12 Moons Solo Saxophone Project Day 192
Instrument: Tenor saxophone
Location: Home studio in Clinton, WA (Whidbey Island)
I recommend reading this post after listening to the music–not during or before.
This morning I read an NPR article about the 90th birthday celebration of American artist Ellsworth Kelly. In his work, Kelly uses strong color tones, often with basic geometric shapes or simple curvatures. Of his own paintings, Kelly said “I feel that I like color in its strongest sense. I don’t like mixed colors that much, like plum color or deep, deep colors that are hard to define. I liked red, yellow, blue, black and white." He discussed the work of the Impressionist painter Renoir, and his work "Luncheon of the Boating Party,” saying “The happiness that Renoir was able to get into the picture is very visible..I don’t know if Americans have painted a picture quite like this." Kelly described a need for joy in his own paintings, and a hope that others will find joy through them. I found the direct parallel of joy in art between Kelly and Renoir to be incredibly inspiring. My improvisation today is a response to Kelly’s work, and my own search for an equivalent method of bringing joy through sound in our own way.
I reflected on Kelly’s work the entire day, thinking about his methodology and the amazingly active space this his canvases occupy. While practicing I searched for an equivalent method in my own playing, and slowly began to arrive at the final product heard on this improvisation. I considered strongly what I as a listener feel is the root sound of joy. After trying a variety of techniques, improvisation models and sound approaches of varying styles I eventually arrived at the notion that the most joyous of sounds to me is simply the tone of the saxophone itself. Though, for a listener I know this may not be enough, and I tried to consider further the most direct method of sound creation that immediately evokes beauty. This is of course ultimately subjective. When I open my eyes to look at a Kelly painting, I am stuck immediately by the simple vibrance of it. It feels uncluttered, unpretentious and the totality of it is presented to the viewer immediately. I decided that the clearest representation of this in sound would be a Major Third interval. It contains in it’s simple, profound sound an incredible amount of power that can pulls us into a very personal space. It’s not a melody but a mood.
I meditated on a Kelly painting while playing this piece. The two opening notes of the improvisation represent the image itself, created here through the notes G to Eb. The repetitive Eb to follow I feel is the texture of the work. It represents the simplest of shape and sound boundaries that frame the first two pitches. I used specific ornamentation in these repeated Eb’s: slight staccatos, vibrato, natural breathing, slight increases and decrease in volume, with a feeling of sound continuance overall. I decided that the total length of time I repeated this Eb made no difference. I played until I just stopped, not because of boredom or the completion of an aesthetic but simply when my mind and body did not wish to continue. After listening to this improvisation, I would not have been surprised if the piece totaled 30 seconds or 20 minutes. It is a shape that for the listener must be accepted or rejected and nothing between.
Quotation source: "At 90 Elllsworth Kelly Brings Joy With Color Canvases.” National Public Radio online edition, by Susan Stamberg.
The images “Blue/Red” by Ellsworth Kelly and “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir