Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Andy Clausen - February 21st, 2010


Presenting a set of music for large ensemble 

Free improvisation as a compositional tool:

This project was formed out of my desire to explore open form compositions, and improvisation frameworks with my peers, seldom something that is done, or encouraged in most high school music programs.  I assembled a team of ten players from Roosevelt, Garfield and Nathan Hale mostly on the basis of personal compatibility, and open-mindedness.

We first got together about a month ago to do some completely free improvisations. I had no preconceived sound in mind, no musical goal. All I wanted to do was hear how each of the players would react in this unfamiliar environment. The first improvisations were spirited, assertive, quirky and fun. I was deeply inspired by everyone’s energy and musicality.

While I seriously exercised the idea of presenting a set of completely improvised music, I was enticed by the challenge of taming this wild beast, and developing at least some rough compositions and improvisation frames with which we could develop a more unified approach and organized sound. However, I wanted to maintain the quirky, raw, free sensibility that had produced our early improvised pieces.

After our initial session, I spent a lot of time studying various freeish large ensemble albums:

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble “A Blessing”


Tim Berne “Open, Coma”

The Legend of p-1

Charles Mingus Sextet with Eric Dolphy “Cornell 1964”



Anthony Braxton 12+1tet “9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006”

Steve Lehman Octet “Travail, Transformation, and Flow”

While all of these recordings have intuitively affected the way I hear and think about large ensemble music, it did not seem logical to me to try to extract some sort of hybrid sound concept from all of them and then write music with that sound in mind. Instead, I wanted to examine the sounds my band was already making in our free improvisations, and manipulate, expand upon, arrange, and derange them and present them back to the band in a way that would hopefully lure them outside their comfort zones.

I studied the recordings of our own improvisations, transcribed some of the themes that had emerged, and examined each player’s tendencies. Over following weeks, I developed a series of pieces influenced directly, indirectly, positively and negatively by our free improvisation exercises.

For example, in our initial sessions I noticed an overwhelming gravity towards rhythmic and dynamic development, often at the expense of melody, timbre and structure. Naturally, in an ensemble of 10, rhythmic motifs and dynamic motifs (usually loud) are often the easiest for everyone to grab on to. With that tendency in mind, I developed a piece using one of the improvised rhythmic concepts, but as a very quiet, shifting accompaniment to a melody from another improvisation. Similarly I extracted other themes from their original context and manipulated them into new structures to create a series of contrasting pieces for the band to interpret.

While I am extremely excited by the group’s development and commitment over the past month in preparing for this debut performance, I am also thrilled at the prospect of continuing to develop this ensemble in the future.

I am lucky to have an incredible group of friends and musicians to help me present this music:

Nathan Yale – Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Flute

Adrian Noteboom – Tenor Sax

Xavier del Castillo – Clarinet, Tenor Sax

Riley Mulherkar – Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Corey Dansereau – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Cornet

Willem De Koch – Trombone

Julian Garvue – Piano

Nolan Woodle – Bass

Thomas Campbell – Drums