Thomas Echols on "process"

Thomas EcholsI am so very excited to be continuing narratives with process [middle].  In an earlier post, I mentioned how this series emerged out of an exploration of the many ways that music conveys meaning.  This concert is about the game, the creative interplay of elements.

Of all three concerts, this is the one that really delves into the mode of musical discourse that is the least linguistic by nature: process. Here is what Steve Reich says about “Process Music”:

          "[It is not] the process of composition but rather pieces of music that

          are, literally, processes. The distinctive thing about musical processes

          is that they determine all the note-to-note (sound-to-sound) details and the overall form.”

If you’ve ever sung “Row, row, row your boat” in a round, where one person begins singing the first line just as another is beginning the second line, then you yourself have performed process music. Certain pieces by minimalist composers are quintessential Process pieces: beautiful, consonant sonorities are heard while a clearly discernible pattern unfolds creating a kind of narrative structure that really only exists in musical works. Also, certain pieces from the Baroque period, namely fugues (a kind of piece that can be thought of as a much more elaborate and artful round or canon as mentioned above), are also exemplary process pieces: an evocative tune with a clear identity is heard alone at first, and then is repeated along with various transformations of itself creating dense musical fabrics out of a very small amount of material. Process pieces are entrancing things. They speak volumes beyond the limits of the spoken word.

The texts chosen for this concert are from the Argentinian writers Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, two authors whose writing often seems to be a commentary upon writing (and reading) itself. Literary labyrinths, games, circular, reductive logic seem fitting to the idea of process. The poems will be read in Spanish and English. Borges, who wrote fictions about fictions –creating authors so that he could write about their non-existent works, said once that he wrote in a Baroque style.  .  .  at two points in the concert, we will hear two fugues by Borges’ compatriot (and master of the tango) Astor Piazzolla that reveal how a piece can be fugal without being Baroque in any other sense. . .

The entire concert forms a kind of palindrome, with events mirroring each other across a central point in time. The cornerstone of the concert is Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres”, which has been arranged specially for this concert for violin and guitar. “Fratres” itself has a beautiful harmonic pattern that is palindromic in a way, making it the perfect centerpiece for this program.

Virtuosic unaccompanied violin, guitar duo, quartets for two guitars, violin and flute, violin with guitar accompaniment, experimental electronics and synthesizers all come together for this incredible night of music and text. Come enjoy refreshments in the atrium, where there will be “flash poets” at typewriters writing upon any given theme in the opening exhibit while Christopher Royal King gives a moving and hypnotic electronic performance based on Steve Reich’s “piano phase”. I hope to see you there!

Thomas Echols on "narratives"

Thomas EcholsOur literature-inspired summer series, narratives, explores the themes of beginning, middle, and end through three unique concert events taking place the evenings of June 25, July 9, and July 30 at the Blanton Museum Auditorium. We’ve asked Guest Artistic Director Thomas Echols to share some insights about his inspiration and vision.


Music is all around us and is present in all world cultures, yet it seems such a strange means of conveyance. How is it that something can be so meaningful and yet be so elusive at the same time? What is it that speaks in sound without speech?

There is this mystery in musical utterance. There is an otherness and a familiarity all at once. There is something at once universal and intimately personal. And there are narratives that unfold as we follow organized sound through time.

When Matthew Hinsley and Austin Classical Guitar asked me to direct this summer’s concert series, my mind exploded with possibilities. In the conversations that followed, it quickly became evident that we were conceiving something so rich in reference, solely through the performance itself, that there would be no need for program notes, a preconcert lecture, or other such devices. We hope to make something experiential; something that draws a person in – invites and emboldens a multitude of interpretations from the listener; something that revels in this truth: that everyone, regardless of how experienced they are in a particular musical tradition, hears music “correctly.”

We hope to make something that celebrates the musicality of the spoken word as well as the narrative capacity of music.

narratives is an exploration of the common ground shared between music and literature. It is also rumination on how meaning is established. narratives, an interdisciplinary forayfeaturing solo works, chamber music, literary readings, visual projections, and experimental electronic music, divides into three parts: persona [beginning], process [middle], and nocturne [end]. Each concert has its own theme that is explored through various paths, and each concert is part of a greater thematic whole. Rather than have these themes explicated in a written concert program, there will be an interconnectivity emerging from the patterns found within the concert itself. Imagine an immersion rather than an explanation.

Above all else, narratives is an exploration of this marvelous meta-language that is music.

Dr. Thomas Echols
Classical Guitarist

Thomas Echols on "persona"

persona_beginningThis Saturday evening, Austin Classical Guitar will present a concert that is a sonic contemplation of Persona: that image that a person presents to the world.

The first of three concerts loosely based around the idea of “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”, this “beginning” is an exploration of the idea of identity itself (the beginning of any narrative being the moment when a subject/character first makes it’s appearance), and, by commissioning a massive work from Joseph Williams setting the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and his heteronyms, this beginning focuses in on that more external and objectified aspect of identity that we share with the world around us.

Going a bit further into the theme and just considering musical meaning itself, part of the inspiration for this concert springs from the fact that there is this philosophical, ontological discourse that is intrinsic to much musical activity. What I mean is that music conveys in many ways, it causes many effects and impressions within the listener, and one important path of conveyance is through the composer’s technique of motivic variation. By varying a recognizable musical figure, or musical object (a little “tune”; a melodic or rhythmic fragment –sometimes called a motif), continuously throughout a composition, this musical object assumes new characteristic traits, often to the point where it is scarcely recognizable as being related to the source idea from which it came. This is achieved by changing some element(s) about the musical object while keeping other things intact (for example, changing all or some of the notes of a recognizable melodic fragment while retaining the rhythmic figure). One could liken this to the way that we, as people, change physically and psychologically from day to day, while not changing so drastically as to be unrecognizable to others and ourselves. One can also see a similarity between the musical object, with all of its subsequent transformations, and the idea of persona. Musical objects often even take on a discernable psychological profile: consider, for example, the heroic themes found within Beethoven’s third symphony.

Before Joseph’s incredible work, we will hear a series of musical preludes showcasing the considerable talents of the world-class musicians who have come together to make this concert happen. Nested within these preludes, John Aeilli will read James Agee’s “Knoxville: 1915”, which was the author’s prologue to his masterpiece A Death in the Family. Agee’s fine ear always comes through in the unmistakable musicality of his prose, and this passage gives us an exemplary prelude: a pastoral, Rockwellian scene unfolds as if all of the activity (Fathers watering their lawns, the sounds of Cicadas and Crickets, cars passing by) were so many sections of an orchestra. There is a quiet malevolent undertone that emerges as a central question inquiring as to what it means to be anything at all in this world.  John Aielli’s calm cadence will narrate over ambient accompaniment from the Line Upon Line percussion ensemble.

The experience of this concert begins from the moment you arrive at the Blanton auditorium.  Have a drink, if you wish, and enjoy an electronic ambient sound installation that will include spoken-word samples of the poems used in Joseph Williams’ newly composed work, and read yourself from the many poems reflecting upon identity and beginning that will be displayed in the atrium.

I am ridiculously excited about this concert, and I hope that this relates a bit about all of the beauty that will be happening this Saturday. I’d like to close this with a piece by Jorge Luis Borges that succinctly and evocatively details the author’s complicated relationship with his own outwardly perceived self:

Borges and I

It’s to that other one, to Borges, that things happen. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause, one could say mechanically, to gaze at a vestibule’s arch and its inner door; of Borges I receive news in the mail and I see his name in a list of professors or in some biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; the other shares these preferences, but in a vain kind of way that turns them into an actor’s attributes. It would be an exaggeration to claim that our relationship is hostile; I live, I let myself live so that Borges may write his literature, and this literature justifies me. It poses no great difficulty for me to admit that he has put together some decent passages, yet these passages cannot save me, perhaps because whatsoever is good does not belong to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition. In any case, I am destined to lose all that I am, definitively, and only fleeting moments of myself will be able to live on in the other. Little by little, I continue ceding to him everything, even though I am aware of his perverse tendency to falsify and magnify.

Spinoza understood that all things strive to persevere being; the stone wishes to be eternally a stone and the tiger a tiger. I will endure in Borges, not in myself (if it is that I am someone), but I recognise myself less in his books than in those of many others, or in the well-worn strum of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him by moving on from the mythologies of the slums to games with time and infinity, but those games are now Borges’ and I will have to conceive of other things. Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.

I do not know which of the two is writing this piece.