Racer Sessions

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

Evan Smith - November 25, 2012


Word Play

The idea for this curation came to me while doing research on one of my primary musical influences – the great keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra.  Those who have examined his life know that the composer had wide and varied interests in history, theology, and linguistics.  Indeed, it is the last of these subjects that will serve as the basis for my compositions and improvisation this week.  Sun Ra saw music as a way of giving words meaning, understanding their sounds, and saw music as the “language of the universe.”  In his viewing of music as that often-cited “universal language,” Sun Ra approached music as a metaphysical experience not unlike a religious ritual, and a way of expressing the very essence of the universe. 

Over this past summer, I would often find myself studying French in the evenings; and, in the course of these exercises, would many times repeat a certain word over and over.  As I’m sure many of us have had the experience of repeating a familiar word ad nauseam until its sound has been rendered strange and foreign, the aural sounds that our words produce can have profound implications on our view of music.  And, just as something familiar can be made to sound suddenly alien, as we learn new ways of producing words and sounds, the unknown can become almost second-nature.  As such, Sun Ra thought of musicians as “tone-scientists” who could rationalize the most shocking dissonance and make meaning out of apparent noise.

Furthermore, we treat our words like music every day – using the building blocks that we have internalized to create different orders that convey different meanings.  In the English language, Sun Ra saw a tool of duplicity, where words had multiple, sometimes hidden, meanings and associations (biographer John Szwed notes that Ra thought English to be the “language of the angels (i.e., the Angles).

So, it is with in the spirit of my long-time inspiration that I will present three new works for my initial Racer curation.

1. Wobble, Squabble, and Squeal for Solo Baritone Saxophone

A three movement work that stemmed from my explorations of quarter tones and multiphonics in contemporary classical saxophone repertoire.  Known for its size, I wanted to exploit the spaces “between the cracks” of this large instrument, while giving a nod to its sonic power. 

 2. Flutter for Five Musicians

Shifting the sonic spectrum, I scored this piece for two soprano saxophones, two guitars, and drumset.  I used the title of the work to wholly inspire the compositional elements, and developed some of the very first ideas I had when sitting down to compose the piece.  The work pays homage to the title through the similar tessitura of the saxophones and guitars, and relies heavily on trills, pitch sets, and minimalistic repetition.  Joining me will be Ivan Arteaga, Jared Borkowski, Simon Henneman, and Chris Icasiano.

 3. Wordology

I will distribute folded notecards to willing participants with a word or phrase on each, and will subsequently direct their opening and oral repetition while a group of instrumentalists improvise in what should become a Babel of music and language.  Or, words meet tones in a no-holds-barred grudge match to the death…

For the improvisations, I will have additional linguistic material in the forms of words and phrases that participants can use if they so desire.  This could be done in many number of ways, whether it be exploring an onomatopoeia, exploiting the rhythm of a certain phrase, or focusing on the mood or image a word creates.  Of course, improvisations outside the linguistic context are certainly welcome as well. 

In closing, in the spirit of Sun Ra, I would encourage everyone to form bonds with new musicians and play unreservedly.  Known for crumbling expectations, Sun Ra said that there were no wrong notes as long as they had the correct feeling: “Let it stay in the air.  It will be resolved.”  I look forward to sharing with you all!