Wired Goddess and Her Trombone
a review for Music Works (Winter 2001)
a recent interview, trombonist Abbie Conant spoke with conviction about her
newest endeavor: “My project is called ‘The Wired goddess and her
Trombone.’ ‘Wired’ has at
least a double entendre, if not more. In
English it describes someone’s condition when they drink too much coffee,
i.e. a lot of energy, a kind of electrical charge.
The expression, ‘Wired’ covers just about every compositional and
performance style. I wanted to
start a brand new movement with the trombone.
The trombone has so much bad literature, so much B-music, music that I
simply cannot identify with. I
wanted to find a new music, to work with composers both known and unknown,
such a Pauline Oliveros, Chris Brown or Maggi Payne, as well as students.
I wanted a completely original approach and a completely different
feeling that I simply hadn’t yet found in this world.”
internationally known trombonist, performance artist and professor, Abbie
Conant, is fed up with the existing trombone solo literature.
With her project, “The Wired Goddess and Her Trombone,” she
encourages composers around the world to invent new worlds of sound for the
instrument and electronics. As
compensation she offers CD recordings, publishing of scores (including a
CD-ROM), and the chance for the piece to enter the repertoire instead of being
shelved after the premiere.
of the requirements is that the piece be “playable.”
This master of subtle trombone sounds and an expressive, almost
“spoken” style supports a kind of “Gebrauchsmusik.”
“Yes, that is just practical-mindedness in the sense of Hindemith’s
Gebrauchsmusik,” Conant explains. “Students
should be able to play these pieces without necessarily having a wide
register. Then they can just jump
right in and work with electronics.” This
stipulation could almost be seen as a provocation, but actually composers have
reacted with overwhelming positiveness. The
number of new works already fills an entire evening concert program.
On November 27th, at the State Academy of Music in
Trossingen, Germany, (and a few months earlier at the Center for New Music and
Technology at the University of California at Berkley) Abbie Conant presented
an almost three hour long solo-concert consisting solely of world and German
premieres. The enthusiastic
reception of her students showed how relevant this new solo repertoire for
trombone is. The richness of
ideas came through strongly in the pieces.
the feminist theme of the project was not a problem. Conant recalls,
“There was, for instance, Chris Brown, with his piece entitled
‘Time Bomb.’ He read my Wired
Goddess proposal and saw that I mentioned even bagladies as possible
incarnations of the Goddesses or her expression. ‘Ha! Baglady!,’ he thought, and turned to Mina Loy, the poet who
essentially ended her life as one. He
chose four of her poems for me and ‘set’ them via SuperCollider.”
The poems were recorded by Abbie Conant and then processed by granular
synthesis. The trombone
“performs” or “speaks” the text interactively.
With the SuperCollider program the trombone can directly effect how the
text is delivered and simultaneously play along with the voice.
piece Conant mentions with a certain affection is by Jorge Boehringer with the
odd title: “The Sinking Ship Or How to Use the Trombone As a Snorkel,”
which she describes as being something like “ancient Greek Sirens meeting
the fog horns of the San
Francisco Bay.” The special
atmosphere of the piece is created through the projection of a Super-8 quality
video that recollects a home movie complete with the clicking sound of an old
fashioned film projector. Conant
is especially impressed with how simply and subtly Boehringer uses the
trombone’s possibilities. The
vastness of space and time are captured through the use of a pulled out tuning
slide on the instrument’s f-attachment.
When the trigger is pressed the sound goes backwards out the open tube
and into a mic hooked to a delay that projects it via speakers into the hall,
while what comes out the bell is purely acoustic.
yet another work, “Hum 2,” (for solo trombone and seven-track tape in
surround sound) by Maggi Payne, an especially beautiful multi-layered timbreal
spectrum emerges. Conant
associates this piece with the Japanese goddess Tatsua-Hima who incarnates
herself as the wind, though the composer prefers the abstraction of the music
as it is. Each recorded trombone
is on a separate track so that eight trombones surround the audience.
first half of the program was made up of one 51 minute long piece entitled
“Music for the End of Time” written by Conant’s husband, William
Osborne. The work is comprised of
six movements evoking six key visions from the Revelation of St. John the
Divine. Even for a soloist of
Abbie Conant’s caliber, this piece is a challenge of the highest level.
Placed amid a quadraphonic sound environment similar to the surround
sound of a good cinema, the music intensely delivers the Biblical visions St.
John heard and saw as if “it were a trumpet talking.”
Even though the Hindemithian term Gebrauchsmusik doesn’t apply here,
Conant mentions that in addition to an elaborate score, a CD to help learn the
piece is included.
partly collaboratively developed work clearly indicates the deeper reasons
behind the “Wired Goddess and Her Trombone.”
Abbie Conant, who was principal trombone of the Munich Philharmonic
under Sergiu Celibidache from 1980-1993, struggled for her equal rights as a
woman, morally as well as financially. She
not only wants a new palette of sounds for the trombone, but also a new world
of the imagination for the instrument. Other works on the program composed for
Conant included Elizabeth Hoffmann's "The Elderberry Goddess, Cindy Cox's
"Hysteria", Alex Potts'
"The Secret Waits," Nancy Dowlin's "Love Song Without
Words", and Pauline Oliveros’ “The Heart of Tones.”
trombone of the 21st Century should (finally!) symbolize a balance
between masculine and the feminine energies.
Conant’s project is a call from the heart: “Come
on, let’s get it together with this men and women thing.
Come on, it’s the 21st Century, let’s move it.
I’m there. (Laughter.)
Come with me, at least.
I’m not gonna live in that old world anymore.
I’m sorry, it’s over, it didn’t work.
You know, that’s how I feel.”