4/04+ is a group of studies (subtitled demented jazz), recorded by Alex Ferris in April, 2004 and a section from an abandoned work recorded the previous August. All the instruments were built and played by Alex Ferris.
(From the anarchestra website www.anarchestra.net)
When I was growing up (1960's) music was, except in rare circumstances, made by players of instruments. This connection is imprinted on me. I hear a musical sound and imagine / assume a physical act producing it (even when there isn't / wasn't one). For someone younger than me this probably isn't true. In the eighties I began to realize that most people thought music was something that came out of little boxes. This detachment from the idea that making music involves playing instruments comes in part from synthesizers, but also from the boredom (been there, heard that) people felt about being endlessly presented with the same combinations of the same instruments (the same boredom that killed jazz for many a generation earlier). O boy! A guitar solo!
In addition to new sounds, instrument building encourages different ergonomic approaches. Saxophones, pianos, and drumsets are wonderful feats of engineering, but a lot of thinking about instruments seems to have stopped with them (drumsets are still evolving). The physical skills required for traditional instruments (mostly involving finger dexterity) alienate some people from learning to play. They also tend to encourage a similarity of approach to the ideas of music on the simplest level, i.e., music tends to be decorative because we use our fingers for fine work, thus fine workers end up playing (and writing) all our music. Instruments that encourage facility tend to encourage embellishment at the expense of function. Skill at embellishment is then equated with musicianship (i.e., Bud Powell is a better pianist than Thelonious Monk or Steve Vai is a better guitarist than D. Boon, whatever). This encourages young musicians to aspire toward the decorative and to ignore the functional. This in turn makes functional innovation rare and often misunderstood. To a certain extent the traditional instruments have tended to move music away from the physical and toward the cerebral, the mechanics have largely defined the aesthetics. To grow in new directions aesthetically, it may prove fruitful to look in new mechanical directions as well (the same old physical actions will produce the same old musical constructs).
Part of my thinking in this has been to make instruments that don't encourage speed, that add labor to playing instead of saving it, that encourage functionality at the expense of decoration. There are two benefits to this: one is that people with different sorts of physical bias aren't put in a position to fail; the other is that musicians with traditional skills are encouraged to make more rigorous (i.e., functional) choices about what they play -this encourages closer listening and more compositional and conceptual involvement. To refresh music, we need to develop new functional approaches more than we need to redecorate old ones. One of the reasons 'classical' music stopped evolving sonically (besides the codification of the orchestra) was that its players were limited in the available ranges of motion. Jazz (with very similar instruments) allowed different motions, encouraged different techniques of playing, and made new sounds.
"A living mind is in a continual state of change. While rigid opinions are useful as temporary tools for the sake of verbal clarity in argument --even argument with oneself-- a tool is only as useful as its aptness to its purpose."
-Alex Ferris 2004
"When I hear drum machines and synthesizers the images that come to mind are of patients in intensive care units attached by tubes to devises that regulate their heartbeats, force oxygen into their lungs, add nutrients to their blood and "manage" their pain. To me these represent the most joyless aspects of modern living, analogous to the way our habitats have evolved into sprawls of pavement constructed with the goal of making life better for our cars than for our children."
-Alex Ferris 2001
Anarchestra is a group (over eighty) of instruments (built -with two exceptions- by Alex Ferris), the people who play them, and the socio-musical ideas that inform their playing. The instruments are predominantly steel with a few adapted parts, such as tuning machines and mouthpieces.
The instruments were built to encourage non-musicians to explore the making of sound, to allow experienced musicians to make sound unconstricted by their technical habits and preconceptions, and to provide an alternative vocabulary of musical sounds.
We have duty towards music, namely, to invent it. -Stravinsky
Alex Ferris writes:
In late 1999 I was working as a welder/metal sculptor in Providence and having a series of conversations about music with Mike Rinaldi. In January 2000 he asked me to help him make some instruments and we made a xylophone and several mbiras using formulas and suggestions from Sound Designs by Reinhold Banek and Jon Scoville.
I left Providence at the end of February and moved to Chilmark. I got hold of Bart Hopkin's book Musical Instrument Design and began working on Dubass and Pedal Guitar. The idea for the pedal operated capo-fret came from a street performer, Eric Royer, I'd seen in Harvard Square a few years before, who'd had an ingenious one-man-band set-up.
My idea at that time was to integrate homemade instruments with standard ones to allow percussionists to contribute tonally, i.e., replace bassists and rhythm guitarists with drummers.
A year later, in addition to Dubass and Pedal Guitar, I had made Bass, Pilon, Thump, Paired, Lamellop, Harp, Bish-Bosh, Pig, E3W, Croon, Chant, Sir Gamelan, and the two bowed instruments that eventually became Bosco.
In March 2001 I began recording them, mostly to examine how the instruments could be amplified, still intending to integrate them into a traditional band.
The results, which I eventually named Rumor, changed my mind. I realized that the instruments worked well together and formed a band in and of themselves. I would have continued recording, but the ADAT I was using self destructed while I was working on the last piece.
That summer the instruments were included in a series of local performance/shows called Cafe Mobius and were played simultaneously for the first time by a group that included Paul and Scott.
At the second of these I met Rod Welles, a film-maker, who was documenting the show. The following summer he invited me to install the instruments (several more had been built by then) in his barn at Labyrinth Speakeasy in West Tisbury.
On August 22, 2002 the instruments were played by a large group of people under the name Anarchestra for the first time.
The sessions continued weekly with a fluctuating group of people, sometimes with an audience. Around Halloween a regular group including myself, Rod, Linzi, Paul, Charmaine, and Scott was established with others joining us occasionally. We recorded the sessions Moment/Um through The Geese Have No Choice, which document the evolution of our collaboration.
In April 2003 I moved to Santa Fe. Having a large studio, in which I could do both the shop work and the recording, for the first time, I took the opportunity to work on improving the recordable sounds of the instruments. In december I learned how to make magnetic pickups which cleaned up the sound considerably. I acquired a 24-track recorder and began making studies of different combinations of instruments resulting in the cds 4/04+, Bathtub / Three Pieces, . . . terofourdis. . ., and Residue.
In September 2005 Hot Flash, performed by Linzi, Gaspard, and me was recorded.
In October 2005 the instruments were installed at the High Mayhem Festival where, over three days, a few hundred people played them continuously for 10-12 hours a day. High Mayhem 2005, A cd of 86 randomly selected samples ranging from 27 to 57 seconds documents the installation.
In December 2005, with the shop/studio growing increasingly claustrophobic (and consequently less productive), we expanded into another space in the same building. The original space is now the joint workshop of Alex Ferris and Gaspard Cabanes and the new room is solely for music. The cds un coeur simple and Endurzbo were recorded there in march.
In January 2006 regular weekly sessions began around a core group of Dawn Edelman, Dezbah Stumpff, Gaspard Cabanes, and me.
In may, preparing for a show (see picture above), we limited ourselves for the first time to a smaller group of instruments. Following that, we each chose a few and played them exclusively, as a more normal band would, for the next month. The material that constitutes the cd plenum was recorded at that time.
Aldo Leopold, the father of wildlife ecology, said, "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect." I feel the same way of thinking should apply to music and most likely everything else.
We have a world of pleasures to win and nothing to lose but boredom.