social sounds

Released 2013
Teal Creek Music

social sounds CD cover
social sounds CD cover

“.. pristine, masterful oboe playing, and fresh  un-encumbered musical ideas…”  (Jeanne Belfy, The Double Reed)

“Dr. Lee has a ravishing, declamatory tone and absolute control over her instrument, whether the work calls for extended techniques or less so…The beautiful artistry of Catherine Lee ultimately breathes vital life into the music. It is music to beguile and uplift the spirits. It is modern yet lyrical. It is a stunning feather in Ms. Lee’s very musical hat.”  (Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review)  Complete review here

“From the first track it is clear that this is a musician with a deep understanding of the expressive possibilities of her instruments in both traditional and extended techniques as well as a clear sense of how to find music of substance.  Her playing sounds effortless suggesting that she puts a great deal of time into honing her virtuosity but she clearly moves beyond the technical to master the expressive range. I would certainly be willing to hear just about anything Ms. Lee chooses to play including the relatively obscure repertoire for the oboe d’amore but I have my fingers crossed that we may get to hear her tackling concertos by Morton Feldman, Vincent Persichetti, Witold Lutoslawski and Hans Werner Henze, big projects that are nice to hope for but we do see that her ear for the smaller projects is clearly golden.” (Allan J. Cronin, New Music Buff) Complete review here

“a CD as compelling as it is eminently listenable.” (Elliot Wright, The WholeNote) Complete review here

fearlessly probing unusual sonic textures of new works.” (James Bash, Northwest Reverb) Complete review here

1 Still (2006) for oboe                                            Dorothy Chang
2 Rafales (2007) for oboe                                       Jerome Blais
3 Plainsong (2004) for English horn                   Tawnie Olson
4 Social sounds from whales at night (2007)      Emily Doolittle
for oboe d’amore and tape
5 a tiny dance (2008) for oboe                               Catherine Lee

Bandcamp website
Teal Creek Music website
Canadian Music Centre website

Notes to CD
In this album, social sounds, I am interested in exploring the different levels of improvisation that are present in a musical score. The works I have chosen cover a wide continuum from those that are strictly notated to those that outline different ways in which composers have included elements of improvisation for performers to interpret. I selected these works as I feel a certain kinship with them and find them beautiful in their own distinct ways.  They reflect the way I have been thinking about sound and the way I experience the world in the moment.

Still (2006) by Dorothy Chang is inspired by the painting Red-Black (1967) by Lawrence Calcagno, which hangs in the Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York. What I particularly like about Still and what made it immediately appealing was the way that Chang embellishes a beautiful simple melody with a variety of textures of sound that are created though the use of timbral tones and pitch bends. The broadened tonal colour spectrum enhances and adds depth to the line without ever overshadowing it. Chang’s subtle manipulation of timbral texture is reminiscent of Calcagno’s play with the perspective of the viewer in his painting. Throughout, the effects are evocative of the dizi—a side-blown Chinese flute—and feed into a Zen-like atmosphere.

Rafales (2007) by Jérôme Blais is inspired by the many different types of wind he experienced after moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2004. Blais uses conventional Western notation to create a framework of pitches and gestures for the performer to improvise with, as well as a mise-en-scène that includes directions for the performer’s movements. Some sections are bookended with silence while others lead directly into the next. None have a strict time imposed; rather Blais leaves the balance of the formal structure up to the discretion of the performer.

I approach Rafales as a sound exploration of my instrument: each performance is different, and that is the point. My process included exploring the sounds and qualities of the oboe that I am drawn to, such as the dark woodiness of the tone found in certain timbral fingerings, and how using my breath in different ways can affect the sound. As I widened my lens to include new sound possibilities, I became more comfortable and could reach further. Throughout, I thought about the possible connection between the sounds I was creating and the types of wind they could represent. In recording Rafales, I intentionally decided to include the choreography suggested by Blais. In the opening section this is particularly noticeable, as my movements toward the microphone and changes in the angle of my oboe on a held pitch are made audible by the change in the tone. One of my favourite aspects of Rafales is that there is a piano just behind the performer with the sustain pedal depressed throughout. The sympathetic resonance of the piano is also audible, feeding into an ethereal quality.

In Plainsong (2004), composer Tawnie Olson draws on structural aspects of the different kinds of chant included in the Night Office, “the longest and most elaborate of the eight ‘hours’ of prayer observed by monasteries and cathedrals in the Middle Ages” (Olson, program notes in score). While in this work there is no literal quotation of plainsong, it definitely seems as if there is. The effect is emphasized towards the middle, where a change of character is reminiscent of a leader chanting a reciting tone. Throughout, Olson emphasizes the vocal nature of the English horn with the choice of register and the nature of the melodic line, which contains quick passagework evocative of improvised vocal ornamentation. The overriding effect is of monks singing a very beautiful pure line. I felt that it was appropriate to place Plainsong as the central recording on this CD as it acts as a grounding stone after the exploratory nature of Rafales.

In Social sounds from whales at night (2007) by Emily Doolittle, we are invited to join in the night soundscape of the ocean. Social sounds was originally composed for soprano and tape; at my request, Doolittle transposed the vocal part for the oboe d’amore, and this is the version that I have recorded. Throughout the majority of the score, Doolittle outlines a melody, but allows the instrumentalist to decide how far to alter the pitches with timbral fingerings and pitch bends. The tape—which features a humpback whale song as well as grey seal, sperm whale, and musicians wren sounds—and the instrumental part are closely interwoven, with one of the most beautiful moments being the duet between the oboe d’amore and the humpback whale in the middle. Towards the end of the work, the performer is invited to improvise freely, drawing on any of the former materials or ideas or introducing and developing new material.

In working on Social sounds, I was guided by my ear and instinct, searching out sound possibilities that would bridge the gap between my world and that of the sounds on the tape in order to create a joined sound world. I began to approach my oboe d’amore as a sound producer and found myself less tied to notes and pitches. As I became more comfortable and confident in my ability, the sounds featured on the tape began to seem like voices that I could interact and play with. As a side note, performing this piece also requires some choreography where the performer is required to play the ocean drum and the bamboo chimes as well as the oboe d’amore.

a tiny dance (2008) is my own composition, created for the dance piece Wet? by POV dance and performed at Ten Tiny Dances South Waterfront Project in Portland, Oregon, in August 2008. Two dancers were restricted to moving within a space of four square feet that also contained a cement ledge, a banister, and a section of a small waterfall. The dancers used their bodies to demonstrate the variety of movements that were possible in this restricted space. They incorporated all of the elements, including the waterfall, sometimes dipping their toes in the water or splashing. I wanted the music to reflect the obstacle of being confined while at the same time finding beauty and self-expression within those confines. The movement of the water was an inspiration; it ripples, flows, splashes, evaporates, and reflects. I tried to show these aspects in the music. I based the work on three things, the note b’, which has the most timbral fingerings on the oboe; the interval of the tritone, to create a feeling of reaching; and finally, the whole-tone scale, which includes both these aspects. I created a structure that was free enough that I could reflect the timing of the dancers’ movements and we could be joined as a united entity.

— Catherine Lee, January 2013
Portland, Oregon