Monday, June 4, 2007

Third Stream not Mainstream

Colin McPhee: Incensed by Toronto's Victorian sensibilities, Colin McPhee found himself fleeing to Paris and New York as soon as he was able. He studied under Edgard Varese in New York and one night at a fancy dinner party in Manhattan, found himself immersed in listening to cylinder recordings of music from Bali alongside a woman by the name of Jane Belo. The two were wed shortly thereafter and headed across the Indian Ocean to Bali, where they could absorb the culture and music first-hand.

Devoted as he was to Balinese culture, he began to compose many pieces that were reflections of his life experiences with the gamelan musical style. There are some musicologists who assert that gamelan music exists as a musical style today as a result of his direct efforts in composing music based on its percussive effects.

In his own words: "It is a strange music, in its aura of legend, secrecy and taboo, in its lovely chiming tones, its organization, its endless repetition without the slightest change of nuance. It seems to revolve, gives the effect of something suspended, spiritual or magical. . . There was none of the perfume and sultriness of so much of the music in the East, for there is nothing purer than the bright clean sound of metal, cool and ringing and dissolving in the air. Nor was it personal and romantic, in the manner of our own effusive music, but rather, sound broken up into beautiful patterns. . . This, I thought, is the way music was meant to be, blithe, transparent, rejoicing the soul with its eager rhythm and lively sound."

Gunther Schuller: Known for his longstanding association and friendship with Charles Mingus, Gunther Schuller is renowned as one of classical and jazz music's foremost scholars, composers, and conductors. Not only has he written works on the history of jazz music from a scholarly point of view but he has also introduced a concept in music known as "Third Stream."

What is third stream, you may ask? "It is a fusion of modern classical music or modern techniques with modern jazz techniques. In other words, what it is not is having a mismatch of modern jazz and old-fashioned classical music. It has to do with the language of music. My first idea was to bring jazz into a more modern harmonic language. At the time that I was creating this concept, jazz was still using the harmonic language that was established at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Classical music had already been using the modern harmonic language of the serial composers: Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Milton Babbitt and Boulez. So there was a major discrepancy between the most major modern 'classical' language and the most advanced 'jazz' language.

"One the ideas was to bring these two musical styles together by using the same advanced harmonic language, which could be anything from what we call bi-tonality or atonality. Third Stream also came about because around the 1920s many classical music composers around the world discovered jazz. Stravinsky, Honnegar, Milhaud, and even Gershwin all wrote pieces that were influenced by jazz, but none of their compositions contained sections for improvisation. If one were to argue or suggest that the heart and soul of jazz is really improvisation, then these compositions hadn’t really crossed the divide.

"When I came along in the 1940s, composition was sort of secondary in jazz. I proposed that in bringing jazz and classical music together we must bring improvisation into the fusion."

Ernest Bloch: Although, Bloch never pioneered any new style in the world of music, his voice was distinctive enough to draw attention to his compositions. Both the young and the older academics could find much to appreciate in his work as he had an individual way of sculpting sounds using techniques of the past: folk influences, the 12-tone technique, and even coloristic quarter tones.

Sinfonia Breve was composed in 1952, less than a decade before his death. He wrote 25 pieces during this period and it was considered to be the peak of his composition. Despite his acclaim, he remained an unworldly fellow, preferring the solitude of nature to the hustle and bustle of the city life.

". . . a voice which seemed to come from far beyond myself . . . which surged up in me on reading certain passages in the Bible, Job, Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, the Prophets . . . I have but listened to an inner voice, deep, secret, insistent, ardent . . . This entire Jewish heritage has moved me deeply. It was reborn in my music . . . It is the Jewish soul that interests me, the complex, glowing, agitated soul I feel vibrating throughout the Bible."

Colin McPhee: Tabuh-Tabuhan/Ernest Bloch: Sinfonia Breve/Gunther Schuller: Seven Studies On Themes Of Paul Klee

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