Expanse Meets the JMDE Quartet - Scope
LIVESTREAMED from Evil Clown Headquarters, Waltham MA
8 August 2021
Review Excerpt by Nick Ostrum, Squid's Ear (full text below)
“… Scope distinguishes itself as it stops short of the cosmic spaciness featured in the larger Leap of Faith ensembles, the heavy grind of Metal Chaos, or the tangled and windy torrents of Turbulence. Instead, the quintet turns its attention to the realm between the mundane and the supernatural and conjures a surprising euphony and sense of transcendence…”
"David Peck's Grand Aesthetic approach to compositional structures for groupings of any size and orchestral combination leads to unexpected and sometimes exotic results, as heard in this live and monumental performance of his Expanse project expanded with percussionist Michael Knoblach, David Welans on flutes, Eric Dahlman on trumpet and Jimmy Zhao on Chinese instruments."
Liner Notes Excerpt by PEK (Full text below)
"… The newly named Expanse’s first set, Vacuum Energy, was a trio with guest Michael Caglianone on saxes. For this new performance, Scope, Michael brought his entire ensemble, The JMDE Quartet. Eric Dahlman (trumpet) is an Evil Clown regular and has performed on numerous Leap of Faith and Turbulence sessions. He originally introduced me to Michael and the JMDE Quartet is their ongoing project with David Welans (flutes) and Jimmy Zhao (various Chinese instruments). David and Jimmy are Evil Clown newcomers and were great on this session, so look for them more in this and perhaps other ensembles.…”
PEK - contralto & contrabass clarinets, alto & tenor saxophones, piccolo oboe, sheng, alto & bass flutes, occarinas, wood flute, bass dizi, bass recorder, concertina, aquasonic, [d]ronin, spring boxes, chime boxes, electric chimes, Tibetal bell, guqin, guyzeng, balafon, brontosaurus & tank bells, almglocken, glockenspiel, Englephone, crotales, wood blocks, temple blocks, log drums, orchestral castanets
Jimmy Zhao – erhu, hulusi, bawu, dizi, xiao, xun, tao di
Michael Knoblach - basket of rocks, seed pod shakers, shakers and rattles, water filled mason jars, billiards triangle, abacus, vibratones, frame drum, copper bowl, lp udder, sandpaper blocks, glass furniture leg carpet protector, slinky, horses-ass-a-phone, Christmas ornaments, clock chime, toys
Liner Notes by PEK
The Evil Clown Empire is comprised of the Leap of Faith Orchestra and its core unit, Leap of Faith, along with other ensembles that feature different cross-sections of the Orchestra: Turbulence features the horn players, String Theory features the String Players, Metal Chaos Ensemble features percussion and electronics, PEK Solo features my own playing, etc. The individual bands do not have a fixed set of players, but instead have a central idea which focuses the palate of sounds available. One of the projects (now dormant while I find a venue to replace Third Life Studios), Leap of Faith Orchestra & Sub-Units, features short improvisation by sections from the orchestra followed by an improv with everyone. So, Evil Clown performances are credited to Sub-Unit No. “X” when a small format improvisation occurs by members of the orchestra which are not assignable to one of the regular ensemble names.
Last year, just before the onset of the pandemic, I had a first session with a new percussionist, Michael Knoblach entitled Main Sequence… Although Michael plays the drum set, in recent years he has been focused on percussion. This duet with the Evil Clown percussion arsenal along with instruments from Michael’s huge collection available enabled wonderful new sonority. Michael plays at a quieter mean dynamic than is typical for Evil Clown ensembles. Leap of Faith, in particular, has stretches of this quieter space in nearly every improvisation, but the mean dynamic is much louder. It was very interesting to focus an entire set on my lower volume vocabulary. Following my nomenclature for ensemble names, this first set was released with the band name Sub Unit No.1.
In May of 2021, I opened Evil Clown Headquarters to other fully vaccinated musicians, and the first session of the new age was scheduled to revisit this sound world. Michael and I both enjoyed the auspicious first set and this will now be an ongoing Evil Clown project, both as a duet for some sets and as a larger unit for others. As an ongoing project, it needed a permanent name, so after some thought I came up with Expanse which evokes space and restraint, the central idea behind this ensemble.
The newly named Expanse’s first set, Vacuum Energy, was a trio with guest Michael Caglianone on saxes. For this new performance, Scope, Michael brought his entire ensemble, The JMDE Quartet. Eric Dahlman (trumpet) is an Evil Clown regular and has performed on numerous Leap of Faith and Turbulence sessions. He originally introduced me to Michael and the JMDE Quartet is their ongoing project with David Welans (flutes) and Jimmy Zhao (various Chinese instruments). David and Jimmy are Evil Clown newcomers and were great on this session, so look for them more in this and perhaps other ensembles.
I was especially eager to play with Jimmy since I am a fan of the sounds of Chinese and other Asian musics. I have quite a few Chinese instruments, some of which, like the Sheng, are among my primary instruments. Since some of Jimmy’s instruments were various Chinese flutes, there are several sections of the work with 2 or 3 flutes at once, which is an unusual sonority in the Evil Clown catalog. Like the earlier sets with Michael, the dynamics are towards the quiet end of the range and the sounds are beautifully subtle in combination.
I was expecting this to be a great session and I was not disappointed. Evil Clown will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever, so stay tuned for several new releases per month from the various ensembles!!!
PEK, 9 August 2021
On Leap of Faith: "Alien yet familiar, bizarre yet completely fascinating. Expanding, contracting, erupting, settling down, always as one force..." - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Per the man himself, PEK's Grand Aesthetic, his singular musical system, is designed to work with almost limitless configurations of musicians and instruments. His system has already been run through various arrangements, ranging from solos (including entire orchestras of overdubbed PEKs) to small and mid-sized ensembles to the massive Leap of Faith Orchestra. The system has often worked best, or at least most reliably, when stalwart collaborators such as Glynis Limon, Bob Moores, and Yuri Zbitnov have taken part in the projects. However, it really shows its promise and flexibility when musicians external to the already wide Leap of Faith universe enter the fray.
Expanse is a new group consisting of Michael Knoblach on percussion and and PEK on, well, everything imaginable. Add to that Eric Dahlman on trumpet and gong, David Wellans on flutes and piccolo, and Jimmy Zhao on a host of instruments of Asian derivation (erhu, hulusi, bawu, dizi, xiao, xun, tao di), and you have the combined Expanse and JMDE Quartet captured here.
Different instruments introduce different palettes of sound and new collaborators lead to new musical paths. Scope is a case in point for this claim, as the additions of Dahlman, and, maybe more notably, Wellans and Zhao bring an earthiness and numinosity to this session that is unique among Evil Clown's recent releases. On the one hand, wafting melodies pervade this release more than anything I have heard from PEK since his work with Raqib Hassan in the late 1990s. At the same time, this uncharacteristically hypnotic melodicism and earthy percussion (45 minutes in, when the ensemble really seems to settle in) evoke a ritualism his recent projects seem to systematically avoid.
Now, this release might not be a complete departure. The cosmic electronic effects remain, as does PEK's relentless push to explore different combinations of tones and timbres while eschewing hooks and repetition. Scope distinguishes itself as it stops short of the cosmic spaciness featured in the larger Leap of Faith ensembles, the heavy grind of Metal Chaos, or the tangled and windy torrents of Turbulence. Instead, the quintet turns its attention to the realm between the mundane and the supernatural and conjures a surprising euphony and sense of transcendence. (Just listen to how the heavy sirens dissipate when faced with a gust of echoing flutes and chirping scrapes at 53' to hear how this music explores that liminal space.) Scope, in other words, is alternately steeped in the Evil Clown aesthetic and a step beyond it.
Scope is likely to appeal to fans of previous PEK releases. Maybe more importantly, however, this one might even convince a few of those holdouts who have been looking for more tunefulness among the blasts and abrasions.
On Metal Chaos Ensemble: "... using unique strategies to yield densely active and eerily surreal music, an incredible excursion through experimental improvisation." - Squidco website staff
Composer and multi-instrumentalist, PEK, set his sights on something bigger with the Leap of Faith Orchestra's Supernovae. The previous incarnation of the LOFO expands from the fifteen musicians on The Expanding Universe (Evil Clown, 2016) to twenty-one players on this new outing. Another noteworthy element of this project is PEK's use of Frame Notation where the score is seen in written descriptions and straight-forward symbols within Duration Bars. The system provides the musicians with immediate understanding of their own parts and the higher-level arrangement of the music.
Supernovae consists of a single track composition running just under eighty minutes. The digital download includes a bonus track. Though the extended piece is not broken out by formal movements, there are clear delineations within the score. PEK's ensemble—not surprisingly—includes enough non-traditional and weird instruments to compete with a Dr. Seuss orchestra. Though they are not playing in a vacuum, that group of instruments dominates the first ten minutes before strings and reeds make themselves more clearly heard. Forty-five minutes in, we have the first case of prolonged melody, darker and more subdued than the overall tone of the first half.
Supernovae gives way to free improvisation overlaying the melody. Eventually the piece introduces a brilliant percussion passage before it reintroduces the non-traditional music elements, but here in a more refined manner. As with all of PEK's compositions, there is—behind the scenes—a painstaking amount of organization that is not always evident in the listening. That is part of the beauty of this album; the non-traditional approach to instrumentation and the lack of adherence to Western structure continue to make the various iterations of Leap of Faith consistently interesting. And interesting look at the written score can be viewed at http://www.evilclown.rocks/lofo-supernovae-score.html.