Nicholas Chase: Bhajan Robin Lorentz
- Nicholas Chase (1966): Bhajan:
- 1I. Bindu10:55
- 2II. Drshti11:13
- 3III. Japa11:58
- 4IV. Bhajan11:45
Info for Nicholas Chase: Bhajan
Bhajan, described by one critic as “a pas de deux between violin and electronics,” is in four joined/continuous sections. Influenced by many musics from around the globe, the work tantalizes and bewitches the ear with a breadth of sounds that ebb and flow as if guided by an elusive but inherent sense of logic. The composer performs its electronics/computer part while noted violinist Robin Lorentz (who has appeared on four previous Cold Blue CDs) propels the music compellingly, interacting with the array of synthesized and processed sounds occurring around her.
The composer writes, “‘Bhajan’ is the general term for any variety of Hindu devotional song, typically sung, with a strong melodic component. My work Bhajan…embodies ideas about temporal freedom, melodic non-structure, and fusions of musical genre, disparate ethnicities, and instrumental combinations, and explores…ideas about breath and timing I’ve come to through study of Hindu spiritual/Vedic thought on sound and sound’s role in the making of life. It is deeply influenced by Indian raga, and it resonates with the soundscapes of my Arab heritage, while tonally it remains, intentionally, within the Western classical vocabulary.
“When I sit at my desk to compose, airplanes passing, trucks rumbling, trains bleating, birds, squirrels, and crickets chirping all find their way into my music. When I think of notes for the violin, that sound gets twisted up with whatever is happening in the world around me and comes to land on my desk in music like you hear on this recording.
“In Bhajan, the violin is amplified and pitted against fields of oscillating sine waves that are orchestrated in the same way I arrange for an orchestra. Its opening section, ‘Bindu' (Sanskrit for 'point'), hangs on a single note: Eb6. One of my teachers, sarod master Rajeev Taranath, explained raga this way: ‘This note is the main note of the raga. But it is not the only note. A raga is like a family, and this note is the grandmother. The grandmother is in the middle, and all the members of the family are around her!’ Similarly, my computer-generated fields require the violin’s repeated Eb—the grandmother note—to give them context.
“The next section, ‘Drshti’ (meaning 'focused gaze’ or ‘concentrated intention'), also focuses on a single note—D4 (D above middle C), the note that the third string of the violin is tuned to—and the computer captures the player’s live strokes and twists that simple sound into the ghost-melody that you hear. The ghost melody is comprised of…bits and pieces of phrases and whole phrases alike…. In effect, a second performer is ‘playing’ the violinist’s performance….
“The third part, ‘Japa' (meaning 'repetition') is a mantra-like duet between computer and violin. It repeats a single musical idea that leads into the fourth and final section of the work, ‘Bhajan.’ In this closing section, the violin carries an unmetered chorale, rooted in the tunings of the instrument’s strings…. The computer again captures the live performance and plays it back, but shifts the pitches played by the violin to create a ghost-accompaniment.
“Throughout Bhajan, the violinist’s performance has to be carefully nuanced in order for the computer’s output to have any life. If you listen carefully to ‘Drshti’ and ‘Bhajan,’ you will hear how the musical accompaniment (in ‘Drshti,’ the lead melodic line) exactly mirrors and is precisely shaped by the dynamic interpretation of the performer. Subtleties in articulation and dynamics as well as timbre combine to forge the end result—the ghost has a spirit, and that spirit is the performer.
“Bhajan was commissioned in 2011 by Robin Lorentz. Owing to severe health issues, Lorentz hadn’t been able to play for the few years prior to that. I composed Bhajan as a vehicle for her physical therapy. Robin eventually made a complete recovery, and continues to play today with as much strength and ability as she ever had. I’m grateful for her ongoing commitment to and rabid enthusiasm for the work and her wild encouragement as it unfolded between us. And I am grateful that she allowed me to contribute to her physical recovery.”
Robin Lorentz, violin
has performed around the globe, from Queen Elizabeth Hall (London) to Carnegie Hall to the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) to the Grammy Awards (Hollywood). A champion for contemporary music, she spent over 20 years with the noted new music group California E.A.R. Unit. As a soloist and chamber musician, she has premiered many works, including John Adams’s Road Movies for violin and piano at the Kennedy Center and Yusef Lateef's String Quartet Number 1: Bismilah at REDCAT, and she has been featured on tours by composers Terry Riley and John Luther Adams. Lorentz has recorded for New Albion, Cold Blue Music (appearing on five Cold Blue CDs), New World, O.O. Discs, Sony, MCA, Columbia, and Echograph and performed as soloist and small ensemble member on recordings by Bob Dylan, Scott Weiland, and T-Bone Burnett. She has performed solos for the films Other People's Money and Back To The Future III and TV's Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, and Animaniacs to name a few. Lorentz has served as concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Green Umbrella series, the Ojai Festival, the Santa Fe Pro Musica, and numerous other festivals and ensembles. She has also appeared with Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, Barbara Streisand, John Cale, Dusty Springfield, and Michael Jackson. She has been on the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts and in residence at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia Universities, Oberlin and Eastman Schools of Music, and at the Aspen and Tanglewood Festivals.
Chase’s music has been commissioned and performed by the Long Beach Opera, the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, the California E.A.R Unit, New Zealand’s 175 East, and numerous soloists, including violinist Mark Menzies and flutist Dorothy Stone. Chase has headlined festivals in Europe and the US as a composer, performer, and improviser, integrating kinetic visuals with strong musical statements. His interactive, site-specific composition NOVA: Transmission for FM radio and closed-circuit TV was exhibited as part of the Whitney Biennial in New York and his electronic light ballet Ngoma Lungundu opened the New Music+ Festival at the Janaĉek Academy in the Czech Republic. Chase was inaugural Composer Fellow at the 2011 international Other Minds Festival in San Francisco and in 2015 received a Certificate of Honor from the International Center for Japanese Culture in Tokyo, Japan, for his koto and cello duo Gayate.
Chase earned an MFA in Composition/New Media and Integrated Media from CalArts, studying with Morton Subotnick, Bunita Marcus, Stephen L. Mosko, and Mary Jane Leach. Chase pursued additional study with Ziad Bunni of the Aleppo Conservatory of Arabic Classical Music, and later compositional study with James Tenney. In 2011 he earned PhD candidacy in Integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute under the advisement of Pauline Oliveros. Since 2011 Chase has worked in seclusion and spiritual retreat to develop his ideas on integrating Hindu mind/body practices, Hindustani Classical Music forms, and traditional Western Conservatory music and musicianship.