Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm - Café Racer - Seattle, WA

Simon Henneman w/ Neil Welch - October 20, 2013


Back in July Neil Welch and I decided it would be fun to write pieces of music for each other to play. We gave each other two months to compose some music and another month to learn the music. Here’s what we came up with:

Neil Welch:

For Simon Henneman: Music in Six Sections

Simon’s music resonates deeply with me.  On stage or on recording, his playing seems totally uninhibited and extremely personal.  Simon sings a spirit song every time he plays and it reaches me again and again.  He has an ability to cut to the core of a musical idea, and can synthesize multiple concepts into something singular.  He also draws from a deep pool of musical experience, both as a player and a listener of different musical styles.  This makes the process of composing for him very liberating but also very challenging.   

In thinking about how to approach his composition, I decided to narrow my focus down to one specific area.  This ended up being a single sound event in my mind.  One of the many areas in Simon’s playing I’ve always admired was his use of the whammy bar.  A while back while watching the band WA, Simon improvised over Nature Boy and during it played a dark, gritty chord and bent it up, then down with the whammy bar.  I’ve heard him do this many times, and in sitting down to compose for Simon I had this moment burned on my brain.  As it turns out Simon will likely not be using his whammy bar on this piece, but in classic Henneman fashion heard what I was aiming for and found a better way to do it.

For Simon Henneman: Music In Six Sections also includes an Introduction and two Interlude portions.  In thinking about Simon’s use of the whammy bar, the sound of North Hindustani classical music immediately came into my mind.  I decided to compose a piece strongly influenced by this tradition but executed very differently.  In my mind I heard his whammy bar as something akin to the human voice, bending and contorting sound from one pitch to another in smooth or disjunct ways.  

The content in this piece uses pitched material drawn directly from a single scale, which was as follows: E F# G A B C# D D# E

In this piece I explored the North Indian form of Alap, Jor and Jhala.  In my own novice interpretation, I think of the compositional structure of this tradition as follows:

Alap: Melodic improvisation that presents and develops the raga.  No meter.

Jor: The meter enters, and for some time the meter-free melody is played over the pulse.

Jhala: The final union of steady pulse and much more metered, percussive improvisation.  The tempo is often increased at the beginning of this section.

Overall I maintained this form throughout the piece, with the rubato (Alap), explorative melodies eventually giving way to notated, rhythmic melodies (Jor), and eventually moving into freely interpreted melodies where rhythmic placement is completely dependent on Simon’s interpretation.  This last section was my own interpretation of the Jhala.

Throughout this piece my challenge was to balance what I needed to hear in the music, versus what Simon would be free to interpret.  For this reason, there is a wide spectrum of what is notated.  Section 1, for example has very specific phrasing notations, with full articulation markings, breath marks and fermatas.  But in Section 5, there are a few hundred specific pitches notated in wide octave leaps, with no articulation, dynamic or phrase markings whatsoever.


Five Bagatelles for Solo Tenor Sax and Electronics

I’ve known Neil for a few years and have always been a fan of his playing, his approach, and his unwavering dedication to his music. He is a super heavy individual and definitely an inspiration to me, so I am super stoked to have him playing some music I wrote. Neil’s use and control of multiphonics( a technique using alternate fingerings and embouchure on the saxophone to produce more than one note at a time) has always fascinated me so I asked Neil for five of his favorite multiphonics and used those as the source of melodic and/ or harmonic material for five short pieces. I tried to write pieces that were like what I had seen and heard Neil do as well as write music that was either unlike anything I had heard him do or was heavily influenced by music I had never heard him do. I’ve always really liked Neil’s unique use of electronics in conjunction with his horn and I wanted to take advantage of that with some of this music as well.

Bagatelle #1

The first and last pieces are abstractions and rely on the performer’s interpretation of a visceral emotional reaction to visual art and personal meaning of a specific hexagram of the I Ching instead of literal instructions. Neil makes use of circular forms to explore multiphonics often and this is what I was thinking about for this and the last piece. Both are based on impressions and reflections of my experience of paintings I was surprised to be especially struck by at MoMA in NY last month (I was feeling pretty cynical at the time and they both unexpectedly blew my mind with how intensely I reacted to them… really, Monet? I had no idea why people dug it, but I do now). I threw the hexagrams from the I Ching in there because I have no idea how it will affect Neil’s approach to these pieces and when I threw the coins and got the readings for each of the pieces they seemed to relate to my experience of those two paintings.

 Here’s Neil’s instructions for both:

Music not driven by an overarching meaning, but with the intent towards individual meaning. Use any  means necessary playing-wise to create the experience for yourself, but I ask that you keep in mind the specific primary multiphonic that relates to each piece and use that as a “resolution”, point of return, and or resting( or moving) place. Please pay special attention to the physical size of the painting and consider that in the choices you make. I would encourage walking the distance of the size of the painting while practicing and performing this.

And here’s instructions specific to the first:

One: Number 31, 1950

D (quarter step flat), Bb, F# (quarter step sharp)  Med-wide range.

(Left Hand) B-A-G keys, Octave // (Right Hand) F-E keys, Low C

Based on the Jackson Pollock painting of the same title, here’s a link: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78386

Action and movement should be shallow in depth and great in activity. Forceful, but flowing. Broken circles and sforzando declamations. Foot stomping and grunting through the horn are strongly encouraged.

Hexagram 7: Shih / Recruiting Allies or The Army

Deep Water beneath the Earth’s surface:
Untapped resources are available.
The Superior Person nourishes and instructs the people, building a loyal, disciplined following.
Good fortune.
No mistakes if you follow a course led by experience.

Moving lines:

Line 5: The seasoned veteran is elevated to command, and none too soon.
For the game is in the field, and it would be wise to catch it.

Line 3: A wagon load of corpses this way comes.

Transformed Hexagram:

48 – Forty-Eight

Ching / The Well

Deep Waters Penetrated and drawn to the surface:
The Superior Person refreshes the people with constant encouragement to help one another.

Encampments, settlements, walled cities, whole empires may rise and fall, yet the Well at the center endures, never drying to dust, never overflowing.

It served those before and will serve those after.
Again and again you may draw from the Well, but if the bucket breaks or the rope is too short there will be misfortune.

Bagatelle #2

This piece is based on this Multiphonic: Ab, A (lower end of upper register).  Very close range.

(Left Hand) B key, Octave, Low Bb // (Right Hand) F-E-D keys, Low Eb

The piece uses the two pitches( transposed up a half step) as the basis of the harmonic movement for a 2 bar vamp in 6/4: Bb9#5, Bb-7b5, Amaj7#9. There is an imaginary ostinato underneath that is not played or alluded to, though it does influence the melody. The ostinato is four bars in Em, two bars in Am, and two bars in Em. I was thinking about juxtaposing Hip Hop( specifically Wu Tang Clan) and something reminiscent of 20th century “classical” music for this one.

Bagatelle #3

I used the pitches of this multiphonic:

 Eb, Bb, E (quarter step sharp) F# (quarter step sharp).  Very wide range

(Left Hand) F-E-D keys, Octave, Low Bb  // (Right Hand) F-D keys.

For the melodic material I created scales by moving the pitches that were a quarter tone sharp to the closest equal tempered pitch then extrapolated scales by taking the equal tempered equivalent of the  4th - 7th harmonics of each pitch( which is essentially a dominant 7 chord) and combining two pitches:  

Eb(Eb G Bb Db) and E(E G# B D) became: Eb, E, G, Ab, Bb, B, Db, D

Eb(Eb G Bb Db) and Bb(Bb D F A) became:  Eb, F, G, A, Bb, Db

E(E G# B D) and F#(F# A# C# E) became E, F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D – E Lydian

I really dig Neil’s melodies and on this piece I tried to mimic the long flowing angular lines and syncopated 16th note rhythms I hear in some of them as well as allow for improvised sections of different length. I also tried to write a piece that would blur the lines between what is composed and what is improvised.

Bagatelle #4

I played in a group this Summer that played Fela Kuti’s music that was a blast. I’ve loved that music for a long time and this is the first chance I’ve had to play it. In Fela’s music the guitar parts are often an ostinato that never ends; literally playing the same two bar vamp for ten or fifteen minutes. After the gig I was talking to Ivan Arteaga( who played in the group as well) and he said how it would be cool to play a part like that on the horn, so thinking of that I came up with this one which builds a four bar vamp in that style using the tenor sax and loop pedal to imitate a Fela style rhythm section and horn section melody.  

Around the time I was rehearsing with that group I had the pleasure of playing on Neil’s July 14th Racer Session in which we played a piece Neil wrote for a large group inspired by Julius Hemphill’s album ‘Coon Bid’ ness. One of the things I remember Neil talking about was the juxtaposition of a “folk” type of music and music that is very intellectualized and I’ve been fascinated by that idea since which is part of the approach to both this piece and Bagatelle #2.

Bagatelle #5

This one is a piece in the same style as Bagatelle #1. Here’s Neil’s instructions:

Water Lilies

C, C#, F#.  Very wide range.

(Left Hand) B-A-G keys, Low B // (Right Hand) F-E-D keys, Low C

Based on the Monet painting, here’s the link:  http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=80220

Stately. Complete circles. Long thoughts and changes that shift in perception and depth. Receptive and flowing.

Hexagram 14

Ta Yu / Great Treasures

The Fire of clarity illuminates the Heavens to those below:
The Superior Person possesses great inner treasures – compassion, economy, and modesty.
These treasures allow the benevolent will of Heaven to flow through him outward to curb evil and further good.

Supreme success.

Moving Line:

Line One: No mistakes if you stay out of harm’s way.
Remain conscious of dangers and difficulties, and you will have no regrets.

Transformed Hexagram:

50 – Fifty

Ting / The Caldron

Fire rises hot and bright from the Wood beneath the sacrificial caldron:

The Superior Person positions himself correctly within the flow of Cosmic forces.

Supreme Accomplishment.


For the jam session part of the night we invite you to write a piece of music for someone else to play.  It could be something that you compose, teach to someone that night, or just provide a set of instructions or parameters, the important thing is that you “write” something and then someone else plays it. Bonus points for writing for someone with something specific about their playing style or approach in mind.