"even and with great force" A Contextualized Pedagogical Performer's Analysis Exploring Evolving Groove and Structural Significance Within David Lang's "Press Release"


Perhaps better suited for the mosh pit than the orchestra pit, David Lang’s 1991 tour-de-force for solo bass clarinet, Press Release, is a minimalist marvel. Comprised of seven “groove sections” that evolve in seemingly unpredictable ways, Lang cleverly employs monophony to tell a robust story of motivic and harmonic development. Press Release offers a series of evolving grooves that coyly surprise performers and listeners alike with their humor, wit, and strength. However, due to its blistering technical demands and challengingly nuanced rhythmic patterns, Press Release can be an intimidating work with which to engage. Completed on Christmas Eve in 1991, Press Release can be demystified and helpfully contextualized when placed in conversation with other groove-based unaccompanied clarinet masterworks from the same era. Libby Larsen’s 1994 work Dancing Solo, a composition of sly humor and biting ferocity, plays with the concept of “stuck-groove” throughout, often employing a recurring rhythmic figure that skips like a vinyl record before launching into riffs of increasingly-virtuosic episodic material. Roberto Sierra’s 1995 work Ritmorroto employs a “rhythmic language which comprises the juxtaposition of two incomplete units with different subdivisions” and stubbornly refuses to settle into established rhythmic patterns, repeatedly subverting our expectations. Eric Mandat’s 1996 work Sub(t)rainS O’ Strata’sfearS utilizes a series of furious rhythmic cells that stack and evolve as the work unfolds, sometimes quasi- improvisationally, and at times requires the clarinetist utilize extended techniques to create a literal, audible backbeat. The collective consideration of Dancing Solo, Ritmorroto, and Sub(t)rainS O’ Strata’sfearS as contributors to the excavation of Press Release provides insight into Lang’s evolving groove structure and offers alternative methods of evolving groove to consider and helps in demystifying the work. The general analytical approach within this paper employs elements of Edward Cone’s early rhythmic-symbolic approach to quantifying stress and release, and draws on Mark Butler’s approach to analyzing electronic dance music by splitting monophonic lines into imagined “tracks” to observe layering and motivic interaction. Utilizing this dual approach, Press Release can be explored in the context of its contemporaneous works to aid in effective performance, pedagogy, and perception of the work. Lang’s work proves an effective moderator for the conversation to which Larsen, Sierra, and Mandat each contribute in turn as their works employ similar mechanics toward unique and virtuosic conclusions.

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  • 03/09/2018
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