Amnon Wolman/Neil Leonard
Security Vehcicles Only
Available through BandCamp
Security Vehicles Only began with Amnon’s request that I make recordings for him to play with. I sent him files of my improvisations in the caves of Matera, Italy, an acoustical research chamber at the University of Porto, Portugal and ones made in my home studio with his instructions. The performances explored hearing multiple points simultaneously, from bone conduction of the mouthpiece vibrating through my teeth, to sonic reflections in Matera’s stone carved chambers (where Pier Paolo Pasolini filmed the Gospel According to St. Matthew), to clouds of notes ringing simultaneously in the concrete acoustical room in Portugal. The performances ranged from serene and luminous to terse and cathartic.
Amnon sent me his first draft in fall 2016 which featured electronic transformations beyond what I could imagine a saxophone sounding like. And I say that having processed the saxophone electronically for over three decades. If these sounds were visible, I imagine they would be big and casting dancing shadows around the space.
The sonic processing took another turn in the next phase of the work. Rather than transforming the saxophone Amnon used my voice as the primary source with little change at all. Amnon asked me to record multiple readings of John Ashbery’s poems A Man of Words and Fear of Death. I read the entire text of each poem first in my normal speaking voice and then in its entirety whispered, as slow as possible without expression and extremely agitated. When Amnon sent his new drafts of layered speech, I heard my voice as a choir that shifted in and out of unison as words overlapped and collided. My living with the poems and experimenting with ways to recite was key to the transformative process and electronics seemed to have been left behind.
Next, Amnon sent a score. My live improvisation was to follow my vocal expression and pacing of the poems as I imagined in my inner ear. Amnon would improvise with me using his transformed saxophone sounds. The score included performative actions that included a section that allowed for a pause to walk and listen during the performance. We played the piece in Tel Aviv, Boston and NYC. Walking felt somewhat alien to me at first, but by the time we played at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation the walking reminded me of a recent William Kentridge’s lecture in which he described walking in his studio as part of his creative practice. Amnon’s score invited me to stop playing, step way from the saxophone, listen to the electronics in the space, stroll, perhaps pique the curiosity of the audience who might not know why I was walking, think about the poems and then reengage with in the duo.
In program notes for Amnon’s 60th birthday concert, I mentioned that his titles utilize readymade texts from traffic signs that I interpret as both mundane and deeply meaningful. When the piece was finished and I saw the title for the first time, I read this as a thoughtful message during a time of multiple crisis, some not involving “force." I realized that his traffic signs, while they seem as pedestrian as a Duchamp or Warhol subject are Amnon’s way of creating a Haiku-like thought to accompany the work that is deeply insightful and bridges our everyday experience to his experimental practice.
Amnon Wolman: composition, live electronics, mastering.
Neil Leonard: saxophone
John Ashbery: A man of Words, Fear of Death (used with permission.)
Gus Callahan: recording.
Recorded live performance at Experimental Intermedia, New York, in December 2016.