Composer/ Musician Tom Teasley, who received the 2010 and 2011 Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Sound Design for Crazyface and The Ramayana, joins Constellation again for Gilgamesh, adding a beautiful soundscape that is central to the show’s emotion and action. We talked to him about the creation of the music for Gilgamesh.
1. Your music is so tied to the action and emotion in this production – it really heightens every moment. Where did you find your inspiration for this show’s music?
Mostly in my travel to Iraq, from Basra in the south to the northern Kurdish area. At these extremes the music is a very different to the kind heard in Bagdad, which is known for traditional Middle Eastern music. In Basra, the Middle Eastern and West African influences mix, reflecting a population of Africans and Iraqis. The music uses a lot of drumming traditions and techniques only found there. In Erbil in the north there is a Kurdish influence from Persia. The bass clarinet and flute typical to Middle Eastern music is an influence of my collaborations with the Baghdad Symphony. [A three-time recipient of a Fulbright-Hayes grant for performances in the Middle East, Teasley collaborated with indigenous musicians and gave historic performances in Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Jerusalem.]
2. Were there particular challenges of this show?
The challenges of performing live for a theatrical production are generally the same from show to show – I’m trying to play 20 different instruments, run sound, keep the volume appropriate to each scene, call up the right electronic sounds and recorded patches, etc. Aesthetically the changes are minimal – it is always about finding music that fits the action themes or scenes that require a certain tone. [Teasley is variously referred to in reviews as a “the area’s most original one man band”, “musical wizard” and “world music guru”]
3. Tell us about the instruments you’ve chosen – there are some new sounds you’re incorporating.
Yes I’m having a good time incorporating some new sounds. I’ve been playing a Native American flute – the tone holes are larger and I can do half fingering (i.e. cover half the holes) and create quartertones, which are indigenous to Middle Eastern music. It is a nice contrast to drumming – it’s soft and mellow and goes nicely with the human voice.
I’m also playing an African thumb piano (a/k/a kalimba) – this instrument is a nice contrast to drumming – it is melodic and soft and a bit ethereal.
Also for the first time I’m using a xylophone/synthesizer – “the Mallet Kat” which lets me create African Balafon sounds while my other hand plays the Djembe drum. This also works well when there is male/female action going on and I can split the keyboard using bass clarinet and flute sounds.
Another great thing we’ve done is adding some acoustic surround sound. I thought this would be a good idea to take advantage of the small space at Source and accomplish acoustically what a larger theater might do with speakers. We have actors playing percussive instruments on and off stage- they play shakers, rain sticks, Maracas, ocean drums and others. It turns out they are very sensitive percussionists in addition to being great actors! It really makes for a nice extra layer of sound.
4. How did you create the soundscape?
This show came together in a really organic way – we collaboratively brought the sound to life during the technical rehearsals. I was on a relentless tour schedule prior to going into the tech rehearsals. It was a lot less pre-determined than in other shows and turned out to be a really nice way to work. It has allowed me to be more in the moment!
You can purchase his newest cd, All The World’s A Stage at Gilgamesh, or here