Chamber Music from Hell
Hi! Chris Opperman here to tell you about my latest project that I am working on with my friend and bassist/composer extraordinaire Kurt Morgan from Dweezil Zappa's totally insane band. If you don't know who either of us is, you can learn plenty about us below, but for right now we'd like to get to the point and tell you about our project, which we are currently jokingly calling Chamber Music from Hell.
Over the past several years, I have shifted from writing jazz/rock music and have been writing a lot of chamber music for a variety of ensembles, almost all of which is extremely difficult and virtuosic in nature. I have been very fortunate to have gotten to work with dozens of unbelievably talented musicians and conductors bringing this music to life for performances, many of which have been very fine and well-attended. I am eternally grateful for that and I consider many of those performers to be close personal friends. After all, what better gift can a composer get than someone trying their absolute best to realize their musical vision?
However, the cost of even attempting to record all of these works in the studio with real musicians would be astronomical and prohibitive. At the same time, in terms of official releases, the "newest" piece available to listeners is "Milliways" which was written in 2010 and released on the Studio House EP in 2012. So there's a great temporal discontinuity between the music people can hear and the music I have been recently making that urgently needs to be addressed.
So: I am happy to report that I have found a solution to these problems. The name of that solution is producer Kurt Morgan, who I will let have the stage now:
"When Chris Opperman approached me a while back about the possibility of making a record together, I remember immediately thinking it was a good idea. But as good ideas are often quick to appear in our minds, they often take a while to materialize and here we are now (who knows how many months later) ready to turn those ideas into physical sound waves.
We are both huge Frank Zappa fans and on some level, we met because of that common thread. Since we are also composers, I think we immediately saw the potential to take this idea that Chris had and turn it into something wonderful.
The general concept as it was explained to me was that I would help Chris render some of his more challenging compositions using my collection of orchestral sounds, samples, plug-ins, etc. and try to take what was on the page and make it sound like it was played by real people (a daunting task but I am usually up for a good challenge when it comes to that sort of thing). I was in on that basic concept alone, then we started talking about what else we could do together and it grew to include the possibility of improvising some live bass, drums, and keys on a track and composing something together that was perhaps a combination of human and “synthetic” elements- much like Zappa’s work with the Synclavier. Then I heard the pieces that Chris wrote and I knew this was going to be great.
Musical technology has advanced to the point where we can purchase a very convincing digital replica of an orchestra at a relatively affordable price when compared to the cost of rehearsing and recording an actual orchestra. Like many technological advancements, this has both positive and negative ramifications....
I am trying to make what Gail Zappa would call a “declaration of intent” with regard to our Chamber Music from Hell project. First and foremost, it is about making music that inspires us. We ultimately do this because we love it but we also hope that other people will enjoy it too. I am also interested in doing things with other people for other people and despite my concerns for the negative effects that technology may have on music, without the availability of convincing orchestral samples, this music may be simply too expensive to be heard performed and recorded through traditional means. At the end of the day, Chris’s compositions are already and always will be amazing works of art but if there is an opportunity to make them sound as good as possible for a recording to be enjoyed for all eternity (and as a possible model for future human performances), sign me up.
If you are one of the “other people” that I referred to in the last paragraph and you like the idea of hearing new modern orchestral music from Chris and you also like the idea of hearing the first music Chris and I have ever written together, then I hope you will consider supporting us!
Thanks for listening! -Kurt Morgan 4/9/2019 2:29 AM"
What We Need
Honestly, we could complete the project right now with what we have but there are some things that we could get that would definitely make the project better. That includes funding for new samples (specifically high-quality solo string samples), a couple hours of studio time on a grand piano so I can record myself performing "The 144,000" from The Cribbage Variations, funding for artwork (which I haven't even begun to think about yet), and money for physical distribution if either someone decides they want to fund it or we think sufficient demand for a physical product exists and earn enough money. The rest of the money that we get is going to go to fund future projects, including one where Kurt and I work on my large ensemble pieces and one to two albums of solo piano music.
About Some of the Music (in quasi-chronological order):
"Fo' No Mo'" for woodwind tree, yo! (1996)
One of my very first pieces from when I was a 17 year-old freshman at Berklee College of Music for flute, oboe, and bassoon. This piece was written probably a week or two after "The Day Big Bird Turned Blue" from Oppy Music, Vol. I: Purple, Crayon. I'm happy that I spent the time of my life where it was possible to practice and compose all day practicing and composing all day (when not chugging Mountain Dew and eating chicken sandwiches at the Berklee Cafeteria). Clearly the tempo is presto, yo.
"Waking Up" for "string quintet" (2009, rev. 2019)
This piece was originally called "The Old Man and the Sea" and was composed for a reading by the esteemed Shanghai Quartet (plus contrabass). It was never a finished piece in my mind, but when I went back to it for this project I found myself doing the opposite of what 30 year-old me wanted to do. Instead of making it longer, I gutted it. Then I cut the tempo to less than half of its original tempo. What's left is, I think, much more intense than the original. Every chord just pulls at you. It's dark and desolate, with just enough hope sprinkled in to keep you going to the next part of the dream.
I think "Waking Up" is a much better title for the piece now because part of my journey to 40 has been waking up to various things: the illusory nature of existence itself, the still blatant racism and sexism that still exists in America today (especially in the arts), and the great paradox where it seems that the more I learn about everything, the more I realize how little I actually know or understand. It is also the name of the meditation app I use from neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris.
Hopefully this piece will inspire you too. You'll see why "string quintet" is in scare quotes when you hear the finished product.
"The Fermi Paradox" for Pierrot ensemble (2014)
During a luncheon with his friends in 1950, scientist Enrico Fermi asked, "Where is everybody?" in regards to the lack of evidence regarding extraterrestrial life in the universe. Science and mathematics tell us there are approximately 100 billion suns in the Milky Way Galaxy. Therefore, there should be, even at a small fraction, at least thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Earth-like planets in the galaxy capable of sustaining intelligent life. Assuming the probability that the Earth is not the most technologically advanced civilization in the galaxy and the fact that it would be possible to colonize multiple solar systems given 5 - 50 million years, even if traveling at the comparatively low rate of light speed, it is paradoxical that we have had no proven contact with interstellar civilizations.
Physicist Carl Sagan, among others, have opined that one possible solution may be the tendency for advanced civilizations to destroy themselves, either through nuclear or biological annihilation, or due to climate change or other planetary calamities. However, for our purposes today, we ask not what kinds of beings these aliens would be, but what kind of music would they make?
Rarely was I a worse friend than when I was sitting at Wendy's after a lovely summer morning of German Reading Knowledge with several of my composer friends including Edgar Girtain, Gregg Rossetti, and Angelique Mouyis, completely obsessed with this article: https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html. They busted my chops about it and, well, I deserved it, but I got an awesome piece out of it!
I'm pretty sure this one's Kurt's favorite.
Composition V for flute, clarinet, and cello (2016)
Commissioned by the Meraki Chamber Ensemble
- I. Shades of Beige
- II. Longest, Blackest Scarf
- III. Spider Yo-Yo
- IV. Dancing Mimic
- V. Hooded Stick Thinker
This piece was commissioned by my dear friends Natasha Loomis (flute), Alexander Knox (clarinet), and Terrence Thornhill (cello) for their debut project celebrating the art of Wassily Kandinsky. They also commissioned works from my then-student Christopher Kaminski and a few of my friends including Anqi Liu and Benjamin Brody. It was really great fun!
Composition V has five short movements, each about a specific part of Kandinsky’s painting and each composed using different aleatoric methods. Once the procedures were laid out, the solutions were rolled by chance using The Musician’s Dice for the pitch information and polyhedral dice normally utilized in table-top role playing games for the rhythmic information.
I wanted to use experimental compositional techniques to complement Kandinski’s experimental painting techniques. What was interesting to me was how much control the composer actually does have when creating music this way. The procedures I designed had a much greater impact on the overall feel of the piece than any of the individual dice rolls, and there are many, many other decisions that go into a piece besides picking notes and rhythms including dynamics, phrasing, and orchestration.
The Cribbage Variations for nine instruments (2017)
for Scott Thunes
- I. Of Streets and Spillikins
- II. The Shuffle
- III. Jazz Noize
- IV. Mid-December Winds
- V. Babbitt Time!
- VI. The Deal
- VII. At the Grave of Anton Webern
- VIII. The Play
- IX. Level Pegging
- X. Lunn
- XI. Muggins
- XII. The 144,000
- XIII. Knock Knock Bach
- XIV. 75 Raindrops
- XV. The Show
The Cribbage Variations is a series of fifteen named variations in which the theme is the tone row from Anton Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments (1934), op. 24, and composed for the same nine instruments. The piece was completed in August 2017 and was premiered and recorded by the Helix! New Music Ensemble under the direction of Kynan Johns at the Mason Gross School of the Arts in November 2017.
The initial inspiration for the piece came from an e-mail I received from my friend, electric bass guitarist Scott Thunes, while doing research on Frank Zappa’s orchestral work “Dupree’s Paradise.” While on the Zappa 1988 Broadway the Hard Way World Tour, Thunes found himself wishing Webern’s piece was longer and thus attempted to commission a piece with this instrumentation from a bandmate. However, this said bandmate was more interested in playing cribbage on the bus than composing a piece for Thunes. I read this e-mail and wondered what it would sound like if I composed a work that combined twelve-tone music with the numerological ideas of cribbage. I laughed and got to work.
Many of the variations pay tribute to other composers including Frank Zappa, Mike Keneally, J.S. Bach, Anton Webern, Olivier Messiaen, Milton Babbitt, Igor Stravinsky, and Camille Saint-Saëns. The entire piece was created using Arnold Schoenberg's Method of Composing with Twelve Tones Which are Related Only with One Another.
Before the premiere, I sat with Make Weird Music’s Anthony Garone and talked about some of the compositional methods behind the work in some detail, which you can check out here (or by clicking the picture above maybe?).
"Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?" for rock band (2019)
Featuring myself on piano, Kurt Morgan on bass, and Ryan Brown (also from Dweezil's band) on drums, this brand new piece called was inspired by Nick Bostrom of Oxford University's thought experiments (click here to see), who asserts that one of the following three hypothesis is true:
(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage;
(2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);
(3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
Ultimately, I just thought it would be funny on an album full of synthesized instruments to have a piece about computers played by actual people. Actual people that could theoretically just be a computer simulation of actual people.
Rest assured we have other tricks up our sleeves that you will greatly enjoy listening to. This record is going to be yours as much as it is going to be ours. Thank you for reading this far!
About the Artists
The music of award-winning composer Chris Opperman sounds like your best dream being poured into a glass. For the past twenty years, Opperman has been carving his own niche in today's modern music scene and has had several releases on his Purple Cow Records label. His music is extremely varied in terms of genre and style and over the years has become increasingly ambitious in scope. Thanks to decades of study and practice, Opperman is equally comfortable composing music for rock bands and jazz combos as he is composing for symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles. Opperman also loves to laugh and his compositions often benefit from his sense of humor.
In addition to his own music, Opperman has performed with and/or orchestrated music for such industry luminaries as Grammy-award winning guitarist Steve Vai, virtuoso musician Mike Keneally, Indian classical music masters L. Shankar (a.k.a. Shenkar) and Zakir Hussein, and former Duran Duran/Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, among many others. Opperman played piano on two of Steve Vai's Grammy-nominated compositions, "Lotus Feet" from Real Illusions: Reflections and "The Attitude Song" from Sound Theories, Vols. I and II, both with the Metropole Orkest and both nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Opperman's orchestration of "For the Love of God," also from those sessions, has exceeded 33 million views on YouTube.
Opperman earned his Bachelor's of Music degree in Music Business/Management from Berklee College of Music, a Master's of Arts degree in Music Composition from Montclair State University, and is currently a.b.d. in his Ph. D. Music Composition program at Rutgers University. At MSU, Opperman studied with with Grammy award-winning composer Robert Aldridge as well as Dean Drummond, who ran the Harry Partch Instrumentarium at the campus until his death in 2013. At Rutgers, Opperman studied with Pulitzer Prize finalist Charles Fussell and his Ph. D. dissertation advisor is Christopher Doll.
Since 2011, Opperman has taught courses on music composition, music business, music history, and music technology at Montclair State and Rutgers, and has inspired hundreds of students to begin creating their own music.
Kurt Morgan likes art. He is a bass player, composer, teacher, music producer, and a visual art hobbyist. He just made up that last term but he’s gonna run with it anyway. He is sometimes compelled to write in the 3rd person under such “professional” circumstances as the ones that compel him right now so without further ado, he would like to present himself to you from this charming third level of self-perception.
Kurt has played bass for a lot of wonderful musicians and human beings from a wide range of styles, philosophies, and disciplines. He currently plays bass for Dweezil Zappa (son of the late, great American composer and guitarist, Frank Zappa) and has been since April of 2012. Before that, Kurt played and/or toured with many diverse artists such as Jazz trumpet legend and educator Clark Terry, pop singer/actress Hilary Duff, and rock guitarist Tom Morello. He has performed for two U.S. Presidents (one of them twice) and once boarded a moving cruise ship with an upright bass like Indiana Jones.
Kurt studied music theory and composition at the University of New Hampshire because he wanted to find his own unique voice as a composer, which is what excites him the most. At UNH, Kurt developed a love for orchestral music while playing double bass in the University orchestra. He performed Mahler’s 4th Symphony and Brahms’s Requiem both of which made an indelible mark on his musical personality.
Kurt met Chris Opperman through their mutual love of the music of Frank Zappa and have wanted to work together for a long time. The opportunity finally presented itself recently when Chris approached Kurt with the idea of collaborating on a record together. The record would primarily contain original chamber music by Chris with the possibility of new musical collaborations between both of them. A few sketches were sent back and forth and they both immediately heard the potential of what they were doing. It is clear that this needs to happen.
Kurt currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Risks and challenges
The only potential challenge I see is shipping costing substantially more than I think it will. If that happens, we kindly ask that you be cool about it and just send us the difference.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)