Paul Dresher: This Same Temple


This Same Temple

[1]      Liquid and Stellar Music (1981) (20:11)
for electric guitar and live tape loop system. Electric guitar, Paul Dresher. Recording engineered and produced by Paul Tydelski and Paul Dresher in summer 1981.

[2]      Destiny (1983) (6:02)
for electric guitar, drummer and live tape loop system. Electric guitar, Paul Dresher; drums, Gene Reffkin. Recording engineered and produced by Paul Dresher.

[3]      Water Dreams (1985) (13:11)
electro-acoustic tape composition. Viola samples performed by Sarah Willner.

[4]      This Same Temple (1976-77) (23:33)
performed by Double Edge, Nurit Tilles and Edmund Niemann, duo-pianists. Recorded at Vanguard Studios, New York, 1982, Don Hunnerberg, engineer.

Total duration (1:03:08)

I prepare these notes in early 1996 for the rerelease of a vinyl recording done in 1982. While resisting the unpleasant urge to look back and make conclusions regarding those paths both taken and those not, I cannot avoid a measure of contextualization for the notes I wrote in 1982 for my then very first recording. To that release, consisting of Liquid and Stellar Music and This Same Temple, I have added two shorter works, Destiny and Water Dreams, both of which were composed in the same period of work.

The works on this CD come from what I now consider to be my first phase of composition in my own musical voice, ranging from 1976 through 1985, starting when I was an undergraduate music student and ending right about the time I began my own experimental music theater ensemble. During this time I completed my formal music education, lived and traveled extensively in South and Southeast Asia, began and ended employment at the Cornish College in Seattle, gave my first concerts as a solo performer, became very heavily involved with singer/performer Rinde Eckert and tenor John Duykers in collaboratively-created music theater and opera, and finally formed my own ensemble which has been my major activity since that point.

All these compositions are essentially “modal” works and make little or no use of harmony. They typically put audible processes, such as literal repetition, a systematic and clear accumulation of musical layers and phasing techniques clearly in the foreground. Since 1985, while I have continued to employ some of these elements in my work, I often place them in a more subservient position and have made much greater use of a personal approach to harmony, continual and rapid permutation and quickly shifting or simultaneously evolving processes. While these tendencies began to evolve during this period of work (particularly in the 1982 string quartet Casa Vecchia) they did not become the primary qualities of my work until after 1985.

The compositions focus entirely on the three instruments I knew best and have worked with since childhood: the guitar, the piano and the tape recorder. Taken as a whole, this collection of compositions represent the all major threads in my instrumental work: chamber music composition, an interest in popular and world music, and a deep involvement with technology, particularly for live performance.

Liquid and Stellar Music (1981), for electric guitar and live tape loop system.

This work began as an idea for a sonic world while working with Terry Riley at Mills College 1973 and when I was working exclusively with the electric guitar. The notion evolved further in 1977 when I produced a 4-track “study” for electric guitar, exploring the range of timbres available for that instrument, while a graduate student working with Robert Erickson at UC San Diego. Since the “study” was essentially a tape composition produced in a recording studio, I had no means of performing the work live as a soloist. Thus in 1979 I collaborated with electronic designer Paul Tydelski in building a performer-controlled live tape processing system (described below) which would allow me to perform such works as a soloist live and without using any pre-recorded tapes.

Liquid and Stellar Music was first performed at the Festival d’Automne á Paris in the fall of 1979 and for the next two years it was a constantly evolving performance format generally consisting of a predetermined overall form and germinal composed materials which were developed in a somewhat improvisational fashion while interacting with the tape loop system. In 1981, in preparation for a performance at the New Music America ’81 Festival in San Francisco, the work attained its final form as it appears on this recording.

The tape system consists of a four-channel tape machine with three playback heads located at various points in the path of a closed loop of variable speed (different compositions for the system will have different speeds and thus loop durations.) Record/play functions and the mixing and routing of all sounds are controlled by the performer with an array of foot pedals and switches.

When composing for the tape system, the materials are chosen in part on the basis of their effectiveness in the context of the processing system. Through the use of this system, it is possible for the performer to build up complex textural, harmonic or rhythmic structures through what is essentially a process of live multi-track recording (and playback, erasing and mixing). There are no pre-recorded materials used in a performance.

Destiny (1983), for electric guitar, drummer and live tape loop system.

This work was composed in the fall of 1983 and utilizes the same tape loop system as Liquid and Stellar Music. It was commissioned by the Wendy Rogers Dance Company and is the music for the third section of their work Surveillance. It is a collaborative work in the sense that the piece grew out of an improvisational rehearsal period in which Gene’s drumming significantly influenced the final work. Gene and I toured the work for several years.

It draws its surface unabashedly from the idiom of rock and roll yet it is contrapuntally and polyrhythmically organized via processes normally associated with other domains. At this time, I was grappling with the diverse and contrary influences of both rock & roll, world music (in this case African polyrhythmic structures) and contemporary “art” music. This work was a direct attempt to reconcile these differences and incorporate the qualities of each which I find inspirational.

Water Dreams (1985), electro-acoustic tape composition.

This work was commissioned by Music and Arts Program of America as composition for radio broadcast and was originally released on the Music and Arts CD, “Another Coast,” CD276. It is related to a tape composition from a year earlier, Other Fire (available on Starkland, CD ST-204 ) in its use of environmental sounds, its construction in an 8-track studio environment and its initial presentation as a work for radio.

In Water Dreams the sounds of water in many contexts (rain, ocean waves, lakes, rivers, streams and drips) form the basic sonic palette. Unlike Other Fire, the composition is a hybrid of these acoustic sounds (manipulated only with equalization and tape speed alterations), synthesized sounds (Yamaha DX-7) and sampled acoustic sounds. The water recordings were all made during a particularly stormy week in December of 1984 in Mendocino County, California. This work is thus the most archetypically Californian of all my works and at one point was even threatened with the classification of “New Age,” though the aficionados of that style wisely deemed the work too filled with tension and contrast.

Equipment used to create the work: Akai S612 sampler, Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer, Yamaha SPX-90 reverb. Recorded on a Tascam 80-8 recorder, source tapes recorded on Sony TC-D5 cassette deck with Nakamichi microphones.

This Same Temple (1976, revised 1977), for two pianos.

This work was only my second composition in what I consider my own style, the first being the Guitar Quartet from 1974, all previous works being widely variant in influences, appropriations and quality (naive to mediocre). The work was premiered by the East Bay New Music Ensemble in the Fall of 1976 with Rae Imamura and Phil Aaberg (with whom I continue to work to this day) at the pianos. I was still an undergraduate at the time and composed the work in the wee hours after having completed my harmony exercises (an influence conspicuous in its absence).

The work clearly owes a debt to Steve Reich, with whose ensemble I played briefly in the summer of 1974. In fact it was in this context that I met Nurit Tilles to whom I turned when I wanted to record the work. I already consciously identified myself as a post-minimalist composer and one of my goals in this work was to integrate both a broader emotional range and more elaborate formal schemes into a musical vocabulary which truly inspired me. These goals continue to occupy an important position in my work.

The notes which follow are my original program notes which combine performance instructions with an explanation very characteristic of my thinking at the time. The title, a consequence of a deadline and indeterminacy, resulted from randomly dropping my finger into a text on Balinese music I was studying at the time. The first drop yielded “Temple,” the second, “This Same.”

This Same Temple explores many different aspects of the musical process known as “phasing,” the simultaneous sounding of two or more repeated musical phrases which may differ either in length, pitch material or rate at which they move. The cycling of these phrases against each other results in new harmonic, contrapuntal or rhythmic events.

The piece is elastic with respect to its total duration. It is not meant to be played through without repetition of individual measures. It scans into fairly discrete musical sections with transitional material. In each section there is the potential of achieving two broad effects, either developmental or static. To achieve the developmental effect, one must play through the sections with few or no repeats of measures. To achieve a static effect, the performers may cease their forward motion at any point in the section and repeat that measure or series of measures. A performance may involve any combination of static or developmental treatments of sections. The exact constituency of a particular performance is entirely up to the performers. It may be determined in rehearsal or in the midst of performance. The music may be stretched out (thus “elastic”) to fit any desired duration longer than eighteen minutes.

In terms of performance practice the players work out a general pace (approximately how many repetitions of each measure in a section) so that they may stay in close proximity to each other. They need not always be on the same measure. Generally, one of the two parts has the more developmental role in a particular section, while the other players will be repeating a phrase with or without variation. In such instances the player with the developmental material is the “leader” and thus should determine the pace of the section.

There are both rhythmic and melodic motives which operate separately and are combined with each other in various ways. The main rhythmic motives are cycles of 9, 7 and 5, with respective primary melodic motives from which most of the piece is drawn. These motives are used in various forms such as retrograde, inversion, augmentation and diminution, and they are also played from all the degrees of the scale.

Special thanks to Betty Freeman, Mimi Johnson, Maggi Payne, Robin Kirck, Jay Cloidt and Wendy Rogers.

—Paul Dresher, February 1996



      Paul Dresher is an internationally active composer noted for his ability to integrate diverse musical influences into his own coherent and unique personal style. He is pursuing many forms of musical expression including experimental opera and music theater, chamber and orchestral composition, live instrumental electro-acoustic chamber music performances and scores for theater, dance, and film.

      He has received commissions from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Spoleto Festival USA, the Kronos Quartet, the San Francisco Symphony, Walker Arts Center, Meet the Composer, University of Iowa, and the American Music Theater Festival. He has performed or had his works performed throughout North America, Asia and Europe. Venues have included the Munich State Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Festival d’Automne á Paris, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, the Minnesota Opera, Arts Summit Indonesia ’95, Festival Interlink in Japan, and five New Music America Festivals.

      His evening-length collaboration with choreographer Margaret Jenkins, THE GATES, premiered at Jacob’s Pillow and opened the 1994 Serious Fun Festival at Lincoln Center. In 1993, Dresher premiered his new “Electro-Acoustic Band” on a five city tour of Japan as part of Festival Interlink. This ensemble performs the works of a broad range of contemporary composers utilizing a hybrid orchestration which combines both acoustic and electronic instrumentation. This Ensemble and has since commissioned several works from some of the most innovative of today’s composers and has toured the U.S. and to Europe and Indonesia.

      As Artistic Director of the Paul Dresher Ensemble, he has guided the creation of the “American Trilogy”, a set of music theater works which address different facets of American culture, in collaboration with writer/performer Rinde Eckert. The trilogy began with Slow Fire (1985–88), developed with Power Failure (1988–89) and was completed in 1990 with Pioneer, a collaboration that includes visual artist Terry Allen, actress Jo Harvey Allen, tenor John Duykers and director Robert Woodruff.

      Recordings of his works have been released on the Lovely Music, New World, Music and Arts, O.O. Discs, Starkland and New Albion labels. In 1993, New Albion released Dark Blue Circumstance, containing both chamber and electronic works. Opposites Attract, his collaboration with multi-woodwind performer Ned Rothenberg, was released by New World Records in 1991, Minmax Music/Starkland released Slow Fire in 1992 and in 1995 Starkland released Casa Vecchia, containing both electronic and chamber compositions. He has worked as producer on several recording projects and he was the consultant for engineering and production on John Adams’ 1993 Nonesuch release Hoodoo Zephyr.

      Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Dresher received his BA in Music from U.C. Berkeley and his M.A. in Composition from U.C. San Diego where he studied with Robert Erickson, Roger Reynolds, Pauline Oliveros and Bernard Rands. He has had a long time interest in the music of Asia and Africa, studying Ghanaian drumming with C.K. and Kobla Ladzekpo, Hindustani classical music with Nikhil Banerjee as well as Balinese and Javanese music.


Edmund Niemann and Nurit Tilles, duo-pianists

Edmund Niemann and Nurit Tilles formed Double Edge in 1978, and made their New York debut at Town Hall in 1987. In 1991, Kyle Gann of The Village Voice called Double Edge “one of the century’s best piano duos...Their sonority is big, their ensemble perfect, their repertoire wild.”

American appearances by Double Edge have included New Sounds Live, Lincoln Center, Merkin Hall, Bang On A Can, Walker Art Center, Los Angeles County Museum, a New York State New Music Network Tour, and frequent returns to Town Hall. Guest artist appearances include Richmond Symphony under George Manahan, Concordia Chamber Symphony under Marin Alsop, and Crosstown Ensemble under Eric Grunin.

Following their London debut at Queen Elizabeth Hall 1n 1990, Double Edge gave a Contemporary Music Network Tour under the auspices of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Their 1993 tour of Australia, including Sydney Opera House, was sponsored by Musica Viva Australia. Other tours abroad have taken Double Edge to Holland, Belgium, German, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Bulgaria, Canada, and New Zealand.

New works written for Double Edge by John Cage, Meredith Monk, Kevin Volans, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, David Lang, David Borden and Guy Klucevsek. They have also given first performances of pieces by Paul Dresher, Mel Powell, James Tenney, Kitty Brazelton, and many other composers.

Their recordings include Visions de l’Amen by Olivier Messiaen (New Albion 1992) and a disc of new American works, U.S. Choice (CRI 1993). They have also recorded for Nonesuch, Lovely Music and New World. Double Edge has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Cary Trust, and the Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals.

Edmund Niemann is a long-time member of Steve Reich & Musicians and a founding member of Parnassus. He has been a guest artist with Speculum Musicae, New York New Music Ensemble, New Music Consort, Da Capo Players, and The Mother Mallard Band. The New York Times said of his solo debut, “throughout the evening his playing was technically dazzling, his musicality unquestionable.” He is on the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College.

Nurit Tilles has been described by theVillage Voice as “one of new music’s most valuable pianists.” She has performed with Steve Reich & Musicians since 1975, was a member of The Mother Mallard Band, and has enjoyed a long association with Meredith Monk. Nurit’s recordings of modern piano rags was produced by Rudi Blesh. Her own pieces include Raw Silk (A Rag) and The Kitchen Table. Lately she has been performing with Brenda Cummings as the vaudeville team, North and Stepinski.



Mr. Reffkin has performed with contemporary and classical music ensembles in New England, New York, and California. After receiving a B.A. in music from New York University, he moved to the San Francisco area, where he has played with new music groups as well as many country and western , blues and rock bands. He has been a core member of the Paul Dresher Ensemble since its inception in 1984. He is the percussionist for Dresher’s “American Trilogy”, comprised of Slow Fire, Power Failure and Pioneer. Other works with Dresher include Was Are/Will Be and Awed Behavior. He has performed with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in The Gates, Age of Unrest, Shelf Life, and Home, as well as with the Wendy Rogers Dance Company, and the ODC-San Francisco in Secret House and Tamina. In 1984 he performed in the George Coates Performance Works production, See Hear and in 1990 with Philip Glass in Aid and Comfort Benefit at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA.

For a complete catalogue of recordings, scores and videos of work by Paul Dresher and the Paul Dresher Ensemble, please write to MINMAX MUSIC, 51 Avenida Drive, Berkeley, CA 94708.

Cover photo by Debra Bloomfield, “Rancho de Taos,” 1989
Courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco

Copyright © 1977, 1981, 1983, 1985 by Paul Dresher (BMI)
© P 1983 and 1996 by Lovely Music, Ltd.

Art Direction and Design: By Design

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