Sound Symposium XV Blog: Day Two – Trumpets!

Prepare your ears! Morgan Murray will be blogging about the Sound Symposium XV for The Scope from July 2-12.

The Reveille Trumpet Collective’s show last night was dubbed “a concert devoted to pushing the boundaries of the trumpet” on the Sound Symposium website, which is why I went. On day one I was blown away by a guy with a steering wheel, some old shoes, and gizmos pushing the boundaries of FM radio, and earlier on in day two I was thoroughly impressed by the Harbour Symphony composed by Frank Pahl (who has an installation showing at the A1C Gallery throughout Sound Symposium) pushing the boundaries of ship horns in a harbour. After a day-and-a-half of Sound Symposium-ing I am beginning to realize that much of the point is pushing the boundaries of sounds and things that make them.

But the trumpet?

I thought that Miles Davis had already pushed that sucker as far as it could go. And if not him, then 70,000 soccer fans blowing on those damned vuvuzelas at the World Cup over this past month must have.

Or maybe I just hadn’t heard boundary-pushing trumpet yet. Maybe I still haven’t.

If it was boundaries that were being pushed by the Reveille Trumpet Collective’s show last night (featuring two of five members–Aaron Hodgson from St. John’s and Adam Zinatelli from Calgary–accompanied in part by pianist Kristina Szutor) I am having trouble deciding whether it was the trumpet’s boundaries, or mine.

My first problem is that I am no trumpet expert. I’ve never so much as held one. And musically, the spoons are about all I can play, with anything else I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it. Don’t get me wrong. I love music. All sorts of it. And Miles Davis is one of my favourites of all time, and he plays the trumpet, or played the trumpet until he died nearly 20 years ago. But that’s as far as my connection with the trumpet goes. Going into last night’s show I wasn’t really sure what the current boundaries of trumpet were. So I couldn’t decide whether the “Fanfare for New Theatre” by Igor Stravinsky Hodgson and Zinatelli which opened the show was cutting-edge stuff, or an introduction to the trumpet’s boundaries.

The next three pieces sounded quite similar to things I’d heard before. They were all quite good. But either my uninitiated trumpet ears couldn’t pick up the nuances that made them boundary-pushing pieces, or they were merely just good performances of good pieces of music. In his video introduction to his piece (the composers who couldn’t make it in person introduced their pieces with videos) “Vanajakshiro Variations, for two trumpets,” composer Gabriel Dharmoo explained it was composed in, and inspired by, the din of auto rickshaws in India. At one point in the second movement it did sound like a traffic jam, which was a nice “a-ha” moment, but all three of the middle pieces lacked anything else that really grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and let me know that what I was hearing was something that pushed boundaries.

Perhaps those pieces were also introductions to the boundaries of the trumpet. Perhaps I was getting a trumpet-boundary education without realizing it, because the final two pieces diverged significantly from the path that was set by everything that came before. Up to this point, I wasn’t sure if what I was hearing was boundaries being pushed, boundaries being established, or some sort of esoteric nibbling around the edges that flew over my head.

The fifth piece, Clark Ross’s “Also sprach Sanford & Son, Alice Cooper, etc.” was a sort of trumpet mash-up featuring references to Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra,” which you would recognize as the theme from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the 1972 hit song by Brazilian jazz musician Eumir Deodato, the theme from the 1972 TV show Stanford & Son, Deep Purple’s 1972 song “Smoke on the Water,” Alice Cooper’s 1972 song “School’s Out,” and, breaking away from 1972 momentarily, the theme from the 1976 TV show Barney Miller. A sort of homage to some of the finer bits of trumpet played in 1972 (Barney Miller notwithstanding), in his introduction to the piece Ross answered what was so special about 1972 by claiming that “these pieces were what’s special about 1972.” The recognizable tidbits remixed into something new was, well, something new. Sort of like a mirror of the night so far, as in “here is what can be done with the trumpet, particularly in 1972,” taken a step further with a “and here is what can be done with it.”

If nothing else it pointed to the possibility of hearing something that even a trumpet-bumpkin like me could recognize as something unique.

Which brought us to the final piece, and highlight of the night, Eric Nathan’s “Four Sculptures, for two trumpets,” inspired by four sculptures by artist Derek Parker. Aided by a fairly thorough description of what he was after and photos of the sculptures the pieces were based on, Nathan’s video introduction provided a guide for the uninitiated trumpet enthusiast to follow what they were hearing and seeing. When, in the second movement, based on the sculpture “Submarine Eggs” the trumpeters removed some spit-catching widget from their trumpets to allow sound to escape from two places, it created a sort of submarine sonar pinging sound. No longer were we in the elegant Petro Canada Hall at the MUN School of Music dressed in our Sunday best, we were on the hunt for Red October. We were no longer sitting and listening to trumpet being played, trumpet being played was making us experience something so much more.

Things were taken up another notch when, for the third movement called “In Memoriam” based on the sculpture “Precipice,” Hodgson took a seat on a chair and Zinatelli bolted for the exit. The lingering, contemplative piece was played by both trumpeters, one on in the hall and the other standing outside. If you had a hard time getting onto the bridge of the submarine with the previous piece there was no question now that we were experiencing something more than mere music. We were experiencing performance art. We were experiencing boundaries being pushed, but not the boundaries of the trumpet. The trumpet is a several-thousand year-old instrument, its wind and metal tubes twisted in knots to come out sounding nice. Instead the trumpet was used as an instrument for pushing the boundaries of what listening to music can be–a meaningful experience.

Sound Symposium is partially a crazy music festival for the public, but it is also a symposium for artists. Artists are partly technicians, so pushing the boundaries of the trumpet matters to trumpeters, like pushing the boundaries of fast cars matters to mechanics. It matters because it challenges what you can do with your instrument, and it allows you do do new things with it. But they are also performers, performing for the public, many of whom, such as myself, aren’t anywhere close to being trumpet technicians, and so the pushing the boundaries of the instruments doesn’t matter to me. I don’t really care what adjusting the carburettor does to the intake manifold to give the car an extra few miles-per-hour, but I do appreciate the speed it creates. I don’t really care what removing this spit-catching widget does to the knot of wind coming through the metal tubes that makes it sound like submarine sonar pings, but I do appreciate the experience it creates.

I am learning something here: art for art’s sake helps artists create new forms of boundary-pushing art that can resonate deeply with the audience. It’s just a matter of sitting patiently through the parts in-between.

Yesterday I told you I would tell you the other show that Radio Wonderland is playing as part of Sound Symposium as soon as I knew, thanks to One With Knowledge’s comment on my post, I now know, and so do you! (It’s also in the schedule online and in The Scope, I just didn’t notice it):

19:30 COOK RECITAL HALL, MUN School of Music, with
Joshua Fried’s RADIO WONDERLAND
Complaints Choir
Mark Fewer & Aiyun Huang (violin & percussion)
Kurai Mubaiwa & Curtis Andrews

Sound Symposium XV, an international festival of new music and performing arts, continues from July 2-12 in St. John’s. You can find more information at their website.

6 comments

  1. memurray · January 2, 2011

    RT @thescopeNL: Sound Symposium XV Blog: Day Two – Trumpets! http://thescope.ca/music/sound-symposium

  2. Aaron Hodgson · January 2, 2011

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and entertaining review of our concert! As you can imagine, Adam and I spend most of our time thinking of nothing BUT trumpet, so it’s very interesting to hear your point of view. That’s the great thing about Sound Symposium: it’s a chance for people of different backgrounds to share their passion for music.

    To us the phrase, “Good performances of good pieces of music” is actually quite a compliment! Our goal was to present these pieces in an audience-friendly fashion – we think the videos were an integral part of that success. We even passed the infamous “mom test,” as both of our (extremely musically conservative) mothers felt right at home, even during Gabriel Dharmoo’s sonic traffic jam.

    As you have no doubt experienced, new art can seem jarring and otherworldly. Our concert on Saturday was an experiment in making new music inviting and entertaining. Perhaps you were even deceived by our presentation and left the concert wondering why all this new trumpet music did not leave you shocked, alienated and confused!

    Thanks again for your fascinating words, and I hope I have a chance to buy you a beer at the Ship some time this week!

  3. Morgan Murray · January 2, 2011

    There was an error in the program which I repeated in the post above.

    Gabriel Dharmoo’s piece is not entitled “Vanajakshiro Variations, for two trumpets,” but rather, “Sung in a Rickshaw, for solo trumpet.”

    Thank you to Dharmoo for emailing me to let me know.

  4. Jon · January 2, 2011

    Sounds like an amazing concert!