Arnold Dreyblatt's band pulses ecstatically with retuned strings and looping beats. His Orchestra of Excited Strings - composed of restrung cimbaloms, piano wire basses, hurdy gurdys, refretted guitars - creates transcendental layers of scratching, twanging, plucking, and bowing. A disciple of LaMonte Young and Alvin Lucier, he has cultivated a strong underground fan base. File it under ethno-Eastern European folk techno-microtonal rock.
On The Adding Machine
Being an "expatriate" living in Europe for almost twenty years, it has long been my dream to found an American ensemble once again in the States. Since the last New York "Orchestra of Excited Strings" was disbanded upon my leaving for Berlin in 1983, I have formed a number of ensembles in Europe, from which a number of CD's have been issued. In 1999, composer and performer David Weinstein suggested that I form an American ensemble to perform with new compositions at concerts at Tonic in New York. After the Bang On A Can All-Stars began performing (and finally recorded) my composition Escalator, I had been in discussion with a number of the All-Star musicians about forming a new ensemble. It seemed that the occasion had finally arrived. A long dormant invitation to teach a workshop in music and acoustics at the Center for the Arts at MIT unexpectedly re-emerged, and Evan Ziporyn, with whom I had long been in dialog about the idea, suggested that we could make use of the university facilities. A number of talented students were selected to complete the ensemble, and the occasion provided a second concert opportunity, as well as a space to record. The ensemble represents an interesting collaboration drawing from a number of generations. In contrast to the well-known talents of Bang On A Can All-Stars members (Evan Ziporyn, Mark Stewart and Robert Black), Jeff Lieberman and Laurel P. Smith, both recent graduates from MIT are both in their early 20's. Danny Tunick, with his extensive background in both rock/punk and classical styles, provides a solid driving force which is inspiring for the entire ensemble. It is a great challenge to compose for musicians of such caliber, and I would say that it is the best "Orchestra of Excited Strings" which has existed to date.
Lapse and The Adding Machine were originally composed in a very different form for my former Berlin ensemble, and both were later completely re-written with support from the Foundation for Contemporary Performing Arts, in the late nineties. "Lapse" features a hurdy-gurdy, which was a staple of my early ensembles in the early 1980's, and which provides a rich drone of harmonics, into which the rhythmic pulse sits and "rides." The Adding Machine, represents my first venture into consecutive melody, utilizing the vertical tuning structure found on the fingerboard of an electric guitar which has been modified to perform in the tuning system used in my music. The piece gradually makes its way through successive tonal permutations expressed in "circular" patterns. Both International Dateline and Meantime were composed between October 1999 and January 2000 expressly for this most ensemble and recording project. International Dateline includes an improvisational section for bowed harmonics, accompanied by rhythmic patterns on piano and percussion. Meantime is my first composition for an ensemble including two electric guitars, and is perhaps the longest and most complex composition I have ever attempted.
Instruments and Tuning System
I have been developing instruments specifically for my ensemble for almost twenty-five years, a number of which are represented in this recording. The "cimbalom" is a rebuilt and restrung pre-war Chinese children's piano which is played here horizontally with hand held hammers. One of the electric guitars has built-in magnetic driver-sustainers for each string and for both instruments new frets have been installed in the just intonation scale used for my music. The excited strings bass violin, one of the mainstays of my music since the beginning, has been adapted with unwound steel wire and is struck and beaten with a bass bow. To these are added Hurdy-Gurdy, Cello, Violin, Double Bass, and Percussion. All instruments, with the exception of percussion, perform in the 20-tone per octave just intoned microtonal scale derived from the overtone series with which I composed in the late seventies.
My music is composed of consecutive "loops", which are visually cued by chosen members of the ensemble. For this digital recording, each loop was performed and recorded until it "locked" in harmonically and rhythmically. The long editing process in which these loops were "reconstructed" into complete performances was accomplished along with the final mix by Jürg Hiller at his studio in Berlin. – Arnold Dreyblatt