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Latest Posts

Love and Cow Bells
Sorceress of the New Piano
Well, That Was Fun
Naxos Dreaming
Reich@70: Let the Celebrations Begin
The Bi-Coastal Jefferson Friedman
Violins Invade Indianapolis
John Cage (born Los Angeles, 5 September 1912; died New York, 12 August 1992).
The People United Will Never Be Divided
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Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for review. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Saturday, May 27, 2006
Wasting Away in Margaritaville

Life is filled with small, delicious ironies. Consider the Waring Blender, the mortal enemy of jazz musicians everywhere--that mood-shattering whir of ice crunching dissonance that always seems to erupt in the middle of a soloist's soaring cadenza. Don't blame it on the bossa nova; blame it on Fred Waring, the bandleader and mechanical engineer, who saw the gadget's potential back in the 30s, bought the rights from an inventor, perfected and popularized it, invented the Frozen Daiquiri to give the machine something to do, and left a million pissed-off sax players in his wake. I learned all this, except for the parts I made up, from an article in today's Wall Street Journal by the bandleader and singer Eric Felten whose grandpa played with Fred. Aside from its neanderthal editorial page, the Journal is consistently America's most entertaining newspaper. Alas, you have to subscribe to read it. Capitalist pigs.

Tom Myron has an interview online here.
Interactive Composition

David Cope's got a linkdump on his site which features "many opportunities for interactive composition on the Web". I tested out the theory, and the pickings are slim. Seven out of the sixteen provided links are dead (Dotcom; The HUB; Livejam; Resrocket; Sintesidelsuono; Quarry; Bits).

Here's the skinny on the rest:
FTime: Ftime 'seeks to make concrete use of Internet technology to provide a framework for musical collaboration across multiple sites on planet Earth'. Okay, but the last performance was in 2000, and the graphic score format is pretty delimiting.

Mouse Jam: A garden-variety mixing page where all you can do is control the volume and duration of preset musical elements, most of which are pretty mundane.

Muffled: This is an artist site for Double Muffled Dolphin, which features what he calls an Ambient Automat interface that is free to download and looks like fun to play with but also pretty outdated.

Sinth_mods: Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Granted, this isn't really interactive composition at all, but at least it works.

US Drumbox: A Java drum machine

QuantumPortal: Where you hope that every leap, will be the leap back home, and also, you can generate as much MIDI-cheese as you want. Still, this is the most well-developed site on the list so far.

Mushroom: A very cute aleatoric collage generator that uses Nixon samples.

Sounds of Shapes: Another synthesis engine, this time it's Java-based.

SSEYO: A software company that develops, among other things, generative music applications.
So, first, I'd encourage professor Cope to update his site, and I'd also ask S21 readers: Are there any real and active opportunities on the internet for interactive composition?
John Corigliano meets The Apprentice

Great to see the official BBC TV website (above) featuring On An Overgrown Path's behind the scenes exclusive on clarinettist Mark Simpson and John Corigliano's concerto. Great for blogging, and great for contemporary music. And I bet it's the only time John Corigliano shares a platform with The Apprentice and Jeremy Clarkson!

Follow this link for the full story of Corigliano, no - Nielsen, yes and a link to a video of Mark Simpson's performance of the Nielsen concerto.

Screen dump - BBC TV. Any copyrighted material in this article is used in "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).
A Candy-Colored Clown They Call the Sandman

Sir Harrison Birtwistle was not amused at being forced to sit through an hour of the usual American Idol-level pop drivel yesterday before receiving an award for his contribution to contemporary British classical music at the Ivor Novello Awards. Sir Harrison's acceptance speech was short and not at all sweet, according to the Times:
"Why is your music so effing loud?” he asked the predominantly pop-orientated audience. “You must all be brain-dead. Maybe you are. I didn’t know so many clichés existed until the last half-hour. Have fun. Goodbye.” It was one of his shorter works.

The composer, the doyen of British modernism, explained that he was not opposed to pop music as such. “I’ve just discovered Roy Orbison — he’s a real singer,” he said.
Somebody write something effing provocative for the Composers Forum.
The rite of Spring Reverb

Spring Reverb is a multiple-day-and-night festival of primarily improvised music in San Diego, although there are a few folks who come with composed/arranged works. The improvisation collective Trummerflora has presented it for 5 years now, and they feature a mix of local improvisers and out-of-towners. I would have attended more concerts, but I had to review the Carlsbad Music Festival and the La Jolla Symphony (who played Tan Dun and David Lang) as well that weekend, so the Saturday night concert was the only time I could check out Spring Reverb.

It was a good night to go: electronic improviser Tom Dimuzio was there performing with Hans Fjellestad (some of you may know him as the director of the film Moog), Charming Hostess, and Micro-Ritmia, a crazy group from Mexico City who specialize in mind-bogglingly fast hockets.

Here are a few verbal snapshots to give you a flavor for the event:

Here's something you don't see every evening: Two Mexicans tossing off a flurry of notes on two synthesizers in a near-perfect hocket, then playing keyboard notes with one hand and xylophone notes with the other, moving entirely from the piano to the xylophone with mallets in both hands, then playing on the sides of the xylophone so the melody disappeared and only rhythm and timbre remained, and then both performers moving their mallets from the sides of the xylophone to the sound-reflecting panels (which appeared to be wooden), continuing playing on the panels moving to the edge of the panels, until the musicians traveled behind the panels, leaving only the clacking of the mallets from behind the stage.

Here's the icing on that visual cake: A pair of hookers wandered over from the adjacent MacDonald's, and watched most of that piece from the other side of the fence to the end, and seemed completely enchanted by it.

Here's the cherry on top: After the piece ended (Ernesto Martinez loudly yelled from behind the stage "The piece is over!"), the ladies of the evening walked away loudly clacking their heels on the pavement in imitation of the mallets on wood, laughing together as they receded towards their work place.

Read the entire review here.

Dispatch from the Lyric

Last night the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York wrapped up their eighth season with something unusual: a bassoon recital. I’d love to know how many S21 readers have been to a recital dedicated to bassoon music in the last year. I myself haven’t been to one in the last twenty-seven. The lucky featured bassoonist was Martin Kuuskmann, and the Lyric’s game audience was treated to a program of music by Gene Pritsker, Francisco Mignone, Matt Herskowitz, and Daniel Schnyder. Oh – and Camillle Saint-Saëns. From the spoils of this program, though, it seems to me the bassoon has yet to find its Chopin: that composer whose complete dedication to the instrument and innate musicality succeed in unlocking the instrument’s true potential. Once this composer shows up, however, I’d suggest they get a hold of Mr. Kuuskmann, who has the unstoppable combination of charisma and virtuosity that can make even mediocre music sound masterful.

Despite Mr. Kuuskmann’s playing, however, something was bugging me for the entire first half. The Saint-Saëns was fine; the Pritsker was fine; the Mignone was . . . not so fine, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was bothering me about the music. Then at intermission I remembered something John Corigliano said in a talk I heard years ago. He was about to start work on his Oboe Concerto, and, studying past oboe concertos, he realized they all might as well have been written for a violin. Sure the oboe’s timbre would be lost, but there was nothing essentially “oboe” about each concerto. He then asked the oboist for whom he was writing what things only an oboe could do. Then it hit me: Saint-Saëns, Pritsker, and Mignone aren’t really writing for the bassoon: they are merely writing their music and fitting it into a bassoon’s range. They are not allowing the instrument to stretch their musical imagination; instead, they merely appropriate the bassoon’s sound for their pre-existing musical ideas. Which might as well be played on a cello.

The composers on the second half faired only slightly better. Both Herskowitz’s “Sicilienne and Fugue” and Schnyder’s Sonata for Bassoon and Piano take inspiration from jazz, and the bassoon’s timbrel proximity to the saxophone helps both works. But both composers are really just treating the bassoon as a surrogate sax. Now I’m not saying composers must only write instrumental music that at every moment utilizes the unique capacities of individual instruments: to use instruments merely for their tone-color is reason enough to use them. But it seems to me none of the composers on the program really got to know the bassoon in their writing for it. To be fair, some pitch bending did occur in the Schnyder. But what about multiphonics, key-slaps, smacking sounds, timbral trills? If the bassoon is ever to carve out its own niche in the chamber-music repertory, composers must be unafraid to explore its uniqueness. Corigliano (and Berio) have figured this out. I’d love to know who else has.
Calling All Tubbies

Anthony Braxton is looking for a few good tuba players. One hundred, to be exact, for the premiere of his Composition #19 for 100 tubas (4 bands of 25 tubists each) which will performed as part of the Bang-on-a-Can Marathon concert on June 4 in the World Financial Center's Wintergarden Hall.
You must be able to play and march at the same time which, I assume, is a pretty standard requirement for a tuba player. Rehearsal will be the day before, led by Braxton himself. Contact Jay Rozen to see if all the spots have already been gobbled up.

The Bang on a Can Marathon is a 10+ hour spectacular that will feature works by John Adams, Aphex Twin, Carlo Boccadoro, Braxton, Don Byron, Paolo Coggiola, Anna Clyne, Filippo Del Corno, Dewa Ketut Alit, Annie Gosfield, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Paul Lansky, Mayke Nas, Michael Nyman, Julia Wolfe, and Evan Ziporyn. The fun starts at 11:30 am and stops around 10 pm. Best of all, it's free, or at least paid for by a bunch of corporate sponsors.
In My Room

The final evening of John Luther Adams installation Veils and Vesper will be this coming Saturday, May 27 at Diapason Gallery. The young and very cute Molly Sheridan has a wonderful article in Time Out New York. And Meredith Williams (who is probably also young and cute--at my age, everyone is) has posted some very nice photos at flickr from the opening night--one of which I've "borrowed" above. Reminds me a bit of certain stoner parties attended by your correspondent back in the late 60s, early 70s, although I'm sure this is a lot healthier.

The young and cute David Toub has an article titled New Opportunities for Music Dissemination (or “How to Get Your Music Heard When You Are Outside the System”)in Maria de Alvear’s World Edition. Looks like he also contributes to something called "Sequenzazzi."

Now Playing:

Rilke Songs; The Six Realms; Horn Concerto
Peter Lieberson
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson mezzo soprano, Peter Serkin, piano
William Purvis, horn, Michaela Fukacova, violoncello
Odense Symphony

If you’re going to write art songs, it doesn’t hurt to be married to one of the world’s great singers. Peter Lieberson is especially fortunate in this regard; his wife, mezzo soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson could sing the BMW owner’s manual and make it sound good. Lieberson’s settings of five Rilke poems is considerably better than that and this performance, recorded live at the Ravinia Festival with Peter Serkin at the piano, is first-rate. Having never heard Lieberson’s orchestral work before, I found the two others pieces that fill out this generous disc to be even more revelatory. Lieberson's music balances tonality and atonality in ways that are likely to please or, perhaps, not offend either side of the great harmonic divide. The Horn Concerto for horn and a chamber orchestra, played by its dedicatee, William Purvis is a lively 18-minute composition in two movements that perfectly showcases Purvis’ virtuosity, not to mention lung capacity. The Six Realms is a 27-minute concerto for amplified cello in six movements, originally composed for Yo Yo Ma. Lieberson is a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and The Six Realms travels much the same dark, foggy highway of human consciousness as John Adams’ Dharma in Big Sur although Lieberson’s writing is denser, more complex and less serial. The amplified cello produces a deeper, more subtle sound than does the amplified violin which in places in Dharma sounds like Hendrix keening on the high notes. That’s not a bad thing but it does diminish the “zen” quality somewhat. Lieberson’s path is more direct and balanced, less exciting, but more likely to endure. This is an extraordinarily ambitious release that shows what a small record label with big ambitions can do.
Boulez, Lutoslawski, Dutilleux and who?

French composer Pierre Villette [centre of photo] numbered Henri Dutilleux [left] and Witold Lutoslawski [right] among his peers, and studied with Marcel Dupré before attending the Paris Conservatoire where Pierre Boulez was a fellow student. Hyperion, who are a pretty shrewd judge of 20th century music, have just released a new CD of Villette's music. However a review concludes "I don't think there will be too many fans among the Sequenza21 crowd, but this new CD of Pierre Villette's music should appeal to anyone interested in hearing a relatively unknown voice in the mainstream twentieth century choral tradition." Listen to audio files of eight minutes of Pierre Villette's music and make up your own mind by clicking on Now Hyperion discovers a French Eric Whittaker over On An Overgrown Path.
Image credit - Any copyrighted material in this article is included in "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).
Hey, Children, What's That Sound?

Do protest songs make a difference or are they just pissin' in the wind, as Jerry Jeff Walker likes to put it? The ancient Brian Doherty (I knew him 30 years ago and he was old then) ponders the question in regard to Neil Young's new anti-war album and concludes thusly:
So why do pop stars return again and again to the political, despite the risk of ridicule, misunderstanding, artistic failure, and ineffectuality? The answer may be found in that old joke about why dogs lick their balls: because they can. Alas, political pop is usually just as productive as the activity at the center of that joke.
All male metaphors aside, I call your attention to the cover story of this week's Time magazine which features the incredible Dixie Chicks who bit the hand that fed them when a lot of people with balls to lick didn't. Don't know about you, Brian, but my heroes have always been cowgirls.

Glenn Freeman tipped me an article in The Independent today about "own labels" which allow composers, performers and orchestras to by-pass the majors.

For reasons having to do with getting some permanent content onto blognoggle so search engines can find it, I have created yet another page--this one in blog format and I'll post my short "Now Playing" reviews over there. Check it out. Damned handsome page if I did design and build it myself.
altaVoz at Juilliard

Juilliard’s Paul Hall played host last night to the nascent composers' collective altaVoz. altaVoz consists of five young Latin-American composers who live and work in North America and Europe: José Luis Hurtado, Felipe Lara, Pedro Malpica, Mauricio Pauly, and Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann. They are a very accomplished group, and the Juilliard Pierrot Ensemble gave their pieces fine readings.

The concert, however, did not begin well. Instead of beginning with the first piece, altaVoz asked a Harvard PhD-student to say a few words about their music and lives. This was a self-aggrandizing, pompous gesture which the collective should never repeat. The poor student was disorganized, long-winded, and had nothing really to say beyond how each piece would "reflect each composer's individual style." altaVoz, as the evening would reveal, is a fearsomely talented group of composers, but they haven't yet earned a Place in Music History.

Pauly's "Atento pero cabizbajo" ("Attentive but crestfallen") got things underway. The piece, for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, begins with an aggressive, low, and relentless polyphonic texture. Gradually – and elegantly – the piece calms down, takes breaths, and climbs to higher, sparser regions. The ending floats away nicely on high notes from the violin and cello. Next up was Hurtado's "De relieve doble" for piano trio. In some ways the weakest of the evening's pieces, Hurtado's piece never really gets off the ground. But through its fitful, irregular rhythms, powerful moments of pathos burst through, and his writing takes advantage of all the colors this seemingly limited ensemble has to offer. The first half concluded with Grossmann's "Pensar geométrico al trasluz" for flute, cello, and percussion. Grossmann is a softer, gentler soul than Pauly and Hurtado and is more inclined to create traditional melody-and-accompaniment textures. The middle section of the piece's slow-fast-slow construction strikes me as formally flat and indicative of the usual problem with contemporary composers: an inability to establish and develop tension. But Grossmann's melodies are beautiful, and one finds oneself surrendering to his delicate cello harmonics and marimba tremolos nonetheless.

The second half began with the only piece I would have suspected bore any relationship with the composer's ethnic background. Malpica’s "Tarikapuy" for flute, cello, and piano is a storm of blurry, jagged sound that seems to come from some distant, dangerous past. The furious lines erupting from the instruments eventually give way to a hypnotic repeated high-C in the piano, which in turns gives way to a mad collective push to the end. Malpica's was perhaps the strongest of an evening of generally strong work. Felipe Lara's "Tutti," the last piece on the program, once again brought to the stage the entire ensemble. The piece's big, swooping gestures come across like the tempestuous motions of a single, giant being, and, with a prominent gong part underscoring bird-like thickets of sound, the ghost of Messiaen is not far away. One hopes to hear more from all these composers in the future.
Last of the mavericks?

"There's nothing musically important happening here in Canada, and your son will never have a chance to develop as a composer. You need to move to New York." --Henry Cowell to Henry Brant's father

Fun interview with Henry Brant at All Music Guide (I didn't know they interviewed composers!):

Other interesting quotes:

Two major events happened in modern music in America in 1930: first, the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra told Leopold Stokowski to lay off that funny sounding, up-to-date music, and he did. Second, the New York Symphony Orchestra folded completely.

On writing "experimental" music, and getting paid well for it: There were ways in which unusual, experimental music would fit into a Broadway show or radio program -- nobody objected if I wrote parodies, or made fun of other music. Well-established composers also employed me for scoring and conducting jobs -- I did a lot of that -- and that helped this avant-garde composer pay for his groceries.

On Charles Ives's skill as a pianist: One thing about Ives was that he could play anything he wrote, himself -- I asked Wallingford Riegger and Carl Ruggles about that, and both said that Ives's keyboard playing was "first rate."

On precedents for spatial music before Ives: J.C. Bach's "Symphonies" are only nominally spatial. I regard him as one of the low-voltage Baroque wimps. The first true spatial composer was Giovanni Gabrieli (1555-1612) of both instrumental and poly-choral spatial music. I've conducted his sonatas and canzonas. Only one composer, Hector Berlioz, is known to have written any spatial music whatever during the 19th Century. I've heard his famous Requiem at the Invalides in Paris, the place for which it was written. It uses both echo-procedure and identification of musical material via timbres of the most contrasted character.

On performances by amateur ensembles: Many community and school orchestras in this country are very good, a situation that wasn't even imaginable in the 30s. The problem wasn't one of level of performance so much as the competence of conductors, or that of incompetently written music being performed by incompetent conductors! But you don't need to have your music played by big-name orchestras and a famous conductor to get a good performance.
Less Gnarly Than You

Alex Ross has a great profile of Milton Babbitt in this week's New Yorker. Until proven otherwise, however, I lay claim to "gnarly" as a description of atonal music.

On the not so gnarly front, Frank Oteri's 21st Century Schizoid Music is presenting Corey Dargel with his bandmates César Alvarez and Sheila Donovan at the Cornelia Street Café at 8:30 tonight. Special guests Two Sides Sounding will perform Corey's Condi songs,"Con Dolcezza (with Sweetness)."

I can't make it but but if anyone is going and wants to write a review, let me know and I'll ask Corey to get you in free.

Here's a topic--best novels, plays or films about composers or other musicians.


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