And, a new and wonderful discovery for this reviewer, Holland Hopson set his haunting vocals about a desolate landscape with “no road lead[ing] straight home” against layers of clawhammer banjo woven together via computer processing and a foot pedal.
Thursday October 22, 8pm Gallery MC
549 W 52nd St, Fl 8th
New York, New York 10019
This concert is part of the Vox Novus Festival celebrating 15 years of work. Vox Novus and Circuit Bridges have teamed up with BAMA in a composer exchange (kind of like hostages, only composers are somewhat more demanding—requiring better food, more liquor—and not as susceptible to audio torture). The exchange began a few weeks ago with the Birmingham Art Music Alliance welcoming a contingent of NY-based composers for the Birmingham New Music Festival. This weekend Monroe Golden, Mark Lackey, Brian Moon, William Price and I are being hosted by Circuit Bridges.
I’ll be performing Alap Catfish Impala, a new piece for banjo voice and live electronics. It’s a mashup (or maybe a medley?) of clawhammer blues and just-tuned modal improvisations.
I call this banjo tuning the “So What” tuning since it produces the same voicing as the horn chords in the Miles Davis tune “So What”. (Bar all four strings at the second fret. Strum. Release. Strum. Whattya know! Modal jazz and mountain modal banjo tunings…same difference.)
I wrote most of the lyrics while pushing my son around in his stroller, wondering what would be worse: global warming or my first upstate New York winter in ten years.
The electronics part was originally all about a piercing drone that slowly oscillates between a and b-flat. The movement between the pitches is based on the gestures played by the banjo and would sometimes produce amazing microtonal difference tones. Listening back to my recordings I realized how painful the experience could be for the audience. With the encouragement and discerning ears of Troy Pohl I pushed the electronics far into the background.
Go find some delightful Al Tharp clawhammer banjo at WFMU’s Beware of the Blog. I haven’t listened to Tharp enough to discern the secrets of his style, but I love the heavily accented thumb-picked slides in his version of Boatin Up Sandy. (At least, that what they sound like to me…)
Thanks to Eric Hardiman for bringing this to my clawhammer-crazed attention.