Track Premiere: Yaz Lancaster, “Meditations on Auxin”

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meditations on auxin cover illustration, by Bella Carlos.

meditations on auxin, a new brooding work for electric guitar and voice, amalgamates the seemingly disparate musical categories of ancient Greek lyre songs, Bach’s solo partitas and sonatas, and punk rock. Composed by performer-composer and poet Yaz Lancaster and performed by composer, guitarist, and arranger Andrew Noseworthy, meditations on auxin uses form as a framework to give the performer freedom of interpretation.

Released today on DIY-inspired, new music-centered label people | places | records, the final mix of meditations on auxin was produced by Andrew M Rodriguez. The recording amplifies the meandering, sporadic, and pensive nature of the piece. I’m honored and excited to be giving the premiere of the surprise release here on the Road to Sound. You can stream the track and read more about the process of creating the work below.

“I was imagining a person sitting in their bedroom in ancient Greece and reading their diary and playing the lyre, but instead it’s Andrew singing and playing electric guitar,” said Lancaster as they described the inspiration for meditations on auxin. The piece is a modernization of older forms, especially finding influence from Bach’s solo partitas and sonatas, which often exhibit the dichotomy of detailed notation and a sense of improvisation.

Each time Lancaster embarks on a composition project, they like to explore new musical elements. meditations on auxin was their first time writing for guitar, learning the ins and outs of guitar tablature from Noseworthy. It’s also the first time they’ve given so much freedom to the player, making the central idea of the piece individual interpretation rather than strict adherence to form. The music creates the atmosphere in which the words exist, setting the stage for the way the piece will be portrayed in performance. 

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Yaz Lancaster, photo by Samantha Soon.

Working together on the piece for about a year and a half, Lancaster and Noseworthy have gone through a variety of interpretations, finally landing on one that sticks. “It was the pacing that needed to be figured out,” Noseworthy recalled. The piece is built upon wandering, ruminative phrases that pause with a fluid ease. In performance, Noseworthy needed to understand how to time each phrase so that it was effective, especially understanding the role of the text in the presentation.

The lyrics, written by Lancaster, weave in and out of the music in fragmented sections. For Noseworthy, this posed important performance questions: what is the role of the text in the music, and how does it fit? Originally, Lancaster sought to use a Sappho text, translated by Anne Carson, but scrapped this idea and instead used a lyric poem they had recently written. The lines of the poem also serve as mood indicators in the score, weaving the two elements together into a cohesive unit. 

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Andrew Noseworthy in performance. Photo by Greg Locke.

In an early performance, Noseworthy remembers feeling some of the sections sounding much too long. He’s performed the work live three times, each time in a space of a completely different size. In live workshopping, he’s had the ability to test the pacing that works, seeing how each space effects the portrayal of the music. While the sections of the piece each contrast, he’s found that they all occupy a dense, layered sound world that can powerfully exist anywhere. Only in one section does everything drop out, and in that moment, the quiet timbre remains just as poignant.

When Noseworthy performs the piece, the influence of the punk and hardcore music scenes shines through each moment. But in another performance, meditations on auxin could sound completely different. Lancaster and Noseworthy are both perfectly fine with that – in fact, they’d be excited to hear it.

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