Most New Yorkers are walking about, minding their own business, completely oblivious to the international sonic earthquake vibrating through their midst all week: The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). The first wave of the festival (seven concerts) took place as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial at National Sawdust in Brooklyn last week. Yet the lion’s share of the festival is happening right now: 28 more concerts during June 13-19, at Abrons Arts Center on Grand St., for a total of 35 concerts. Yes you read that correctly: 35 concerts of electroacoustic music, including some 350 works, by almost as many composers from all around the world! Indeed a mammoth undertaking organized, produced, and presented miraculously by Hubert Howe, Travis Garrison, David Reeder, Howie Kenty, and a highly dedicated energetic staff.
The variety on offer is astonishing. There are pieces for live instruments or voice and electronics (live processing or premade sounds); pieces for synthesized sound, sampled sounds, and both together. Some works feature video. Other works feature graphics generated through live video feeds of the performer, or graphics generated through movement. Concerts are heard alternately in two small traditional auditoriums and a cozy cocoon-like space with 16-channel surround sound, seating in the round, amongst stratospheric ceilings. Sound art and visual art installations are mounted in the hallways and foyers. The concerts are at 12:30, 2, 4, and 8pm; workshops and paper presentations on such topics as “Oral History as Form in Electroacoustic Music”, “Orient Occident: An Alternative Analysis,” and “Wireless Sensing” occur in the mornings, at NYU.
Among the international cast of composers and performing artists heard in the festival are Tania León, Ken Ueno, Alice Shields, Clarence Barlow, Elizabeth Hoffman, Simon Emmerson, Alvin Lucier, Shelly Hirsch, Annie Gosfield, Phil Niblock, Alan Licht, Judith Shatin, Michelle Jaffe, Maja Cerar, Marianne Gythfeldt, and Arthur Kampela. Most of them are on hand and the casual atmosphere is conducive to conversation with and among participating artists.
Togo seed rattle
One of the most interesting works I heard was Precuneus; Sonic Space no.8—Iteration No.4 (2016) by Michael Musick. This is a work for live performer and “sonic ecosystem.” And yes, it sounds as great as that sounds. During the performance, Mr. Musick gently wafted throughout the stage, as if in a trance, while playing sometimes a recorder and sometimes a Togo seed rattle and other percussion instruments. Meanwhile Mr. Musick’s software reacted in the most delightfully musical way. Its “digital agents” listen to the live sounds and spontaneously extract features from them and then generate new sounds sculpted by these features. These sounds percolated and jiggled all around the hall in a delicate lavander tornado for the ears.
Zhaoyu Zhang’s Night Snow brought my ears close up and inside mysterious objects and intriguingly close to strange materials in action—as though my ears were intimately touching the source of the sounds, quiet sounds of brushing, crushing, caressing, burning, scraping, and feathering. Deeper sounds were felt more than heard, creating an altogether visceral experience, evoking what the ancient Chinese poet Juyi Bai’s calls the four senses: tactile (cold), visual (bright), feeling (to know), and auditory (to hear)
On the same concert, Larry Gaab’s Weird Orbits Need Explaining seemed to use the lyrical gestures and sweeps of melody to steer the trajectories of other sonic material. An eerie yet friendly vocality emerged. So much I wish I could go back to hear again
violinist Maja Cerar in action
The highlight of the late afternoon concert was Xiao Fu’s Longing, a ravishing audio-visual kinetic spectacle that lasted nearly a quarter of an hour, involving two performers supported by a crew of four who manipulated hand-held projectors and sound. It is based on a song of the Huang He Ge from the Chinese Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). Beautifully colored hand-painted animation of Chinese calligraphy was projected on a video screen with computeized sound before two women emerged in flowing costumes, gracefully dancing and singing (both). One of them later played the flute against the sonic digital backdrop while a new, and highly original, ornate style of colorful animation permeated the visual field, zooming and granulating. Strikingly colored calligraphic imagery punctured the progression toward a taut climactic episode in which the second performer dramatically played an accelerating drum pattern against flickering virtuosic lines of the flute.
AV artist Michelle Jaffe
The overflowing diversity of creativity witnessed in this festival is simply inspiring. What I described above is only a snippet of what happened on the first day. After today there are still five days left. So most of the highlights are yet to come. It’s well worth the trip to this somewhat neglected corner of Manhattan, between Chinatown and the Williamsburg Bridge.
The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF), June 13-19, Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street, near the F/M train Essex st. station) Each show $15 (evening shows $20); day pass $40; festival Pass at $160.
Jennifer Dautermann of WOMEX (the World Music Expo) and project manager of Classical:NEXT, has succeeded in building a new platform for classical music professionals at Munich’s well equipped, easy to maneuver, cultural center Gasteig.
The long overdue launch of classical music’s first dedicated forum took place over May 30 to June 2, hosting live and video showcases, conference sessions and presentations by leading professionals of the press as well as music institutions, the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Bavarian State Opera.
The forum also included easily accessible trade-fair booths showcasing the recording industry, dominated by the Omni-presence of the large Naxos team.
Part of the excitement was the presence of the eminent, Hong-Kong based Naxos founder and self-made man Klaus Heymann, who chose this forum to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Naxos’s position as the largest distributor of classical music. This in itself may have contributed in part to the eager participation of many of the labels distributed by Naxos at Classical:NEXT. Regardless, Naxos has proven time and again that it is equipped with an innovative entrepreneurial approach and a foresight that has succeeded with great projects like the Naxos library. They have managed to connect culture and commerce and impressively demonstrate their development from a low-budget start-up into a world-wide classical powerhouse.
Music: Cognition, Technology, Society set a formidable intellectual task before participants of the selfsame conference at semester’s end on the quieting campus of Cornell University. Under the attentive care of organizers Caroline Waight, Evan Cortens, Taylan Cihan, and Eric Nathan, what might have been an overwhelming conceptual storm proved smooth sailing through a series of back-to-back panels. The lack of overlap meant that everyone in attendance could take in the full thematic breadth and draw connections that might otherwise have been missed in the three-ring circus of a larger conference, thereby allowing interaction, a building of new relationships while strengthening the old, and dialogue conducive to the intellectual goals at hand.
The Panels I had the privilege and the honor of presenting first in the opening Friday morning panel, entitled Patterns, Schemata and Systems, for which I was joined by Bryn Hughes (Ithaca College) and Joshua Mailman (Columbia). I did my best to set a tone in my discussion of Modell 5, a museum installation piece by Vienna-based duo Granular Synthesis, whose eponymous approach to motion capture and digital manipulation of synchronous sound and image activated, I hope, our shared interest in the intersection of technology and sonic arts. Hughes was interested in more mainstream sonic outlets. In problematizing expectation in rock music through harmonic progression as both a function of context and of socialization, he asked: Does harmony behave in a universal way? Why do some chord progressions sound “wrong” and how do we gain knowledge of these rules?
Hughes plotted a matrix of influences on such choices, discovering through controlled testing that expectations are genre-specific (diatonic successions, for instance, are preferred by classical over blues listeners) and that the impact of voice leading, lyrical (a)synchronicity, and other variables must also be taken into account. Mailman took a more phenomenological approach to music as a site lacking in expectation, advocating a cybernetic model of listening and feedback practices. In positing retrospection as an active shaping force of musical experience, Mailman privileged context over convention in musical structure. By looking at otherwise undeterminable aspects of musical form and development—what Boulez might group under the term “listening angles”—as a means of analysis, Mailman made a provocative case for cybernetic phenomenology as a viable site for sonic inquiry.
Qualities emerge through change and exist by virtue of being measured as such. Hence the assertions of David Borgo (UC San Diego), who in the second session on Improvisation challenged the dominant paradigm of musical spontaneity as an individual act, seeking rather to enlarge the notion of agency to its extra-corporeal aspects. Because action of response happens more quickly than consciousness can grasp, our interpretations of the very same can only come a posteriori, subject to the same misinterpretations as any and all memory. Consciousness, argued Borgo, is autopoetic and under constant perturbation. Improvisers must therefore negotiate contingencies in all directions. To locate them at the center of webs as amorphous as their melodic constitutions is as difficult as it is to locate the true center of a universe that is forever expanding.
Neither are improvisational gestures simply plucked from the ether, as Jeremy Grall (University of Alabama at Birmingham) showed in his exploration of the hierarchies at work in seemingly indeterminate music-making. Grall’s interest was the divide (or lack thereof) between composition and improvisation and whether or not the two can be subject to the same analytical vocabularies. For him, improvisation is an already problematic term, one that may be absorbed into composition insofar as improvisation abides by underlying schemata. In order to negotiate the ambiguities of perception and the phases of concrescence therein, he looked to 16th-century improvisational models and their inherent blend of immediacy and indeterminacy.
A fascinating Demonstration Session kicked off the conference’s first evening. William Brent (American University) gave us a visual and aural tour through his Gesturally Extended Piano and Open Shaper, while Mailman returned with Columbia colleague Sofia Paraskeva for a demonstration of their “comprovisational” interface. Both of these technologies take advantage of the primacy of the body in communicating information at once inter- and intra-musical. Read the rest of this entry »
“How can music ‘speak’ and how do we have knowledge of it? What is its potential to express, represent, and communicate? How has changing expertise concerning sonic and musical knowledge shaped these questions across time and space?”
The conference will spotlight Tod Machover (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in a dual-role as guest composer and keynote speaker. Other keynote speakers include Eric Clarke(University of Oxford), Ichiro Fujinaga (McGill University) and Robert Gjerdingen (Northwestern University). The Argento Chamber Ensemble serves as the conference’s guest ensemble-in-residence and will perform electroacoustic and acoustic works selected through an international call-for-scores.
Drawing on a wide range of scholarship across multiple disciplines, and featuring both musical performances and paper presentations, the MCTS Conference will present four keynote lectures, three performances, and seven paper sessions, covering a diverse works and broad range of aesthetics. Highlights include:
Friday, May 11 at 2:30 pm: Robert Gjerdingen’s keynote lecture, “Schema Theory Today: Challenges and Opportunities.”
Friday, May 11 at 7:15 pm: Tod Machover’s keynote lecture, “Extending Performance: Onstage, Inside, Interconnected.”
Friday, May 11 at 8:30 pm: The Argento Ensemble performs Machover’s Another Life for mixed chamber ensemble, and other chamber works by Christopher Chandler (the resonance after…), Bryan Christian (Walk), Sean Friar (Scale 9), Amit Gilutz (Miscellaneous Romance No. 1), Juraj Kojs (Re-route), and Eric Lindsay (Town’s Gonna Talk).
Saturday, May 12 at 1:30 pm: Eric Clarke’s keynote lecture, “Explorations in Virtual Space: Music Perception and Recorded Music.”
Pictured: Argento Chamber Ensemble
Saturday, May 12 at 8pm: Concert featuring electroacoustic and fixed electronic media works by Taylan Cihan/Eliot Bates (Zey-glitch), Nicholas Cline (Homage to La Monte Young), Nathan Davis (Ecology No. 8), Peter Van Zandt Lane (Hydromancer), Stelios Manousakis (Megas Diakosmos), Nicola Monopoli (The Rite of Judgment), Christopher Stark (Two-Handed Storytelling).
Sunday, May 13 at 11:45 am: Ichiro Fujinaga’s keynote lecture, “The Research Program at the Distributed Digital Music Archives and Libraries Laboratory.”
Paper presentation session topics cover a variety of topics, such as “Patterns, schemata and systems,” “Improvisation,” “Text, technology and the voice,” “Psychology and the sonic object,” “Instruments and soundscapes,” and “Music Informational Retrieval.”
For a full schedule we invite you to visit our website.
I first heard about the Long Now Foundation a couple years ago from friend and former bandmate Daniel Magazin. I remember visiting their web site and thinking that San Francisco was the perfect place for such an entity. “The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking,” the web site declares. “We hope to creatively foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.”
Such a perspective seems custom-made to partner with the minimalist and conceptual streams of contemporary music. UK-based artist, musician, and composer Jem Finer thought so too. He first discovered Long Now through reading about the Foundation in Brian Eno’s book, A Year With Swollen Appendices, and thereafter became a close friend and artistic collaborator.
Finer began conceiving of his 1,000-year composition, Longplayer, in the mid 1990’s when he was “struck by a general lack of long-term vision” as the turn of the century loomed. “Longplayer grew out of a conceptual concern with problems of representing and understanding the fluidity and expansiveness of time,” he says. “While it found form as a musical composition, it can also be understood as a living, 1,000-year-long process – an artificial life form programmed to seek its own survival strategies.” Longplayer has indeed survived. Since it began performance at midday on December 31st, 1999, in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, East London, it has been going on continuously at several global locations and, of course, online.
This Saturday, October 16th, Long Now organizers will offer a live segment of Longplayer to accompany the Foundation’s seminar, Long Conversation.Live musicians, equipped with 365 Tibetan singing bowls, will perform the 1,000-minute excerpt from 7:00 a.m. to 11:40 p.m. in the Forum at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.The six-hour Long Conversation, featuring nineteen thinkers from many disciplines,runs from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the nearby Contemporary Jewish Museum. One ticket, priced at $28.00, secures admission to the concert and the seminar. For more information, contact Danielle Englemanat the Long Now Foundation.
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Pwyll ap Siônis a composer and Senior Lecturer in music at Bangor University in Wales (UK). His strong interest in Minimalism (he’s written a book on Michael Nyman) led to his co-hosting of the firstInternational Conference on Minimalist Musicin 2007. He also made his way across the ocean for the second iteration of the conference, held last September in Kansas City, MO. Pwyll asked if S21 might like to print a few of his reactions and thoughts from the conference, and we said sure thing:
At the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music last September, hosted by the University of Missouri at Kansas City, part of the evening events led me to the Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral to hear composer, performer and improviser Charlemagne Palestine. He is something of an enigma; when John Adams attended a rare performance in the 1980s, Palestine walked out after twenty minutes, leaving the audience baffled. Even those who have already seen him have no idea what to expect.
I enter the dim glow of the cathedral and notice two things: first, the sound of a drone — two notes, a fifth apart (a little like La Monte Young’s infamous Composition 1960 No. 7: two notes with the instruction ‘to be held for a long time’). The drone is low in dynamic but high in register, its reedy timbre adding a slight edge to the ambiance, but this is otherwise a rather inauspicious introduction. Secondly, there’s a merry gaggle of teddies and puppets neatly arranged on a table near the entrance, all of which appear to be wearing scarves or ribbons. I am told that this is de rigueur in the eccentric world of Palestine. But nothing quite prepares me for what follows.
We are politely informed that the performance has already begun despite the fact that the audience is milling around, chatting casually or ambling up and down the aisles. The atmosphere is relaxed, however, and we are told that the unpredictable Palestine is (literally) in high spirits, on his second (large) glass of cognac, and has extended an invitation to members of the audience to visit the organ loft situated at the rear of the cathedral. We have to take off our shoes to do this – a complicated process since it is almost completely dark at the back of the nave – and just as we are about to be ushered by an assistant up the staircase, there is a frisson of activity from above, and the man himself appears, wine glass in hand, wearing a panama hat and dressed in bright, colourful clothes.
He strides purposefully past us towards the altar, raising his voice to speak. Rather like the drone, which continues to sound in the background, his voice is high-pitched and nasal. He announces that he will be playing Schlingen-Blängen, which has not been performed (spoken ostentatiously) ‘in the United States of America’ for decades. But he’s rambling on incoherently, maybe the cognac’s starting to take effect, and I’m starting to doubt all the hype. This increases as he proceeds to produce a ringing sound by rubbing his finger around the wine glass while emitting a series of pitches in a childlike voice.
With the performance rapidly descending into banality Palestine stops singing, abruptly turns on his heels down the aisle and back up the organ loft. Seizing the opportunity the Belgian musicologist/critic Maarten Beirens and I follow him up the stairs. Oblivious to the fact that we’re there, he is entirely absorbed in his own sound world and starts to perform.
When I finally struck out for the Kansas City airport on Sunday afternoon, Kyle Gann was about 45 minutes into a very chilled-out performance of his heroic four-and-a-half-hour transcription of Dennis Johnson‘s November–a piece which inspired La Monte Young’s The Well Tuned Piano and was the first minimalist piece to employ a diatonic scale, repetition, and to stretch for multiple hours. November probably would have been lost to history had Kyle not undertaken the work of rescuing it. Sarah Cahill was going to take over from him at some point that afternoon, and the final notes of that performance were to mark the official end of the conference.
While I did have to miss most of the November performance in order to catch my flight home, I’m pleased to say that in the course of the four and a half days of the conference I only missed the end of that performance, one paper on Sunday morning, and the opening remarks of the conference (having gotten lost on my way from the hotel that first day). Not all of the papers were brilliant, but some of them were, and all of them had at least some interesting features. Not all of the pieces on all of the concerts were brilliant, but every concert was worth attending, and some of the music was truly great. But I’ve talked about the papers and the concerts already: what I want to talk about now is the social experience.
Musicological research into minimalist music is a small and young field. Vast areas of theoretical and biographical groundwork remain to be done, there are few published close readings of even the most iconic pieces, and much of the work that has been done has not yet made it into the standard musicological journals and resources. One result, of course, is that researchers in musicology have the exciting prospect of building the foundation of the field, writing the essential papers that will guide future work, and making the kinds of profound discoveries that are so rare in more mature fields. The other result is a sense of comraderie among the participants in the research, promoted by the sense of common purpose, a need and desire to build on each others’ work, and the excitement of discovery. That sense of discovery isn’t just about discovering music or interesting research, but also about discovering a group of like-minded scholars who have been thus far toiling independently. Adversity, to be blunt, fosters community. I arrived in Kansas City knowing only a handful of people, and I left with the sense that I had begun dozens of potential friendships. Many of the papers I heard contained not just interesting material, but insights and references I wish I had know about when I was writing my own paper.
The other advantage of a conference in a small field is the fact that the major figures are accessible. One of Kyle Gann’s chief claims to fame in the musicological world is his tenure at the Village Voice, and his book Music Downtown, a collection of his writings for the Voice, is an essential primary source for anybody studying postminimalism. Before Kyle was covering minimalism for the Voice, though, Tom Johnson held the post from 1972-82, and his own collection of articles, The Voice of New Music, is similarly essential. Tom lives in Paris, and I had always assumed that I would never meet him, but he attended the whole conference, gave a talk about minimalism in Europe, and spent the week hanging out with the rest of us. I lean heavily on Kyle and Tom in my paper, and it was nerve-wracking to have them both in the audience, but the fact that they both seem to have liked my paper gives me confidence that I’m on the right track. Keith Potter, author of Four Musical Minimalists, was there, and I was delighted to find that he’s beginning some extensive further research on Steve Reich. Mikel Rouse was in town to present his film Funding, but in between visiting family in the area and visiting his favorite haunts from his own days studying at UMKC, he attended a number of the paper sessions. Conference co-organizer David McIntire gave a paper on Rouse, and most of us didn’t realize that Mikel was in the room–during the post-paper discussion someone pointed out that he could actually resolve a couple of questions for us, which he graciously did. Sarah Cahill played the piano beautifully, and in person she couldn’t have been nicer. Charlemagne Palestine played the organ beautifully, and in person he’s kind of a maniac. Paul Epstein gave a presentation a compositional technique called “interleaving” which he uses extensively and to excellent effect–after his presentation I assured him that I would be stealing the idea from him. And that’s just the people I had heard of beforehand.
The third installment of this conference series is tentatively scheduled for October, 2011, near Brussels. The plan is to switch back and forth across the Atlantic every two years, and 2011 feels like a long way off. While it was nice to get back home and to catch up on sleep (I was averaging about 4 to 5 hours a night while I was in KC), I also didn’t want to leave.
P.S.Here’s a copy of my paper as delivered at the conference, including typos and still sans bibliography. For more about the conference itself, don’tmissKyle’sseriesofpostings over at his blog.
Tonight’s performance by Charlemagne Palestine was, in short, one of the most extraordinary musical experiences of my life. Palestine has developed a technique for playing the organ which involves the use of wooden shims to hold down keys so he can build up drones with many notes and still have his hands free to improvise melodies over top of it. He starts with an open fifth and builds over the course of a couple hours to a dense roar that uses most of the available power of the instrument. It was mesmerizing. In truth, I wasn’t expecting to like it much — I expected it to be long and loud and somewhat interesting but ultimately boring. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I urge you that if you ever have an opportunity to hear Palestine play you not miss it for anything.
The rest of the day went well too, but I’m just too exhausted to talk about it at the moment, so I’ll save it for my wrap-up in a day or two.
This summary has to be a short one, since I need to finish preparing for my paper presentation tomorrow morning, but today was another excellent conference day. During the day, in addition to papers there was a concert of Tom Johnson‘s extremely minimal Organ and Silence performed by Neely Bruce. At dinner time Robert Carl gave a plenary address about In C, a subject on which he has just published a book. Then we all had some of the justly famous Kansas City barbecue. In the evening Sarah Cahill, a great champion of contemporary music, gave a concert which included two recently completed transcriptions of Harold Budd‘s The Children on the Hill. The piece was originally improvised, and there exist two vastly different recordings, which Kyle Gann has painstakingly transcribed. The pieces are quite beautiful. The rest of the concert was good too, but the other highlights for me were an excerpt of Hans Otte‘s Das Buch der Klange, which is virtuosic, beautiful, and spectacular, and John Adams‘s China Gates, which he actually wrote for Sarah Cahill many years ago.
A day that starts at 9AM and ends after 11 at night, in which 15 different people give presentations, and which culminates in a two hour concert, is not a day that is easy to distill down to a single theme (except perhaps happy exhaustion). We began with no fewer than six papers on Steve Reich, some of which were thematically linked but none of which was redundant. Perhaps my favorite moment of those morning sessions was when Sumanth Gopinath compared a feature of Different Trains to the music from a classic 1980s IBM commercial. In the afternoon we had papers on Part, Eastman, Glass, and Young. Kyle Gann described his painstaking reconstruction of Dennis Johnson‘s pivotal-yet-nearly-lost November, which Kyle and Sarah Cahill will be performing in all its 5-hour glory on Sunday. And at the end of the day the great Tom Johnson, who was the Downtown critic for the Village Voice from 1971 to 1982 and who now lives in Paris, gave an hour-long presentation on European minimalist music that we in the United States aren’t familiar with, and on some of his own music. Johnson’s book The Voice of New Music is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand minimalism, and it was a real thrill to hear his current thoughts on the European scene.
After dinner, the Kansas City based New Ear Ensemble gave a concert of minimalist works. New Ear is, to begin with, a superb group–they played some very difficult music very well. The concert had three high points for me: Vladimir Tosic‘s Arios for piano and cello was quite beautiful and highly formalized in a way that made every moment feel like a natural, organic outgrowth of the preceding. Jacob Ter Veldhuis‘s The Body of Your Dreams for piano and tape is always great fun, with its Reich-inspired interplay between piano melodies and a tape part assembled from an infomercial about a piece of exercise equipment that promises great results with minimal effort. The final piece on the program was Tom Johnson‘s Narayana’s Cows, which is an ingenious representation (including Johnson providing explanatory narration) of a math problem supposedly posed by the 14th century mathematician Narayana Pandit: “A cow produces one calf each year. Beginning in its fourth year, each calf produces a calf. How many cows are there after, for example17 years?” That may sound dry, but it’s actually a very fun piece.