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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Nate Wooley - Michael Pisaro-Liu: stem flower root (Pleasure of the Text, Tisser Tissu Editions, 2021) *****

By Eyal Hareuveni

The works of American composer-guitarist Michel Pisaro-Liu draw the listener into a wondrous universe of sounds, mysterious melodies and silences, and stem flower root (2017) for trumpet and sine tones, commissioned by trumpeter Nate Wooley, is no exception. Wooley released this work by the Tisser Tissu Editions of his Pleasure of the Text label as a limited edition download and a beautifully designed chapbook (designed by Lasse Marhaug) that puts this composition in a larger context. The chapbook offers an insightful essay by Pisaro-Liu that relates to naturalist and mathematician D'arcy Thompson's influence on the piece and of composer James Tenney on his work, the thoughts of Wooley on the process of realizing the stem flower root composition (which he calls “a half-aphoristic essay”), photos from sculptor Jessica Slaven, a conversation between Wooley and Pisaro-Liu, and the full score of the piece with Pisaro-Liu notes. 

stem flower root is the first composition released from Wooley’s For/With Festival that occurred in three iterations, from 2017-2019, at Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room space. The released version was recorded in the studio in May 2019. This is a 30-minute composition, but as Pisaro-Liu already said before “music puts the very nature of time in question”. This composition invites the listener to experience different and elusive dimensions of time and space. 

Pisaro-Liu wrote this composition when he thought about Wooley’s own sensibility of sound, the way that Wooley masters distinct melodies and his approach of composing, performing and listening at the same time. Pisaro-Liu began working on it after asking Wooley to record tones (Bb3, Bb4, F5) with a variety of mutes, in order to learn their effects on the timbre of the trumpet. After he wrote a loose melody, he noticed an arc-like structure to the phrases like petals of a flower. 

The composition is built on a lush and natural bed of sine tones upon which the trumpet blends and emphasizes spectral colors. It is divided into three parts: stem, comprised of sustained trumpet tones and overtones using different mutes that demand the most precision. Wooley noted that every time trumpet is muted, “a pathway to a new sonic universe is laid… mutes are prisms for sound and creators of spectrums”; flower that explores the melodic arc, with minimalist melodies that feel like they are continuous and endless; and root that returns to the root tone, add gravity to the sine tones and demands a profound timbral sensitivity.

The detailed and complex instructions, including the specific timing, do not burden this fascinating composition and its immediate emotional and intellectual appeal. It is an intimate and deep meditation on sound, time and silence that weaves organically all these dimensions (Pisaro-Liu quoted Tenney who always searched for an organic connection between the compositional method and the sounding result, between the skin and the organs). Wooley performs this composition with commanding authority and sheer beauty and no wonder that his close comrade, sax player Ingrid Laubrock, said that it is the “most romantic-sounding thing” she heard from him. And as Wooley himself concluded, this composition defies perfection, as its possibilities are infinite. “It is a tangible encapsulation of what makes music attractive to me: perfectly infinite impossibility”. 

And more good news. Wooley is already working on releasing other solo compositions for trumpet from the For/With Festival. The upcoming releases are Christian Wolff’s For Trumpet Player, a collaboration with Wadada Leo Smith, Red Autumn Gold, Sarah Hennies’ monologue, Eva-Maria Gouben’s chanting ballads as well as works by Katherine Young and Ryoko Akama.