Author Archive

[Editor's note: Samuel Vriezen is a brilliant Dutch composer, performer, poet, polymath... oh, let's just say the list goes on. I've known Samuel -- online, at least -- for the better part of 15 years now, following his artistic and aesthetic progression, getting into stimulating conversations and sharp smack-downs along the way. Just the other day Samuel approached me with an essay that he'd been working on, that he felt might be ready for a wider audience through a place like S21. Of course I immediately agreed; Samuel has one of the sharpest minds I know, and whatever rolls around and finally drops from it to the page is quite likely worth a bit of our time to read.]

OUTSIDE OF MUSIC  — On the role of the audience

Samuel Vriezen

Heiner Goebbels, composer, director and a major presence in contemporary German music theatre, gave a presentation at a conference devoted to Gertrude Stein and the arts in May 2014 in Copenhagen, on his use of Stein’s work. For him, Stein’s vision of a theatre piece as a landscape to be enjoyed rather than a drama to be followed was highly inspiring for his own theatrical conceptions. In passing, Goebbels made a very interesting remark. All you need to make theatre, he claimed, is an audience. What he meant was that it is the audience that completes the theatrical experience. If you present an audience with any staged image, you practically don’t even need actors any more, as the audience will invite itself into making it a theatrical experience, into filling in the drama itself. You just need to give it a landscape, something to look at, well staged and probably with stuff happening in it; but what the theatre really only requires is the audience.

This struck me as a strongly theatre-based approach to the audience, one very much about presenting a spectacle, about the experience of watching and presenting, perhaps even about ‘communication’. My own focus as a composer being mostly on chamber music, I couldn’t imagine myself making such a statement at all. In chamber music, you really need some performers – something that is even true of a piece like 4’33”, which only requires (a) dedicated performer(s), more or less inviting the audience to become a performer itself.

The next day at the symposium, Andrzej Wirth, a major figure in German theatre one generation older than Goebbels, was interviewed. Wirth, who had collaborated with Brecht in his youth, and who had himself used Stein’s work in his productions, seemingly made the exact opposite claim during his talk: the audience, he said, is an obstacle, something that threatens to get in the way of theatre. The point being that the theatre is what happens, what people on stage do, the whole action of it, rather than its passive consumption (a position that fits the tradition of the Brechtian Lehrstück well.)

Instinctively, I found myself more sympathetic. The idea that an audience is needed for something to be music is quite evidently not true. If I play piano at home, just because I feel like it, there is no audience. There is only me, the performer, working at the music, and even if this involves my hearing and listening in the process, it doesn’t make me into my own audience. In fact, it has always been my feeling that the vast majority of music that gets practically made by humans does not involve an audience. For instance, ritual music – and let’s interpret ‘ritual music’ broadly: a birthday song at a party or a stadium of supporters chanting to inspire its team could be an example just as much as liturgy being chanted or a village tribe honoring its ancestors. Likewise, there is music that is merely play, or a way to pass time. There is humming to yourself; there are the songs that are part of children’s games; there is practice, which is playing for the sole purpose of getting better at playing. Work songs, campfire songs, protest songs. Clearly, to think of such events in terms of ‘performer’ and ‘audience’ would be to miss the point completely. All these things are music; none of them involve an audience.

Yet it is not quite satisfactory to see the audience as an obstacle. Even if it should be true that the main thing that happens would be the process among actors or musicians, that does not necessarily imply that the audience has no role to play. Surely it must have one, or we wouldn’t spend so much time organizing concerts. But what is this role? Read the rest of this entry »

Comments 5 Comments »

Marvin-300x237“…Crazy is good, folks! So come on down to Crazy Marvin’s Modern Music Warehouse! We’re wheeling!! We’re dealing!! We’ll play play PLAY all day day DAY!!!…”

OK, OK, maybe not quite that crazy… But once a year our good friend Marvin Rosen goes crazy in the best way over at Princeton’s radio station WPRB, (103.3 FM, or online at: www.wprb.com). For the last six years Marvin has offered up a one-man, 24-hour radio marathon of contemporary music. And by contemporary, I mean things from just the last year or two, and often recordings culled directly from the composers themselves.

This year Marvin is upping the crazy ante just a little bit, by choosing to go 25 straight hours, and he’s on the hunt for YOUR submission to be played during the marathon.

The title of this year’s radio extravaganza is “24 HOUR PLUS – VIVA 21-ST CENTURY”. It will start Saturday, December 28th at 2:00pm (EST time) and will go nonstop live until 3:00pm on Sunday, December 29th.

This year Marvin is requesting composers to send him recordings of works completed in 2012 and 2013.

Only recordings on CD (no MP3’s, no downloads) will be accepted and must be received by Marvin no later than Saturday, December 13, 2013. Marvin knows that in today’s time many music transactions are done via downloading etc… But since he has full-​time ​job, as well as plenty of other volunteer duties, the recording submission process has to be done on CD to make the listening and selection as simple as possible.

The maximum length of each work submitted should be no more than 15 minutes.

All private recordings must have a good sound quality and released for radio broadcast by the owner of recording (a statement from submitting person is sufficient).

If you’re interested in being part of the craziness, please e-mail Marvin directly for more instructions at: Marvinarosen@gmail.com

PS – Feel free to spread the word, and even freer to get off your composerly bum and submit something!

Comments 3 Comments »

[Ed. note: Kurt Rohde, Professor of Composition at the University of California at Davis, sent us this report on the recent Music and The Art of Migration Festival there. The weeklong series of events combined a number of approaches to the concept and practice of migration across the arts, with an emphasis on music.]

Sometimes it feels like new music has a way of finding places to collect, gather and pool. Not surprisingly, a number of important US cities (LA, NY, Chicago, etc.) have traditionally been the gravitational centers around which everything else orbits. In our current culture of immediacy and unimpeded online access, the reach of new music being produced in smaller communities is increasing at an astounding rate…or maybe it’s just that we are hearing about it more than ever before. Regardless, there is no question that that vibrant, inventive new music can now be found in more towns across the country. Enter the town of Davis.

Located in the Sacramento River Valley between the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco, Davis is a bucolic college community. It is the home to the University of California at Davis. UCD is home to the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2002. During the week of January 30th to February 3rd, a “flash flood” of new music took place. The UC Davis Department of Music hosted Worlds of Discovery & Loss: The Art of Migration and Music Festival, with support from the Mondavi Center and the Davis Humanities Institute. UCD faculty and composers Sam Nichols and Laurie San Martin organized the five-day festival with a depth of vision. By bringing together visiting ensembles like the Calder Quartet and Rootstock with UCD resident groups Empyrean Ensemble and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Nichols and San Martin exquisitely executed a festival that explored the role of migration in music and how it intersects with visual art, cultural studies, and storytelling. In effect, the festival became a migratory “stop” for everyone involved, a way station in between points where ideas were exchanged and shared before moving onward.

I joined San Martin and Nichols as their assistant during the festival: It was a fantastic way to experience firsthand all the events. At the core of the festival was the presence of composer-in-residence Lei Liang and seven Festival Composition Fellows (Kari Besharse, David Coll, Elliot Cless, Annie Hsieh, Nicholas Omiccioli, Ryan Suleiman, Tina Tallon). Around this center were a series of concerts, public talks, and private colloquia. Since there were so many incredible events scheduled throughout the week, I thought it might be most useful to share what I though were the highlights.

Perhaps the most obvious example of how the festival showcased art’s intersection with the migration of people and culture came in the form of a panel discussion moderated by UCD sociologist David Kyle. Guest panelists Anthony Sheppard (musicologist and professor of music at Williams College), Maria Elena González (Cuban-American sculptor), Philip Kan Gotanda (playwright and filmmaker at UC Berkeley), Peter Kulchyski (Native Studies at University of Manitoba), and Chan Park (Korean P’ansori expert and professor of Korean language, literature, and performance studies at Ohio State University), took part in a lively discussion detailing how various cultural collisions impacted the full range of their work. What I took away from this conversation was the intriguing notion that nomadic culture, diaspora, and willful immigration all contribute to the formation of an identity in their work that was inseparable from their identity as people. There was a blurring of the conventional binary definitions (THIS vs. THAT, or GOOD vs. BAD) surrounding concepts about nomadic life, or the urge to immigrate, or the pull of being part of a diaspora. It felt reassuring to know that in our hyper-digital age, artists are ever more sensitive in identifying the thread that runs through their lives, connecting them and their work with their ancestors, predecessors, to those that will come after them. It was complicated. It was heartening. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Comments Off

Continuing their collaborative efforts to spotlight the work of Missouri composers, the Columbia Civic Orchestra and the Mizzou New Music Initiative  have announced the selection of two orchestral works written by Missouri residents to be performed by the CCO at a concert in March. The two winning pieces were chosen in a statewide competition conducted under the auspices of the Missouri Composers Orchestra Project. The winners will receive a $500 honorarium from MOCOP’s sponsor, the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.

Stephanie Berg

The work chosen in the Open category is Ravish and Mayhem by Stephanie Berg, a native of Parkville who earned her master’s degree in composition from the University of Missouri last May and now lives in Columbia. The winning composition in the High School category is Appalachian Rhapsody by Dustin Dunn, a 16-year-old junior at South Iron High School in Ironton.

Dustin DunnThe winners were selected through a blind judging process by John Cheetham, professor emeritus of music theory and composition at the University of Missouri, and Bruce Gordon, former orchestra manager for CCO. The judges also awarded Honorable Mentions to Nicholas S. Omiccioli of Kansas City for his work flourishes, and to Patrick David Clark of Columbia for FE 700° C.

Both winning compositions will be performed by the Columbia Civic Orchestra as part of their annual concert of music by living composers at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, March 9 at Broadway Christian Church, 2601 West Broadway in Columbia. Tickets are $15 for individuals, $40 for a group of up to 5, and can be purchased in advance online at http://www.columbiachorale.com/ or at the door.

The concert also will spotlight several contemporary works for chorus, including the world premiere of La Terra Illuminata by Mizzou adjunct assistant professor Paul Seitz, a new piece commissioned specifically for CCO and the Columbia Chorale by the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation.

The Mizzou New Music Initiative is an array of programs intended to position the University of Missouri School of Music as a leading center in the areas of composition and new music, and is the direct result of the generous support of Dr. Jeanne and Mr. Rex Sinquefield and the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. Mizzou has really been doing good stuff down that way the past few years, and it’s important to remember that the heartland of America is just as much a breeding ground for new music, composers and performers, as are the two coasts. Keep it up!

Comments Comments Off

Marvin Rosen interviews composer Alex Shapiro.

For years now, long-time WPRB radio host Marvin Rosen has brought the world (though it’s in Princeton, New Jersey, it also streams live over the web) all manner of “Classical Discoveries” every Wednesday from 5:30 to 11 AM ET. But from 11 AM until 1 PM “Classical Discoveries” switched gears to become “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde“, serving up the newest — and often by radio standards, the “difficult” — works to an enthusiastic audience eager to hear what’s going on today in contemporary classical music. Often there were also interviews with established and up-and-coming composers and performers as well.

The broadcast landscape for such stuff is already so very tiny in the vast radio world of “safe” music, talk, news, sports, etc; unfortunately it’s about to shrink even more, as Marvin’s “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde” slot is being shut down by the WPRB powers-that-be in favor of other programming. Joe Barron over at the “Liberated Dissonance” blog has more on the story. Marvin is truly one of the most warm and selfless people I know, working so hard each week to bring his listeners this stuff — even when stylistically it might not be his personal cup of tea — simply because he really loves our living music of today in all its forms, and feels so strongly the need to share that enthusiasm with the wider world.

Marvin’s “Classical Discoveries” show will remain a WPRB Wednesday-morning fixture, but the last “Classical Discoveries Goes Avant-Garde” is this Wednesday, 11 AM until 1 PM. Tune in if you can, broadcast or online, and a huge round of applause to Marvin for what he was able to bring both the living composers and adventurous listeners these past five years.

[Update: the management of WPRB has responded with some further amplification, in the comments at the end of this post.]

Comments 6 Comments »

Violinist Mari Kimura has built a career fearlessly taking the violin to places still little-explored. from her work with sub-harmonics (using precise but difficult bowing techniques to obtain notes up to an octave below the normal violin range), to the integration of all manner of digital and electronic interweavings, to playing everything from from the ferociously difficult to the frenzied soaring to the freely improvised, Mari has made her violin sing like few others in our generation.

Likewise for Elliott Sharp and his exploration of the guitar in all its many shape-shifting forms. Elliott has become such a New York institution as to give the Statue of Liberty a run for her money (though to be fair, Lady Liberty doesn’t do too many new-music concerts). Edgy and restless, Sharp’s work attacks a lot of our notions of what a guitar is supposed to do, while always still reminding us of the roots it and we come out of.

These two wonderfully complex performers and creators will be found together on the same bill this Friday, Nov. 16 at 8pm, at Glenn Cornett’s intimate Spectrum concert space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (121 Ludlow, 2nd Floor, tickets $15 suggested donation).

Mari Kimura will present her recent works using Augmented Violin, IRCAM’s bowing motion sensor technology. Kimura’s Meteo-Hahn is a new work in collaboration with data visualization specialist Bruce Hahn, and is an interactive audio/visual work using weather patterns and data. Her other premiere is Poly-Monologue, a work-in-progress version of her large-scale multimedia project “ONE” which will tour in 2013. In Poly-Monologue Kimura collaborates with singer Kyoko Kitamura; the trilingual (English, French, Japanese) texts and Kitamura’s vocalization interact with Kimura’s Augmented Violin. Kimura will also perform works by François Sarhan, an intriguing European composer/theater director/encyclopedist: Un Chevalier (2007) and Oublée (Forgotten, 2012) for solo violin. The works are based on the text by Russian poet Daniil Harms (1905-1942), expressing the pressure on intellectualism during Stalinism.

Elliott Sharp will present Octal, a collection of pieces for the Koll 8-string guitar-bass built exclusively for Sharp. These pieces function somewhere between etudes and jumping-off points for improvised explorations. Not academic, these performances are filled with free-jazz energy and burning bluesy extemporizations using Sharp’s signature extended techniques.

Extra bonus — Kimura and Sharp will also improvise together during the concert. There’s going to be a lot of magic on this bill, and Spectrum is a wonderfully homey and intimate place to catch a concert. So if at all possible head on over and treat yourself to some musical bliss.

Comments Comments Off

Superstorm Sandy wreaked a fair amount of havoc on a lot of concert schedules, but things are starting to return to something resembling normal. One quick shout-out I’d like to pass along is a performance this coming Sunday, Nov. 11, by the really wonderful violinist/violist Karen Bentley Pollick.

Usually found at home in the mountains of Colorado, Karen’s coming to Brooklyn to give a concert of lots of pretty recent music — including the premiere of former Brooklynite and S21 composer/webmaster Jeff Harrington’s Grand Tango for violin with video. Jeff’s been living in France for a couple years now, and it’s good to see his work find its way back here.

Also on the bill is Seattle composer Nat Evans’s and video artist Erin Elyse Burns’s desertscape Heat Whispers; New York composer Stuart Diamond’s prismatic video that he created for his 1974 Baroque Fantasy for violin, a work championed by the late Max Polikoff. New York video artist Sheri Wills‘s videos are featured in Sapphire for violin and electronics (2010) by New York composer Preston Stahly; Dilemma for viola (1987) by Czech composer Jan Jirásek; The Red Curtain Dance for viola (2003) and Letter to Avigdor for violin (1990) by Israeli American composer Ofer Ben-Amots; and Metaman for violin with digital sound & video (2009) by Rome Prize winner Charles Norman Mason.

It’s an afternoon concert, 3:00 pm at the Firehouse Space (246 Frost Street in Brooklyn, New York). Tickets are only $10 at the door — so if you need a break from all that’s been happening, and wouldn’t mind hearing a concert filled with fantastic playing and tons of music you’ve likely never heard before, head on over.

And for my Seattle friends, Karen will be doing the concert Nov. 16 at the Chapel of Good Shepherd Center, and then Dec. 14-15 in San Francisco at Theater Artaud Z Space.

Comments 2 Comments »

Another composer interview from our favorite “reporter-at-large-when-she-isn’t-being-a-famed-virtuoso”, Hilary Hahn as part of her “In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores” series. This time it’s a chat with Indian composer/violinist Kala Ramnath, about her encore piece that Hilary will perform in a concert this coming January:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5lLLF-6d-8[/youtube]>

Comments Comments Off

…and the results were not good… One of the brightest small labels for new music in the last 4-5 years has been NYC’s New Amsterdam Records. Founded by Judd GreensteinSarah Kirkland Snider, and William Brittelle, its catalog is full of some of the best young, fresh composers working today, performed by a bevy of equally fresh & talented players. This label has quickly risen to the forefront in capturing and disseminating the newer American scene.

All of that hard work has unfortunately just gotten a lot harder; Their offices are in the Redhook area of New York City, and weren’t dealt kindly with by Hurricane Sandy. As Sarah Kirkland Snider writes on her Facebook page:

Our new New Amsterdam HQ in Red Hook was totaled by Sandy. The water mark is over 4′. We had moved much of the office to higher ground prior to the storm, and elevated everything else, but we still lost all files/paperwork, a hard drive, some furniture, vintage synthesizers and music gear, and most of our CD stock. Our landlord does not have flooding insurance, and our attempts to acquire it before the storm were denied. There is some talk of FEMA helping uninsured Red Hook businesses, but that seems like a long shot. Stunned and heavy-hearted we are.

Truly a catastrophe for a small company like this… Clean-up and picking through has begun, but they’re certainly going to need a lot of help to get back to a point where they can continue the outstanding service they’ve done to new music listeners, performers and composers alike. Nothing is set yet, but at the very least you can “like” their Facebook page to show your support, and to stay aware of any coming requests for help, donations, or benefits.

New Amsterdam is truly a treasure, and we’re absolutely rooting for a comeback.

Comments 6 Comments »

The Dutch composer/performer/poet Samuel Vriezen and I go waaay back on the web, to a time when musicians found each other and some musical conversation on the old Usenet newsgroups. In the dozen-plus years since that time, I’ve watched Samuel be pretty darn active on all kinds of fronts: producing concerts, composing a wonderful body of music, writing and translating poetry… He’s even been invited over this way to the U.S. a few times for presentations of his work.

Samuel’s own musical inclinations have evolved since his time in university, but for a long while now what really interests him is how to set up relatively “simple” musical parameters, that become very “unsimple” and rich through both their process of unfolding, and the performers interaction with those processes and each other.

Given that predilection, I suppose it was almost fated for Samuel to be drawn to the music of Tom Johnson. One of the American composers closely associated with New York Minimalism in the heady 70s and 80s (and well-known at the time as music critic for the Village Voice), Johnson left the U.S. to settle in Paris in the mid-80s, where he’s been ever since. Unlike the ever-more-elaborate, eclectic and programmatic direction his then-compatriots Reich and Glass have traveled, Johnson has remained pretty much focused on exploring purely musical processes; simple “germ” ideas that are rigorously followed, yet result in surprisingly rich music. One such piece is Johnson’s very long 1986 piano work The Chord Catalogue. Johnson simply asked “What would it sound like to play all the chords possible in a single octave?” …Of which there turns out to be 8178 of them! needless to say, though the concept is extremely simple the execution by a pianist is tremendously difficult.

Which brings us back to Samuel Vriezen. Samuel some years ago became so intrigued with the work, that he knew he had to learn and present it himself. And learn and present it he has, many times, to very enthusiastic audiences. His involvement with the piece has even led Samuel to compose some excellent new works, that riff on the same kind of idea that Johnson had.

The reason I’ve been telling you all this? because Samuel has decided that the time has come to get this piece and his performance down on CD, and to do that he’s decided to ask all of us new-music-lovers out there to help raise the money to make that CD a reality. Using the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, Samuel has in rather short order already drummed up over half his $8,000 goal; I think there are a lot of people out there who know this will be one great CD. So click those links I just gave you, head to the Indiegogo site, and let Samuel himself tell you about the piece, his passion, and the project. Besides making this wonderful CD a reality, your donation can score you some really nice perks (see the right side bar for a description).  To quote Rosie the Riveter, WE CAN DO IT!

Comments 1 Comment »