Composer Tyshawn Sorey’s double-album, featuring the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound, releases on Cantaloupe Music on August 27.
Recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine, Sorey has been called a denizen of the “in-between zone” by the New Yorker. The two works on the album, commissioned by Alarm Will Sound, tap into a central theme that Sorey calls “the decorating of time.”
“For George Lewis” and “Autoschediasms” together find the composer “testing the limits of the ensemble’s imagination and concentration, and paint a wide-angle sonic canvas that is by turns taut, trenchant, and profoundly moving.”
The New York Times said Sorey is as “arresting a figure in contemporary classical and experimental new music as he is in jazz”. Sorey is the recipient of a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship. As a musician and composer, he is fast becoming known as a driving and defining force behind a young Black vanguard in new music.
Critics have called the 20 member chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound “one of the most vital and original ensembles on the American music scene” (New York Times).
“For George Lewis” is dedicated to the legendary avant garde trombonist and composer and “Autoschediasms” was inspired by the real-time improvisational “conductions” of Butch Morris, with a special nod to Anthony Braxton’s “language music” system).
The two performances on “For George Lewis” were recorded live in St Louis in 2019 and via video chat in 2020 during the pandemic.
“For George Lewis” takes inspiration from Lewis’ “The Will to Adorn”. That work’s title comes from Zora Neale Hurston’s 1934 essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” which cites “the will to adorn” as a crucial characteristic of Black expressivity. Sorey says Lewis’ mix of spontaneous and predetermined composition resonates with him.
“There is great attention to detail given to its temporal and harmonic construction, as well as precision, digression, layering, and expressive timing in groups situated within the ensemble. Both pieces, and “Autoschediasms” for that matter, are indeed very demanding for the players and require much concentration,” he says.
In “Autoschediasms”, Sorey conducts Alarm Will Sound with visual gestures, textual directives, and autonomous prompts relayed via the hands, baton (or several batons), and white board. Some cues are technique-specific, or they can also be relational: for example, directing musicians to play a sound based on their distance from other players, or prompting musicians to execute a given order of events. No matter the gesture, all players are given some degree of freedom in how they realize his directions, and are required to tap into their own musical instincts. The form of the composition is almost never predetermined. Sorey says there is nothing random or ‘free’ when he’s conducting an ensemble.
“I always think compositionally. Much of what I do is craft even when I spontaneously create something, no matter who I am doing it with…. At no point can one performer take this process of making music for granted.”
Alarm Will Sound’s Artistic Director Alan Pierson describes the music as having “a real edge-of-your- seat energy that everyone in the ensemble has to muster in order to keep up with Tyshawn. It’s a collaboration, but it’s also very intensely led music. It’s a language that everyone has to learn in order to keep up.”
Album title: ”For George Lewis”
Artists: Tyshawn Sorey and Alarm Will Sound
Release Date: Aug. 27
Available as Digital/Double-CD on Bandcamp