This week on Q2, we introduce you to the spacious and spacial sound world of composer and Slow Six bandleader Christopher Tignor. Listen in for focused programming, including the unreleased track Sleep, Cartographer for piano and fender rhodes, download his piece Cathedral and read an introduction by Tignor himself.
In many ways, Christopher Tignor represents a new generation of composers. Fronting his band Slow Six, he writes the music and designs software instruments (some distributed freely) which he uses to sample and transform the band's live sound. The result are scores and soundscapes that are carefully crafted and delicately manipulated. At the same time, Slow Six works and rehearses much like a traditional rock band, adding a real element of collaboration to the music. They've released multiple albums, and Christopher one solo album, Core Memory Unwound, which bring his software instruments to the forefront, weaving around intimate violin and piano melodies.
Christopher Tignor: Core Memory Unwound from Western Vinyl
Slow Six: Tomorrow Becomes You / Nor'easter / Private Times in Public Places from Western Vinyl and New Albion Records
Christopher Tignor on Christopher Tignor
I had the advantage of not having anything like a composition lesson until I was 28. Though I grew up playing the violin as well as drums and some trumpet, I never even met a fellow young person who called themselves a composer until after college. My idols were authors -- Thomas Bernhard, Dostoevsky, Christopher Isherwood, Hemmingway -- and I followed suit like I thought a real artist would, moving down to the city to work as an EMT and maybe take a crack at the great American novel.
But my friends and I were always making music -- our living American folk music, rock and roll -- and that's where my ears were formed. There your parts are always in negotiation with your fellow band-mates and come show-time you find out quickly whether the songs work or not. In our world of musicians it was imperative to be experimenting -- trying to achieve something new -- while creating songs charged with feeling and whose sincerity was never in question. We called it punk rock and to us, everything else was more or less nonsense.
But as someone who continued to take part in the European tradition of classical music, I began to find something in fact quite punk about some of the music I was encountering. The stark, relentless, raw nerve that is the 1980's piano/violin rendition of Arvo Pärt's Fratres was unapologetic sadness -- undeniably honest and emotionally complex. For the first time I thought there was something in this music that was indeed mine and that I might have something similar to say, something to write down.
But how to begin? Without any contact with, or even knowledge of all these modern music ensembles, I did what every other young musician does: I started a band. Deeply interested in making and performing with live audio sampling instruments, I found a violinist and keyboard player to realize the rest of the score. The first song was around 18 minutes, the second, adding a guitarist, over 20, and the third, now at 7 members plus a video artist, over 30 -- a truly unique experience to be had in NYC's rock-clubs circa 2000 (think Moby and The Strokes). We thus had a debut record with three tracks that ran all the way to edge of the disc and found its way into TONY's 2004 TOP 10 Classical list and Pitchfork's favor. This meditative music all seemed to fall out in a slow six meter so that's what we called ourselves.
Certainly, my writing for Slow Six as well my eventual work outside the band has reached into other aesthetic areas since those first early, mournful works. But more commonalities remain I think. People still don't know whether my music is artful indie-rock or some sort of "cross-over" (ugh) classical idiom -- now so popular. People still read there's a computer involved (when there is) and come away baffled at where it was, ears pitched for the usual electronic palette complete with that silicon aftertaste I tend to avoid. I still feel the need to push back against our spectacle-crazed world and that there are likewise few things more confrontational than music done as simply and beautifully as possible. Though I've on occasion embraced more energetic tempos, the music still asks a relatively unusual degree of patience from the listener as it changes (us) slowly over time, typically leaning into those larger forms. I'm still trying to make the small moves count most, to put a microscope on them. I'm still thinking about this in terms of the ritual between performers and audience -- does this make for a great live moment? And I still wince at the word "composer" and wonder if there are 16 year-old outsiders wandering around Alphabet City that might get into this stuff like I once did.
Cathedral: Part 2 by Christopher Tignor. Film by Alexander Turnquist from the album Core Memory Unwound: