This Sunday, ArtShare LA will be hosting a party celebrating Scott Worthington’s recent release of Prism on Populist Records (out August 14, available for pre-order here), a collection of works spanning 2010-present, all in his singular voice. The program will include pieces from the recording as well as other pieces for bass and electronics. We asked him a few questions about the recording and upcoming party:
How did you go about starting work on this set of recordings? You seem to have developed a unique voice with bass playing and electronics. What do you feel is the relationship here? Are the electronics always more fixed and your bass playing more improvisatory? Do they inform each other? What comes first, and how do you craft the pieces?
Back in 2010 I tried to record At Dusk and Prism. That attempt didn’t turn out very well, so I guess you could say that I started to work on it all the way back then. The recordings on the album are from 2014 and 2015. I didn’t craft the pieces in order to produce the album, but I think I got lucky and they sound nice together.
I’m not sure if there’s a relationship. I just try to make electronic parts that don’t sound like my own *very* reductive stereotype of wiz/band/swoosh electronic music. I like some of that music but I’m just not good at making it and/or am too lazy to try.
Neither of the electronic parts on this disc are fixed. In At Dusk, they end up sounding like a very pitchy reverb chamber. It has an entirely notated bass part. I’ve adjusted some of the rhythms and dynamics as I’ve played it more, but I wouldn’t consider is improvisatory. As for the chicken/egg, I had the idea to get the computer to mimic the sustain pedal on the piano, wrote the bass part with that in mind, and experimented writing some different computer programs until I thought it sounded right.
In Reflections I cue the drones in a way that sort of fakes live processing. It has some melodic fragments and ideas that remain the same from performance to performance, but there is no score. This piece started as a bass ensemble work for five basses and I made a version for solo bass and drones afterwards.
Your work seems to prioritize some traditional musical ideas – there are memorable themes and motifs, as well as more atmospheric materials. Are you concerned with making memorable gestures that can be developed? Or do you have a different way of thinking about thematic material?
I guess I’m a “motive guy” or something like that. Sometimes I like to tell people my music is mash up of Brian Eno and Morton Feldman. I like things that can be remembered but aren’t necessarily played the same every time. I think most of the development in my pieces comes from layering different motives on top of each other, but not necessarily developing the motives themselves. Reflections works exactly like this. I have a bank melodic ideas and I put them together during the performance. I used to just write this kind of thing out in score form, but more recently I’ve been eschewing scores and trying to create environments where these kinds of ideas can live and get a bit of a life of their own from performance to performance.
There are two versions of a quintet, with a note, “After Feldman.” While somewhat static, there is still more trajectory here than what I associate with Feldman. Did you have a specific piece in mind that was influential? I’m curious about the reason for two versions – can you describe the compositional method here?
A specific piece, yes! Piece for Four Pianos. Here’s a youtube recording:
I think I have it right that the pianos each have the same part and progress at their own pace. In my piece, there are five separate parts, but I…borrowed…the “at your own pace” bit. Since it’s not exactly the same every time I thought I’d put two performances on the album. I also think they act as nice palette cleansers between the longer pieces on the album.
I really enjoyed Prism. I can see how you’re working with some potent, dramatic materials that are then refracted and explored, like light through a prism. Your handling of the form here seems really intuitive. Did you have a specific structure in mind, or did the materials themselves suggest the form? Is there anything else you’d like listeners to know about the piece?
Glad you enjoyed it 🙂 I think I did have a little structure mapped out (it’s from 2010, so my memory of writing it is a little fuzzy). There are five parts and I think those parts only had to do with the pitches/chords in the sections. I think that was the extent of the formal plan. So, maybe that means it was intuitive? I don’t think I set out with a plan for how long the sections were. It was towards the end of when I was really concerned with pitch sets and things like that and I was (clearly) moving towards using a lot of repetition and being sparse and droney in general.
Your fifth track is in memory of Stefano Scodanibbio. Can you talk a little bit about what his influence is?
He was one of the most incredible bassists (and perhaps musicians) to walk the planet. I never got to meet him or see him perform, but the kinds of things he was capable of on the bass are unparalleled. I wrote the piece shortly after his untimely death from ALS. It doesn’t use any of the techniques or pyrotechnics he was known for and capable of, but I tried to make a contemplative piece in his memory.
Are you excited about the release party concert? Do the other pieces on the program relate to this recording, or are they just pieces you enjoy performing for other reasons?
Yes, I’m excited! I’m also heading off on a CD release tour playing at the Center for New Music in San Francisco on the 14th, the Wayward Music Series in Seattle on the 19th (with Nat Evans), and at the Wandering Goat in Eugene on the 20th (with a lot of other artists and bands). Lots of miles on the car, but I’m looking forward to meeting people and playing some music for them.
I’ll be playing two new works that Nat Evans and Brenna Noonan wrote for me for these concerts. They don’t relate specifically to the album, but I wanted to make a nice concert and not just play the record for people. I met Nat and Brenna through a project that Nat did called The Tortoise (https://natevans.bandcamp.com/album/the-tortoise). The concert will close with Julia Wolfe’s piece Stronghold which is just an awesome piece–it’s kind of a barn burner.
And finally, if you could sit down with your listeners and tell them anything, what would it be?
Hope you enjoy it 🙂
We hope you enjoy it too. For more information, visit:
Scott Worthington – Prism CD Release Party
8.9.15, 8pm, $10
801 E. 4th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90013
See you there!