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  • Neil Leonard

Matanzas: Vinyl LP

Updated: Jul 30, 2021


The music on this album is a reflection on living in and listening to the sounds of Matanzas, Cuba. My recordings of folkloric musicians, interviews, urban surface noise and wetlands were in my ear while composing this work but not heard on the final pieces. What remains is the sensation “after listening,” the stillness and sense of wonder that lingers after hearing Matanzas.

This album seemed to compose itself. In August 2016, midway through developing new work for documenta 14, I was in residence at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation’s Rauschenberg Residency Program in Captiva, Florida. The baby grand piano placed at the entrance of the 40’ x 80’ studio caught my attention. Each day I found myself playing it before sunrise while experiencing the solitude of the white space, the cathedral-like acoustics and the challenge of facing fresh music paper as light entered the room. Before long, I finished a collection of three and four voice vignettes but had no agenda for completing a work based on these meditative pieces.

With the help of Stephen Vitiello, I found a new microphone and recording gear to experiment with acoustics in the space. Again, working at daybreak, I recorded solo saxophone performances of each vignette. The room let clouds of notes ring simultaneously, as if the studio was a giant piano, sustaining the notes and forming chords. During the residency I also developed a new generation of saxophone processing ideas that resulted in the additional layers of electronics heard here. The result is a ‘choir’ of saxophones, some processed electronically, some not, and some playing breathing sounds to add a sense of perspective.

Joe Branciforte’s insights as co-producer helped gather these vignettes into two pieces for vinyl release and later quadraphonic presentation for live performance. We added my field recordings made in the wetlands of Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) area of Ciénega Zapata, a 4,162 square kilometer biosphere in Matanzas, to create a connective tissue between sections.

The two pieces on this album are musings on Matanzas created in Rauschenberg’s studio at a time when the sounds of the city, remote estuaries and former plantations rang in my ear but did not need to be heard directly. Occasionally the waves, insects and migratory birds of the Americas intervene to guide us to the next section. The saxophone is in the foreground and the feeling of Matanzas, an area that I have recorded since 1986, is present.

The LP as created using Ableton Live as a recording platform, and as a realtime processor. Each sections is 3-4 voice processed-saxophone vignette. Live was used to track each individual voice, and simultaneously process the live sax while tracking. The audio effects included my own M4L plugins for delay and pitch effects.

Fragments of the album Matanzas were heard in a 10-channel sound piece for the installation "Matanzas Sound Map" exhibited at the Athens School of Fine Arts in Greece. A two channel version of that piece accompanies a video installation in Bar Matanzas in Kassel, Germany, presented by documenta 14 (2017).

Neil Leonard

August, 2017

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