Racer Sessions

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

Levi Gillis - March 11, 2012


I will be presenting two pieces I have composed for a new quartet project. Joining me will be Cameron Sharif, Jarred Katz and Mark Hunter. The idea for this group is to serve as a vehicle to experiment with various concepts in improvisation and composition that I have been interested in recently. Many of these improvisational concepts have arisen in the context of the Racer Sessions. Navigating and exploring form in the midst of a free improv continues to fascinate me (as it does most of us). In the first two pieces for this group I have tried to facilitate ways in which free improv can interact with composed material. There are a few specific concepts that I was working with for each piece. 

The first piece is called “Doubt.” Most of the material is derived from one pitch collection. I tried to explore the different colors and tonalities within that collection. The focus of the piece became a relatively consonant and diatonic melodic idea set against chromatic bass figures, creating a kind of loose polytonality. The beginning of the piece meanders as it tries to find clarity, gradually picking up steam until it reaches an oasis where the generative material is stated and again pushes forward to new material. 

The second piece is called “Wind Chimes.” Most of the pitch material belongs to a collection taken from transcribing wind chimes in my backyard. The meditative timbre and rhythm of wind chimes have always intrigued me. Needless to say, it was difficult translating the bizarre overtones of the chimes to our 12-note chromatic system. Instead, I tried to focus on recreating a similar soundworld to what I experience listening to the wind chimes.

In the end, the ideas on which the piece is based are really not that important. They only serve as starting material for further development in the piece. As I have come into more musical contact with some of the great contemporary classical composers (Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg etc.), this idea of development in composition has become increasingly interesting. The nature of development, how and why aspects of a piece change and what effect it has on the listener is at the core of all great composition. 

The presentation of these pieces marks kind of a beginning of my own grappling with these ideas, which will continue for a long time. This brings me to another recent realization: that music is just an endless process. There’s no end destination, no goal except to engage deeply in the process. There’s always more to learn. Recognizing this has made it easier for me to be more creative and more free in musical endeavors because external pressure to reach a certain point is eliminated.

For the jam part of the night, I would like people to think of their improvs in this way and simply engage in the process of improvising, free from preconceived bench marks of right and wrong, good or bad. Hope to see you there!