Acts Creative Week 3 : San Francisco

PC: Brock Sanders Photography

PC: Brock Sanders Photography

By Keith Kelly

Though I didn't intend to start the creative summer with three different types of creative arts - that's seems to be the case!  This week I'm in San Francisco in a workshop for a musical I've been involved with.  It is a week-long intense experience comprising singers, musicians, a rad director, and all manner of folks.  Though I've been working on or around this musical/theater piece for more than a year - each time I go into another workshop/performance I'm nervous.  And usually, I don't get nervous.  

I think it is that the lines of communication, the collaborative-yet-heriachical nature of the interactions between and betwixt participants is awkward to me - like watching a tv in a language you don't speak/understand.  Like, I kinda know what's going on, but I have to pay attention and respond to cues or signals that I may misinterpret.  Anyway, this week I'm making music! 

What's on my mind to start: 
approach the music with an open mind/ear - stay curious about what the possibilities for the music are and explore that space.  


The first day of the workshop was fantastic!  The creative moment that sticks out is when the music director and I were vamping (marking time under dialogue in this case) and after more than a few repetitions of the harmonic pattern we slowly morphed into something else, rhythmically.  Most of the playing had been very downbeat driven - heavy chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk playing, all notes on the piano being hit at the same time.  But then I broke up the notes into something resembling a montuno (a common Latin music piano rhythm) - and it sounded cool!  The heavy downbeat rhythm transformed into an off-beat/bouncy light moment.  The music director and I looked at each other and smiled, played it till the end of the vamp, him now accenting some of the same offbeats I was playing.  The dialogue finished and we went on to the next section of the music.  We laughed about it later that day.  But that was it.  It was just a few seconds, maybe a minute, but it was a nice creative moment.
The next few days were focused primarily on getting the production "up and running" for presentation on Friday. In terms of focusing on creativity, it was little moments: a rhythm here, a change of chord inversion there.  These ideas, tried out and tested, went quickly from - "what about this?" to "okay, that's how that goes from now on" - due to the pressure of the immenent presentation.  This kind of work - quick building as I think of it - is one of those muscles I don't get to stretch too often.   Though the rehearsal days are long, the time to work individual moments (at least in the music) is not.  It's part relying on what one knows works and part attempting to make something unique/different/strange/not obvious (thought also not too weird) -- HA!!

Acts Creative Week 2: Keith Kelly

This week, I was preoccupied with the camera on my phone.  With little "alone time" to create, I tried to capture interesting ideas/thoughts/visions as they passed.  Mostly these are domestic scenes, with focus on the most interesting creature I've ever encountered, my 2-year-old daughter.  The world is so new, life is still so new.  It just catches me by surprise: her reactions, her responses, her lack of focus - it's pure "in-the-moment" living.  And I love it.

Duck and baby/duckin' baby 

Coco, more bubbles!

Three faces

Half of the chapel

Acts Creative: A Tale of Two J/Iannis'

by Dr. Brett Reed, Music Faculty

This last week I’ve been knee deep in the production of a new concert by one of my ensembles, Crossing 32nd Street. And while I didn’t intend for it to be all about two Greek heritage composers, Jannis Kyriakides and Iannis Xenakis, that’s exactly what has happened.

In the case of Jannis, we have over the last 10 days, created a new studio recording to support his work Telegraphic. The process and need for this recording is what got me thinking about a previous studio cut of Iannis’ Persephassa, one of the masterworks for percussion ensemble. While there are many things about their music that is different, they do share an interest in spatial presentations, working in new media, and large scale forms. Each also share a drive to create music that is new. Not new in the sense of, well I made it today so it is newer than what I made yesterday, instead this has never been heard before new. That’s a much loftier concept - and hard to get to within our human experience of music. Both composers have also asked performers to make that happen.

And one other thing… in both cases they wrote music that can’t be played by us mere mortals.

This, then, is where the role of interpretation comes into play. How do I as a musician create a performance that is representative of their score, their intention, their concepts? Especially when their concepts are such that humans alone can’t do what the composer has asked of us, because they are trying to create that certain something brand new. How does this intersect with my artistic concepts and sensibilities? There may be shades of grey here, but as I see it, there are only three reasonable solutions. 

One, you could train yourself to do that very thing that humans can’t, or don’t, currently do, athletes seem to do this all the time (in Telegraphic, performers are asked to play wind instruments for very long periods without breathing - kind of a challenge, circular breathing is a possibility for some). Two, you can create a workable solution, a version of what the composer asked that meets most of the musical criteria, but isn’t technically what they wrote (in fact Xenakis expects this in his works - creative tension based on the problem solving). Or three, don’t do it humans alone, get help.

Using the recording studio to solve these problems is not new, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Les Paul, and the Beatles have all shown us what can happen in the studio. It takes a certain stance though, to warmly embrace a recording that is not entirely based on performers, though the music is intended to be performed. 

In Persephassa, Xenakis wrote a rising spiral of notes, that gradually accelerate to a furious conclusion - for seven instrument groups, any 2 or maybe 3 are playable by the usual human compliment of hands. What about the other four? In performance you have to slowly change the part by leaving out notes, density or both. In the studio? Three overdubs later (as opposed to growing more limbs) this is what you have:

And as we listened to the playback after the last take, we heard new - what Xenakis had envisioned and that no one had ever heard before. An amazing moment.

In Telegraphic, multiple takes of each part looped and blended in a certain way - and presto - humans that don’t need to breathe (that’s evolution!) - with a similar result.

This is pretty common way of working for me these days, no tools are left unused in the pursuit of an interesting sonic experience, and occasionally something new.

Acts Creative Week 1 : Keith Kelly

Dr. Keith Kelly, Music Faculty, performing at the Center for Performing Arts

Dr. Keith Kelly, Music Faculty, performing at the Center for Performing Arts

My first week of consciously committing a creative act each day was spent mostly prone, recovering in my bed from hernia surgery.  What a way to start the summer!  Ha!!! So here are some thoughts, followed by some creative work.

C U R I O S I T Y  /  P E R S P E C T I V E
These two things guide my creative practice. "Why is that?  What is that?  How is that?" are questions that bounce around my mind all day.  When I find myself centering, focusing on the act of creation, the first step for me is to (re)discover something about which I'm curious.  As I start to develop why/what/how a thing/idea is, as I get sense for the "thingness" of a thing, the most obvious or most common version is the ledge I am trying to jump from.  If this is why/what/how of this thing, what elements change by shifting my perspective? 

In these moments of approach is where taste - vision - my attempt make the strange more visible - come to bear.  It is only the through turning the prism of thought/ideas/action that something is created; only in doing is the (new?) thing made real.  

W E E K  O N E 
Though I don't fancy myself to be a poet, especially given all of the great word-people I know, my first modality of expression was on paper.  These are three selections from what I did this week while laying in bed, looking out onto an unseasonably/unreasonably pleasant Phoenix May.

From time to time
Red western edges, 
Burnt corners of a tree,
Punched through with gray/blue circles.

Sounds gather closer as
The ice cream truck passes 
One last time.

Five kisses, night dada.

Birds call back and forth, 
A crescendo of clack-click-clack.
A tiny reminder of the seasons close.

Now green/black leaves, 
shadowed.  A slow lull of
Light, a sigh, a slow smile

Learning to love slowly -
to understand the way she is, how she cares,
what catches her eye, and how she breaks - is the only path available.

Her house was ruled by fire and
bits of that childhood smolder 
still - in the wild, remote corners.

When the burn takes over 
and a layer of char appears, 
what first sticks eventually lets go.  

Only after a rain
Nothing grows on the road.
It must be on the edges of certainty,
Someplace wild and dangerous.

Acts Creative: Introduction

Dr. Brett Reed, Music Faculty

Dr. Brett Reed, Music Faculty

Long-time friend, collaborator, and schlagzeuger, Doug Nottingham, greeted me last week with the declaration, “I’m committed to doing a creative act every day of the summer break.” I wasn’t surprised at this comment, its a great idea, but I was at first puzzled - how is this different than our usual practice? Most days of an active musicians life has to be this way to teach, present concerts, make recordings and get better at our craft. 

After mulling it over for some time here are the ways this proclamation is different than our typical modus operandi. First, for those of us whose body clock shares DNA with the academic calendar, this statement suggests that the summer break is not for finding the nearest couch and the remote that is sure to be on the arm rest. Second, and more importantly, the concept is rooted in commitment, in acknowledgment, in some form of accountability. There is a lot of power in owning something no matter if in the arts or any other aspect of life. Lastly, the pledge also suggests priority; to pull it off would take energy, planning, and active participation.

Consideration over, because it is a great idea and for how it coincides with other current things I have been chewing on about what it means to be a successful artist I, and fellow music faculty member Keith Kelly, have decided to take the same oath as Doug. Over the coming weeks each of us are going to post on weekly basis about what we get up to and share with you our progress, sources of inspiration, finished works or anything else that illustrates our acts creative. 

I hope that at least you will find it interesting, better still it might encourage you to take the plunge with us and do the same, no matter your field, area of the arts, or otherwise. As a warmup here is clear documentation of a creative act, shared by Keith and I in the making of his most recent record: 

Enjoy the music, see you next week.