CUE THE MONSTER STRINGS
Good evening. How are you? I hope you had a good week.
If you’ve been following the blog recently, you know that I hopped on a plane to Denver, Colrado on Wednesday, got a rental car, and made my way to Boulder. Why? Because I wanted to be there for the world premiere of a string concerto by composer Hunter Ewen. A string concerto inspired by the Daily Monsters! (Maybe there are illustrators out there who get blasé about having string concertos written about their work, but for me… very exciting! How could I possibly miss it?)
I rolled into Boulder not knowing what to expect. Hunter had contacted me back in September, and told me this:
I stumbled on your monsters while doing research for a new chamber piece. I’d like to ask your permission to reproduce a few of your images in my score. Each performer represents a different monster and I’d like to use your artwork as a visual cue for how to act and behave onstage.
Obviously that wasn’t going to fly with me. Reproduce a few images in the score? Why not a whole bunch of animated Monster loops on stage? Much better! So Hunter went shopping among the Monsters, gathering his cast of characters. And I went to work (albeit slowly) animating nine of the Daily Monster Papers for the task. I finished the last two the night before the performance.
Through all this I took a holiday from being my usual control enthusiast self, and left Hunter to do his thing. All I knew was that he was writing a piece for eight violinists. He sent me a synthesizer demo a few weeks ago, and I have to admit with considerable shame that I never made the time to listen past the first minute, because deadlines were tugging at me from all sides. As per usual. Well, I’m glad for it, because this way I got to see the performance, and hear the piece with the same surprise and delight as the audience at Grusin Music Hall.
And I brought my camera. Check out what happened!
(Go full-screen if you like. It’s HD, don’t you know!)
Isn’t that the best thing ever? When you make a bunch of drawings and a few years later THAT happens, you know you’re not wasting your life. I couldn’t be more excited by this whole thing. Talk about a gift from the Universe!
Thank you so much to Hunter, and to Lina Bahn (formerly of the Corigliano Quartet) for commissioning the piece and performing it with the amazing CU Violin Studio cast and guests at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Pendulum New Music Series. Thank you all for making such an incredible thing happen!
Here’s a photo of the whole ensemble in mid-monstrosity. (You can click on all the images to enlarge, of course, but on this one you really get a nice sense of the hall in the bigger version.)
The cast of characters:
Flittle: Sarah Wood, Annelise Gilsdorf, Brittany Ware
Squax: Karlie Denos, Samuel Goodman
Radigast Pigsley: Hannah Leland (spoken), Alejandro Gomez Guillen
Sir Beekington Cromwell III: Tee Tong Tang, Rachel Wilkinson
Pinchclock: Oscar Soler (solo cadenza), Allison Kim, Margaret Sopoer-Gutierrez
Dr. Chomps: Michael Brook, Veronica Pigeon, Molly Evans
Garblebob: Amanda Ramey, Matt Dendy, Grace Schneider
Mrs. Squirmwiggle: Lina Bahn, Haynn Tang
Conductor: Joel Schut
Check out the score! How cool is this?
Here’s what Hunter had to say by way of program notes:
Monster Party (8:30, for violin ensemble) was composed as a musical response to the monsters of Stefan G. Bucher. These wicked, adorable, delicate, stinky, chompy, brilliant monsters are, on their own, just as interesting as their unusual methods of creation. The structure and form of each monster originates from the seemingly unpredictable effects of skillfully orchestrated blobs of ink and bursts of compressed air. Often drawing upside-down and backwards, Bucher’s work springs to life, as if from the ether, fully formed, each with a unique personality, backstory, method of movement, and manor of speech. He actively avoids over-polished or plasticized monsters. Lines from Sharpie markers are often visible, and nothing is done with a ruler. Because background detail is rarely included, one never knows if the monsters are the size of a bullfrog or a building.
The piece takes its stylistic cues directly from Bucher’s unique method of creation. Parts of the piece were composed upside down, and new sections often culminate with melodic or harmonic “explosions,” mimicking Bucher’s ink bursts. The piece is purposefully rough around the edges, with quick transitions, abrupt dynamic shifts, and crunchy harmonies. But at its core, it begs the question, “what happens if a bunch of these monsters get together and have a party?”
Rather than assigning each performer to a “violin 1, 2, 3” part, I have tasked them with adopting the personality of specific monsters from Bucher’s collection. How the instruments interact musically is related to how I imagine the monsters would react to one another in real life. The harmonies, counterpoint, and special effects are best interpreted as statements of the monsters rather than as gestures of the composer. Movement and dance abounds. Various vocalizations are called for throughout as well as moments of visual drama and levity. Monsters, after all, never know when to be quiet!
And when he says MONSTER SCREAM, brother, he ain’t kiddin’! Watch the whole concert and you’ll see! Take a bow, Hunter:
Well, there you have it! The Monsters have gone from Logan Hasson’s beautiful viola coda for Monster 100 and the opening credit banjo stylings of Daniel Holter & Friends, to an amazing trombone solo by Peter Batchelder, the spine-tingling chase theme by Simone Giuliani propelling the Topanga Monster, and the smooth stylings of singer/songwriter Jed Alger. And now the Monsters have their own string concerto? Let’s just say it: GTFO! The big question on my mind is, “What could possibly be NEXT?”
Whatever it is, you can count on the fact that 344 LOVES YOU