Steve Lehman talks about his new octet record, Travail, Transformation and Flow

Recently, I’ve been hearing a bunch from people asking to know more about the roll that spectral harmony plays in my forthcoming octet record, Travail, Transformation and Flow. And also curious to get a better sense of how the new octet record connects to my most recent quintet record, On Meaning, which came out on Pi in November of 2007. So I thought it might be nice to post some thoughts about the overlap between the quintet record and the octet record on the Pi Blog…

A few people have asked if On Meaning can be thought of as a type of predecessor to the music on Travail, Transformation and Flow, and I think that makes sense in a lot of ways.

The main difference, I think, is how much more fleshed out all the work with spectral harmony is on the octet record. On Travail, 4 of the 8 pieces really call for improvisers to interact with spectral harmony and some of the more important “spectral ideas” around music. And also to do stuff like solo over “spectral chord changes,” improvise with timbre and explore different kinds of wave forms and sonic envelopes as instrumentalists. For On Meaning, the only piece that is explicitly spectral is “Great Plains of Algiers” and part of the reason that that’s such a short piece (2’45”), is because there aren’t any solos. It’s kind of like a minature chamber piece. All of the harmonies on that piece are based off of subharmonic spectra, which is also the case for “Waves,” which appears on the octet record.

In addition to the more fully integrated use of spectral harmony, there’s all the more obvious stuff about how working with 8 voices, as opposed to 5, frees you up to write much richer harmonies, more elaborate counterpoint, and also to imagine a much more diverse collection of setting for solos/improvisations. Also, the idea of using orchestration as an expressive tool can be a little more fully realized in an octet setting. Using different size groups over the course of a piece — starting with just 2 players and gradually using all 8, or ending with an alto/trumpet duo like “Alloy” does on the octet record.

Goes without saying that all of these compositional ideas are informed by the musical legacy of people like Tristan Murail, Anthony Braxton, Jackie McLean, and Andrew Hill, to name a few. Not to mention all of my brilliant colleagues, 7 of whom appear on the forthcoming octet record…!