How did 'Blueprints & Vignettes' come to be? What was the original concept? How did it evolve?
There were a few catalysts for the record. The first was coming across set theory in David Cope’s Techniques of the Contemporary Composer and starting to play around with those sounds. In pitch-class sets I found a systematic way of investigating some ideas I’d discovered playing jazz & standard repertoire – approaches to harmonising V7 chords, for example (say using a maj7(b9) as a substitute for a regular dominant) or basing melodic lines on small cells of notes. I’m fascinated by harmonic colour, so the last couple of years of have definitely been a kid-in-a-candy-shop period.
The second stimulus was hearing people like Matt Mitchell (on Fiction and Vista Accumulation), Marc Hannaford (Can You See With Two Sets of Eyes), Kris Davis (Waiting for You to Grow), Tyshawn Sorey (Oblique-1) and Scott Tinkler using pitch-set-like material in really broad and interesting ways - Blueprints & Vignettes is very much a reflection of their influence.
How did you work on it?
I set out to explore the full spectrum of tone colours that could be derived from each individual set, and covered most of the possible unique intervallic groupings of 4 or 5 notes. Most of the pieces on Blueprints & Vignettes are the product of inversions and transpositions of different collections of ‘seed’ sets - in each case around 5-9 members. I discovered that each individual set could be arranged (both vertically and horizontally) to produce a more or less dissonant tonality; each set contained a spectrum between (to my ears) structural stability and volatility. It was interesting how much just swapping the top and bottom or internal notes of a voicing, or expanding or contracting the range of a melodic line could change its character.
There’s also plenty of space for open-ended/free improv on the record, in most cases based on and expanding the themes of the compositions.
When I first listened to the album the first thing that impressed me was its pace and its use of space, both in arrangements and in the compositions themselves; how would you describe your approach to both elements? What was/is your aim?
Pieces like Primed do have very systematic approaches to space – Part 2 is all formed around chord durations based on prime numbers, which contrasts with the soundscape-y/toy-instrument/extended-techniques free improv underneath the rubato melodic line in Part 1. I also wanted to juxtapose different types of musical activity - Mammoth ambles between sections of density and spaciousness, with each section being a different permutation of the material in the first few bars of the piece. The opening of Grind uses a cycling series of semi-quaver durations which gradually shifts through modes of itself, and the solo section is based on the same structure instead with longer durations. In #34 we freely morph the various themes of the head into a sort of collectively emerging hodgepodge. Ultimately my aim was to investigate the type of rule-based composition strategies that were pretty new to me at the start of the project, while allowing plenty of space for the guys to do their thing bring it all to life.
How did you choose the musicians you worked with? What did each bring to the project? What are you looking for, in terms of musicianship?
Dave Goodman, Max Alduca and I started playing together as a trio a couple of years ago and quickly discovered this really intuitive and empathetic way of navigating free improv. Jeremy Rose and I had been playing some duo for a while, and with both his vast knowledge as a composer and his beautiful sound on the bass clari was the obvious choice to round off the quartet. They’re also top blokes!
The guys really got stuck in, and were amiable the whole way through to my relatively frequent edits and additions…I also didn’t write any drum-specific parts, so Dave pretty much just memorised all the material – no mean feat! The whole thing was an interesting process, in the sense that the compositions were very much open to revision after playing them through as a band; sections would stick out as being too formulaic or having an awkward flow, notation may have to be clarified rhythmically for ease of reading, or melodies were added to act as holding patterns as transitions from free improv back into the composition to minimise ambiguity/etc. I even rewrote/added a few things in between the recording and the release.
Everyone put a lot of time into the project, and there’s no way I could have realised it without the guys’ dedication, musicality and mateship.
How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?
One foot in the jazz tradition & one foot in contemporary classical music – a board canvas traversing between schematics and watercolours.
Who is your ideal listener?
Interesting question…anyone who comes to the gig? Haha. Really anyone prepared to turn up with an open mind and open ears.
If 'Blueprints & Vignettes' was the soundtrack for a movie, what kind of movie would that be?
Oh man, that’s a hard one – zero idea on any sort of narrative. I can picture a static image though – the music is hugely influenced by Kandinsky’s paintings, particularly pieces like Composition VIII with its juxtaposing of circles and sharp lines – and those colours!