Pierce Gradone – Katie Schoepflin (bass clarinet)
Composer: Pierce Gradone; Bass Clarinet: Katie Schoepflin
Recorded live as part of the Project Incubator concert at Constellation Chicago, May 10, 2015
Composer’s Notes: In Bach and the Meaning of Counterpoint, David Yearsley recounts the incredible tale of Pierre Demoulin’s automata. The three automatons – a flutist, a drummer and a duck(!) – were unveiled to astonished Frankfurters in 1746, who were fascinated – and in some cases, deeply troubled – by their realism and functionality (the duck’s most acclaimed feature was its apparent digestive system). The flutist, however, captured the imaginations of the German intelligentsia – especially the great flute virtuoso Joachim Quantz – with its astonishing technical ability. Yearsley, quoting Quantz, writes:
“With skill a musical machine could be constructed that would play certain pieces with a quickness and exactitude so remarkable that no human being could equal it….but it would never move you.”
Quantz’s musical prophecy was fulfilled just over two centuries later with the development of computer music in the 1940s and 1950s. With the possibility of a perfect, impossibly accurate realization of a given work, performers were now cast as an imperfect shadow of now quite visible Platonic form of technical virtuosity. In this new reality, musicians bore a new burden – they were now subject to the autocratic rule of technical perfection, machine-like accuracy.
Automaton is a dramatization of this burden – a kind of passion play for the contemporary musician in which heartless, unrelenting machines roar, then slowly crumble as a distinctly human voice emerges from the ruins. The opening measures of the work are a theatre of impossibility: is the clarinetist breathing? can any other sound be heard above the loud mechanical percussion of the bass clarinet’s large and cumbersome keys? And in the end: is that the sound of a human voice, or just a convincing reproduction?
About the Artists
Pierce Gradone’s music has been performed throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas; and has been featured in festivals as diverse as the Florida State University Festival of New Music, Red Note New Music Festival, Artosphere Festival, and the Great American Brass Band Festival. His works have been performed by Ensemble Dal Niente, Line Upon Line Percussion, Pacifica Quartet, Ursa Ensemble, the Sacramento Youth Symphony, the Parhelion Trio, Concert Black, the McCain Duo, the Peterson/Hayes Duo, and many others. As both a composer and educator, he has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Sacramento Youth Symphony and as a guest composer at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. For more information, visit www.piercegradone.com.
Katie Schoepflin, clarinetist, vocalist, pianist and composer lives in Chicago and works as a freelance musician. As a member of Ensemble Dal Niente, Katie has had the privilege of working with and performing the works of Brian Ferneyhough, Raphael Cendo, Lee Hyla and Augusta Read Thomas. Katie earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University where she won the IU clarinet concerto competition and was awarded a Performer’s Certificate. In 2008, Katie spent a year abroad in Japan where she was principal clarinetist of the Kakogawa Philharmonic Orchestra in Hyogo prefecture. She earned her Master of Music degree in 2011 from McGill University where she was awarded a full Schulich School of Music scholarship. While studying at McGill, Katie was a participant in the 2011 National Youth Orchestra of Canada, touring and performing extensively throughout Eastern Canada. Her primary instructors have been John Bruce Yeh, Alain Desgagne, James Campbell, Frank Kowalsky and Mary Kantor.