Despite its gentle sonic profile, this is a bold album that will likely define the vibraphone and marimba for our current era. Like Michael Nicolas’s Transitions did for the cello in 2016, Brennan’s music both exemplifies the qualities of her instruments and moves them into new territory. For the latter, look no further than Episodes, in which woozy electronics transform the vibe’s tones into gooey lozenges of sound that you may find yourself reaching for in the air. – anearful
Handing over the mic to artists/musicians who break down their new albums track by track/share the thought process behind the creation. Today we’ll hear from Patricia Brennan, Mexican born vibraphonist, marimbist, improviser and composer whose debut album Maquishti is out now on Valley of Search.
This album is a personal statement not only as a vibraphonist but also as an improviser and composer. From bowing and bending pitch, to the use of extended effects via guitar pedals, this album reflects my vision for the vibraphone and the potential of all the possible ways it can be played. I wanted to not only incorporate all those techniques in the compositions but also wanted them to become part of my general improvisatory language.
Also, I wanted to incorporate pieces and improvisations played on marimba and feature that instrument mostly in an improvisatory environment which is usually very rare. However, I wanted to highlight the differences of both instruments and how their differences affect the approach as a composer and improviser. From rumba to Gyorgy
Ligeti and Toru Takemitsu, this album also reflects my entire musical journey, all the influences that have shaped and continue to shape my musical vision and persona.
I decided to call this record “Maquishti” because it reflects my search for freedom in musical expression it also speaks to my Mexican identity. “Maquishti” is a word inspired by the nahuatl word maquixtia which means to liberate, to free oneself mentally, spiritually and physically. Nahuatl is a native language from the south and central Mexico and it is still spoken in some communities in my native state of Veracruz.
All pieces were recorded in full, like a live performance, no edits. All effects were added live using a direct microphone system that connects each bar of the vibraphone via single pickups to a mixer which is then connected to the guitar pedals and then to an amp.
One of my goals with this album is to broaden the vision of both instruments, the vibraphone and the marimba, and to highlight and feature all the different ways that those two instruments can be used as means of expression for composers and improvisers.
Track by Track
This composition encapsulates some of my favorite elements of music and life: the use of silence and space, stillness and patience. I was inspired by composers like Toru Takemitsu and Morton Feldman to use the resonance and decay in sound as well as absolute silence as integral elements of the composition. The seed was planted with a three note ascending melody which is complemented by small contrasting responses that vary between gesture like patterns and contrapuntal motifs. My goal with this piece is to find beauty in the resonance and decay of each sound, savoring it until the very last breath. Also, to change our experience of time and space in music and life, almost like moving in slow motion but in real time at the same time.
This is one of the fully improvised pieces that I ended up recording towards the end of the session. This improvisation focuses on the use of effects via guitar pedals. My goal was to use the effects as an extension of my sonic and textural palette as well as an extension of the range of the instrument. This allowed me to reach notes way below the range of the vibraphone as well as to play around and improvise with the response or delays caused by the effects and incorporating them in a compositional manner.
This is another fully improvised piece that reflects the influence that my past as a classical marimbist has on my voice as an improviser. Marimba was the first mallet percussion instrument I was exposed to and fell in love with. In part, my hometown Veracruz is one the states in Mexico that holds a rich marimba tradition, and later on during my training as a concert percussionist, I was exposed to the concert marimba. Since then, I’ve been fascinated and inspired by leading composers for the instrument, such as Keiko Abe, Minoru Miki and Yasuo Sueyoshi. There’s definitely a certain language that is particular to this instrument and part of my goal has been to bring that to light as an improviser.
This was the first piece written for the solo project. It was meant as a short musical poem, using space, simplicity, as well as extreme range to create the illusion of depth. As far as the form, it’s one of the more standard forms in the record: head – solo – head. However, I still wanted to keep a certain sense of freedom throughout the piece. From an emotional perspective, this piece reflects a duality of longing and hope.
The vision for this piece, as its name suggests, was to create a journey through different worlds and chapters but at the same time trying to keep the big arc across the piece. Each of the episodes has its own personality, feel, emotion which is reflected in my improvisatory language within each section. Each episode starts with a written section which immediately leads into an improvisation inspired by the theme. The last episode features the use of effects, in order to eventually recreate the idea of a corky sounding loop, which ends the journey.
This is another fully improvised piece. During the process of recording these improvised pieces, my goal was to always be in a mental and emotional space that would allow me to tell a unique story. Every time, I tried to be in a different space, in this particular case, the space was dark and almost macabre. It reminded me of the feeling I get when I see paintings by Jose Clemente Orozco or Francisco Goya, or when I used to play certain pieces by Iannis Xenakis. Eventually, since the beginning was so emotionally exhausting, it leads into a decaying ending that in a sense also has a slight sense of hope – the calm after the storm.
This is probably the most complex piece of the project compositionally and technically speaking. The composition process was inspired by the mathematical design by the same name as the piece. There are 3 layers in question and each layer has its own numerical combination that ultimately adds up to the number 15. Sometimes the layers coexist independently from each other and sometimes they intertwine in order to create a different pattern. The other inspiration for this piece was my childhood musical influences, which included cuban son. When I was writing this, I kept hearing a montuno pattern that eventually was manipulated by the magic square. The version that I ended up playing in the record, starts with an improvised intro that introduces the sections of the piece, eventually leading into the piece itself. The opening improvisation also features the use of effects via guitar pedals. The structure was pattern based and is divided in three big sections. Each pattern repeats several times but each time there’s improvisation involved, which also draws from the piano montuno idea. The pattern becomes improvisatory material.
This is another marimba improvisation that continues to be inspired by the theme of using silence and space, stillness and patience. From the beginning, the improvisation is inspired by a motif that continues to be developed throughout the piece. The silences in between the phrases are meant not as rests but as a continuation of the energy of the improvisation – the silences create tension which always lead into the next musical segment.
This piece features a technique for vibraphone that’s called pitch bending, where you bend the sound by sliding a plastic mallet over the bar. It’s an unusual technique within improvisatory situations, however it was the goal to incorporate it as seamlessly as possible and make it part of the language of the piece. As far as form, this piece is quite standard: melody – improvisation – melody. The inspiration behind the melody and the use of pitch bending was a yearning singing voice, the pain and longing that those bends imply. I’m also using a delay/echo effect via guitar pedals that adds an eerie feeling to the overall vibe of the piece.
There’s a lot of different techniques used in this piece, the goal was to use the vibraphone more as a percussion instrument, and to use the resulting colors as my new improvisatory language. Instead of mallets, I use binder clips to play the bars which almost resembles a kalimba or a more mechanical sound like a music box. Eventually, the mallets come in towards the end combined with the use of muted bars – the bars were muted by clipping a binder clip at the end of the bar. I wanted to play with as many textures as possible and create a completely different experience with the instrument. The entire piece is based on a recurring pattern that is separated by different textural patterns. The opening theme eventually leads into an improvisation that culminates in a harsh glissando from one end of the instrument to the other. After the improvisation, what I was mentally picturing while playing were small pieces of a whole body coming slowly to life and eventually finding their way into each other until the body is able to walk away non-stop. This piece reflects my love for texture and its possibilities, not only as an added color but as an integral element of a composition.
This piece features in its entirety a more common technique on vibraphone which is the use of bows. The composition is based on a series of pitches that are introduced as a canon in an improvisatory manner. I wanted to take advantage of being able to sustain the sound and play around with the lasting resonance of each of the pitches. In addition, I was enhancing the manual sustain with a delay pedal which would help to sustain the sound of each pitch even longer. I also wanted to make the vibraphone sound like an orchestra and create one big mass of sound slowly developing and fluctuating like one single organism. This concept was inspired by one of my favorite composers: Gyorgy Ligeti and his use of micropolyphony, which at the end turns pitch into texture.
One of my favorite qualities of the marimba is its ability to sustain sound by rolling on the bars creating an almost organ effect that has a solemn quality to it. This piece is personally dedicated to my late grandmother Hilda, she passed away in Mexico a month before I recorded the album, this piece was written as a result of that loss. The name “Derrumbe de Turquesas” is a metaphor for tears falling.