or Air

Variations on the Music

of Evan Parker

Joel Ryan


These pieces serve as both incitement and reflection on the work Evan Parker and I have been doing since the 1990’s. They differ not so much in technique from concert work as in situation. All were recorded in the studio and reflect the more measured frame of solitary music making. They have been edited but the idea was play rather than collage.

I remember one day when asked by an earnest critic to define choreography Bill Forsyth answered “a channel for the desire to dance”. This has stuck with me because it was so immediately clear that no composer would have said that singing and playing music are the real thing and that composing was another way of getting there. Sometime in the last century or so a gap seems to have opened in western art music between composers and performers. Musicians were no longer looked to as a source of creative collaboration. It was often said by way of explanation that systems of music description had exceeded the ability of performers, but as can be heard by anyone willing to listen, the achievements of too many musicians have exceeded the possibilities of notation. For me the real thing has always been playing. Early on Electronic Music tried to do without a performance practice. One of the attractions to working with virtuosos is as a way of forcing performance into the mix.

Instrument making is speculation

I’ve always seen programming work as kin to instrument making rather than crafting language to describe music. The making of music, musical intelligence, arises within the process of listening and playing. Instruments are not neutral channels of control, just links correlating some idea with its expression in sound. They are intrusive inventions that incite new phenomena. They amplify and modulate the vibration of air but they also carve experience that has no other access. The writing for these instruments focuses on the construction of formal detail, content arises in the moment, remaining ambiguous until the musical meeting begins. The instruments act as levers to dislocate intention. At the fulcrum is the surprise of hearing the result of well-known techniques radically reorganized. It is a way of getting fresh ears with out sacrificing fluency.

Musicians sooner or later make use of most every technological opportunity, from revealing the potential in an exotic material to hacking the theoretical into the stuff of composition. It must have been just as amazing for the ancients to discover sound in a man made stuff like brass as it is for us to hear music made with numbers. The urge to consume the new drives instrumental music.

The thing that got me to being digital is numerical simulation. This is typically the modeling on a computer of a physical process in a mathematical form. For the instruments I have to simulate the flow of sound and sounding objects. You can do this with a physical model in mind, tracking air through some tube for example. Simulations can be consistent with the physical or not. You can replace air with another fluid or even replace the laws of physics. You can model objects that could never vibrate in the real world and yet you can listen to them. Ultimately you can use any computation that produces a stream of musical numbers. The situation I have with acoustic musicians is an interesting hybrid; I take in real sound through a microphone and play the energy of this flow through an imaginary landscape.

Thanks to those who watched over the writing of these instruments Michel Waisvisz, George Lewis, Thom Willems, Bill Forsyth, Francis Marie Uitti, Joelle Leandre and most of all Evan Parker.

Two/Cut was the first track, using a small fragment of Evan’s, Conic Sections, to present the possibilities of collaboration. The Shaker and Griot mixes are more like the live work than others probably as they came earlier in the evolution of the instruments and playing. The most recent and perhaps most distant from the original are Or air and ̉rais. ̉rais -a tumultuous noise, Oran -a song.