WijeratneWorks

the blog of musician Dinuk Wijeratne

Category: original works

A ‘Spin Cycle’ Teaser

Happy Monday! Just out for you to enjoy, in 60 secs, is a little teaser for the string-quartet-&-DJ project:

The Art of Turntabling

I am indeed privileged to know one of the finest turntablists in the world: DJ Skratch Bastid. Yesterday, as we met for a long overdue hang, we discussed our work on an innovative project involving four equally fabulous performers: the Afiara String Quartet. Skratch took some of my quartet material out for a spin!

https://www.facebook.com/dinukwijeratnemusic/posts/825111090888501

Two Perspectives on Italo Calvino

My colleagues and I are publicizing two videos of my music on social media this week. While the pieces are from different contexts (I play in the piece that is semi-improvised, but not the one that is fully composed), the commonality is that the music of both was inspired by short stories from Italo Calvino’s INVISIBLE CITIES:

‘Solea Di Diomira’ – feat. Joseph Petric (accordion), Dinuk Wijeratne (piano), Nick Halley (percussion)

“Leaving there and proceeding for three days toward the east, you reach Diomira, a city with sixty silver domes, bronze statues of all the gods, streets paved with lead, a golden cock that crows each morning on a tower. All these beauties will already be familiar to a visitor, who has seen them also in other cities. But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, when days are growing shorter and the multicolored lamps are lighted all at once at the doors of the food stalls and from a terrace a woman’s voice cries ooh!….is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”

– Italo Calvino (1972), trans. William Weaver

‘Ersilia’ – from the 5-movement Concerto for Percussion Quartet & Wind Ensemble ‘Invisible Cities’, feat. TorQ Percussion Quartet

“In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationdhip of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing. They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away. Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.” 

– Italo Calvino (1972), trans. William Weaver

♠♣♥♦

Having interacted with Calvino’s work in these different ways, I am reminded that we all do well whenever our creative problem-solving is spurred on by external influences that are better than ourselves. Simply by existing, they challenge us to live up to their example, and in so doing we end up exploring territory we would not approach of our own accord.

My best wishes to you all for Christmas and the holiday season! :)

Tabla Concerto receives US premiere

tabla concerto rehearsal 2014

Knees up! Tabla soloist Sandeep Das w/Alastair Willis & the Illinois Symphony

Springfield & Bloomington, Illinois – October 9th & 10th, 2014


An introduction can be a powerful thing. Of all the radio interviews I have taken part in, perhaps the most personally enjoyable and stimulating took place just recently: for National Public Radio (NPR) station WUIS in Springfield, Illinois. I was incredibly privileged to share the mic with tabla virtuoso Sandeep Das (of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble) and conductor Alastair Willis, Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Our interviewer was ethnomusicologist Yona Stamatis, a dear colleague whom I had not seen for a decade since my student days in New York City. Barely had we all jumped out of cars and cabs and exchanged hugs and ‘hellos’ on the street, when Yona rushed us into an audience-packed studio. The mics went on immediately and she launched into her opening remarks, which served to introduce the three of us – the performer, the conductor, the composer. While we stood on three different sides of the same musical triangle, she deftly revealed our connections. And I was deeply moved by the fact that Yona had found a better way of describing my artistic motivations than I could ever have:

“Each in his own way uses music as a tool to challenge deeply ingrained understandings of self and other; to transgress cultural or national boundaries. Each uses music to offer solutions about how to deal with the conflicting and pervasive narratives of nationalism, multiculturalism, and globalization”.

LISTEN to the interview here

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LtoR: Sandeep, Dinuk, Alastair, Yona

LtoR: Sandeep, Dinuk, Alastair, Yona

I felt an immediate kinship with Yona, Sandeep and Alastair. It seemed to be the auspicious beginning of a great couple of days, during which I got to hear my Tabla Concerto come alive again (after two years of living with the recording). What a thrill. Despite the stressfully short amount of rehearsal time, this very difficult 27-minute piece came together relatively smoothly, thanks to the calibre of all the musicians involved: Sandeep (the soloist), the wonderful musicians of the Illinois Symphony, and the dynamic and meticulously prepared Alastair. While it was clearly evident and totally great that Sandeep and Alastair enjoy a jovial camaraderie (having worked together many times as part of the Silk Road Ensemble), I loved being witness to how quickly Sandeep was able to establish a rapport with the orchestra. This is one of his many gifts, as a musician, and as a person.

My unforgettable time in Illinois culminated in a fantastic US premiere for the Tabla Concerto in Bloomington on October 10th which, thankfully, was also fantastically received (phew).

Sandeep and Dinuk love to count ;)

As a composer, you struggle to create music that is unashamedly infused with perspectives of yourself and the world around you. There is no greater gift to the composer then, than to have remarkable musicians add a whole host of fresh perspectives.

tabla concerto waving

 

LISTEN to the original Canadian recording (2012) of the Tabla Concerto here

Dinuk Wijeratne: List of Works

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Concerto for Percussion Quartet & Wind Ensemble: Invisible Cities’ (2013) – 30 minutes 

Ersilia (2013) – 5 minutes 
for percussion quartet

Love Triangle (2013) – 15 minutes
for violin, ‘cello, & piano

Tsimo! (2012) – 20 minutes
for piano, vocals, drums, & DJ/turntables 

No Escape (2012) – 20 minutes
for piano, vocals, drums, & DJ/turntables

HymnPeace [Quartet ReMix]  (2012) – 20 minutes 
for piano, vocals, drums, & DJ/turntables

Tabla Concerto (2011) – 27 minutes
for tablas & orchestra

orchestration: 2*2*2*2/2210/T+2/hrp/str

Solea di Diomira (2010) – 15 minutes 
for orchestra

orchestration: 2*2*2*2/2210/T+2/hrp/str

Brazil, January 1, 1502 (2010) – 35 minutes 
for soprano soloist, piano, oboe, percussion ensemble, double bass, & Capoeira dancers

Once the Colour of Fire, Now the Colour of Ashes (2010) – 9 minutes 
for clarinet & piano/accordion, piano, & percussion

Prismatic Qawwali Party (2010) – 40 minutes
for clarinet soloist, percussion soloists, & flexible chamber ensemble

(excerpts)

CP Allen Qawwali Party (2009) – 20 minutes
for clarinet soloist, percussion soloists, & wind ensemble

HymnPeace [Orchestral Remix] (2008) 16 minutes
for turntables, ‘cello, & orchestra 
orchestration: 2*222/2200/T+2perc/str

HymnPeace [Trio Remix] (2008) 10 minutes
for clarinet, piano & tablas 

This Way Up (2003) – 14 minutes 
for clarinet, piano, & tablas

Colourstudy in Rupaktaal (2007) – 13 minutes
for solo piano

Khayyam XXXII (2005) – 8 minutes
for voice, piano, string quartet, double bass, clarinet, & tablas
OR for accordion, piano, & percussion

Powerplay (2004) – 30 minutes
dancepiece, scored for mixed ensemble Western and Indian instruments flute, clarinet, violin, sarangi, tabla, pakhawaj, double bass, piano, female voice (north indian classical); commissioned by the NY Kathak Ensemble

[Out of the] Karmic Blue (2004) – 9 minutes
for voice, piano, string quartet, double bass, tablas, & 2 percussion

Chamber Concerto ‘About Sankhara’ (2003) – 13 minutes
for chamber ensemble: 1111/1110/T+1/pno/str
commissioned by Joel Sachs & the New Juilliard Ensemble

The Learning Curve (2003) – 9 minutes 
for clarinet & piano

This Way Up↓ (2003) – 7 minutes 
for clarinet & piano

Something There (2003) – 9 minutes 
for clarinet & piano

Silent Fanfares (2003) – 9 minutes 
for clarinet & piano/
accordion, piano, & percussion

String Quartet (2002) – 20 minutes

Vesak Octet (2001) – 10 minutes
saxophone quartet and percussion quartet
commissioned by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet & 4-Mality Percussion Quartet, UK

Visaya (2000) – 8 minutes
for saxophone quartet

Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (2000) – 30 minutes
for solo percussion (vibraphone, marimba, drums) & chamber orchestra 
orchestration: picc, clar, bsn, 4 tpts, piano, strings
Commissioned for Adrian Spillett, Timothy Reynish & the RNCM Chamber Orchestra

Sonata for Violin and Piano (1998) – 29 minutes

(mvt.3) Performed by Sarah Oates (vln.) & Dinuk Wijeratne (pno.)

Di Bravura (1996) – 9 minutes
for two pianos

Tsimo!

The first piece from my 2012 Halifax JazzFest show is finally out on video, thanks to the boys at the CBC! I have used this blog to follow the gestation of this epic ‘song’, so if you would like to explore this in more detail please click on a tag at the bottom of this post.

In case you are wondering about the lyrics, I mentioned them in a previous post. I used one of the quatrains from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, in a very beautiful (and liberal) translation by Edward Fitzgerald:

I sent my soul through the invisible, 
some letter of that after-life to spell,
and by and by my soul return’d to me, 
and answer’d: “I myself am heav’n and hell”

This after attempting to write my own lyrics and deciding, shortly thereafter, that it is something best left to the professionals. My favourite section of the whole piece is the very last one, beginning around 15’30”, when young Reeny Smith (20 years of age at the time of recording) quite simply knocks the lyrics out of the park :)

Concerto for Tabla & Orchestra (2011)

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“The piece is fantastic, complex, and brilliant. The orchestration and solo writing are masterful. I didn’t think one could pull off [such] a concerto, but Dinuk did. I don’t know of anything like it. The audience went crazy after it for good reason.”
John Corigliano

“Dinuk Wijeratne’s Tabla Concerto is a breath of fresh air in the repertoire – a vibrant, colourful piece that orchestras love to play, and audiences will never forget.”
– JoAnn Falletta
 
(Music Director: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Virginia Symphony Orchestra; Principal Conductor: the Ulster Orchestra)

“Dinuk is one of the most gifted musicians I know. His Tabla Concerto is a pioneering work of musical fusion, a seamless integration of the most complex aspects of North Indian Classical Tabla music into a totally Western model.”
– Bernhard Gueller 
 
(Music Director: Symphony Nova Scotia)

“Dinuk Wijeratne’s Tabla Concerto is a fresh, engaging, cross-cultural, embracing and original piece, which blends cultures marvellously. Combined with Sandeep Das’ virtuosity and energy as soloist, the concerto delighted both audience and orchestra at its US premieres. To include tabla recitation in the last movement was a stroke of genius.”
– Alastair Willis 
 
(Music Director: Illinois Symphony Orchestra)

“Dinuk’s Concerto for Tabla and Orchestra is utterly spectacular. From the moment it begins, you are drawn into an evocative world where cultures have no barriers, and co-exist in a way that is completely natural. Add to that a high octane, colourful score and everyone…musicians, audience, conductor…all leave excited and looking for more!”
– Robert Franz 
 
(Music Director: Windsor Symphony Orchestra, Boise Philharmonic)

 

Listen to all three movements:

1. Canons, Circles

2. Folk song: ‘White in the moon the long road lies (that leads me from my love)’

3. Garland of Gems

♠♣♥♦

World premiere given by Ed Hanley (Tabla) & Symphony Nova Scotia conducted by Bernhard Gueller on February 9th, 2012, @ the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Recorded live by the CBC. First Canada-wide broadcast: Sunday January 27th on IN CONCERT, CBC Radio2. The Tabla Concerto was a finalist for the 2012 Masterworks Prize. 

INSTRUMENTATION:

2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
2 oboes (2nd doubling cor anglais)
2 clarinets in B♭ (2nd doubling bass clarinet)
2 bassoons

2 horns in F
2 trumpets in B♭
1 trombone

timpani
2 percussion

harp

strings

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 2.11.27 PM

PROGRAM NOTE:

1. Canons, Circles
2. Folk song: ‘White in the moon the long road lies
(that leads me from my love)’
3. Garland of Gems

While the origins of the Tabla are somewhat obscure, it is evident that this ‘king’ of Indian percussion instruments has achieved global popularity for the richness of its timbre, and for the virtuosity of a rhythmically complex repertoire that cannot be separated from the instrument itself. In writing a large-scale work for Tabla and Symphony Orchestra, it is my hope to allow each entity to preserve its own aesthetic. Perhaps, at the same time, the stage will be set for some new discoveries.

While steeped in tradition, the Tabla lends itself heartily to innovation, and has shown its cultural versatility as an increasingly sought-after instrument in contemporary Western contexts such as Pop, Film Music, and World Music Fusion. This notion led me to conceive of an opening movement that would do the not-so-obvious by placing the Tabla first in a decidedly non-Indian context. Here, initiated by a quasi-Baroque canon in four parts, the music quickly turns into an evocation of one my favourite genres of electronic music: ‘Drum-&-Bass’, characterised by rapid ‘breakbeat’ rhythms in the percussion. Of course, there are some North-Indian Classical musical elements present. The whole makes for a rather bizarre stew that reflects globalisation, for better or worse!

A brief second movement becomes a short respite from the energy of the outer movements, and offers a perspective of the Tabla as accompanist in the lyrical world of Indian folk-song. Set in ‘dheepchandhi’, a rhythmic cycle of 14 beats, the gently lilting gait of theTabla rhythm supports various melodic fragments that come together to form an ephemeral love-song.

Typically, a Tabla player concluding a solo recital would do so by presenting a sequence of short, fixed (non-improvised) compositions from his/her repertoire. Each mini-composition, multi-faceted as a little gem, would often be presented first in the form of a vocal recitation. The traditional accompaniment would consist of a drone as well as a looping melody outlining the time cycle – a ‘nagma’ – against which the soloist would weave rhythmically intricate patterns of tension and release. I wanted to offer my own take on a such a recital finale, with the caveat that the orchestra is no bystander. In this movement, it is spurred on by the soloist to share in some of the rhythmic complexity. The whole movement is set in ‘teentaal’, or 16-beat cycle, and in another departure from the traditional norm, my nagma kaleidoscopically changes colour from start to finish. I am indebted to Ed Hanley for helping me choose several ‘gems’ from the Tabla repertoire, although we have certainly had our own fun in tweaking a few, not to mention composing a couple from scratch.

© Dinuk Wijeratne 2011

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Another JazzFest teaser: HymnPeace ‘Re-ReMixed’

Only last week did I finish writing all the music for the brand new electro-acoustic project WijeratneWorks, featuring the illustrious DJ Skratch Bastid, which is set to debut at the Halifax JazzFest this summer. Of course, one has never truly ‘finished’, because any show containing improvised content will continue to evolve and demand alterations.

The project has become quite the roller-coaster of discovery, and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Until now, I have primarily existed in a totally acoustic world, as I can dutifully answer any questions you may have about how to make something sound good on oh, say, a flute. But change the subject to pre-recorded samples and loops on a set of turntables, and I’ll happily start pestering you with questions. Thankfully, Paul (Murphy) – a.k.a. Skratch Bastid – was kind enough to submit to my pestering when we met this week to go over all the music I’d written for the show. There were over 100 samples to go through. We hung out, we chatted, we got the laptops out, we jammed. It turned out to be one of those überinspiring sessions you spend with a musician who gets excited about the same things you do, and who also helps you find great excitement in things you have overlooked.

It was utterly fascinating for me to observe him in action up-close as he explained many technical things that sent me straight to geek-heaven: his choice of software; good attacks and decays of samples; how he visualizes the motion of the turntable in a typical 4-bar loop; ‘turnarounds’ at the ends of loops; how mid-frequency sound-files make for better scratching than high or low ones; etc.

(I have no idea whose hands these are btw)

When he spoke it reminded me of similarly scintillating moments I’ve experienced in the company of percussionists holding berimbaus, famous accordionists and tabla players among others, who have graciously and passionately demystifed the wonders of their instruments for me through show-and-tell. I find that the limitations of an instrument are just as thought-provoking as its possibilities, since both force you to come up with solutions.

DJ Shub goes forth to represent Canada in the international finals

It was certainly the kind of week to intrigue and stimulate, since on Saturday night I was at the Palace in Halifax, where Paul and DJ Jazz Jeff (yes, him!) were adjudicating for the Red Bull Thre3Style Canadian National Finals (five young DJs going head-to-head with only 15 minutes each to establish their superiority), while on Tuesday I was at C.P.Allen High School to watch Paul and students premiere a piece for DJ and wind ensemble, conducted by their visionary teacher Nathan Beeler.

Molto, MOLTO cool.

I was actually beside myself with excitement for most of the day and it wasn’t until the evening that I realized why: firstly, turntables in conjunction with live instruments is just plain cool; and secondly, I was at the inception of something so unusual and totally unexpected.

Nathan Beeler and some chap who presented him with the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence

Getting back to JazzFest, the band and I will be playing a 60-minute set that I had originally intended to be a bunch of short pieces, but now have realized into three contrasting 20-minute epics, each with plenty of peaks and troughs, nooks and crannies, premeditated moments and unintentional ones (the best kind). In trying to imagine a good closer for the set, I thought I’d attempt an electro-acoustic ReMix of an older piece of mine entitled HymnPeace. It already exists in the form of an ‘orchestral remix’ (commissioned by the CBC for Symphony Nova Scotia and Buck 65; boy what a killer night that was), and a ‘trio remix’ which actually premiered at the 2008 Halifax JazzFest (another highly memorable evening for me, as I often feel nostalgia for the audience singing at the very end). The essence of HymnPeace is a simple melody which one can complement with whatever-else, and arrange and orchestrate into whatever-size. So maybe there will come a time for further incarnations, but for now I’m hearing a remix that goes from atmospheric synth pads through indian drum loops and tabla kaidas to a bit of headbanging euro-trance. The latter starts here:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/38482655″ iframe=”true” /]

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I apologize for the highly compressed audio quality, but that’s SoundCloud for you ;)  As I mentioned in the previous post about this project, this is only a mock-up that is done primarily to give me and the musicians something to listen to and practise with as we prepare for the show. It is a condensed exposition of material that will ultimately be embellished in performance, and is missing all the live elements, not to mention Skratch’s, er, scratching.

Ancient Persian poetry through a vocoder

This July 12th I appear again at the Halifax Jazz Festival, certainly one of my favourite musical forums for creative expression and appreciative audiences. I am proud that ‘my city’ can create such a wonderful, artistic atmosphere in this annual event, that also capitalizes on the fact that Nova Scotia is a darn great place to spend the summer. Ah yes, the Haligonian Summer. Heaven knows we wait long enough for it. Bring on the warm waterfront vibe!

I am debuting my new electro-acoustic project, that I still haven’t found a name for (yikes, suggestions please, our publicity people need the name yesterday). I’ll be on keys, and I’m putting together a wikid little band whose featured artist is a both a top Canadian DJ and one of the great turntablists of the world: Skratch Bastid. I’m so looking forward to working with him.

I’ve decided to write three large, contrasting pieces for the set. Totally new territory for me since I’m putting together samples that DJ Skratch Bastid will hopefully enjoy scratching the crap out of. The acoustic instruments on stage will play over and around this. For the first piece, entitled TSIMO (right now can’t be bothered to explain the convoluted ‘why’), I’ve chosen to set a quatrain from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Killer lyrics, if you ask me:

I sent my soul through the invisible, 
some letter of that after-life to spell,
and by and by my soul return’d to me, 
and answer’d: “I myself am heav’n and hell”

For the coda (conclusion) of TSIMO, I don’t particularly want to inflict people with my singing, so instead I went through several steps to create an alternative sound that would still communicate the text:

  • Firstly, I recorded myself speaking the text in my best Sir-Laurence-Olivier-Shakespearean-soliloquy voice (or Sir Ben Kingsley, if you prefer someone who can orate as well and is still alive. By the way, his On Point interview is fantastic).
  • Secondly, I took my software scissors to it and chopped up the whole poem into very short phrases.
  • Thirdly, I had to synchronize the phrases, even individual words and syllables, to a click-track running at the tempo of the song (120BPM). This is a painstaking and time-consuming process that also includes time-stretching certain vowel sounds to fit the click-track. This is all done to make the vocals, well, ‘cook’. Nothing whatsoever to do with cuisine, but frankly I can’t think of a better verb for sounds that lock right into a groove . A great film that has crisp cuts akin to the rhythms of a great piece of music, has editing that ‘cooks’.
  • Finally – the fun part – I fed the vocal samples through a software vocoder, making me sound as though I’ve been turned into an android that speaks in harmonic tones. I had to pick the harmonic tones. They’re actually chords from a Schubert string quartet. This is what I ended up with:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/45430316″ iframe=”true” /]

ANY CHARACTER HERE

The main thing to bear in mind, when listening to a ‘mock-up’ for a show like this, is that it is only a condensed exposition of material that will ultimately be embellished live in various ways. Notably, all ‘loops’ which repeat, such as ‘heaven and hell’, will most likely be scratched many times over by our esteemed DJ. Which means that a recorded 2-minute coda will probably double or triple in length in live performance.