NO TECHNIQUE

STANLEY SCHUMACHER'S 'NO TECHNIQUE' A HYPNOTIC, EXPERIMENTAL JOURNEY

‘Perfect Symmetry for Perfect Order’ runs the ironic tagline for this interesting composition, which consists of exactly forty-two minutes of technique-free, texture-based antics for ‘State-Approved Trombonist’ David Taylor. While one might infer Douglas Adams from this figure, composer Stanley Schumacher riffs instead on George Orwell, transporting us to 2084, where ‘the long-dreamed-of totalitarian utopia is in place’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence has achieved parity with human intelligence’. The piece follows an almost respiratory rhythm – one ever widening albeit – consisting of three main constituents: a resonant tone, suspended and rolled out to lung capacity, which then submits to a grunt of relief and a long metallic inhalation before beginning anew. The cycle lasts for six minutes, but is gradually and repeatedly overlaid, assuming a peculiar form of artificial autonomy over time. The ‘completed’ composition theoretically lasts for twenty one minutes, with the second half – perhaps arbitrarily decided by the listener – being a ‘mirror’ and/or a ‘retrograde’ of the first. Listeners are tacitly advised to create their own ‘segments’ by starting and stopping the piece according to personal preference, and thus exercising some form of armchair anarchy against the stricture of Big Brother-approved composition.” - Stuart Marshall

— The Sound Projector

NO TECHNIQUE

STANLEY SCHUMACHER / DAVID TAYLOR
NO TECHNIQUE FOR THREE TROMBONES
USA MUSIKMACHER PRODUCTIONS MMC01 (2013)

Professor Musikmacher would be proud. He is the alter ego of trombone player Stanley Schumacher, composer of “No Technique.” The Professor, who was educated at Berlin’s Moravian Academy and St. Ursula’s Home for Delinquent Girls, has long lurked in the back of Schumacher’s mind, but he seems to have finally taken control with this CD. It is the aural equivalent of an experiment by a mad scientist who does not compromise. “No Technique” is one 42-minute track performed by David Taylor on bass trombone. It is a series of buzzing drones that often remind you of the humming of a bee. The drone sounds are interrupted by Taylor’s breathing and playing notes at the ends of phrases. The notes vary from melodic calls that could come from a classical performance, to an occasional slurred bleating as he explores the lower range of his instrument. It will be off putting to anyone who expects conventional music (with technique), but it has a hypnotic quality that can grow on you if you give it a chance. The CD sleeve says that with this texture-based piece, you can begin listening at any point. Scored for three trombones, it is a single six-minute segment of music that is repeated and overlapped multiple times. Despite the influence of Professor Musikmacher, this CD is serious stuff. Taylor is a graduate of the Julliard School of Music. His amazing credits include appearing with the New York Philharmonic, being a member of the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Jazz Band, and recording with Duke Ellington, The Rolling Stones, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. He has appeared and recorded chamber music with Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Wynton Marsalis. He has also recorded four solo albums (or maybe five, if you include this one.) Incidentally, if you play the CD on your PC and go to www.stanleyschumacher.com, the sample music that plays on the website fits right in with this CD, so hearing the music from both sources adds to the listening experience. It is kind of like listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and watching “The Wizard of Oz.” There might be a film you can watch with this combination, also. Perhaps Schumacher will tell us on his website -- if he ever recovers from Professor Musikmacher’s mental domination.” - Dave Howell

— The Morning Call

NO TECHNIQUE Stanley Schumacher has quite a repertoire: jazz trombonist and improvisational music theorist, doctorate of music theory from the Ohio State University, director of the Music Now Ensemble, and founder of Musikmacher Productions. “No Technique” is part of Schumacher’s New Composition Series on freeform and contemporary art music in jazz. Six trombones create a rolling epic composition of avant-garde jazz. It’s extremely spacious, borderlining empty – there are no noticeable rhythms, just trombones and the ambiance of recorded space. The composition is 21 minutes, but this CD version is 42 minutes, with the second set being a retrograde of the first. Each phrase (from what I can distinguish) is a six-minute section of music that is repeated and overlapped several times. All trombone parts were played by David Taylor, a Julliard graduate whose résumé includes Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. I’ve never listened to virtuosic trombone before, but this is probably what it sounds like.”

— Reviews for Radio

EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB MUSIC NOW ENSEMBLE. Stanley Schumacher, Christofer Varner, trombone, voice; Evan Lipson, string bass; Jason Smeltzer, Theremin; Professor Musikmacher, oral arts. It is apparent that Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble approach very seriously the combined arts (performance, composition, improvisation, and all manner of recording and processing technology) involved in creating this very interesting recording. It also appears that the performers are not above burying their collective tongues deeply into their cheeks at times, for instance in tracks like What’s In A Name?, as well as the prominent role assumed by Professor Musikmacher – presumed to be Schumacher’s pseudonym or alter ego. Recalling the definition of music as “the organization of sound and silence in time” may be helpful when listening to this music. While many of the sounds are not typical to the instruments being used, the sounds have certainly been highly organized, albeit perhaps at times spontaneously so. And Schumacher has called upon the very traditional method of utilizing programmatic technique to assist the listener in following the music. Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble are capable musicians and have created music with an enormously diverse sonic palette. The Theremin in particular is used to great effect. For anyone inclined toward experimental music Stanley Schumacher and the Music Now Ensemble are highly recommended.” - Tom Walker

— International Trombone Association Journal

EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB This is both a very serious record and a fun record. The fun part is clear with the opening track which is a yell lasting all of 8 seconds. And in “Name” the ‘professor’ just names every imaginable label put on music while Lipson improvises behind him. As the piece goes on the others join in, clearly having fun. And, of course, the professor is Stanley Schumacher. The point of the piece is to show how meaningless these titles or genres are. “Mouth Sounds” are just that. Musicians just making all kinds of noises, mostly silly ones, with their mouths, one of whom does a great imitation of a trombone. And again we have a record that is clearly improvisational, but performed by musicians with classical training and experience. When they get serious about the music, what they play is definitely worth listening to. I especially like the contrast between the trombones and the theremin. At the end of “B Movie” there is a lovely duet between Lipson and Smeltzer. This piece is very atmospheric and could easily work as a score for a B horror movie. And the vocalizations add a bit of camp to the proceedings. “Ear Training” is perhaps the most serious piece on the CD. There is some excellent playing by all. And like all improvising musicians, they all know when to play and when not to play. There is some great interplay between the two trombones, between a trombone and bass, and all with theremin. “Performin’ Artiste” is a story about an exotic dancer, with great bass accompaniment, very reminiscent of some of the old Mingus pieces with voice, like “The Clown.” While “Machine Language” uses all instruments in interesting ways, supporting Schumacher’s vocalizations, which, at times, reminded me of Clark Terry’s “Mumbles.” A strange record to be sure, but it is fun listening to talented musicians having fun.” - Bernie Koenig

— Cadence Magazine

EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB Stanley Schumacher’s Way Cool album (see review), appealed to me for its at times tongue-in-cheek approach to “improvised contemporary art (classical) music.” This is a field which for many listeners is the equivalent of having to listen to pianos being recycled for scrap, but when it comes to any kind of music which is prepared and worked on seriously while projecting a light touch and at times an appealing sense of humour, my antennae become alerted to new possibilities. The blurb for this release illustrates its contents so well that I can’t help quoting it: “Music will never be the same after Professor Musikmacher gets through with it! In his zeal to further musical understanding, he favours us on this CD with a series of “illustrative lectures” about contemporary music wherein the music itself is both the illustration and the lecture. The lectures were created in The Professor's Experimental Music Lab, using analytical models developed at Berlin’s St. Ursula’s School for Delinquent Girls. One picture, or in this case, one illustration, is worth a thousand words.” The approach is perhaps summed up by the track What’s In A Name?, which spends a large portion of its duration listing categories of music, some of which I can guarantee you will never have heard. I now want to know all about Folktronica and Turntableism, but what indeed, is in a name? For us semi-initiated musos and composers there is no such thing as ‘classical’ music these days – one of the few categories not mentioned in What’s In A Name? you will notice – though Contemporary Classical comes closest. For myself I would tend to categorise music as Good or Bad and, other than a detailed dissertation on the Why when it comes to the Bad, leave it at that. This by the way doesn’t mean ‘what I like’ versus ‘what I don’t like’, though the subjective is always present – you may love what I don’t like, and I can tell you why some of the things I do like are Bad. There is also of course a conceptual field of music making which seems neither to fill Good or Bad categorisation, holding its own under a file heading which might be reduced to ‘Interesting’. The Experimental Music Lab is certainly interesting. As with his previous album, Stanley Schumacher’s sonic palette nudges closer to free jazz than some through his use of string bass and horns, though the two trombones of the Music Now Ensemble often lend the quality of conversing human voices. I’m eternally grateful that there is no ego-laden drum playing here, and one of the surprises with this recording is the use of the Theremin, that haunting electronic apparatus played without touching the instrument, its sounds perfect inhabiting the electro-acoustic worlds of these tracks. The booklet notes mention that this is the only instrument played without being touched, but I would pedantically add the human voice to this category. This is the kind of music which blurs boundaries. While listening to the quiet subtleties of the central track Noir on priceless open-back headphones a car horn sounded in the street outside my flat, and I had to spool back to make sure it wasn’t part of the piece. Why? because it didn’t belong there. It might have joined in and indeed been welcomed, but this is after all a closed studio world which permits no ‘concrete’ contributions. While I was tickled by the coincidence it also focussed my mind. There are indeed associations conjured by some of these pieces which seem to have more to do with life beyond a recording studio, but these are entirely generated by the musicians. Mouth Sounds at times reminds one of arguments heard behind closed doors, the sentiment of heated words comprehended but their actual content filtered by a barrier and rendered something which can only be interpreted through previous experience. B Movie is also good fun, with added electronics creating a 1950’s film set for our minds while unnamed figures slip in and out of our mental grasp. Like the teacher in the animated Peanuts cartoons, a trombone in your left speaker lays down the law in Ear Training, handing out instruction that the student to our right seems reluctant to follow. In the letter which accompanied this CD, Schumacher describes Performin’ Artiste as “a tale about 5 minutes of hope in a life filled with a dismal past and future.” This serves a similar function to High Art? on MM005, forming a character for whom life is four to five against, but in this case creating more of a colourful intermezzo than posing deeper questions. Machine Language finishes the programme, and like the best of these tracks, is filled with quiet suggestiveness rather than the explosive Bone Moan with which the CD proper opens. Where less is happening and silence is permitted to form its own shapes, there is a greater feeling of musicians listening rather than just playing, and the contrast of the Theremin-rich Power Duo also illustrates this nicely. There’s even the suggestion of a melody in this piece – now who’d have thought it …” - Dominy Clements

— musicweb-international.com

EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB SCHUMACHER'S EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB WEIRD AND IMAGINATIVE Schumacher and his “collective of improvisers and composers” take music to its farthest reaches. Their lab produces a mixture that is weird but endearing, strange but melodic, accessible but unique, sometimes jarring and sometimes trancelike, and with an underlying sense of humor. On “Bone Moan,” Schumacher and fellow trombonist Christofer Varner compete with each other to see who can get the most unworldly sounds out of their instruments. “Mouth Sounds” and “Ear Training” go further by having them use their mouths as well as their “bones.” “Power Duo” has Evan Lipson on string bass and Jason Smeltzer on theremin creating a mysterious landscape. The theremin, an electronic instrument known for creating eerie sounds in science fiction films, is put to good use here. “Noir” has the whole band creating an ambient vibe. Other tracks are improvisations with the two trombones, bass and theremin. Two of the 11 cuts feature Professor Musikmacher, Schumacher’s alter ego. The Professor is known for an essay exploring the metaphysical relationship of sound and reality, and also for being out of his mind. There may be some who feel this makes him uniquely qualified to appear on this CD, although I am reserving judgment. On “What’s In a Name?” the professor chants the names of every type of music you might think of (“industrial…psychedelic…instrumental hip-hop”) while the ensemble improvises an accompaniment. The Professor also appears on “Performin’ Artiste,” where he tells the story of Bobbie Jo Cantrell, accompanied by standup bass. Bobbie Jo is a girl without many prospects except for one pair of assets, which the professor describes as “47-24-36.” (“That’s right – 47…24…36”) “Machine Language” has Schumacher “talking” through his trombone mouthpiece accompanied by the other three musicians. He is quite expressive, but no translation of his words is available. This CD is not for everyone. But if you think that music today is becoming more and more predictable and you are looking for something imaginative, a visit to the Experimental Music Lab could be what you are looking for. ” - Dave Howell

— The Morning Call

EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LAB Stanley Schumacher’s Music Now Ensemble is an improvisational group that does some interesting experiments on this release. Sounds include trombones in pain, fun with just the mouthpiece, and spoken word. My favorite track is “What’s in a Name?” which is a send up of musical genre buzz words. Very unusual, sometimes annoying, often funny.” - Cousin Mary

— KFJC, Foothills College, California

 WAY COOL This is one of those improviser ensemble releases which could as easily end up in the Jazz review pages as the contemporary ‘classical’ side of the coin, although the information sheet which accompanied my review copy clearly states that this is “Improvised Contemporary Art Music (Classical).” The jazz association comes to a degree from the instrumentation, and anything with a title like Way Cool has to accept that their disc may be redirected by inexpert record shop rookies. Stanley Schumacher has also worked with jazz-oriented musicians such as Lukas Ligeti in the past, but the main point to classical music consumers is that this is as much A. Braxton as it is L. Berio. Looking at the duration of the pieces tamed my initial resistance to this CD, as did Schumacher’s intelligent sense of humour, which is cleverly worked into the music, delivering quite sophisticated self-referential messages. Cognitive Dissonance is an intense exploration of the sonorities and interaction of the instruments present, as well as giving us a taste of Prof. Musikmacher’s parlando vocalisations or ‘oral arts’ as they are called here. These sounds are delivered straight or through the tubes of a trombone, mixing the perspectives and semantics of vocal sounds which are suggestive of emotion and mood, and their equally expressive instrumental counterparts. Referring to Berio again, some of the use of vocals here may remind listeners of Cathy Berberian’s remarkable flexibility as a vocal artist as well as a straight singer. Growling is exchanged for lighter noises in the trombone/voice duet which is Linguistic Engineering, which includes the first time I’ve heard snoring used as a musical device. High Art? is a crucial track, in which the essence of our experience of this kind of music is confronted by the creator himself. “Where’s the melody?” “This is weird”, “I can’t listen to this”, and a whole shopping list of expected responses are integrated into the track, winning me over at a single stroke. Yes, it can be ‘difficult’ if your references are limited to more conventional traditions, but this takes the kind of theoretical thoughts posed by John Cage and folds them back onto both us and the musicians. Why are they playing like this? “Do they know what they’re doing?” Well, yes they do – it may not be instantly appealing, but it does open doors into areas of expression not covered by 4/4 in G major. As I write, my place of work the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague is involved in a major international ‘improvisatieweek’ which comes with a health warning: “Improvisation may seriously improve your performance.” This is a form of music which is taken very seriously by a wide spectrum of musicians, but I for one am glad to hear Schumacher able to acknowledge with admirable lightness of touch that it can have an aversive effect on many audiences. Bear with me on this as a general point, but my only doubt about this music is, for want of a better word, its legitimacy in the recorded medium. This works in two extremes. As with many of John Cage’s scores, the improvisational element means that no two performances will ever be the same, so in a sense only the ‘live’ performance is the genuine experience – the music formed before us, shaped by the composer and the musicians, but creating something genuinely unique and hopefully rather special. Play back the recording and it becomes repetition. The other extreme is that these pieces therefore can exist only in the recorded medium, but the question arises: do we want to hear them more than once? In the case of Way Cool there are enough interesting musical events to make this more than just a souvenir of a well prepared recording session, and let’s be honest, how other than on a recording are we going to deliver this or any other music to an audience wider than a concert venue. I’ve been involved with improviser ensembles myself in the past, and know how highly sensitive the end result depends on a deeply felt synergy between all of the players, and how easily the whole thing can be ruined by a single musician who is on a different wavelength to the rest. The Music Now Ensemble is clearly a bunch of musicians who have a natural feel for each other’s musical and dramatic strengths, and this album can serve as an object lesson to performers keen to explore non-notated musical communication. There is much to be said for the relative compactness and intelligent shaping of the musical statements made here, and I for one am grateful that the music making is less about ego and more about listening and expanding the limitations of the instruments and their interactions. The title track is an excellent little moral story about a “snotty nosed, iPhone-iPod-MP3-playing punk”, proving that irony does exist in the US. There is plenty of contrast between numbers, from the high-octane blast of energy which is Back Talk, to the moody atmosphere of Darkness Of Error and landscape of Ambient Event. Elements of continuity include a ritualistic triangle whose sharp ‘ting’ serves as a kind of dinner gong; stopping or starting certain musical events. I won’t promise that this is an album you will definitely like, but if the intricacies and freedoms of improvisation are aspects of music you feel willing to explore then this is as good a place to start as I could name. Don’t expect to hear any tunes however: indeed, like Wally or Waldo, where is the melody?” - Dominy Clements

— musicweb-international.com