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Matthew Putman: Music


(Matthew Putman)
The process of creating “Perennial” is just as mysterious, but certainly no more so than most improvisational music. I hate to be one to over intellectualize this, as the names of the songs, and the music itself should give enough clue to either like or dislike “Perennial” on its own merits. Still, I am hoping that a little explanation will help transport the listener, or at least give them something unique, (that is not to say profound) to listen for.
My wife, little girl and I have a very small house near the town of Roxbury in the Catskill Mountains. We bought this place less than two years ago, as a test of sorts to see if we would use a vacation house, which is nearly three hours from our real apartment in Brooklyn. W have the least expensive house (a mobile home actually), and plot of land available. From the first time we arrived though, I realized that we had made the perfect choice. Mainly it was the usual peace and quiet of the mountains and woods. More specifically it was the view. We are in a valley, with the east branch of the Delaware river across the street. The mountain across the street has no visible homes, just a forest, of pines, birches, oaks and maples. What surprised me was how quickly this view, and the way it looked in different seasons inspired me. It provoked scientific research, I wrote new poetry, and most importantly to these notes, I played music. The view from either the side of the street where our house is, or from across the street looking back at our house, is most interesting to me at sunset or sunrise, when the sun is not directly visible from behind the mountains. It makes the mountain look like a Japanese print, almost completely flat. Everything also appears completely symmetrical. Of course when we hike these mountains, we realize there is great variety, and that nothing is as simple as it appears at dusk or dawn.
This is one rather obvious observation of nature. When you are far away, or have the right angle of lighting things appear to have a basic geometry, which is very straight forward. Anyone can draw the moon for instance, as just a ball, even though if you were to go close to the moon you would see the topography of the land. “Our” mountains are like that, and have a kind of oscillation of symmetry and asymmetry, simplicity and complexity. I have already discussed looking at the mountain completely backlit without defined forms, and then seeing more detail when we walk up to each tree. Then if we look further at each leaf on the tree, we see symmetry again. Most people think of nature this way, as having symmetry. This may not be entirely the case however. If we were to look at the leaf under a high power microscope we would see that there is more chaos than we thought. A microscopic version of going on the hike through the Japanese print of a mountain. We can go fairly far into that complexity, by looking at the molecular makeup, or even the atomic structure. What is still undetermined is what is beyond that. What if we zoom in farther than our microscopes can go? Would there be simplicity and symmetry again?
This is what I try to probe with the music of “Perennial”. I try to go as far as my sight and imagination of those mountains go. I almost always resolve the music in a way which is somehow connected with the macro view of the mountain, or its individual components, as far as I can see them, at dusk. Often this involves playing in multiple keys and modes within a song, but always having a path back home.
I I am never quite sure whether to describe these songs as improvisations or compositions, so I will explain the process for the listener to decide. I first played eight songs, with the different themes, as listed by the titles of the completed songs. For several of them I also wrote poems, with the same title. I only played them once, not taking any notes. Three days later, back at my office in Manhattan, I played them again from memory. My memory was not at all perfect, and though some of the structure was similar to what I had played in the Catskills, the songs were very different. I took notes of the starting and ending keys of each song, then went to a recording studio, Dogtown, which has an excellent Grand Piano. This alone was a treat, as I had been playing on digital pianos. I recorded the album with one take for each song. Now that I have listened to them several times I can replay them, but how close they were on the day of the recording to what I had originally improvised in the Catskills is something I am not sure of.
The song featured here is "Pine"