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Timings -- an occasional series by Jennifer Paull, spotlighting music or musicians in their time

Both sides of The Global Fence: James E Gardner

'I became a sort of diabolic Parsifal, searching not for the Holy Grail but the bomb that would make the musical world explode and thereby let in all sounds, sounds which up to now -- and even today -- have been called noises.'

-- Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) French born composer mostly domiciled in USA (quoted on Page 136, The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross, published by Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, NY).

Varèse's music emphasises his love of rhythm and sound colour. The term 'organized sound', as a description of the sublimation of timbres and rhythms into a new definition, was his invention. It was compositions including new instruments and new electronic resources (eg the ondes Martenot) that were to earn him his soubriquet 'Father of Electronic Music'. Henry Miller (1891-1980), the US writer and painter, known for having abandoned existing literary forms and making his own brassage of autobiography, social analysis, philosophic deliberation, surrealist free association (and more), referred to Varèse as 'The stratospheric Colossus of Sound'.

Whilst it is not unusual for composers to form ensembles to specialise in contemporary music (Stockhausen, Boulez etc), it is much more so for them to form a successful group in one genre of music and then move across 'the great divide' to do the same thing in another.

James Gardner (born Liverpool, 1962), now a resident and citizen of New Zealand, is one such. He was a school friend of Noko and Howard Gray. Following the then norm for progressive band musicians from Liverpool, the members of what was to crystallise as Apollo 440 removed themselves to the world's capital of popular music, London. Including Howard's brother Trevor, Gardner co-founded the band and remixing team (1990), which reworked tracks by artists such as U2 and Scritti Politti.

Apollo 440 boasted an embodiment of musical open-mindedness and a wide diversity of output. Its self-professed goal was 'to explore the meaning of life'. Henry Miller would surely have approved.

All group members contributed an abundance of samples, electronics, and computer generated sounds. The group's name comes from the Greek god Apollo, the frequency of concert pitch (A440 Hz), and the Sequential Circuits sampler/sequencer, the Studio 440. Gardner is credited with 'having prepared the ground for their subliminal stealth sonic sound synthesis'. Although leaving the band after its first album, the fingerprint of his time with them remains indelible.

Gardner spent much of the 1980s both playing and programming keyboards and synthesizers for a variety of artists. During this time he formed the short-lived band The Umbrella -- again including his friend Noko (guitar and vocals). He was later involved with Luxuria, the band formed by Noko and Howard Devoto.

Since his mid-teens, writing notated music had gradually developed into an analogous flow simultaneous to the rest of his improvisatory work. In 1991 his virtuosic solo piano piece Shattered/Blue Ground (performed by Joanna MacGregor), was runner-up in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Composers' Competition. Encouraged by Michael Finnissy, James Gardner left Apollo 440 in 1993 in order to concentrate on written composition. The same year he attended Brian Ferneyhough's classes at the Viitasaari Summer Academy, Finland.

Gardner emigrated to New Zealand in 1994, and, two years later, set up the contemporary music ensemble 175 East, of which he is currently Director and occasional conductor. The group (175 East is more or less the longitude of Auckland) has since earned an international reputation and given many acclaimed world première performances of music by New Zealand and overseas composers. The eclectic station, Radio New Zealand Concert, frequently broadcasts their concerts.

James Gardner

Gardner's compositions have been performed and broadcast throughout the world notably in New Zealand, Australia, UK, mainland Europe, Asia and North and South America.

His style is very subtle and strongly expert. This is specialist colour painting and authoritative sound sculpture. Many illustrations can be heard on both his own My Space and that of the ensemble 175 East.

James Gardner is an active broadcaster. He has written, compiled and presented acclaimed programmes on the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, Conlon Nancarrow, Iannis Xenakis, Frank Zappa (a huge Varèse fan, see Edgard Varese: The Idol of My Youth, the James Bond soundtracks of John Barry (a lifetime passion), and the Moog synthesizer. Future subjects include the work of Wendy Carlos (born 1939), one of the great innovators in synthesized and electronic music.

Gardner was the recipient of the 2003 CANZ Trust Fund Award, which is awarded annually for compositional achievement by the Composers' Association of New Zealand. He was the inaugural Creative New Zealand/Victoria University composer-in-residence (2004-2005) and held the Trans-Tasman Composer Exchange residency (2005/2006). During this latter period he also worked with Australia's foremost new music ensemble, Elision.

In 2007 his trio blessed unrest was performed by the New Zealand Trio. He is currently working on what he terms 'a sort of clarinet concerto' (to be entitled Rank and File Movements), teaching at the University of Auckland and Unitec (post-war art music history/music technology) and preparing the 175 E concert series.

In 1995, James Gardner married Glenda Keam, who is currently Programme Director of music programmes at Unitec, New Zealand. She is also a composer/musicologist specialising in contemporary New Zealand composition.

'Even the most jaded veteran of twentieth-century musical upheaval must have been startled to find that the postwar avant-garde was now serving as mood music for the psychedelic generation. The wall separating classical music from neighboring genres appeared ready to crumble ...'

-- Alex Ross (born 1968), US music critic, author (Page 474 The Rest is Noise, publshed by Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, NY).

Naturally, as Ross goes on to explain in brilliant detail, it did.

James Gardner, the native Liverpudlian, continues to break down walls in the 21st century from not only the opposite side of the planet, but also from what used to be a dividing fence. He is a regular performer in the Vitamin S evenings of improvised music in Auckland.

'There seems always to have been a "crisis of modern music", but by some insane miracle one person finds the way out. The impossibility of it gives me hope.'

-- Björk (Björk Guðmundsdóttir, born 1965, the Icelandic singer-songwriter, composer, actress, music producer quoted on the cover of The Rest is Noise).

Copyright © 25 March 2007 Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland



175 EAST




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