Our friends (and the performers on the last Sequenza21 concert) ACME appeared at All Tomorrow’s Parties last week. Quite a coup for the indie classical group, which is enjoying increased crossover success. Below check out video footage of them performing Gavin Bryars’s “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” live at ATP.
Time Out New York’s Steve Smith is sparing with the 5-star CD reviews, but he gave his highest score to Drawn Only Once, Due East’s New Amsterdam release. It features two beguiling multimedia works by John Supko, which feature video, electronics, Due East (Erin Lesser, flute and Greg Beyer, percussion), as well as a number of other instrumentalists and vocalists. These various elements are overlaid in a busy patchwork quilt, sometimes contemplative, at others dizzying: but it’s always a beguiling sound world. Despite the sometimes dense colloquy of events found on Drawn Only Once, the release will likely draw listeners back to fathom its depths in successive hearings.
Lesser and Beyer live in Wisconsin and Illinois, respectively. But on Monday night, they’re bringing Supko’s music to Galapagos Art Space, which will be bathed in the glow of video and the envelopment of surround sound.
Sharing the bill with them is another New Amsterdam artist – Gregory Spears – whose newly released Requiem is his debut CD. This is another disc that’s spent a lot of time in the short stack near my favorite listening spot, ready to be pressed into service for repeated hearings.
Spears combines early music instruments and singers with a 21st century aesthetic sensibility in a contemplation of mortality that eschews both dogmatism and morbidity. Although it’s a far more ambient motivated work than the Fauré Requiem, Spears’ essay in the genre shares a comforting and cautiously affirming demeanor with its predecessor, as well as a sensuousness of sound and intriguing modality that is most fetching.
Doors open at 7:00 and the show starts at 8.
Galapagos Art Space is located at 16 Main St, Dumbo, Brooklyn.
Call 718/222-8500 for more information.
Clarice: So, ahem, Nadia it was pretty remarkable when we switched from reading from the score to parts when we were working on Hayes’ piece (ed.: Steal Away by Hayes Biggs). It’s like the music took on a different meaning.
Nadia: I know!! I find that stuff so incredible. Sometimes I forget that a massive portion of our jobs as musicians (especially of the new music persuasion) is essentially translating visual material into sound. We’re kind of like professional map-readers. Do you have any notational pet peeves?
Clarice: Page turns of course… But other than that, just spacing in general. If notes look all bunched up, then it’s hard not to make them sound that way! What about you?
Nadia: My super-dork pet peeve is spelling; I hate it when chords are spelled out in ways that have little regard for traditional chord structures. It’s sometimes really hard to wrap your brain around a whole bunch of sharps and flats living together all higgledy-piggledy without regard for implied harmony. I know I know: super-dork. That having been said, I kind of love how notation is a kind of personal, no two alike sort of thing. It gives the performer so much insight as to how the composer may be thinking. Oh! And I can get kinda frustrated with things that are notated with very small durations (64th and 128th notes) which are then in a super-slow tempo. I understand a kind of freneticism may be what the composer is going for, but it just seems to add so much time to the rehearsal/parsing process.
Clarice: Totally agree on that one. Pretty amazing how this abstract system of symbols and lines and dots can be subject to so much scrutiny and discussion regarding interpretation. And how dots and lines paired with scrutiny and discussion results in beautiful music! Amazing!
Nadia: Yay! So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the type of music and programming that translates well live vs. that which is great to listen to on the radio or on a recording. There are so many types of gestures which are fascinating to watch people achieve, which cannot be really understood in a recording. Like even a pregnant pause, for example.
Clarice: For sure – the physicality of achieving a musical gesture just can’t be heard in a recording, and sometimes seeing that gesture is what makes the music translate to the audience. However, would you say that there is any music that makes more sense recorded rather than live? What about music in the rock/pop world?
Nadia: Oh decidedly. Stylistically that’s an idea Classical peeps kind of “borrowed” from the pop world to begin with, even going so far back as Musique Concrète territory. Like, think about how many times we’ve heard the exact same performance of a song like “Louie Louie.” That performance IS the work itself. Everything else is a “cover.” This can seem like a weird, alien counterpart to the Classical model (like, do I only do covers???), but yeah, there’s a lot more of that type of thinking these days, from things like John Adams Light Over Water to Nico Muhly’s The Only Tune, a piece I’ve performed a lot. When that piece was conceived it was as a recorded collage. When we play it, we are trying our damnedest to approximate the recording. It’s sort of the opposite type of problem from what we were talking about above, the “why does this music lack the visceral impact it had live on this record” type of problem.
Well, I’m super into the diversity of voices on this program. I get to wear a lot of different hats! (Jagged hat, lyrical hat.)
Clarice: Yes, I think the variety of pieces we ended up with is pretty emblematic of the wide range of excellent writing and composition that’s happening now. And as a performer, it really is rewarding to wear all of these hats! I mean, I’ve always considered lyrical playing to be a personal strength of mine, but over the years I’ve worked so hard on rhythmic accuracy through playing intricate music, and now I consider that to be a strength as well. It’s amazing how all of this diverse writing is in fact shaping the performers who are often playing music in the contemporary world. Do you think your focus on new music has changed you intrinsically as a performer?
Nadia: Oh, totally. Whenever you work on some weird skill, it changes the kind of mental space in which you think about everything else, really. The rhythmic idea you bring up is super apropos; I also kind of came from a lyrical place as a kind of a default, but the more I work on concepts of groove and flow, the more these ideas end up creeping their way into even the most lyrical stuff. Knowing more things as time goes on rules.
Well, lovely to chat with you, C, I can’t wait for the show!!
Clarice: Yep yep, it’s gonna be a good one!
Tickets to the Sequenza 21 Concert are free (the venue charges a $12 food/drink minimum).
October 25 at 7 PM
Joe’s Pub in NYC
Tickets and Tables are still available by phone.
Call 212.539.8778 to make your reservation
Ever since the inception of the New Amsterdam imprint, we’ve been talking about the “indie classical” phenomenon: The genre cross pollination between contemporary classical artists informed by indie rock and indie rockstars who are interested in concert music. While there have been a number of significant releases on New Am and other labels, Beautiful Mechanical the debut release of yMusic, may be the most synergistic example of this fertile crossover domain’s musicking yet.
yMusic is a Brooklyn based sextet of classically trained yet versatile musicians (personnel: violinist Rob Moose, trumpeter CJ Camerieri, cellist Clarice Jensen, vlutist Alex Sopp, clarinetist Hideaki Aomori, and violist Nadia Sirota). All of them have performed conventional concert repertoire, more avant-garde material, and their fair share of pop gigs and recording sessions. As such, they’re an ideal collective to collaborate with both classically trained composers and indie musicians.
The contributors have similarly eclectic backgrounds. Son Lux, who composed the title track, is also a classically trained composer. But his motoric, electronica-inspired take on chamber music in the title track sizzles with chart-topping energy. And while it asks a lot of the musicians, it never puts them in the position of playing something unidiomatic. Annie Clark (better known in pop circles as St. Vincent) spread her wings for the first time in a chamber music context, but the results are most compelling; her composition “Proven Badlands” is one of the standouts on the album. It ranges in sentiment from pastoral Americana in a Copland-esque vein to jazzy brass riffs to post-minimal ostinatos: yet all of these styles cohere in a fascinating postmodern collage with considerable momentum.
Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) not only works with yMusic on Beautiful Mechanical, contributing two cuts to the album; she also employs them on All Things Will Unwind her latest record for Asthmatic Kitty. We’ll be talking more about that record in another post, but you can check out a video below of one of Worden’s “indie art songs” that she performed with yMusic at last year’s Ecstatic Music Festival. Here, her instrumental compositions exude a fetching conflation of gentle whimsy and supple lyricism.
Gabriel Kahane’s “Song” does indeed lead with melody, which begins in conjunct fashion but gradually becomes more questing and wide ranging. Trumpet and winds are ultimately given long-breathed and intricately shaped lines that channel something of Les Six’s enigmatic use of an extended triadic vocabulary. Sophisticated stuff that belies Kahane’s succinct title.
Two of New Am’s mainstays, Judd Greenstein and Sarah Kirkland Snider, each contribute a work as well. Greenstein’s “Clearing, Dawn, Dance” is lithe, airy, and fleet-footed; it’s played with mercurial grace by yMusic. Snider’s “Daughter of the Waves” likewise takes a delicate, almost Impressionist approach, with ebullient cascades of sound along the way.
Few albums with such a diverse array of participants can boast uniformly high quality. But Beautiful Mechanical is the exception: a case in which many cooks leaven and thicken the broth. It looks to be one of contemporary classical’s noteworthy recordings of 2011.
Drums between the Bells
For his second CD on the Warp imprint, Drums between the Bells, Brian Eno collaborates with poet Rick Holland on compositions that combine spoken word with alt-electronica.
Spoken dialogue atop music constantly bombards us on TV and in the movies, but the music is backgrounded and the dialogue is unmetered. The Eno/Holland collaboration puts poetry and music on relatively equal footing. And while the constituent elements may be 21st century experimental electronica and post-modern language, the material actually hearkens back to an older artform, the 18th and 19th century genre of melodrama.
Melodrama has gotten a bad rap in recent years. today, we often use the term melodramatic to describe something that’s overwrought. Even though composers as prominent as Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven composed them, for the most part, musical melodramas haven’t remained in the repertory. That said, one of our most prominent contemporary musical genres, hip hop, certainly is a marriage of spoken word with music on relatively egalitarian footing. But then, the MC is, in a sense, a musical soloist as well as an orator; his or her voice acts in a punctuating and percussive manner that is a bit more overtly metricized than Mozart’s melodrama, or than the collaboration between Eno and Holland.
That said, the balance and pacing of music and spoken word on Drums between the Bells works well. And the recording exhibits a wide range of demeanors both in terms of narration and musical approach. It certainly helps that a number of voices are heard throughout the album, including Holland, Eno, classical vocalist/visual artist Nick Robertson, Anastasi Afonina, and Elisha Mudley, providing a great deal of inflective variety. Eno takes care of most of the instrumental duties himself, with strings and guitars added by guest collaborators.
The album opener sets an uncompromising tone. “Bless this Space” pits a gravelly and booming bass vocal against Leo Abrahams’ edgily distorted and angularly deployed electric guitar playing. On the cut “Fierce Aisles of Light,” the music veers towards trip-house with rap riding buoyantly atop the beats. It’s not surprising that the cut “Glitch” explores the experimental electronica from which it takes its title, with the poetry emitted in robotic stabs. “Seedpods” pits electrofusion riffs and string synth chordal pads against each other and a more theatrical oration. Elsewhere, as on “Dreambirds,” Eno references his justifiably famous ambient soundscaping, creating lush tapestries which beautifully support Holland’s more reflective poems.
Even if the notion of spoken word takes you back to awkward memories of children’s theater, or lame college open-mike nights masquerading as wannabe poetry slams, you needn’t give up on melodrama entirely. Give this Eno/Holland 2011 reboot of the genre a try. Drums between the Bells is well worth questioning your listening biases.
Brian Eno – glitch (taken from Drums Between The Bells) by Warp Records
Anna Snow, voice; Damien Harron, percussion; Azalea Ensemble; Christopher Austin, conductor
A constant, if sometimes subtly articulated, pulse runs through much of British composer Tansy Davies’ Troubairitz, a portrait disc on the Nonclassical imprint. While percussionists Damien Harron and Adam Clifford perform their parts with sensitivity, and are seldom asked for a flurry of activity, their omnipresent exertions have certainly earned them overtime pay. Indeed, sometimes they are required to unfold multiple simultaneous tempi. The terse punctuations that undergird ensemble works such as Neon, Inside Out, and Grind Show demonstrate Davies’ affinity for experimental jazz and pop references. Like fellow British composers Mark-Anthony Turnage and Oscar Bettison, she uses these vernacular references as a foil for the classical instrumentation and dissonant counterpoint that populate her works. Thus, listeners are apt to hear Radiohead and Matmos as much as Knussen and Andriessen serving as touchstones for these pieces. The result is a language that is pervasively energetic, at times spiky, but capable too of moments of delicate repose. The Azalea Ensemble, under the able direction of Christopher Austin, are keen interpreters of this supple and eclectic music.
Some of the most sensitively wrought pieces on the disc are its vocal selections. Again taking a cue from countrymen such as Peter Maxwell Davies and Gavin Bryars, Davies recalls early music in the title work, a song cycle based on 12th Century Provencal poems by female troubadours. Anna Snow’s voice, deployed with sparing use of vibrato, seems ideally suited to “period informed” performance; yet she’s also able to conquer the postmodern pitch language and challenging tessitura of this work with assuredness.
Greenhouses, a setting of an excerpt from an email by Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist killed by Israeli forces while trying to prevent them from destroying Palestinian homes on the Gaza strip in 2003, is a thoughtful and touching piece. Davies is never heavy-handed in treating this delicate subject matter, but instead allows Corrie’s text a poignant, understated eloquence that is most affecting.
Salon des Amateurs
Fat Cat CD
Hauschka’s latest recording, Salon des Amateurs, continues his path of prepared piano explorations. But it includes additional layers of instruments, with a host of collaborators that includes John Convertino and Joey Burns (Calexico), and occasional Sequenza 21 blogger (and world famous violinist) Hilary Hahn.
Likewise, much has been made of its allusions to electronica and even dance music (the album is named after a club in Hauschka’s hometown Düsseldorf). But rather than seeming out of place, this becomes yet another facet of the musical landscape of Salon des Amateurs; playfully integrated with imaginative wit.
Indie songwriter/violinist Owen Pallett is an excellent example of an artist who blends pop and classical styles. Judging by his record sales, Pallett, at least initially, came at things starting from the pop vantage point. But his career is increasingly intersecting with venues and artists from the classical side of the ledger. For instance, his music was recently featured on the Ecstatic Music Series at Merkin Concert Hall, a festival that celebrated crossover and dialogue between indie and post-classical concert music.
This spring, he’s touring in support of his 2010 CD Heartland (Domino), his first recording with full orchestra (dates below). Among the performances are a full orchestral presentation of Heartland at the Barbican (London), a special performance at the String Theory Music Festival featuring Nat Baldwin of Dirty Projectors (Minneapolis), and a performance at the MusicNow Festival (Cincinnati).
He’s also released a video for album track “The Great Elsewhere,” directed by Yuula Benivolski and Geoffrey Pugen.
15th April, USA, Minneapolis, History Theatre (String Theory Music Festival)
20th April, GERMANY, Erlangen, Markgrafentheater
21st April, GERMANY, Berlin, Berghain (Friction Festival)
23rd April, POLAND, Gdansk, Centrum Stocznia Gdanska
25th April, SWITZERLAND, St. Gallen, Palace
26th April, SWITZERLAND, Fribourg, Fri-son
28th April, AUSTRIA, Krems, Halle 1 (Donau Festival)
30th April, DENMARK, Aarhus, Voxhall (Pop Revo Festival)
1st May, MALTA, Hamrun, Gejtau Band Club
4th May, SPAIN, Barcelona, Bikini
8th May, UK, London, Barbican Hall (Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich)
14th May, USA, Cincinnati, Memorial Hall (MusicNOW Festival)
Letters to Distant Cities is out this month on New Amsterdam. It’s acollaboration between Shara Worden (best known as My Brightest Diamond), Clare and the Reasons, and Rob Moose (of Antony & the Johnsons, Sufjan Stevens).
A release party is scheduled for Monday March 21 at the PowerHouse Arena in Brooklyn’s DUMBO. It’ll feature music from the album + some extra live tunes from Shara and Clare (details below).
Letters to Distant Cities
Shara Worden and My Brightest Diamond
Clare and the Reasons
Rob Moose (Sufjan Stevens, Antony & the Johnsons)
Poetry by Mustafa Ziyalan
Curated & produced by photo/videographer Murat Eyuboglu
MULTIMEDIA BOX SET WITH AUDIO, HIGH-QUALITY POSTCARDS
Monday, March 21, 7–9 PM
$10 at the door
The powerHouse Arena · 37 Main Street (corner of Water & Main St) · DUMBO, Brooklyn
For more information, please call 718.666.3049