I am nowhere nearly as hip as anyone else associated with wild Up, including the guy who tends the bar. So when Chris contacted me about orchestrating some Andrew Bird songs I had to take an auditory crash-course through the artist’s body of work. Fortunately, being a fan of acoustic indy pop in the Elliot Smith tradition and self-overdubbing madmen like Jon Brion, I found myself in familiar territory. I immediately liked Bird’s sense of lyricism, his interesting spins on pop harmonies, and above all his distinctive chamber orchestrations. This last presented an interesting challenge to an arranger; most orchestrations of pop tunes end up re-concieving the music from scratch, but in this case I’ve expanded the music’s existing orchestral elements, amplifying the big moments while bringing out the color and texture implicit in the songs. That isn’t to say I didn’t add my own creative touches, but the transformation was prepared by Bird’s own instincts and groundwork.
I selected “Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left” and “Banking on a Myth” for arrangement because both were overtly melodic and divided into dramatically contrasting sections, which makes for fertile ground, orchestration-wise. wild Up’s makeup is alluringly eclectic, offering less-common instruments like the contrabassoon and harmonium; I realized that these two songs would be well-served by the group’s rich and unusual acoustic palette. Hope you enjoy!
Michael Gordon Shapiro writes music for film, television, video games, and the concert hall. His concerto for orchestra and guzheng (Chinese zither) is about to have its digital album release via Hanyi Productions. Visit Michael on the web at www.mikemusic.com .
I was browsing through a Charlie Parker tunebook to get some ideas for the upcoming wild Up concert when the title “Bird of Paradise” caught my eye. To be honest I was originally interested because it reminded me of those amazing Planet Earth documentaries involving unique birds, but soon after the notes became attractive as well. The tune has a simple four-bar melody played over a Db7 chord followed by a C7 chord, repeated once. At the bottom of the page it says “Solo on ‘All the things you are’” (a tune by Jerome Kern) so in a nutshell “Bird of Paradise” is two chords, and a little melody. What could be a better recipe for an elongated spectral haze of woodwinds and strings? The Db7 and C7 chords Parker uses in his piano part take notes from the first 7 partials of their respective harmonic series. I’ve extended the note content up to the 16th partial, giving these chords rich microtonal harmonies. Playing with timbre and rhythm I’ve spread the notes throughout the orchestra, letting these two series exist and overlap over the period of six minutes. Who knows, maybe this is what it sounds like when the bird of paradise goes home to paradise…..
Archie Carey is a bassoonist, a composer, and a tree climber living in Los Angeles. Much of his work uses field recordings, alternative tunings, and enlarged subtleties. He has performed in Germany, Italy, Israel, China, and throughout the USA playing anything from Mozart to a metal plate with a contact microphone through distortion pedals. www.archiecarey.com
I often work with field recordings, but i don’t often work with chamber orchestras. I make recordings of rivers, trains, farms, cows, trees, wind, fog horns, church bells, traffic noise, and coffee shops. These mundane things yield the most rigorous and beautiful sounds that I use in installations, and compositions.
When asked to work on a piece for wild Up, I jumped at the chance to use this recording of birds that i took last year in northern California. I was at a dairy farm, and found was this giant oak filled with tiny birds all chirping. Baby cows were waking up and rattling around their pen, interrupting the recording with huffs and such. I created a speaker system embedded in bird houses to play these sounds and install them in the space as an environmental installation. The ensemble, playing within the soundscape of birds, acts to put a frame around the everyday or mundane sounds. They help us listen in a more critical and musical way. The instrumental material comes from harmonium improvisations made for the piece. Here is an early one made last May:
The title of the work comes from Dan Beachy-Quick’s poem of the same name: this nest, swift passerine. Beachy-Quick’s work is beautiful, and I like the sounds of the words together. Also, the birds in that oak tree were probably of the passerine genus of birds. Nests imply inhabiting, and it is with our habitation that we share a time in a space listening in humble contemplation. Hope to see you on saturday!
“Fake Palindromes” is the first song I ever heard by Andrew Bird, and it is my mind’s aural portrait of him. The title’s reference to palindromes calls to mind one of Messiaen’s trademarks: the “non-retrogradeable rhythm”, or a rhythmic palindrome. With the inclusion of Bird’s music on this wild Up concert featuring Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques [Foreign Birds], I knew I had to arrange this particular song by Andrew Bird. The piece is not really composed à la manière de Messiaen, not that I would profess the ability to do so. What I did do is borrow a lot of Messiaen’s rhythms and gestures, as well as his ideas of “color chords” and “modes of limited transposition”, and I used a tempo that is très modéré compared to Bird’s original. And I couldn’t resist quoting some of Messiaen’s “birds” (invented or transcribed) in addition to my own “Bird transcriptions”. The other interpretive lens is one of memory and simultaneity. When I remember this song, I hear several versions of it simultaneously (Bird’s own performances are very improvisatory and spontaneous). The introductory material is treated with all sorts of palindromic manipulations, while the chorus is filled with the hyper-sweet planing string melody (reminiscent of Messiaen’s early Debussy-inspired music). In the verse Bird’s melodies mix with those of Messiaen’s birds, very much like Messiaen’s cacophonous aviary in the piano concerto. ~ RV
Richard Valitutto is active in the Los Angeles area as a piano soloist, chamber musician, accompanist, teacher, and writer. He holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati (BM) and CalArts (MFA). In addition to playing with wild Up,he is a founding member of two LA-based chamber ensembles, The Joshua Trio and Gnarwhallaby. More information at www.richardvalitutto.com
The Show: Ornithology
Messiaen, Haydn, Ferneyhough, Charlie Parker and Andrew Bird. And 8 premieres.