SetDana Jessen & Taylor Brook

, composer


Bassoonist Dana Jessen and composer Taylor Brook collaborate on an album length work, Set, that fuses through composed material, improvisation, and electronics to create an immersive musical experience that encapsulates several of the most topical concerns in contemporary music.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 48:45


01Introduction and Song I
Introduction and Song I
02Improvisation I
Improvisation I
03Song II
Song II
04Improvisation II
Improvisation II
05Song III
Song III
06Improvisation III
Improvisation III
07Song IV
Song IV

Bassoonist Dana Jessen and composer Taylor Brook team up for a collaborative album length electro-acoustic work, Set, that combines through composed (Songs) and improvised sections. Much attention in the composed sections is devoted to an exploration of a range of extended techniques on the bassoon that Jessen has cultivated. The improvised sections are framed by guidelines and rules that Brook provided and computer improvisation that accompanies the instrumental soloist. In these ways, the boundaries between composer and performer are blurred.

The opening Song begins with a series of clarion calls in the bassoon that are answered by a chorus of bassoons in the electronics supporting the soloist with blocks of sound. Brook and Jessen explore the myriad colors the bassoon has at its disposal on any given note, reveling in the transformation of sustained pitches. Steady drone textures provide context for Jessen’s expressive playing and the rich overtones embedded in the bassoon’s sound. The second half of the movement features more nuanced figuration in the solo part over a wider sonic palette in the electronics, including active, non-pitched breath sounds, before closing with a poignant passage for solo bassoon alone.

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In the improvised first interlude we hear responsive material in the computer part reacting to Jessen’s more punctuated material. Jessen develops a pointed repeated note idea for the movements opening minutes before long tones are shadowed by ghostly pitches in the electronics that form a harmonic halo around the solo line. The interlude elides smoothly into the timbral trills in the opening of the second piece (track three). A two note descending motive anchors exploration into some wonderfully rich multiphonic sonorities. Brook and Jessen allow these complex timbres to breathe and evolve, inviting the listener to focus their attention on different component pitches that emerge. Variable delays in the electronics reinforce the expansive context.

The second interlude establishes walls of sound through extended trills and forceful multiphonics. Brook’s electronics mirror Jessen’s lines with a harmonizer, tracking their contour and lending the texture a futuristic sheen. The interlude finishes with a passage where Jessen’s voice emerges from behind the bassoon, blurring yet another boundary. Similar walls of sound created by extended trills shape the third Song, merged with Morse code-like irregular tongued notes that are echoed in the electronics. Much of Jessen’s material in this improvisation is more linear and soloistic, featuring pitch bends and swooping passagework.

The final Song creates an unsettling, dystopian sound world, as Jessen plays quick, chromatic repeated figures that are answered by quick fire delay processing. The occasional quarter tone passage in the live part gives the sense that the delayed signal is subject to the Doppler effect, bending the pitch as the signal moves further “away.” After this activated passage, the piece seems like it will close with sustained unisons over a drone, but just before it ends, Jessen slides up one half step for a slightly brighter final sonority.

Set is a focused, contemplative piece that explores expressive contrasts within a relatively restricted set of musical materials. The symbiotic process of collaborative composition and responsive improvisation makes for a piece that feels very much as if it is a unique outgrowth of the relationship between these two artists and the specific moment of the recording.

– Dan Lippel

Recorded April 5, 2022 in Clonick Hall, Oberlin, OH

Recorded by Andrew Tripp

Mixed by Taylor Brook

Mastered by Murat Çolak at GERYON

Design by Ryan Sprowl

Taylor Brook

Taylor Brook has studied composition with Brian Cherney in Montreal, Luc Brewaeys in Brussels, and George Lewis, and Georg Haas in New York. Brook has also studied Hindustani musical performance in Kolkata, India, with Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. His music is often concerned with finely-tuned microtonal sonorities and toying with multifarious musical references and styles.

Brook writes concert music, music for video, and music for theater and dance. His work has been performed around the world and has been described as “gripping” and “engrossing” by the New York Times. Brook has won numerous awards and prizes for his compositions, including the MIVOS/Kantor prize, the Lee Ettelson award, and several SOCAN young composers awards including the grand prize in 2016. Brook has been a finalist in the Gaudeamus prize and was awarded honorable mention for the Jules Leger prize two years in a row. His music has been performed by ensembles and soloists such as the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Quatour Bozzini, JACK Quartet, MIVOS quartet, Talea Ensemble, Ascolta Ensemble, and many others.

Brook's current projects include a new piece for New Thread Saxophone Quartet and a new string quartet for the JACK quartet. Brook holds a master’s degree in music composition from McGill University. He currently resides in New York City, where he is completing a doctorate in music composition at Columbia University and working as a freelance composer.

Dana Jessen

Hailed as a “bassoon virtuoso” (Chicago Reader), Dana Jessen tirelessly seeks to expand the boundaries of her instrument through original compositions, improvisations, and collaborative work with innovative artists. Over the past decade, she has presented dozens of world premiere performances throughout North America and Europe while maintaining equal footing in the creative music community as an improviser. Her solo performances are almost entirely grounded in electroacoustic composition that highlight her distinct musical language. As a chamber musician, Dana is the co-founder of the contemporary reed quintet Splinter Reeds, and has performed with Alarm Will Sound, Amsterdam’s DOEK Collective, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, and the Tri-Centric Ensemble, among many others. A dedicated educator, Dana teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and has presented masterclasses and workshops to a range of students from across the globe.



Avant Music News

In 2019 composer Taylor Brook created a set of semi-improvised pieces for bassoonist Dana Jessen. The process was a collaborative one, with Brook crafting the pieces in light of specific techniques that Jessen, a virtuoso performer who for years has devoted herself to expanding the expressive range of her instrument, has developed. The result is Set, a suite of four Songs and three rules-constrained, semi-improvised Interludes for bassoon and electronics, with the composer supplying the latter.

The Songs appropriately enough are built around the songlike, vocal properties Jessen is able to coax from the bassoon: keening long-duration notes from the upper register, microtonal drifts up and down, sudden leaps into the lower register, unpitched bursts of breath. Brook augments Jessen’s performance with an electronic environment frequently featuring chords made up of layered bassoon notes—an ersatz wind ensemble. The Interludes have a looser, more spontaneous feel and play more directly with Brook’s electronic interventions: he alters the bassoon’s timbres, multiplies its voice into swarms of sound, loops it, turns it into a tamboura or a buzzsaw. Yet throughout it all the focus remains on the instrument and on Jessen’s ability to make it speak with a highly personal eloquence. Her playing is both forceful and controlled, her tone and intonation impeccable. And while the extensive technical vocabulary she’s developed is a point of interest, it never overshadows her essentially melodic and deeply musical sensibility.

— Daniel Barbiero, 8.03.2023

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