"Lips" Liner Notes by Tim Rutherford-Johnson

"Lips" Liner Notes by Tim Rutherford-Johnson

All artists are influenced to some extent by their environment. Daniel Lentz certainly is—and he includes in this not only the landscape but also the peoples, cultures, and sounds of where he lives. In the works on "Lips", most of which date from Lentz’s first period of living in California, between 1968 and 1991, aspects of West Coast America, from its ocean views to its artists, Indigenous peoples, and highways, all feed into the creation of unique works.

Song(s) of the Sirens (1973) is not the earliest piece recorded here, but it does contain all the seeds of what Lentz’s music became in the 1970s and 80s: looped vocals, a text broken into isolated syllables, a stratified musical texture of apparently independent layers, and a sun-kissed harmonic language positioned somewhere between the lounge bar and the ocean. Many of Lentz’s works are written for his own ensembles—California Time Machine (1968–72), San Andreas Fault (1973–81), Daniel Lentz Ensemble (1982–present)—but Songs of the Sirens originated in a commission from another group, the Montagnana Trio of John Gates, clarinet, Caroline Worthington, cello, and Delores Stevens, piano. Its text comes from Homer’s story of Odysseus and the Sirens, which Lentz sets as a fragmented stream of individual phonemes, a stylistic device he had used in his two previous works, Canon and Fugle and You Can’t See the Forest … Music, and which became characteristic of his work of the 70s.

As a technical device, this fragmentation led Lentz to several musical possibilities. One was the fact that by breaking a text into its constituent phonemes, he could then gradually reconstruct it over the course of a piece as a structural process. You Can’t See the Forest, for example, begins as a stream of apparently nonsense syllables. But as the music continues, meaning starts to emerge (aided in this case by the familiarity of the source texts, which allow the listener to fill in any gaps in the words). Only at the end are the sayings heard in their entirety. Lentz calls this “Music in a state of becoming rather than in a state of being”; that is, music that unfolds a process of self-realization, only coming into focus (and, therefore, revealing itself for what it is) at the very last moment. In Song(s) of the Sirens this process is applied to both music and words, with the clarinet entering toward the end of the piece with a melody that unites the disparate fragments of the cello’s music into a single line. The voice, meanwhile, sings fragments of Homer’s text that are looped on live tape loops such that the constituent different words and phonemes appear in constantly changing contexts. Phrases of text are easily made out, however, and the effect is more dreamlike sensuality than the stuttering deconstruction/reconstruction of You Can’t See the Forest.

With San Andreas Fault, a group built around a core of eight or twelve singers, keyboards, percussion and live electronics, Lentz explored these vocal processes on a larger scale. North American Eclipse (1974, otherwise known as O-Ke-Wa) is one of several pieces SAF took on their European tours in 1974 and 1976; the present recording was made in a Stockholm church in 1976. The piece is based on a ritual dance of the Seneca people of the Great Lakes region. Echoing the form of the dance, the singers encircle the audience, sounding small bells attached to their ankles as they walk, while the percussionists (playing bone rasps and drums) are placed in the center of the circle. The words, adapted from a text by the author, art collector, and philanthropist Kit Tremaine, are again split into individual phonemes, with each assigned to a different voice and pitch, creating a kind of Klangfarbenmelodie of poetic syllables that ring out across the space. Over the course of the piece new syllables are added, altering both the overall harmonic and melodic shape, and the context and meaning of the words. The “eclipse” of the title refers to the slow disappearance of traditional Native American culture: in a way, a Seneca ritual is adapted to mourn the Seneca themselves.

A different commemoration takes place in Requiem, In memoriam Wolfgang Stoerchle – Songs in a Medieval Manner (1976). Along with Harold Budd, Stoerchle was one of Lentz’s closest friends and musical companions of the 1970s. Lentz met them both on the same day in 1968, when he arrived on campus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to take up a teaching post. A talented, even visionary artist—he was an early proponent of both performance and video art—Stoerchle was killed in a car accident in 1976 at the age of 32, but was an important influence on Lentz’s music. (Stoerchle was a member of CTM but had no musical training, and the phonemic vocal style arose in part as a way to accommodate his abilities.) Lentz’s Requiem sets sections of the Latin Requiem mass – Requiem aeternam, Kyrie eleison, sections of the Dies irae – to an ethereal accompaniment for wine glasses, kalimbas and harps. (The archaic use of Latin is consistent with other works by Lentz from around this time, including the acclaimed Missa Umbrarum of 1973; he was a practising Catholic for a time.) Perhaps reflecting the personal nature of the tribute, the vocal writing is relatively straightforward, highlighting solo voices rather than choruses and eschewing the usual tape loops.

Loops and additive processes return with a vengeance in Uitoto (1980), one of the last pieces Lentz wrote in Santa Barbara before he moved to LA in 1982. This turns again to a Native American source for inspiration: this time, the creation story of the Uitoto of Colombia and northern Peru. For accompaniment, Lentz drew on patterns of open-fifth piano arpeggios, which are recorded, looped, layered, and crossfaded to create a great undulating wall of sound from a single performer (in this case, Garry Eister, who performed and toured with Lentz throughout the 70s); Lentz previously used a similar process, applied this time to the even starker interval of bare octaves, in his 36-minute Point Conception (1979) for nine overdubbed pianos. Bradford Ellis, who has played piano and keyboard for Lentz since 1982, likens the sound to the view of the Pacific Ocean from Santa Barbara: “relentlessly but beautifully rolling along in seemingly infinite variations of color, size, and velocity.” When Eister’s voice enters it slowly recites the words of the Uitoto’s creation story before, in the second half of the work (and following a marked change in the piano’s harmony), these are fragmented and replayed as their own stratum of layered loops. The effect is a little like a reversal of the Uitoto story: where that sees creation emerge from an “illusion,” an “dream mirage,” Lentz’s music seems to take us back in time from the concrete world into that mysterious, primordial dream state.

After his move from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, Lentz formed his most enduring group, the Daniel Lentz Ensemble. Featuring the vocals of Jessica Lowe (Karraker) and the synthesizers of Ellis, David Kuehn, and Wayne Jones, the DLE enabled Lentz to turn toward a tighter sound, aided too by the use of newly available digital delays systems instead of the cumbersome tape loops he had previously used. Many of the works Lentz composed during his time in LA in the 1980s also feature more contemporary themes than the ancient, spiritual, and indigenous topics of his works with San Andreas Fault.

Talk Radio (1989), composed near the end of this period, is no exception: the work draws on Lentz’s daily experience of the LA freeway system, and of scrolling through AM and FM radio stations while he drove. As a result, it is more collage-like (a style that was introduced in his earlier e.e. cummings setting The Crack in the Bell, 1986), incorporating Latin American and hip-hop rhythms, quotes of early music (notably the medieval “L’homme armé” melody, a Lentz favorite), and a text derived from the traffic, news (notably the drive-by shootings that were a frequent occurrence at the time), and weather reports of AM radio itself.

Composed in 1965, Fünke belongs to Lentz’s pre-Californian period, when he was still under the influence of Stockhausen and jazz. In some ways it sits between the two—a sort of bebop serialism. Lentz originally offered the work to the Paul Horn Quintet, but as one of the group was unable to read music, they declined. (The present recording was made NOS Radio, Netherlands, in 1967.) In comparison to the other works here, it is something of an outlier, a piece from a different time and place. Yet there are passing connections, not least to Talk Radio. The title Fünke is both a homonym for “funky” and the German for “broadcast,” for example, and there are further echoes in a shared emphasis on percussion (compare the beginnings of the two pieces, for example). But most tellingly, Fünke also represents an early form of Lentz’s “music as becoming,” as a twelve-tone composition that uses just eleven tones (and thus does not complete the chromatic scale) until its very last note. The environments, cultures, and people of California may have shaped the direction of Lentz’s mature music, but certain tendencies were there from the start.

- Tim Rutherford-Johnson