Dear Huff Post …

Have you seen the leaden snark about new music that recently passed for a column on Huffington Post? Penned by composer Daniel Asia, it was ostensibly about John Cage’s centenary year celebrations, but was really just a rehash of reactionary vitriol against experimental art.

Aren’t we yet tired of attacking those whose aesthetic viewpoints differ from our own? Can’t we composers all just get along? Apparently not. My reply to Huff Post follows below.


With all due respect to Daniel Asia, it is very easy to write an essay excoriating a dead man and griping about centenary festivals: both are easy targets. It is not so easy to create a body of work that outlives you and continues to provoke thought. John Cage’s music may not suit Professor Asia, but it certainly engaged audiences throughout the world in 2012.

I wrote about several of the events and came away with a very different impression (from that portrayed in the article above) of Cage’s music and the music of those who admired him. Much of it I found invigorating, stimulating, and yes, often entertaining.


Christian Carey
Assistant Professor of Music
Westminster Choir College,
Princeton, NJ.

Best of 2012: Conrad Schnitzler’s Endtime

Many of us avoid preparing for our own “endtime.” But Conrad Schnitzler, who passed away in 2011, made sure that his last work, “Endtime,” counted. The CD (out on M-Minimal) surveys his forty-plus years of electronic music making with a single 70-minute mix comprised of 36 selections. Those not familiar with Schnitzler’s important contributions to krautrock and experimental electronica are likely to be blown away. For fans it will be a bittersweet but rewarding valediction from a talented, imaginative, and musically adventurous spirit.

“(rom another late work, the Con LP)

Composer Concordance Festival Starts Friday

Celebrating the “Growing Diversity of Music,” Composers Concordance, a new music consortium and record label, presents its second festival from Nov. 30 – Dec. 7. Over the course of five concerts, one will get to hear works in a variety of styles and different forces: electroacoustic, chamber music, amplified ensemble music, and works for chamber orchestra.

On Friday the 30th, CC joins forces with Vox Novus, presenting a “60X60″ mix of one-minute electroacoustic works. I just learned on Monday that my “Gilgamesh Variation” is one of the pieces in the mix. The show is at Spectrum (details below).

Festival Details

Concert #1: 60 x 60
Instrumentation: Electronic Music / Multimedia
60 Electronic Composers
Friday, November 30th at 8pm at Spectrum
121 Ludlow Street, 2nd floor, NYC – Tickets $10

Concert #2: Soli
Instrumentation: Solo
Kathleen Supové, Eleonor Sandresky, & Jed Distler
Saturday, December 1st at 7pm at Faust Harrison Pianos
207 West 58th Street, NYC
Free Event – Note: seating is limited. RSVP: 

Concert #3: Composers Play Composers Marathon
Instrumentation: Solo, Duo, Trio
30 Composer-Performers
Sunday, December 2nd from 3pm to 7pm at Drom NYC
85 Avenue A, NYC
Tickets $15 (includes one drink)

Concert #4: Nine Live
Instrumentation: Ensemble
Composers Concordance Ensemble
Tuesday, December 4th at 7:30pm at Shapeshifter Lab
18 Whitwell Place, Brooklyn
Tickets $10

Concert #5: Legends
Instrumentation: Chamber Orchestra
Composers Concordance Chamber Orchestra (CCCO), Lara St. John – violin, Valerie Coleman – flute, Thomas Carlo Bo – conductor
Friday, December 7th at 8pm at DiMenna Center – Mary Flagler Cary Hall
450 West 37th Street, NYC
$20 day of performance, $15 students and advance tickets

Arts at the Park Celebrates Cage (Concert Review)

Concert Review: John Cage Centennial Celebration

Arts At the Park -Park Avenue Christian Church

September 29, 2012


By Christian Carey


2012 has been chock full of celebratory events marking John Cage’s centennial year. There have been a number of performances in Mr. Cage’s honor, several of them including his Sonatas and Interludes (1948) for prepared piano; there have also been a steady stream of new recordings and reissues of this work. What fascinates me is the durability of the piece, which withstands numerous interpretations; alongside a pliability in which each performer can supply an individual take on the piece. This is not so remarkable when one is considering a piece by a canonical composer, say, a sonata by Beethoven. But when one considers the dampening and percussive character brought out by the piece’s requisite preparations, the variety of interpretations seems striking.


Vicky Chow’s performance of Sonatas and Interludes at the Cage Centennial Celebration on the Arts at the Park series shared yet another way of performing the piece. Chow’s attention to details of dynamic nuance included delicately shaped hairpins and fastidious attention to the numerous markings in the score. The pianist also reveled in the gamelan-like textures that the preparations produce, gearing her articulations to render the maximum amount of percussiveness from the instrument. Thus, this was a Sonatas and Interludes that provided delicacy balanced by a zesty tang: an impressive and engaging performance.


Composed in 1978, Etudes Boreales is one of Cage’s pieces created using chance operations; its title comes from Cage’s use of a star chart from the Atlas Borealis as a chance element to determine some of the registral parameters of the work’s piano part. It may be performed either as a solo cello piece, solo piano piece, or as a duo for both instruments. Cellist Jay Campbell presented a solo version in which he inhabited the work with intensity, negotiating wide leaps and angular lines with pinpoint placement.


Supply Belcher’s book The Harmony of Maine (1794), a collection of part-songs in the vein of Billings, Read, and the other “Yankee Tunesmiths,” is the generating material for Cage’s Some of the Harmony of Maine (1978). The piece requires an organist and three assistants – one for each manual of the organ tasked with changing stops for the organist (sometimes rapidly!). Paul Vasile, along with three dutiful deputies, gave a short talk about what the audience would hear – quite an unconventional composition, especially when compared with service music – and then forged ahead. The piece’s frequent shifts between tunes from the book and stop combinations created a resplendent display of the timbral capabilities of the organ at Park Avenue Christian Church. And while their fragmentary deployment would cause one to struggle to pick out the tunes, Cage’s Harmony retains some of the grandeur and rhythmic swagger that exemplifies Belcher’s music.

27’10.554”, a piece for solo percussion, was played by Payton MacDonald to close the concert. One of Cage’s earliest chance pieces, its structure is derived from a poem by Lao Tzu. Instead of specifying which instruments to use, the battery of instruments is divided into wood, metal, skins, and “others,” creating the possibility of numerous interpretations of the piece. Thunderous drumming, thrown objects, crashing cymbals, and snippets of playback from a recording of a soprano singing were interspersed with moments of silence (made all the more palpable by the saturated musical passages).


Like the other pieces on the program, 27’10.554” demonstrates Cage’s penchant for taking materials, or enabling performers to choose them, and placing them in unexpected contexts: screws inside a piano, a cello leaping through a star chart, Supply Belcher played with a kaleidoscope of sounds, and a Lao Tzu poem banged out on percussion instruments. Besides the composer’s ingenuity, what makes the music work is due in no small part to the dedication and imagination of its interpreters, which was abundantly evident here.

Matmos Ganzfield EP (Review)

Ganzfield EP
Thrill Jockey Records

Amid various celebrations occurring this year, Thrill Jockey landed quite a signing as a twentieth anniversary present: Matmos, the name under which Baltimore-based electronica duo M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel record. Serendipitously enough, Matmos has been together for two decades too. For such an auspicious pairing, the label and musicians dispensed with exchanging china or porcelain gifts. Instead, they exchanged music: 2012 sees the releases of Matmos’s Ganzfield EP, a three track foretaste of their next LP, slated for release sometime in 2013.

Like the projected long form addition to Matmos’s catalog, the Ganzfield EP has psychic underpinnings – no, really.Schmidt and Daniel have been conducting parapsychological experiments based on the Ganzfield (total field) experiment. Their own variant features tests at Oxford University that included sensory deprivation and Daniel’s attempts to mind message concepts from the forthcoming album to (presumably) receptive volunteers.

Two of three of the EP’s cuts are artistic explorations of this telepathic premise. “Very Large Green Triangles” features chanting refrains that are intoned over instruments in rhythmic unison for the opening. This is then succeeded by big beats and deconstruction of the refrain’s material over shadowy references to the tune and a progressively morphing syncopation of its rhythm. The closing section brings the vocal chants front and center, but rhythmically displaces some of them, setting up a strenuously emphatic conclusion filled with drum punctuation and with the tune back in the strings.

For a break from Ganzfield experimentation, Matmos shares Rrose’s remix of extant track “You,” which plays with distressed samples over thrumming articulations in a techno style. Catchy as all get out:

The most ambitious cut on the EP is “Just Waves,” a near thirteen minute long sonic experiment in which there is a pileup of overlapping single note chants (disparate sounding voices this time: male and female). This morphs into a chorale of sustained voices that’s gradually haloed by organs and synthesizers. By the way, one of the guest vocalist is Dan Deacon, whose new album America we wrote about on 9/12.

Those waiting for a huge departure from this obsessive texture of sustained single note chants are likely to be let down That said, hang in there: there’s something sumptuous about the accumulation of stacked harmonies. It makes one glad for Matmos’s willingness to try out something new on its listeners. I didn’t even mind the attempts at telepathic communication (mind meld averted … I hope!).

Friday: Annie Gosfield at Moving Sounds Festival

From tonight until Saturday, the Austrian Cultural Forum sponsored Moving Sounds Festival takes place. Thursday saw the Mivos Quartet perform new works by Carl Bettendorf and Reiko Füting while Christian Meyer and Franz Hackl gave a lecture recital entitled “Schoenberg and the notion of Avant-garde.”

On Friday, composer Annie Gosfield appears in a portrait concert at the Czech Center as part of Moving sounds. It includes the premiere of “Phantom Shakedown”. The piece for piano accompanied by a broken shortwave radio, a cement mixer, and tube noise. It’s one of the pieces on Gosfield’s latest CD, the just released Almost Truths and Open Deceptions (Tzadik). Dynamic and captivating, both the concert and  CD embrace amplified industrial music and distressed chamber works, in a concoction that balances sonic seduction with formidable avant gauntlets.

Annie Gosfield in concert
September 14 and 9 PM
Bohemian National Hall at the Czech Center
321 E. 73rd St.
New York, NY 10021

For more Moving Sounds events on Friday and Saturday, check out the festival’s website here.

9/20: Interpretations at Roulette (Concerts)

Thomas Buckner’s Interpretations series begins its twenty-fourth season on Thursday, September 20th at Roulette. The program is a double bill featuring David Behrman’s vocal work My Dear Siegfried and Canadian composer Tim Brady’s 24 Frames, in which prominent guitar solos are accompanied by a chamber ensemble and video projections. Performers include Buckner, pianist Cheryl Seltzer, cellist Theodore Mook, and trombonist Peter Zummo.


David Berhman’s “My Dear Siegfried”
Tim Brady’s “24 Frames”
Thursday September 20, 2011
8PM at Roulette, in Downtown Brooklyn!
509 Atlantic Ave (corner of Atlantic and 3rd Ave)