Actual W

This piece was created out of preexisting musical fragments on a computer using digital audio editing techniques in 2002. It is the first piece created using this compositional technique and it represented a major new direction in my work. I had thought about doing something like this for about three years, and was excited about the musical possibilities, but there was something about it that made me very uncomfortable. This was probably due to my training and a set of comfortable habits, which I had fallen into over the years. I had always been taught to avoid using repeat signs, let alone employing actual loops. And the idea of in any way tampering with another person’s music just set my teeth on edge. However I eventually became convinced that I could create music out of other people’s music that would be truly “new”. I was convinced of this intellectually, but the very idea of doing it still made be feel strangely uncomfortable.

It was a true personal artistic breakthrough for me to compose this piece, because I literally broke through the psychological and emotional barriers, which had been preventing me from pursuing this strong artistic impulse. 

The piece opens with a fragment taken from the Herbie Hancock piece “Actual Proof”. (This accounts for the use of the word “actual” in my title.) Over the previous six months or a year, as I had been considering writing the piece, this groove from Actual Proof was something I had been thinking would be great to work with. I started out by recording a section of the groove into the computer. I then started cutting it up into small fragments and assembling them together to form what you hear at the beginning of the piece. 

As this fragmented drum and bass material is playing, you can hear a second layer of sound fading in. It is a relatively long sample of chanting Tibetan monks, being processed through a ring modulator. Gradually, multiple tracks of this material are introduced as separate layers.

Eventually, I allow the complete original drum and bass pattern to play through unedited and start repeating it as a loop. Once the whole pattern is playing, a Clavinet can be heard playing toward the end of each loop. I then start working with a second layer of very similar material consisting of the same groove sampled from a little way further into the original piece. Sometimes I have the two groove samples playing together and sometimes they’re offset in various ways. This is particularly apparent in the Clavinet part. 

Next, two solo Free Jazz-like saxophone comes in, which eventually build up into multiple layers and a big drum hit that cuts off the groove while the saxes continue to another hit where the groove resumes.

At this point where the groove comes back in, I insert another short guitar fragment at the front of the loop as an additional layer.

Once the groove has been reestablished, a new section starts consisting of layers of George W. Bush speech and press conference excerpts. (This accounts for the “W” in the title of my piece.) The relative density of voice material gradually builds up to a point where the groove starts to cut in and out and undergoes some new fragmentational editing. Once this reaches it’s peak, there is a hit followed by the groove reestablishing itself and the voice material becoming much less dense. All through this voice section, the monks have been fading out to silence. 

At the end of the voice material, there is an abrupt jump to a very short section of highly frenetic Jazz-like material, which is layered against and then followed by a complete statement of the four bar sample from which the guitar fragment had been extracted.

We then return to our original Actual Proof loop with the additional guitar fragment added. This loop now begins to fade out very gradually and the monks begin a very slow fade back in. At the same time, we hear a Soviet Georgian folk song start in, which also very gradually fades out. Interestingly, we are hearing the first verse of the song in one channel and the second verse in the other simultaneously, creating a random duet. This works well because the folksong is essentially solo voice and is very slow and nonrhythmic.

On top of all this we also begin to hear two Algerian folksongs in fragments. One is sung by a woman and the other by a man. The woman comes in first, positioned centrally in the stereo field. She gradually starts to pan to one side while the male comes in and pans the other way. All the while they are both gradually fading out. They basically cross-fade into a sample of Moroccan women chanting along with some drums. George Bush reenters, “chanting” along with them.

The chanting stops abruptly with new drum and bass hit, (this one from the Beastie Boys). Note that the Tibetan monk chanting, which is very nonrhythmic in it’s highly processed form, continues.

Now over this slowly fading out, sustained bed of electronic monks, there is a short section of highly edited material comprised of more George Bush and Beastie Boys fragments. While this is going on, urban ambience starts to fade in. (That’s ambience as in the sound, not the electronic dance music subgenre.) 

After George Bush's final words, “I don’t know”, a group of Moroccan double reed instrument plays come in. They slowly fade out along with the urban ambience as a helicopter comes in. It passes from right to left and supplants the urban ambience with swamp ambience. 

The helicopter fades away to the left leaving only the swamp and a slowly fading in sample of highly processed Pauline Oliveros. This is a long sustained sound made up mostly of singing, but it’s hard to tell because it is so processed. 

There is a sound of distant thunder, which transitions us from the swamp to an open field. This countryside open field ambience along with the processed Oliveros, then very (and I mean very) gradually fade off to silence to end the piece.