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Almost everything about making this album felt familiar. We prepared for weeks, then did two day-long recording sessions. There were moments of intense immersion, other stretches waiting on a tech issue, all punctuated with the usual conversations: Should we do another take of that one, or move on? When is lunch? Only one thing was different: We were under pandemic lockdown, recording via internet, each person in a separate location.
Low latency audio software was our studio, and Zoom was the control room for hanging out between takes. The geographic distance meant we had to create music that could accommodate slight timing delays, so we had been practicing this way from the start, developing the music within this telematic space. What you hear is almost exactly what each of us heard while playing - there was no editing for synchrony - except that the album mix is a tiny bit cleaner, since each musician recorded their own part locally to avoid network distortions.
This group came together through a graduate seminar on musical improvisation at the University of California, Irvine, where we are all part of a PhD program in Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology (ICIT). When we began the course in spring 2021, already a year into fully online classes and concert venue shutdowns, I could tell that everyone desperately wanted to play together. Not to make multi-track recordings, do solo projects, or find other workarounds, but to truly interact musically in “real time.”
Thanks to improvements in freely available software and our access to decent audio equipment and internet connections, we could actually do that. Since everyone in the seminar was an experienced improviser, we decided to spend the ten weeks of the course practicing frequently together, both in subsets and with the full septet, to discover what unique sounds and ideas might emerge from this particular group, and then record an album. We approached the project as if we had to rent expensive studio time, using two day-long recording sessions to record multiple takes of everything we had been exploring over the prior two months. This felt important to me, to capture the intensity that comes with recording highly improvisatory music in that studio context, when the clock is ticking and you have to make the music happen, drawing on all your past preparation but collectively meeting each new moment with fresh ears.
Talking about this kind of dynamic is tricky: the topic of “spontaneity” in improvised music is a minefield within a rabbit hole. I once asked my teacher Yusef Lateef - who termed his own music autophysiopsychic music, meaning "music from one’s physical, mental and spiritual self" - why he refused to use the word "improvisation." In his 70s at the time, he replied that the dictionary defined the term as acting "without preparation," and that regardless of whether or not he was using precomposed materials, "every note I play on my saxophone has over six decades of preparation."
So this music is what many people would call "open improvisation," without detailed or notated pre-compositions, but it also came about through much collective preparation. Making music together in this way, at the tail end of an entire year of lockdown, was a reminder for me of why creative improvised music traditions matter: They give us a space for practicing collaborative generosity, for seeking shared resonances as well as our individuality, and for playful, serious and unpredictable acts of sonic imagining. We hope you can enjoy this music in a similar spirit. Thanks for listening.
released September 2, 2022
Hesam Abedini, voice. [2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 15 ]
Michael Dessen, trombone [1, 3, 7, 8, 10, 15 ]
Jiryis Murkus Ballan, buzuq [2, 3, 6, 8, 15 ]
Tony Fajt, keyboards [1, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15]
James Ilgenfritz III, bass [ 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15]
Chris Hadley, percussion and electronics [ 2, 3, 6, 8, 12, 14, 15]
Atticus Reynolds, drums [1, 3, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15], keyboard [ 5, 11, 13]
Recorded by the performers, May 27 and 28, 2021, via Sonobus (<https://sonobus.net>) from seven different locations across the US
Mixed by Chris Hadley, Atticus Reynolds, Michael Dessen, Jiryis Ballan, Tony Fajt and James Ilgenfritz III
Mastered by Chris Hadley and Atticus Reynolds
Cover photo and design by Michael Dessen
Tracks 3, 8 and 15 Ⓟ © 2022 Hesam Abedini, Michael Dessen, Jiryis Ballan, Tony Fajt, James Ilgenfritz III, Chris Hadley, and Atticus Reynolds
Tracks 1 and 10 Ⓟ © 2022 Michael Dessen, Tony Fajt, James Ilgenfritz III, and Atticus Reynolds
Track 2 Ⓟ © 2022 Hesam Abedini, Jiryis Ballan, James Ilgenfritz III, and Chris Hadley
Track 4 Ⓟ © 2022 Hesam Abedini and James Ilgenfritz III
Track 5, 11, 13 Ⓟ © 2022 Tony Fajt and Atticus Reynolds
Track 6 Ⓟ © 2022 Jiryis Ballan and Chris Hadley
Track 7 Ⓟ © 2022 Hesam Abedini, Michael Dessen and James Ilgenfritz III
Track 9 Ⓟ © 2022 Hesam Abedini and Atticus Reynolds
Track 12 Ⓟ © 2022 Atticus Reynolds, Chris Hadley and James Ilgenfritz III
Track 14 Ⓟ © 2022 Atticus Reynolds, Chris Hadley, Tony Fajt and James Ilgenfritz III
Lyrics for track "Wandered spirits" are from a poem by Rumi: "I tear up the seven heavens and pass beyond the seven seas, when lovingly you gaze into my giddy soul."
Lyrics for "Rajaz" are from a poem by 10th century poet Ferdowsi's Shahnameh (The Book of King): "When the sun rises, it will be me, a mace, and Afrasiab, / With my heavy mace, I will pound him harder than a blacksmith pounding steel."
Note: Although this music is unrelated, the ensemble wishes to recognize and thank poet Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard for her publication of poems titled Alchemies of Distance.
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