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Passing By

Passing By

Jack Body

 
 
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Passing By is a double album set of chamber works by one of our most revered and cherished composers, the inimitable Jack Body. With new recordings from NZTrio and Stephen De Pledge, recent recordings from Kronos Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, Stroma New Music Ensemble, New Music Works Ensemble, David Radzynski, and Ensemble Nomad, Passing By is a testament to the career of one of New Zealand’s most inspired (and inspiring) artists.
 
"As we pass through this life we accumulate many friendships. Obviously, for a composer, friendships with other musicians, especially performers are particularly important – these, after all, are the folk who make the music, who realize in sound what we composers imagined and then notated in musical symbols. In a composer’s mind a particular work can often be associated with a specific performer, such as when this person gave what the composer regarded as the ‘definitive, ideal’ performance. How thoroughly satisfying this experience is!"
 
Jack Body, April 2015
 

credits

 

RAT-D057 (April, 2015)

This recording was made possible with the support of Victoria University of Wellington and the Wallace Arts Trust

Produced by Jack Body
Mastered by Steve Garden 
Cover image by Jack Body
Design by UnkleFranc
Printing by Studio Q

 PASSING BY

  01  Fire in the Belly (7:05)
  02  Pain in the Arse (8:55)
  03  Nocturne (10:46)
        NZTrio
        Justine Cormack (violin)
        Sarah Watkins (piano)
        Ashley Brown (cello)
        Produced by Wayne Laird
        Recorded by Steve Garden, December 2014, Kenneth Myers Centre Auckland

        Tribute to the Blues (21:12)
        Movements 1 and 5, New Music Works Ensemble
        Movements 2, 3 and 4, Stroma New Music Ensemble
  04  Big Joe's Moan (4:32)
  05  Penitentiary Blues (3:45)
  06  John Lee's Pluck (2:50)
  07  Chain Gang Chant (3:45)
  08  Mary Lou's Dream (6:21)

  09  Arum Manis (8:32)
        Kronos Quartet
        David Harrington (violin)
        John Sherba (violin)
        Hank Dutt (viola)
        Jeffrey Zeigler (cello)
        Produced by David McCaw
        Engineered by Darryl Stack
        Recorded by Radio New Zealand at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, NZ March 11, 2013

  10  Epicycle (13:17)
        Del Sol Quartet
        Kate Stenberg (violin)
        Rick Shinozaki (violin)
        Charlton Lee (viola)
        Hannah Addario-Berry (cello)
        Recorded at Skywalker Sound, a Lucasfilm Company, Marin County, California, October 2007.
        First released in 2008 on OM 1016-2, republished with kind permission of Other Minds Records.

  11  The Street Where I Live (4:06)
        Stephen de Pledge (piano)
        Pre-recorded text spoken by Jack Body
        Produced by Wayne Laird
        Recorded by Steve Garden, December 2014, Kenneth Myers Centre Auckland

  12  Intimate History No.2: Sssteve (14:43)
        Electroacoustic
        Realised in the studios of the Visby International Centre for Composers, Gotland, April 2008

  13  Caravan (5:51)
        David Radzynski (violin), competitor in the 2013 Michael Hill Violin Competition
        Recorded by Radio New Zealand, June 1 2013, Queenstown Memorial Centre.

  14  Intimate History No.1: Yono (13:42)
        Electroacoustic
        Realised in the studios of IMEB, Bourges, France, June 2005

  15  Aeolian Harp (5:12)
        Alexander Ivashkin (cello)
        Produced by Terence O’Neil-Joyce
        Recorded by Wayne Laird
        Previously released on by Ode Records, CD MANU 1543 (1998), republished with kind permission

  16  Music dari Jalan (Music from the Street, 8:18)
        Realised in the Electronic Music Studios of Victoria University of Wellington in 1974

  17  Children’s Games (1:50)
        Nomad Ensemble

 

 

notes disc one

 

A few years ago Kronos Quartet told me an amusing story. As they descended in a hotel lift on their way to rehearse a piece of mine, one asked another, “Did you remember to bring the Body parts?” A startled silence fell on the other passengers in the lift …

Well, the parts of the body are a rich source of metaphor, hence the concept for this trio, which has the potential to grow beyond the two movements already completed. First came Fire in the Belly, commissioned by NZTrio in 2010. This is the fire, that energy that impels us to do things, to make things, to act with urgency and a sense of necessity. It is one important source of creative energy, and without it art can be flaccid and dull. It is what teenagers tend to have a lot of, and what the rest of us need to recapture!

Then came Pain in the Arse, completed in February 2011. From time to time we all experience that someone or something that really annoys us. To tell the truth, I actually find the business of composing a ‘bit of a pain’, meaning that it’s hard work!

On the other hand, the rewards in the end can make it all worthwhile – such as having the music played by the wonderfully spirited NZTrio! And the upbeat mood of this piece surely suggests we shouldn’t take these irritations too seriously! 

Nocturne was commissioned by Radio NZ for inclusion in a concert to mark Douglas Lilburn’s 75th birthday. I was inspired by a recent visit to New Zealand of Steven Isserlis whose playing of Taverner’s The Protecting Veil could not but impress, as the cello ascended to unimaginable heights of exquisite sweetness.

My nocturne is a journey into sleep. The piano sets up in asymmetric pulse, a rocking motion that is at once comforting but is also tinged with anxiety. The cello shares this character until a moment when both instruments open out into simple, widely spaced chords. The sound is imperceptively amplified and reverberated as the instruments “lose consciousness”, and are released into sleep.

Why did I choose to mine the heritage of blues? The simple answer is because I know so little about the genre, and this was my chance to broaden my horizons, by transcribing five very contrasted pieces. First is a classic track from Big Joe Turner and which I entitled Big Joe’s Moan, in a sense the most identifiable blues both in its ensemble and its character. The movement that I next arranged was John Lee’s Pluck, a kind of snappy guitar track from John Lee Hooker, intimate and nervous in its syncopations. Finally I took a piano composition of Mary Lou Williams’s Deuces Wild, which is almost Chopinesque in its rich detail. The score is subjected to fragmentation, as if the composer is imagining the work in her dreams – hence my title, Mary Lou’s Dreams. Movements two and four were added later, transcribed from recordings made by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax in the penitentiaries of the American South during the 1950s. In this recorded version, the original field recordings have been inserted into ensemble, creating a heady mix of raw blues and ‘art music’.

Arum Manis, (literally ‘ sweet aroma’) is Indonesian for candy floss, or, in the US, cotton candy. The string quartet accompany the pre-recorded and sometimes multi-tracked sound of a strolling candy-floss seller, which I recorded Bangkalan, Madura, Indonesia in 1977. The hawker/musician plays a two-string fiddle, which he called a rebab, shaped rather like the Chinese er-hu.

The string quartet are asked to modifying their sound, acoustically and electronically, to match as closely as possible the sound of the original rebab. I like the image of a anomimous street hawker (he was to shy to give his name) as the ‘guest soloist’ (albeit in absentia), in the midst of a Western string quartet …

The work attempts to catch the quality of candy floss – light and filled with air, not a food of weight or substance, but sweet, easy to eat, and leaving a pleasurable aftertaste.

Whenever I write for string quartet I have a tendency to think of the instruments as equal partners within the same register, each with its own quality of sound, not in the vertical hierarchy (from cello upwards towards the first violin) that we normally hear from a string quartet. This can make strenuous demands on the cello of course, who must ascend into the violin’s register.

Epicycle is a ‘cycle within a cycle’, in this case a circular melody that generates slower melodies from within itself.  The first section is a kind of auditory kaleidoscope as a single line transforms ‘before our ears’, utilizing some of the techniques of minimalism, such as variation within repetition, and ‘phasing’ as the instruments follow each other in close succession.  The second section draws inspiration from Korean traditional music exploring different styles of vibrato.

Since I composed Epicycle for the Kronos Quartet in 1989, I have always been dissatisfied with its brief conclusion. In 2004 I decided to compose a new final section which is a kind of antithesis of the rest of the work – instead of a single line melody we have chords, instead of single upper register we explore a fuller spectrum of sound, though still based on the original circular melody. Thus Epicyle concludes.

I was thrilled that the San Francisco Del Sol String Quartet accepted to play and to record this new version.

 

 

notes disc two

 

Pianist Stephen de Pledge had the idea to commission a group of New Zealand composers to each write a piece on the theme of landscape. My initial reaction was to consider the brief rather cliché, but on reflection I realised that every place is in a sense landscape, or at least positioned in landscape, including the house where I live. I recorded a little account of where I live and composed a piano part that sometimes reflects the intonation of my voice and sometimes picks up in some of my images.

This piece has been played by several pianists but I was delighted that Stephen, the instigator of the landscape project, accepted to record my piece especially for this CD.

This work is constructed from an interview I conducted in June 2005 with musician and ethnomusicologist Stephen Jones, when the Hua family shawm band (which he managed) held a residency at SOAS, London University. Our conversation covered Steve’s researches in Chinese music and also aspects of his particular speech impediment, his stammer.

His account of his struggle to communicate verbally is expressed with light-hearted good humour. On a serious note, however, Steve stated his sincere hope that this piece, which is very much a collaborative creation, might serve to give heart and encouragement to fellow stammers.

During the interview Steve demonstrated, at my request, two Chinese instruments, the erhutwo stringed fiddle, and the double reed sounaFrom these musical fragments I created some ‘faux’ ensemble folk music that become the ‘glue’ for holding together the heavily edited and frequently manipulated conversation. The playful repetitions of ‘s’ in the title were Steve’s idea.

In 2014 a received the commission to composer the ‘test piece’ for the Michael hill International Violin Competition. Since I am not a string player myself, I needed to do a bit of research, with the Paganini Caprices as an obvious first stop. It didn’t take me long however, to realize that this was a bit pointless since all the competitors would naturally be choosing repertoire that was technically difficult and flashy. And so I settled on another kind of technical challenge, using an unfamiliar intonation, where the players had to play in a mode with some deliberately ‘out-of-tune’ pitches. In effect they would need to ‘rewire’ their sense of ‘in-tune-ness’, something they had spent many years in developing.

The material for my piece I sourced in Iran music, a famous piece called Carevan, which I had first heard on a never-to-be-forgotten bus journey across Iran in 1971. My piece is a loose transcription of a fragment of the original for violin and voice. My piece integrates both performers – the vocal part being particularly challenging because of the extraordinary ‘yodeling’ technique found in Persian singing.

During the course of the competition I had the rare experience of hearing my piece played 23 times by 23 very talented young violinists. Indeed, I had succeeded in giving them a challenge ‘with a difference’ – many had to struggle to make the unfamiliar intonation sound natural, several came close, but one contestant really nailed it. Thank you David Radzynski!

My idea for a series of Intimate Histories was to record stories from my friends, and to ‘reframe’ these stories with music, rather like mini-documentaries. The stories that attacted me were those of a rather personal nature, initimate accounts that I felt privileged to have shared with Yono and Steve, the friends who are the subjects of the two completed Intimate Histories.

I met Yono in 1976. The stories of his childhood in a village in South Sumatra have always fascinated me, his upbringing being so different from my own. The subject of his story is, in our society, almost taboo. But in his sincere, light-hearted telling of it, we can reflect that the values of our society are not necessarily held universally, and that we should never lose sight of the fact that the range and variety of customs and belifs is what makes this world of ours such as fascinating place.

The musical interludes are my own field recordings, which, except for the first, were all recorded in Yono's village in 1977 and ‘78. These genres include children's music with bamboo stamping tubes, music to accompany martial arts (pencak silat), Islamic chants accompanied by frame drums (jedor), rice pounding music (lesung), and music played on instruments improvised from cut rice stalks (dremenan). Yono himself intones and sings a traditional Javanese song, in the pangkur poetic form. Its message is a plea for the preservation of tradition and for a balanced human existence.

The Aeolian harp is an instrument whose strings vibrate freely, activated by the movement of air, rather than by any human action. Placed in position where currents of air make the strings hum through various natural harmonics, the instrument takes on an almost mystical quality – a musical instrument playing itself. Named after Aeolus, the Greek god of wind, the sounds have an ethereal, otherworldly quality.

I have tried to recreate this resonating principle using the first three natural harmonics on the strings of the violin, viola or cello. Because there are significant duplications between the four strings (being tuned in 5ths) I ask the player to tune two of the strings a minor 2nd lower, thereby providing a greater range of available harmonics.

Alexander (Sasha) Ivashkin was an outstanding Russian cellist who lived and worked in Christchurch for some years. His passionate, fiery style of Russian cello playing astonished (and sometimes alarmed!) New Zealander audiences, but his performance of my Aeolian Harp is close to perfection.

During my first significant visit to Indonesia in 1973 I was struck by the singularity of the soundscape – the colourful mix of bicycle bells, the singing of caged birds, the hum of human activity where the streets are never empty. But most startling of all were the sounds of street vendors advertising their wares, calling out in strange, penetrating tones, or beating a percussive instrument, or even playing a fiddle or reed instrument.

At the time I had no apparatus with which to record these sounds. And so, on my return home, I borrowed recorded samples that my friend, ethnomusicologist Allan Thomas, had made, to create portrait of the Indonesian urban soundscape. Unbeknownst to me the work was submitted for the 1976 Bourges International Competition for electronic music. Imagine my astonishment when I received a telegram to inform me that I had won!

The success of this piece was one of those life changing affirmations that impact on one’s future career path – in my case Musik dari Jalan prompted a whole series of electro-acoustic compositions that explored the Indonesian soundscape. In 1992 the piece was honoured by the award of Euphonie D’Or by the Bourges studio as one of the most outstanding of its competition winners.

To those unfamiliar with Indonesia the voices and sounds in this work can sound cryptic and mysterious. In fact they are very prosaic – words like “bananas”, “cooking oil”, “mattresses”, the percussive sounds advertising hot food, and the actual music that of a one-man-band playing angklung, tuned bamboo rattles…

The ‘message’ of Musik dari Jalan, perhaps, is that music is all around us – we have merely to listen.

Rainforest is a suite of six movements based on Pygmy music from Central African Republic. Originally written for flute and harp, the work is equally effective with flute and piano. It has had numerous performances internationally including one by the Tokyo-based Nomad Ensemble. The conductor, Norio Sato, asked me in passing if I was happy for him to make an arrangement for flute and marimba. That sounded OK to me, but it wasn't until he sent me this one track, the final movement played alone as an encore, that I realised what a flash of brilliance his idea had been! The flute and marimba are mixed with the original field recording of children singing to exhilarating effect.

 

 

reviews

In 2000, Rattle Records released Pulse, two discs of orchestral and chamber compositions by Jack Body, including field recordings of the original non-Western music that inspired them. Passing By brings us up to date with 13 further pieces.
 
The range is prodigious, opening with three works played by NZTrio; the 1995 Nocturne is a hypnotic charmer, chiming and plucking its way into the inevitable arms of Morpheus. The oldest offering, Musik Dari Jalan, won top prize at the 1976 Bourges International Competition for Electronic music - a remarkably fresh soundscape, constructed from real life, recorded on a busy Indonesian street.
 
Intimate History No 1 features the composer's partner Yono Soekarno telling tales and dealing out frank sexual revelations against a scuffed electronic background. Intimate History No 2, titled Sssteve, transforms a stuttering colleague into a verbal toccata.
 
David Radzynski, an American competitor at the 2013 Michael Hill International Violin Competition, gives Body's test piece, Caravan, a wild and wonderful workout. Body's 1979 Aeolian Harp is a whispering beauty in a 1998 recording by cellist Alexander Ivashkin.
 
Pianist Stephen De Pledge has been coaxed into the studio to play The Street Where I Live, one of the Landscape Preludes he commissioned. De Pledge works his own frisky flurries around the late composer's recorded voice, talking about his beloved Aro Valley home.
 
The whirling textures of Epicycle are slightly blunted by the raw intonation of the Del Sol Quartet, but Arum Manis, recorded in Wellington by Kronos Quartet during their 2013 New Zealand tour, is pure cotton candy magic. More recently, Body was drawn to American jazz and blues, and his Tribute to the Blues is the most substantial work here. It is uneven, at its least convincing in a straggling Mary Lou's Dream but the movements that filter Alan Lomax field records through Stroma's instrument ensemble reveal a potent cultural mix.
 
* * * * *
 
Jack Body (1944-2015)
 
New Zealand music lost one of its heroes with the passing of Jack Body. His almost pastoral tending for fellow composers was legendary; few have been untouched by his love, support and generosity. As a composer, his was an original voice made felt from the theme to Close to Home to the melange of Songs and Dances of Desire, one of the highlights of the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival.
 
William Dart, The Herald

This is a wonderful testament to one of New Zealand's most revered and cherished composers, who died this month. It is a musical monument and treat, with chamber music contributions including new recordings by the New Zealand Trio and pianist Stephen De Pledge, as well as recent ones by the Kronos Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, Stroma New Music Ensemble, New Music Works Ensemble, David Radzynski, and Ensemble Nomad.
 
Rattle released Pulse, two discs of chamber and orchestral compositions by Body as well as field recordings that inspired them in 2000. The label, now owned by Victoria University Press and supported by the Wallace Arts Trust, follows up with 13 more pieces in a truly remarkable range, going from Musik Dari Jalan, top prize at the 1976 Bourges International Competition for electronic music, that Body based on recordings in a busy Indonesian street, to a jazzy five-part Tribute to the Blues (2004).
 
De Pledge plays The Street Where I Live, one of the Landscape preludes that he commissioned. New Zealand Trio features in Life in the Belly (2010), Pain in the Arse (2011) plus Nocturne (1995) where the cello and piano are both amplified. Cellist Alexander Ivashkin plays the 1979 Aeolian Harp, and United States violinist Radzynski, competitor at the 2013 Michael Hill International Violin Competition, provides his prize-winning version of Body's wild test piece, Caravan.
 
Kronos Quartet's 2013 performance of Arum Manis is featured. Body talks about his home in one track, and partner Yono Soekarno tells tales in Intimate History No.1. Full marks for sound mastering (Steve Garden) and excellent packaging.

In the very early Eighties, I bought an album on New Zealand’s Hibiscus Records, an imprint which seemed to be a sub-division within Kiwi Pacific. I suspect I picked it up on the strength of its cover photo – a man squatting and playing what looked like an oversized thumb piano and a tagline which read “Street Musicians of Yogyakarta”.
 
The album’s actual title was Music For Sale and, because of its exotic contents – musicians recorded on the streets and in markets in Yogyakarta – for many years I had in mind that it was “Music For Sah-Lay”, the name of some Indonesian place. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Music for Sale would be my first encounter with the late Jack Body who had recorded these musicians in situ and wrote the very helpful and insightful explanation in the 16 page booklet, which also included lyric translations and interviews.
 
But when I bought the record and listened to it I had no idea that the person behind the recordings was the same man who had put together those multi-site music performances in Wellington which were – true to their name – Sonic Circuses, none of which I had the good fortune to attend. But, as one whose ears had become attuned to music beyond rock'n'pop radio in the late Sixties, I can very clearly remember being utterly hypnotised by the first song on side one of Music For Sale.
 
It was what I might now call familiar folk music, but strangely different. And immediately after it was . . . . something different again. It was also, to me as someone closing in on 30 and with three kids (but who'd grown up on Ravi Shankar, Manitas de Plata and such stuff we might call “world music” today) a revelation. It wasn't “folk” or “blues” or “ethnic music” or . . . It just was.
 
These were real people singing on the streets with no expectation of being recorded, literally singing for their supper. Some it was a little demanding, like this piece. In other places there were what I took to be peculiarly bent but highly catchy pop, like this. And that was how Jack Body snuck into my life.
 
Over the years I learned more – just bits and pieces -- about him and then when I went to an arts festival in Wellington in '88 I had a brief encounter with him when the Kronos Quartet were rehearsing one of the three pieces of his they were to premier at their concert. In 2001 I interviewed him about the double CD Pulse which Rattle released: one disc is of original music by performers from all over the world (some recorded in the street by Body) and the other is those pieces transcribed and performed by the NZSO.
 
"There was something about [the original pieces] I wanted to unravel,” he told me. “Notation is one way of pinning sound down but of course it means nothing when it is pinned down. You can see it, but it only means something when it comes to life again as sound."
 
Body certainly brought notes to life across an enormous and diverse range of styles -- from the theme tune to the soap opera Close to Home to sound installations, from film scores to folk-derived songs, from opera to internationally performed symphonic work – and was duly rewarded for it. In '04 he was given the Arts Foundation Laureate Award and just days before his death he was accorded the Arts Icon award (only given to 20 living creative artists). He has been the only person to be accorded both.
 
The breadth and depth of Jack Body's life (1944 – 2015) deserves a biography but – because it would be rare for creative people to have two books about them – that perhaps won't happen for a very long time. The day after his death, the book Jack! Celebrating Jack Body, Composer (Steele Roberts) was launched. Edited by Jennifer Shennan, Gillian Whitehead and Scilla Askew, the book eschews strict biography. “A conventional ordering of his life . . . would have been all too obvious and predictable to suit Jack,” writes Shennan in the introduction, which rather sidesteps what a reader might prefer.
 
Knowing the composer was in the closing months of his life, the editors approached dozens, then scores and eventually over 100 people who had known him, and asked them to celebrate his life and work and friendship. Most have opted for an open letter to Body, sometimes offering anecdotes and personal insights, others have presented an artwork or composition score in tribute. This is all well and worthy, but the haphazard nature of the book's structure – his formative years as a child and schoolboy skimmed over, clumping discussions about him introducing gamelan to New Zealand audiences, his time in Indonesia and China and so on – make for a piecemeal collection of often mismatched fragments of memory and insight.
 
By the end – in fact within a few pages – you get the very clear picture of Jack Body the man (loved and admired, generous of spirit, inclusive and collaborative in his art) but somehow too the composer/artist slips away because none of his work is critiqued in any meaningful way. The discography is messy, it collects his work by record label rather than chronology. Jack! is a well intentioned book -- with some excellent photos -- but rather queers the pitch for a publisher considering a more thorough biography.
 
Of course, Jack Body lives on in his music, and that just keeps coming. At the book launch two new CDs of Body's music were also launched; Songs of Death and Desire (Atoll) by the NZSO with singers Xiao Ma, Mere Boynton and Anna Pierard, and Passing By (Rattle/Wallace Arts Trust). The former is the songs from his '13 theatrical presentation Songs and Dances of Desire about the drag queen Carmen Rupe, and they illustrate the breadth of his musical reach: There are pieces from Bizet's Carmen (reset), songs in French, Spanish, English and Maori, lyrics based on poems by Puerto Rican, Finnish and Chinese writers . . .
 
If anything the Rattle double-disc set is even more challenging but ultimately the more rewarding. It includes his electro-acoustic masterpiece Musik Dari Jalan (an assemblage of sound samples to create an aural portrait of Indonesian streets) which – unbeknownst to him – was entered in the '76 Bourges International Competition for electronic compositions. It won. Also included are Arum Manis performed by the Kronos Quartet in the Michael Fowler Centre in '13, a powerful solo violin piece Caravan based on an Iranian tune and played by David Radzynski, other electro-acoustic works and The Street Where I Live which has Body speaking about exactly that and his home of over 25 years, with solo piano by Stephen de Pledge. As an introduction to the particular genius of Jack Body it is quite an ear-opener.
 
Truly, this Jack was a master of all trades. To purchase Songs of Death and Desire go here; for Passing By go here and for the Jack! book go here.
 
"I am not cured of this visual language affliction, every time I see Dove soap in the supermarket I think it is “doh-vey”, like the Italian word for “where”.
 
By Graham Reid, posted May 14, 2015
 
Jack Body Remembered, link to Elsewhere website