Friday, June 29, 2012

Guest Post: In C, The Gospel According to Dylan Mattingly

You simply have to relax and trust in that flow, let the music fill you and believe that it will take you places.  Because it will.

Post by Dylan Mattingly
The thing about In C that is so incredible to me is that it is completely radically different every time it's played.  In C is a byproduct of its performers and location to the extreme.  The performers have control over how many repetitions they give each cell (little chunk of repeated music), they have control over how loud, how soft, what octave, how slow/fast, and yes, how harshly/smoothly they play.

I hadn't personally listened to the original recording in a long time, and I had forgotten how driving and indeed piercing it begins.  But then once you get to 3 minutes and 45 seconds in, that all changes.

To me, the trick to listening to something like In C, or really anything long, is to be able to give yourself over to the music in an uncomfortably complete way. It can be very difficult to trust journey-music, particularly if you don't like the beginning, or if you are already dubious of the composer for whatever reason, etc.  But often that sense of trust is crucial.

Of course, I can tell you now that that trust will pay off in a piece like In C, and still you might be dubious (and perhaps justly so, it's a big undertaking, often over an hour!), and I certainly understand the unwillingness to give oneself over to an hour of their life that might end up not being worthwhile!  Certainly if there is no track record, no friend to tell you to hold on, then what do you have to pull you through?  Sometimes with new music, therefore, it takes a true explorer (looking at you, Sue).

But my experience is that the moment you find yourself wishing for something different, anything different ("change already!" is the typical line in minimalism), you've missed out.

With In C, the first great joy is the incredible change that occurs over the course of the piece.  Just what I mentioned above, going from that harsh mechanical to such a broad, grand arrival just before the 4 minute mark I find fairly shocking.  And then there's the fact that despite the piece's title, the entire thing is not actually in C . . .  It travels across e minor, G major, even arguably ends in g minor.  One of the repeated "phrases" is just an F#!

But the other great thing about In C, which doesn't come across as much in the recording is this fact that it is NEVER an untimely piece of music when performed live.  Whether it's the conscious understanding of an audience by the performers or more likely the minute unfathomable bits of chaos that shape intuition, In C is a giant effervescent ceremony when performed live, the combination of the desires of everybody participating (audience and performers) into something that is always a very direct reflection of its time and place.

Thus the difference in any two performances is extraordinary!  (This is the reason that Contemporaneous performs In C twice a year, in a different location every time.)

Have a look at a couple different performances on YouTube to see what I mean:

This one is played by an orchestra (did I mention the amount and type of instruments are completely left up to the performers . . .?), and I SWEAR this could have been written by Wagner:

Here's Contemporaneous' performance in the local punk-rock venue at Bard College (by the way, if you have perfect pitch you might notice that this section of the piece is clearly in G!):

Here's a version of In C at Le Poisson Rouge, NYC's hip new music/indie-rock night club.  Tell me this doesn't sounds like house music?!

Here's an interesting one, for four acoustic guitars.  Man is this one relaxed (this won't be "hurting anyone's ears"!):

The thing is, In C is so incredibly fabricated, these little "cells" are so well put together, that the piece ALWAYS works.  And not only does it work, but allows people to express themselves, their position, their place, and a beautiful framework, and a perfect arc.  The simplicity of the piece is groundbreaking, but what is really incredible about it to me, is that it gives a voice to so much, time and again.  Perhaps that is because of the simplicity of its elements, perhaps because it is simply in C (even if it's not quite).  To see it or play it live is an unforgettable group experience, even religious.

When talking about how to listen to minimalism, I like to mention Alex Ross' description of listening to Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, one of the other great masterworks of the genre.  He says that listening to Music for 18 Musicians is like listening to a river flow.  To me this is the perfect analogy. You can't follow each drop of water, and despite how it might seem the river is never the same.  You simply have to relax and trust in that flow, let the music fill you and believe that it will take you places.  Because it will.

David Bloom, Finnegan Shanahan & Dylan Mattingly at Indeterminate Meltdown:  In C Jam

Postscript:  Dylan Mattingly originally offered this piece as a comment to Prufrock’s post on In C (the original version of In C about which he writes can be found by clicking here).  Grateful thanks to Dylan for allowing me to post this as a guest post.  For more about Dylan Mattingly, click here.  For more about Contemporaneous, click here.

Further Postscript:  As George Wallace noted in his comment to my original post about In C, here is a choral version of In C by Ars Nova Copenhagen (for more on Ars Nova Copenhagen, click here):

Another just in from George Wallace:  In C by The Gertrudes:

Credits:  The image at the head of the post is of the score for In C, which can be found in its entirety, including performing directions, here.  The photograph of Bloom, Shanahan, and Mattingly can be found here.


Andrew said...

Hi Susan I still pop by now and again. I hope all is well.
Hugs Drew xx

George Wallace said...

Thank you, Dylan, for your composer/player's perspective on In C. I'd never heard that force-of-nature CalArts giant-orchestra version: fearsome.

Susan: Thanks for your link. I wrote another, slightly longer, In C appreciation in 2009, in connection with the piece's 45th anniversary year. It is here, and includes video of an eccentric 55 minute version - with banjos and accordions. In C handily withstands even that.

klahanie said...

Hi Susan,
Another detailed and informative posting. And Dylan Mattingly expresses the flow and the journey that music can take you, so passionately.
I have had a listen to the music selection on offer and it has taken me on a wondrous journey.
I "C" what you mean :)
All the best to you,

Suze said...


As an artist, I have always believed that the work is completed not on creation, but on reception. That, in fact, all works of art are instances of co-creation as out of the experience of each recipient emerges a singular creature. This post embodies that philosophy so beautifully -- I'm all excited, now!

Thank you, Sue, for hosting Dylan. I was also gratified to 'hear' him call you by the nick I cherish for you in my own heart, intrepid explorer. I know you go by that with friends. Happy to count myself among them. Lovely, lovely post. So much beauty and adventure in the world!

Dixie said...

I suspect 'In C' will be 'in me' forever. Just give me a tape recorder and I'll make different musical instrument sounds, with my mouth; move over 'In C-ers'.

Not all of the videos played loud enough for me; it's an age or ear thing! However, of the ones I did hear I have my favorites; four to be exact.

The 124 musicians was lovely and a real surprise after.
The Contemporaneous video was definitely a modern punk rock and those kids were really into playing.
NYC made me think of old 'ragtime'. Seemed to fit in with the decor!
Lastly, the Choral version was my absolute favorite. Maybe I connect more with singers than musicians. I've sung in competitive choirs and ensembles, but never played an instrument.
Lots of fun here!

Mark Kerstetter said...

Dylan, thank you for taking me inside this piece of music. I didn't know how much control for the performers was written into the piece, and the array of interpretations here is exciting (gotta say on a first listen I'm really drawn to the Le poisson Rouge Club performance - cool combination of great performers). And by the way, thanks to Sue I'm becoming a fan of your music. Your passion is inspiring.

I think your advice on how to approach listening to long pieces of music can be applied to approaching any kind of new art. You just fall into it and let it speak to you. Look too hard the first time (maybe even the second and third) and you miss it. Deep listening comes later.

Thank you - your 'Atlas of Somewhere' is really inspiring.

Susan Scheid said...

Andrew: Thanks for stopping by, as always.

George: Thanks for The Gertrudes—not to mention all else. As you can see, it's been added to the post.

Gary: I "C" you back—I love that. Glad you enjoyed the post!

Suze: It is magnificent, isn't it? As for your “So much beauty and adventure in the world!” Agreed, agreed!

Dixie: I love your list! The choral version, by the way, is by the magnificent ensemble Ars Nova Copenhagen, about which you can read more here.

Mark: Beautiful addendum to Dylan's post in your statement: "You just fall into it and let it speak to you. Look too hard the first time (maybe even the second and third) and you miss it. Deep listening comes later." That NYC performance, by the way, is by the fantastic GVSU New Music Ensemble. More about their In C Remixed Project, of which the NYC performance was a part, can be found here. I've just started in on a listen to this myself and am finding it fascinating. (A beauty by Zoë Keating there, among remixes by many other notable new music folks.)

To all: I was absolutely thrilled to receive Dylan’s comment, and I’m pleased and proud to be able to share it with you all as a proper post. I've learned more about In C in reading this post (which I previously appreciated mostly for its historical importance), than I would have had I taken a graduate course seminar on the subject—and it was a lot more fun, to boot. Thank you so much, Dylan, for this trenchant and effervescent commentary on In C!

Dixie said...

Thank you so much for the link! Something new and exciting, this way comes(smile). ~Dixie

Mark Kerstetter said...

Thanks a lot for that link. This ensemble looks really exciting and I couldn't help but notice Riley himself thinks it one of the best in C performances ever.

Scott said...

It's pretty cool how the piece avails itself to different interpretation and expression. Seems pretty open minded. Kind of generous in a way. A gift to run with. I liked the versions at Bard and The Rouge. I can't help thinking where Charlie Parker or Hendrix would go with this. Not saying "change already", just wondering. For it seems a virtuoso's virtuoso. Kind of. "A reflection of time and place" I really like that. An installation of music.
Your attitude and passion is admirable. It's nice to see people going for it in whatever they do. I'm glad your making music and are friends with Sue.

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