Racer Sessions

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

Cameron Sharif - May 9th, 2010


A Conglomeration of Many Things – and The Two Realms

About the Composition

This week I would like to present a piece of music in two parts.  It has been greatly inspired by reading the novel Demian, by Herman Hesse.  The story essentially is a coming of age story – dealing with leaving the world of innocence and entering the world of knowledge.  But it’s also about trying to bridge these worlds, and how these worlds never really go away, even after we enter adulthood.  Herman Hesse calls them “The Two Realms,” in his story.  I was so taken aback by the inner struggles of the character Emil Sinclair and his alter-ego of a friend, Demian, that I wanted to write a piece of music that would evoke the two realms, at least how I see them in my imagination. The first realm, not to put a definition on it, is a realm of bliss and enjoying the world as a child does in a garden. The second realm is a realm of heightened awareness and knowledge, along with the weight that this carries.    With Ivan Arteaga and Evan Woodle I will be playing “The Prodigal Son, Emil Sinclair,” and “Franz Kromer,“ named after two characters of the story, who more or less embody the two different realms.   They are two parts of one bigger piece.  The differences between the parts will be obvious, but I hope the listener can also hear similarities.   I hope that after, or while listening to the piece, the listener may hear, or feel,  a “bridge” of the two realms/parts of the song – something that holds them together and makes them one of the same despite their differences on the surface.

Particularly inspiring passages from Demian that influenced the compositions:

"This realm was familiar to me in almost every other way…it was a realm of brilliance, clarity, and cleanliness, gentle conversations, washed hands, clean clothes, and good manners.”

“The other realm, however, was completely different; it smelled different, spoke a different language, promised and demanded different things…It was dominated by a loud mixture of horrendous, intriguing, frightful, mysterious things.”

“It was strange how both realms bordered on each other, how close together they were!”

“There were times I actually prefered living in the forbidden realm, and frequently, returning to the realm of light - necessary and good as it may have been - seemed almost like returning to something less beautiful, something rather drab and tedious.”

“For the first time in my life I tasted death, and death is bitter, for death is birth, is fear and dread of some terrible renewal.”

“I fled from the valley of sorrow, my horrible bondage to Kromer, with all of my strength at the command of my injured soul: back to where I had been happy and content, back to the lost paradise that was opening up again now…" 

About the Jam

I want to try an experiment that will involve improvisations being done in a two-part fashion.  For instance, the first group will get up and play what is presumably the first part of a two-improvisation grouping.  Then, the second group will get up and try to bridge the previous piece into something that sounds different, but is definitely informed by the first one.  Each improvisation can be a complete piece in itself – this doesn’t mean I’m going to cut people from the first group off at certain times, or ask that it is left hanging.  I guess the goal is to see if we can come up with two separate improvisations that are deeply intertwined, made possible by very close listening.  We have to bridge the two realms!! Of course, this takes a lot of listening, and I realize some people like to just come up and play, but I want to try this for at least the first couple groups and see where it goes.  I encourage musicians who want to play to get as close as possible and listen in a holistic sense – and not be concerned as much with specific sounds and instrument related things.   This way, the second group (or the “reactionary” group) can begin to play something that has something to do with the piece they just heard. The second piece shouldn’t mimic the first one or pick up where it left off as much as it should make a permutation of a theme, invert a sonority, or even be an odd reflection of the first piece. 

I’m sorry that I cannot really explain how the second piece should relate to the first piece in strict musical terms, but I have imagined relationships between them that seem right:



-A stone being thrown into a lake, and the ripples that form from it.

-Film negatives vs. the original print.

I hope that we can do this for at least the first part of the session.

What I have written below is something of a synthesis of everything that the Racer Sessions have made me think about over the past three months, compounded with other musical experiences.

Music comes from a number of sources and I think if we look close enough, and are present to ourselves when we create music, we can see these possible sources.  To me it seems that we can come up with music through a number of channels: the intellectual, spiritual, egotistical , logical/practicing, and purely emotional channels being ones that come to mind (and these would vary based on musician and their perceptions). These ‘channels’ are used to communicate through sounds what is otherwise incommunicable through words.  Thus, I have had a very hard time writing about the musical experience in the past, because I feel like the experience of playing music is synthesizing something that we couldn’t articulate in any other way into something tangible.  The more I play, the more I realize it’s actually about communicating tangible ideas, and the communication that happens is very social in nature.  Especially in the context of free improvisation, we have an opportunity to communicate some very profound or personal things through our music, so long as our ‘channels’ are open.

I feel like sitting people down in a room and asking them to create a piece of free music is like asking people to sit down and have an impromptu conversation without deciding a topic beforehand.  Some people are going to share more than others, some prefer to remain quiet, some try to take over the conversation, some make only small insights, etc.  I think at the Racer Sessions we are starting to grow used to each other’s conversation styles, and that is exciting. 

The night of free music as a part of IMP Fest, in the basement of the music building, got me thinking about this; the last piece in particular, when the entirety of performers and audience collaborated.  Music is not verbal language, but to a certain extent in this context, it sounded like a loud, chaotic conversation without a topic.  Some people sat and listened, while others screamed out fragments of sentences, paragraphs, and so on.  There were too many ideas going on to make it coherent.  Or, maybe it doesn’t even have to be “coherent,” because different ears will perceive musical coherency differently.  I’ve racked my brain over this kind of thing (and came up with 15 or so questions about the musical experience that have no answer and are annoying and would drive everyone crazy) and decided to give up, to a certain extent, to fathom music through words (like I’m trying to do now).

BUT, if there is one thing that seems to glue this whole mess together that makes sense to me, it would be intention and belief of the musician. I’ll try to explain.

I’ve seen a lot of incredible music the last few weeks in particular with IMP fest and the guest artists that came into town with it.  My gut reaction to all of this, in a nutshell, is that music is powerful as all hell as long as the performer cares about what he or she is doing, and carries intention with everything that is played.  Sound, genre, and technique don’t matter as much if the intention of the music is strong and focused. It’s only what we feel that comes through.  To a certain extent I feel like the moment of creating music is a realm in which we potentially can live idealistically, stripped of pretense, insecurity, and insincerity that seem to pop up everywhere else in life.  And I think that the music itself is very sensitive to when these sentiments start to enter the music, and it often starts going downhill or getting less focused when they do.  And somehow, it becomes really really clear when people mean what they play, and believe in it.  We feel it, regardless of whether or not we cognitively like the sound or not.  Maybe achieving that feeling of being hit is all we can really aim for. (But ya, I don’t know :) )

Lastly, music that I have listened to lately that has influenced the above thoughts:

-Bill Frisell’s solo rendition of "Moon River” during his master class on April 19th

-Andrew D’Angelo singing on his composition “I Love You” with the UW Studio Jazz Ensemble at IMPfest, April 24th

-Vernel Fournier’s playing with the Ahmad Jamal trio – how every brush stroke and bass drum hit has meaning and intention

-Ornette Coleman’s trumpet stylings

Surrey With The Fringe On Top