FRACTURED AIR

The universe is making music all the time

Step Right Up: Christopher Tignor

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Interview with Christopher Tignor.

“But there is another question to be asked for people who want to ask which is ‘What is in the music itself and what is it about how these notes go together that specifically creates this experience or feeling now that another piece of music changes or creates a different experience?

—Christopher Tignor.

Words: Mark Carry

christopher-tignor-1

Christopher Tignor is a composer, violinist and software engineer. Last year saw the gifted musician’s utterly captivating full-length release ‘Along A Vanishing Plane’ gracefully emerge into the earth’s atmosphere, released on the ever-dependable U.S. label Western Vinyl. In a similarly hypnotic spell as Canadian violinist Sarah Neufeld’s 2016 opus ‘The Ridge’, Tignor’s shape-shifting compositions gradually unfold a rare beauty that is forever embedded deep within the string-based liturgies of deep meaning and truth.

The ambitious scope of Tignor’s latest musical musings represents one of the great hallmarks of ‘Along A Vanishing Plane’. As Tignor has previously explained: “The music is first and foremost about what can be done together, live in a room, to both transcend and reclaim ourselves from the noise of public living.” On the deep catharsis of ‘Shapeshifting’ (featuring tuning forks employed as musical instruments) or the mesmeric ebb and flow of ‘Artefacts of Longing’s three enthralling movements, one feels an awakening or moreover, an epiphany – an insight into the essential meaning of something previously unknown or buried beneath uncertainty – illuminate like burning embers of an everlasting flame. The ten compositions captured on ‘Along A Vanishing Plane’ inhabits a vast space that, in turn, enables the string-based odysseys to transcend the very space – and time – in which the sonic patterns ceaselessly orbit.

‘Along A Vanishing Plane’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

http://www.wiresundertension.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

christopher-tignor

Interview with Christopher Tignor.

Firstly, I’d love for you to discuss the innovative software you have created for the new album ‘Along A Vanishing Plane’?

Christopher Tignor: I’m happy to talk about the software. For me, it’s an important thing to share with the world, just like the music. I give it away and I like other people to use it and it’s an important part of my creative output. So, the idea behind the software is that I need to always be playing instruments with my hands – including the drums and violin – I don’t have time to be touching the computer. The computer is on the floor, I never touch it during the performance during the songs at all and I need to able to control all the sounds and I want to be able to do everything gesturally so I don’t want any pre-recorded material. I want to be able to kick a drum or play the violin or do something physical and control the flow of time through the music by triggering other sounds by playing actual instruments.

So, that’s the underlying idea behind it and so there is several pieces of software that I use that all run inside Abelton, they’re devices that you can use for Abelton. And what they let you do is trigger other sounds, in my case I use a trigger on the kick drum and that allows me to play essentially other sounds when I’m playing the kick drum and I can also take my violin and the software lets me configure very specifically auto tune harmonizers that create harmonies that shift independently with my violin playing. So, it’s all made live out of my playing and the software lets you control very specifically how all your physical gestures translate into the rest of the music.

So, the kick drum acts as a cue for you to progress into the next stage of the music?

CT: That’s a good way to think of it. Essentially there is a score programmed in the computer so each time you kick the drum it’ll essentially play a sound which is taken from that score. So you can control the time and how fast you move and you can pause and wait and can be completely flexible with how you are moving through the score. It takes the ability to be able to create a score and to be able to score out your work to some extent.

I know you already touched on it but I love the extra instrumentation; those extra flourishes to the violin itself – those bells that feel like chimes for instance – are dotted beautifully around the album.

CT: Well those are very important for me because they are artefacts of this process that I think of as creating these different rituals. And the bell-like effects – and there’s lots of different bells that you’re hearing like triangles and metal percussion and a hi hat and a tambourine and I have a pastor bell – those really have a beautiful resonant quality which helps evoke this sort of ritual; it’s like the beginning of a ritual every time you sound them.

‘The Artefacts of Longing’ is a very important piece on the album and particularly love how there are three different parts. I wonder was this composition one long piece in your head first and then afterwards you realized it would be three distinct pieces?

CT: I think it was the former, I mean I had in my head that I wanted to do a long form multi-movement work as part of the album. I had started writing this body of music by creating the shorter works, the first work I wrote was ‘Arrow In The Dark’ and then I wrote ‘Shape Shifting’ for tuning fork and I knew I wanted to push myself making longer multi-movement work – something I’ve done on other albums in the past – but I’ve never tried to do anything like that solo and so I wanted to take on the challenge and to make a multi-movement work that was compelling across three parts but just one man playing it. I had some various ideas, bits of music I often shelve if they don’t fit into a piece that I’m working on – I’ll be writing a piece, some part or act of some melody or section will show up if it doesn’t work I will have to shelve it – and so I had some things on the shelf which I knew would work possibly well together.

And so the process for me began with looking at some of these parts like the very beginning of the third movement where I’m playing this counterpoint, essentially with no percussion that has a very Bachian or Baroque quality to it and I had already written this previously and I could never find a home for it, it’s truly one of my favourite things to play on the record and I knew I had to get it in somewhere. So, I had these departure points like that and then the question for me was how to navigate from one point to the other and that process was of course very challenging. The composition’s very much the art of can I get there from here. I knew I wanted to make a multi-movement work and I had these touchstones, I would say.

I feel there is a lovely parallel between your own work and Sarah Neufeld’s music and Colin Stetson too, there’s very much like a unique voice that speaks very strongly throughout.

CT: Well I mean they are some very strong and compelling artists and it’s nice to be in such great company in your mind, you know.

In a way, ‘Along A Vanishing Plane’ is very much a performance record like you mentioned already, there’s this need to play in real-time? I also loved the idea how you had the album available as a visual or film, which was a lovely idea and another perspective to see the music unfolding.

CT: I’m glad you enjoyed that. For us it became pretty clear early on when I was thinking even of how to make the music that it was going to have to be made all live, I wouldn’t be able to make overdubs for this music even if I wanted to because there is so much free time and space, it would be way too hard to try and catch it at the right time on the second time around, you know what I mean. It became clear even when recording the audio thing, it would have to be really a live performance and so we went as far as we could with that idea and said that if it was going to be more or less live, why not just record it on video and really show the process and really bring people in to that experience.

You have done so much in your own career being involved in so many different projects you’re involved in. In addition, you have a pHD in Composition, I’d be interested to learn what exactly this study involves?

CT: Technically my advisor hasn’t actually finished my dissertation so I actually don’t have my pHD in Composition yet but that’ll be happening very soon [laughs]. I can only speak for my experience at Princeton where I went but typically it involves really trying to understand the nuts and bolts of how music works and we all love to appreciate music and spend a lot of time listening to it and hopefully think deeply about how we feel and our own response to music. But there is another question to be asked for people who want to ask which is ‘What is in the music itself and what is it about how these notes go together that specifically creates this experience or feeling now that another piece of music changes or creates a different experience?’ So, really getting into the nuts and bolts of how music works is a fascinating thing for me, to really understand this and of course it’s valuable from a compositional perspective.

It’s also really fun and exciting to see that it’s not magic; they’re very nuanced and complicated and they’re very subtle and it’s a very beautiful combination of elements that create these feelings that we relish when we hear music. If you spend time looking at the scores of a lot of music and listening to a lot of music and playing to a lot of music and dissecting it like you would any scientific inquiry where you try to take a problem apart into smaller pieces and examine the components and how they work together, you can get a perspective on music which is very rewarding. I think the program as a whole is trying to give you that perspective; that’s a different perspective than the one you have when you just write music and play music. It’s a more analytical perspective, which is a different but beautiful and complimentary way to think about music.

You have done a considerable work with regard to live sound and I’m sure you must have very fond memories of doing live sound for so many great bands?

CT: For a lot of the same reasons that I love to play live and live performance has been so important to me in my work, doing live sound was always appealing to me from an early age. I was lucky enough to hustle my way into some really great situations in my early twenties and seeing really good rock bands and working with some really good sound engineers at CBGBs and places like that and literally understanding the art and craft of being a live sound engineer. The thing about the live sound engineer is there is no music until it passes through his hands, he’s the last one to touch it so it’s really a very useful and critical part of the live experience is this engineering part. I definitely try to remember that in my own work when I’m working with elements of mixing and in this modern world where electronic music is part almost of every music – it’s just another element in almost all forms of music now – I think those sorts of sensibilities are really, really important.

 In terms of the recording of the album, you had quite a simple set-up in the sense that there was quite a minimal framework you were working from?

CT: Yeah, it’s pretty old school. We just went into a room which we knew sounded really good, I played violin acoustically when we were checking it out and it sounded really good for the violin and it looked really good because we knew we wanted to film it. It was very old school, setting up mics in the room and putting them in the right spot and then getting three video cameras in there and letting that team do their thing. So, it was really fun because the recording studio process – the normal process – can be very antiseptic: close micing everything and doing one track at a time and collaging everything together and this was really like creating an installation and that process in my mind is much more rewarding than trying to go in and micro-manage all the individual little tracks. The thing about the live recording experience is that it really lives or dies in how prepared you are as a musician because you can’t be doing over-dubs or anything so you really have to do a lot of preparation in advance. I think that can come through the music though, the fact that you are so prepared that the music isn’t just pieced together from little parts, I think that can really come through the music if you let it.

Do you have plans for the live show and will you be trying out new approaches to some of these pieces?

CT: Well all the music came out of playing live, I played it live for quite some time before I went to the recording session in order to prepare for it. I worked on the pieces over a long time by playing them out and seeing what works and tweaking them in the studio and going back and forth. This music was certainly born live and existed live before we recorded for quite a while. I mean the live show sounds very close to the record, it sounds almost identical to what you would hear on the album. There are certainly times live when I make changes – relatively subtle changes – to the performance but they’re mostly in terms of the decay of the room, the reverb in the room, there’s a lot of times where I would play a phrase, like in ‘Arrow In The Dark’ where I would play a melody and let it decay in the room before I move on. Or even the first track ‘We Keep This Flame’, I’ll play this first phrase and I’ll let it linger in the room so the pacing and the flow of it is completely unique because it is live and I have that luxury to do that. But the compositions themselves as a whole are essentially finished as far as I am concerned and I’m really just pushing forward now with writing new music for this set so that may include other elements as well as I push into new compositional territory.

What have you been listening to lately?

CT: This is funny because it’s not too far from your part of the world but the thing I like to listen to often on weekends is Cork Sacred Harp Singers. So, there is a collection of shape-note singers from Cork called The Sacred Harp Singers and they have a youtube channel, which is absolutely brilliant and as far as I’m concerned, I could listen to this all-day long. I consider it as such an amazing way to make music not only is the music really moving and I think listening to a lot of that really seeped in to some of the more liturgical pieces on the record, some of the more choral pieces that I played. It’s just fantastic because it really is like a DIY and in my mind, a real punk way to make music because you’re not a trained singer; this is for people who aren’t trying to be professional virtuoso singers, it’s about music that is rooted in people’s lives and is a real active part of their life. Now I’m certainly not a religious person at all – I’m a staunch agnostic – I can completely identify and respect and relish the inclusion of music in people’s lives in a way where it’s really tied in with core values and you can see that in the way they make music if you look at the way the leader is conducting in tune with his hands, it’s really fantastic and the energy is palpable and it call comes from the unbelievably genuine communal place. It’s inspiring.

‘Along A Vanishing Plane’ is out now on Western Vinyl.

http://www.wiresundertension.com/

http://westernvinyl.com/

Written by admin

January 10, 2017 at 8:31 pm

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