Regretfully my concert featuring “The Planets” planned for Friday 13th September at Schotts recital room has had to be postponed. Apologies for this. “The Planets” will appear on another occasion!
Dave Smith sends us early warning of a celestial phenomenon:
It’s some way in the future, but I thought I’d give advance warning of the
1st performance of Dave Smith’s solo piano version of Holst’s “The Planets”
at 6.30 on Friday 13th September at Schotts Recital Room, 48 Great
Marlborough Street, London W1F 7BB.
The concert will include music by Smith and John White.
There are two main sections on the EMC site that may be of interest.
1. The first is a new version of our famous Freebies page, which has offered little tit-bits from time to time. Now our Freebies are downloadable, including John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine, Michael Parsons’ Pentachordal Melody and Rhythmic Canons, Chris Hobbs’ Word Pieces and his clarinet piece Why Not? Plus the famous Aran ringtone.
2. The second consists of the first two entries in what we hope to be a series of historic recordings. The first is itself not that historic — Christopher Hobbs and Dave Smith playing British minimalist and post-minimalist music for two pianos in June 2013 — but the concert itself contains a load of pieces by Parsons, Howard Skempton, John White, Smith and Hobbs that have not been heard in thirty years or more (and in the case of Howard Skempton’s piece, No Great Shakes, may not have been heard before at all! We’re checking this…). The other entry is a performance of Chris Hobbs’ piece Second Doomsday Machine in 1997 in its ‘official’ four piano version.
Check them out, and if you like what you hear or download, let us know. We’ve been passing on your thoughts to the composers and performers.
We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation I, Variation II, Variation III, and Variation IV for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!
Well, this small series of Video Watch on Drinking and Hooting Machine has brought up a number of issues about performing indeterminate music. One of the most interesting points made about the UCLA performance was Paul Epstein’s comment on our Facebook page: ‘Frankly, I don’t regard the piece as all that experimental; the instructions seem fairly precise and the concept elegant’. I agree that the piece is precise and elegant. The piece is experimental/systemic, or experimental/minimal, though. It comes from a time when minimalism was a type of experimental music (think In C, Pendulum Music, and so forth). Drinking and Hooting uses compositional indeterminacy or chance, like Cage’s Music of Changes. Unlike Music of Changes, however, Drinking and Hooting also employs performance indeterminacy. We can compare this to Cornelius Cardew’s graphic piece, Treatise, which was very carefully structured and organised syntactically, but played freely. The ‘good’ performances — the ones that I return to and think about — are the ones in which the performers exercise thought and care as to what to do with it. Whether they interpret it syntactically or not is not the issue — Cardew didn’t provide instructions — what matters is that the performers treat it sensitively and creatively.
Paul Epstein obviously takes care about what kinds of bottles he can use in an observant performance of Drinking and Hooting. And given his care and attention, I would like to step back (but not completely back) from my tentative approval —actually an understanding — of any performance using only the two sections of the piece that exist in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Certainly we can say that such a performance is an arrangement of Drinking and Hooting, or a paraphrase or exercise on it. A partial performance is less artistic, though, and probably more educative, analytical, and pedagogical. One of the first mature performances of a graphic piece in which I took part was also an ‘arrangement’: an ensemble reading of Earle Brown’s Four Systems (1954). Four Systems does not specify its instrumentation, but Brown limits it implicitly, first, by dedicating it to David Tudor on his birthday (which begs the question of whether a ‘good’ version could only be played by Tudor, perhaps only on his birthday); second, by explaining that the boundaries of the graphics indicate the limits of the keyboard. But our group at Barney Childs’ New Music Ensemble at the University of Redlands in 1974 — consisting of first-time members — learned so much about playing suggestive indeterminacy (which has limits of pitch and time) that I have used this piece as an introduction to the interpretation of indeterminate music ever since.
And since the last variation, I received an email from the director of the UCLA Contempo Flux group, the pianist Gloria Cheng, informing me about their performance. First, she took care to find the official version of Drinking and Hooting Machine, which meant getting the Scratch Anthology of Compositions through interlibrary loan from Australia. She knew of the student version in Brian Dennis’s Projects in Sound, which would have been shorter, but is also a viable version, but she took that extra step to ensure a good performance. Water bottles were supplied by the concert committee. The Contempo Flux performers rehearsed, then were placed throughout the hall to provide examples for the rest of the audience. One of the students explained the method to the audience, and the piece provided the end to the concert — a happy one, from the video evidence. Now, you can’t fault that preparation, which resulted in our favourite online version of Drinking and Hooting thus far.
But this is the final entry for this Video Watch piece at present. After looking at the variations in performances, we now reveal the theme: the score itself. John White has graciously allowed the EMC to make Drinking and Hooting, in a facsimile of the official Scratch Anthology version, available for download. You can access this piece on the EMC Freebies page. On this page you will also find pieces that Michael Parsons and Chris Hobbs have equally generously allowed us to offer. Just click here: http://www.experimentalmusic.co.uk/emc/Freebies.html . We’d like to pass on the information and any good words you might have for these composers if you do download any pieces, so please get in touch. And whatever you do, keep drinking and hooting!
There’s a lot to tell about the With Four Hands conference, but for now, the best. Christopher Hobbs and Dave Smith played pieces by Michael Parsons, Howard Skempton, John White, Dave Smith and Hobbs. With help from the session chair, we were able to put our portable recording device in a good place (rather than bootlegging it as we had planned). The raw recording sounds good. Many historic moments made in this concert: some pieces not played for 30 years or more, the first public duo performance by Hobbs (of Hobbs-White) and Smith (of Smith-Lewis) for over 15 years. Chris is going to do some edits (mostly sounds of moving piano benches around, rather inaudible spoken programme notes, the bleeding-chunk excerpt of Remorseless Lamb, cut because of time, which Chris announced as ‘scrag end of Lamb’), and then we’ll see what we can do to make it available. Short teasers: John White’s pieces, from 1966 and 1974, prove that this music didn’t evolve from experimental/minimal to postminimal in the clear evolutionary way that the Americans’ music did. And Dave Smith’s systems piece, Swings, sounds much like it would sound if Bernard Hermann had gradually taken up gamelan with Meredith Monk. One wants to dance….
We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation I, Variation II and Variation III for previous entries. You may also like to check out the EMC Facebook page for June 6 and June 8 for comments on this series from the composer Paul Epstein. Another composer friend of the EMC, Oded Assaf, has commented on a previous entry in this blog, as well. Please feel free to get in touch!
Speaking of Facebook, a little while ago, the LA composer Sean McCann sent out a YouTube link for a performance of Drinking and Hooting Machine in the Powell Library Rotunda at UCLA. Marked ‘Hooting and Drinking Machine’ by the poster/filmmaker, it is a successful and rather beautiful performance. You can see it here:
There are several factors in this version that suggest that the performers may not stick strictly to the rules of the piece itself. First, the grouping is unclear: White specifically states that this piece is for four main groups of performers, with up to five sub-groups, making 4-20 distinct parts. White does not limit how many performers may play each part. Moreover, the actions requested in each part are different, but due to the instrumentation (bottles), the timbre is pretty close. And even if everyone played the same part, their choice of breath, ability to hold a note, and what constitutes a SIP, SWIG, or GULP differs. This is another reason that Drinking and Hooting Machine is so like Riley’s In C, which itself has only one part, and which performers move through the material at their own speed. But there’s another factor in this and other performances that is referred to by a person commenting on the YouTube upload. Bruno Ruviaro asks if they used the full score, as he had only been able to access the score excerpt in Nyman’s Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. (Well, Bruno, we have a fix for you there — stay tuned!).
So, can a performance using only half a score be a legitimate performance? This reminds us of Christopher Hobbs’s piece Pretty Tough Cookie, which is built up from one figure in an internal horn part in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. That certainly is more Hobbs than Tchaikovsky in that one, and it’s designed that way. Half a Drinking and Hooting Machine actually destroys White’s random series and the system itself. But there is still an identity there that we can see as being Drinking and Hooting.
The UCLA performance is certainly White, and it’s a good one. Why? First, the acoustics in the Rotunda are gloriously resonant, sustaining the rather short breaths of the assembled masses (this is audience participation). And the simple fact that there are so many players solves the problem that appears early on in the Zeitkratzer video of silence appearing between hoots. The players in the UCLA video settle into longer hoots as the performance goes on, just like the Zeitkratzers do. But even though some performers hoot almost as fast as the Isle of Wight students in our first video (perhaps because of unfamiliarity with their instruments), the sound is always covered by other performers.
Was it universally liked? I think I heard the words, ‘Stop it, now!’ about 2 and a half minutes in. But what was absolutely lovely was the response at the end: joyous laughter, rather than the embarrassed laughter of the first video. They came, they drank, they hooted, and they enjoyed. What could be more fun? It’s almost like hanging out with White himself.
Right, that finishes this series on videos about John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine, in its four variations. But next, we’re going to supply the theme itself. John White has agreed to allow the Experimental Music Catalogue to make Drinking and Hooting Machine — the official version published in the Scratch Anthology of Compositions — available on the web. This is coming soon, so keep watching, and of course, keep hooting!
We continue the Video Watch comparison of performances of John White’s Drinking and Hooting Machine. Click Variation I and Variation II for previous entries.
For its setting, this might be called the ‘university departmental meeting’ version of Drinking and Hooting. This version, by Zeitkratzer, as part of, or in preparation for the 2007 Donaufestival in Austria, shows a row of performers sitting as if they are in a seminar (or at high table). There are some unusual shots of one performer’s ear, but otherwise, this is a pretty focused and documentary style of Drinking and Hooting filming. At about 1’20” one sees a player taking two short sips, very fast. As to the quality of the performance, the players begin by allowing too many silences, as they do not hold their notes long enough. However, by a few minutes in, the players settle in very well and there are a number of rather pretty sonorities. The lesson here is that it is probably best to warm up on the long tones so that you can settle into the Drinking and Hooting world.
For those who are interested in Zeitkratzer, Julian Cowley’s Wire article from 2005, although pretty old, is a fascinating introduction. We wonder what happened to their proposed British experimental music concert mentioned in this article?
Having experienced the efforts of the Isle of Wight students, we might compare it with the recording of Drinking and Hooting Machine on Machine Music (Obscure 8, 1978), performed by Brian Eno, Christopher Hobbs, Gavin Bryars, John White, and Susan Dorey. Those familiar with Terry Riley’s piece In C (1964) will see how similar its structure and ending is to Drinking and HootingMachine. D & H uses bottles rather than ‘real’ instruments. It’s also slower than In C, but it has the same, easily-followed process, albeit through changes in pitch, rather than In C‘s motives. White wrote, ‘The effect of this piece has been compared to that of a large aviary of owls all practising very slow descending scales’ (liner notes to Drinking and Hooting Machine, Obscure 8). You can hear a bit of the Obscure version here:
Although we can’t see the performers on the Obscure recording, we can hear several distinct differences. The primary difference is how slowly the Obscure recording progresses. White asked performers to blow their bottles for a ‘whole breath’. What does this mean? One must empty one’s lungs, of course. The IoW students huff and puff like a jug band, but their short breaths are, in some way, ‘whole’. If their breaths were not at least mostly whole, the students would become hyperventilated as their lungs filled with unused air. But on the Obscure recording we can hear the players leisurely breathing in, then equally leisurely blowing long tones over their bottles. This brings us from score-reading to performance practice. Here the ‘whole breath’ means an intake of breath that results in a long (or longish) note that uses up the air with the end of the note.
Another feature of the Obscure recording we can hear is the professional approach to the piece. The players have practiced their ‘instruments’ enough to hold a clear and steady tone. They have worked out what constitutes the varying intensities of drinking that White has written (these include ‘SIP’, ‘SWIG’, ‘GULP’, and to leave the level ‘AS IS’), which lowers the pitch on each successive groups of hoots. There is no giggling. Whatever is funny about the piece — for instance, seeing competent performers playing on old bottles — is is interpreted as funny by the audience members themselves. There is a concern with the pace and placement of the notes to balance the texture of the music throughout (White writes that notes should be played without significant gaps, other than the intake of breath and the required drinking to change the pitch of the bottle). Of course, the students are students, and the Obscure players are professional. But all performers should approach their performance in a professional manner, no matter whether they play an old wine bottle or a Stradivarius violin.
The Obscure performers therefore avoid the coordinated pulse that the students achieve in their ‘rhythmic’ version (the instructions clearly state the ‘There is no rhythmical pulse other than that produced by the individual length of breath of each performer’). Lastly, although we cannot see the Obscure performers, we are confident that they did not put bottles on their heads when they finished their drink — at least not until after the piece had ended.* Why? The instructions clearly state that once each player finishes the required number of hoots, he or she enters the coda. Here the performers hoot on their empty bottle until all have finished their bottles and, at a signal, they end together.
One only wonders how the Isle of Wight students found this piece, whether they decided it to be ‘infamous’, and whether they decided on their performance strategy alone. They certainly couldn’t have been taught this by their teacher. Could they? I’m not trying to be a killjoy. Rather the reverse: all the fun in this piece comes from playing it as a piece; arse around with it, and it’s just arsing around.
*What the players do with the bottles after the performance is up to them, of course.