Our second installment of the free streaming rollout of Outerborough, from the OutSide of the record, Ken Thomson’s Storm Drain.
This content is also being rolled out in a lovely Facebook Band Page which makes it super easy to share!
Ken Thomson has been a valued friend and colleague for many years and remains one of my very favorite musicians. One of the founders of Gutbucket and the leader and writer for Slow/Fast, many still remember Ken as the very first head of Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe Records. In fact it was Ken who brought Ethel into the fold, giving us our initial record deal back in the early years of the new century.
Known equally these days for his composition as for the great saxophonist, clarinetist and bass clarinetist that he is, we decided together that a piece for the both of us could be a great option, if only that it meant we’d see each other and play together more often. Ken knows me as a looper, so he made a piece which could be done in real-time with simple loop recorders. You can even do it with an iPhone these days.
Like Transamerica, I recorded the initial loops in Ableton Live and put it up in the cloud. Ken then used his own Pro-Tools rig in his Brooklyn living room to put down his part, sending it back to me through the cloud. We did a final mix together, which you hear in this stream and on the record. I’ll ask Ken where that title came from, cuz I’m not sure I know!
Ken says this:
When Todd asked me to write “Storm Drain,” I’d initially considered writing a straight-up duo for violin and bass clarinet; I don’t use a lot of electronics in my compositions, and I thought – based on what I imagined Todd would be doing for his double CD – that something more acoustic would be a good contrast. However, as I started work on the piece, I really liked the idea of him being able to create layers upon which we could soar together. My goal in using the looping is that you’re not super-aware of each new entrance but that it feels that it develops organically.
Working with Todd over years now, I wrote “Storm Drain” knowing that he would have no problem with the looping aspect of it, but also that we could quickly get “past” the tech and move onto creating a great performance arc. And, true to form, he “got” the piece right away and we quickly started talking about musical issues.
A side note for me is that I’ve been working on really using the full range of the bass clarinet in my compositions in a series of pieces. In some ways, this piece can be paired with two other pieces of mine — one called “perpetual” for bass clarinet and string quartet (which Todd also premiered); and a bass clarinet quartet that premiered this summer at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival — in addition to my 2008 piece “Undo” for the bass clarinet duo Sqwonk and my bass clarinet writing for Slow/Fast. As I continue to explore the bass clarinet, I’ve felt that much of the writing for the instrument short-changes its abilities. Here, both Todd and I take two roles: that of support (myself in the low/bass notes of the horn, and Todd in the looping) as well as in lead/melody roles, which we can truly do in unison.
The title Storm Drain basically just made sense to me — a rare event when the title just makes sense to me without a struggle… and I think it’s somewhat “programmatic” in that it references the cascading violin pizzicatos.
A little secret is I’ve written a followup duo piece, called “Pay to Play” for violin and alto saxophone — which has a very different character to it — which we premiered in September at the Noguchi Museum in Queens. Maybe we’ll release it as a download one of these days…