swoops down outta the kerk

“sometimes I see kinda bear lookin’ thangs,
sometimes I see some with antlers on their feet…”
- Jim Roche


Written specially for the unique acoustical space and instruments of Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk, Swoops Down Outta the Kerk utilizes some of the most beautiful organs in the city: the 18th century Vater-Müller Grote Orgel, the 17th century transept Kleine Orgel (mean-tone tuning), and the 18th century Kabinet Orgel; tuned A-420, A-440, A-460 respectively. The organs are separated throughout the vast space, and the fourth ‘organ’ is a 21st century midi controller/laptop instrument, amplified through 6 speakers surrounding the audience in the middle of the church – original digital instruments were designed for this concert using the software Reason. For the premiere, I had recruited 12 wind players, who were divided equally among four quadrants of the church, always out of sight of the audience.

Requiring no conductor, the music is chiefly a structured improvisation and aleatoric. The sound tapestry created by all players provides a soft backdrop for the central focus: a notorious, spoken rant recording made by Jim Roche in the 1970’s. Roche sometimes spoke in blues scales, influenced by the speech patterns of Southern Baptist preachers, and the scales played by the instrumentalists and samples provide a unique accompaniment to his voice. The instructions given to the wind players are simple and allow for musical freedom and improvisation. The organ scores are more structured, with specific registrations and cells of musical material, but also allow freedom for improvisation. The organ cells were organized using a type of formal grammar called L-systems. Originally developed to predict the growth of algae and other microbe colonies, L-systems allow us to analyse and recreate recursive growth patterns, a process that is fundamental to the growth of organic structures, including all life on earth. L-systems consist of an alphabet (a set of symbols), an axiom (a string of symbols from the alphabet), and production rules (rules assigned to each letter of the alphabet). Any kind of musical idea can be used as symbols and mapped onto the grammar. This is a powerful compositional tool as there are literally infinite musical possibilities (due to its potential for recursion). The original L-system for algae growth was used to generate the three organ scores, an allusion to Roche’s life in the Floridian swamps. Three organists play four generations of growth each, making a total of the twelve generations spanning the genetic lineage between Sweelinck and Roche. Meanwhile, the wind players play an ascending and descending hexachord, an allusion to Sweelinck’s Hexachord Fantasy. This piece was commissioned by the Oude Kerk and performed in a concert celebrating Sweelinck and new music on the evening of November 10, 2007.

performed by:
jacob adler: midi orgel, laptop
ilona kubiaczyk: grote orgel
erik-jan eradus: kleine orgel
david boos: kabinet orgel
and 12 winds