[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
Jewish Community Center, San Francisco
Concert Two, Friday, March 4, 2011
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.
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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.
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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:
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…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!
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Getting ready to enjoy all those new, happy/shiny Xmas presents, I’m sure… Well, here’s another that won’t cost you a dime:
S21’s WPRB-favorite-son, announcer Marvin Rosen, is getting a jump on the upcoming Alan Hovhaness centennial with a 24-hour marathon broadcast of Hovhaness’s music (that’s Marvin above, in 1992, with Hovhaness at the composer’s home). “Mountains and Rivers Without End” begins Sunday, Dec. 26th at 7pm, and will feature more Hovhaness than you can shake a stick at (I know more than a few composers who might well be furiously shaking that stick, but I myself am pretty partial to this American original). Two guests during the marathon will be clarinetist and conductor Lawrence Sobol (December 26, evening), and pianist Sahan Arzruni (December 27, early afternoon) both of whom have recorded the composer’s music. In the New York/New Jersey area you can tune to WPRB at 103.3 FM, while the rest of can stream it all live online.
Marvin is about as well-positioned as anyone to lead you through Hovhaness’s vast output; his doctoral dissertation was on Hovhaness’s music; he was a friend of the composer for many years and spent two weeks in Seattle working with him on his piano music in preparation for the first of two recordings on the Koch International Classics label. Marvin also wrote the liner notes for other Hovhaness recordings on the Koch International Classics label as well. And Marvin has one of the most extensive rare collections of Hovhaness’s music both on CD and LP, so there are bound to be many treats heard. So turn out to tune in, and give Marvin some virtual caffeine support through the long night and day!
If contemporary classical music had “supergroups”, the 8-year-old ensemble Ne(x)tworks would definitely be one of them. With the likes of Joan La Barbara (voice), Kenji Bunch (viola), Shelley Burgon (harp & electronics), Yves Dharamraj (cello), Cornelius Dufallo (violin, Director), Miguel Frasconi (glass instruments & electronics), Stephen Gosling (piano), Ariana Kim (violin), and Christopher McIntyre (trombone), their roster is led by major movers long on the NYC new-music scene. Working with both classical and improvisational roots, their repertoire encompasses the open scores of the New York School composers of the ’50s, the experiments of the AACM, and the SoHo scene and Downtown composers of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a wonderful and vitally important thing, to have an ensemble active in keeping earlier experimental works not only remembered, but truly alive.
Ne(x)tworks just released their latest CD through CD Baby, documenting a 2007 performance at the Stone in NYC, and they’re also beginning a year-long residency at the Greenwich House Music School. As kick-off to both, they’re giving a concert at GHMS this Thursday, November 18 at 8 pm, as part of the 25th anniversary season of North River Music (Renee Weiler Concert Hall, 46 Barrow Street, NYC / $15).
On the bill, Edgard Varèse‘s little-known Untitled Graphic Score (ca. 1957). Varèse created the score while attending Earl Brown’s workshop on graphic notation, and the piece — conceived for an ensemble of jazz and classical musicians — reflects the kind of scores the composer was writing in real time on a chalkboard during that period.
The program will also feature two works from Ne(x)tworks’ latest CD. Creating a form that moves beyond the “jazz” and “classical” labels, Leroy Jenkins‘ Space MInds: New Worlds, Survival of America (1979) offers a platform for an active dialog between the performers and the composition itself, with extensive improvised passages. Arthur Russell‘s Singing Tractors (pages 1 & 2) (ca. 1987) is an open-ended work that merges influences from Post-Cagean randomness to free jazz to rock and pop music to classical elements to African beat and dance music.
Also included are a sneak preview of ensemble member Christopher McIntyre’s Smithson Project (2010), scored for mixed ensemble and computers and drawing its inspiration from the work of renowned earthwork artist Robert Smithson (1939-73) — as well as Jon Gibson‘s Multiples (1972) for open instrumentation, a classic example of early minimalism from this stalwart member of New York’s experimental music community.
As a bit of concert preview, we managed to get a few words from Ne(x)tworks members Joan La Barbara, Miguel Frasconi, and Christopher McIntyre themselves, on aspects of the ensemble and the upcoming performance:
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For the next few months, The City of Angels is going to be the epicenter of all things Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001). That’s because the exhibition “Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary” will be on view at the MOCA Pacific Design Center from November 6, 2010 — February 4, 2011. The exhibition explores Xenakis’ wide range of sketches, scores and drawings, not only musical but architectural and aesthetic as well. Not always simply notes on score paper, many of Xenakis’ sketches and drawings conjure up artistic visions, in ways perhaps only matched by John Cage’s documents of his own explorations. Defintely a must-see.
But there are also a couple must-hears, happening right this week, both absolutely free:
Saturday, 6 November at 6pm, in L.A. State Historic Park (1245 Spring Street) a recreation of Xenakis’ legendary Polytope de Persepolis will be performed. Adapted by German sound artist and Xenakis electronic music expert Daniel Teige, Persepolis L.A. will involve six listening stations with eight speakers each. Persepolis was originally commissioned by the then Shah of Iran and performed as the opening event of the controversial 1971 Shiraz Festival that took place in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Persian capital. This performance will encompass more than 70,000 square feet of performance area within the park’s 32-acres, and will feature the recently restored multi-track music composition and computer-generated visual choreography, complete with laser beams, fire, smoke, and searchlights. The event will open with Xenakis’ first electronic work, Diamorphoses (1957), as a “geological prelude”.
Then on Sunday, November 7 at 4pm, The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts presents an outdoor performance of the final version of Xenakis’s only opera, Oresteia. This West Coast premiere includes performances by baritone Paul Berkolds, an adult chorus, a children’s chorus, and a chamber ensemble. First-come seating is on the lawn for this highly charged, brutally colorful piece.
S21 blogger (and right nice composer) Tom Myron passes along word that the Centro Studi Luciano Berio has just launched their new website, in what would have been Luciano Berio’s (1925-2003) 85th year. The Centro is busy conserving and spreading the legacy of this 20th-century giant, cataloging/digitizing his personal papers, maunuscripts and sketches, organizing concerts and symposia, sharing news, information and sound right from the site. As it grows this great resource can only get greater, so it’s definitely worth a bookmark from composer, fan and scholar.
The Electronic Music Foundation’s really big shoo, “Ear to the Earth 2010 — The 5th New York Festival of Sound, Music, and Ecology“, will be running from October 27th through November 1st. This year the theme is “Water and the World”, and features a veritable pantheon of composers, performers and sound artists. A bit from their press release:
Water is essential to the support of all living organisms. Yet, we are headed to a crisis in managing it. For its fifth installment, Ear to the Earth 2010 will turn its attention to the current states of water and our social and cultural attitudes towards it. For five days eco-composers and sound artists will explore the topic of “Water and the World” through compositions, installations and presentations featuring the sound of water and bringing forth critical environmental issues — melting ice and rising sea levels, access and privatization, pollution, storm intensity, salinity, to name a few. The festival will take place at Frederick Loewe Theater, Greenwich House Music School, White Box, and Kleio Projects in New York City.
It all kicks off with a rare New York appearance by probably the dean of Canadian composers, acoustic ecology pioneer R. Murray Schafer (Oct. 27). Highlights include a presentation on how animals (including fish) taught us how to dance by bioacoustician Bernie Krause (Oct. 29); Kristin Norderval’s new vocal electronic work on a virtual polar icecap meltdown (Oct. 30); Michael Fahres’ video concert of dolphin sounds and Senegalese master drummers (Oct. 31); Phill Niblock and Katherine Liberovskaya’s live audio/video work on the sounds of the Rhine and Danube rivers (Oct. 31); Charles Lindsay and David Rothenberg’s new live performance work on water in western United States (Nov. 1); Andrea Polli and TJ Martinez’s documentary on surfing as a way to reflect on climate change (Nov. 1); as well as performances and presentations by Matthew Burtner and Scott Deal, Yolande Harris, David Monacchi, Maggi Payne, and Matt Rogalsky.
On Oct. 30, New York Soundscapes – an evening of premieres offering panoramic portrayals of the metropolis’s audio personality and urban ecology – will feature a team of up-and-coming sound artists focusing on NYC water-related issues such as consumption (Miguel Frasconi), the Gowanus Canal (Aleksei Stevens), and the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (Paula Matthusen). In addition, this year’s festival will present Daniella Topol and Sheila Callaghan’s highly entertaining, yet disturbing, theatrical work on struggles around water, and sound installations by Annea Lockwood, Liz Phillips and Jennifer Stock.
Everything you need to know about schedules, venues and tickets is here at the EMF website. Read on for some personal words from a few of the particpants:
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Russian composer/theosophist/sensualist Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) spent a lot of his life dreaming of a kind of sensory extravaganza, pieces that would submerge the audience in swirling sound, dance, colored light, heady aromas… Yeah, kind of like the 60s, but a little more Old-World refined. One result of Scriabin’s musical synasthesia was that he held very specific views on which colors were inextricably tied to each key and note. As Wiki tells it:
In his autobiographical Recollections, Sergei Rachmaninoff recorded a conversation he had had with Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov about Scriabin’s association of colour and music. Rachmaninoff was surprised to find that Rimsky-Korsakov agreed with Scriabin on associations of musical keys with colors; himself skeptical, Rachmaninoff made the obvious objection that the two composers did not always agree on the colours involved. Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue. However, Rimsky-Korsakov protested that a passage in Rachmaninoff’s opera The Miserly Knight supported their view: the scene in which the Old Baron opens treasure chests to reveal gold and jewels glittering in torchlight is written in D major. Scriabin told Rachmaninoff that “your intuition has unconsciously followed the laws whose very existence you have tried to deny.”
Scriabin’s grand schemes barely came to fruition during his life, but that’s never stopped later generations from debating, analyzing or even attempting realizations of his ambitious vision. One such attempt is in store for New Yorkers this coming Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 25th and 26th., at the Jerome Robbins Theater (located within the Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street). Georgian pianist Eteri Andjaparidze and lighting designer/Macarthur Grant “genius” Jennifer Tipton will be mowing through a wide swath of Scriabin’s piano music, all accompanied by lighting inspired by his ideas on musical colors. More information on time and tix here; And to warm up your ears here’s a recording of Vladimir Sofronitsky playing Scriabin’s Sonata No.4, which will be on the concert: