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Reconstruction of P(L)ACES

LBielawa@aol.com
Fri, 23 Jan 1998 14:54:09 -0500 (EST)

The following article was inserted in the program at the world premiere
performance of Randy Hostetler's P(L)ACES last Tuesday, January 13, Music At
The Anthology, NYC. I thank Rico Apriori for his suggestion that I post this
here - it gives an overview of the process by which the piece was
reconstructed. Thank you, all of you who were present at the concert and
those who helped me along the way. I could not have accomplished it without
your help and support.

The Reconstruction of Randy Hostetler's P(L)ACES
by Lisa Bielawa

When I first arrived at Yale, Randy Hostetler was a legend among the
students. He had already left for CalArts, but he had been the musical
director of the a cappella jazz group which I joined, Redhot & Blue, and many
of the arrangements of jazz tunes which we sang were written by him. Long
before I actually met Randy, I used to use the name "Hostetler" in my diary
as a general noun, meaning "any piece of music which is virtuosic, difficult
and beautiful." ("I want to try to write a real Hostetler this time...") We
finally met and got to know each other through reunions, and had only just
begun a friendship when he died.

In April, 1997, I met Zona and Jim Hostetler, who invited me to perform on a
concert in Randy's memory in Washington, D.C. While I was there I discovered
P(L)ACES in all of its various forms: a cryptic, oversized "score" on graph
paper with colored pencils, from which he conducted the reading; videotapes
of rehearsals and readings; one computer-scored page entitled "Lamp Groove"
with handwritten black and white circles over the notes. After extensive
searching, Zona was able to send me a cassette of excerpts from the songs
which Randy quoted in the piece, and computer disks with around 45 different
files, all in Professional Composer, an obsolete notation program which ran
on the Macintosh Classic series computers of the 1980's. After giving myself
a refresher course in '80's computer technology, I dug out my Mac Classic and
looked at the files. He had completed parts and had begun work on a score,
but the score fell off at measure 92. Zona found one printed part from the
reading (Percussion 3, the marimba part) with handwritten circles, and by
watching the videotape with this part in hand, I learned that the black
circles indicated "lamp off" and the white circles, "lamp on." In this way I
was able to restore all of the lamp indications to the other parts, which I
printed out from the old files.

In order to begin work on the score, I performed two "translations" on the
files. First I saved them as "standard MIDI" files, which translates all of
the visual pitch and rhythmic information into sound files which any modern
notation program can decode. Then I moved to my Power Macintosh computer and
opened these sound files into the scoring program Finale. I edited these
newly-imported files against the printouts I had made, then little by little,
I added each part into a score template. As the score grew, I began to see
the structures in the piece emerge: I discovered that the piece was
polymetric, with different players in 3/4 and 4/4 at the same time. I added
a staff for the Timekeeper, for whom a part had never been created. His part
consists of a 3-against-4 pattern which remains the same rhythmically
throughout the piece but undergoes numerous metrical transformations in
relation to the other players. I also began to see a layering of the musical
quotes from the tape of excerpts which Zona sent me.

After the score was complete, I needed to identify the sounds which were
generated by the MIDI drums, including an 8-second rap excerpt which is
triggered five minutes into the piece and locks into the Timekeeper's
right-hand tempo. From the videotape I was able to identify a general
contour and rhythm of the rapper's voice, but not the words. I combed
through the various tracks from Public Enemy albums which Randy listed as
source material until I found the matching eight seconds, then noticed that
although Randy had chosen a segment with ad-libbed vocal banter, the lyrics
elsewhere in the same song addressed the issue of "stealing" creative
material from other sources: "I found this mineral that I call a beat...They
say that I sample, They say that I stole this, Can I get a witness?" In
fact, the musical stuff of P(L)ACES, which is quite independent of the
piece's sophisticated polymetric structure, is made up almost entirely of
borrowed segments authored by the songwriters Randy admired: Johnny Cash,
Rare Essence, Public Enemy, Bob Marley, Mongo Santamaria, Poncho Sanchez,
Louis Armstrong, Nino Rota, and Jimmie Lunceford. One can sense in his
project a fascination with the issue of musical ownership: through this piece
we can learn how Randy heard the music he loved. In this scenario one
becomes focused on the receptive nature of the creative mind. These segments
do not always appear in their entirety, but they never undergo any
transposition, rhythmic alteration or thematic development. Even the
segments whose original source is Randy's own sketches - his 12/8 groove or
his "slow waltz" - rigorously maintain their integrity throughout the piece.
The visual art world has seen several movements in which borrowed material
is central, from the "ready-made" art of Dada and the cubists' collages in
the early part of the century to the "Appropriation Art" of the 1980's. This
use of small, inflexible units in the service of a large-form, abstract
structure is also reminiscent of John Cage's practice of employing
highly-organized structures which could be "filled" with chance material. I
learned after the score was complete that whenever a segment returns in
P(L)ACES, its state of fragmentation is determined by a chance operation as
well: these values were the result of hundreds of I Ching hexagrams which
Randy and his friend Francesca Talenti generated by throwing coins.

Although the overwhelming majority of questions I had in this process were
answered by Randy's friends and family as I worked, there were a few elements
which stubbornly remained just out of reach - a sampled sound, a metric
modulation which wouldn't work out quite right mathematically - and in these
moments I always went forward in the spirit of play. When I saw the final
words of Randy's own acknowledgements in the program for the reading which
took place at CalArts in 1989, I was finally able to let myself find my own
solutions: "Thank you Art for letting Alan use your washtub. Thank you Alan
for letting Andy use the drill...Thank you everyone else for letting everyone
else do everything else."