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Simon H Fell

Friday 14 December 2007 23:30-1:00 (Radio 3)

Jez Nelson presents the premiere of a new work by bassist/composer/improviser Simon H Fell, featuring saxophonist Tim Berne and guitarist Joe Morris.


1 hour 30 minutes


Simon H. Fell's 'Composition No. 75: Positions & Descriptions'

Presenter: Jez Nelson
Producer: Robert Abel

Jazz On 3 Signature Tune

Artist Russell Gunn
Track Seventy Four Miles Away
Composer Joe Zawinul
Album Ethnomusicology Volume 1
Label Atlantic
Cat No. 7567-83165-2

Jez interviews Simon H. Fell about the work

Simon H. Fell's Composition No. 75: 'Positions & Desciptions' recorded live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on the 25th November 2007


Chris Batchelor - trumpet
Steve Beresford - electronics / conduction
Tim Berne - alto sax
Joby Burgess - percussion
Rhodri Davies - harp
Jim Denley - flutes
Phillip Joseph - theremin
Joe Morris - guitar
Damien Royannais - baritone sax / tuba
Clark Rundell - conductor
Mark Sanders - drums
Andrew Sparling - clarinets
Philip Thomas - piano
Mifune Tsuji - violin
Alex Ward - clarinet
Simon H Fell - bass and pre-recorded electronics

Movt. I: Positions 1-4
interlude: Who's The Fat Man? [Description 1]
Movt. II: Position 5
interlude: FZ for TB [Description 2] / Commentaire I de «FZ pour PB» [Description 3]
Movt. III: Positions 6-7 / Mifune's Tango [Position 8] / Position 9
interlude: Graphic Description 4
Movt IV: AS for AS [Position 10]
interlude: Plusieurs Commentaires de PB pour DR [Description 5]
Movt. V: Tuplet Omitted [Position 11] / OP for AB [Position 12] / Positions 13-17

Simon H. Fell's performance notes to the work:

Positions & Descriptions: Performance Notes

The 'messy heterophony' characteristic of this score incorporates the possibility of varying degrees of fidelity to the written material. Everyone should try and play the notated material as accurately as possible, but at no point should the concern for accuracy preclude more interesting characteristics such as intensity, energy, interpretation, humour, etc. No-one should worry about being unable to realise notated material exactly as written, but nevertheless should try to do so, as far as their background and inclination permits.

The graphic symbols which appear sporadically throughout the score and which form the basis of the third interlude could be usefully labelled with the Zappaesque instruction "make an improv noise here". Each symbol should be allocated a particular non-idiomatic/extended technique-derived sound by each individual musician, who should then try and permanently associate that symbol with that sound throughout the score. The sounds are not predetermined by the composer, and should be (roughly) fixed by each musician as a result of their own personal repertoire of extended techniques. The shape or type of symbol should be allowed to exert an influence on the choice of sound, should it suggest anything. Similarly, the colour of the symbol, and its disposition relative to the stave may also suggest modifications to the basic sound type. Musicians should not intentionally collaborate to 'rationalise' their sound choices across different instruments.

The timings which appear in the score indicate an approximate timescale for events throughout the piece. They are not compulsory, of course; a work containing a high percentage of improvisation could have any indeterminate length beyond that indicated by the written passages. However, this piece was designed to last 75-80 minutes, and the balance of improvisation and notation was realised with this duration in mind. (In addition to which, the duration of the first performance was limited to approx. 80 minutes for extremely non-musical, practical reasons.) It will also be noted that the rehearsal marks in the score run from 1 to 5 only (and repeatedly recommence at 1, even during the same movement). This is intentional - whilst this may make navigation during rehearsal a little more complex, it is designed assist navigation during performance. It is intended that the conductor will indicate the identity of specific cues and key downbeats by simply holding up the appropriate number of fingers of one hand. (Anyone who is more than 5 cues out of sync in performance is already in trouble!)

For the most part, improvisations should be derived from the tradition often described as 'free' or 'non-idiomatic' improvisation. In general, extended instrumental techniques should be widely employed, with a basic language of atonality and dissonance, and the avoidance of regular or predictable rhythms. Within this language, performers should feel free to use more 'traditional' musical gestures, but should be aware of both the power of the historical resonance and the potential banality of automatic conventional figurations. There are several contexts where the characteristic soundworld of the improvisation may shift, towards a more jazz-orientated (or tango-orientated) soundworld in Movt. III for example, or towards regular semiquaver repetition in Movt. V. These questions should be discussed and clarified during the rehearsal process.

The players of what could loosely be categorised as loud instruments - e.g. saxophones, drumset, etc. - should select or set up their instruments so that they are best able to balance comfortably with the acoustic ensemble whilst still being able to play with intensity and passion. Needless to say, the drumset should be of jazz (rather than rock) type, etc.

Bass and drums 'rhythm section' playing should never be straightforward; even during 'swing' passages a complex, playful, polymetric approach is to be encouraged. Chords symbols are to be treated with similar creativity by those instruments that have them. Ambiguity is essential.

Piano and vibraphone pedalling information is intentionally sparse. Generally, only such pedalling as permits a coherent flow of phrases should be employed. Occasionally, passages are indicated where the sustain pedal is held down, but these are rare. Similarly some passages are marked 'dry' or 'damped' and may need no use of the pedal at all. Vibraphone motor speeds have been indicated on the basis of 3 options: off, slow and fast. Should more options be available, they should be used at the performer's discretion.

The phrasing marks found throughout the score are only that; there is little attempt to indicate bowing or tonguing options, and these should be selected by the performers as appropriate. Wind players should breathe as and when necessary, making minor modifications to the text if appropriate.

The term conduction which appears in the score is a neologism (coined by Butch Morris) referring to conducted improvisation. This should be undertaken with reference to the practices explored by Morris, John Zorn, Frank Zappa and numerous others, and more recently to the work undertaken by the composer, his colleague Steve Beresford, and many others with the London Improvisers Orchestra. Whilst there are some hand signals which have an almost universal application in this field, each conductor will have his or her own personal vocabulary. Therefore individual signals are not identified in the text, and should be explored by the conductor(s) in question during the rehearsal process.

Transposing instruments are written as sounds, with the following exceptions: piccolo and celesta sound an octave higher than written / bass flute, guitar and double bass sound an octave lower than written / glockenspiel sounds two octaves higher than written

All sections within individual Movements or Interludes should be attacca. The only definite breaks should be between the Movements and Interludes themselves, as defined overleaf.

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