From the February 2017 issue of DRUM! | By AJ Donahue | Photo by Gene Pittman
On his sprawling new work, Mass, Bobby Previte crafts a stunning tribute to the sacred music of Renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay. The album, which blends pieces of Dufay’s choral Missa Sancti Jacobi with modern metal and doom, features masterful accompaniment from keyboardist Marco Benevento, bassist Reed Mathis, and guitarists Jamie Saft, Stephen O’Malley, Don McGreevy, and Mike Gamble, along with a tremendous performance by The Rose Ensemble chamber music choir. Shortly after its official release, we caught up with Previte to learn a little more about the inspiration and work that went into such an ambitious project.
It’s always so hard to say where the idea comes from. I could say that I was introduced to Dufay in music school and thought, “Someday I’ll do something with that, even though it’s perfect.” That could be true and not true. I could also say that I wanted to write something grand and massive so I decided to write a metal piece. That’s probably not true either. That’s all to say that it remains a mystery where these things come from. I could just as easily say that ten years ago, I was disenthralled with the political climate in the world and I decided to write a piece like this. I could say anything, and it would all be less than true because the truth is: I don’t know.
Honoring Dufay’s Intensity
Years ago, I did a whole hour version of this piece and took it on tour with my old band that had Steve Swallow, Wayne Horovitz, Marty Ehrlich, and Curtis Fowlkes. At the end of the tour, I took all the music and threw it in the trash. It just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t visceral enough. Music always expresses the time in which it’s written and played, and those things are important to consider. It’s important to remember that chamber music was written to be played in people’s houses. Now, you go see it in halls and something is lost because it was written for a different acoustic space. On top of that, we also have airplanes and amplified music and all these other sounds around us. I had a feeling the music had lost some of its power for everyone other than the most staunch aficionados. So, pairing it with metal was a conscious decision to match the emotional power of what the music must have been like.
The piece really changed for the better when my wife [writer and choreographer Andrea Kleine] got involved. It started out as a meditation on The Federalist Papers, believe it or not, but it just wasn’t working. So, I dumped all that. She wrote a great text to go with it that was much more metaphorical. Before I’d even met my wife, though, I’d put together another version with piano and horns. I just thought it was silly. It wasn’t working. I also couldn’t figure out the “why.” A piece has to have a reason to be there, and if I can’t find that reason, I just throw it away.
I honestly can’t remember, but I would guess six to eight months after I decided to pair it with metal. It’s a crazy score. The three components — the pipe organ, the choir, and the metal band — are all in different keys, time signatures, and tempos. Every beat had to be in its exact place. It sounds like chaos when you talk about it, but I wanted everything to sound very simple and not like three disparate elements. I spent a lot of time thinking about things and looking at the piece as a whole from different angles. I lived inside it. But after that, I finished the work pretty quickly. I don’t like to work on something else and then come back to it, because then I’m in a different place. It messes with the integrity of the piece.
Incorporating The Choir
The Rose Ensemble specializes in this kind of music, which was very important. It’s very different than singing baroque music. They were really great to do it, especially because they were willing to actually do it and didn’t think I was crazy. I took parts from each of the nine elements of Dufay’s mass and wrote around them. I gave them the music and I think we talked about tempo, but that’s it. I’m not going to tell them how to sing Dufay. They knew how to sing it the way it was supposed to be sung.
Spreading The Word
At first, I didn’t have any home for the recording. Then I got busy in other projects. I have to say that Jamie Saft really rescued it. He suggested we mix it and talk to Giacomo Bruzzo at RareNoise about a release. We presented it to him, and he kind of flipped. That was that.
Giacomo really wants us to do it live. I told him it’s going to cost a lot of money, and take a lot of rehearsal. It’s a very hard piece to execute live. It’s not technically hard, but everyone is in their own space and time signature and tempo. It all has to match up somehow. I would like to do it live, but we’ll see.