The Four Ecologies

LA freeway pic.jpg

The Four Ecologies is a sonic essay that explores the psychogeography of Los Angeles through a score for microtonal trombone and electronics alongside an audio component that features interviews with a diverse group of Angelenos. The work will be presented as an evening-length live musical performance as well as released as a serialized podcast freely accessible to the public.

As a framework, the piece uses the seminal book, Los Angeles: the Architecture of Four Ecologies, by noted architectural critic Reyner Banham. In the book Banham explored how Los Angeles is a new breed of city, one not tied to traditional urban ideas. The glitz, the kitsch, and especially the automobile, formed a new idea for urbanism. Banham’s four ecologies (Surfurbia, Foothills, the Plains, & Autopia) presented the city with a new vision for itself and new unifying features. However, as Los Angeles refashions itself, through spending on public works projects and through the ever-present risk of gentrification, how do these ideas of the four ecologies continue into the present day?

The work aims to examine the text, and to investigate it further by exploring the peoples that currently inhabit America’s second largest city. Left out of most of Banham’s book was the voice of the people themselves. Recordings of interviews with a diverse set of locals will be conducted and edited together to form a part of the audio design. These interviews will form the backbone of the work: the words and thoughts of the people will create the tapestry of the city from the ground level, as opposed to the top down look that is usually presented. This will serve as a documentary endeavor, a chance to record a community’s ideas at this present moment in time. Though the communities in Los Angeles differ, from the Hispanic community in Boyle Heights, to the Chinese-American community in Alhambra, the city serves as a force for both civic pride as well as constant consternation. We are looking to serve as a place for reflection and contemplation by placing these voices into a musical performance. As artists we will be facilitators, using the people’s words themselves to tell their story.

Alongside the interview portion of the work will be a solo trombone as well as field recordings of the areas of the city corresponding to the four ecologies in Banham’s book.

The trombone score will feature a different limit set (5-limit, 7-limit, 11-limit, & 13-limit) for each section of the work, based on Banham’s four ecologies. Most Western music is formed from equal temperament, or the black and white keys on a piano. This score will feature a variety of different sets of microtones; notes that would fit in between the black and white keys. This exploration of tonality and pitch relationships is a corollary to the human relationships used in the electronic portion of the sound: though the pitches may vary, and even clash at times, they all fit into the overall harmonic scheme of the work.

The field recordings of different locations throughout the city aim to display the city as a lived environment. These recordings will be lightly edited so as to provide a sense of the actual experience of the present tense of the city.

Since the project aspires to be a documentary and journalistic endeavor as well as a musical performance, releasing The Four Ecologies as a podcast is a natural outgrowth. The piece can be sectioned into four parts, each corresponding to the four ecologies in Banham’s book. It can then be serialized, as listeners can download the separate sections over a month’s time. As a podcast, it can be freely disseminated through various platforms (Apple, Stitcher, etc.) and be available to the wider public free of charge.

This work is a collaboration between the composer John P. Hastings (New York, NY), the trombonist Matt Barbier (Los Angeles, CA), and the field recordist Colin Wambsgans (Los Angeles, CA) who all studied at the California Institute of the Arts in the late 2000s. This project is a long gestating one, a work that fuses the talents of all three artists, and continues the lineage of microtonal works coming from the CalArts community (James Tenney, Wolfgang von Schwienitz amongst others).