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Listen to several Mary Jane Leach compositions

November 2017

The New York composer shares some pieces from her 1990s discography with The Wire

Mary Jane Leach has been experimenting with sound and composition since the late 1970s, when she first moved to New York. During the subsequent decades she was a part of the same arts scene as composer Julius Eastman, whose work Leach has been instrumental in preserving and archiving. She released her first album in 1993, titled Celestial Fires. Here she shares two compositions from that release; “Trio For Duo” featuring Barbara Held on alto flute, written in 1985 and “Feu De Joie” featuring bassoonist Shannon Peet, written in 1992. “Xantippe’s Rebuke” features Libby Van Cleve on oboe and appeared on a 1994 Nonsequitur compilation, The Aerial: A Journal In Sound #6.

Leach talks us through each composition below:

“Trio For Duo” is for live and taped alto flute and voice, each part coming from four separate speakers placed in the four corners of the hall (the ideal situation in concert). Lines are passed from voice to voice, weaving a tapestry of matching and contrasting timbres. The voice in this piece is sung to sound as much like an alto flute as possible. By using glissandos, more 'extra-notated' sounds were created than appear on the page.

“Feu De Joie” was written for bassoonist Shannon Peet and is an homage to the bassoon and it's wonderful sound. I had always wanted to write for bassoon, but since my primary interest in writing is to hear what happens when notes are combined, I didn’t want to write a solo piece for just one line of music, so I wrote Feu De Joie for six taped bassoons and one live bassoon (the concert format). The six taped parts are equal and dependent, while the solo part is meant to be a solo with the tape as accompaniment. This is the first piece that I wrote for multiples in which I couldn’t play the instrument; it is also the first piece I wrote using my computer. This is no coincidence; I was able to write very specifically for the bassoon’s sound after I did a series of studies using a programmed bassoon sound that matched the real sound very closely, so I was able to hear what was going to happen without having a performer’s specific knowledge. The taped bassoons combine to create a sound that exploits the unique qualities of the bassoon, creating combination and interference tones. I started with unison pitches that created the richest sound and built the piece from there. Most of the subsequent pitches and phrases that I wrote occurred naturally before I notated them later on in the piece, and these in turn created others. So, in effect, the nature of the bassoon and its natural sound determined the direction of the piece. The solo part starts off by playing dissonant tones and then picks out notes that are being heard on the tape, continuing on to play a melody that 'floats' above the taped bassoons.

“Xantippe's Rebuke” was written for Libby Van Cleve. It is for eight taped oboes and one live, solo oboe. The eight taped parts are equal and dependent, while the solo part is meant to be a solo with the tape as accompaniment. The piece works very carefully with the unique sound of the oboe. (The partials of the oboe are so strong that I had to stop using headphones while I worked on the piece.) The taped oboes are written to exploit the harmonic properties of the oboe's sound, combining to create combination and interference tones. I started with unison pitches that created the richest sound and built the piece from there. Most of the subsequent pitches and phrases that I wrote occurred naturally before I notated them later on in the piece, and these in turn created others. So, in effect, the nature of the oboe and its natural sound determined the direction of the piece. The solo part starts off by playing notes that are being created, but not notated, on the tape, continuing on to play a melody that 'floats' above the taped oboes. Xantippe was the wife of Socrates.

Mary Jane Leach was interviewed by Geeta Dayal in The Wire issue 406. Subscribers can access the full article via the online archive.

On 5 December Kammer Klang will present Ashley Paul & Ensemble performing Mary Jane Leach at Cafe Oto. There will also be a Q&A with Leach chaired by The Wire's Frances Morgan. Tickets are available via the venue.

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