Kari Besharse


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Worlds of Discovery and Loss: The Art of Migration

A few weeks ago I attended the Worlds of Discovery and Loss: The Art of Migration, a festival hosted at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis. This festival was more than a new music festival, it was a collaboration between several artistic disciplines including visual arts and theater. The festival was also infused with scholarly discourse through the inclusion of fascinating scholars like Isabel Wilkerson, Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University and Peter Kulchyski, Professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba. This diversity created an interesting environment of dialogue and cross-pollination between disciplines with space to reflect on the overall theme of the festival, which was to examine “the creative worlds generated by different kinds of migration” and to explore “the ways in which artists cross various boundaries, both real and imagined.”

Within the larger theme of the festival, the musical offerings were diverse and quite strong. Participating ensembles included The Empyrean Ensemble, Rootstock Percussion, the Calder Quartet, and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra performing five concerts over the course of three days. The concerts included a variety of recent works, some classics, and works by composer fellows and the composer-in-residence, Lei Liang. As a composer fellow, I was fortunate to get the know the other composer fellows during seminars, concerts, meals and walks. Our guides were Lei Liang, the composer-in-residence along with UC Davis composition professors Laurie San Martin, Sam Nichols, and Kurt Rodhe.

Annie Hsieh, Ryan Suleiman, Tina Tallon, Kari Besharse

Composer Fellows Annie Hsieh, Ryan Suleiman, Tina Tallon, Kari Besharse duing a pre-concert talk

The Empyrean Ensemble premiered Black Grey Red Orange Grey Blue Grey for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, written last November specifically for the festival. When I was composing this piece, I was feeling an intense connection between emotional states, colors, and sounds almost in a synaesthetic way. Here is the recording from the world premiere performance:

“From glowing prismatic intensity to the blackest black, this piece explores specific colors and associated psychological states such as anger, despair, passion and contemplative sublimity. The emotional states came first, and when immersed in these states, one cannot help but see vivid colors and hear prismatic sounds. The colors refract and collide, ebb and flow, bleed into one another, intensify, are erased, then dissipate.”


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The Anemone Fragments

For the past several months I have spent every ounce of time I could squeeze from my busy teaching schedule into composing a new work for cello and electronics for new music cello guru Craig Hultgren. “The Anemone Fragments” was premiered October 31 at the Southeastern Louisian University. Craig put on an exceptional concert that was well received by students and faculty who took time out of their busy Halloween evening schedules to come hear some crazy new music.

“The Anemone Fragments” was a product of many ideas that I have been deeply engaged with over the course of the summer and into the fall. One of the main ideas, or I should say sounds that has been foremost in my mind has been the wind. Not the generic “wind” but the multitude of unique-to-the-moment wind sounds that can be experienced if one just breathes and listens. Like today for example, I have experienced some great wind sounds in Hammond, the hard steady wind through slowly drying oak leaves, and I felt the wind on my face and skin, always varying in its caress.

When the piece was just an unformed fragment of something “I was to write in the near future,” I spent a month (June) at the Brush Creek Center for the Performing Arts in Wyoming. I loved the wind sounds there, especially the wind through the aspen groves up in the foothills of the Medicine Bow National Forest (the wind on Medicine Bow Peak is an altogether different story). Throughout the summer, I kept coming into contact with more and more mystical wind experiences (dawn wind on Frosty Mountain off the AT in GA, sea wind at Buccaneer State Park in MS), so these sounds and the experience of these sounds was deeply imbedded in my mind before writing the piece.

Of course, the piece isn’t just built on wind sounds, there are many other conceptual ideas behind the piece, most of which are hard to explain.

Here is my official program note:

The Anemone Fragments, for cello and live electronics draws together several aspects of human experience and myth, most importantly, the emotions of solitude and passion. The experience of listening to the various qualities of wind also figures prominently in this piece, for example, the subtle contrasting sounds of a gentle breeze through aspen leaves, or the wind through an oak forest at dawn.

“Love shook my heart

Like the wind on the mountain

rushing over the oak trees.”

― Sappho  

I have grown weary of the winds of heaven.

I will not be a reed to hold the sound

Of whatsoever breath the gods may blow,

Turning my torment into music for them.

They gave me life; the gift was bountiful,

I lived with the swift singing strength of fire,

Seeking for beauty as a flame for fuel —

Beauty in all things and in every hour.

The gods have given life — I gave them song;

The debt is paid and now I turn to go.

— Sara Teasdale, Rivers to the Sea, (1915), “Sappho (Rivers to the Sea)”

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Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts

I spent the majority of June at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, a unique slice of artistic paradise near Saratoga, Wyoming. This residency center is on a 15,000 acre ranch, traditionally used for ranging cattle and horses. This place is truly amazing and inspiring. I spent my mornings, early afternoons, and evenings working on a new orchestra piece (still pending), and my late afternoons hiking around the ranch. The setting was incredible, high dry mountains (about 7,500 feet) with rocky outcroppings, moosey wetland areas, magical aspen groves, spring wildflowers, and the rocky creek itself, there was a lot of space and things for me to lose myself in. The other artists were fascinating, and I enjoyed our dinner conversations and extracurricular activities (Saratoga hot springs, Encampment Woodchoppers Jamboree and Rodeo, and Medicine Bow Peak hike) immensely.

The accommodations were great. I am especially missing my studio, The Armstrong Cabin, which was the original homesteader cabin on the ranch from the 1800’s. I especially loved my cliff swallows which nested right outside the window of the cabin and my Bosendorfer (I am currently piano-less).

I have left this paradise, but I hope to keep its magic and peace with me for a long time. I’m back in Louisiana now, working away on my orchestra piece and moving on (real) soon to a cello and electronics piece for Craig Hultgren.


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Recent performances of Dissolution

I am very grateful to the fabulous trombonist Dylan Chmura-Moore, who took my piece Dissolution on a mini-tour last month. He has recently performed it at University of Wisconsin – Osh Kosh, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Ohio Wesleyan University and the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music. Dylan is the first trombonist to run the Max/Msp patch on his own from the stage, stepping through the cues with a foot pedal. On this tour, Dylan has been performing Dissolution with Carolee Schneemann’s film Plumb Line (1971).


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Embers

A couple of weeks ago, my piece Embers was performed on a concert of new works at Southeastern Louisiana University by Philip Schuessler, piano and Richard Schwartz, alto saxophone. The concert was a huge success. It was great to see so many students and faculty members participate in this concert, both as composers and as performers. There was quite a variety of pieces and styles represented and all were well-performed. The only hitch was of course due to technology (thankfully my piece was completely acoustic this time). One of the channels of our borrowed power amp turned out to be busted. However, the electronic works were still able to be performed, the composers just had to use the regular P.A. system of the recital hall (not great, it’s mostly for lecturing).

Phil and Rich did a great job on my piece. Here they are getting ready to perform:

I was able to get a decent recording this time. I’m still hoping we can do a studio recording once we are all finished with our finals and grading! Here’s the recording from the concert I recorded on my Sony PCM-D50. I also made a video, but I still need to edit that and this computer with its bum lower memory slot is of no help whatsoever.


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Southeastern Louisiana University Composers Concert

Just two days until the Composers Concert at Southeastern Louisiana University! Philip Schuessler and Richard Schwartz will be performing my piece Embers for piano and saxophone. It should be a great show, as there seems to be a growing interest in new music and composition at SLU. The concert also features works by faculty composers Philip Schuessler, Stephen Suber, and Brian Hanson, and new pieces by student composers Daniele Lesniowski, Carter McFarland, and John Holley. Oh, and we have a special guest coming to present his music at the composers forum and on the concert Tuesday, Greg Robin.

 


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Coming Soon in 2012

After traveling for most of December (to Africa and Wisconsin), I have done my best to settle in and work on some new music. The new semester started in January, so my composition time has been sporadic at best. On top of that, I’ve been stuck in some kind of perpetual pre-compositional limbo for several new pieces that I want to write and have been stuck in post-compositional limbo on another piece.

As usual, I’ve got some grandiose compositional plans for 2012. Several pieces are planned and laying around in various pre-compositional stages. However, the time has come for me to focus on one or two things that I can work on regularly and complete within the next couple of months. I have decided to focus my energy for the near future on writing a new four-channel electroacoustic piece and on bringing my errant quintet Icons to a true state of completion.

A few years ago, I attended the last summer session at CCMIX (Center for the Composition of Music Iannis Xenakis). I spent a lot of my studio time there messing around with the UPIC system and I recorded a great deal of material. For those who don’t know, UPIC is a sort of synthesizer in which the parameters change over time based on an inputted score. However, the score is a drawing or sketch (Xenakis workshopped this with Kindergartners, who I’m sure got a big kick out if). Here’s some information about the original system, I worked on a computerized version developed in the 80s.

http://membres.multimania.fr/musicand/INSTRUMENT/DIGITAL/UPIC/UPIC.htm

In my rudimentary experiments with the UPIC, I was surprised at how much sound you can get out of drawing just a few dots or lines. Then, by changing the parameters, you can create infinite variations out of a simple picture. I found that each picture is almost a miniature meta-piece. By applying different waveforms, frequency parameters, and processing options, you can get infinite variations on the simplest little scribbles, or structural variations by running the whole page. Unfortunately, my little UPIC drawings were left behind somewhere, so I can’t actually show them. They were pretty rudimentary however, nothing as fascinating as Xenakis’ drawings for Mycenae Alpha.

I’ve always been fascinated with the quirky, glitchy sounds that I created at CCMIX, so they are the basic sounds that I will be using in this new electroacoustic piece. The set of sounds is quite rich, ranging to analog mechanical types of sounds, Metastasis-like gestures, to granular types of sounds. I will be using some other programs to manipulate these sounds. I’ll probably be using some of my recent Max/Msp patches and Digital Performer. On the metalevel, I’ve got a superimposed textural plan & a Ulysses subtext in two panels.

Almost an intact miniature… I think there are gremlins in the speakers.


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Rails

Alarm Will Sound has posted the world premiere recording of Rails on their soundcloud page.

Rails premiered in July 2011 at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival.

Here are the program notes for the piece:

Rails (2011) was inspired by the soundscape of Hammond, Louisiana. More specifically, it engages the sounds that I have heard on a daily basis since moving from Champaign, Illinois, to Hammond, Louisiana in August 2010. My apartment is two blocks away from two intersecting railroad tracks. One is the Illinois Central line, which runs from Chicago to New Orleans, the other is a freight track. Intermittently all day (and all night) I hear trains approaching and passing from different directions. These trains are too loud to simply ignore, and often it feels like there is a low-level earthquake shaking the apartment. The conductors of these trains tend to lay on the horn as they are passing through town, creating a long and varied sound as the train whistles are warped by their own mechanism, the atmosphere, and by speed and distance. Additionally, each of these trains has its own unique rhythmic profile, its own pattern of creaks, clicks and knocks, and its own speed. Each time a train passes; a unique sonic experience is created. Therefore, the sounds of these trains are very much a part of my piece, the spectra of their whistles, the rush of sound when they pass by, and their creaky mechanical rhythms. My apartment also looks out over a park, so my piece is also populated by pastoral sounds such as birds and wind chimes.