As many of you know, I recently transcribed and arranged The Beatles Revolution 9 for Alarm Will Sound. It was definitely the largest arrangement I have ever done, and probably my largest completed project (The Little Death is on its way…). We performed it at the Kitchen a couple weeks ago and I got a lot of good feedback. There was a decent response on some blogs about the performance, but a little birdy told my that New York Magazine was looking to do a feature on it, so I wanted to wait until that came out before I posted.
Well, it came out today! Here is an excerpt of the review by Justin Davidson:
A French-horn player whimpered like a newborn into one microphone, as a violinist murmured through a trumpet mute into another mike so that her voice sounded watery and indistinct. A percussionist smashed and stirred a bagful of broken glass with a hammer, and a clarinetist blurted the tune to “There’s a place in France / Where the naked ladies dance.” A sober young man, unaccustomed to performing, wielded one of those old-fashioned squeezable car horns and in an impassive baritone kept repeating: “Number nine … number nine.” Yes, you got it: Welcome to the live, all-acoustic version of Lennon and McCartney’s foray into musique concrète, “Revolution 9,” as performed with irresistible panache by the twenty-member ensemble Alarm Will Sound.
Nonchalantly virtuosic and unburdened by conventional wisdom, the players in Alarm Will Sound invent challenges that some might regard as mystically pointless—Matthew Marks’s obsessively detailed transcription of “Revolution 9,” for instance. The payoff lies in performances that make complexity sound crystalline, that dismantle a piece’s purity but leave its energy intact.
For some reason, my full name is used (I defer the use of my full name to the real Matthew Marks), but whatevs, this is pretty cool. After being solely a performer for so long it is nice to approach the music from this side. It is a lot less high-stress and you get a great deal more praise. Why’d I ever choose to be a horn-player? :)
It was cool to, ya know, talk to a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer from a major magazine about my latest creative endeavor. Although, I was a little worried I had made a bad first impression. I was introduced to Justin Davidson just after a Revolution 9 rehearsal, while I was still in my buoyant creative high. My first words to him were, “You know, you kind of look like John Lennon!” He looked at me oddly and proceeded to ask me about the arrangement as I slowly removed my foot from my mouth. Whatever though! He had these great round Lennon glasses just like I had when I was a young obsessed John Lennon fan.
He was very interested in the garbage bag full of glass bottles we were smashing, as well one would be expected to be, mainly because at one point in the rehearsal Jonathan Shapiro advised the woodwinds to step back as he took a hammer to it, in case any shards were to fly in their direction.
If you missed it at The Kitchen we’ll be doing a slightly-revised version at the Bang on a Can Marathon on May 31st. Come see it. It should be pretty cool in that crazy glass garden they have at the World Finance Center.
Here are a couple more responses to the arrangement:
AWS horn player Matt Marks arrangement was stunning not just because it showed for certain how dynamic and lively “Revolution #9” really is but also how funny it is too and even melodic in places. Using bike horns, megaphones and horn mutes to recreate the sinister, strange music that makes up the piece, AWS also filled in the blanks with Marks and others recreating the taped voices, chants and cheers also heard in the song. “I am for peaceful revolution,” a AWS member said quoting Lennon before the song was played and afterwards, they made you feel that he was, if not advocating for a sonic one that Stockhausen, Berio and others had already arrived at. Among these other composers, the song finally had its context and made sense. The crowd seemed to appreciate that too, awarding them with rousing applause.
The topic of revolution, though, is not a lighthearted topic. “Revolution 9,” the Beatles’ work, arranged by Matt Marks (horn player of Alarm…) was a dazzling display of orchestration and recreating sound effects and tape loops live. But the entire evening left me feeling less like I was present at a revolution than at the study of one.
UPDATE: Justin dropped me an email. Apparently he was shocked because just a few days prior, some man on the street had called him John Lennon as well! Nice.