Archive for the “Downtown” Category

Big ups to my composer compadre Ken Ueno. He’s had a heck of a busy year. In addition to an active teaching schedule at University of California-Berkeley, where he’s an Assistant Professor of Composition, he’s been busily composing, performing, and supervising recordings of his music.

His new disc on the BMOPSound imprint – the only disc I’ve ever received in the mail with a warning label on it (extreme dynamic range) – is an engaging collection. Featuring the Boston Modern Orchestra project, conducted by Gil Rose, its a collection of his concerti for other musicians – violist Wendy Richman, biwa player Yukio Tanaka, and shakuhachi performer Kiku Mitsuhashi – as well as works featuring his own overtone/throat singing. Another of his concerti, Like Dusted Sparks, written for percussionist Samuel Z. Solomon, appears on Deviation the new CD by the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble.

This weekend he’s in NYC to perform a new work with Du Yun at the Flea, part of their May mini-marathon. According to Ken, “Our piece is called Gold Ocean. It’s a multimedia post-modern opera, featuring the juxtaposition of contemporary classical with electronica/pop and Asian sonic references.”

Du Yun is having quite a weekend too. In addition to her performance with Ken, her opera Zolle was premiered on Friday at New York City Opera’s 2010 Vox Festival.

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No, not that one… This one, with trusty bass in hand… Phil Fried is a composer long known to me as a regular,  astute — and often very funny — participant in musical discussions on the NewMusicBox forums and ‘chatter’ commentary. Phil comes from a musical family; His father, Louis Fried, was an original cast member in several Broadway shows including Brigadoon and Carousel. His cousin was the noted composer Isadore Freed. Second only to music is Phil’s passionate interest in literature. He has written several texts and librettos, including that for his operatic adaptation of Hemingway’s short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. Most recently Phil became the composer in residence and core member for Opera Bob, a new-music collaborative in Minnesota.

This Monday evening at the Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia Street, NYC / 212-989-9319 / March 22, 8:30 PM / cover $10NewMusicBox‘s own Frank J. Oteri will doing the introduction honors as Phil comes to town to present a concert of his new music for bass, voice and piano (joined by soprano Anna Brandsoy and pianist Jill Dawe). As Phil himself tells it:

“After working 10 years on my opera The Snows of Kilimanjaro I was in the mood for funny. I found my voice as a solo instrumentalist performing on an upright electric bass. The sound is amplified/unamplified, processed/unprocessed, and mixed via touch and foot pedals in real time. The “soundscapes” I create explore many angles of experimental music. My approach is non tonal, as in my composed music, but its effect is more intimate and personal. It was critical for me that my first explorations into non-extended tonal materials were with jazz music. I’ve come full circle, and have returned to improvisation after the careful study of composed music and classical string bass technique.”

Be there or be… well, if you go you’ll probably still be square. But you’ll be a very hip square!

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I’ve written before about the one and only Alex Temple, late Yalie and NYC denizen, studious University of Michigan grad student, now currently working his thing in Chicago.

Well, Alex is back in New York for a moment, joined by fellow composers Brian Mark, Seth Bedford, Angélica Négron, and Jeremy Howard Beck. DETOUR presents works by all these up-and-comers, made to accompany archival films found in the Prelinger Archives, this Saturday, March 20th, at 9pm, at the Gershwin Hotel (7 East 27th Street, 9pm / Cover $10)

The videos range from airline ads to political propaganda. Some have been edited and others left intact. The music that’s been added to them covers a wide variety of styles and languages, from electronic soundscapes to live chamber music. Alex’s own offering is called A Presentation to the Board, and uses electronic music and a live speaker to turn a 1950′s public service announcement about life in the suburbs into a pitch by a representative of an evil conspiratorial corporation to a despotic government.

Alex has also been muy busy with other projects that involve both voice and smart deconstructions/meldings of pop and high culture. A recent favorite is Imogene, which lucky yous can hear in two different versions at Alex’s works page. Go ahead, try it, you’ll like it!

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bagpipeJust a few weeks ago over at our CD Review section, Jay Batzner wrote about the new Julia Wolfe Dark Full Ride CD: “Each piece transfixes me.  I am writing my own music differently because of this disc.  I am so glad that Julia Wolfe exists, is writing music, and that such talented performers play the hell out of her stuff.”  It’s a really interesting Ride, each piece intensely working over some greater or lesser multiple of the same instrument.

If you’re a skeptical “show me” kind of person, free as a bird tomorrow (Nov. 10th) in NYC and maybe just a little crazy, you can test your own reaction to all of these works and the performers. The normal CD release concert has been jettisoned for this one, instead having each of the four pieces performed separately in venues familiar and not-so, scattered around Manhattan:

At 11 AM Matthew Welch is guaranteed to absolutely fill the air as he plays LAD on bagpipe with 8 more bagpipes on tape, at Roulette, 20 Greene Street (between Canal and Grand);

At 12 noon, the title piece Dark Full Ride for 4 drumsets (manned by the Talujon Percussion Quartet — David Cossin, Tom Kolor, Michael Lipsey and Matt Ward) will pound out at Dauphin Human Design, 138 West 25th Street, 12th Floor (between 6th and 7th Avenues);

At 1 PM Robert Black and the Hartt Bass Band will rock Wolfe’s Stronghold for 8 double basses, at the Chelsea Art Museum, 556 West 22nd Street (corner of 11th Avenue);

Finally at 2:30 PM Lisa Moore, Lisa Kaplan, Blair McMillen, Timo Andres, Kate Campbell and Isabelle O’Connell, all conducted by Sam Adams, will undertake the epic my lips from speaking for 6 pianos at Faust Harrison Pianos, 205 West 58th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues).

julia wolfeJulia herself will be tagging along to each performance; if you happen to spot this face in the crowd you might go and say hi & thanks to the woman who penned all this glorious madness. It’s all free and open to whoever makes it, so pack a lunch, put on those walking shows and have a great hike!

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Last Friday I finally made it down to the new DUMBO location of Galapagos Art Space to see the release party/performance of Mikel Rouse’s haunting new album Gravity Radio. But let’s back up for a moment before we get to Rouse.

DUMBO, for you non-New Yorkers, is one of the myriad New York City neighborhood abbreviations, like SoHo (South of Houston) or Tribeca (triangle below Canal), and it stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” which is to say it’s in Brooklyn in the area just south of the Manhattan Bridge. It was one of the first places in Brooklyn that artists moved to find illegal loft space in the 70s after they got priced out of lower Manhattan. (The name “DUMBO” is actually an interesting piece of failed culture jamming–residents hoped that by coining such an unappealing name they could stave off developers.)

Galapagos Art Space is a mixed-genre performance space which used to be in Williamsburg, but when the rent in Williamsburg got too high they worked out a deal that has landed them in a converted industrial space in DUMBO which they were able to entirely remodel to fit their needs and aesthetic. In front of the stage, suspended a few inches above a shallow black reflecting pool and connected by bridges, is a set of circular seating pods with room for several small tables and chairs each.  A balcony with additional seating rings the room and provides space for the sound booth.  The whole place is done up in red and black and chrome, set against the bare concrete walls of the building.  It’s truly a beautiful space.  Galapagos has a new booker, and I’m told that they are going to be increasing their classical fare–they’re already hosting the New Amsterdam Records concert series Archipelago (the next show in that series will be this Friday at 7:30pm with vocal group Roomful of Teeth and percussion/flute duo Due East.)  To give a sense of how diverse the offerings at Galapagos are, in just the next week they will also be presenting Argentinian music by Emilio Teubal & Fernando Otero, punk/cabaret by Barbez, some sort of music/dance extravaganza called “Out Through Her,”  the Main Squeeze accordion orchestra, a production of Hamlet, a burlesque show, Jenny Rocha and her Painted Ladies (which apparently involves music, dance, physical comedy, and theatre), a variety show, and the American Modern Ensemble.  Perhaps “diverse” is an overstatement, but that programming certainly covers a lot of the territory of the hipster art universe, and that was just one week of shows.

Galapagos Art Space

Galapagos Art Space

That programming potpourri brings us nicely back to Mikel Rouse, whose album Gravity Radio may at first glance seem like a straight-up rock record, but which has deep roots in the classical music and theater traditions as well.  Mikel himself is clearly comfortable in the netherworld between pop and classical, moving effortlessly more into one area and then into the other.  In 1978 his band Tirez Tirez opened for the Talking Heads in Kansas City; in New York in the 80s when postminimalism’s highly rhythmically and structurally complex offshoot Totalism was emerging, Rouse was at the center of the movement along with composers like Kyle Gann and Michael Gordon.  In 1984 he wrote a 12-tone piece called Quick Thrust for a rock quartet, which features dizzying polymeters that somehow seem tightly controlled and completely haywire at the same time.  Mikel’s rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic instincts all seem grounded in rock, but he tends to deploy those materials much more like a classical composer than like a popular song writer.

Take “Black Cracker,” which is track three on Gravity Radio.  First, almost all popular music in 4/4 time has four-bar phrases, but for Rouse’s lyric that fourth bar is unnecessary and he leaves it out.  The whole song is perfectly seamless, and yet because every cycle is one bar shorter than you expect the whole thing feels constantly off-kilter.  Then part way through he cuts the tempo of the descending hook “When I’m bored I can’t be bored with you/When I’m blown I can’t be blown in two” by half. After establishing the half-tempo version he brings back the full-tempo version over top of it, making the chorus into a prolation canon.  That half-speed hook then becomes background for the next verse.  Later an ascending scale adds yet another counterpoint to the mixture, and the whole thing fits together like a puzzle.

The danger of emphasizing these elements of complexity, of course, is the risk of sending the message that complexity is inherently virtuous, or that the complexity in this music somehow “elevates” it above other less complex popular music.  Writing in Gramophone, Ken Smith once said that Rouse’s music is evidence that “pop music can sustain serious interest with the right person at the helm”–the implication that most pop music can’t “sustain serious interest” is the kind of thing that tells me the writer doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  The complexity in Gravity Radio is interesting and enjoyable, and connects the music to the classical tradition, but ultimately the music has to stand or fall on its surface qualities, and in this case it stands tall.  I’ll take a well-crafted Britney Spears tune over a tortured post-serialist brain-dump by a composer who cares more about combinatoriality than musicality any day of the week, and while I haven’t asked him I suspect Mikel Rouse would feel the same way.

If it sounds like I’m avoiding telling you what Gravity Radio is, exactly, the truth is I’m not sure what to call it.  It’s part song-cycle, part concept album, part theater piece.   It’s a series of thematically and musically related, country-inflected, infectiously memorable rock songs of ambiguous but evocative lyrical content, connected by interludes of spoken recitation of news headlines and fragments of lyrics from the songs delivered in an astonishing newscaster-kunst voice by Veanne Cox.  It has something to do with superconductors and gravity waves.  It’s abstract and catchy and deep.  It’s 52 minutes and 14 seconds long.

The beauty of the internet is that I can just tell you to go here to listen to portions of it and read Mikel Rouse’s description and the lyrics.

The performance at Galapagos was a stripped down version with just guitar,  string quartet (members of ACME), Mikel singing, Veanne reciting, and some background sound effects.   It worked well even in that format, and the absence of drums and other rock elements showcased how deeply integrated the string arrangements are into the composition.  The band fought a little against the acoustics of the space, which had a tendency to muddy up the sound, but overall the performance was tight and intense.  Rouse modestly sat among the ensemble rather than standing front and center like a rock frontman.  The headlines in the news recitations were updated with recent news, as they will be for each leg of the international tour that begins in January.

Gravity Radio ends with one last set of news reports from which I draw one final observation: Almost any statement is improved by the addition of the phrase “Chuck Norris wins.”

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Like Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham‘s fame will always be for his use of multiple electric guitars, often in non-standard tunings and often at just-about-ear-splitting volume. The slight shame is that the guitar stuff is only one part of Chatham’s long and restless musical exploration: there’s also all his work as a trumpeter, as well as works for everything from two gongs to just-tuned piano to wind ensemble to full orchestra.  And while the massed guitar resources may be similar to Branca, I’ve always felt that Chatham’s clang/clash/drone carried something almost ‘lyrical’, compared to Branca’s body blows.

A major force in the 70s-80s ‘downtown’ NYC scene, Chatham has spent the last 20 years as an ex-pat in Paris, where he’s continued ramping up the ambition of his musical visions.  One of those visions became reality in 2005, when the City of Paris commissioned Chatham to compose a piece for their all-night La Nuit Blanche Festival. The result, A Crimson Grail, gathered 400 guitarists (w/ bass and percussion) in a marathon, three-movement sonic assault focused on Paris’ largest church, Sacré-Coeur. 10,000 people watched live, and 100,000 more on national TV. A fuzzy audio snapshot of the performance has been released on CD, but this Grail was so much a spectacle of a specific moment that any future performance would likely be nearly impossible, and in any case would be a very different beast indeed.

Well, that ‘beast’ has arrived, and this time on our side of the Atlantic. Chatham has reworked A Crimson Grail, this time for a slightly more ‘modest’ 200 guitars (and 16 bass guitars), and is in town to present it (along with section leaders David Daniell, Seth Olinsky, John King, and Ned Sublette) this Saturday, August 8th, as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. The performance is from 7:30 to 10 pm, at Damrosch Park (Southwest corner of the Lincoln Center Plaza, 62nd Street near Amsterdam Avenue).

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Continuing a theme: earlier this week I mentioned a gig by composer Matt McBane’s “not-quite-neo-alt-rock-chamber-folk-etc” ensemble Build. The pattern continues this Sunday at The Stone in NYC (corner of 2nd street and Ave. C, $10), when two more “NQNARCFE” groups show us what they’ve got (is this the true wave of classical music’s future? — composers and performers each with their own group playing clubs? To try both sides of the pie, since our own side’s filling is getting decidedly skimpy?).

At 10pm Victoire takes the stage: “Brooklyn-based band founded by composer Missy Mazzoli (keyboards and compositions, with Olivia De Prato and Andie Springer, violins, Eileen Mack, clarinet, Lorna Krier, keyboards and Eleonore Oppenheim, double bass) has been dubbed an ‘all-star, all-female quintet’ by Time Out New York. This quirky ensemble combines strings, clarinets, keyboards and lo-fi electronics (including samples of sewing machines and answering machine tapes) to create their ‘minimalist, post-rock bliss’.”  Their EP has been getting a great reception, and chances are good that you’re going to hear about them far into the future.

Opening the night at 8pm, Odeya Nini stamps her own group with a rather different vibe. As Odeya tells me herself, “...my current work is a bit different – I guess its just a piling up of more experiences, mind tumbles and turns. My music could be categorized as indie chamber / electronic / folk — or simple music for folks to focus and indulge in what they might perceive as cohesive or opaque.

Odeya “received her BFA in vocal performance from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music where she studied voice with Theo Bleckmann and composition with Kirk Nurock and Gerry Hemingway. Today her work is characterized by skillful experimentation, integrating improvisation, acoustic composition and electro-acoustic sounds to create thought provoking works of art.”

She’ll be working with her own group of sidekicks : Alex Hills (piano), James Ilgenfritz (bass), Jake Wise (clarinet), Katie Young (bassoon), Elena Moon Park (violin) and Curtis Stewart (violin). This is one of Odeya’s last gigs in NYC before she relocates out West for grad school composition study.

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Yes, it’s that time of year again… The Bang On A Can Marathon is about to take flight once more, this Sunday, May 31 from noon to midnight at the World Financial Center Winter Garden (220 Vesey Street, NYC).  And yes, it’s all FREE.

Knowing we can’t all be every place at once, a band of nine volunteers will all be tweeting their reactions and observations in real time! — @anastasiat, @talkmusic, @sethcolterwalls, @espyem, @ogiovetti , @memilybk, @cryfok, @dotdotdottweet and @elimaniscalco.  To simplify things, you can follow all in one centralized spot (even if you’re not an active twitterer) by checking this link (or searching the tag “bangonacan”). Should be oodles of fun, especially for us folk out in the hinterland.

Acting as kick-off for the larger, citywide River to River Festival, the BOACM packs so much great music and so many great performers that even 12 hours can end up flying by (maybe in a haze, but what a glorious haze!). Why not just quote a bit from their own press release?…

The Marathon features two world premieres commissioned especially for the occasion – one from Oscar winning-pianist, composer, producer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto and the other from innovative guitarist Bill Frisell. Both works will be performed at the Marathon by the Bang on a Can All-Stars with Sakamoto and Frisell as guest soloists. Sakamoto, who began his career with the synthpop trio Yellow Magic Orchestra, has gone on to release numerous albums with artists as diverse as David Byrne, Iggy Pop, Brian Wilson, Youssou N’Dour, and DJ Spooky, and score films including The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Little Buddha, Wild Palms, Snake Eyes, and Femme Fatale. Bill Frisell has been recognized as one of the world’s leading guitarists since the late 1980s, and his eclectic music touches on jazz, progressive folk, classical music, country music, noise and more. The Marathon will also feature post-rock band Tortoise, bringing their signature merging of dub, dance, jazz, techno, rock, and classical minimalism to the Winter Garden. Tortoise will perform selections from their upcoming album, Beacons of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey, June 2009), their sixth full-length album and first release of new material in five years.  Read the rest of this entry »

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…That would be the light emanating from New York’s P.S. 122 this Friday and Saturday night, where the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), choreographer Yvan Greenberg and stage director Emma Griffin will be partnering with our old (well, young actually) friend Corey Dargel in his latest set of sweetbittersweet songs, Thirteen Near-Death Experiences. Fourty-five minutes ostensibly about hypochondria and, well, death; just like Tristan they’re always at the same time really about love and, well, life.

You could and should have been following the birth of the work through Corey’s special blog devoted to just that; we’ll forgive you this time (and every time, damn it!… though we know you’ll just break our heart again), if you’ll just wander over their way, plunk down your money, and prepare to weep, squirm, sigh and smile. If that weren’t enough, ICE is rounding out the program with three premieres by other young and notable composers; Stephen Lehman, Nathan Davis and Mario Diaz de León. The show’s at 8pm; P.S. 122 is at 150 First Ave. at E. 9th St., NYC; Phone: 212-477-5829.

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You can only keep a secret society secret so long, and with our old S21 pal Darcy James Argue‘s new CD release that time has come.  Infernal Machines is out now on New Amsterdam Records, and to celebrate the kick-off DJA’s Secret Society will be performing the music from the CD Friday at Galapagos Arts Space (16 Main St. @ Water St., Brooklyn / Door – 9pm, Show – 10pm, $10).

Troy Collins advance-reviewed it at AllAboutJazz.com:

Drawing inspiration from classic stalwarts like the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra as well as pioneering post-rock bands like Explosions In The Sky and Tortoise, Argue tastefully incorporates electric guitars, Fender Rhodes and electric bass into traditional big band instrumentation, extending the innovations of such visionaries as Don Ellis, Gil Evans and George Russell.
Straddling the pastoral opulence of Maria Schneider’s Orchestra and the visceral brio of Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra and Satoko Fujii’s various big bands, Argue has succeeded at creating a magnificent chimera. His harmonically rich blend of contrapuntal horn voicings, atmospheric electronic textures and post-minimalist rhythms surpass the early fusion experiments of his predecessors, yielding a fully integrated sound world as current as it is timeless.
A masterful tunesmith, his dramatic sense of pacing borders on the cinematic, and his instinct for arranging multiple voices into colorful pitch sets exudes kaleidoscopic detail worthy of Ellington.

Drawing inspiration from classic stalwarts like the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra as well as pioneering post-rock bands like Explosions In The Sky and Tortoise, Argue tastefully incorporates electric guitars, Fender Rhodes and electric bass into traditional big band instrumentation, extending the innovations of such visionaries as Don Ellis, Gil Evans and George Russell [....] Straddling the pastoral opulence of Maria Schneider’s Orchestra and the visceral brio of Adam Lane’s Full Throttle Orchestra and Satoko Fujii’s various big bands, Argue has succeeded at creating a magnificent chimera. His harmonically rich blend of contrapuntal horn voicings, atmospheric electronic textures and post-minimalist rhythms surpass the early fusion experiments of his predecessors, yielding a fully integrated sound world as current as it is timeless.

If you want to get primed and pumped beforehand, New Amsterdam is letting you stream the whole CD online. The musical cast is stellar, the pieces are grand, the recording immaculate. Way to go Darcy; here’s to many more words like those above, now and in all the Machines to come.

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