critical evaluation

In this evaluation, I have:

– Stated how the outcome of the project developed and changed from the initial masters project proposal and given some reasons to justify the deviation. Given a brief description of what the project turned out to be.
– Stated the learning outcomes, achievements and discoveries made during the progression of the project.
– Evaluated the potential successes and failures of the final performance piece. (it was written before the performance and assessment)
– Considered how the piece fits with current practice in contemporary dance performance.

masters critical evaluation

Story telling in music… Ravel’s Ondine

I went to a piano recital at the John Innes centre last night, Milan Miladinovic was playing a varied program, including Bach, Ravel, Chopin & Liszt. He was quite an astonishing pianist, I was captivated! Huge dynamic variation and accuracy in some incredibly technically difficult pieces. In addition to the musical drama, he gave some wonderful introductions to the pieces, almost a master class in interpreting musical elements and compositional components. Sometimes playing sections of a piece to demonstrate a representation of part of a story, but also talking about the composer’s life and the events and thinking of the time, he shifted our attention back and forth between the work’s contextual aspects and its musical components, allowing the two aspects to comment mutually on each other and inform our interpretation of it’s meaning. It was fascinating!

The longest introduction he gave was probably for Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la nuit’. The pieces are an interpretation of the dark poems of Aloysious Bertand. One of the Poems Ravel was interpreting is entitled ‘Ondine’, from the book ‘La nuit et ses prestiges’ – ‘the night and it’s illusions/deceptions’. The original fairy tale of Ondine (the inspiration for Disney’s ‘little mermaid’), is about the attempted seduction of a mortal by a mermaid, which does not relate particularly to the night, but Bertrand’s poems apparently concentrate on the not clearly lit, the dreamlike and the surreal. The music is undeniably watery, with shimmering trills that could be heard as the lights on the waves or the otherworldly tears and laughter of the mermaid.

This morning, inspired by the recital and the story telling, I found a copy of the poem that the work is based on, and a version of the piano piece so that I could read and listen to them together, and try to hear how the story and the music fit together. You can do the same if you like…

I don’t speak French, but if you do, you can read the original in French here

‘Listen! listen! it’s me, it’s Ondine who brushes with these drops of water the resonant diamonds of your window lit by the gloomy moon-light; and there in her silken robe is the lady of the manor contemplating from her balcony the lovely star-bright night and the beautiful sleeping lake.’

‘each ripple is a child of the waves’ swimming with the current, each current is a path winding towards my palace, and my palace is built fluid, at the bottom of the lake, in the triangle of fire earth and air.’

‘Listne! -Listen! – my father strikes the croaking water with a branch of green alder, and my sisters caress with their arms of foam the cool islands of herbs, water lillies and gladioli, or make fun of their sickly, bearded willow that is fishing with rod and line.’

Having murmured her song, she begged me to accept her ring on my finger, so that I would be the husband of an Ondine, and to visit her palace with her, so that I would be king of the lakes. And since I replied that I loved a mortal woman, she wept a few tears, sulking and peevish, then broke into laughter, and vanished in showers of rain that drizzled white across my blue window pain.

I found an excellent essay looking at this particular work, deconstructing the music and the poem in depth here by Siglind Bruhn.

back in the sound room

Tom helped to unscramble my slightly confused logic project in a tutorial last week. With everything straight it was easier to start working with the tracks one by one. I spent some time making sure the levels for each instrument peaked in the right places, and used a compressor to narrow the dynamic range slightly to ensure the piece will play back well on less sophisticated speakers. I adjusted the automation for each instrument to enhance its phrasing, bringing tension and release to sections of the piece, trying to keep it interesting by changing the texture and feel throughout. Listening to the tracks together again I further adjusted the volumes to ensure they complimented rather than competed with each other, and all built together towards mini climaxes and subsequent periods of rest.

Initially the melody for the whole of the first half of the piece was with the bandoneon, then the second half with the piano. I changed this so that the melody interweaves before and after the halfway point, the instruments begin to call and respond to each other a little, giving the impression of a conversation. I think this really helped to bring the piece together, to make it sound as if the musicians are playing together rather than recorded one by one to a click track which was in reality the case.

Update on the sound project

I stopped documenting the process…. I was too involved in making the piece, so I’ll have to back track a bit.

‘Nostalgias’ is the piece of music I settled on to arrange and rework for iTango, because of the cyclical melody and the slowness.

After writing out parts for various instruments I got some musicians into the recording studio. They all played individually to a click track set at 80 bpm to match the track in the original film. We recorded Bass Guitar (Ric), Bandoneon (Clara), Flute and Piano (me) and acoustic guitar (Frankie).

I had some trouble getting the real instruments to gel with the computer ones ( I tried to add a drum track)… it just didn’t work, and I got a bit disheartened. My tutorial with Tom helped, I started to think more about the structure of the arrangement and lose the effects for a while.

I fiddled with all the tracks to get them all exactly in time, at this point I decided to work with just the bandoneon, bass and piano. I liked the blend of the sounds and I wanted to keep a spacious feel, the other instruments were crowding it.

The film begins with the dancers walking across the floor, discovering it, and I wanted the intro to the sound piece to reflect the uncertainty the dancers were acting out over what was going on with the light, so I attempted to create an abstract slightly disconcerting soundtrack to work with the disjointed editing at this point. I’m quite pleased with this section, and I’d like the rest of the piece to be more like it.

Playing with the intro section is when I started to add effects again, fairly simple ones and no drum section, I cut out some of the interesting sounds made by the clicks and breathing of the bandoneon and added delay and reverb, that was all it seemed to need.

more inspiration

I like this piece by Otros Aires…

Its spacious, but keeps your foot tapping. Quite eclectic, with the unusual vocal, like a mosque chant or something (sorry, I’m sure there is a better term!) mixed with what sounds like a sampled tango voice. I think the drum beat works well, it’s not always there and it’s not too dominant but it definitely makes the music sound contemporary. I even like the scratchy sound that’s added as another layer, like the crackle of an old record player.

Candidates for rearrangement

I love this song… ‘Nostalgias’ by Juan Carlos Cobian to the poem by Enrique Cadicamo. I don’t think anyone has made a contemporary arrangement of it yet. I think it might be quite suitable for my itango project because it has a kind of circular melody at the beginning, and in the climax there’s a dramatic repetition of a musical phrase which could work nicely with the ripples. I can imagine really stretching it out at the beginning, being very playful with the speed, and swapping the melody between the instruments.

Another favourite of mine is Piazzolla’s Miolonga en Re.

I love how spacious it is, so minimal with the notes and having only two voices, like his and hers. I like the base line, which sounds circular to me too, repeating the same rhythm and sequence of pitch changes. I think perhaps it’s too exquisite to mess around with though, I don’t want to ruin it for myself!

what makes tango music tango?

Shaun (course leader) has asked me this question a couple of times, so I’m giving it some thought. There are of course a number of musical elements that come together to make a tango sound like a tango…

Tango almost always sounds intense, dramatic and melancholy, even though it’s not always in a minor key.

Perhaps the most intrinsically tango theme is the notable run or lead in from the fourth beat to the first (tango is always 4/4 unless its a tango vals but that’s another musical genre). This pre-beat, or ‘and’ moment is reflected in the dance by the intention shown by the leader that he is about to step before he actually does. It gives the music a characteristic ‘vaaarumph’ sort of sound that drives you to move, with a purposeful step. For the guys its a sort of suspension and surge, for the women a sort of resist and submit. This emphasis on the 4-1 is very evident in the music of Osvaldo Pugliese, you will hear it if you listen particularly to the piano in this rendition of ‘la yumba’…

Typically the orquestas of Carlos Di Sarli and Anibal Troilo have quite a slow very rhythmical tempo, often emphasising the 1 and the 3 beats making for a more formal, regular structure to the overall sound, almost like a slow 2/4 (march) rather than a 4/4 rhythm. I could only find one video from Troilo, which isn’t a perfect example, but you can hear in this video, that the 1 and 3 are emphasised, in addition to the ‘and’ 1 moment…

For many people, Angel D’agostino and Vargas made some of the best tango for dancers, because they left space in the music for the dancer to fill and add their interpretation to shape the music. Piazzolla and Pugliese are sometimes accused of being too driving, not leaving any room for the dancers to be a part of the orchestra. Their music is great for listening to but you couldn’t dance a whole evening to their music, it’s almost too demanding.

One of my favourite contemporary groups are the bajofondo tango club, although they don’t claim to make tango music…
“we don’t like the label of “electronica tango”, because we don’t consider what we do to be either tango nor electronica. We believe we do music of the Rio de la Plata, and if you want to create a music that represents today’s sound of places like Buenos Aires and Montevideo –at least in our view-, obviously genres such as tango, murga, milonga and candombe are going to be present, because they are part of the genetic-musical map of that part of the world. But the 40 years history of Argentine and Uruguayan rock, hip hop and electronica also are part of that map and the history of that place”.

It’s fun to dance to their music, I do really like it, but it’s obviously not intended expressly for this purpose. In fact if you watch the video you’ll see that no-one is dancing tango at their concert, they’re just jumping around. The tracks last much longer than a typical tango, which is usually about 3 minutes. Longer than this is difficult to keep going, you start to feel you need a change, or you want to hear the finale, or just stop for a minute. There are also certain tango dancing etiquettes that are difficult to follow when the music drifts too far from the norm. for example the number of songs you dance with one partner before thanking them and sitting down again. This drifting away from writing tango music to dance to really began with Astor Piazzolla, another of my favourite tango musicians. His signatures are really compelling, moving melodies, and the frequent use of 3-3-2 (or 1xx-1xx-1x) rhythms. You can hear this very clearly in ‘libertango’…

The Orquesta de Juan D’arienso is typified by quite a fast tempo. In this superb film you can see how the rhythm is kept by the piano, but then when the piano gets to do a fancy bit the rhythm is taken on by the strings and the bandoneons, the melody and the beat gets swapped around between the different sections, and all the while you can hear D’arienzo driving the orquesta to really emphasise the lead in to the first beat of the first bar of a phrase.

So, characteristic tango elements are…

  • The ‘and’ moment,
  • A Melancholy, dramatic feel,
  • Multiple rhythmic lines,
  • Multiple melody lines,
  • Trading melodic or rhythmic elements from one instrument to another.
  • Use of tango instruments; typically bandoneon, violin, double base, piano, but also flute, guitar and more recently base guitar. Percussion is not used in traditional tango but contemporary tango often has quite prominent beats and bass lines.