Composition: ‘From C to Sea’ (full unmastered version)

By August 7, 2016 No Comments

I’m part of this new collective called Microfiche. We play new and free music. We recorded an album late last year. It sounds real, real fresh. We will be releasing it soon, and playing some music in public places. Here is a song I composed for the group that will feature on the album in an edited/legal form.



As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I had the pleasure of being a member of the inaugural Sydney Conservatorium jazz faculty’s ‘contemporary ensemble’- although saying it like that makes it sound more grand than it is. Basically, it an ensemble directed by two of my biggest heros, Phil Slater and Simon Barker, focusing on ‘contemporary’ methods and musics and featuring students eager to explore those realms. I was one of those students. For all the groove music I find (and dig) myself playing, my first love is the left of field stuff. I relish subverting and challenging. I love the openness and freedom of the music (in most cases). Most of allĀ I have an affinity for playing the now…or what I perceive the now to be at least…

At the end of last year, with a couple of us graduating, we decided to document the music we had made over the past year. After two years of weekly rehearsals and collectively investigating new music and concepts, we found we had forged an unique ensemble aesthetic. Simon implored us to record our repertoire and continue playing. We decided that was a great idea. We changed our name from ‘Contemporary Ensemble’ to ‘Microfiche’. We still play and are gearing up to get active in the music community soon. Consider this tune a teaser.

But roll up one sec- what does ‘contemporary methods and music’ mean exactly? Yeah, good q. We had a number of case studies, including analysing and reinterpreting the oeuvre of John Cage, turning a field recording in a notated composition, composing miniatures, exploring non-pulse based rhythmic tools for forward motion, constructing alternate rhythm systems to express complex rhythm structures and exploring pulse off the grid. Get the picture?

Delving into those spheres broadened both my composing and listening in particular. Before then I hadn’t really considered alternative methods of notation- as silly as it sounds now- and I had only fleetingly dabbled in the world of C20th classical music.

So, this piece I wrote for the band’s second incarnation in 2015, is in many ways a testament to the ensemble. ‘C to Sea’ is a piece that takes the first bar of Morton Feldman’s ‘Coptic Lights’ and (very slowly) propels it on a different timeline featuring a new journey and destination.

During our study on non-pulse derived forward motion last year, Simon played us an excerpt from Feldman’s ethereal 24 min composition as an example of motion induced by tools other than pulse. Feldman employs micro-cosmic cellular development that drives the composition forward. That night gave myself to the music and had a transcendental experience with the tune and have been a Feldman fan boy ever since.

My composition came about out of musical destination/texture in my head- a state of musical elation, with hearty cascading maj pentatonic lines overlapping in front of a fluid and flowing high-hat crashing and splashing in imitation of a heart beat, rising and falling in speed but always on time for the start of a cycle. I think it is derived from a groove played in a concert prac Shota did when I was in first year. Thanks Shota.

The beginning of ‘Coptic Lights’ seemed like a musical antithesis to that scenario. Incredibly quiet, dissonant, dense and precisely notated, I thought it an interesting study to ask an ensemble to begin at musical point A to arrive at Z. Also, how would I notate the task? The latter question was quite challenging, and as I found out after a performance of the piece during a workshop with Australian improvising legend Phil Trealor, the notated entity definitely has holes. It’s a reminder that as grass-root jazz musicians we are always present when our compositions are being played and able to verbally convey ideas we may of missed on paper. For composers of other genres this is often not possible and so their notation has to be incredibly detailed and concise to avoid misinterpretation.

So here is the result. Recorded in Dec 2015 at Richie B’s beaut of a studio Free Energy Device in Camperdown in one take. Mixed by Richie also. This tune was one of 13 or so tunes we recorded in a single day to make up our eponymous debut due for release closer to the end of the year. Consider this the uncut, unmastered version. The other tunes, including the cut form of this tune have just come back from mastering and sound incredible, to my ears. Exciting stuff.

One last thing, if you’ll let me scratch my ego for a moment… After playing this song at concert prac at the end of last year, an elder peer approached me and described the deeply spiritual experience he had listening to this song. He said he an epiphanic moment and was moved to elated tears. I consider that the most moving and reaffirming musical feedback I’ve had. Never forget we play for people, not for ourselves.

Microfiche is:
Sam Gil – Alto
Pip Murphy-Haste – Clarinet
Nick Calligeros – Trumpet
Frank Dasent – Trombone
Novak Manojlovic – Keys
Emma Stephenson – Keys
Max Alduca – Bass
Holly Connor – Drums

Cover Image taken at Santa Monica Pier, Dec 2015

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