Turnarounds – the piece, and my attitude
10 Thursday May 2012
I wrote a post in 2012 that showed an embarrassing part of me that I don’t usually associate with me: a narrow mind. It was about Israel Neuman’s composition for horn and tape entitled “Turnarounds.” That post was basically about how I don’t or didn’t like pieces that are difficult to read and have a lot of extended techniques, which, in the end told you more about me than the piece or the composer.
I don’t think that way any more. My mind has become a little less narrow. I think the piece is amazing. And I owe a big apology to Israel Neuman for my original post. To that end, I am going to rewrite the post here about the piece so that it reflects more my less-narrow mind. I’ll include snippets of the old post mixed with my new views.
The recorded electronic background track for Turnarounds is very cool. I have no idea how the composer did that part of it – some wild sonic manipulations of horn sounds that sound like everything (and I mean everything) from, say, the string quartet on the deck of the sinking Titanic, except going by in an echo chamber on top of a truck with flat tires in high winds, to an underwater Klingon marching band jamming with the bar band from the Star Wars cantina scene. With cadenzas for R2D2. All from horn sounds. Very cool, very imaginative, very impressive. Nice work – bravo Dr. Neuman!
The horn part itself was nearly impossible to play exactly as written in many places for the likes of me. There are certainly better horn players out there who can manage it. I had to tell the composer that I could do the part if he was willing to be flexible about my creation of the part. He said, fine, no problem as long as the horn part lines up precisely with the recorded part. The horn part has timing in seconds above the notation (parallel to the horn part is a notated rendition of the electronic part, and the notational rendition of the electronic sounds is exceptionally imaginative). The trickiest part of playing is watching three things more or less at once: the horn part, the electronic sounds part, and an external digital clock to make sure that you are lined up. Before we recorded it, I played it in concert and we had a digital clock out in front of me. Challenging.
I have to thank Israel for taking my comfort zone with extended techniques to a whole new level not experienced before or since. The piece had a positive audience response and was also appreciated on higher levels: he has won several awards for it.
Turnarounds is very interesting to listen to. To play it, you need a block of free time and a willingness to spend some time out of your comfort zone.
For those who want to tackle the piece remember that the main thing is the exact timing of lining up the horn part with the recorded track; do what you can to approximate the notated part. You can see the score here. You can hear the whole piece here. (both from Israel’s web site and on my new CD “Soundings” (released February 25, 2015 on MSR Classics [msrcd.com]), which is series of adventures of improvised horn plus some kind of electronic effects.