Mann walks in the room. At a moment, he switches to performance mode and my ears perk up. Through his half whispered, half mumbled fragments, meaning begins to coalesce. I catch the phrase “cost of denial”, and am sent in to a stupor, as if I just banged my head hard on a door. I am reminded once again of the power of art.

I sit on a bench upstairs at the Old Stone House. Beth O’Brien reads Antoine Beuger’s 40 Haikus—a surprise gift on my 40th birthday. Her voice falters and time stops. She continues.

Standing at the back of Church of the Annunciation, I perform Robert Fripp’s “Eye of the Needle” with the New York Guitar Circle. There is a tenderness that I have yet to hear in any recordings of the piece. As the performance progresses, the texture thickens, and the interweaving patterns become more dense. I have direct contact with a 2003 performance Palestrina’s Lamentations of Jeremiah on Renaissance trombone with Ulrich EichenbergerChristian Brühwiler¸ Martin Zöbeley, and the Munich Vocal Ensemble. I also have a sense of skiing downhill, not sure if I am going to fall. The guitar rhythms continue and the piece ends. I am standing in my feet.
I am standing outside of the Jazz Schmiede in Düsseldorf performing Anastassis Philippakopolous’ Song Nr. 6. As I play the tones outside at a comfortable mezzo forte, I recognize Craig in the music. It’s not Craig trying to sound like someone else. A window opens up, and I have a sense of an expanse of possibility. I notice a bead of sweat running down my right temple.

The New Thread Quartet performs Assaf Gidron’s Saxophone Quartet at Church of the Annunciation on Music for Contemplation. A silence is passed around the group within the soft unbroken three note chords. It bends and twists, stretches, and swirls.

Dave Whitwell stands to my left at Church of the Annunciation performing with Stuart Dempster and 10 other trombonists on MufoCo. Stuart sends a tone down the line. I play the tone, and slowly turn my bell to pass it to Dave. Our eyes meet. He begins to play, slowly turning his bell to pass it to the trombonist on his left. I sense a connection all around the room.

Erin Rogers sits at a desk with a telephone headset on. I hear the clicking of keys of the keyboard. She quips directions into imaginary people on the other end. Occasionally, there is a blip or squawk from the saxophone. I am transfixed, wondering how the piece holds together.

I stand on the beach at Cefalu in Sicily after 10:00pm. I hear a soft wind in my ear. In the distance, I can see flashes bronze lightning backlighting towering clouds. I almost feel the low rumble of thunder, but there is no sound.

As Doug Farrand softly strikes a small bell, the late evening light fades, and I note the passing of evening into twilight.

Pacing around the Green in Hanover NH, I can hear the drone of 40 Trumpets from Chosen Vale perform Trumpet City. Christian Wolff walks over. “This is beautiful. Really really good.” Years of shame and self-doubt roll away.

Changing subways, standing on the platform, I can just hear a distant guitarist playing. Continuing down the platform, I can just hear a lone saxophone. I stop, and listen to both simultaneously. I find a spot where I can hear both equally. The rumble and squeal of an approaching subway drown out the duo.

Dan Joseph brushes two strings on his hammer dulcimer. They hang in the air as Pauline Oliveros' Earth Ears becomes still.

Like a sigh, Erik Carlson’s bow crosses the strings performing Kunsu Shim’s Expanding Space in Limited Time

AuthorCraig Shepard

Tuesday night, Dan Joseph (hammer dulcimer), Erin Rogers (saxophone), and Vita Wallace (violin) and I rehearsed for this Saturday, September 12th, 2015 program for Music for Contemplation. In the middle of the rehearsal, I had direct contact with the reason I make music. These moments are unpredictable, impossible to plan, and incredibly energizing.

The program is called "writing to, listening to each other"; each of us writes a new piece and each of us performs everyone else's piece. We take turns "being in charge", and being supportive. This is the first time we've tried this format, and not only is it very enjoyable to work in the group, it's been wonderful to hear what Dan, Erin, and Vita have written. We had our first workshop in April, where everyone tried out sketches. The pieces have evolved through sessions in July and last Tuesday, shaped by each musician. Saturday we'll perform all four new pieces.

Working effectively in creative groups has been an area of interest for me for a few years now. Music for Contemplation has also explored this on the double quartet (June 2013), brass sextet (November 2014), and saxophone quartet (April 2015) programs, where four composers pitched in to pay an ensemble. This is the first time where the performers switch roles into the composer role. It means that each of us "listens" 3 times as much as we "speak", and there is an atmosphere of free sharing.

My piece, Circle Music 4.1, goes deeper into this. The piece is made up entirely of long tones. Each musician chooses whichever pitch he or she wishes. It is a rotating duet; one musician begins a long tone; at a certain point, a second musician enters and both sustain their tones. The first musician ends his or her tone and the second musician continues alone. After a pause, the first musician begins another long tone, and the process repeats.

Throughout the piece, this basic form remains constant: one tone -> two note chord -> one tone -> pause. At any given time, there are two musicians performing; the other two support them in silence. At a moment of his or her choosing, the first musician "passes" the tone to the third musician, and the process repeats. Again at a moment of his or her choosing, the first musician "passes" the tone to the fourth musician, and they repeat the process. Again at a moment of his or her choosing, the first musician indicates that he has finished, and the second musician initiates a tone, passing it to the third musician. This process continues around the circle:

| 1 2 | 1 3 | 1 4 |

| 2 3 | 2 4 | 2 1 |

| 3 4 | 3 1 | 3 2 |

| 4 1 | 4 2 | 4 3 |

The music unfolds from this process. Musicians repeat as many times as the moment calls for and the ultimate length of the piece results from listening and following what the next decision is. At some point, the fourth musician decides not to continue, and the piece ends.

Tuesday night, the process lasted 50 minutes.  We were all surprised that so much time had gone by; it felt like 20 minutes. I noticed that the leading musician really shaped the music. When Erin led, the piece had a clear "Erin" quality, when Vita led, it had a distinct "Vita" feel. And when Dan led, it took on a very "Dan" character.

Although I didn't think about this when I was writing the piece, it turns out to have a lot in common with Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing pieces. He writes a set of instructions on how to draw one of his works. The work doesn't exist until another artist draws it. LeWitt's role is no longer that of the artist in the traditional sense, instead as someone that initiates and shapes a collaborative work.

In a similar way, my role here is not that of the traditional composer, who defines pitch, melody, harmony, rhythm, and form. While I define a loose rhythm (long tones), the rest of the compositional decisions are up to the other musicians, who determine pitch, rhythm, melody, and harmony. When it works really well, everyone listens, and a fifth voice enters the group, guiding the decisions.

There is a significant amount of trust involved, as my colleagues may or may not be able to or care to take responsibility for the rest of the details. And that is uncomfortable and thrilling. I'm very grateful and honored that Vita, Erin, and Dan have both great performing chops, but also sensitivity, imagination, and enough self-confidence to get out of the way and let the process (or moment or "muse") lead.

AuthorCraig Shepard

In the work before me this Fall, I've noticed a thread of group work. Each upcoming concert is a different situation of how groups work together.

Tomorrow night at the Whitney, I'll perform Seth Cluett's 99 Objects together with Ben Neill and Tucker Dulin. We'll be outside on the terrace next to a Sol LeWitt--one of his collaborative pieces where he gives instructions on how to realize the drawing and invites another artist to realize it together with him. Seth's piece carries this spirit into the music. As a performer, I am invited to listen to the sounds of the terrace, the audience moving around, the sounds of the city, to Tucker and Ben, and to place my sounds in relationship to everything I hear. Of course as musicians we are always listening and doing this; in Seth's piece, the music grows out of it in an organic way.

We had a rehearsal at the new studio space and it became even more clear to me that this room is a space for a wider community, not just a safe quiet space where I can do my own work. During the slow work days, I've noticed a connection with the others working. There's something about working together in silence which opens up a different communication.

The Music for Contemplation series for the Fall features three different situations of working in groups. In September, each of us writes a piece and we play everyone else's pieces. The result is that each of us "listens" three times as much as we "speak". We began rehearsal in April, and have had three so far, with two more scheduled before the concert. This has given each of us the opportunity to really listen and understand the sounds of the others' pieces. I've noticed that there is a resonance between the pieces as well.

In October, Stuart Dempster will lead a large trombone ensemble in the beautiful resonant sanctuary. Here I will show up as one trombone player among many. As we all share a common instrument, there is a common language and way of doing things. It works because we all recognize Stuart's role as leader, holding the space in the center of the group.

In November, I will participate with the New York Guitar Circle as a guitarist. The program is called Circulations, which is a practice of the Guitar Circle. Standing around the audience, the ensemble passes a note from one musician to the next around the circle. The resulting music comes out of the group, and is beyond what any one of us would do. The notes passing around take on a life of their own, each individual responsible to listen and be ready when the note comes around. The preparation involves an 8-week commitment to do an individual morning sitting as well as attend 4-hour weekly workshops.

Each concert approaches the group work differently, and I'm very excited to hear how the music comes out.

AuthorCraig Shepard

Manfred Werder sent me an email I had written to him about a six-hour project called No Meaning from 2002.

AuthorCraig Shepard