Wish I would have posted this earlier. Tonight—approximately 20 minutes ago, as I post this—Michael Pisaro, Julia Holter, and Jason Brogran will be performing Tombstones at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn. Tombstones is being called Pisaro’s foray into pop music. If that sounds odd to you—Michael Pisaro? Pop music?!—then check out this interview posted at the Issue Project Room website, which explains how the project started and how Julia Holter got involved:
Lawrence Kumpf: How did the Tombstones project come about?
Michael Pisaro: As you know, I often work with a group of composers, called Wandelweiser, and for some reason I started getting asked by them to write pieces for voice—songs or something like it—for concerts they were producing in Europe. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time and was initially tempted to say no, because I didn’t like the idea of taking some traditionally poetic text and setting it to music in the way that concert composers usually do. But then the idea raised another question—a really interesting question, at least for me anyway: Can you write experimental or indeterminate music that is still a song? So that’s really where the project of writing the pieces began. With this kind of music, what would make it hard to sing in a normal circumstance is that you might not be able to predict where melodies and harmonies and rhythms and so forth come in. This is a situation that is quite common in Christian Wolff’s music; where sometimes you have the materials, but not the order in which they occur.
LK: I know the pop songs that you’re using for the compositions are not public knowledge but can you speak to how you work with them? Can you elaborate a little on how the pieces are put together, how much interpretation is left to the instrumentalist and how chance functions in relation to the score?
MP: Virtually all of the melodies and the texts are what I would call found sounds—maybe a less polite term would be “stolen songs”. They consist in basically every case of a tiny fragment of some kind of popular, country or blues song. Nothing comes from classical music, but these songs could be by anyone really—Robert Johnson, UGK/DJ Screw, David Bowie, the Beatles….
There’s lots more if you follow the link. If you haven’t already, you should also check out Pisaro’s essay Hit or Miss, where he connects the dots between experimental music, The Temptations, and baseball.
Michael’s Tombstones project has also been featured in the Village Voice and will be released on vinyl by HEM Berlin in November. You can listen to samples by following that link, or you can listen to the embedded Soundcloud sample from “Silent Cloud” below. Along with the new Scott Walker, this is one of the albums I most look forward to hearing.