This record documents long-term musical partnerships; duets with artists who have helped me refine my creative vocabulary. Yet my deepest musical relationship is with the bassoon itself, the kernel of my inspiration. It is the nurturer, the supporter, the quiet glue in an ensemble. It is awkward, huge, and demure. Even as a child, I was drawn to its uniqueness—its textures, timbres, and a sound that inspires movement.
While I certainly appreciate orchestral playing in the Western classical tradition, I felt boxed-in by the specifics of execution in a bassoonist’s traditional career path. I realized that the jumble of keys on the instrument encouraged microtonal exploration—as a young artist I made a book of multiphonics, and found that my other true love was experimental music. I dedicated myself to playing in as many different settings as possible, introducing my ears and my bassoon to jazz, hip hop, rock, electronica, creative improvisation, North Indian classical music, Carnatic music, Ghanaian music and dance, Haitian dance and Javanese dance. These experiences (including my Western classical origins) have informed my musical language and notion of line and melody. Whether improvising, interpreting, or composing, I question how to use extended technique to enhance the meaning of a phrase, deepen the emotional content of a melody, and create a narrative.
This is a journey over time, through a global pandemic, in different recording studios across North America to reach each collaborator.
1 O’Saris (Sara Schoenbeck) with Harris Eisenstadt – Drums
“O’Saris” celebrates the poignancy of a simple melody, staying rooted in Bb Major through plaintive repetitions, multiphonics and overtones. In its simplicity, the hope is that an emotional connection will form between performer and listener. Harris’ understated, colorful feel on the drums lays the groundwork for the quiet musings of the bassoon. We began playing as a duo in 2000 and have played this piece almost that long.
2 Sand Dune Trilogy (Sara Schoenbeck) with Nicole Mitchell – Flute
Nicole and I first met in the woodwind section of Anthony Braxton’s 12(+1)tet in 2006 and continued to play together in that ensemble and others. Nicole has an effortless way of interpreting written material, as demonstrated in her navigations of the microtonal material in this modular three-movement piece. “Sand Dune Trilogy” begins with a meditative overture, followed by slow grooves, and finally a dirge-inspired coda. Dedicated to the microtonalist and bassoonist Johnny Reinhard.
3 Lullaby (Low) with Nels Cline – Electric Guitar & Electric Bass
Nels Cline, a hero of the 90’s Los Angeles improv scene, blew me away when I first heard his intense and rocking sounds at a performance of Interstellar Space. To my great pleasure, we played together in Vinny Golia’s Large Ensemble beginning in 1999, and then on Nels’ Lovers album (Blue Note, 2016). More recently, I was introduced to the music of Low, fell in love with their slowcore aesthetic, and decided “Lullaby” deserved a bassoon / guitar interpretation.
4 Chordata (Improvisation) with Roscoe Mitchell – Soprano Saxophone
I studied Roscoe Mitchell’s chamber music and improvisations for many years before we first met in 2012, on a recording of his work “Would You Wear My Eyes?” My desire to improvise with him was realized in 2016, when we were the two soloists on S.E.M. Ensemble’s performance of his “They Rode for Them.” In 2019, Roscoe asked me to record “Cutouts for Woodwind Quintet.” In return, I asked if he would record this duet, which became an education for me in the contained development of granular ideas.
5 Auger Strokes (Matt Mitchell) with Matt Mitchell – Piano
I commissioned Matt to write “Auger Strokes” for this record, after being involved in two of his projects, including A Pouting Grimace (Pi Recordings, 2017). While staying true to Matt’s intricately rhythmic compositional style, silence becomes a dominant third voice in this chamber work. Within the through-composed form, there are improvisational sections and a certain elasticity of time between the two instruments.
6 Absence (Sara Schoenbeck) with Mark Dresser – Bass
I wrote this piece to pay tribute to a close friend and talented bassoonist, Marcuselle Whitfield, who died at the age of 28 in 1998. Somber chamber material bookends unfurling improvisation and a slow-but-celebratory groove. I have played with Mark on different projects since 2003, and deeply appreciate how his sense of boundless exploration stays rooted in compositional intent.
7 Anaphoria (Improvisation) with Wayne Horvitz – Piano & Electronics
Wayne has been a frequent musical partner for the past twenty years, starting with his Gravitas Quartet and leading to four different recorded collaborations. “Anaphoria” is based on subtle electronics and microtones, exploring a quiet and reflective sound world. Dedicated to the composer and instrument builder Kraig Grady and to the fictional Anaphoria Island where his music resides.
8 Suspend A Bridge (Improvisation) with Peggy Lee – Cello
Peggy and I met at the Time Flies Improvisation Festival in Vancouver in 2001 and have played together for years in Gravitas Quartet. Peggy has a wide color palette full of exploration, elegance, and ferocity. “Suspend A Bridge” offers varied terrain, in some places refined and contained, at others rocky with multiphonics and texture.
9 Sugar (Robin Holcomb) with Robin Holcomb – Piano & Voice
Robin’s soulful music has long been “go to” listening for me, and for the last decade I’ve had the pleasure of playing in her quartet. “Sugar” is a song from that band’s book. The droll sound of the bassoon lends itself to the instrumental sections woven between Robin’s beautifully understated verses and chorus.
Recorded and mixed between May 2019 and April 2021.
Tracks 1 & 3 recorded and mixed by Tony Maimone at Studio G, Brooklyn, NY
Track 2 recorded by Caio Carvalho at Pinch Recordings, Queens, NY
Track 4 recorded by Buzz Kemper at Audio for the Arts, Madison, WI
Track 5 recorded and mixed by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
Track 6 recorded by Mike Harris at Signature Studio, San Diego, CA
Tracks 7 & 8 recorded by John Raham at Afterlife Studio, Vancouver, BC
Track 9 recorded by Julian Anderson at London Bridge Studio, Seattle, WA
Tracks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9 mixed by Scott Lindner; Track 7 mixed by Eric Eagle
Mastered by Scott Hull, Masterdisk, Peekskill, NY
Tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 Sara Schoenbeck: puppykitty music (ASCAP)
Track 3 Low: 1238 Music (BMI)
Track 4 Roscoe Mitchell: Art Ensemble of Chicago Publishing (ASCAP)
Track 5 Matt Tily Mitchell (BMI)
Track 7 Wayne Horvitz: Other Room Music (ASCAP)
Track 8 Peggy Lee (SOCAN)
Track 9 Robin Holcomb: Skippens Music (ASCAP)
Cover photo of Sara by Christina Beahan
Design and Layout by Spottswood Erving & July Creek for Janky Defense
Thank you to Harris and Owen Eisenstadt for your discerning sensibilities and loving support. Thanks to Taylor Ho Bynum for being a wiz with the written word, and to Kris Davis and Pyroclastic for working with me. And a thank you to David Breskin for your trust, and for stepping in to post-produce this record during time suspended.
This record is made possible by the support of The Shifting Foundation.
Sara Schoenbeck and Pyroclastic Records © ℗ 2021