FULL MOON FROG POND is my first non-canine album release, produced under the nom de musique Gregory Rosa. It's an EP—two songs, twelve minutes total, plus the bonus track—and is reflective of the New Music composition creative tributary that I opened up and embarked upon in earnest in 2007.
I took a formal class in composition from my friend Victor Spiegel, with whom I also share a canine connection. He studied at Mills College in Oakland with Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, James Tenney, that whole wonderful New Music crew. Victor has had an astonishingly prolific career; I sprained my thumb scrolling down his website CV. I washed out pretty quick, lasted exactly one class with Victor. But he did give me a gem: play a C and C# together, which I did, on a few sounds I had designed, and a whole new portal of sound and sound collage washed into my ears.
"Prelude to a Frog Pond" is a processed guitar piece of harmonic overtones, inspired by the work of composer Pauline Oliveros, creator and executive director of the Deep Listening Institute. I designed a program so that the sound that I was playing on my guitar would be significantly delayed before it came back to my headphones; so, you make decisions for the future with what you're playing in the now. And it doesn't take long before the whole soundscape is awash in overlapping resonance and delays, not unlike throwing a couple of rocks in a pond and how the ripples collide and form entirely new patterns.
The general idea is that you can hear what all the notes in a harmonic overtone sequence sound like when they're all heard at once, like a big fat Steve Roach clang, or the visual equivalent in which a Picasso cubist portrait captures various possible angles and views of someone's face.
The main track, "Spirit in the Night," is a contemplative, Morton Feldman-esque soft piano work, with a shimmering, ethereal guitar sound rising out of the calling frog mix, like the rippling reflection of the moon on water. I layered the main sound using a field recording I made of Pacific Tree Frogs at Jericho Park in Vancouver on a full moon springtime night. The piano was recorded in true Aleatoric fashion, where the notes and their placement in time were left to a carefully crafted set of rules of chance.
There's also a hidden bonus track on the album, "Mating Call," an improvisational sound I created when I first came home after recording the frogs. The boys in marketing tell me frog sex sells, so there you have it. I remember watching my hands when I was recording this (the whole everything is just one take) and thinking: What the hell is going on here? Are there some kind of archetypical frogs using me, using my hands, so they could communicate to each other through the circuitry of the recording studio software? Sure does sound like it.
I had been recording and studying composition for two years, and then I had the good fortune to be introduced to Randy Raine-Reusch, an internationally-renowned composer, concert-artist, improviser, writer, producer, instrument collector, and musical organologist. Randy was kind enough to give me a guided performance tour of his world music instrument collection (including a Tibetan kangling, a trumpet made from a human thigh bone) and he turned me on to the concept of graphic notation—a way of visually composing music, instead of using notes on rigid lines and bars. My work took off from that moment forward.
I then took a class in graphic musical notation with the great Giorgio Magnanensi, Artistic Director of Vancouver New Music. A group of us created a graphic score and then "played" it back for the other groups. I got to see Giorgio in action a couple of times, in concerts he conducted at a local college, in a series of marble hallways and gigantic open spaces, including one concert with a gathering of nothing but about a dozen theremin players. (And who says nothing interesting ever happens in Vancouver?)
One of the more physically expressive conductors, Magnanensi does not use a baton, so both hands can therefore circle, slice, jiggle, and otherwise sculpt the music into shape. Often his entire upper body surges and flutters in exquisite harmony with the sound. Musicworks, Issue 117
The highlight of my visit with Randy came when an explosive peal of thunder ripped through the cool rainy autumn sky, virtually out of nowhere, while we were discussing the work of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. I immediately corrected my opinion, which I had just the moment before been expressing, regarding the difficulty I had appreciating Takemitsu's more challenging works, and promised the Japanese thunder god Raijin that I would give the entirety of my Takemitsu-san album collection a good re-listen once I returned home.