You can now hear a demo recording from the Five Drawings by Joseph E Yoakum project. The second drawing, "Mt Huron Range Near Marquette Michigan," is now streaming here. The other four drawings are on their way.
Certain musicians don't seem to be a person playing music, but to actually be music themselves. When I heard Paul Motian had passed away I went not to his classic recordings with the Bill Evans Trio, but to the trio album Storyteller (2004) with Marilyn Crispell and Mark Helias, and Motian's tune "Flight of the Bluejay." His drums speak a language of their own on that record, speak to something so ineffable and deep. Outside form, outside rhythm, outside expectation. When Motian struck that ride cymbal it wasn't about jazz, or even music; it was enormous and yet self-contained, expansive and yet utterly simple.
Motian was a musician who embodied authority as much as he did mystery and ambiguity. And a little mystery is a powerful, powerful thing.
No time for philosophizing or polemicizing of late; I'm hard at work on a couple big musical projects. For some time I've been wanting to write music based on the landscape drawings of outsider artist Joseph E Yoakum. As a young man, Yoakum ran away to travel widely with the circus. Late in his life he began drawing to chronicle those travels, though it was increasingly questionable to what extent his memories were based on reality. I chose five drawings to work with, increasingly fanciful in their style and conception. I've sketched out all five, and for right now I'm polishing up just one of them to make an initial recording. It's the second piece, "Mt. Huron Range Near Marquette Michigan."
The music falls somewhere in the vicinity of Castle Rooms and Landscapes and the chamber pieces I wrote in Banff. John Fahey fingerpicking and freakout slide mandolin will coexist with mystic piano chords, harmonium, violin, viola.
Another Golconda record is also in the works. It's become a familiar pattern for me to head out west someplace, get away from the piano and my normal life-patterns, find myself writing boatloads of songs, and then get back to the Midwest and get distracted with other pursuits before I bother playing them for anyone. I wrote eight songs in New Mexico over the summer and plan to record them in December/January. Expect tarot references, desert thoughts, tuning forks, and an old Stella guitar.
Besides that it's all falling leaves and War and Peace these days. (Believe the hype. The book is long.) Slonimsky's Thesaurus and the WTC are both sitting on my piano right now. E Major Book 1, friends and neighbors. Sit down and play through that Prelude and check out those cadences.
Recordings when I've got 'em... for now, I'll sign off with this:
Issue 17 of Memorious literary journal is now live over at their website memorious.org. The Accounts is featured, with Katie Peterson's poem and the full recording of my setting. Also, a composer's note on the piece, which in typical Gullickson fashion cites a trip to an isolated canyon as one of the piece's primary influences. I was serious about the paper-sack map. It's on my wall.
This project was a blessing. I'm grateful to Katie Peterson for her beautiful poem, to Rebecca Morgan Frank for her work with Memorious, and of course to Eric Malmquist for his efforts to mount the concert, find players, organize, and publicize, not to mention including me in the project to begin with.
I was so fortunate to perform the piece with a number of old and new friends. Angela Tomasino stepped in to sing the vulnerable vocal lines with spot-on color and control. (She was Angela Latkowski for the concert, which fell on the weekend before her wedding!) Eric Malmquist and Brian Baxter, favorite and familiar cohorts, came out of semi-retirement to play bass and percussion respectively. Our violist is another IWU comrade, Ben Weber. The horn players for movements 3 and 5 are Frank Harriman and Ania Kucia.
Memorious deserves special props for naming their journal after the gorgeous Borges story "Funes The Memorious":
"A circle drawn on a blackboard, a right triangle, a lozenge--all these are forms we can fully and intuitively grasp; Ireneo could do the same with the stormy mane of a pony, with a herd of cattle on a hill, with the changing fire and its innumberable ashes, with the many faces of a dead man throughout a long wake. I don't know how many stars he could see in the sky."
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts