Archive for the “Composers” Category
The common plight of the self-publisher is the issue of distribution. Sure, we all have access to professional-grade notation software and binding equipment but these tools do not help us get our work into the hands of performers nor do these tools help us find potential interested groups and expand our music into the larger world. The internet has been a boon for distributing other self-developed media, be it Bandcamp, Tunecore, CD Baby, Soundcloud, Vimeo, or YouTube. In recent years similar sites have been popping up to assist with the distribution of printed materials. Lulu.com is marketed towards self-published authors and provides storefront tools for selling any bound printed materials. Music is certainly possible on this site but two sites are interested in selling their services to self-published composers. The publishing firm JW Pepper launched its “MyScore” service about a year ago and more recently the site ScoreStreet.net has popped up to offer a similar service: give composers a place to distribute and sell their scores with the promise of reaching a larger audience.
MyScore and ScoreStreet both describe their services as ways to get your music to more people with less hands-on fuss. Each place takes over the printing and shipping of printed material, both offer digital sales, and neither site requires an exclusive contract with them. In other words, if you want to put some of your scores up on MyScore, some on ScoreStreet, and see which one works best for you then you are encouraged to do it. Read the rest of this entry »
2 Comments »
“I am not a cheerleader,” Auerbach says in our meeting, the day after The Blind premiered on July 9th as part of Lincoln Center Festival. (until July 14th)“I am not trying to please anybody, which, by the way should not be the goal of any artistic endeavor. Yet, art should give you something you have not yet experienced in the same way and you want to be changed by that experience.” Despite Auerbach’s artistic intentions, critical voices have emerged which attack the political correctness of the core metaphor of The Blind, giving rise to a debate about a symbol largely removed from the context of the work. I ask her, “Why the blindfold? Why the potentially sensational effect?” She explains: “I am not about shocking; The Blind is not a gimmick, but aims to fulfill to Maeterlinck’s (the playwright) call for a symbolist breaking of barriers, and attempts to provide a deep psychological understanding. It also pertains to a religious, meditative state of being, which entails a certain unearthing experience of disorientation, facilitated by the absence of the visual element. The Blind brings the audience away from the material state, exploring mental communication with the music’s ritualistic elements, and hopefully lets the audience come away with an individual learning experience that will stay with them, potentially changing who they are.” Directed by John La Bouchardière, the New York production of the work, which Auerbach for lack of a more precise description refers to as “a cappella opera,” has omitted the traditional stage setting used in the 2011 Berlin Konzerthaus and Moscow Stanislavsky Theatre productions of her score and libretto.
This new, innovative production takes The Blind a step further, eliminating the darkened stage of former productions in favor of the extremely isolating effect of blindfolding the audience; this theatrical method addresses our extreme reliance on visual effects, and aims to challenge the audience’s capacity for hearing, listening, smelling, and feeling temperature, thus evoking a heightened sensory and emotional experience. “Part of Maeterlinck’s conception is a distinct religious connotation, and includes elements of randomness, which, in this production led also to the separate placing of women and men,” says Auerbach, and adding that the experience of the piece also differs slightly for each participant, depending where they are seated. “Every staging demands different elements; in this particular one, timing and positioning was essential to the flow and the individual impression of each audience member.” The physical experience of The Blind’s staging is truly unique, and remarkably executed. Read the rest of this entry »
Liquid Skin Ensemble teamed up this weekend with the dance company Naked With Shoes for an evening of new music and choreography at the AndrewShire Gallery in the vibrant Koreatown area of Los Angeles. Two concerts were given – July 5 and 6, 2013 – consisting entirely of works by Steve Moshier and featuring the premiere of a new piece, Guilt of the Templars. Original choreography was provided by Jeff and Anne Grimaldo, and also dancer Mary Stein. The AndrewShire art gallery is an intimate space – holding maybe 40 people – and the arrangement of audience seating, musicians and dance space, while imperfect, was the best that could be done. The sight lines and acoustics in this venue are not ideal, especially given the dynamic power of Liquid Skin, but this did not detract significantly from the performance. The dancers also coped well with the limited space.
The Liquid Skin Ensemble has been a presence in the Los Angeles new music scene for over 13 years and their trademark rock-solid playing is a happy consequence of the stability of the personnel – the seven members of this group have played together for a long time and it shows. The mix of guitars, keyboards, saxophone, electric bass and Moshier’s vibraphone make for a balanced combination of percussion and sustained sounds that were used to good effect throughout the concert. Works dating from 1981 up to the present were included in this concert and gave a sort of historical arc to the programming.
The music of Steve Moshier falls squarely within post-minimal/neo-tonal tradition with propulsive percussion and driving rhythms such as were heard in the opening piece Shakeout (1981). The dancers here responded accordingly with a sort of fight scene that mirrored the high energy in the music. This was followed by Hidden Face (1990), a slower, more introspective piece that felt much more fluid and relaxed. Hero of the Blast Furnace (1983) featured more fast and hard rhythms with the dancers artfully including chairs in their choreography. Lost Souls (1991) gave the dancers another workout with chairs and a strong beat. The call and answer between the saxophone and vibes was particularly effective here and at the end the dancers were fully extended across the chairs, exhibiting an enviable agility and athleticism.
Two Liquid Skin pieces were offered without choreography. Cross the Wounded Galaxies (1985) has a light, airy texture that starts in the vibraphone and is variously joined by guitar, woodwind and keyboards. Different combinations of the instruments pass the theme around and the swelling tutti sections, when dominated by the saxophone, are especially effective. Leaving Paphos Ringed with Waves (2010) was probably the most serene piece in the concert – quiet, simple and almost chant-like.
This set the stage for the premiere of Guilt of the Templars: for the Liquid Skin Ensemble (2013) and this was accompanied by dancers Anne Grimaldo and Mary Stein. The title suggests some sort of dark, medieval thundercloud of a piece, but it is actually a light, cheerful work that begins with the dancers bouncing two large rubber balls back and forth in a sort of game. Gentle and disarming, the piece quickly acquires a child-like charm. The two dancers are both very tall women and this piece was subtitled ‘Too Long Ladies’ – a truth that was ironically disguised by their costume and playful choreography.
About midway into the piece the accompaniment by Liquid Skin Ensemble ceased and the dancers sang out several of the tall cliches that they must have been endured growing up: “How is the air up there?” and “My, you are a tall drink of water!” – a sort of cathartic release that generated an empathic response from the audience. They then sang several of the old Doublemint Gum tunes – a parody put down of the old sexist jingle that invites you to ‘double your pleasure, double your fun’ – and this was received with a knowing laugh by the audience. A video followed, projected on the wall, showing the ‘Too Long Ladies’ outdoors on sidewalks, streets and curbs performing dance steps on everyday objects underfoot. The video was accompanied by Liquid Skin, and as is the case with music skillfully written and performed for a film or video, you forget that the musicians are even in the room. The dancers may have stolen the show in this piece, but Guilt of the Templars was a fine finish to an evening of good music and skillful dancing.
The Liquid Skin Ensemble is:
Jannine Livingston – Electric keyboard
Ruth Cortez – Electric Keyboard
Mark Gordillo – Amplified Acoustic Guitar
Hai Truong – Electric Guitar
Susanna Hernandez – Electric Bass
Michael Lassere – Saxophones
Steve Moshier – Vibraphone
More information about the AndrewShire Gallery is here.
The 2013 Ojai Music Festival began this week under the artistic direction of choreographer Mark Morris. The festival will focus on American composers including Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Lou Harrison, John Luther Adams and Terry Riley. Two pieces – Strange and Sacred Noise as well as songbirdsongs by John Luther Adams – were scheduled for outdoor performance in rural venues.
The first of these performances, Strange and Sacred Noise (1997) was sited on a knoll in Upper Ojai that is part of a local country school about 10 miles out of town. The 8:00 AM concert time found the musicians and about 150 listeners wrapped in an early morning mist. The percussion ensemble red fish blue fish had set up several stations around the top of the hill and the players and audience were free to move about as the piece progressed. Folks sat on blankets or brought a chair, but most stood and watched, moving as necessary to hear each section.
The beginning of the performance was announced by a sharp field drum roll and a series of characteristic rhythms that comprise …dust into dust…, the first section of Strange and Sacred Noise. The early morning stillness made for good listening in the open air, and a series of soft snare drum rolls that alternated in dynamics were clearly heard and very effective. Despite the unusual venue and informal atmosphere the audience was attentive; a series of pauses in this section would briefly restore the early morning quiet and this seemed to engage the listeners even more.
The second section, solitary and time-breaking waves, was played on a four tam-tams placed about 50 feet apart. A series of rolling crescendos rumbled through each register adding to the mystical atmosphere of the morning mist. The shimmering sense of waves and swift river currents invoked by this section reminded me of parts of Inuksuit, another JL Adams piece performed at Ojai last year. Inuksuit is on a much larger scale and was performed with several hundred in attendance outdoors at Libby Park and the audience reaction then was to watch and listen and to wander among the players while talking or calling on cell phones. For Strange and Sacred Noise, however, the audience was silent – as if in a concert hall. In both cases the audience reaction seemed appropriate and the staging of outdoor performances continues to be a good way to help people connect with new music.
The third section of Strange and Sacred Noise begins with a powerful roll of bass drums that vary in dynamics as higher register tom toms vary in tempo. Titled volocities crossing in phase-space this provides a muscular contrast to the previous section. The cross currents developed by the rhythmic interplay between the drum sets make for an interesting listen. The fourth section – triadic iteration lattices - consists of four differently pitched hand cranked air-raid sirens that are started at different time intervals. The sound of four sirens screaming out into the pastoral landscape was strikingly surreal, and the inclusion of these sounds in an outdoor percussion piece designated for a rural setting seems unusual. The rising and falling of four continuously changing pitches made for some unusual sonic combinations as this section progressed, however, and the fun of it is too much to resist.Sections 5 through 8 of this work are titled clusters on a quadrilateral grid and are performed on various marimbas, vibraphones and xylophones. The first part on marimbas is very quiet – a ten second pause by the players and then a switch of harmonies add to the mystery. The next part on xylophones is strident and dissonant and makes a fine contrast. After that a switch to bell-like registers form a lighter, faster texture and finally there is a return to the marimbas – a sort of da capo – completing section 8.
The ninth and last section of Strange and Sacred Noise – titled … and dust rising… - is a return to the original field drum set that opened the piece. By now the haze had burned off revealing the mountains that surround the knoll and the soft snare rolls and louder rhythms recalled the opening section but in a changed environment.
Strange and Sacred Noise is one of the earlier pieces by John Luther Adams that explore the sense of place and its connection to the environment. The little knoll in Upper Ojai was a fine venue and seemed well suited to the occasion.
Later that morning in the Libby Bowl Terry Riley’s In C was performed by 26 musicians including percussion by members of red fish blue fish. The sound system was in good form and those of us on the lawn could hear the precise rhythms and tight ensemble that was playing on the stage. To my ear there was a solid bass line and this gave the piece a sense of reserve and formality. But what it may have lacked in exuberance was more than offset by a consistently good reading as the piece progressed. Pronounced dynamic changes from time to time gave the texture some relief and the audience was for the most part engaged with a groove that was carefully sustained for the entire 65 minutes. At one point – about 36 minutes in – the combination of basses and voices was reminiscent of Wagner. At 49 minutes that same combination produced a definite sense of the majestic. Not what I expected but a very fine reading throughout.
This was a solid performance of In C and if recorded might make a good addition to the history of Terry Riley’s classic of minimalism. More information about the Ojai Music Festival can be found here.
Thank you to Miranda Cuckson for this remembrance of composer Henri Dutilleux.
My visit to Henri Dutilleux was part of one of the most beautiful summers I’ve had. I stayed for several weeks in Paris just before beginning my doctoral degree. I was determined to pass out of the language-course requirement, so I rented a little apartment on the Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine and immersed myself in French, reading twenty pages a day, chatting with storepeople and watching French talk shows on TV. Besides exploring the city and making day trips to Chartres and Auvers-sur-Oise, I visited many museums, including the small ones (Bourdelle, Zadkine), and heard music at the Salle Pleyel (Krystian Zimerman), Cité de la Musique (Ensemble Intercontemporain in Carter, Kurtag and Dalbavie), Théâtre du Chatelet (Bluebeard’s Castle) and Bastille Opera (Renée Fleming in Manon). Meanwhile I practiced every day, and sometime in the middle of my stay, I called up Henri Dutilleux.
I had been working on his violin concerto L’arbre des songes (The Tree of Dreams, which I fondly thought of as L’arbre des singes, The Tree of Monkeys) in my lessons at Juilliard with Robert Mann. I was becoming increasingly interested in contemporary music and working with composers, and Mr. Mann’s involvement in that kind of thing was very inspiring to me. Mr. Mann and the Juilliard Quartet had commissioned Dutilleux in 1976 to write the string quartet Ainsi la nuit. Having listened to me play the concerto, he contacted Dutilleux and asked him to hear me. I was of course thrilled that the composer agreed. When I called Monsieur Dutilleux, he asked if I had a pianist to play with. I said no, so he arranged for a young Japanese woman from the Paris Conservatoire to come and play the orchestra part.
One morning, I walked along a traffic-less, narrow street on the Île Saint-Louis, where pinkish-grey buildings glowed softly in the sun. The air was warm and stirred only by the sound of children’s playful shrieks, emanating from somewhere. Dutilleux greeted me at his studio – a rather small-framed man wearing a jacket with his trousers pulled high on his waist. He was entirely elegant and welcoming. His cozy studio was neat, with piles of scores and manuscript paper, and sunny. The children’s voices were louder now through his open window- closing them, he said that there was a school in the back and he enjoyed hearing their shouts. We talked a while, then I played his piece through. He made only a few comments – details of articulation, phrasing – then he signed my music and we talked a while more. We had tea and he gave me a copy of his CD, The Shadows of Time with the Boston Symphony, and talked about his use of children’s voices in the music. Then I went on my way.
I recently saw Dutilleux’s short posthumous homage to Elliott Carter, in which he said that they did not meet much and that he had few specific memories besides of “a nice and strong character, a very charming man, and though we were far from each other – the Atlantic Ocean between us – I remain close to him and his music.” That June day was my only meeting with Dutilleux, but it was very meaningful for me to meet the creator of this music, and to play his substantial work under his curious and attentive gaze. He reminded me of certain great artists I’ve known, who share a simplicity and contentedness in their way of living that comes, I feel, from their satisfaction in their work and their love for what they do. Listening to recordings, I again relish his music’s generous ardor and stimulating clarity, luscious warmth, sweeping ebb and flow, big-band homophonic blocks of harmonies, and sense of spaciousness between the deep low register and the radiant highs. I respect his fastidiousness in composing but I dearly wish he had been more prolific in writing chamber and solo works that we could play and program. Having few pieces of his to play, I feel about his music much as I do about my meeting with him – truly delighted and wanting more chances to engage directly. He definitely left us wishing for more.
1 Comment »
Audibles, a new CD from GIA Wind Works
American composer Steven Bryant has recently contributed a beautiful new piece to the piano-and-winds repertoire. Commissioned by pianist Pamela Mia Paul, Bryant’s Concerto for Piano was recorded for the GIA Wind Works label, as part of a new disc entitled Audibles. The performers are Paul and the North Texas Wind Symphony, conducted by Eugene Migliaro Corporon.
Concertos for piano and wind instruments are a rare breed. The twentieth century produced only a handful of them, the most famous being Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1923-24, revised 1950). Shortly after Stravinsky, Colin McPhee wrote Concerto for Piano and Wind Octet in 1928. In 1943 Henry Cowell composed Little Concerto, for piano and band, and George Perle contributed Concertino for Piano, Winds, and Timpani in 1979. More recently additions to the genre include the Norwegian composer Mark Adderly’s Triptych for Solo Piano, Orchestra of Winds and Percussion (1988), and Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments by Kevin Volans (1995). Bryant’s compelling work is likely to become a well known member of this lesser known genre.
Composer Steven Bryant
Bryant explains that the two contrasting movements of the concerto are constructed from the same set of descending dyads. The first movement begins in wistful, contemplative simplicity, slowly unfolds, reaches towards its triumphant and spirited zenith, and then recedes again. The arc structure of the movement is elegantly punctuated by a shift from descending to ascending motion at the halfway point. The second movement, with its running sixteenth notes and playful syncopated rhythms, is a display of virtuosity for soloist and ensemble alike. In both movements Bryant uses the concise material to develop music that is thematically cohesive, rhythmically compelling, and filled with timbral beauty. Paul’s performance is clear, powerful, and supportive of the compositional structure.
Also included on the disc are compositions by Brett William Dietz, Donald White, Jess Turner, Francisco Jose Martinez Gallego, Carter Pann, and Justin Freer. Audibles is available on Amazon and also at www.giamusic.com.
Listen to Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Piano
1 Comment »
(Houston, TX) Houston-based soprano, writer, and impresario Misha Penton (pictured above) is back with another genre blending evening (two actually) of music for classical voice. Accompanied by pianist Kyle Evans, cellist Patrick Moore, and dancers Meg Brooker and Yelena Konetchy, Penton will present a specially staged concert of composer Elliot Cole’s Selkie, a sea tale with lyrics by Penton. Cole, a graduate of Rice University and now Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, will be in attendance for Saturday’s performance. The concerts are timed to celebrate the release of a CD recording on Selkie, a sea tale. CDs and download cards will be available for sale at the performances.
As artistic director of Divergence Vocal Theater, Penton has produced and sung in several creatively staged and intensely collaborative concert events featuring light and film projections, puppetry, stage acting, and modern dance and music from composers including Cole, George Heathco, and Dominick DiOrio. The 2010 Houston premier of Selkie featured an elaborate media and lighting design within a theatrical installation. The multimedia elements for Friday and Saturday’s performances include new choreography by Brooker and Konetchy and the screening of a video for the song “Softly Over Sounding Waves” directed by Penton.
Penton writes: “Selkies are ephemeral half-human, half-seal beings. They are transformative creatures that inhabit liminal spaces; exist at the edge of dusk and dawn; in the between-time of solstice and equinox; and where root meets earth and sea washes sand. When the moon swells to its fullest, selkies shed their seal skins, reveal their human form, and dance on our northernmost beaches, their skins ready for the taking. Selkie, a sea tale’s poetry is a dreamscape of human fragility, longing and loss, written from a sailor’s wife to her selkie love and culminates in her willingness to release him back to the sea.”
In addition to singing and mastering some truly challenging music for the voice, Penton has a gift for instilling each of her live events with a seductive, highly stylized vibe that embraces both the contemporary and the archetype. Symbols and references to fairy tales, Greek mythology, and gothic literature are all a part of her creative palette, giving each Divergence Vocal Theater event an air of magic and ritual. Penton also possesses a wicked sense of humor that compliments her very serious passion for making great collaborative art. Making magic takes a lot of work! So if you’re in Houston, don’t sleep on this unique spin on the genre of contemporary chamber opera.
Misha Penton and Divergence Vocal Theater present Elliot Cole’s Selkie, a sea tale, music by Elliot Cole, lyrics by Misha Penton, March 29 & 30 at 8:00 p.m. at 4411 Montrose Gallery, with Misha Penton (soprano), Kyle Evans (piano), Patrick Moore (cello), and Meg Brooker and Yelena Konetchy (dance). Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. CD and digital download for Selkie, a sea tale available April 1.
Posted by Chris Becker in Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Guitar, Houston, tags: 14 Pews, David Lang, George Heathco, guitar, Liminal Space Contemporary Ensemble, Luke Hubley, marimba
(Houston, TX) Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble is continuing what has become a welcome and well-received series of innovatively staged and programmed concerts of contemporary music. Featuring the core duo of composer George Heathco on electric guitar and Luke Hubley on percussion, Liminal Space has presented concert tributes to the music of John Cage and Frederic Rzewski, composed and performed music for a puppet show realization of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu,” and participated in the Houston Fringe Festival. This Sunday at 14 Pews, they will present an evening of music by Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Lang. Works on the program include how to pray, lend/lease, string of pearls, warmth, and arrangements of selections from memory pieces.
Heathco (who, by the way, is an excellent composer as well) confirms that Lang’s music present a set of unique challenges to the performer.
Composer guitarist George Heathco (photo by David DeHoyos)
“One thing that seems to run central to performing Lang’s music is the amount of concentration and mental stamina required to just get through a piece,” says Heathco. “He gives the performer very little opportunity to let up, mentally. On top of that, some of the pieces we are performing are also technically challenging. Works like lend/lease or string of pearls have an element of subtle virtuosity. They don’t immediately sound flashy or technically demanding to the listener, but from the performer’s point of view it is a whole other story!”
The majority of the works by Lang on Sunday’s program have been re-arranged for various combinations of marimba, electric guitars, cello, and keyboards.
“We have arranged several of Lang’s memory pieces, originally for solo piano, to be played by marimba and electric guitar,” says Heathco. “We are also adapting lend/lease, originally for piccolo and woodblocks, to fit our ensemble. In lend/lease, there is only a single melodic line that is to be played in unison, with one of the instruments being largely unpitched. We wanted to bring out the beauty of Lang’s melody, and so rather than woodblocks, Luke will be performing the line on marimba, doubling the electric guitar.”
Percussionist Luke Hubley (photo by David DeHoyos)
The new music scene in Houston continues to grow and expand into ever more intriguing permutations, stretching beyond the cozy confines of its universities and on into the clubs, galleries, and alternative performance spaces that fill the city’s un-zoned citiscape.
An evening of David Lang’s music performed in what used to be a church? Perfect. Lang performed by Heathco, Hubley, and a selection of amazing guest musicians? Even better.
Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble presents The Music of David Lang, Sunday, March 24, 7:30 p.m. at 14 Pews, 800 Aurora Street, featuring George Heathco (guitar) and Luke Hubley (percussion) with guests cellist Daniel Saenz, pianist Mark Buller, keyboardist Jeremy Nuncio, and guitarist Chapman Welch. Tickets are $11 online, $15 at the door.
Light & Sound Concerts presents The Unusual Universe of Rob Schwimmer, two programs featuring theremin, continuum and piano virtuoso Rob Schwimmer on Friday, March 15 at 8:00 PM and Sunday. March 17 at 3: 00 PM at The Old Stone House, Washington Park, 336 Third Street (bet. 4th & 5th Avenues) in Brooklyn, New York. The park entrance faces 4th Avenue. This is presented as part of Light and Sound’s Spring 2013 series.
Rob Schwimmer is an internationally known composer, pianist, theremin and continuum player. As a founding member of the highly acclaimed Polygraph Lounge he performs regularly with his duo partner, multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart, of Bang On A Can All Stars. Schwimmer is one of the top theremin virtuosos in the world. As an original member of The NY Theremin Society he has appeared as soloist with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s at the prestigious Caramoor Festival and with The Little Orchestra of New York at Lincoln Center. Much more about him at http://www.robschwimmer.com/.
Tickets for the March 15 and 17 performances are $20 at the door, and are also available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/347890. Also on March 17, at 2:00 PM Light & Sound will present a special 40 minute Family Concert & Conversation with the Artist – $15 for first adult, $5 for each additional family member. For more information, call 718-768-3195 or visit http://julianneviolin.com/LandSBlog/?page_id=249. A reception will follow each event.
Light & Sound, curated by its founder/director, violinist Julianne Klopotic, is a full spectrum performance series. Unique in its approach, the 2013 season includes performances informed by New/Experimental Music, Classical, Jazz/Rock and World Music. Other Light & Sound Spring 2013 Old Stone House Series presentations are The Klopotic-Pierce-Zoernig Trio performing Schubert Piano Trios on April 5 and 6, David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir on April 19 and 21 and Glass Music Master Miguel Frasconi on May 17 and 19. More about the series at http://www.lightandsound-concerts.org.
The Old Stone House, a Historic House Trust of New York City site, commemorates the Vechte-Cortelyou House’s unique place in Brooklyn and American history. Through exhibits, programs and events, they preserve the House’s rich past while contributing to Brooklyn’s contemporary cultural community. Visit them at http://theoldstonehouse.org/.
On Friday, February 22 the week-long 2013 residency of Tom Johnson in Los Angeles was capped off with a concert of his music at the wulf, an experimental performance space deep in the gritty heart of industrial downtown. Featured was the Los Angeles premiere of ’Clarinet Trio’ and four other works, plus the occasion was also marked by the release of a new CD of Tom’s works titled ‘correct music’ from Populist Records. About 50 people crowded into the reclaimed factory loft to attend the event and what the wulf lacks in amenities was more than compensated by the enthusiasm of the young audience. The concert was free and there was an ice chest full of Tecate beer – what’s not to like?
Tom Johnson’s time in Los Angeles this past week was spent giving lectures on mathematics and music at Cal Arts, hosting an exhibition of his drawings in the Art Share LA gallery and presiding over concerts of new music. Tom has deep minimalist roots and, according to the concert notes, “works with simple forms and limited sonic materials, utilizing logic and mathematical models in both his music and his drawings.”
The concert began with Clarinet Trio, performed by Jim Sullivan, Brian Walsh and Damon Zick. This piece consists of a series of short passages with changing sets of three note chords separated by short pauses. Tom Johnson uses mathematics and sets of drawings to describe his intended sequence of the various permutations of musical sound and these are then translated into the written score and parts. Clarinet Trio was constructed to explore the possible ways of playing seven different three-note chords and this took about 20 minutes to unfold. The different segments varied in rhythm, attack, dynamic and tempo but the ensemble playing here was very tight and each phrase was cleanly played with good intonation. The acoustics of the small space at the wulf were well-matched to the musical forces and those listening were very attentive during the Trio – even the 5 second pauses between phrases became familiar after a few minutes. The occasional horn blast from the nearby freeway made its way inside during the silences, but this was not a distraction. The premiere was well-executed by the performers and well-received by the audience.
The second piece was Eggs and Baskets, a narrated piece that is similar in construction to Tom’s Narayana’s Cows. The idea in Eggs and Baskets was to musically describe all the possible ways to put six eggs in two baskets. The two baskets were represented by a viola, played by Andrew McIntosh and a clarinet played by Brian Walsh – as the narration progressed each player sounded a series of notes representing the number eggs in his ‘basket’. The interplay between the viola and clarinet thus became increasingly varied as the permutations grew, with notes trading rapidly back and forth within the same phrase – but this was cleanly done and very effective. The narration by Douglas Wadle nicely connected the playing to the concept, making for an enjoyable piece.
Trio for Strings followed and this set out to play “all possible 3-note chords adding to 72 where C = 24” – some 280 combinations altogether. This was a smooth legato sound of rapidly changing tone combinations, often dissonant. I found that my ear would follow one or the other string players for a time, the chords that sounded were brief and constantly changing. The pitch discipline of the string players was impressive as each tone typically did not bear any familiar relationship to those around it. Hearing this piece is like listening to a computer roll through the possible permutations of a pitch set and it gives a striking example of just how small a subset our traditional tonalities are of all the possibilities that are available in the equal-tempered scale.
Tilework for Piano followed and this was played by Dante Boon, the Dutch composer and pianist. This was similar to Clarinet Trio in that it consists of a series of short phrases built from a limited number of tones, separated by short pauses. The piano gives this piece a more introspective feel and I found my ear tended to concentrate more on the patterns than the pitches or timbre. A concert presented by Mr. Boon will be given at the wulf on February 28.
The concert concluded with Eight Patterns for Eight Instruments, and the musical forces used for this performance were sax, piano, violin, clarinet, accordion, guitar, flute and oboe. There is a video of this piece on YouTube as played mostly by strings but the use of winds here yielded a brighter, more accessible sound. ‘Eight Patterns for Eight Instruments’ consists of eight short segments of scales and simple chord patterns. This music is as close to the classic minimalist style as was heard during this concert and the eight instruments played tightly together, filling up the space with a well-balanced sound. A sort of warm optimism radiates from this piece that is appealing and, if anything, too short.
This concert was a good illustration of just how fully grounded is the music of Tom Johnson on the mathematics of combinations and permutations. Rarely has a music been so rigorously architected – the drawings that Tom uses to structure his work look very much like a set of drafted plans or a chemical diagram for a complex molecule. Other minimalist composer’s of Tom’s generation incorporated repetition and gradual changes in rhythmic patterns to realize their music. Tom’s music stands out because of his use of an entirely different mathematical space to guide the structure of his works.
Further information about upcoming events at the wulf is available here.
More about the exhibition of Tom Johnson’s drawings at Art Share LA can be found here.