Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

David Balatero - March 21st, 2010


Constraints, Part II

For this week’s session, I’d like to focus on establishing constraints for each piece that is performed. While free playing is liberating, often I find it becomes unfocused and stagnant. I believe that imposing the slightest amount of constraint on playing will help focus ideas and inform momentum and shape, without taking away from the feeling of playing free.

To that end, I’ve decided to make a required constraint that all pieces must be solo or duo. My hope is that this will cause people to take more individual control of the direction of pieces, as well as force stronger communication in the case of people playing duos.

As well, players should come up with their own constraints to put on top of mine for each piece. You can keep those constraints to yourself/duo, or share them with the audience.

Finally, last week it felt like sometimes the constraints were too much. I’d like to encourage players to eventually, during the course of whatever piece they are on, break their constraints and pick a new direction.

Tha Musak

The first two pieces are duos with Hamilton Boyce and Jared Börköwski, respectively. They are Talk Talk songs, which have been re-arranged for cello, guitar, and vocals. Talk Talk is a band that was active from 1981-1991, and started out as a new wave group. However, in 1986, they moved on from that style, and started to get more and more experimental. This group is one of the strongest influences on my playing, in terms of experimentation, dynamics, and overall sound.

Pairing the rich sound of their songs with the constraint of duo playing is an interesting challenge. Figuring out what needs to be kept and what can be not expressed with just two people has been the hardest thing in getting these songs together.

One thing to note is that none of the songs off Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock have ever been played live by the band. This makes sense, given how experimental they were in studio with each track. For example, Spirit of Eden was the compilation of hours upon hours of improvised performances:

“The album emerged from a demanding recording process: often working in darkness, the band recorded many hours of improvised performances, edited them down heavily, then arranged the remaining pieces into an album using digital equipment. The end product includes elements of rock, jazz, classical, and ambient music." 
(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_of_Eden)

However, this poses a problem, as not lot of attention was put towards making them easy to play live. For example, figuring out an arrangement of "New Grass” has been difficult. If you check out the track (link below), there’s a pretty consistent 6/8 feel in the drums. However, the rest of the instrumentation seems to float over that 6/8 feel in very twisted, subtle ways – ways that are practically undetectable if you just listen to the track for what it is. In the first verse, it feels like the piano/chords are felt in a 7/8 + 7/8 + 9/8 + 7/8 loop. However, in the other sections of the song, there are other feels that are imposed over the 6/8 backing.

  1. Talk Talk - Inheritance, with Jared Börköwski (guitar). Off “Spirit of Eden” (1988)
  2. Talk Talk - New Grass, with Hamilton Boyce (guitar + vocals). Off “Laughing Stock” (1991)

Basic Wikipedia bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk_Talk
Within Without, a very comprehensive fan site: 

The final piece of my presented section is the Sonata for Solo Cello, Op 8. written by Zoltán Kodály, a Hungarian composer, in 1915. This guy is a total badass, and wrote this sonata rooted in Hungarian folk melodies while challenging the player both in physical technique and artistic expression. I’m not well-versed in deep analysis of musical form/structure, but I can say that it’s one of the most unique pieces that I’ve had the pleasure of playing / hearing.

I took a break from serious cello playing from 2006 to January 2009. Keeping with the theme of constraints, I decided to re-learn cello technique, focus on improving my overall sound/expression, as well as get this piece together for this session, in the span of 2 months. I’ll be playing the 1st movement, although there are 3 movements in total.

Below are some YouTube links of Hungarian cellist János Starker performing all 3 movements of the sonata. I highly recommend you check out all 3.

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MEUIGjfHNw (1st movement)
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qm7_cI2b30 (2nd movement)
  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvOEwGlwgJo (3rd movement)

Also notable are the faces he makes. See if you can find some Yoda moments.