The Game Changers #9. Met een portret van componist, instrumentalist en neologist Bil Smith.
Bil Smith’s work has been programmed by leading contemporary music ensembles and his scores have been published and exhibited in art galleries throughout the world.
Bil’s compositions have been performed by specialist ensembles and soloists including members of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, The Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, St. Petersberg Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyushu Symphony Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Schoenberg Ensemble Amsterdam, Ensemble Gelade, Qingdao Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, and Oslo Sinfonietta.
Early in his career as a jazz trumpeter, he performed with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Anthony Braxton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Gary Burton, Steve Lacy, Lester Bowie, Kevin Eubanks, Quincy Jones, Max Roach and Michael Gibbs.
As a Neologist, Smith founded Addison Whitney, a consultancy dedicated to creating brand identities for global companies and organizations. Deeply rooted in the etymology and linguistic foundations of words, Smith created a dynamic new system of word generation, which led to the creation of the brands Viagra (Pfizer), Outlook (Microsoft), Escalade (Cadillac), Xbox (Microsoft), Lexapro (Forest Labs), Element (Honda), Advair (GSK) and Access (Microsoft). He has been responsible for the creation of more than 1100 brand names globally since 1991.
He identifies himself as an interdisiplinarian composer, incorporating combinatorial techniques including neologisms, prose, painting, sculpture, drawing and combustion, as well as traditional elements of music composition to his work.
Smith received a Bachelor of Music from Berklee College of Music (1979) and a Master of Music from Colorado State University (1980). He has studied additionally in masterclass and lesson settings with such composers as Brian Ferneyhough, Pierluigi Billone, Chaya Czernowin, Georges Aperghis, Horatiu Radulescu, Wolfgang Rihm, Hildegard Westerkamp, Jennifer Walshe, Mathias Spahlinger, and Liza Lim.
Bil has attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Berklee College of Music, McGill University Schulich School of Music, Oberlin College and Harvard Summer Composition Collegium.
Bil is a Founding Composer at Laboratorie New Music (http://www.laboratorienewmusic.com), a global consortium of like-minded composers and performers defining a “Blue Ocean” approach to a radically disruptive medium of musical development and interpretation. Bil’s website: http://www.bilsmith.com
1. Pharoah Flypole – by Bil Smith
Pharoah Flypole is an exploration of the extended sound world in which the ideated electronic instrument dwells. The two most evident features of the composition are: the tutti, and the avoidance almost completely of the use of pitched material.
My use of approximate notation in highly dense and rhythmical settings further allows for an erratic sound-quality when performed, which not only helps alter the instrument output, but also obliterates the clean, well phrased and ‘well behaved’ performance.
The ideated instruments are organized around a physical model of an 8 stringed instrument capable of producing a huge amount of distortion and internal feedback. This instrument responds to the material played by the virtual performer/percussionist, attempting to track the pitch of these sometimes “unpitched” instruments as best it can.
2. Maggie Cafferty – by Bil Smith
Maggie Cafferty is a modular piece in the true sense of the word. First, it can be performed by any number, or on any combination of electronic instruments. Second, it is a game-piece allowing for true performer participation and real-time decision-making, yet maintains the same strict structure and musical content on any performance.
The game consists of two contrasting materials – one constant and subdued, the second short and aggressive, which is activated by the blinking of an unknowing audience. Combine the latter with a static ostinato part that dictates the time-line and density of playing, and you have an exercise in quantitative perspectivism.
3. Monty Hopeladen – by Bil Smith
This piece is an intersection of two existing works: Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata, Opus 28, and Nikki Gruber’s (Laboratorie New Music) String Quintet. These works are linked by a single stylistic factor, which takes on different meanings according to the aesthetic projects associated with them.
In the case of the Pastoral Sonata, the characteristic repeated pedal tone of the first movement may be interpreted as evoking a seemingly unchanging landscape in which nuances come to the fore over time; over the course of the movement, this material takes on other attributes as repetition becomes a motivic element in itself.
The Gruber Quintet features obstinate, steadily repeated notes which create an effect of a certain unease when they appear for the first time in Movement I. These repetitions also evolve into related materials over the course of the quintet, such as long-held notes and trills, and a reduction of the musical language to a few simple repeated figures in its ending.
These repeated notes may be seen as creating a sense of stark inevitability, especially in the repetitions of the first movement, which give way to a certain assuagement, or a tenderness of memory perhaps, in the closing figures of the last movement.
4. Elizabeth DeFeele – by Bil Smith
Elizabeth DeFelle was invented by Richard Sonnette, in the attempt to describe a reality which, by hiding, shows something more of itself: the poet typically evokes the experience of a perception, or rather the memory of a perception, but as little and vague as possible, almost a ghostly apparition of a promiscuous woman.
In Elizabeth, her memory floats from places to sensations, from human figures to mere ghosts, yet never really stating, or completely depicting reality. I was then fascinated by Sonnette’s work so deeply that I decided to cover his works more thoroughly, to the point of starting a full cycle of works, this short piece representing the first piece.
In fact, I found in many different works this very same fascinating description of reality, and the poems I picked for this piece, represent a very good example. Everything, from voice, to dynamics, to timber, is just mentioned, just lightly (or just a little more evidently) touched, but never “stated” with violence.
As much as Sonnette is always proposing himself, and his poetry. With an appealing delicacy, but never omitting the essence of things.
5. Dom Ruecadence – by Bil Smith
In my recent music I have been fascinated by simple, clear and immediate musical objects put in peculiar contexts. “Detuned” harmonies, timbrical elaborations and formal recurrences are only some of the elements and tools I am using to vehicle this attempt and captivate, ideally, the listeners’ attention and concentration.
In the further exploration of this perceptive (and compositional) dimension, Dom Ruecadence is a study on movement and contours. I thought of different pictures, sound images and lines, all of them characterized by some undefined or unrefined characteristic.
6. Shiloh Nevershade – by Bil Smith
Sometimes, or perhaps often, when a composer finishes a piece of music, we have material left over. There is nothing faulty with the left-over material, however in terms of the final work, it simply doesn’t fit, like a photograph that needs to be cropped or re-framed in order to emphasize the subject.)
I had what I felt were enough materials to warrant further exploration/exploitation in a piece separate from the parent work, “Modus.” “Modus” also straddles the gap between concrete form and malleable form in composition which I have begun to explore more radically in recent compositions.
7. Danielle Summerveal – by Bil Smith
In Danielle Summerveal, ephemeral fragments of minimalistic material are combined and interwoven in a whimsical perpetuum mobile. The material is shuffled and shifted, creating sound objects that slowly evolve as the piece unfolds. Amidst these fleeting appearances, a soliloquy mimics a contrabass’s highest register and a fanciful solo of the prepared piano lead the discourse.
8. Brooke Myers – by Bil Smith
The concept behind Brooke Myers is to create a compositional construction from which no two performances will be identical. In accomplishing this I have asked the performer to make a large number of decisions in the course of performing, as well as asking that they reconstruct the order of the piece (from start to finish) for each performance.
Brooke treats the idea of a protagonist obstinately trying to accomplish a task but to no avail. Through her repeated efforts she slowly runs out of energy, thus furthering herself from her goal.
9. Gus Sylfolio – by Bil Smith
Sylfolio (a neologism for ‘light’) is defined in science as an electromagnetic radiation of a wavelength that is visible to the human eye, and exhibits properties of both waves and particles. Owing to this ‘wave-particle’ duality, light remains enigmatic to the sciences.
Sylfolio’s resilient behavior is uncommon to any other waveform; for instance, light can exist in a vacuum. iIt has been examined that pulses of light traveling through a refractive material, such as water or glass, will cast off secondary pulses that travel in advance of, and outlive, the initial light pulse. These light “precursors” as they are known, consist of the various frequencies (i.e. colors) that are manifest in the initial light radiation, and change spontaneously and continuously; while the primary light wave will diminish and eventually disappear over distance, precursors continue traveling indefinitely, altering their frequencies repeatedly.
In Gus Sylfolio, Bil utilized the mathematic structure of light to generate rows, pitch groups, rhythms and other serial materials. I have isolated the numeric structures of each color of the spectrum and, I used math to generate specific scales and systems.
Then, in the method of Richard Barrett, Bil ignored all of his own rules and attempted to create a piece of work that simply “is.”
10. Ida Bluesangle – by Bil Smith
Ida Bluesangle (a.k.a. Ivatis Tinctoria) is like a hardy plant, often seen as a nusaince and weed. Ida belongs to a genus spread over Southern Europe and Western Asia and, from having been cultivated extensively for its dye properties, has become established in waste places as far north as Sweden. It is found all over Great Britain and is the source of the legendary blue body-dye of the ancient peoples of the island.
11. Callidy Sovance – by Bil Smith
The preparation for Callidy Savnce, consists of 10 taped down keys (between A0 and E5), 12 muted strings as well as 13 harmonic-tones, intents to subtly modify and extended the sonic palette of the keyboard, by adding almost-imperceptible timbral inflections and producing a non-static background sonority which constantly transforms depending on the combination of loudness, type of attack and pitch collection that triggers it. The material used for this purpose is a scotch tape and sticky adhesive.
12. Vin Cecil Nearfello – by Bil Smith
Vin Cecil Nearfello questions the classical form of the Concerto by giving the keyboard the main role but still placing it as usual, at the back-left of the ensemble. The piece is formed by two contrasting movements: the first one, is a solid block of long phrases, sustained tones and sporadic short attacks which gradually dissolves until reaching a profound rhythmic murmur followed by absolute silence.
In the second repassage, the line is built by brief moments or “instants” of different spirits, which are interconnected one to each other forming a larger, richer and colorful mosaic.
Intensity, calmness, aggressiveness, and tranquility… the music vascillates in a couple of seconds from one extreme to the other.
13. Cierva BCD3 El Cangrejo (The Crab) A Bendix Aviation Project – by Bil Smith
Laboratorie New Music Collective.
“At times, compositional gesture raises many questions about the nature of authorship and ways of composing music; isn’t all cultural material shared, with new works being built upon preexisting ones, whether acknowledged or not?”- Bil Smith.