Jun 07 2011
Many instruments have their 99-cent toy counterpart: tiny play trumpets, cheap plastic recorders, pint-sized accordions, even mini drum-kits with cymbals the size of espresso saucers. But it’s only the toy piano that has graduated to the big leagues, with an large and diverse repertoire and even a dedicated group of high-caliber performers to boost its status. I really think this all came about from two sources: John Cage‘s modest 1948 Suite for Toy Piano, and the instrument’s inclusion in George Crumb‘s highly influential Ancient Voices of Children (1970). Both of these works had (and still have) a certain vogue; pianos were obtained, kept around, and led to performers and composers thinking “now that I’ve got it, what else can I do with this thing”? Fast-forward a few decades and we now find a whole body of work from composers big and small, with piano solo, duo, trio and beyond, accompanied by everything from a few trinkets to elaborate interactive electronics. Entire concerts of toy piano music take place now, with a variety pieces and forces equal to any other chamber music concert.
Like this one… Co-Directors and composers David Claman and Matt Malsky are presenting The Extensible Toy Piano Festival at Bargemusic, with another of those said dedicated toy-piano performer/composers, Phyllis Chen– this Sunday, June 12, at 3pm (Fulton Ferry Landing near the Brooklyn Bridge / Tickets: $25 ($20 Seniors; $15 Students). Claman and Malsky started The Extensible Toy Piano Project a number of years ago, sponsoring concerts, commissions, contests and even symposia (I told you this little instrument done all growed up!). This iteration will also feature guest performers Nancy Newman and mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers, and works by Chen, Claman, Malsky, Karlheinz Essl, Konrad Kaczmarek, John McDonald, and Atsushi Yoshinaka. Here’s Chen performing one of her works that will be on the concert, Double Helix:
May 21 2011
We Remember September 11 // 24 Hour WPRB Live Radio Marathon
At the 10th anniversary of September 11, Classical Discoveries with Marvin Rosen will present a 24 hour live radio marathon, totally devoted to music written by composers from many countries as a reaction to the unforgettable events of that day. The program will air on WPRB 103.3 Princeton and around the world at www.wprb.com and will start on Saturday, September 10 at 7:00pm ET until 7:00pm the next day, Sunday, September 11, 2011. Marvin has already in quite impressive collection of 9/11 works some of which have already been broadcasted on his program, but he would like to get other compositions as well.
The call is for music written as a reaction to 9/11 that is within the Classical Discoveries and Avant-Garde Edition format, for any combination of instruments, voices and electronics. Non-commercial recordings are accepted as long they have good quality sound and are on CD (no MP3 and DVDs).
If you are sending a private recording:
Before sending any recordings, please contact Marvin for his postal mailing address at: email@example.com. Marvin has established this special e-mail address so that no mail will be lost. He will answer within 10 days of each inquiry, but if no answer is received please resend your email.
Deadline for accepting recordings is Friday, August 12, 2011.
May 14 2011
Daniel Wolf’s appreciation is better than anything I need to muster, so I’ll just say Happy Birthday Alvin Lucier, wonderful milestone, and thanks for some of the most beautifully pure musical and sonic revelations ever conceived.
Update: While I still don’t have much to add, I will point you to this wonderful discovery… In 1972-3, When (now long & well-established) experimental composer/performer Nicolas Collins was a fresh-faced freshman in college, he took Lucier’s Introduction to Electronic Music class. Good student he was, Collins also took copious notes on what Lucier taught them during those two semesters. Collins has gone ahead and scanned this unedited notebook to PDF files, and he shares it on a special page at his website. As Collins writes, “I am no Ned Rorem — this notebook does not reflect a particularly interesting life — but I think it provides a rare window into Lucier’s teaching and the musical culture of the day, both of which are very interesting indeed, and — secondarily — it documents my gradual conversion from student to acolyte.“
Virtually thumbing through this document is definitely worth any composer’s time.
Apr 04 2011
Turkish pianist Seda Röder has been around these parts more than a few times; sometimes for her wonderful playing and sometimes for her wonderful podcasts. Now an Associate at Harvard, since coming over to the U.S. in 2007 (after graduating the Mozarteum in Salzburg) Seda has been a bit of a whirlwind when it comes to new music. Not content to take the standard performer’s trajectory, Seda gives almost equal measure to not onlyconcertizing, but also informing and promoting on behalf of the lesser-known — both newer and older — corners of modern classical music. Of course, in one of the corners most dear to her lies the work of living Turkish composers, a corner most of us have never paid any attention to.
Now Seda has taken a pretty big step on the way to rectifying that gap in our awareness: first, with the release of her new CD Listening to Istanbul, a collection of six newly-commissioned piano works by Turkish composers both established and emerging; and second, through a marvellous accompanying website that amplifies the CD and the works on it with all kinds of extra information, background, notes and interviews with the composers themselves.
Here composer Tolga Tüzün talks about his work Permanence:
Mar 20 2011
(And Gods know sanctuary is something many of us might be searching for these days…) This Monday, 21 March, at 8pm in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and Seventh Avenue, NYC), the ensemble Lunatics at Large begin a series of four concerts with five premieres, of works involving the collaboration of five composers and five poets. This little bit of numerology is titled “The Sanctuary Project“; Project Director Evi Jundt says:
The composers are André Brégégère, Mohammed Fairouz, Raphael Fusco, Laura Koplewitz and Alex Shapiro; the poets are Rob Buchert, Joanna Fuhrman, David Shapiro, Yerra Sugarman and Ryan Vine.
The Lunatics will present the same concert three more times, in actual sanctuaries: April 8, 8pm at Christ and Saint Stephen’s Church (122 West 69th Street, NYC); April 10, 7pm at the Synagogue for the Arts (49 White Street, NYC); and April 21, 7:30pm at WMP Concert Hall (31 East 28th Street, NYC).
Mar 14 2011
[The latest iteration of the always-stellar Other Minds festival is now done and in the books. We asked our equally-stellar Bay Area musician friend Tom Djll if he'd like to cover a bit of it for us, and he happily sent along his impressions of the second and third concert evenings.]
Other Minds 16
There’s a shard of spotlight on my shoulder. A music stand hovers off the sphere of peripheral vision; under it, the shadow of fingers curl like the violin scroll toward which they crawl, spiderish. The fingers belong to a violinist of the Del Sol String Quartet; on both sides of the audience the quartet and the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble are arrayed up the steps toward the back of the hall. In forward vision is percussionist Andrew Schloss, standing behind a computer and percussion-controller on a table. Over these hover his wired drumsticks, sometimes striking the controller yet often just floating, stirring the atoms above it, sending flocks of musical messages to various slave percussives onstage, offstage, and hung from the ceiling above. The composer is David A. Jaffe, protegé of Henry Brant; the percussion-controller builder, German-born, Seattle-based Trimpin, master of MIDI and commander of solenoid soldiers.
The Space Between Us might be called a “cubistic” composition. The subject is suggested by the title, or “what can be communicated and what remains unsaid,” in the composer’s words, as, with sticks held aloft in a gentle but dramatic gesture, percussionist-conductor Schloss signals yet another beginning, another foray into the problem of separation and identity. Somewhat reminiscent of Ives’ The Unanswered Question, each new attempt answers nothing but only brings more questions to the surface, adding facets to the cubist puzzle in the hearer’s mind. Strings quiver in mournful, canonic dirges in one phase; other times they signal impatience in brusque, un-pretty gestures. Later on, massed plucking is attempted, to better match the percussive chatter. Desperate glissandi from the computer-driven piano onstage are gobbled and hurled back by cello and viola, all to no avail. The space remains and separation seems unbridgeable, yet the sonic discussion has pushed the gloom back for at least a few moments of transcendent, clouds-clearing beauty. The conversation is aptly dedicated to Henry Brant, an Other Minds spiritual father.
Next up was I Wayan Balawan, guitarist/composer of Bali. OM 16 marked the first appearance in the West of this gifted young man of Olympian technique and globe-trotting musical mind. He also possesses an awareness of stagecraft and audience engagement, reflected not only in his pleasing hybrid music but also humorous asides which broke the performer-audience barrier, and a precise approach to costuming. Onstage with him were, from left, Balinese compatriots I Nyoman Suwida and I Nyman Suarsana on gamelan instruments. They were clothed in traditional Balinese musician dress: Nehru-ish jackets, beaked fezzes, sari-like sashes and bare feet. Balawan himself kept the hat but otherwise he and the added rhythm section (Scott Amendola and Dylan Johnson on drums and bass) decked themselves casually. Sort of a stylistic continuum, with Balawan as the mid-point.
All the brilliance of Balinese music was in evidence as the trio launched into the first of three numbers (Amendola and Johnson laid out at first), with Balawan leading on double-neck electric guitar and voice, and xylophone doubling and drum accompanying. Balawan has all the chops and effects of any guitar god you can name, and his lightning-fast melodies were as often hammered out on the fretboards with one or both hands as they were plucked traditionally. Another electric guitar stood ready on a stand; both instruments were routed through various samplers and synths and footpedals. The tunes shone the happy sunlit sound of dissonance-free scales and world-pop beats. Balawan opened the final number with a demonstration of the hocketing melody as laid out by the Balinese players on each side of a metallophone; part by part, slowly, then briskly together, then doubling with guitar at warp speed in the tune’s performance, and the audience slurped it up like Singapore noodles. This kid is going places.
Agata Zubel of Poland opened night two’s second set with Parlando, voice + electronics in a rigorous yet easy-to-digest demonstration of vocal/computer self-accompaniment of the non-looping kind. One might have expected more integration of the hairier side of contemporary vocal extension (Diamanda Galas, Phil Minton, Shelley Hirsch), but Zubel’s range of techniques was focused, precise, and mostly omitted noises in favor of dramatic gestures. The sounds and ambiences immediately brought to mind Cathy Berberian (more on her, later), but then an outbreak of avant-beatboxing shocked one back to this century. Then, after just eight minutes, it was over. (Zubel was given more of a presence on Thursday night.)
Friday night’s ultimate act was the duo of Han Bennink (drums, Holland) and Fred Frith (guitar, devices, Oakland, by way of England). About esteemed Dutch drummer, improviser, and provocateur Han Bennink’s stage presence, one’s first impression is of a pair of malformed albino salami – wait, those are his legs? – revealed via Bennink’s now-patented stage getup of beachcomber’s shorts, teeshirt and headband. All that was missing was the metal detector, although had there been one available there’s no doubt Bennink would have beat some music out of it. As it was, everything within the man-child’s reach was fair game. That reach extended beyond the stage at times – backstage, an unguarded piano was hijacked for a short joyride; then he turned his back to us and set his bum on the drum and wailed away on the wooden stool; later, Bennink took to rattling his sticks on the railings flanking the audience, giving a fair approximation of gamelan, no doubt an intentional nod to the Balinese set that came before. And for a long while, Bennink simply sat spread-legged on the floor and ecstatically pounded it with his palms, generating an insistent beat in nearly every performing permutation. He also had a snare drum onstage for a few demonstrations of his peerless brush technique.
Bennink is one of the few improvisers around who can make Fred Frith look like the conservative guy onstage. Frith surely knew what he was in for, and kept his part well under control and always gorgeously musical. He even drew some laughs of his own, strumming the strings of his lap-held guitar with paint brushes. I’ve seen him drop rice grains on his strings a few times before, and this time the stunt made its beautiful, random plinks fit Bennink’s manic-percussive thrash just right, somehow. These two together, who can turn practically any liminal sound-construction into compelling music without ever suggesting a tune or idiom, could lay claim to being the world’s greatest bad buskers.
Composer Paul Lansky writes at his Facebook page: “I’m sorry to report that Milton Babbitt died this morning at age 94. He was a great and important composer, and a dear friend, colleague and teacher.”
Whether as a pillar of strength, or a pillar to push in opposition to, Babbitt was one of the most dominant presences in American classical music these past 50 years. As news and appreciations pop up, we’ll try to give you links. Meantime, there’s this wonderfully human interview from just about 10 years ago, with NewMusicBox’s Frank J. Oteri.
Jan 14 2011
Ah, this the Golden Age, my friends, when the mellifuous sound of Autotune is everywhere, bringing dulcet harmony and order to everything from the latest pop and hip-hop singles worldwide to even the news. And now, thanks to the inspiration of Toronto composer Matthew Reid, even to the veritable sounds of “silence” as well!… Of course we all know that John Cage‘s iconic piece 4’33″ is not really three movements of silence; the point is that those movements frame and draw attention to all of the other sounds present in the space where the piece is being played. What Reid has done is to create a performance of 4’33″, and then turn Autotune loose on that “silent” background. It turns the ambiance of the space into the sound of ghostly choirs and tiny chordal outbursts. While the Cageian purist might say this undermines the whole point of the piece (listening to the sounds that be as themselves), to me there’s a bit of innovation and subversion that recalls the twinkle in Cage’s own eye:
Jan 06 2011
…Though it never really closed… Started around 1998 in upstate New York by a small group of musicians including Benjamin Boretz, Mary Lee Roberts and Arthur Margolin, The Open Space was conceived as print and online magazine venture and CD publisher dealing with contemporary music as “…output from a community for people who need to explore or expand the limits of their expressive worlds, to extend or dissolve the boundaries among their expressive-language practices, to experiment with the forms or subjects of thinking or making or performing in the context of creative phenomena. We want to create a hospitable space for texts which, in one way or another, might feel somewhat marginal — or too ‘under construction’ — for other, kindred publications.”
Given that they may have jumped into the pool just a tad early web-wise, and given the loose nature of of the project along with the busy and evolving schedules of the editors, The Open Space has tended to offer up things in spurts; the print magazine’s last issue was from late 2009, and the website languished for quite a while. Still, as befits an “open space” there has always been a very interesting accumulation of various article, scores, recordings and sound files available on their site, well worth a contemporary musician’s time to sift through. You can order CD recordings and back copies of the print magazine right from the site, as well.
Just last year, composer Dean Rosenthal signed on to get the purely digital webmagazine up and running again, and Dean’s happy to announce the first “issue” is online and available. The current form is a collection of contributions from various composers, of streaming recordings/video of selected works, some coupled with notes and scores of the piece. First offerings include such outside-the-mainstream luminaries as Michael Pisaro, Henry Gwiazda, Richard Coldman and Howard Skempton and others. And of course Dean is always happy to recieve submissions from you composers/performers out there, so why not give it a shot and help populate that open space with even more art and exploration!