New Music by Michael Century

New Music by Michael Century

EMPAC Studio 2

February 14, 2014 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM

The first half of this program presents the Michael Century Trio, a jazz ensemble playing Century's original compositions and featuring Mark Foster on drums and Kevin Barcomb on saxophones.   The second half presents the premiere of the "Triple Duo" for Accordion, Disklavier Piano and Electronics.


Michael Century       Triple Duo for Accordion, Piano and Electronics

Movement 1:  Within and Without  

Movement 2:  Improvisation, Verwandlung (Filmmusik)

Movement 3:  Enough/Release


 Michael Century Trio

Featuring Kevin Barcomb, Saxophones, and Mark Foster, Drums


Possible Out


New March/Canon

For Abraham

Kevin Barcomb is a member of the Refrigerators and the Empire Jazz Orchestra.  A music educator in the Brittonkill School District, he also has a private studio in Delmar.  He studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music and is a graduate of the University at Albany and the College of Saint Rose.

Mark Foster is a member of the Albany Symphony Orchestra and the Empire Jazz Orchestra, and teaches percussion at Skidmore College and the College of Saint rose.   He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and was one of the ensemble directors in Rensselaer’s 2013 production of Circadian Rhythms, by Susie Ibarra.

Program note on the “Triple Duo”

This piece comprises three kinds of “duets” for a solo musician:  in the first, for acoustic accordion processed with electronics, the electronic part functions as a virtual doppelganger, or double, imbued with a mainly imitative capacity to mirror and transform what is played by the performer.  The first movement, Within and Without, uses the rich expressive control of the accordion to “drive” a music of rhythmic pulsation. The piece is in a popular idiom, and its title refers to the George Harrison song Within You and Without You, which provides some of the melodic motifs. The electronic modules are the classic filters and samplers that have been around since analogue days, and the central instrumental technique used in the piece is the tremolando effect — shaking the accordion in fast rhythmic repetition — usually synced tightly with the electronic pulsation. The second movement, for Yamaha Disklavier piano, plots a path of interaction between musician and computer, beginning again with the computer as doppelganger but ending as a golem, or deranged automaton. Poetically, it dramatizes a human confrontation with a progressively autonomous machine. The computer solo is combinatorial, based initially on what has been played into its memory.   The combinatoriality is programmed with many changing variables, creating a complexity that approaches a genuine creative personality. The voice of the golem, who according to the Kabbala could be created by re-combining the letters of the names of God in a mystical sequence, reaches a high level of intensity, at which point it begins to channel the music of a great composer of the past century, Alban Berg.  Picking up hints from what the pianist has played into it, the computer “recollects” and then plays a stuttering reconstruction of the film interlude of Berg’s opera Lulu, and this signals the transition into the final movement. This movement begins with the digital accordion facing off against the rampaging player piano.  The digital accordion has a computer interface and generates all its sounds electronically.   The movement of the bellows provides the initial information that begins to “tame” the mechanical piano.  Other information conveyed from the digital accordion includes a “pitch sieve,” which filters the atonal pitch/harmonic patterns of the player piano into harmonious chord progressions.  These chord sequences serve as template over which the accordionist adds improvised melodies, with the player piano providing embellishments and ornamentation, and some surprises.  The movement ends with, and the whole piece culminates in a calm and meditative resolution, poetically conveying a trajectory of human-machine interactions ranging from reflection to conflict to reconciliation.  

Besides the music of Berg and Harrison, the piece references and samples from the Lutheran chorale, “Es ist genug”, which itself had been by incorporated in Bach’s arrangement by Berg into another composition from the same time as Lulu.   “It is enough; Lord, when it is pleasing to You, then grant me release”.    Verwandlung means change of scene in the theater, but also conversion, transformation, or metamorphosis.   Philosopher and musicologist Theodor W. Adorno, a composition pupil of Alban Berg, wrote that Berg was the master of the “smallest link”, particularly partial to palindromes and an “anti-time” view of life. 


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