Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage)

Miguel Frasconi

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“Glass is fragile. Glass is easily broken. Most glass instruments ignore these facts and instead focus on the material’s delicate beauty. With my particular instrumentarium of glass instruments I embrace the danger this fragility evokes. The possibility is allowed for these instruments to shatter at any point during performance. When this happens, the music is changed by the new tones that emerge, dictated from the object’s harmonic fissures. It can be unpredictable and not always welcome but always accepted.

Almost all the sounds in this particular piece, Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage), come from one quartz crystal glass bowl which had been struck a bit too forcefully during a rehearsal a few months before. The instrument was still whole but there was a clean fracture from it’s rim to it’s base. Right away I knew I needed to record the attempts to complete the breakage. I was curious to hear which new pitches would result from splitting apart the original pitch of G#.

But once again glass proved to be unpredictable, this time in its refusal to break further. As hard as I tried throughout the recordings for this project, the bowl would not continue to crack. Many wonderful sounds were coaxed from this one object in its unusual state, particularly the vibrations resulting from rubbing and striking near the fissure. But short of taking to it with a metal hammer, the bowl remained magnificently intact. By altering and manipulating these sounds, I believe the result is as mysterious as the material of glass itself.

This piece is dedicated to the late experimental filmaker Stan Brakhage, who on occasion closely filmed glass objects. He was also friends, from a very young age, with my teacher and mentor, composer James Tenney.”

Miguel Frasconi


Composition, performance, recording and edit by Miguel Frasconi, March/April 2015

Recorded and mastered at Well Weathered Studios, Norwalk, CT, USA

Cover art by Miguel Frasconi


DARK ENTRIES
Miguel Frasconi is een componist die zich specialiseert in het verband tussen akoestische geluiden en hun onderliggende muzikaliteit. Hij maakt stukken voor de opera en componeert film- en kamermuziek. Hij werkte samen met componisten als John Cage, Morton Subotnick en Jon en met bekende choreografen zoals Alonzo King. Hij kreeg bovendien les van James Tenney. In de hedendaagse muziek is hij dus allesbehalve een onbekende.

In 1977 richtte hij mee het Glass ensemble op in Toronto, een orkest dat zich bezighield met –wat had u gedacht- glasinstrumenten. De vele geluiden en bijhorende speelwijzen van glas lijken nog steeds de grote passie van deze man en dat blijkt ook uit deze release. Glasinstrumenten worden tegenwoordig behoorlijk vaak gebruikt in ‘klassieke’ muziek maar meestal heel voorzichtig. Miguel nam zichzelf voor om de breekbaarheid die eigen is aan het materiaal niet als obstakel maar als kans te zien. Meer zelfs, de mogelijke vernieling van het glas en de tonen die daarbij vrij kwamen, zijn uitgangspunt van dit werk. Op deze manier hoopte hij nieuwe muzikale elementen te ontdekken.
Bijna alle geluiden uit dit stuk komen van één kwartskristallen kom die enkele maanden voor de opname gescheurd was geraakt tijdens een repetitie. Deze scheur zorgde ervoor dat de toonhoogte bleef steken op een sol kruis. Miguel vroeg zich af wat het resultaat op de toonhoogte zou zijn bij verder scheuren. Dit bleek moeilijker dan gedacht want hoe hard de componist ook schuurde, streelde en zelfs bewerkte met een hamer, de kom wou maar niet de geest geven… Glas is eigenzinnig materiaal.

Arty farty gewauwel? Allesbehalve! Miguel Fasconi gebruikt weliswaar avant-gardistische technieken maar het muzikale resultaat is veel conventioneler dan de uitleg doet vermoeden. Hoewel hij me mogelijk zou kelen voor de genrebeschrijving die bovenaan dit artikel prijkt, heb ik zeer bewust gekozen voor tribal/ritual want dat is exact de sfeer dit werk bij mij oproept. Zou men vertellen dat dit een vroeg werk van Hybryds, Omala of Mother Destruction zijn, zou ik niet verbaasd zijn. Ook de sfeer van de klassieker Leichenschrei van SPK komt vreemd genoeg steeds weer ter geest. Dat de gebruikte middelen helemaal anders zijn, maakt het nog een pak interessanter. De glazen geluiden stralen, om een poëtisch cliché te gebruiken, een warme kilte of een kille warmte uit. Het is maar wat u verkiest.
Ondanks het destructieve karakter van manier waarop de klanken zijn opgewekt, is het eindresultaat allesbehalve zwaar, t.t.z. voor liefhebbers van donkere ambient, ritueel of hedendaags klassiek. We vreesden na het lezen van de perstekst en voor de beluistering even voor een herhaling van het interessante maar onuitstaanbare ‘Never again’ van John Zorn uit zijn klassieker Kristallnacht maar horen feitelijk een vrij toegankelijk klanklandschap. Het glas wordt ook geregeld percussief gebruikt zodat je echt wel meegaat in de trip. De klanklandschappen die worden opgewekt zouden niet misstaan op een betere dark ambientrelease, voornamelijk omdat er toch wel enkele afwijkende geluiden worden gebruikt. Misantroop is het niet, daarvoor is de muziek te organisch, maar de sfeer is op zijn minst donker en verontrustend.

Het werk is opgedragen aan de films van Stan Brakhage. De man is bekend geworden met zijn rechtstreekse ingrepen op de pellicule en in zijn latere werk filmde hij af en toe glazen objecten van zeer dichtbij. We gingen op onderzoek en vonden heel wat fragmentjes terug op de typische videostreamsites. Wanneer je deze combineert met de muziek, kom je feitelijk een prachtig geheel uit! Te ontdekken!

LIQUID SKY BERLIN
So a fractured bowl of quartz crystal glass can lead to a 20+ minutes single track release these days as Miguel Frasconi’s “Standing Breakage (for Stan Brakhage)” proves, a digital download piece released via Clang in late November 2015. Recording his attempts to fully break his bruised musical instrument through further use and abuse, striking and rubbing the withstanding piece near the crack and later altering, processing and re-arranging the captured sounds Mr. Frasconi has created a feverish, ritualistic piece of UnAmbient, unfolding over an array of tribalistic structures accompanied by damp, tense droning, unsettling jars whizzing around like small, uberly busy alien creatures until minute seven and bit sees a sudden about-turn into highly digital sounding fields and cold droning atmospheres. Around minute 13 things are getting hyper with a massive low frequency melody of seductive qualities before an allover tinging and jingling leads to a finale. Interesting stuff.

THE WIRE
In the process of creating Standing Breakage, Miguel Frasconi, a founding member of Toronto’s Glass Orchestra, attempted to shatter an already fractured yet still intact quartz crystal bowl. The bowl survived, but when rubbed and struck it yielded an astonishing range of horn-like, bell-like, hollow and ringing sounds, which Frasconi then processed and shaped into a 20 minute homage to the memory of underground film auteur Stan Brakhage. Brakhage would sometimes use glass objects as a source for imagery. More generally he was a film maker who saw music as a sonic index of “the mind moving”. Music’s history, Breakage believed, can reveal more about changing thought processes within a culture than any other means. The thinking refracted through Frasconi’s sounding glass is vivid and exotic. A spellbinding and phantasmagoric projection through crystal.

KINDAMUZIK
If glass breaks … Crack! Strong, sturdy and translucent and then suddenly shattered, in shards and without strength … Glass that magnifies, reduces, deforms. Glass that can slice; who hasn’t tried it with a wet finger along the rim? Miguel Frasconi is a glass composer and musician. Not one that neatly watches and enjoys the glare of the delicate edges. No, he deliberately seeks the danger of disintegration; plays with the possibility of cracks and breakage. And apart from the title’s word pun, this has everything to do with the films of Stan Brakhage.

Experimental filmmaker Brakhage recorded on celluloid and used organic materials for his film such as butterfly wings, and if you combine this with the heat of the projector lamp, the spinning reels on which the film is wound and transported together with the testing of time, it becomes clear that the concept of disintegration is the central motif. And even more so when watching the real movies is much more intense rather than just a copy or a DVD. Just watch.

Frasconi hits, tap, strokes, hammers and rubs the glass. All to bring it into vibration. The sounds he lets loose are free and raw, whether they are animated by electronics or distorted. Frasconi’s challenge is the breaking point that leads to disintegration; it creates new and unexpected harmonic fault lines that are both visible and audible. This time is was a quartz crystal glass bowl that splintered. During rehearsals, when it was handled a bit too roughly. A hairline crack was formed. And ‘Bingo!’ for Frasconi.

So we play? No, not so fast! Frasconi immediately knew that he wanted to take on the challenge and make an entire collection of splinters. But the bowl was able to bend further without bursting and Frasconi managed to extract truly otherworldly sounds at the area of the tear. With the bowl still intact in front of him, he extracted these glass recordings (as Brakhage filming glass objects in close-up) as from a mysterious existence where inner coherence and unpredictable forces elicit core materials for a compositional play. Just as glass that refracts the light; as glass that bends. Sven Schlijper.

AURAL AGGRAVATION
Stan Brakhage was an experimental filmmaker who sometimes closely shot glass objects. A huge influence on Frasconi, who sometimes makes music with glass instruments. The album title is a play on words, in reference not only to his artistic forebear but also the cracked quartz crystal bowl which was used to make this 20-minute musical work.

Having previously given the instrument a rather too vigorous workout during a rehearsal, Frasconi decided to explore its absolute limits. As Frasconi himself observes, ‘Glass is fragile. Glass is easily broken. Most glass instruments ignore these fact and instead focus on the material’s delicate beauty’.

Standing Breakage captures the artist’s efforts to complete the job he unintentionally began when the instrument – pictured on the front cover – became fractured. Ironically, despite labouring at the fracture in order to bring about the bowl’s ultimate destruction, he failed to achieve the desired moment of breakage. As such, for all its fragility, the glass held firm against a sustained assault.

An awareness of the circumstances of the album’s creation is, in this instance, integral to its appreciation, first and foremost, because if you didn’t know it was made using only the sounds created with a glass bowl, you would never guess that it was made using only the sounds created with a glass bowl. Because it doesn’t sound like it was made using only the sounds created with a glass bowl. In fact, it doesn’t sound like anything organic, or even of this world.

Standing Breakage finds Frasconi create an intriguing blend of chimes, rings, swirls and twangs, scrapes and chatters. Heavy, bulbous bass tones resonate, twisting and spinning upwards. Percussive thumps and sounds like scraping violin strings all emerge from the single instrument under the musician’s interrogation. Clanging, gong-like sounds crash. Eerie sounds that defy any obvious description, and sound alien and other-worldly in their origin drift. Booming synth-like notes balloon outwards, expanding in the air.

Tension mounts and builds. You sit, teeth on edge, fists clenched. You’ve no idea what will come next. You will twist and squirm. You’ll conjure myriad images in response to the strange sounds. But never once will you think ‘this sounds like someone pissing about with a glass bowl with a crack in it.’

CHAIN D.L.K.
It’s a known fact that many interesting and sometimes really important discoveries are purely accidental. It’s what occurred to American composer Miguel Frasconi on the occasion of the first “score” of this composition, as while he was working on sounds he keeps on making from glass instruments or objects – he was one of the founders of The Glass Orchestra in late 70ies and some of his sonic findings were borrowed to well-known composers, musicians and sound artists such as John Cage, Jon Hassell and Morton Subotnick -, a quartz crystal glass bowl got damaged, but instead of replacing it, he decided to check how it could sound and this aspect if the first relevant one of this output; according to his own words, “almost all the sound in this particular piece come from one quartz crystal glass bowl which had been struck a bit too forcefully during a rehearsal a few months before. The instrument was still whole but there was a clean fracture from its rim to its base. Right away I knew I needed to record the attempts to complete the breakage.”. The second relevant and somehow surprising element of “Standing Breakage” is what happened after this discovery: “I was curious to hear which new pitches would result from splitting apart the original pitch of G#. But once again glass proved to be unpredictable, this time in its refusal to break further. As hard as I tried throughout the recordings for this project, the bowl would not continue to crack. Many wonderful sounds were coaxed from this one object in its unusual state, particularly the vibrations resulting from rubbing and striking near the fissure”. The manipulation and the alteration of these sounds provided new stuff for this 20-minutes lasting suite, whose title is a play on words and an appropriate dedication to the late experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who occasionally filmed breaking glass objects for some of his outputs.







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