The Architectural Analogy: The Structure and Composition Possibilities of Inscape – Tableaux “A Subway Map of Connections” An Interview with Barry Guy (Part I)

Dateline: Tampere, Finland – Nov 3, 2001

Words & Photography ©Laurence Svirchev

In 2001, I interviewed Barry Guy about Inscape – Tableaux (Intakt CD 066), the composition he had just presented at the Tampere, Finland Jazz Happening. The interview was as long and complex as the music. It contained insights into Guy’s respect for other musicans, particularly Marilyn Crispell, as well as some examination of Guy’s own musical history. Since I was not willling to condense and simplify Guy’s insights, I could not find a publisher at the time and recently discovered it in my data-base. First Publication 2008

Barry Guy New Orchestra Inscape – Tableaux

Barry Guy, Marilyn Crispell, Evan Parker, Mats Gustafsson, Hans Koch, Johannes Bauer, Herb Robertson, Per Åke Holmlander, Paul Lytton, Raymond Strid.

Svirchev: Can you tell me about how you chose the band?

Barry Guy: The players in the Barry Guy New Orchestra are incredibly important to me. So before embarking on a piece I really wanted to get the players in place. In particular I wanted a set of players that reflected both my older associations and newer associations. What was important was to have the Parker-Guy-Lytton Trio, the “old association” and the new trio called “Guy-Gustaffson-Strid.” In a sense the axis of the band is the two trios and I am the common denominator. Marilyn Crispell is in the band because I love working with her. I had an ambition to write some slower music for her. We also have a trio together with Paul and Marilyn, so there is another important constituent part of the orchestra.

I had worked with Herb Robertson in the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and he really gave the section an incredible boost. He is a very powerful player and an original thinker. We have Hans Koch who I have played duos with. I enjoyed that a lot and he has this great color palette on the contra-bass clarinet and bass clarinet and other instruments. I have also been playing with Johannes Bauer in various places.

It was also interesting to sit down and work out this tapestry of how the players informed each other over the years. So I found out that Paul Lytton and Herb Robertson have played together in a group. Gustafsson has played with Strid and Marilyn. I sat down one day and made what looks like a subway map. It had all the players and different colored lines of who had played with whom as far as I was aware. What that started to show was not only the ensembles that already existed but other meeting points. One of the early ideas of the band as well as the compositional side was to demarcate everybody and expose the skeleton of the band, i.e., the players and maybe make a first set of duos, trios, solos, so everybody has a particular way of showing their improvisational skills.

For example, here I have in front of me the paper of our very first concert in Dublin, where we premiered the band. We built up the piece over four days and also presented lunch-time concerts. On the first day there was Johannes Bauer and myself in duo, a solo for Marilyn Crispell. Then we had an open rehearsal where everyone could see the build-up of the piece, they could come to the center where we were rehearsing. Then in the evening we had what I called a free-zone wind section which feature Parker, Gustafsson, and Hans Koch. Against that I put a more regular trio of Parker-Guy-Lytton. So that was the first day of concerts. The second day had a duo of Per Åke Holmlander and Strid, and Evan playing solo. Then I had the Free Zone Brass with Robertson-Bauer-Holmlander with a trio Bauer-Gustafsson-Strid. On the third day there was the duo of Koch-Robertson with a solo from Gustafsson, a Free-Zone Percussion with Strid-Lytton, the trio of Parker-Guy-Lytton.

So basically what we have done is expose the constituent parts of the Orchestra in one way or another. This is important because in a large formation there are constraints. And I liked the idea of everyone getting to play their own music before we become involved in the orchestra concept. In an ideal world that would be my program. There have been some spin-offs: Robertson-Bauer-Holmlander went to San Francisco and did a brass workshop. That’s nice: there was a chemistry there.

It was then up to me to come up with a piece of music that reflected not only the people in the band but other combinations as well. First of all I like to think of these pieces as symphonies in the sense they are self-contained and have a huge span. They are not tune-improvisation-tune-improvisation. I spend a lot of time marking out the possibilities of tensions between different groupings, between solos, ensembles, backgrounds, linking sections and then working the overall concept so that over [the course of] an hour we are led on a very special musical journey. Which is to make the piece, from my point of view, increasingly interesting and renewing and have an organic quality to it. And then to write in such a way that it is not too difficult for the guys and lady to understand, to in-build a certain flexibility, and crucially, to hand a lot of responsibility to the players themselves about when events happen within a given section. Then I don’t have to end up flapping my hands all the time like a conductor. I can play as well. I do a lot of conducting, but when I am playing, I like the other players to make up their own minds about the backgrounds, the alternative music that happens while the improvisations go on. So what I’m trying to do is present the huge scenario of known and unusual combinations within this symphonic development idea.

That’s where I started. I sat down at the drawing board, my subway map of combinations. In this piece, Inscape – Tableaux, Marilyn Crispell features at quite crucial moments. It is like a cinematic thing. The whole band is exposed in a big scenario in the beginning, only to bring it down to the single piano area. So we have quietness, a focus on the hands of the pianist. Then I had the ideas broadening the vista again, then bringing it back to the piano. This happens at crucial points in the piece. It is important for the tension of the piece to find these moments of repose. She is not always playing slowly, but the idea is to start quietly, introspectively, and thoughtfully, and then she can take it out to wherever she wants. At one point she has the choice of a duo partner.

Svirchev: How does Marilyn choose her partner?

Guy: In theory, there is an instruction to choose her partner, a moment where she can point and choose her partner. But in practice we found that like a lot of compositions they evolve over time. There is a useful and structurally interesting decision where she has chosen Evan Parker as her duo partner. Why is it structurally interesting? There is a little cell, quite close to the beginning where Evan and Marilyn Crispell are exposed for 5-6 seconds as the transition into a tuba solo. If you observe it, you can see “there are Evan and Marilyn” before it gets subsumed by the orchestra. They are then exposed later through a series of orchestral and written manipulations which lets them go free. Later on she has the choice of picking up a duo partner. Over a 60 minute span, these become little memoirs, signposts, and from those signposts can come about another event or series of events.

It is like the motion picture camera pans around and you see an old scene that you noticed at the beginning of the film. It goes into another scenario only to pick it up later. “Oh that’s why I looked at that particular building or person in the beginning.” It lends an air of mystery or discovery.

Svirchev: How did you come up with the title Inscape – Tableaux?

Guy: I’ve got a note here: Inscape: the unique inner quality or essence of an object as shown in a work of art.’ I first came across the word inscape as a title for a painting by an Irish artist Tony O’Malley. He called the piece Inscape. It was a very appropriate word for me because I was thinking of “Landscape” for the overall concept of the piece. Then Inscape summed up one of the important qualities of this piece, the unique inner quality of a an object as shown in a work of art. I was thinking of each musician, this focus, back to the idea of film again. We have not only the broad span of the piece but the focus coming from each musician. This is the “inner-scape” the inner musicianship of each individual player. So it seemed the appropriate word. “Tableaux: picturesque presentation.” Within this piece there are seven parts, the seven tableau. Not only are they stand-alone pieces, but they are inter-connected, and this is why the piece has to be always played totally all the way through. There are interconnections: some things recur and there is a re-capitulation of the beginning which ties the whole thing together, a classical composition technique in a way.

So we have these picturesque presentations, not in a flippant way, but in a colorful way. This is like walking around the art gallery, going from one room to another, each housing a master landscape painter. Your eyes and intellect are delighted by this. What I try to bring into the piece is to liberate the musicians within a score, which is always the eternal paradox with improvisation.

Each musician is a master improviser. They don’t need pieces of paper like this at all. It is a different scenario if you are building up an hour long piece with specific colorations, with specific objectives, the only way to get to the particular type of music. This band could completely improvise for an hour if we wanted but that would be different type of music: equally interesting but different.

Svirchev: Your original discipline was architecture?

Guy: That’s true. I had played music in school in a military band. I worked through trumpet, tuba, trombone and ended up in the trad band playing one-string bass. I was very interested in being an artist. I had gone to school in a working class area, where your expectations were factory work. As it happens, one of those miracles, we had a good art teacher and a good technical drawing teacher, good metal-work teachers. We were not only technically involved but also being actively encouraged to look into the disciplines of drawing and art appreciation, which is unusual in that type of school. I became very good at technical drawing and interested in architecture because we were taught a little bit about it. I also had a friend in school who was important for me, a guy named Bernard Living who played a saxophone. He seemed to have tapped into the American avant-garde of the 1950s, that great momentum of alternative art in America. That deviation brought me into contact with arts movements that I was unaware of in school.

When the time came to leave school, I wanted to go to art college but didn’t know how to get there. The school didn’t want you to go there, music was a non-starter, probably the best way out to fame and fortune was to join the local football team which was quite famous at the time. So most of the guys’ aspirations went to football or a good job in the factory. I came out with good marks in drawing and this was a time when good jobs were plentiful. I just looked around London and there was an architectural firm I got a job with. I went there looking like something out of a pop movie, yellow shoes, horrible brown suit and bright yellow tie and walked into this architect’s office where everyone started laughing (architect’s didn’t dress like that, they thought I was some kind of Paul Anka, a rock ‘n’ roll guy).

I got in there on the basis of my portfolio of drawings and also the fact that I could sharpen a pencil correctly. In our classes we were taught how to sharpen. There is a procedure to get nice, long, and beautifully honed points. I did this for one of the partners of the firm, an elderly English gentleman. “Well, Guy, you’ll do. If you can sharpen a pencil like that I’m sure we can sharpen you up to do a few drawings for us.” It was an old established practiced specializing in Tudor restoration and church restoration. I was there for three years and was supposed to go to evening classes but in fact I went to music classes. But they held on to me because I became quite good at surveying buildings and drawing church faces. It was a great time.

There came a moment where the music overtook me; it became essential to know more about music. I even had music under the drawing boards, so that when the partners went out for lunch I would pull the music out, work that had to be done for the evening classes. I did composition classes and orchestration (badly I should say, because I wasn’t very good at reading then). And then I took private lessons and eventually went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and that was the end of the architectural thing.

From that day, my main passion has been for architecture. My book collection on architecture and architectural theory is huge. Whenever I go abroad, I spend time looking at buildings. This passion has actually informed me –not everybody necessarily agrees with this- about aspects of musical composition: articulating space, volumes, movement of mass, light, people. You can see how, in cunning ways, buildings are held up, not in the obvious ways. When you see some of the marvelous architectural manifestations by architects around the world, you can sometimes hardly believe the building is standing up.

But that is a cunning deceit, also interesting in the musical sense. You can start preparing something long before people are aware of the importance of it. It is not the obvious head-tune- improvise. There is actually something else going on, a transition. Back to the architectural analogy, you take people through the volume, through the space, and bring them out through the other side, an atrium or some place where light is pouring in. I find these things important, even in a subliminal way.

Timing is so important. I like to have a sense of mystery and discovery in a piece. I’ve heard so many pieces over the years where you hear a good idea which is worked to death. You see audiences wilt as the same old thing is going on and on. In the early days, I wrote some pieces that bored the pants off people, but you learn.

I think some composers do not have an understanding of time and events and if you are going to do a long piece like this, there has to be a reason. It is important to assess absolutely the vital strand of information you are going to impart to people. You have to prepare and structure it. It is no good to just string ideas together to make a piece. When you have some other controls, conscious control about where the music is going, the probability of certain things happening and the probability of alternatives, then you can actually build these probabilities-improbabilities, and can actually work at the structure to perhaps partially hide something which will be revealed later.

While I was rattling away there, it occurred to me that one of the important things about improvising groups that gives you great experiences has to do with the timing. There is the technique and the artistry and the general picture that is being exposed, but you have to put things together in time. With Parker-Guy-Lytton, all three of us might play with Evan taking the main lead for 15 minutes, but within that 15 minutes there are activities that happen that break up that time flow or differentiate aspects of the music. So it is not just a roar through a particular musical aspect. Actually within that space we are negotiating space, time, articulation, exchange of ideas, which is what improvisation is about anyway.

It is not difficult to write for these particular musicians [playing in Inscape – Tableau], because you are aware that they are aware and have the sensitivity to know when the moment is right to stop the change. That’s why these men and woman are in the band. There are many others who could be, but you have to make decisions. This band has a good chemistry, there are no star complexes, everybody has an enormous reputation that balances well in this ensemble. And you know that when this piece has an extra bloom to it, it gets bigger and freer.

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