Archive for the “Electro-Acoustic” Category
Nick Brooke: Border Towns
To experience Border Towns is to undo the idea of both. The border is metaphorically ubiquitous—as powerful as it is arbitrary. Towns are more immediate—tactile and moving to the pulse of indeterminate social interaction. Together the words form not an oxymoron but a median. Such is the spirit that moves composer Nick Brooke in this quasi-opera of Americana and stardust.
The music’s formula is diaristic, appropriating snippets from songbooks familiar and not so familiar, gunpowder from the popular canon loaded into a rather different cannon and shot across the past century until fleetingly recognizable. Brooke’s intertextual approach lays new coordinates over cartographic mainstays, in which resound the piece’s seven embodied singers—voices treading bullion in a cold electronic stew.
Movements like “Silver City” tickle the synapses of our collective memory, opening in a Judy Garland nightmare with the barest intimations of rainbows. An old radio pays homage to underlying frequencies, flagging the limits of nostalgia in what little we may recognize. What begin as utterly ingrained snippets become new beginnings, radiant and free. The end effect is haunting in the best way possible.
Subsequent movements chew their respective morsels of philosophic disturbance. Whether the overt sampling aesthetic of “Del Rio” (a deft reconstruction of a ubiquitous sound byte) or the distant mountain spirit of “Heart Butte” (a pretty mélange of rodeo, Roy Orbison, and Dolly Parton balladry), an oddly compelling backstory emerges by virtue of Brooke’s narrative integrity. The grander arc takes shape in a chain of referential vertebrae, disks filled with everything from Whitney Houston to Steve Reich. Other portions glisten with cinematic qualities. In the latter vein, “Jackman” smacks of thunder with its battle cry, its implications of outer space as dense as its decays are short. “Tombstone” is another. Dotted by splashes of Chinese gongs as it rides the tailwinds of stray bullets and Hollywood stereotypes, it traverses landscapes of lock-grooves and shattered DJ remnants. Border Towns recycles even itself, beginning and ending somewhere not over the rainbow, but in a place without space, folded like a paper football and flicked into its own gaping mouth.
Interspersed throughout this exercise in anthemic surgery are various ambient reflections: train whistles, cross lights, pedestrian babble, sound checks, impassioned listeners, crickets, church services, and the like fill the interstices with quotidian fascination. From their manipulations of source text and flame emerges a quilt of hymnody, torn and re-squared until it burns.
The clock ticks only for those who hear it.
~Interview with Nick Brooke~
1. What is your background as a composer and as a listener?
I was classically trained at Oberlin, though in a healthily offbeat way, and grad studies at Princeton happily did nothing dissuade me from mixing anachronistic materials in my current polyglot manner.
I do listen voraciously cross-genre, coming from a deep interest in getting to know people, contexts, and cultures. I tend not to listen to recordings much—solo listening can feel solipsistic and lonely. I prefer live performance. And given experiments with theater and dance over the last decade, I’m much more comfortable in those mediums than I used to be.
2. Talk a little bit about the history of Border Towns: in terms of both its evolution as a piece and the slices of Americana that make their way into the mix.
When I started Border Towns, I saw a lot of theater and musical groups going on these “all-gone-to-look-for-America” trips and it all felt wrong, so wrong. The whole genre of musical Americana is often engaged in portraying and skewing one side of a multiplicity that’s indescribable. Americana often thumbtacks culture to the wall rather than asking questions about it. So I wanted to use Border Towns to unpack musical icons, but also engaging somehow with those de Toqueville-like-trips—literally traveling around the country.
3. Is there an inherent visual or theatrical element in Border Towns? The music almost screams for it.
Completely. Most of the music is created with the choreography already in mind, often in canon or some kind of physical and musical structure. “Tombstone” is literally a calf-roping contest between two people, as well as a fugue between Patsy Montana and Gene Autry. In “Ocean Grove,” people are laid on blankets, while rapturously singing Ray Charles (“I see”). Then, through a laying on of hands, these performers are converted into Bruce Springsteen (“Born! Born!”). It’s a canon in seven parts, the number of singers in the piece. I need to predict the exact number of physical events when I compose the music, and the choreography develops in lockstep with the samples. (There’s a primer on this weird process on my website.)
4. The first word that came to mind when I listened to the album was “plunderphonics,” although your aesthetic seems like a more organic or live iteration of John Oswald’s mission of audio piracy. In this respect, I am inclined to align it more with the live mash-ups of a group like Ground Zero, whose Revolutionary Pekinese Opera seems the closest analogue. How would you situate Border Towns in terms of genre or musical space?
I enjoy Oswald and Ground Zero, though in terms of mash-ups I tend to take the slow route, with lots of silences, and I often attempt to completely break down then reassemble a specific genre, or even just a song. Plunderphonics and Revolutionary Pekinese Opera have a joyous aesthetics of excess to me, and also revel in effects like tape delay and studio layering. I tend to go for a more “real” sound, which ends up being surreal when you perform it live. A performer sings x song, but the words and phrases are in completely different places, and it still somehow makes sense; at the same time, it plays with memory and meaning. Because I’m using live performers, using the sounds of early tape manipulation or even electronica breaks a surreal plausibility I’m trying to establish. And in Border Towns, the materials are often dealt with more procedurally than these other composers: i.e., “Heart Butte,” which tries to deal in a semi-exhaustive way with slow, classic country.
5. An especially delightful aspect of Border Towns is the way in which it flirts with our nostalgia. Familiar songs are quickly swapped out for others, such that by the end we experience a new folk narrative. Is your intention with the piece to do simply that, or does it have broader, extra-musical aspirations as well?
In making each song, I often tried to go against the grain of the nostalgia, or at least create a new meaning to each song or genre. And of course if I could exactly pinpoint that meaning here, I’d be preaching, and it would become clichéd. The ideas for Border Towns emerged at a time when the “Lomax remix” genre, such as Moby’s Play, was at its height. I resisted the comfortable, warm electronic remix broth given to these samples. Did people realize the issues of Paul Robeson singing “still longing for the old plantation”, or why “cowboy music”—a genre of guys often falsetto yodeling, was anachronous? I was trying to unpack assumptions on a structural level, by the choices of what I remixed and where. I wanted to be omnivorous, and substitute old traditions, even stereotypes, with something else. Each piece take on a different icon—Tex-Mex, border radio, plantation songs, cowboy music—but tries to bend them at moments of expectation.
6. The vocal performances on Border Towns are wonderful. How did you settle on these particular musicians and how did the recording project all come together?
It’s always a challenge. Together with Jenny Rohn, my co-director for the live performances, we’re always looking for that experimental “triple threat”: people who sing, act, move, and also understand the weird, tricky-to-sing music. Some of these singers are uncanny chameleons. Some are hugely gifted in physical theater. It came together as a performance at HERE’s Resident Artist Series first—then I took it to the studio.
7. How do the ambient interludes function in Border Towns?
In a way, the ambient “interludes” are islands of realness. The sounds are actually taken from trips to the border towns on which each song is purportedly “based.” But, outside of these ambient interludes, the songs take on stereotypes of Americana, mass-produced materials that I often found sold, broadcast, or otherwise referenced in the places I visited. Cage once said if you destroy all recordings people will learn to sing again. Likewise, if one stops asking the potentially obsolete question, “What do people from this place listen to?” you just end up listening, and that’s the best part. In recording ambient sounds, I’m vamping off the long tradition of acoustic ecology and soundscape composition. In the final song of Border Towns, the ambient recordings swallow up a single performer on stage, maybe in a final moment of immersive, real listening.
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Next week is the third annual Composers Concordance Festival in New York City. They’ve called it ‘Timbre Tantrum,’ organizing the concerts by instrumental family:
Dec. 1 – 3pm
with Glen Velez, Lukas Ligeti, Peter Jarvis.
Dimenna Center (W. 37th St. NYC)
Dec. 2 – 7pm
ArtBeat (repeat of program)
William Patterson University
Dec. 4 – 7pm
Three’s Keys with Taka Kigawa, Inna Faliks and Carlton Holmes
music by Dan Cooper, Milica Paranosic, Gene Pritsker, Sean Hickey, Debra Kaye, Carlton Holmes, Daniel Palkowski and guests
Klavierhaus (211 W. 58th St. NYC)
Dec. 6 – 8pm
E-nstallation: Electronics, Fashion and Projections
Music by: Dan Cooper, Milica Paranosic, Gene Pritsker, Svjetlana Bukvich, David Morneau, Daniel Palkowski, Lynn Bechtold
Fashion: Vicky Vale
Projections: Gorazd Poposki
Gallery MC, 549 W. 52nd St. 8th Fl, NYC
Dec. 7 – 8pm
with the CompCord String Orchestra
Music by Dan Cooper, Otto Luening, Milica Paranosic, Gene Pritsker, Dave Soldier and Randy Woolf
West Park Presbyterian Church
165 W 86th St. NYC
Dec. 8 – 8pm
a three-hour marathon of three-minute pieces for fretted strings performed by the composers
Drom NYC, 85 Avenue A
For more information and to buy tickets, visit:the festival website.
Posted by Chris Becker in Ambient, Composers, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, File Under?, Houston, Improv, Sound Art, tags: Houston Fringe Festival, Paul Connolly, Super Happy Fun Land
(Houston, TX) If Houston is becoming, as one young Houston-based composer puts it, a “hub for contemporary music,” credit must be given to more than a few local ensembles, organizations, and venues that operate without institutional support and on shoestring budgets. Contemporary music ensembles made up of university professors and their students performing contemporary music in universities for other professors and students are nothing new. But composers who not only write, perform, and creatively program contemporary music and present it outside of academia in venues typically dedicated to performance art, experimental rock and underground noise? That’s a little more interesting, and certainly more conducive to expanding audiences for 21st century composition.
Composer Paul Connolly (Photo by Lynn Lane)
Houston-based composer Paul Connolly understands this. As the curator and producer of Brave New Waves, which was born out of electronic and video artist Jonathan Jindra’s Binarium Sound Series and is currently Houston’s only concert series dedicated solely to electronic music, Connolly has worked hard to bring seemingly disparate artists and audiences together to share and experience new sounds. On October 2,3, and 5, as part of the sixth annual Houston Fringe Festival, Connolly shifts roles from producer to composer to premier The Quiet Persistence Of Memory, an original electro-acoustic composition that, not surprisingly, will be performed by a wildly diverse collection of Houston musicians and improvisers.
The Quiet Persistence Of Memory is scored for bass, tenor, and soprano voices, viola, harp, contrabass, percussion, and analog modular sound tools. The ensemble Connolly has gathered to perform this work includes Aaron Bielish (viola), Kathy Fay (harp), Thomas Helton (double bass), Luke Hubley (percussion), John Pitale (percussion), Ben Lind (narration), Misha Penton (soprano), Matthew Robinson (tenor), and SPIKE the percussionist (percussion, electronics). Each of the three scheduled performances of The Quiet Persistence Of Memory will feature a slightly different configuration of the performers. The score, which Connolly describes as “a time-based grid that allows the performers to both see their part as well as existing parts of others that have been prerecorded,” is augmented by live improvisation and accompanying visuals.
“When I first began conceptualizing the piece,” says Connolly, “it probably had an equal balance between acoustic instruments and electronic material. However, the piece has evolved to where it has become very much a totally acoustic instrument work, with live electronics that are used almost like Foley in film. Very subtle, and simply providing a background that’s not necessarily noticeable.”
The title of the piece, aside from its nod to the surrealist painter Salvador Dali, refers to “the process by which information (i.e. memory) is encoded, stored and retrieved.” Connolly’s compositional process, which included recording studio performances by many of the participating musicians and incorporating those recordings into the piece for the same musicians to “remember” and react to in the live performances, speaks to the subject of how memory is utilized, disrupted, and (de)valued “in a hyper-information rich society.”
No two of the three performances of the piece will be alike, and kudos must go to the folks behind the Houston Fringe Festival for scheduling multiple opportunities for audiences to hear and experience Connolly’s music.
Paul Connolly presents The Quiet Persistence Of Memory October 2, 5, 9:30 PM and October 3, 8:00 PM at Super Happy Fun Land, 3801 Polk Street, Houston, TX. Part of the sixth annual Houston Fringe Festival.
On a hot September 7th Saturday night, People Inside Electronics and LA Sonic Odyssey presented bass-baritone Nicholas Isherwood in a concert of electronic and vocal music given at the Moryork Gallery in Highland Park. This was the Los Angeles appearance for Isherwood’s world tour that will also take him to New Zealand, Portugal and France. The evening included works by Michael Norris, Jean-Claude Risset, Lissa Meridan, Isaac Schankler and featured an adaptation of Karlheintz Stockhausen’s powerful Capricorn.
The Moryork gallery space was roomy and comfortable for the 40 or so in attendance and even though the interior walls were lined with all sorts of exotic items the acoustics were carefully engineered with several good speakers placed around the perimeter of the audience. A table with a soundboard and several computers completed the electronic setup. With Los Angeles sweltering in triple-digit temperatures the heat inside the gallery was an issue, but it did not affect the performance.
The first piece was Deep Field I by Michael Norris, a composer and software programmer who teaches at the New Zealand School of Music. Deep Field I is the first of a proposed series of works based on the Hubble Telescope Deep Field images. The electronics provided a suitably spare and expansively distant feel while Isherwood’s rich voice added a welcome warmth. The texts were taken from MUL.APIN, an ancient Babylonian star catalog, On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres by Copernicus and some 16th century French poetry by Pierre de Croix. The blending of voice and electronics through the speaker system was effective, although the vocals would occasionally overpower. This piece provokes feelings that are an interesting combination of the primal and the futuristic, inviting the listener to speculate about immensity of deep space and our place in it. Deep Field I was commissioned by Nicholas Isherwood and is well matched to his voice. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Chris Becker in Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Dance, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, Flute, Houston, Improv, Women composers, tags: FALKOR, Michelle Yom, Nameless Sound, Neverending Story
Houston-based flutist, composer, and improviser Michelle Yom
(Houston, TX) This Sunday, Houston-based flutist, composer, and improviser Michelle Yom presents FALKOR, an interactive music and dance composition featuring Yom on flute and four dancers, Kriten Frankiewicz, Erin Reck, Leslie Scates, and Sophia Torres. FALKOR utilizes video motion tracking and a wireless system triggering audio samples based on the colors of the costumes worn by the dancers as well as their movements. FALKOR takes place at Studio 101 as part of the ongoing electronic music series Brave New Waves.
Fantasy film fans (not to mention fans of 1980s pop music) will no doubt recognize the name Falkor (i.e. Falkor the Luck Dragon) from the film Neverending Story, which tells the story of a young boy who, through reading a magical book, enters into another world called Fantasia, a world sustained by human imagination. Yom uses the names of different characters and creatures from the film, each of whom represent some facet of humanity, as “venture points” to explore “the relationships between emotions, noise, sound, silence, and nothingness.”
Says Yom, “Falkor is luck and joy, Swamps of Sadness is sadness, Engywook is intellect, and Morla is cynicism. I use these characters as general ground to inspire the improvised music and dance. It seems linear, but I hope to show other sides of seemingly one-sided notions of emotion. For example, we treat sadness as a negative feeling, but it actually springs from hope in the first place, and when destroyed, begins something new.”
As a frequent participant in concerts of freely improvised music presented by the Houston organization Nameless Sound, improvisation is a crucial component to Yom’s compositional vision. Each of the four dancers in FALKOR are experienced improvisers as well. The wireless system triggering audio in response to their movement and costume colors will scramble the audience’s perception of what has been composed and what is being improvised, as well as time itself.
“I’ve been exploring silence,” explains Yom. “Different types of silence with factors like physical movement and the inevitably strong role it plays in our perception of time in a concert. I’d like to push the length of silence in a musical piece without losing the audience.”
Sunday, January 27, Brave New Waves presents Michelle Yom’s FALKOR at Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street, Houston, Texas, Houston, Texas 77007. Doors open at 7:45 p.m. the performance begins at 8:05 p.m. $10 cover.
Tune in to KTRU Saturday at 6:00 p.m. CT for an interview with Michelle Yom.
We’re pleased to introduce cellist Maya Beiser’s performing the Michael Harrison composition “Just Ancient Loops,” with film by Bill Morrison, which will receive its premiere at the Bang on a Can 25th Anniversary Marathon this coming Sunday in NYC.
This is just one of many performances that will occur over the marathon’s 12 hours of free live music-making: check out the complete schedule online here.
Congrats to the can bangers – may you have many more seasons of marathoning!
Posted by Chris McGovern in Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Events, Interviews, Music Events, tags: Ashley Bathgate, cello, Cellophilia, John Zorn, Mariel Roberts, Michael Gordon, Molly Herron, mutiple cellos, Sarah Kirkland Snider, steve reich, W4
New York-based new music collective West 4th (aka W4) are garnering a wonderful reputation in being very active and decisively creative in concepts for their concert series. This coming June 8th, they will put on an all-cello program titled “Cellophilia” where they will feature music not just for solo cello, but for multiple cellos of 2-8 at a time. There are eight cellists scheduled to appear, among them are
Mariel Roberts, who is also a co-producer of the concert, and Bang On a Can All-Stars’ Ashley Bathgate.
The concert is being funded via Kickstarter. Please click here or on the link at the bottom to donate.
Composer and W4 co-founder Molly Herron (pictured second from left; although her music is not featured in this concert, she’s also co-producer for the show) and cellist Mariel Roberts (pictured below) both sat down and spoke to me via Skype about the upcoming concert. “It was basically an idea”, stated Molly. “We like to do themes for our concerts, give something to tie it together with something to sink your teeth into, and so the theme for this concert was just ‘works for cello ensemble’. We’ve got a couple of solos on there, but it’s mostly groups of cellos. We’ve got 2 octets, a septet, a quartet, two duets–We just wanted to get together big hunks of cellos, and create new music together”.
The works that are scheduled to be performed (along with pieces by W4′s charter members Matt Frey and Tim Hansen) are written by composers such as Sarah Kirkland Snider, John Zorn and Michael Gordon.
The repertoire is a mix of new and pre-existing pieces. Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint makes a rare appearance, and was perfect for a concert of this criteria.
Molly explains. “We really wanted to do the Reich piece for eight cellos, which is so rarely done live with everybody there, and Mariel really helped us a lot with what was already established”. Read the rest of this entry »
Cutting Edge Concerts
Great Noise Ensemble
Conducted by Armando Bayolo
Guest soloist, Cornelius Dufallo
Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space, NY
April 16, 2012
DC’s Great Noise Ensemble made a vibrant and yet intimate New York debut at Symphony Space. The contemporary music ensemble, performing in the smaller room known as Leonard Nimoy Thalia, and the ensemble not having its full lineup on this occasion, presented a night of works for varied paired-down ensemble setups. Each of these selections was presented by composer Victoria Bond, who acted as emcee and conducted interviews with each composer of the program’s works that was present (Save for the absent Marc Mellits, who conductor/composer Armando Bayolo spoke for–Bayolo also interviewed Bond for her piece).
The most memorable moments during the evening were the world premiere of Cornelius Dufallo’s short violin (with pickup and loops) concerto Paranoid Symmetry. Written for Great Noise and inspired by a real story involving someone in his family, the piece is Neil’s meditation on one’s sanity and examines human conditions that range between paranoid delusion, psychosis and love. The 15-minute piece displays great dynamics in both virtuosity and versatility, going from the 1st movement’s post-modern layered drone, to a classical arpeggio during the cadenza, to blues-oriented phrases during the coda.
Marc Mellits’ Five Machines, originally written for the Bang On a Can All-Stars, was in equally capable hands on this occasion. Mellits’ work, with some superb percussion and wild time signatures, reminded me that there was a reason that progressive rock had to happen at some point in history.
I even had gooseflesh from the duet between the cello and bass violin.
The Way of Ideas, composed by Baltimore’s Alexandra Gardner, was an ornate piece reminiscent of her own Electric Blue Pantsuit, sans the electric loops and featuring more players, and is reflective of the process from a composer’s point of view.
Victoria Bond’s Coqui was another throwback to classics for me for its violin yelps reminiscent of Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, except here they represent the voice of the Puerto Rican tree frogs.
Another favorite piece was Carlos Carrillo’s De la brevedad de la vida (The Brevity of Life), a chilling meditation kicked off perfectly with a wavering clarinet.
The dry, intimate sound of the Thalia seemed to serve these pieces and their settings fittingly. Great Noise made a great New York debut, and I hope to hear their brand of noise many more times in these parts.
Great Noise Ensemble.com
Laurie Spiegel, DIY electronic music goddess
How awful is the dystopia in The Hunger Games? Well, if you listen to one cue in the movie, you might be led to believe that only pitch-drifting analog synthesizers are available, and multitrack recordings are made with the greatest of difficulties.
At least that’s what one might believe encountering Laurie Spiegel’s 1972 composition, Sediment, during the cornucopia scene in the Hollywood blockbuster. (Steve Reich’s music also makes an appearance!)
Geeta Dayal has the full story, along with an interview of Laurie Spiegel, here.
Posted by Chris McGovern in Composers, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Experimental Music, Interviews, Women composers, tags: Amanda Palmer, cello, looping, Rasputina, Todd Reynolds, Zoe Keating
Photo courtesy of Andre Penven for Coilhouse Magazine
Zoë Keating (Wow, what can I say??) has definitely cultivated a very respectable place in the new music and indie music circles. After rethinking a classical concert career as a cellist for working a tech job, she was intervened to perform with various friends, played in the band Rasputina, eventually went solo with a gorgeously layered, rhythmic cello sound. Zoë went on to sell over 40,000 copies of her CDs without distribution, a record label or management. And she has over one million Twitter followers. The internet loves her!
Besides her solo career, her other projects include music collaborations with various dance companies (Apex Contemporary Dance Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, Digby Dance), film scoring (or soundtrack performances; Warrior, The Secret Life of Bees, The Conspirator), scoring for varied TV programs and other medias, and makes guest appearances alongside artists such as Amanda Palmer, Paolo Nutini, Imogen Heap, and many more. Read the rest of this entry »
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