Artist Blog

Ingrid Laubrock: I Never Liked That Guy, Twice – Variations on a dream

Two men – man A and man B – are in the control room of a recording studio. Both talking a lot.  Suddenly, man A shoots man B and man B dies. Man A blows on the smoking gun and says, “Never could stand that guy!” He then picks up the body and puts it in a gigantic pot of broccoli cheese soup. I take Eric Wubbels to the side and say, “I think we need to call the police right away.” He thinks that isn’t a good idea because the place would become a crime scene and we wouldn’t be able to finish the mixes we are working on. The studio is at a school and I suddenly find myself playing ball with two girls who keep hurling the ball at me with great force. I get hit a few times and it really hurts. I don’t understand their aggression, but realize one of them is somehow implicated in the shooting. After a while I turn to Ralph Alessi and start crying. I tell him that I don’t know what to do, especially as by then half a day has passed, and with the passing of time I now am guilty myself because I haven’t called the police. Ralph has to leave, but gives me a big hug and a bag of shiny individually-shaped soft candies.

Since moving to NY I have been keeping a dream journal with sporadic entries whenever a dream seems particularly relevant, or so colorful that I want to remember it. The above paragraph is the the dream that inspired the two versions of the composition ‘I Never Liked that Guy’ on my double CD Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt.

When I decided to use a selection of dreams to inspire a set of compositions, I was faced with this artistic question: Rather than writing programmatic music that reflects the dreams, how could I invoke the atmosphere and translate how I felt into music? And, as the project was not only to compose one version, but both small and large scale variations of the same piece, I wanted to not just re-arrange, but re-imagine the music. While the small-ensemble pieces were composed first, I found myself zooming in on details in those small group versions to generate materially different large-group pieces. As I describe in the liner notes: “It was almost as if the music was a Russian nesting doll—or a map of a map—and I was finding strangely-familiar “new” compositions within the already existing music.”

This essay in turn attempts to zoom in on one of those compositions: I Never Liked That Guy.

All the music on Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt features a significant amount of through-composed music as well as a similar share of improvisation. I am both a composer and an improviser and my game is to explore avenues of connecting both, in (hopefully) new and creative ways. What was important on this particular record, is to create a thread that ties both sets of music together. My choice was to have a core trio, consisting of Pianist Cory Smythe, Sam Pluta on electronics and myself on saxophones play on both recordings and act as a type of musical glue.

To re-enter the state of the dream I meditated on it for a while to disseminate what I felt:

There was the obvious shock of person A just shooting B out of nowhere, especially as B is about the nicest person I know. Then there was the unspeakable coldness of throwing the body into a vat of soup, but also the absurd fact that I noticed what kind of soup it was. (It had to be dense, not clear soup to be able to hide the body). The girls hurling of the ball was another violent act I didn’t understand, and of course there was the underlying sense of guilt through it all. How can you even think about mixing a record or playing ball when your friend just got shot? There was definitely an underlying battle between the subconscious and the conscious part of my dream-self, quite a typical dream logic. My decision ended up being to create a slow moving piece that is continuously unsettling and interrupted by sudden rapid and absurd changes, that come out of nowhere and seem disconnected.

Trio:

The piano and saxophone part up to letter C for the most part narrowly miss each other rhythmically while occasionally agreeing on a rhythmic unison. I made frequent use of triplets juxtaposed with quintuplets to create an almost wobbly feel. The main melodic theme is the saxophone line in measures 1- 4, which I use in both the small and large versions. The second part of this melody is perhaps the most literal aspect of the whole record, as it is based on the words “I Never Liked That Guy” (measure 3, beat 3ff). The quintuplets in the piano part are meant to destabilize the rhythmically rather simple melody – like having a rug pulled from underneath – the rug in this case being a steady, stated pulse.

Strewn throughout the composition are fast upward and downward piano arpeggios (m5, m13 etc), which function as “on and off switches” for the electronics. Sam Pluta’s part represents the subconscious mind and one can almost think of these triggers as portals to a parallel universe. Another repetitive theme are piano tremolos (m5, m13, m17-18, m40-46) that have a stubborn and incessant character, further supporting the idea of the niggling subconscious.

To represent both the violence and the absurdity, I wanted to include a sudden tear in the fabric.

This sudden violent shift at C jerks the listener out of the general slow pace of the piece. It is not only faster and louder, but also played on soprano saxophone rather than on tenor. This frantic section becomes a springboard for a collective improvisation. Sam has the option to process either acoustic instrument.

At E we reverse back to the former unstable and superficially calm realm, but not for very long. The next “trigger arpeggio” at F propels the music towards a very dark, almost mechanical and very repetitive piano background that the soprano improvises over for a while. The piano part consists of low tremolos on F2 and G2 in the right, and a quintuplet figure moving from F1 to Eb1 in the left hand. It is very low and static to create a contrast for the soprano sax to float over. Electronics process the piano further to make it sound more metallic, percussive and emotionally cold. Piano and electronics gradually encroach on my improvisation before I transition back into absurdity at H – a direct repetition of C, but repeating the last measure aggressively and slightly too often for comfort. Cory takes my cue and morphs his improvisation into the composed counterpart.

The making of Dream Twice, Twice Dreamt (small ensemble)

Chamber Orchestra + soloists:

In the orchestra version I had so much additional color at my disposal, and – through the addition of drummer Tom Rainey and bassist Robert Landfermann – the potential to weave a jazz rhythm section into the fabric. Going back to the ‘zooming in’ analogy I use in the opening paragraph of this essay – there are short fragments in the original trio composition that become highlighted center pieces in this version. I also composed completely new material that is a re-interpretation of a gesture used in the trio music.

I kept the main motive intact and orchestrated the original piano part, though the material is extended and piano/ group improvisations woven into the music. At m15, the piano arpeggios trigger pizzicato strings rather than electronics. There are also very literal ‘gunshots’ in this piece – definitely the one tongue-in-cheek nod to program music. Those ‘gunshots’ are tutti hits that grow in volume (m33,35,37) and are thrown in at the conductor’s discretion as backgrounds to a group improvisation at D.

The next section of the piece is an extended soprano saxophone solo, that zooms in on three measures of the original trio music, which are turned into something entirely different.

The tremolo in the right hand of the trio’s piano part at measure 5 become the basis for sections E and F. It is transformed into woodwind tremolo cluster, accompanied by shimmering string section textures with varied tuplet groupings, as well as accents. I am deriving the rhythm for the bass line at F by extrapolating just the accents of the cello part. It uses 16th-notes to create a type of a groove. At G, the whole thing flips, and drum and bass start playing off the viola accents which are subdivided into quintuplets. This makes the music appear to slow down and has a similar destabilizing “pulling of the rug from underneath” effect mentioned earlier. The material at section G is an expansion of measures 17 and 18 in the small group version.

In comparison, here is what the trio equivalent looks like:

From measure 62 onwards, the strings parts are gradually sparsed out over time, keeping the gesture and accents, but losing more and more of the notes. The string players also change playing techniques over time, moving from a full bow to sul ponticello, then to no punta, before thinning the sound even further by playing pizzicato.

Letter M is this version’s sudden ‘tear in the fabric’ moment in which both the triggered pizzicato string idea gets reiterated and the tremolos become a focus point to offset them. It’s back to a moment of material from F/G after that, before saxophone and electronics improvise an ending. I had asked Sam to sample some of the pizzicato string fabric at (m66 +ff) which he throws into this end section like a strange echo of what has been before.


The composition ends with a reiteration of the original motive, the I Never Liked That Guy theme, but kept fairly short.

On Dreamt Twice, Twice Dreamt, I aimed to treat every variation of a composition differently, each time meditating on the respective dream beforehand. These treatments vary greatly and include reversing the order of events, stretching out material into something barely recognizable and using multiple conductors simultaneously. The unpredictability of dreams and the fact that violence and emotional darkness are completely acceptable in a dream-like state, was liberating and opened a whole new world of possibilities to me.

I’d like to end this article with a disclaimer of some sort: When I embarked upon composing this music in early 2019, I thought the chosen dreams were strange, outlandish and offbeat. Along came 2020 and put everything into perspective.


About the Author:

Header and Bio images of Ingrid are Copyright © Caroline Mardok

Ingrid Laubrock is an experimental saxophonist and composer, interested in exploring the borders between musical realms and creating multi-layered, dense and often evocative sound worlds. A prolific composer, Laubrock was named “one of the most distinctive rising compositional voices” by Point Of Departure and a “fully committed saxophonist and visionary” by the New Yorker. Her main projects as a leader are Anti-House, Serpentines and Ingrid Laubrock Sextet. Laubrock has performed with Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jason Moran, Kris Davis, Tyshawn Sorey, Mary Halvorson, Tom Rainey, Tim Berne, Dave Douglas and many others.

Laubrock has composed for ensembles ranging from duo to chamber orchestra. Awards include Fellowship in Jazz Composition by the Arts Foundation in 2006, the 2009 SWR German Radio Jazz Prize and the 2014 German Record Critics Quarterly Award. She won best Rising Star Soprano Saxophonist in the ‘Downbeat Annual Critics Poll in 2015 and best Tenor Saxophonist in 2018. Laubrock is one of the recipients of the 2019 Herb Alpert Ragdale Prize in Music Composition and has received composing commissions by The Shifiting Foundation, The Jerwood Foundation, American Composers Orchestra, Tricentric Foundation, SWR New Jazz Meeting, The Jazz Gallery Commissioning Series, NYSCA, John Zorn’s Stone Commissioning Series and the EOS Orchestra.