Spaced Out with Henry Brant

Spaced Out with Henry Brant

HENRY BRANT: Do you want me to indicate the space of arrangements for Ice Field?


HENRY BRANT: It’s a 20-minute piece for symphony orchestra and it has a pipe organ part played by me and improvised along certain carefully designed lines. Now let’s say we’re in the audience facing the stage and that end of the room is the stage (indicating opposite end of the room). So here’s the conductor (walking forward) with a stage where the symphony usually is arranged and the strings are all there just as they usually are. Over here (walking to back stage right) two pianos and next to them two harps and the timpani player, that’s a section. It’s not very far away from the strings. This kind of a separation I usually don’t take seriously but the music that they play is not going to be confused with what the strings play if I’m very careful with that. Alright, now the choir loft is around the symphony at that level and over here (indicates upper stage left) are the double reeds—the three oboes and the three bassoons—but against the wall behind the choir loft are the organ pipes so these double reeds will sound like a sort of nasal more human extension of the pipe organ and they did. All this happened as it was supposed to. All right. Now I’m the conductor facing the audience and in the second balcony up there and over here (indicates balcony, audience right) three piccolos and tree high clarinets, so that’s that sound isolated there. And on this corner here (indicates balcony, audience left) xylophone and glockenspiel. Now go back to the stage. Along this wall (indicates floor, audience right) in the audience—this had to be based on what Davies Hall in San Francisco could do and it’s a hall that has been rebuilt completely because the acoustics weren’t satisfactory—there are boxes right above the audience seating level. So about half way back low-pitched percussion instruments and here my wish to use families of instruments instead of just one of each were carried out. There were three orchestra bass drums in one box so you can get a sort of rudimentary melody and behind them but still not all the way to the back in another box, Caribbean steel drums which I use frequently. They’re excellent, but only the biggest size the big oil drum size and they have pitches lower than the timpani but real pitches and I have four pitches in those instruments. Then three Chinese gongs, big gongs… So I’ll see three bass drums, three Chinese gongs, and three of the lowest pitched steel drums. Sometimes the boss conductor, the principal conductor, has to turn around and cue these people up here (indicates balcony, audience right) and here (indicates balcony, audience left) and down there and one of the devices that I’ve used which I think is worth mentioning is non-coordinated rhythm. I realized very early if you try to coordinate in the same rhythm, in the same tempo, in the same beat, people who are all over the room will never get it. They can’t hear each other. They can’t keep together. So all I ask is that each group keep together with itself, though each group may be cued in sometime by the conductor. Well, it’s written in such a way that he’s doing something over here and he can turn around. It’s written so that this is possible (demonstrates). So everything is there except the second balcony and in this corner (indicates balcony, audience left) so that’s halfway here. And in this corner are the brass section with a few extras, 12 players and a jazz drummer, and a separate conductor and they play my idea of jazz which has no conventional jazz harmony but a lot of strange discordant polyphony in it. And now the organ pipes are up there but I have the console here (indicates stage right) so that I can see the principal conductor easily and he can cue me and also signal me in various different ways. The sound, of course, came from up there. So what have I got? I’ve got strings, double woodwinds, pipe organ, and this pipe organ has a thirty-two foot stop which means it has pipes thirty-two feet long and I used those without anything else very often. They create a sound that usually isn’t heard in the concert hall. I was told they had a 64-foot stop and I thought, 64 feet, that’s the height of a five-story building or something like that. They didn’t have anything of the kind. They simulated the sound with a mixture of other pipes and it wasn’t the real thing at all and just didn’t use it. Someday I’ll get 64 ft. I understand that they have such things. So that’s it. It’s my only piece for this combination.

FRANK J. OTERI: Wow, thank you. I wish we had the orchestra in here to hear it!

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