Discogs describes Rune Martinsen’s Abhorrent Beauty as a “one man dark ambient/industrial/noise project from Norway.” It’s a good summary. Of the tracks below, “Snow Crystals,” tends towards the more ambient side of his output, while “Lighthouse” is a bit more experimental, bringing some lovely tolling timbres to fore.
Spectropol Records is a small outfit dedicated to short runs of adventurous music, including xenharmonic (microtonal) composers, electroacoustic experimenters, avant improv performers, ‘out’ instrument builders, and those specializing in field recordings.
Where can one reasonably locate Daniel Stearns? On Golden Town, his latest full length release, he readily fits most of the categories above. Combined with distressed soundscape recordings – bleak windswept places seem to be a frequent environment – are brittle whiffs of guitar drones, tendrils of electronics, edgings of psych-tinged noise, and deep rumbling bass. Stearns calls these “waking dreams,” but I’m not sure one would describe the visions unleashed alongside his potently dystopian pieces to be anything short of spooky nightmares. Still, while you may want to bring a flashlight along, “just in case,” Stearns’s Golden Town is a weirdly appealing, often engrossing, sonic experience.
GOLDEN TOWN by daniel stearns
Some festivals have a curatorial vision that takes pages and pages of press releases and program notes to explain. Other curators, like Glenn Cornett, revel in the whimsy of amusing composers’ names. Why organize a one-night Nono, Muchmore, and Warp(ed) mini-marathon? The names sounded fun together and the players are the bee’s knees.
The evening will feature music by Italian modernist master Luigi Nono, New York cellist/composer and Anti Social Music member Pat Muchmore, and San Francisco based composer/sound designer Richard Warp. With a 7 PM start time, the show is three and a half hours long, and is full of noteworthy fare for adventurous souls.
Starting things off is a set by Muchmore, featuring members of Anti Social as well as Ken Thompson (Gutbucket, Slow/Fast) premiering new pieces for strings and winds.
Cornett and Warp join electroacoustic forces on Warp’s in-progress piece “Illustrations,” a chamber work loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.” Pianist Taka Kigawa, violinist/composer Caroline Shaw, and bass clarinetist Jonathan Russell pitch in.
One of New York’s finest violin soloists, Miranda Cuckson, joins sound artist Christopher Burns in Nono’s “La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura”, one of the composer’s last compositions (1988-9). According to Cornett, this is likely to be the first New York performance in which the violinist performs the optional vocal part. Singing, playing, coordinating with electronics – all this while moving throughout the space.
The New Spectrum Foundation
Nono Muchmore Warp(ed) Festival
Saturday 17 September 2011
James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary, Broadway at 121st Street, Manhattan
Presenting music by Luigi Nono, Pat Muchmore and Richard Warp
Several world premieres
Accomplished performers from both coasts (and in between)
Time: 7 to 10:30 PM on Saturday 17 September 2011.
Place: James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary. Enter via door on Broadway at 121st
Advance tickets ($12 for students and underemployed; $20 for others) are at:
Tickets purchased at the performance will be $15 for students and underemployed; $20
WTC 9/11, Mallet Quartet, Dance Patterns
Now that we’ve gotten the cover art discussion out of the way – and Nonesuch has acquiesced to the concerns of those who felt the artwork exploitative and inflammatory – let’s consider the music on Steve Reich’s latest recording.
An interest found throughout Steve Reich’s output concerns spoken word recordings, which he has employed in a number of pieces, from his early phase compositions to his most recent multimedia works. One of his watershed pieces from the 1980s, “Different Trains,” was written for the Kronos Quartet. It juxtaposes spoken word recordings detailing train travel in the US in the 1940s (Reich was frequently traveling from coast to coast to visit his estranged parents) with spoken word accounts of the treatment of deported victims of the Holocaust in transit to concentration camps.
“WTC 9/11” (2011), also for Kronos, employs similarly emotionally charged taped material, this time referencing the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. Scored for three quartets (using overdubs), field recordings, and electronics, the piece’s outer sections are propelled by the jarring sound of a telephone’s “dead wire” signal, and also incorporate alarmed shouts of air traffic controllers and emergency first-responders. These are woven into the gestural fabric of the quartet’s music, which outlines each utterance with a melodic motif. Also incorporated are snippets of 2009 interviews with lower Manhattan residents, recalling their reactions to the tragedy and reflecting on how it has changed them.
The central passage is particularly evocative: the voices of Jewish officiants chanting and singing psalms over the remains of victims in the months following 9/11 interweaves with angst-filled sustained passages of string writing. One wishes that this area of the piece had been allowed more time to develop and register. Instead, Reich cuts it short, returning to the pensive and dramatically charged material of the opening to close out the work in portentous fashion.
In comparing it to its predecessor Different Trains, I would say that this piece takes a similar approach to the treatment of material. That said, its affect is entirely different. At around fifteen minutes long, “WTC 9/11” is a terser utterance than one might imagine as a response to an event with such far-reaching consequences. But in so crafting it, Reich has recaptured some of the blunt force trauma to our nation’s psyche in the days following the initial event. He’s also avoided some of the overt sentimentality that other artworks commemorating 9/11 have been unwilling to forgo. It is this quality that gives “WTC 9/11” a potent dramatic heft that, though jarring at times, proves taut and unflinchingly eloquent.
Rhythmic drive and insistent pulsation underpin most of Reich’s music. A signature aspect of his style is the incorporation of polyrhythms, which he learned from his studies of African drumming. Reich has created a number of pieces for percussion ensembles or featuring percussion as a strong component. But the Mallet Quartet (2009) is a nod towards the continuing evolution of pitched percussion instruments; it’s his first work to incorporate the largest member of the mallet family: the five-octave marimba. Two of these populate the piece with layers of ostinato repetitions and thrumming, resonant bass thwacks. Meanwhile, two vibraphones supply shimmering chords and sustained lines. The piece juxtaposes these forces of wood and metal, pulsation and sustain, demonstrating that these two instruments can provide abundant variety and color. Engaging in nimble interplay, So Percussion’s rendition of this piece is informed by their years-long association with Reich’s music; they’ve also release an excellent rendition of his earlier work Drumming. When I saw them perform Mallet Quartet live at Carnegie Hall, they did so from memory. This intimate and comprehensive knowledge of the piece is reflected in its authoritative recording.
Reich himself appears, as part of the Steve Reich and Musicians ensemble, in the recording of Dance Patterns (2002). It was originally written for Ictus to accompany Thierry de Mey’s film Counterphrases of Anne Terese de Keersmaeker’s Choreography. Here, mallet instruments are joined by pianos. While the limpid counterpoint and fulsome polyrhythms found in the Mallet Quartet prevails here, the addition of concert grands adds richness to the harmonies; some of the piano writing takes on a positively jazzy cast. Vibrant and accessible, it may not be a watershed work like his pieces for Kronos, but it’s the perfect way to introduce Reich to a new audience. Maybe a passel of foreign film buffs will catch the minimalist bug!
The Sad Park EP
Kronos Quartet; Michael Gordon, composer
Michael Gordon’s musical reflection on 9/11, The Sad Park, is an interesting variant on another piece written for the Kronos Quartet to commemorate the terror attacks: Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11. Gordon’s source material is culled from spoken word recordings made by the teacher of his son’s Pre-K class: responses to the attacks as seen through the eyes of innocents.
But whereas Reich used taped voices of first responders and spoken-word reflections of its aftermath as recognizable, harrowing, landmarks, Gordon eschews using source recordings in an overtly referential, or even recognizable manner. Instead, with the assistance of composer Luke Dubois, they are digitally sculpted into ghostly apparitions; distorted to blur the excerpts’ message in favor of allowing their impact to operate on an emotive and sonic, rather than textual, level. Surrounded by quartet writing in the post-minimal ostinato manner, as well as sustained, siren-like lines that form a kind of keening, mournful refrain, The Sad Park is an unsettling threnody.
It’s interesting to note that in NPR’s 9/6 blog post about The Sad Park, the responses in the comments section diverge widely. Some feel that it is an affecting piece, while others pillory its use of children’s responses as exploitative. I guess one can engender controversy without inflammatory cover art.
Frkwys Vol. 7
David Borden, Daniel Lopatin, Laurel Halo, Samuel Godin, James Ferraro, synthesizers
The seventh edition of the RVNG’s Frkwys series features intergenerational electroacoustic collaboration. David Borden, one of the pioneers of analog synthesizer performance and founder of Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece, the first all synth ensemble, teams up with some of the young pups of indie electronica, members of bands such as Ford and Lopatin, Oneohtrix Point Never, and the Skaters.
While, traditionally, these two eras’ musicians may not share the same marketing demographics, they do share a love for vintage gear: for the warmth that analog keyboards can impart. Another mutual interest is ensemble improvisation. This common ground was extensively explored in a two-day marathon of recording sessions. On the Frkwys release, listeners are treated to unadulterated cuts, sans overdubs. But Borden and company do fine “without a net,” creating imaginative soundscapes. At times ambient and at others verging into more experimental terrain, the prevailing language here extols a minimal harmonic field, slowly evolving textures, and a plethora of drones.
Apart from the twelve and a half minute long “People of the Wind, Pt. 1,” most of the cuts are under ten minutes in duration. If one had a quibble about the release, it might be that this collective could use more time to stretch out and develop their ideas. Maybe a future meeting will allow side-long compositions to emerge. But in the meantime, there’s some heady music making to be heard from this initial encounter between analog improv’s old school and emerging wing.
Maya Beiser, everyone’s favorite ex-Can Banging All Star downtown cellist, was an invited presenter at the March 2011 TED conference. The TED site recently released a high quality video of her lecture recital, and it’s already garnered over 80,000 views!
TED’s slogan: “Ideas worth spreading.” We’re glad that Maya’s getting the chance to spread the word about Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint and David Lang’s World to Come far and wide!