Ronan Delisle - December 22, 2013
I’d invite everyone to think about what “song” means to them. From Jerome Kern to Usher, Hildegard Von Bingen to Neil Young, there are thousands of ways to think about a song. The elements of lyricism (both vocally and instrumentally) form, phrase length, and mood are essential to any song. Transferring these ideas to improvisation could yield very fruitful pieces of improvised music.
Background: After curating the Racer Sessions for the first time last winter, I expressed my concern of presenting relatively tonal and clearly melodic music at the session to my friend Aaron Otheim. I was a little hesitant because the pieces I wrote were different from the music I’d heard at Racer before, but they felt worth exploring to me nonetheless. He assured me that he didn’t believe in the Racer Sessions being restricted to any sort of “sound” or procedure, and that the good folks at Racer were welcoming of any sort of new idea. After this experience, I started seeing the Racer Sessions less as a venue for exploring what people sometimes call free improvisation, but more importantly, a place to test personal limits and challenge habits in composition and performance. A typical mission statement, I suppose, but I believe this idea to be central to growth.
About the music: A challenge came to me as I was cleaning the kitchen with my roommates and listening to an early Beatles recording. I believe it was “Please, Please Me.” It struck me how very clear and great the songs were. Super predictable, highly melodic, and every song had one little gem or weird nuance that made it memorable. This got me thinking; as “simple” as these songs sound, I've never really tried to write a song this way, or at least with a clear form in mind. This idea appeared in the middle of what was a period of haphazard writing. I wasn’t very excited about many of my recent compositions, and I wanted to pursue a new angle.
About a century earlier Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert were innovators in the German song form, Lieder. I was listening to a lot of this music when I had the idea for some new music, namely the song cycles “Dichterliebe” and “Carnaval.”
Schumann’s songs in these cycles are short, but very colorful and chromatic. Often, they embody a very clear mood that is represented by either the lyrics, or the pathos implied by the articulation and touch of the instrumentalists. Schubert’s music is often set to poems by Goethe or Heine and tell tales and stories. This leads to very clear imagery within songs, an idea I’d never tried myself.
The Session: With these two artists in mind, I tried my hand at some new songs. Songs with lyrics, some without. Some feature improvisation, and others are very short. Essentially, I let the initial thematic seed of the song develop until a musical obstacle appeared. It was fun figuring out a way to get around my pet techniques and go-to moves and creating something new to share with you all.
Accompanying me will be Evan Woodle, Luke Bergman, Neil Welch and Katie Jacobson.
Pieces will be:
- “Drinking Coffee”
- “Here, but for how long? (For Neena)”
- “Somewhere Safe”
- “Looking (For Some Food)”