Stephanie Richards gets good vibrations, literally, on her absorbing new album
Stephanie Richards likes to dive deep with her music, the deeper the better, to explore new artistic currents.
A fearless trumpeter, composer and band leader, she has performed underwater and collaborated with everyone from Kanye West, St. Vincent and the Kronos Quartet to such post-jazz visionaries as Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton and Butch Morris.
Earlier this year, Richards was featured on the entirely improvised album “Trio Music,” which teams her with saxophonist Vinny Golia and San Diego bass legend Bert Turetzky, and “Thaw,” a duo outing with drummer Andrew Drury. Now, with her third album to be released in 2018 so far, this Canadian-born assistant music professor at UC San Diego is set to raise her profile in a unique way.
Her latest album, the proudly experimental yet flawlessly concise “Fullmoon,” is being released Friday by Relative Pitch Records. It features Richards playing her trumpet directly against the surfaces of a snare drum, a gong and a timpani drum to create and shape singular sonic vibrations and overtones.
Another composition on the album finds her playing her trumpet directly against the strings of a piano, while using a brick to hold down the keyboard’s pedals.
Richards burst into laughter when asked if she’d be packing a brick in her carry-on bag for her current U.S. concert tour promoting “Fullmoon.”
“That’s a great question,” she said. “I’m not planning to travel with a brick, but we’ll see what Delta Airlines allows!”
For contrast, three of her new album’s 10 selections feature her pure, unadulterated trumpet work, although there is little conventional about her extended techniques and pinpoint execution.
“We went into the studio with a composition in place, but it had a lot of flexibility,” said Richards, who will perform “Fullmoon” live in its entirety next Wednesday, May 23, at UCSD’s Conrad Prebys Music Center Experimental Theater. Admission is free.
“The composition was almost like a (theater) set design, because I placed the other instruments around the room in a specific way and choreographed myself to play them. The whole premise is I’m using percussion instruments, as resonators, to reflect the sound of the trumpet and reflect their own timbres. If I’m playing against a snare drum, the drum is engaged when the trumpet vibrations hit it.”
Richards recorded “Fullmoon” at Conrad Prebys Concert Hall. She did not use any electronic effects on her trumpet, but Dino J.A. Deane sampled and processed her playing, live.
“Dino was throwing the sounds I made back at me, in real time,” Richards explained. “So he might take a short segment he found interesting and loop it, or take it down an octave or two, and then play it back. So, essentially, I was playing in a room with echoes of myself, whether they were coming from the percussion instruments or his sampler.
“I’m playing against the surfaces of these different instruments and letting them resonate naturally, with whatever overtones and frequencies they bring into the room. It’s almost like I’m playing with a ghost of the music. And that creates the conversation, including the live sampling, with Dino reflecting the music and echoes of myself.”
But the real work for this maverick trumpeter began after the one-day recording session, which took place in October 2014, and was meticulously mixed by her husband, audio engineer and drummer Andrew Munsey.
“We took two years to re-edit and re-compose the whole thing,” said Richards, whose album release tomorrow coincides with the release of Pulizter Prize-winning saxophonist/flutist Henry Threadgill’s new album, “Dirt...And More Dirt,” which features Richards.
“I effectively re-worked the entire (‘Fullmoon’) album to come up with the re-assembled version. It was important for me to find the most interesting and beautiful moments, and only use them. Dino and I worked together on it very closely. And I worked in the editing room a lot with my husband to make my ideas possible.”
Deane will perform with Richards at her May 23 UCSD concert. It’s the final stop on a short national tour to promote “Fullmoon.”
Aaron Vinton, a former classmate of hers at CalArts, will provide live video accompaniment at the concert. He’ll be using about 100 images from his animated short film “Gong,” which features the music to Richards’ composition of the same name and will be shown at the start of the concert.
“There are large physical gestures required to play trumpet across the surfaces of the piano, gong and drums,” Richards noted.
“So, while people might hear the album a certain way, live, it’s like looking behind the curtain.”
Stephanie Richards performs “Fullmoon,” featuring Dino J.A. Deane and Aaron Vinton
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23
Where: Conrad Prebys Music Center Experimental Theater, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla
Phone: (858) 534-3448
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