Half Notes: Of Sound and Line

Half Notes: Of Sound and Line

Joint Statement by Trevor Watkin and Jessie Mott:

terror and grace
where is the wound

a sense of urgency
elongating, unraveling

delicate birdsong, an alien thing

structure queered by animal improvisation
confident lines in a strange sky

Two artists composing their pieces together, separately. She, a 10-inch x 10-inch print. He, a musical score for orchestra and big band. Her work can be held in one hand; his requires fifty pairs of hands and will fill an entire orchestra hall.

Trevor Watkin (composer) at first chafed at the idea of writing a “joint statement” with Jessie Mott (visual artist) to express the intent of their work. “I don’t like to tell people what to hear and see” in a piece of art, explained Watkin. Mott felt the same, so they set aside the task of writing a statement and just got to work on their pieces.

It is not often that a composer has an orchestra and a big band placed at his doorstep, with the freedom to do everything he wants with them. What Watkin chose to do with this embarrassment of riches is to create a musical tug of war between the orchestra and the big band, building on the strengths of each to hold the middle.

On the rock/jazz big band side of the stage we can expect clarity. It will be easy to hear each instrument distinctly, and the overall style will be free flowing and almost improvisational. The CCO side, on the other hand, will be more structured and uniform. The chords will be “washy,” and not a single instrument will stand out on its own. The band: a falcon, barely contained by its tether. The orchestra: a down comforter that brings soothing structure. If not for the structured influence of the orchestra, the band might spin itself right off the stage. Without the band, the orchestra might be listless and somnolent.

As ideas came, and as his musical tug-of-war was taking shape, Trevor daily sent small snippets of music to Jessie—not to ask for advice, not to “inspire” his partner. Just to share. In the email back-and-forth that ensued, Jessie shared ideas on her work, and commented on several of Trevor’s musical snippets that resonated with her.

From their emails, a joint statement gradually emerged of its own. It had been there all along, waiting to be discovered, capturing in words what both artists were hoping to say through their art: Urgency and immediacy unraveled and slowed down by delicate birdsong. Structure shaken by improvisation. Improvisation strengthened by structure.

“Of Sound and Line” premiers January 25, 2020. We can be thankful that Trevor Watkin did not tell us exactly what to hear and see in his piece, but grateful that he and Jessie Mott gave us some hints.

– Dan Lory

Hear Of Sound and Line at CCO’s Jan 25 concert at Ganz Hall: MORE INFO AND TICKETS

About Half-Notes:

By popular demand, once again we are offering our series called Half-Notes. Half-Notes are reflections by Dan Lory, CCO’s non-expert in residence, on each of the compositions performed in our concert.

Dan Lory calls himself a music lover who is unencumbered by knowledge of music theory. Enjoy Dan’s take on each piece that will be performed at CCO’s January 25 concert. We think these reflections will help all listeners—from music experts to the theory-unencumbered among us—enjoy the concert more fully.