WMNF 2: Music for Airports
Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada:
The wonder of human flight encapsulates the intelligence, ambition, and creativity of humankind. For the first time, WNMF moves to the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada for an eclectic program that celebrates our collective achievements in both the arts and sciences.
Legendary, multi-faceted artist Brian Eno reimagined the concept of ambient sound and ambient music with his seminal 1978 album Music for Airports. This hypnotic four-part electroacoustic work will anchor a concert that brings together maverick Dutch bassoonist Bram van Sambeek, WSO principals Yuri Hooker and Meredith Johnson, and the Polycoro Chamber Choir, as we are transported through a musical adventure that takes us from Eno and Metallica to Shaw and Azmeh. It’s a small world, after all.
This concert is available to WNMF Pass Holders only.
Brian Eno: Music for Airports: 1/1, Music for Airports: 2/1, Music for Airports: 1/2, Music for Airports: 2/2 (1978)
Ambient Music- The concept of music designed specifically as a background feature in the environment was pioneered by Muzak Inc. in the fifties, and has since come to be known generically by the term Muzak. The connotations that this term carries are those particularly associated with the kind of material that Muzak Inc. produces – familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner. Understandably, this has led most discerning listeners (and most composers) to dismiss entirely the concept of environmental music as an idea worthy of attention.
Over the past three years, I have become interested in the use of music as ambience, and have come to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus without being in any way compromised. To create a distinction between my own experiments in this area and the products of the various purveyors of canned music, I have begun using the term Ambient Music.
An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres.
Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to `brighten’ the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.
Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.
Cliff Burton / Metallica (arr. Bram van Sambeek) (Anesthesia)–Pulling Teeth
Cliff Burton’s pioneering way of playing the bass guitar was discovered by Metallica’s founding members Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield when they heard an early version of what would become Pulling Teeth for bass guitar and drums (here on bassoon and drums). Ulrich and Hetfield were attracted by the virtuosity of what they first thought was an electric guitar, and immediately invited Burton to join the band. This mixing-up of instruments is a nice example of what an ‘oscillating revenge of a background instrument’ can sound like. (It also reminds me of some musicians who praised the virtuosity of ‘the violinist’ in our recording of the piece Harlem Nocturne, when it was in fact Rick Stotijn on the bass imitating the skills of electric guitarist Danny Gatton.)
Behind all the distortion and scratching that is inherent to both the agonizing sounds of a dentist’s drill and the thrash metal of those days, it’s clear that Burton’s solo is heavily influenced by classical music–in fact Burton took inspiration from Bach and taught some music theory to the other band members, and I must admit to having taken an evil pleasure in fooling audiences by suggesting that I’ve started on Bach’s Second Cello Suite while in fact playing the beginning of Pulling Teeth.
—Bram van Sambeek
I have set a number of David Martin’s poems for vocal ensembles, with the first being ‘gouging at a forest sea’ in 2017, which is drawn from his poem ‘Tar Swan‘. I had been eager to set more David’s work because of the incredibly vivid imagery it conjures, and his ability to draw intertwining lines of narrative when remaining surreal and densely structured. His poem ‘Erratics’, like ‘Tar Swan’, embodies an unusual world. The poem cryptically looks at the movement of glacial erratics, which are rocks or boulders carried by glacial ice, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from where they originated. These boulders take their name from ‘errare’, the Latin word for ‘to wander’.
With ‘Erratics’, I focused more on the sonic properties of David’s word choices, as well as the cyclical and surreal nature of the storytelling, in particular the way the individual words twist and turn in upon themselves. As with much of David’s work, the text is heavily mystical and metaphoric in nature. The text explores themes of migration, travel and abandonment (in keeping with the subject matter of glacially deposited rocks), keeping at its centre a rich but oblique description of the Albertan landscape. The way I set the text also references the themes of travel over vast distances, in particular the use of repetitive inhalation and exhalation breath patterns (which offers contrasting timbres) as a way to apply pulse to the work. To me, these inhalation and exhalation patterns are reminiscent of laboured breathing after running a long distance, with a certain tenseness, anxiety and adrenaline inherent in the sound of this deliberate breathing. Other inhuman vocal sounds are layered over top including an open-mouthed breathing sound and a ‘sss’ whistle through the teeth. With these sounds I also wanted to add tension, but also reference the ‘open plains’ of Alberta, coated with glacial ice, upon which the erratic boulders are carried. I also wanted these ‘cold and icy sounds’ to carry the sung words as if the text were ‘erratics’ themselves, moving the imagery along from one passage to another.
Text – David Martin
I awoke, beached in a field,
tattooed in petroglyphs,
and tended by children
within earshot of calving glaciers.
The sun sets a headstone
behind me on a frayed nap
of fescue. Sparrows mock:
I’ve been shanghaied
by frozen tides. They trick
up skeins from my sopping
dressings, but the moon
can wax my wounds.
Drawing back the blackouts,
I rewatch my family fleeing,
their tears melting a retreat
from the moraine’s tide-line
to shrivel in the crevasses.
I huddle in a pallid plot,
slabs shorn by wind swords.
A capsized osprey breaks
its back across my brow.
When they realize my stone
arrows will end the war,
ice waves will lift my bulk
like a seed and carry me back
to the carcass I was pried from.
—Amy Brandon Article on the piece for Pro Coro
Kalevi Aho Solo V for bassoon (1999)
With the bassoon (as with the oboe), Aho set himself the goal of composing various works over the years, with the aim of enlarging contemporary repertoire and providing players with good, demanding works for different occasions.
In 1999 the Sinfonia Lahti Chamber Ensemble gave some concerts in Germany that included exclusively music by Aho. To give the programme more variety, Aho composed Solo V for the orchestra’s solo bassoonist Harri Ahmas and Solo VI for double bass for the double bass player Eero Munter. Both works were premièred on 13th November 1999 at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich.
Solo V is a dramatic work – one that is to be played especially loudly so that the colourful over tone spectrum is audible. Note repetitions amplify the low notes, giving the impression of latent chords. In addition, Aho uses so-called multiphonics and motifs based on micro-intervals.
Bram van Sambeek is known for his highly versatile approach to bassoon playing and for his innovative programming – among other things he is a founder of 8the group ORBI (the Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments), performing tailor-made arrangements of rock songs. A dedicated chamber musician, he is a regular guest at prestigious festivals and venues, and also performs as soloist with orchestras such as the Gothenburg, Lahti and Netherlands Symphony Orchestras. Bram van Sambeek is the only bassoonist to have received the Dutch Music Prize, the most prestigious Dutch award in the field of classical music. For ten years he was principal bassoonist in the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and he has been a regular guest principal in the London Symphony Orchestra and Mahler Chamber Orchestra. He currently teaches at the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague.
Kinan Azmeh November 22nd
November 22nd is a meditative work that tries to depict that ambiguous feeling one encounters by feeling at home somewhere far from one’s original home. I wrote this piece in the US inspired by the sonic memory of a marketplace that used to exist behind my parents’ apartment back in Damascus, it seemed to have a slow and steady pulse to it similar to the rhythm of life which keeps moving regardless of our emotions about it.
Over the years the piece has enjoyed several lives, as lead sheet, as the middle movement of my Suite for Improvisor and Orchestra and as other versions created by colleagues. The work simply tries to blur the lines between the composed and the improvised, which comes from my belief that some of the best written music is one that sounds spontaneous and improvised, and some of the best improvisations are the ones that sound structured as if composed. This work is meant to give great room for the soloist to become a composer on the spot and to play freely within the larger structure of the work.