Have you ever listened to an orchestra warm up before a show and thought, "This sounds pretty good"? A number of composers (Weigl, Varèse) have realized this idea, and the results usually baffle most of the audience unless the latter knows what's happening; it's like a movie with twenty minutes of introductory narration that makes you ask, "Has the movie begun?"
The decades-old, sixteen-piece Leap of Faith Orchestra relishes in this aesthetic here with a neo-aleatoric approach. Ring leader and multi-instrumentalist (focusing on anything with a reed) PEK aka Dave Pek offers his reasoning behind the choice of artistic independence on the micro level: "How do you rehearse complex works for large ensembles when all of the participants are extremely busy?" Providing a loose score with exact timings and scene changes allows, according to PEK, "...enormous freedom and decision making for each performer and means that we do not have to rehearse these pieces prior to performance."
Starting with gongs and miscellaneous bangs, cracks and rattles, the one hour and sixteen-minute begins a meander through a busy marketplace of interdependent colors and motions: Some of the big, staccato gestures resemble those from Messiaen's Chronochromie; others bond together in a flexing wall similar to the climax of Cage's Atlas Eclipticalis; when all hit at once near the 4:30 mark, there is a warzone reminiscent of Varèse's Amériques. With a score indicating points of "turbulence" and "everyone frenzy," cacophony is the best description for this first several minutes and other spots throughout the piece.
"Whimsy" should also be added when mentioning SuperClusters. For every finger wag of "Academic" seriousness, there is a slinky jazz lick, Looney Toons joke (the work ends with a flurry of kazoo-like buzzes and someone yelling "SuperClusters!"), heavy-fisted piano mashing, and brief musical quote (I think I heard Donna Summer's "On the Radio") just around the bend — all sometimes overlapping. Charles Ives' "two orchestras crash into one another" has nothing on these folks.
Though remarkable for the display of volume and amplitude (particularly during a passage of lugubrious unison of low brass and strings), the more fascinating moments of the work involve solos and smaller groupings of instruments (the accompanying bonus download, GigaParsecs, excels at this) — and being able to focus on smaller bites of this elephant. For example, near 12:30, Pek, cellist / vocalist / hydrophonist Glynis Lomon and drummer Yuri Zbitnov engage in a gnashing set of slow motion, wide pitch dips and bends, polyrhythmic log drum percussion and furious bow work. At 21:00, sultry saxophone purrs over a maniacal series of wooden clacks. Electric guitar static provides a static sound scape under Eric Zinman's keyboard flight. As a bell literally sounds near the 48-minute mark, the thunder storm stops on a dime in favor of gentle metallic taps, spittled mouth piece squeaks, Dave Harris's stomping tuba line, and a crucial element: pause. With such a furious, grandiose scale, silence is striking in SuperClusters.
(Side note: I'm only listing a few band members as I read them on the score. Forgive me, all players not mentioned. If I were to list all your collective accomplishments, the text would fill the pages of Genesis.)
While researching the best way to tune an orchestra, you won't find many examples of "just play." One online forum participant, frustrated with her high school orchestra writes, "My warm-up routines need a shot of adrenaline!" Another asks, "Are there any other ways that I can make my warm-up segment more engaging? Do you think that improvisation can be used as a part of warm-ups? Any ideas for how to incorporate something like that?"
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