Date of Submission

Spring 2011

Academic Program

Music

Advisor

Robert Bielecki

Abstract/Artist's Statement

"Borderlines": Not a Manifesto but an Apparition

Gryphon Rue Rower-Upjohn

Senior Music Concert I, February 3rd & 4th 2011

People interrogate music for its meaning. Music is inherently magical, because it is rooted in the precious ever-fleeting present. I have found that making organized sound is a way of experiencing an elusive freedom. An exchange of the term “dada” for “music,” in Tristan Tzara’s 1918 DADA manifesto, articulates music’s mystical apparition: “Music: the absolute and indisputable belief in every god that is an immediate product of spontaneity.”

It is my opinion that the three most common pitfalls of songwriting today are excessive derivativeness, allusion and irony. Songwriting has suffered these three fates and their consequences. These all-too-common practices halt music in place, where it can no longer mystify, and instead calcifies to fit an academic trend, or the song becomes merely an intellectual or historical interest piece, or backward looking nostalgia. I want to show that songwriting is an elastic art form. By “elastic” I mean that new forms can emerge from a style inherently steeped in tradition. My main approach is with lyrical experimentation. In general, lyrics hold secondary status behind melody. Singer-songwriters tend toward a low lyrical standard. Often, the words are indecipherable, conveniently repetitious, or hackneyed and unimaginative. I intend to challenge conventional beliefs about the stringency of folk through a lyrical emphasis that ventures in progressive directions. Obviously, lyrics are not the sole source of importance for me as a musician. Rhythm, pitch, form, harmony, tempo, timbre, all these elemental tools yield their own ineffable magic. I aspire to become an artist that uses these devices in contrastive experimental forms, and to infuse songs with emotion, energy and eclecticism.

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"Six Degrees of Degradation"

Gryphon Rue Rower-Upjohn

Senior Music Installation, May 5th,2011

“Six Degrees of Degradation” is my first foray into sound art. The title is a reference to the “six degrees of separation” that entwine humanity in a mysterious web of invisible connections and the alteration of information (in this case, degraded sound content) that occurs as separations take one further from the source. I have found that much electronic and experimental music promotes intellectual activity, asking its audience to try out different perspectives in listening, to search for a vantage point. My music has primarily been song-based. For this second portion of my senior project – the first being the concert of original material in the winter – I wanted to try something more open-ended, that could be cerebrally engaging and arouse discussion and thought, yet also be somatic; people can navigate the space on their own time, in an indeterminate order, strolling in and out.

Sound is affected by the physical space in which it is heard. The dimensions of a space and the materials inside it exert an influence onto any introduced sound. For “Six Degrees,” singing saw improvisations were edited together, broadcast into the chapel, and recorded. The recording was then broadcast and recorded, and this procedure repeated until the latent resonances of the chapel enveloped the initial sound. Each loudspeaker represents a time-mark in the process. As one moves from one end of the installation to the other, the number of recorded repetitions increases. As the inceptive saw improvisation is amplified and rerecorded, it splinters into gestures and tonalities that recede into escalating feedback. “Six Degrees,” then, is a document of an ambient feedback loop in which architecture dually devours an input and is made “sonorously manifest” by that input.

There is a strong dimension of unpredictability in “Six Degrees”, as the process of rerecording allows for the incarnate sound of the chapel to affect the initially recorded voice of the saw[1]. I was certainly aware of and inspired by Alvin Lucier’s “I am Sitting in a Room” in the making of this piece. The progressive nature of “I am Sitting in a Room” illustrates the poet Robert Creeley’s statement, “Form is never more than an extension of content.” In a similar spirit, “Six Degrees” is not simply pre-manufactured; the form of the work itself is subject to and a product of its content. The sound degradation of the saw operates contrastingly with the decay of verbal semantics present in “I am Sitting”. While Lucier procedurally eradicates any semblance of speech (with perhaps the exception of rhythm), the singing saw is instrumental music (semantically abstract from the get-go) that degrades into unpredicted low-end muck.

[1] The concept of sound liberation from materiality is an old one, notably heard in the painter Oskar Fischinger’s remark to John Cage. Paraphrasing Fischinger: There is a “spirit” dwelling inside everything in the world – all one needs to do to liberate that spirit is to brush past the object, and to draw forth its sound.

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"Playing the Beetles"

Gryphon Rue Rower-Upjohn

Senior Music Concert II, May 5th,2011

There is something puzzling to me about the character of “canned” music; the loudspeaker becomes a sort of proxy, a stand-in for the instrument that generated the sounds emitted in the performance piece. The live performance of “Playing the Beetles” accents and balances the surplus of pre-recordings in "Six Degrees". I was interested in composing a wild “out of hands” score for my favorite student improvisers. I strived to divide agency between the performers, and to reach a second level of fortuity by assigning each musician to a beetle, with the instruction to musically narrate that beetle’s navigation of a pentacle. I wrote individual scores for saw, violin, trumpet, tape recorders and buckets based on segments of the pentacle and certain types of beetle movements, such as: following other beetles; trying to climb the walls; meeting other beetles head-to-head; rolling over on its back. The pentagram is projected so the interpretations of the improvisers may be seen clearly. Usage of a pentagram was an intuitive decision that came to mind after assigning one-to-one correspondences between insects and improvisers. It seemed like an appropriately provocative and convenient shape given the context of the chapel and the concept of dividing space into musical phrases for improvisation.

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