Figurations (2012) is the third volume in the large compositional cycle that began with Mirror (2006), and Generations (2009). A listener to all three albums may notice certain elements reappearing in different form. There is also a larger development in these three volumes, from a focus on extremely formal and controlled structures, moving gradually toward a looser conception of group interplay. This is meant to mirror the process that the improvising musician goes through, from concept to practice to spontaneity. Mirror was recorded in small pieces and highly produced, Generations was recorded in the studio in a continuous take, and Figurations was recorded live with an audience. This can be seen to represent a gradual acceptance of the balance between control and natural forces. A good comparison might be a garden that is planted with strict rows and borders, and is left to grow on its own for a few years, at which time natural forms have sprouted up and entertwined with each other in a way that is seemingly chaotic, but governed by natural law, and built on the foundation of an underlying structure that has now all but disappeared. This idea of simplifying and letting go of control is manifest in a few ways on this record. The sheet music is minimal, only the seeds of ideas, which are then entrusted to the musicians to generate ideas and structures. The group is also minimal, a quartet, which allows for space and presents more detail about each performer. There is also the guitar, which uses no effects ar processing at all. With live recording there is no option to fix errors, so part of the process is learning to accept or even enjoy the missteps or digressions of a live performance that bring the music into unexpected territory.
The word “figurations” has many connotations. It might mean figures as musical “shapes.” The drawings that were made as studies for these pieces are examples of this, as well as the actual shapes of phrases and forms in the compositions. We also might mean figures as “numbers,” which is another way to say “information.” Music, as a science of sound, has numerical qualities that can take on great symbolic significance. “Figure” can also refer to the human form, the performer and the audience. And finally, “figurations” can refer to the things that have just been “figured out” over time, outside of any kind of deliberate process, which has to do with the mystery of intuition.
About the Compositions:
1. “Dozens”: Having to do with the movement of symmetrical melodic shapes in time. The rhythmic melody takes the shape of an hourglass, and the saxophone / guitar melody expands from 1 to 12, inverts itself, and contracts back to 1. This is a variation of the standard song form, Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.”
2. “Rain”: A long, rotating rhythmic figuration in three speeds, combined with a rotating melody. This is a variation of a minor blues.
3. “Wheel”: A rhythmic tiling canon in 3 octaves, with three voices, with a secondary canon layered on top. Interlocking voices create harmony. At first the wheel turns unevenly, then smoothly, then rolls to a new location.
4. “Figurations (Intro)” Thomas Morgan, bass solo
5. “Figurations”: A cycle in golden proportions (89:55). The rhythmic figure is an hourglass shape, the harmony follows Fibonacci numbers, and the melody follows the composite of both of these cycles, in the form of canon in double counterpoint. The form of the cycle is like a type of blues (12×12), over which ornate figurations link together into a continuous woven texture.
6. “Mandala”: A feature for Dan Weiss, drums. An exploration of Fibonacci rhythmic growth processes, as melodic figures on the drums. An introductory section has simultaneous four-fold (saxophone and guitar) and three fold (drums and bass) symmetry. Following a drum solo, a closing section moves from linear (melodic) to orbital (contrapuntal) rhythms, 13 against 21. Drums play all parts simultaneously
7. “Loom”: A device for weaving. A dodecaphonic harmonic cycle slowly turns inside a rhythmic wheel, at two different speeds. Saxophone and guitar entertwine two melodic threads, a long canon in modulating invertible counterpoint, over a cantus firmus in the bass.
8. “Corazón”: A feature for Miguel Zenón, alto saxophone. The two contracting and expanding phases of the human heart are represented by a symmetrical cycle through the nineteen possible configurations of three pitches. The ternary swing of the heartbeat can be found in the bass and drums, playing three varieties of three. The pulse of the circulatory system is a fundamental rhythm, and the heart is both a rhythmic machine and, symbolically, the location of the soul. This can serve as a comparision to music and improvisation, which is simultaneously a technical and spiritual pursuit.
– Miles Okazaki, 2012, NYC
About the Artwork:
The artwork for FIGURATIONS uses the same basic technique as in MIRROR and GENERATIONS. That is, freehand drawings are made of a negative image with a .2mm black pen, scanned, inverted, and colored. Although there are fewer illustrations for this album, they are more detailed in the past, each one being composed of many overlapping layers.
Panel 1 is an illustration of the gears of an organic machine:
Rotating the image, you can see the face in the center:
In panel 2 The organic machine is revealed as kind of musical orrery, depicting an eclipse. The gears from panel 1 are seen within the small window:
Panel 3 is the interior of an imaginary studio. This can be recognized as a look inside the room from panel 3 of Generations (the previous album). Many objects and visual forms from previous recordings are scattered around the room. The orrery from panel 2 stands in the corner.
– Miles Okazaki, 2012, NYC