For my final recital late last year I decided to reinterpret an existing suite of music. This was instead of the more common set of a collection of tunes, with an allowance of only 20% original material. Some of my favourite recitals throughout my time at the Con utilised this existing suite scaffold and like those before me we were definitely able to chuck in more than the 20% original content allowance this way, which was the plan. I guess the same could be done within a curated set of tunes but it seems less common for a number of reasons and harder to build a coherent, meaningful set of music, which I hope I at least in part achieved.
I chose to use the music from the 1999 Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke.
It’s a bit of a fun story how I got there. I remember watching the anime series Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood mid-last year and seeking out the OST (original soundtrack). I thought it was a supremely well composed suite of music that seemed paramount to the critical success of the series. I had a lil geez online to find more about it and stumbled upon a couple of anime OST blogs. One was quite extensive, featuring a library of reviews. I saw, surprisingly, they didn’t actually think too much of the series’ OST. Meh…each to their own. Intrigued though, I scoured the net for what they considered an exceptional OST. I remember they dug the music of Death Note’s (haven’t seen but heard gr8 things) as well as venerating the OST of an anime series called Mononoke. Admittedly, I initially mistook it for the Ghibli movie. Either way it set of a couple of gears up in my frontal lobes.
The major one being the epiphany that my love of Studio Ghibli is partly rooted in it’s music. For those unaware, I love love lurrrvv the productions of Studio Ghibli. I love Japanese anime in general but my gateway drug and first love was/is Ghibli. I find them so transportive, complex, beautiful, whimsical, analogous and thematically bold. They also hold a story-telling purity that many major modern Western releases lack, in my opinion [fuck hollywood, btw]. And so I realised this is both reflected/supported by the innocent beauty of by Ghibli’s OSTs- mostly composed by Joe Hisaishi who was the studio’s right hand musical man from start to finish.
So there I was all psyched, and so sought out a couple of Ghibli OSTs. I found myself instantaneously drawn to the music of Princess Mononoke. It was epic. It was meaningful. Beautiful too. It had streaks of innocence and juxtaposing moments of raw primitivism. It threw the odd curve ball which I also loved- like those tonally ascending dom7#9 chords when the demons were running amok. There were a number of simple, soaring melodies as well as a diverse range of moods. I was having a great time just soaking up it’s goodness and then it dawned me that it would be an as-good-as-any suite of music to appropriate for my recital. I remember day-dreaming how great it would be to actually present my own version of it. To have it come to life was probably my biggest personal musical achievement to date. It was my first big tension/release from a musical endeavour.
It was a solid slog- exponentially more effort than I forecast. A good 8 months of slow work including transcribing the majority of the OST, including dense as fk orchestra voicing, learning how to arrange effectively for that particular instrumentation and like any composer/arranger stretching out and filling in the gaps between the nuggets of gold and being content with the results. It’s true, composition is really just the ability/struggle to flesh out an initial gem of an idea into a fully fledged product.
Approaching the recital this way allowed me to insert some textural and/or pastoral fields (to frolic over, at times) that would of been difficult to insert meaningfully if I chose a bunch of unrelated tunes. I’ve never been sold by filler textures between songs, rarely feels sincere to me. I <3 textures and I had quite a couple up my sleeve after two years in Simon and Phil’s contemporary ensemble at the Con.
One of those textures was a take on the iso-rhythm (which Sammy G introduced me to and I though was some fresh az rhythm concept but has actually been around since C14 wikipedia says- wowzah). I designated a number of notes (2,3,4 note figures etc) for each instrument to play and repeat from the same pitch material. A second designated number outlined the order of entry.
Below is an extended excerpt from the recital featuring that very moment, followed by an arrangement of Hisaishi’s Requim leading into the final movement.
The ensemble features: Jeremy Tatar, flute; Sam Gill, alto; Nick Calligeros, trumpet; Frank Dasent, trombone; Mary Rapp, cello; Novak Manojlovic, piano; Max Alduca, bass; Holly Connor, drums+aux perc. It seems so distant but these guys gave me a lot of time, patience and advice and I still can’t thank them enough. Also the eternally beautiful Sandy Evans mentored and advised me through the arranging/composing/rehearsal process and I also can’t thank her enough for her time and effort. Best. People.
Speaking of extended extended ensemble works [h3h] here is one composed and led by Vijay Iyer. I dig Vijay v much but have a special infinity for his non-piano trio work (yeah, yeah kick up a stink I dare ya)- not to say I don’t dig it- but I am very much into the way his ideas and themes translate with those extended timbres and textures + he always collaborates with the best wind players NYC has to offer. Best thing I’ve heard in a good while.