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ARTISTIC WORK

The three pieces you are about to hear were inspired by the life-changer book The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman. In such a book, the anthropologist Bruce Albert unveils the Yanomami lifestyle from the perspective of one of the most significant indigenous leaders, David Kopenawa.

In these three pieces I am using the methods I call cubist sonic objects (a way of sonic representing an archetypical object by subverting the chronological order of its sounds), concrete variations (a type of music variation specifically related to concrete sounds), and sonic heritage (a strategy for expanding the sonic material of a piece based on the “sound memories” of sounding objects).

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THE FALLING SKY TRILOGY

SCREAMING TREES

SCREAMING_TREES_AlexBuck_320kbps_2019Alex Buck
00:00 / 08:06

2019       acousmatic | stereo | 8’ 06’’

first prize - International Electro-acoustic Music Composition Competition

first prize - Musicworks 2019 Electronic Music Composition Contest

[feat.] Luana Baptista

I was listening to recordings from Brazilian cellist Rodrigo Prado improvising. Suddenly, a unique, rough, complex, noisy sound materializes like a scream, though not a human one. Instead, the cry seemed to be reminiscences of dying trees as if the cello’s wood had preserved the memories of the killed trees from which it derived.

 

That bizarre idea must have arisen from the influence of a life-changer book I was reading at that time: For Yanomami people, Trees are sacred beings. They defend trees with their own lives. And after thinking a little deeper on this rather bizarre “sonic vision” I had, I realized how Western music development was indeed promoted at the expanse of the killing of trees. All western music tradition is, somehow, dependent on wood, not only for producing the majority of orchestral instruments but also for preserving and allowing the Western music language development through score writing on paper, a well-known substance derived from trees.

Consequently, a very poetic and renewed view of trees emerges, for they have provided us with two of the most significant things we need to survive: oxygen and music. All sounds contained in the composition are tree-related. I utilized sounds of the closing of books, page turnings, instruments made of wood to represent human history. Natural sounds from different birds, wind, and water represent nature. This strategy of dealing with concrete sounds in a still highly abstract musical discourse aims to provide listeners with clues on the originating vision of screaming trees. This piece is a tribute to trees.

A REVOLTA DOS XAPIRIS

2020       acousmatic | stereo | 9’ 56’’

A_Revolta_Dos_Xapiris_AlexBuck_stereo_2020Alex Buck
00:00 / 09:56

first prize - Prix Métamorphoses Acousmatic Music Composition Competition

[feat.] David Kopenawa

After composing Screaming Trees (2019), I felt I still had much to explore, both poetically and sonically, with the ideas in David Kopenawa’s book. Especially after finding an audio recording of a shamanic ritual conducted by David Kopenawa himself on the internet. The voice sounds in the piece come from such a recording, kindly provided by Brazilian field recording engineer Marcos Wesley. The title of this sequel translated to English is The Xapiri’s Rebellion. The name adds one more layer of indications to listeners on the subjects and metaphors present in the piece. Like in Screaming Trees, I am working with chains of archetypical sounds to represent higher-order subjects. For instance, the recognizable sounds of bikes, cars, and aeroplanes represent urban societies’ means of transport. Metaphorically, this sound chain indicates urban societies’ necessity to move increasingly faster, in an underlined battle against time.

Meanwhile, I used some spectro-morphological “rhymes” between sounds, such as the similarities of the “roar” of felines and sounds of motor devices, that could potentially provoke rich thoughts in the listener’s minds.

Finally, passages from the book have inspired me to compose sections of the piece, acting as a latent atmosphere driving the composition. One such selection is this:

... For us, the xapiri are the true owners of “nature,” not human beings. The xapiri are continually moving around the entire forest without our knowing [...]. These are words that white people do not understand. They think forests are dead and empty, that nature is out there for no reason, and that it is mute. They don’t want to listen to either our or spirit’s words. They prefer deafness. [...] The forest is alive. It can only die if white people persist in destroying it. If they succeed, the rivers will disappear underground, the soil will crumble, the trees will shrivel up, and the stones will crack in the heat. The dried-up earth will become empty and silent. The Xapiri spirits who come down from the mountains to play on their mirrors in the forest will escape far away. Their shaman fathers will no longer be able to call them and make them dance to protect us. They will be powerless to repel the epidemic fumes which devour us. They will no longer be able to hold back the evil beings who will turn the forest into chaos. We will die one after the other, the white people as well as us. All the shamans will nally perish. Then, if none of them survives to hold it up, the sky will fall.

DOES IT MATTER?

Does it Matter?Alex Buck
00:00 / 09:35

2021       acousmatic | binaural | 9’ 35’’

commissioned by PANaroma Studio and PROEC

first prize - Premio Destellos 2022 International Annual Electroacoustic Composition Contest

[feat.] Abigail Whitman

2020 was when the overall weight of human activities’ material output surpassed the weight of all global living biomass. After reading this information, the image of oceanic waters covered by plastic waste immediately came to my mind. Presumably, plastic is the synthetic material that best symbolizes human debris. There are countless products made from plastic; it is on our clothes, our food, in the water... plastic is everywhere. Contemporary urban societies are leaving their traces for centuries to go. On the other hand, there is a positive side effect of plastic material.

 

For instance, plastic enabled unprecedented music development during the 20th Century. The emergence of the audio recording- diffusion technology fostered the further development of pre-existing musical genres and enabled the explosion of new ones. Vinyl discs, magnetic/cassette tapes, compact/digital versatile discs, and their respective devices are all variations of plastics. That is the metaphor I wanted to evoke with the piece’s first movement. I chose to articulate sounds from “obsolete” recording-diffusion plastic devices with samples from musique concrète’s first cycle of works—Études de Bruits (Schaeffer, 1948)—a clear example of a new musical genre that could only emerge from sound recording technology. In the second movement, I resume the female voice I utilized in Screaming Trees (2019).

 

However, in this new context, surrounded by sounds coming from plastic material, the sounds of suffocation, shortness of breath, and agony are all sonic metaphors of mother nature choking out plastics. In addition, the natural sounds of thunder, which according to Yanomami people, symbolize nature’s anger, are mixed with synthetic, artificial sounds to reinforce the atmosphere of conflict between natural and artificial, nature and culture.

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SCREWS + NUTS

photo by GIAHN

PROGRAM NOTES

In SCREW + NUT, I am interested in expanding the framework of the sounds each instrument of a jazz trio can produce. However, this expansion of timbers does not occur only through extended techniques, instrument preparation or live electronic processing. Above all, I want to incorporate the sounds, gestures materials, and tools that were present during the very making of these instruments. 

 

The project began with an initial vision: to explore the prepared piano sounds within the context of pulse-based improvisation. I was mainly interested in John Cage’s instrument because it produces timbres escaping equal temperament. However, for practical reasons, instead of inserting screws, nuts, paper, erasers and other materials between and on piano strings, I decided to work with sample-based software that allows me to use up to two combinations of preparation per string. As a result, I have an immense assortment of timbres. 

 

This initial idea unfolded into others. For example, why not extend the notion of ​​preparation to the other two instruments of the ensemble, drums and upright bass? Furthermore, I realized these three wood-based instruments had screws and nuts embedded in their very structures. They depend on these construction materials to exist. So, why not incorporate the sounds of such materials into the lexicon of sounds for this project? And why not incorporate sounds of the actual making of these three instruments? Lastly, why not include the handcrafting gestures of these three instruments’ macking?

 

I created a vocabulary of samples from my piano preparation recordings, as shown in the “Throwing + Scraping” piece, a video collaboration with artist GIAHN (CalArtian MFA). I also researched the gestures of upright bass, piano, and drum set macking. This collection of gestures is responsible for articulating the materials (wood, screws, nuts, strings, etc.). Motions such as hammering, stretching, screwing, cutting, welding, glueing, sanding, bending, and modelling, among many others, are the gestural models that inspire the performative gestures. Consequently, I named the compositions after them.

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ARTISTS

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Kevin Madison

Pianist, composer, and educator. As a composer, his music has been featured in important international venues and cultural centers. His interests have recently shifted from being solely in classical music to writing in more commercial styles. He is currently a DMA Lecture at the California Institute of the Arts.

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Edwin Livingston

Los Angeles-based bassist, composer, and educator, Livingston has performed and recorded with Elvin Jones, Jason Marsalis, and Peter Erskine among many others. In addition to a full playing, touring, and recording career he teaches at  USC Thornton School of Music and at the California Institute of the Arts.

https://www.edwinlivingston.com/

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Sam Wells

Trumpeter, composer, improviser, and technologist based in Los Angeles. As an advocate for new and exciting music, he actively commissions and performs contemporary works.

https://sllewm.as

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GiAHN

Based in LA and South Korea, GIAHN works with various mediums, starting from personal and ordinary objects. He is currently an Art and Technology MFA candidate at the California Institute of the Arts. He has a BS in Material Science and Engineering from the Kyungpook National University.

https://giahn.com/

Alex Buck

Composer, improviser, and educator, Alex Buck is currently based in Los Angeles. Working across many experimental music idioms, Buck is internationally praised for his award-winning acousmatic works.

https://www.alexbuck.com.br/

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COMPOSITIONS

THROWING + SCRAPING