|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
Vibraphone has always been a part of Numinous. In fact before I even had a group, in those dark times when I was only just planning how best to execute dominion over the musical establishment, I dreamed of having a music ensemble that included the vibraphone. Now some people might think this is because of Steve Reich and Musicians. In reality Steve and his 'band' were only a small part of my thought process. It really was much earlier in my career, long before I even knew who Steve Reich was, that the love of the vibraphone began.
Most likely it began, where so many first loves began, in high school. The set of vibes the school had were always so tantalizing close where they sat in the percussion section of my high school band. I couldn't really touch them, since I wasn't a percussionist, but I always wanted to. Every time someone played them, my ears perked up and my desire grew. I can't really explain why I liked the vibes, perhaps it was the tintinnabuli sound since I think I am predisposed toward bells (a secret desire of mine (not so secret now) is to write for a hand bell choir! Hey out there bell choir world, I'm open to commissions...). But the vibes, with its warm and roundness of tone, only hints at bell-ness so I guess the real answer is I just liked how it sounded. Simple.
So when Numinous began, the vibraphone was definitely going to be part of it. And years after the beginning, when I was writing Vipassana, I thought TWO vibes would be heaven! However, ever since last year, I have broken up my 'Noah's Ark' of instruments in Vipassana and replaced the second vibraphone with harp. Initially this was for pragmatic reasons, as chronicled in Inside Vipassana #3, but since then it is because I just love having the harp in the group. But the one vibraphone still has quite the heavy lifting in Vipassana, including a solo feature in "Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth" and some intricate rhythmic work (with the harp) in "Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys". And since the beginning of this journey that is Vipassana, the person doing a wonderful job with the demanding vibraphone requirements is Tom Beckham. So I thought it would be fun to hear what it is like playing Vipassana from his vantage point.
In Vipassana the vibraphone generally has a prominent role in the piece, particularly in the first and third movements. What kind of musical or technical challenges does the music create for you?
The First movement is really fun to play because it has tight ensemble sections, some nice chordal passages for the vibes, and later, an improvised duet with vibes and piano. Stylistically speaking, it really has the best of both worlds. The third movement seems to be more technically difficult movement for vibes. The challenge has always been to be rhythmically articulate, precise, and relaxed-sounding.
As a longstanding member of Numinous, how has performing Vipassana changed for you over the 5 years we've been playing it?
As time goes by, I find it easier to hear and appreciate the different ensemble sections while performing the piece. The process of recording music, committing it to CD has also changed my perception of the piece. I definitely feel more familiar with it's narrative as a result of going through that process.
What do you like about Vipassana?
I like that it strives to combine different aspects or genres of music. It aims to challenge the listener. As a performer, the part I like the most is that feeling that I get of "having meditated" after performing the concert. It's that feeling you get after being involved in a thought process which is taking you outside of normal flow. I hope to feel this at the end of each performance--that feeling of being involved in a process–being transported.
What do you find beautiful (or where do you find beauty)?
Everywhere, everything! Especially through my family and my two and a half year old daughter, but also including: animals, ocean life, trees/forests, twilight, certain food, art, sound, laughter, the list is endless. Hopefully, as artists, we are all trying to be a part of a process of discovering 'what is beautiful'. I think if an artist is not involved in that process then he or she should ask oneself what they value about the music they are drawn to, and how they would characterize it.
Who are your musician heroes?
My musical Superhero list would have to include the great vibraphonists Milt Jackson and Gary Burton. They have really done the lion's share of innovation on the instrument. Whatever I am doing today most likely has a connection to something that those two musicians have put out there in the world.
What's your favorite Bjork and/or Gustav Mahler piece? Why?
I really like "It's Not Up To You" from Vespertine because of the way this tune opens up. The voices help make it lift off. I also like "All Neon Like" from Homogenic--the melodic and harmonic choices are compelling, and the groove is organic, heavy, and deep.
In addition to being a musician, you are a graphic artist so if you could have designed any logo/design what would it be (i.e. what graphic design do you find pleasing/inspirational)? Why?
The Coke Logo (for obvious financial reasons, ha ha!, just kidding.). Seriously, I am inspired by good typography and type design of any period, as well as ornament and design from 1900-1979. I am also currently renewing my love for Dr.Seuss' and Charlie Harper's body of work.
What is a book(s) that have inspired you?
Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.
What was the last time you've had that numinous feeling about something?
While driving my car at 55 mph with all the windows down on 4th avenue, Brooklyn, in January.
Tell us something fun or interesting about you that most people wouldn't know or suspect?
I once played a gig on my instrument without a dampening bar. For all you non-vibists, the dampening bar is the thing that keeps the notes from sustaining. Not having one is like having someone pressing their foot down on the sustain pedal on a piano for the whole night. Anyway, for this particular gig, we were supposed to perform one of tunes from the "Blues on Bach" record by the MJQ. I had very little materials at the time to improvise an effective dampening system, so I eventually had to play the entire gig by muting the sounds of the instrument with either my hands, or with my mallets. It was an exercise I won't soon forget because it really made me think about the length of the notes that I would play, etc.
What's next up for you in your own music career?
Aside from other recording projects, I'm pulling my own music together for a vibes/guitar quartet project called "Slice", and I'm also continuing to fill out music for what will become the 3rd CD for my five-piece group.
You can learn more about Tom at www.tombeckham.net
Numinous performs Vipassana
Wednesday September 22nd, 2010 8 PM to 9 PM
227 4th Avenue
Take the M, R Train to Union Street
Learn more about Vipassana by reading the other installments of theInside Vipassana series:
Inside Vipassana #11: Vipassana Reborn (recap of the 2009 Inside Vipassana series)
Inside Vipassana #12: Bang a Gong with Jared Soldiviero (Numinous percussionist speaks about Vipassana)
Inside Vipassana #13: Ever changing stillness (behind the melodies of Stillness Flows Ever Changing)
Inside Vipassana #14: Electric Lady (Amanda Monaco, Guitar, and Vipassana)
Inside Vipassana #15: The Dharma in Music (Vipassana, a journey of reflection)
Inside Vipassana #16: 'Cello Song (interview with Numinous cellists Will Martina and Lauren Riley-Rigby)
(photo credits, from top to bottom: photo from the artist; photo by Marcy Begian)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:17 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.