Monday, May 3, 2010

Spirals (Dumb as a Box of Rocks)-copyright 2009, Mark Pino

Spirals (Dumb as a Box of Rocks)
For Two Drummers, Horn Player, Guitar Player, and Bass Player, all of whom have a box filled with rocks

1. Big Bang: From Silence, Complete Noise
This part goes on for some time: keep its energy up and get into it
2. Rocks: Players shake their rock boxes (musically) in this order of succession:
a. Drummers
b. Horn player
c. Guitar player
d. Bass player
This part must be played until the energy of it is felt to have run out; players must be patient
3.Road to Water: This part is driven by the bass; players must play a part in relation to what the bass is playing; this part is played until the bass player feels that it has gone on enough, and at that point must signal the rest of the band that it is to end (players can either stop quickly or fade out, depending on how their part dictates this action)
4. Build the Jetty: This part is free improvisation; players must, however, focus on what is being played around them.  Bass is no longer (necessarily) the lead instrument.  This part must build organically, and have the feel of a work project (tedium or elation are equally valid here, as are all points in between)
5. SPIRALS!: This part could be infinite; all players lock into the same groove, played with precision and repetition, but also must make it grooving and fun

Spirals was written for one of the two bands I currently play in, Barney Cauldron.  BC is a band that does not write songs per se.  Our stated goal is one of "Spontaneous Musical Composition".  In other words, free improvisation.
As anyone who has done any amount of music making with improvisation knows, there is always the risk of players falling into ruts.  It seems to me that players deal with ruts by trying too hard (constant freak-out, playing everything they know, playing at high volumes, etc.) or simply stopping altogether.   At the time this composition was written, I felt that all of the members of BC were starting to fall into certain ruts, and wanted to give the collective a kick in the pants by way of forcing it to use an actual written composition.  The goal was to get the players to listen a bit more while we were playing together.
While I have rudimentary musical notation reading ability, I did not feel competent enough with that approach to use it for stated purpose.  Thankfully, I've been exposed to composers who have used simple written scores (Stockhausen, Braxton), so I figured I'd give that method a go.
Spirals was attempted one time by Barney Cauldron, at a rented practice room in the Soundwave Studios Facility, Oakland, CA.   One of the drummers was not able to attend the session.
Our attempt was not recorded, so sadly the score, such as it is, is the only documentation.  I will have a hard time forgetting the sight of clouds of dust filling up the rehearsal room, emanating from within the boxes of rocks which had been hastily gathered up by most of the players in the dusty parking lot (right below the MacArthur maze section of highways 580 West and 80 West)!  None of us realized that this would happen, and we all had a good laugh as the dust settled, upon completion of our one attempt at Spirals. I suspect that the other members of Barney Cauldron were not as excited about the piece as I was.  The bass player did comment that the writing reminded him of Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which was, obviously, spot on.  Spirals was influenced by reading I'd done in the early 2000's on the earthworks of the late 1960's and early 1970's, along with the music of FM Einheit, whom I've seen do an entire concert with a pile of bricks, an iron rod, and a 10' sheet of metal.
An inspired failure for me, I guess.  Still, I'd try it again if I could find people who'd be so inclined.

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