45 Delusions with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company

45 Delusions was commissioned by the Walker Art Center for an event with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) as part of the Common Time exhibit and performance series. The piece was performed and recorded with the dancers on March 30, 2017 in the Perlman Gallery at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. My setup included Rhodes, Moog Sub 37, PreenFM2, Korg KP3+, and a Moog Minifooger Delay. Graham O’Brien performed on percussion and electronics triggered from his drums.

John Keston's Setup for the Common Time Event

My Setup for the Common Time Event

The score is two pages. The first page (pictured at top) is the timeline for both performers. The timeline is vertical and made up of cells that last between one and five minutes each. Frequently the cells correspond with each player, but they are arranged so that at times they overflow. Rests are also included as cells. Each cell includes brief instructions and/or graphics that give suggestions to the musicians. Some of the instructions are expanded on the second page of the score.

Graham O'Brien's Setup for Common Time

Graham O’Brien’s Setup for Common Time

The second page also includes a list of forty five delusions. These include terms such as alternative facts, capitalism, corporate culture, equality, freedom, fossil fuels, greed, justice, and so on. There are also a few technical delusions such as erotomania (belief that a celebrity is in love with you) and lycanthropy (belief that one can turn into an animal). The second page explains the delusions and what to do with them:

DELUSIONS
Anything that might be considered or is delusional. These are not necessarily medical or technical examples of delusions and may involve individuals, societies, or organizations. Prior to performing the piece, each musician chooses one “delusion” applied to each cell within the score.

Take a look at the PDF at the end of this article to see the complete list of delusions as well as expanded instructions for some of the cells. Obviously this is an improvised piece of music, but this approach steers the improvisation in directions that would be unlikely to occur freely. Particularly the timing. As one performs or listens to the piece it is possible to discern distinct variations as the musicians transition from one cell to the next. If you are inclined to listen to the piece in full, try following along with the score and placing a SoundCloud comment where you hear the cells change. The timing on the recording doesn’t exactly match the score, but it’s pretty close.

The reasons I took this approach are multi-faceted: (1) It keeps the piece moving. Often free improv tends to stagnate as ideas are repeated and refined. With this approach the challenge is to express ideas with concision and then move on to the next (this is possible, albeit rare, in free improv – we call it channel surfing). (2) It is possible to strictly define the length. We used a timer that counted up to 30 minutes. One quick glance at the timer illustrates the need to move on to “High Speed Arps” for example. (3) Mood, dynamics, and theatrics can be injected to create a narrative with scope and meaning. It is a way to ask questions, discover sounds, explore, and experiment. (4) It enhances my musical engagement. I am influenced by my collaborators and surroundings, but I’m also interpreting the language of the score, and hopefully to the benefit of the musical output.

45 Delusions by John C.S. Keston (148K PDF)

Merce Cunningham: Common Time with John Keston and Graham O’Brien

Suite for Five

VIOLA FARBER, CAROLYN BROWN, MERCE CUNNINGHAM AND BARBARA LLOYD (FROM LEFT)
PERFORMING SUITE FOR FIVE, 1963

This Thursday, March 30, 2017 I will be performing two 30 minute sets of music with Graham O’Brien at the Walker Art Center as part of the Merce Cunningham: Common Time series of events and exhibitions. Our performances start at 5:30pm and 8:00pm in the Perlman Gallery and feature former Merce Cunningham dancers. Here’s a one minute teaser recorded during a recent rehearsal. The concert is free and open to the public. Visit the Walker Art Center for more details.

My First Solo Album in Seven Years

Isosceles by Ostraka

Dear ACB readers, I am pleased to announce my first solo album in seven years, Isosceles. This one is an eighty minute long departure from my usual esoteric experiments. Instead it is full of unapologetically funky and tonal instrumental synth tracks. Many of these were shared as works-in-progress here on ACB.

Years in the making, this collection of tracks was carefully picked from dozens of compositions. Vintage and contemporary electronic instruments and processors were used alongside each other to create a unique yet familiar sound. The album is full of thick analog arpeggios, punchy bass lines, earthy beats, and ballistic leads. The anthology is interspersed with contemplative moments reminiscent of the promise of space exploration and discovery. It is a journey through light years of exploratory sound design, future thought, and galactic musical manifestations.

The gorgeous artwork is by Benjamin Montag and the impeccable mastering was handled by Tom Garneau. The album was released on Unearthed Music and is available on Bandcamp as well as the usual suspect (iTunes, et al). Tonight I’ll be performing at Acadia in Minneapolis to celebrate the release.

Credits
Composed and performed by John C. S. Keston
Ablum art by Benjamin Montag
Mastered by Tom Garneau of Audioactive

Bloodline at JT’s Jazz Implosion

bloodline_art

Bloodline, a trio featuring Cody McKinney, Peter Hennig, and John Keston (myself), has been quietly performing at a handful of obscure venues in the Twin Cities for about a year and a half. On Monday, October 3rd we’ll poke out heads out of the shadows for a set during JT’s Jazz Implosion residency at the Icehouse in Minneapolis.

JT’s Jazz Implosion at Icehouse is one of the hottest jazz scenes in the cities. Featuring bands that study strong jazz composition, the performances consist of a variety of modern jazz songs with an improvisational flair. The bands that perform are emblems of originality in the modern jazz scene, oftentimes receiving national attention for their jazz genre knowledge and assimilation of multiple influences. The series appeals to a variety of listeners, providing multilayered compositions for every jazz fan.

For a taste of what Bloodline is all about, please have a listen to a few excerpts from one of our recent performances at Jazz Central Studios:

Interview: Graham’s O’Brien’s Drum Controller Video Series

Drum Controller - Graham O'Brien

Graham O’Brien is an exceptional and inventive drummer, composer, and producer. It has been my privilege to play with him at dozens shows and on at least five separate projects over the last eight years. His latest solo endeavor is a series of five videos titled Drum Controller. Graham had discussed his goals for the project with me, but when I saw/heard the videos I was immediately impressed. I wanted to know more about how he was able to trigger these beautiful and complex electro-acoustic arrangements without touching anything other than his minimal kit of kick, two snares, high hats, and a ride.

Note: Graham will be performing music with his Drum Controller setup and Thomas Nordlund on guitar at Honey in Minneapolis this Sunday, June 5, 2017. Read on for the interrview and a look at his video series. Continue reading