INTERVIEW ON "LOCAL NOISE" (RADIO ADELAIDE) WITH BIANCA HARVEY, 9 AUGUST 2005
Bianca: Hi there and welcome to Local Noise... this is part 5 of our Noise From The Streets series. Tonight we're going to be featuring a recording that was taken this week from the Delacatessen Gallery, from Music of Transparent Means, and we have the main "Musician" of Transparent Means, Alex Carpenter, thank you for joining me.
Alex: Thank you for having me.
B: Anything you want to say before we go to the first part of the program tonight?
A: Um.. this was a recording from a tiny little art gallery just off Waymouth Street, De La Catessen. I think it seats about maybe 40 people. And I've been performing a little bit there recently. This gig that we're going to hear tonight was part of the SALA Moving Image Project. Music of Transparent Means is sort of like a - there's not a fixed membership as such, except for me - it changes all the time. In this case we had six performers playing various instruments - keyboards, guitars, saxophones. You'll hear saxophones in the second piece, but in this first one there's five of us crowded around two electric pianos, with samples and looped guitar.
B: Excellent. Well, let's get stuck into it then.
[CHORD FROM THE SECOND DELPHIC HYMN]
B: So what was that piece called, Alex?
A: That was called Chord From The Second Delphic Hymn, which -
B: - is a bit of a mouthful?
A: [Laughing] Well, when I was thinking about what I wanted to call this, I realised that's exactly what it was. It's based on an ancient Greek hymn, or at least a reconstruction of one. And [after] listening to that [reconstruction] on a recording I realised the way these Greek songs explore the modes - the musical scales - is really focused.. Again, I don't know much about it, but it captivated me hearing it, and I wanted to distill that focus even further, and that's pretty much what you heard.
B: So, largely, where do you get your inspiration for Music of Transparent Means?
A: Well, the music tends to be, or ends up being very textural, as you will have picked up... I've always listened to music and picked up on something very different to what I feel other people are picking up on. That's not to say it's a superior way of listening, it's just the way I've always listened. I've always focused in on particular sounds - particular chords or notes - within a piece of music, and been disappointed when that sound that I want to focus on ends. Because I want to delve deeper into it and get to some sort of heightened perception of it, or of its beauty - which is always there, we're just rarely given the chance to really find it. So that's really want I want to do with Music of Transparent Means. It's not to say that's going to happen with every single person at every single concert, but it's about setting up the space where that is at least a possibility, perceptually.
B: How do you go about composing these pieces? Do you compose them on your own, or do you get the group of people to work with you? How do you go about working out what's going to happen if you're not playing all the instruments?
A: Well, given it is textural, there's a degree of chance in terms of what results from everyone's individual parts. So each performer will have a very simple part; they'll move through certain notes or certain sounds at their own pace and at their own speed. And if you get lots of performers doing this, you get a mass of sound which is constantly changing, but you can't really predict how it's going to change or what's going to result... You might know the harmony - and in most cases I'm quite specific about the harmony I want - but in terms of say melodies that result, or specific placement of notes at any given time, I've got know idea what's going to result.
Another thing I was going to mention is, the compositional process, or the creative process, continues into the show itself. I'll come up with an idea, but that's not the end of the piece, you know. And that's why I don't like calling myself a composer, because to me a composer is someone who writes dots on a page. I mean, I don't know, obviously the word could mean anything, but that's the association I have with that word. For me in many ways the more important part of creating music [than writing dots on paper] is being there in the space and spending time fine tuning the actual timbral qualities of the sound that you're creating. Timbre contributes to mood perhaps more than any other musical element. If you take a fixed recording and listen to it on several different stereos in different rooms, for example, you'll probably notice very real differences in the type of mood it inspires, depending on variables like the room acoustics, EQ settings, type and placement of speakers, etc., even though the piece of music itself - the composition - has stayed exactly the same in each situation. So, just realising that makes you think timbre is a really overlooked but incredibly important and powerful area of music...
Interestingly, you can't notate timbre, which I think is why a lot of composers don't really involve themselves in this area. Of course you can write things like "tinny" on a score, but that's really all you can do as a "composer". So for me it's not about creating a score; it's about spending time in the space - as Luke who runs De La Catessen knows - setting up amps and experimenting with timbre. For me that's the most important part.
B: Okay, do you want to tell us a bit about the second piece?
A: Sure. The second piece is an older piece... This piece evolved maybe 3 years ago... and again it can exist in many different forms. It's been realised with 21 players before, but for this version we had the same group [as the first piece], so 6 players. It's called Emerging Like An Infant From The House Of Truth, and I guess it explores similar ideas to the ones I was just talking about. Each person has a very short and very simple phrase, and everyone's given the instruction to start at a certain speed and continually slow down. So they're repeating that phrase but it's lengthening each time they play it. So again what results is a mass of sound which is in some sense indeterminate. You don't know exactly what's going to result, and what results is far more profound than what you could sit down and come up with as a "composer" anyway.
B: Okay, thank you.
[EMERGING LIKE AN INFANT FROM THE HOUSE OF TRUTH]
B: Emerging Like An Infant From The House Of Truth, by Music of Transparent Means, recorded on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday?
B: Doing well! Sunday night, at the Delacatessen Gallery. And you wanted to thank some people Alex?
A. Well yes, I just wanted to credit all the performers. In that piece we heard Kym Gluyas and Patrick Gluyas playing saxophones, Daniel Varricchio on guitar, myself on keyboard, guitar and samples, my brother Sam Carpenter playing cymbals. And in the first piece Chord From The Second Delphic Hymn, we heard all of those people plus Luke Altmann on keyboard. And in that first piece people were playing different instruments too. We were all crowded around two pianos, hammering out notes.
B: Do you end up elbowing people doing that?
A: You do a little bit yeah, particularly in that small space. It is a very physical activity, particularly for such a static sound. It's a real workout. And I mean for that last piece it is for the sax players as well, not so much for me because I'm playing guitar and keyboard, and a lot of it is holding down chords. But for the sax players, they're very much buried in the mix, which is the intention because the idea then is that they are really playing at the maximum volume and maximum intensity. And they're sweating - it's a real expenditure of energy.
And I kind of had this realisation - I mean it's something I've always been aware of in a sense, but it struck me particularly in this concert because I was doing something quite physical as well - that this kind of physical exhaustion is a real significant part of the music. I mean, the last 5 minutes are painful, but beautiful, because you've lost an extra degree of self-consciousness - and in a sense what you're doing is postponing your self and the physical requirements of your body, and the health requirements of your body, just to produce this sound. Of course music always goes beyond the human, but you feel that in a very direct sense playing this music.
B: Excellent. Well thank you very much for sharing your music with us and coming in for a bit of a chat.
A: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
B: No problem at all, and Deep Golden Flourish..?
A: Yes, that's what we were going to go out with - an excerpt from a half-hour piece, which exists as a single track on this CD also called Deep Golden Flourish.
B: Excellent. Stay tuned for Patrick and A Dead Man Presents - coming up next.
[EXCERPT FROM DEEP GOLDEN FLOURISH]