I was once introduced to someone by a friend in the following way: “This is David, he is a communist.” A sentence in which only one of two facts is true (my actual political affiliations are a closely guarded secret, but, needless to say, I am working tirelessly to Make New Music Great Again (apparently we need to? https://www.cmc.ie/features/if-you-need-audience-we-dont-need-you & https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/jul/20/where-have-the-great-composers-gone)).
One of the fears I have when writing these blogs about the performers and composers we program, is the fear of misrepresenting them. So, what is below might have nothing to do with the way Charlie Sdraulig views his work but it’s some of the things I think about when I experience it. Ultimately, you should check it out yourself and make up your own mind.
In computer game design, there is an idea called “systemic narrative”, a term used to describe narrative events which emerge spontaneously from the interactions of independent game mechanics. This is most often found in open-world “sandbox” games. In his discussion of “systemic narrative” on the youtube channel “Game Maker’s Toolkit” https://www.youtube.com/user/McBacon1337/featured, writer Mark Brown discusses the emergent properties of interlocking systems in the game Far Cry 3 and 4, describing it thus
“In Far Cry 4, it’s not uncommon to see an enemy fighter tangle with a tiger, or an eagle carrying off a pig, but they’re not completely scripted sequences, just the byproduct of systems allowed to interact with one another… Ubisoft calls the game an “anecdote factory” …” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyMndWpihTM
One could perhaps see Charlie Sdraulig’s pieces as similar “anecdote factories”, in which rules and systems of interactions are set up to govern the interaction of the performers. This approach could be traced back to earlier precedents such as Christian Wolff’s For Pianist /Duo For Pianists I & II, or seen in James Saunders’ recent music. But the difference in Sdraulig’s music is the reduced sphere of action in which these interactions take place. His work for Distractfold Ensemble, binary presents, on the surface, an almost undifferentiated plane of white noise. Yet within this, a whole flurry of interactional activity occurs in the relationship between the performers. At different moments, each player is asked to check on the relationship between their own action and that of another player, adjusting their playing accordingly e.g. in the violin part on page two, the player is asked the question:
Of the other players also in position one, whose volume level is closest to mine?
Listen to that player’s rate of pitch change
Is the sound changing pitch more often than mine?
Yes => Gradually increase your finger pressure.
No => Gradually lower your finger pressure.
This is a process I have referred to elsewhere as “parameter mapping” – the mapping of data from one parameter (velocity of pitch) onto another (finger pressure). Here a simple question re-orients the player’s listening and the relationship between themselves and the whole.
This set-up can also be seen in the work no one both for violin, viola and cello: score http://www.charliesdraulig.com/no%20one%20both.pdf.
In recent pieces, this listening is also oriented outwards to their relationship to the environment, most notably in the series of pieces individuals in environments, or the piece few, which fellow wesslich-er Michael Baldwin has written extensively about: https://michaelbaldwincomposer.wordpress.com/charlie-sdraulig-few/
and whose score contains instructions such as:
Have the continuous ambient sounds changed? If so, adjust your sounds and breath pressure so that they are again only barely audible to you.
While this might be perceived as abandoning a certain amount of control to the whims of environmental sound, what better anecdotes are there than those that arise spontaneously from the world around us?
Charlie will be performing his new work emulator (2015-16) for sensor augmented cymbal and electronics at Weisslich Vol 8 on 23rd July 2016, 8pm at Hundred Years Gallery.