Racer Sessions

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

Neil Welch & Two-Year Anniversary Festival - January 13th-15th, 2012


Racer Sessions is turning TWO, and to celebrate, we’re hosting THREE days of live music at Cafe Racer, featuring Table & Chairs artists and groups, some of whom originally premiered their music for Racer Sessions curations. A complete schedule of performers is listed at the bottom of this post.

Read more about the history of Racer Sessions and the new T&C releases being debuted at: http://www.tableandchairsmusic.com/2012/01/racer-sessions-festival.

Curating the NINETY-NINTH session on SUNDAY, JANUARY 15th is Neil Welch, who also happened to curate our first ever session. Here is, in his own words, what you will hear on Sunday…


Light Cut the Darkness

  • Daniel Rossi, conductor
  • Neil Welch, tenor saxophone
  • Ivan Arteaga, alto saxophone
  • Greg Sinibaldi, bass clarinet
  • Vincent LaBelle, trombone
  • David Balatero, cello
  • Natalie Hall, cello

In June of 2010 six astronauts from Russia, Europe and China voluntarily locked themselves inside a mock spaceship to simulate a journey to Mars.  Called Mars500 and commissioned by the European Space Agency, the project lasted 520 days and included a simulated take-off, landing and Mars walk.  The astronauts took daily urine and blood samples, maintained a rationed diet and accomplished over 100 experiments. Communication with planet Earth followed a 20-minute time lag, and mission control pre- planed power outages and system glitches for the crew to solve.  On November 4th, 2011 the Mars500 mission successfully came to an end.  Bold accomplishments are preceded by small, less electrifying ones.

Light Cut the Darkness is my second large ensemble piece composed for the Sleeper Ensemble.  In Sleeper I was inspired by a narrative concerning the War in Iraq, and the Mars500 project provided the inspiration to compose this new piece.  In most of my small and large ensemble work I leave much open in the way of artistic interpretation and even the written material itself.  With this new piece I challenged myself to compose with specific goals in mind, to write a piece intended to be performed as it’s written on the page, and to leave little up to abstraction.  To do this I composed with my musicians in mind.  With Ivan, Greg, Vincent, David and Natalie I’m in good company.  

In much of what I compose as a solo player or in groups of varying size, I allow myself to be inspired by my environment.  Often the places my mind wanders and mistakes I make along the way prove to be the most fruitful moments in my music.  I imagine the crew members own internal, psychological journey during this mock mission spanned the gamut from rapture to sorrow.   I wanted to absorb myself in the story of the Mars500 mission.  To compose Light Cut the Darkness, August 2011  I cleared six days from my schedule and told everyone in my life I was going on vacation.  I composed in the same room, with the same lighting and the same instruments at my disposal, and worked from 6am to 6pm.  With a set duration of time and consistent working conditions I found that I became more productive, and the composition evolved as it saw fit.

The music in Light Cut the Darkness is uncharacteristic for me.  There are recurring diatonic themes and almost an equal balance of rhythmic counterpoint and parallel rhythmic movement in the voices.  My harmonic choices seemed to follow suite in this.  Often times a rhythmic counterpoint will repeat steadily, but the harmony changes dramatically in the voices.  Other times single harmonic ideas will be transposed into different keys over parallel rhythms.  I chose to use recurring melodic themes at various points throughout the piece.  These primary themes are stated directly as in a traditional melody, or at other times may be used as a counter melody to new material but muted in a lower octave or by using different instruments.  These themes often appear in more subtle places.  For example, a theme could be slowed down dramatically while an earlier theme is played atop it in a  much faster tempo.  The improvised portions of the piece are written with pitch motives in mind, and the written sections preceding them are often dovetailed by the composed section to come after.  These motives are given as a notated framework, then individually transposed and executed at will to create a collective group improvisation.

As I’ve become more accustomed to the unique instrumentation of this ensemble, I’ve also become more aware of its possibilities as an orchestrator.  I used the amazing dynamic and octave range of the cello as a primary melodic voice and to fill a more gentle low end in the ensemble.  For example, I used cello as the bottom most note in the opening voicing of the piece.  This forced us to balance our sound around this instrument and to play quieter and lighter despite the openness of the chord.  When this same bit of material returns at a different point in the piece, the bass clarinet now take the bottom most pitch.  This immediately changes our perception of how the chord could be played.  

Only in hind-site did I really see a primary musical influence at work on this piece.  A recurring source for me is my never-ending fascination with Ornette Coleman’s album American Skies.  In the final piece, "Sunday in America" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_melDEf3XGM I’m amazed by his use of stacked perfect fifths.  He transposes the same voicings in different instruments, then shifts these voicings in a seemingly endless combination of directions.  The melodic material seems almost trumped by the density of the harmony around it, yet the voicings are so suspended that the ensemble as a whole sounds like a vertical tower of sound.  The articulation is very light, and the overall dynamic level is mute, but the orchestration makes the ensemble seem like they’re playing extremely heavy-handed.  

A very special thank you to Ivan, Greg, Vincent, David and Natalie for working so hard on this piece with me to bring it to you this week!  Now we start our 3rd year at the Racer Sessions!


Festival Schedule:

FRIDAY, JANUARY 13th, 2012, 9:00 PM - $5-15 suggested donation

  • Brandon Lucia – Drummer and computer wizard Brandon Lucia will perform a piece written for his music-generating program, the Chango.
  • Smallface – Keyboardist Aaron Otheim and cellist David Balatero blur the lines between the electronic and the acoustic; the composed and the improvised; the light and the dark.
  • Bad Luck – Chris Icasiano.  Neil Welch.  Drums.  Saxophone.  Evil.
  • After-party: Garrett Sand curates the VHS sessions at Die Alone. Join us after the show for a selection of his favorite films.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 14th, 9:00 PM – WA, Cross the Center CD Release Show – $5-15 suggested donation

  • Chemical Clock – Cameron Sharif, Ray Larsen, Mark Hunter, Evan Woodle.  “Fierce, abrasive, angular and breathtakingly precise…”—The Seattle Times
  • WA – Simon Henneman.  Gregg Keplinger.  ‘nuff said.
  • Burn List – Greg Sinibaldi, Cuong Vu, Aaron Otheim, Chris Icasiano.  The veterans meet the young blood.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 15th, 8:00 PM - No cover charge

Neil Welch curates the Racer Session with a new piece written for his Sleeper Ensemble.