Mike Olson

Mike Olson: Incidental

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Artist: Mike Olson

Artist: Mike Olson
Title: Incidental

Notes from Mike Olson, the composer. Musicans: Ruth MacKenzie Voice Gary Schulte Violin Christian Zamora Violin Michelle Kinney Cello Jacqueline Ultan Cello Anthony Cox Electric and Acoustic Basses Tome Kehoe Flutes David Edminster Bassoon and Tenor Sax John Devine Soprano and Tenor Saxes Pat O'Keefe Alto Sax and Bass Clarinet Bill Lang Tenor Sax Jon Pemberton Trumpet Steve Sandberg Trombone Dean Granros Electric Guitar Steve Tibbetts Electric and Acoustic Guitars Heather Barringer Percussion Kevin Washington Drums Mike Olson Moog Synthesizers and Fender Rhodes Electric Piano This is a relatively large scale six-movement piece which I began working on in 2004 and finished in 2009. I named the piece 'Incidental' because it reminds me very much of incidental music - as in, music written to reinforce visual activity of one sort or another. The music sounds like action to me. As is true of all of my more recent works, this piece is constructed from thousands of small musical fragments. The fragments were performed by live musicians, recorded, edited and then loaded into a software program where I constructed the actual musical composition. Many of the fragments were subjected to extensive signal processing and other manipulations during the compositional process. There is no actual 'score' for this piece. The parts consisted of a number of verbal instructions and graphical gestures, which each of the performers had to interpret. There were also a number of traditionally notated fragments used in the string sessions. The performers were recorded individually (for the most part) without hearing each other. This gave them the freedom to create their own interpretations without being influenced by what the others had done. These fragment recording sessions yielded a large amount of musical material. This material was edited down to what became in the end a very large palette of thousands of musical fragments with which I could then begin to construct the actual finished music. The compositional style is a kind of highly linear through-composition. I'm striving to avoid self-conscious formalism in favor of following the rule of "what sounds good next". It's an attempt to capture my own instinctive improvisational impulses. It is in fact a kind of slowed down improvisation. I started by creating the opening seconds of the piece. Once I was satisfied with how that sounded, I listened for what I thought should follow immediately thereafter. Once I had that in place and I was happy with how it sounded, I listened through from the beginning and tried to feel what should come next. I tried to think in terms of, "if I were improvising, what would be the next thing that I would do," or more simply, "what sounds good next". I followed this ethos strictly all the way through the composition of the piece. Whatever structure, aesthetic unity and/or coherent linear through-line one might perceive, is simply that which came naturally by following this rule. One thing that I find particularly appealing about this method of music creation, is that it combines the elements of composition, performance and recording into one tightly integrated process. Of course, a composer generally has control over the musical materials (pitches, rhythms, dynamics, etc.), but the performance is always a bit of a wild card, and if you're fortunate enough to get a musically transcendent performance of your material, you've got to hope that you were able to get a good recording of it. With my method of composing, an excellent recording is a given, seeing as I have complete control over that. I've also found that I am able to exercise a remarkable amount of control over the performance, or what the listener would perceive as the performance. As I construct the finished piece in the computer, I essentially create a new performance as part of that same process. At that stage of construction, I am manipulating musical materials and creating a performance as one integrated process. The two are now inextricably interwoven for me. When listening to this piece, one may have the impression that they are hearing a group of musicians playing the music together in a room, live. This is not the case. The piece was created from many small fragments, which were recorded separately, and with very few exceptions, the musicians playing the fragments did so without hearing what any of the other musicians had done. By very carefully manipulating and combining these fragments in the computer, I am able to create finished pieces which often give the impression that they are being performed live by a group of musicians. This impression of 'liveness', however, is not my primary objective. All I'm trying to do is to make music that feels right to me.

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