Racer Sessions

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

Andy Clausen - January 2nd, 2011


This week I am presenting a new composition for 11 musicians entitled “Reference Frequency”. The piece was written after returning home from my first few months in New York City, during which my musical priorities and attention have been pulled and poked at from dozens of different directions.

Context for the Piece

An environment of over stimulation can be healthy; to be constantly be bombarded by new artistic inspiration and influences. Such an environment has caused me to explore realms of the arts I have never previously thought about, it has forced me to interact with artists in different disciplines and understand their processes, but most importantly it has caused me to reflect upon, and solidify my own artistic values. “Reference Frequency” is an attempt to define my current musical outlook; a homecoming of sorts.

I have always been interested in (and have talked about in a previous racer essay) extracting artistic, socio-collaborative, and educational inspiration from disciplines other than “jazz music”. Genres other than jazz; such as classical music, folk music from around the world, and disciplines other than music, such as visual art, drama, dance, literature, and architecture have had centuries to develop and refine themselves. In short, we can utilize the vast resources and documentation of the Western canon to inform our musicianship, our decisions, and our essential role as advocates of the arts.

My interest in this topic has most recently manifested itself in my study of twentieth century classical music, and the culture that surrounded it. Initially sparked by reading the book “The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” by Alex Ross, I went on a classical binge. It was extremely refreshing not only musically, but refreshing to see how artists of the past have formed communities, collaborated and burgeoned into their greatness.

In strictly musical terms, I have become infatuated by the brilliance of Igor Stravinsky and Olivier Messiaen. In pieces such as “Symphony for Wind Instruments”, you can witness Stravinsky’s gradual departure from previous harmonic conventions, into what I see as radically beautiful territory; rich with material we can use to augment our own musical language. Many of the sounds in “Reference Frequency” have only recently come into my musical identity through my own study of his scores at the piano, trying to understand why his techniques please my ear and how his music is constructed (an act that could take a lifetime to fully achieve).

Messiaen’s piece “Quartet for the End of Time” fascinates me for a different reason; its mesmerizing, irregular, ever changing rhythmic schemes. He explores rhythmic cells, much in the same way Bela Bartok explored melodic cells; by systematically multiplying, mutating and developing them, creating robust musical themes, independent of the melodic themes. This idea of this telegraphic, Morse code like pulse, for example, has also informed the rhythmic aesthetics of “Reference Frequency”. 

The Music

For “Reference Frequency,” the ensemble is divided into two distinct groups, which will occupy separate ends of the room, with the audience in the middle.

Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Acoustic Bass, and Drums


Two Trumpets, Two Trombones, French Horn and Drums

 The piece evolves as a dialogue between the two groups, beginning with separate statements from each, gradually developing into a cacophonous frenzy of activity and ideas, before returning to its original structure.

 Although I did not think about it until writing this essay, one could interpret the form of the piece as an analogy to the ebb and flow of artistic focus > over stimulation > artistic focus.

To assist me in performing this piece, I have enlisted the help of ten wonderful musicians;

Neil Welch, Ivan Arteaga, Andrew Swanson, Luke Bergman, Chris Icasiano 

Willem De Koch, Corey Dansereau, Zubin Hensler, Dan Remme, Evan Woodle

The Session

Following the initial piece, we will continue the format of two distinct ensembles, on separate sides of the room. Ensembles may therefore be as small as 1 or as large as we can fit (lets push the limits). In general, I would encourage performers to strive for a logical musical conversation between both parties, whatever that may mean to you.

 Thanks for your interest. Hope to see you on Sunday!


 Andy Clausen