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.
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!
Cory Smythe and Amy X Neuburg; Photos courtesy of Glenn Cornett
Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe
Dec. 13, 2011
It’s East Meets West…coast, that is.
On the stage of the old-school charming Roulette in Brooklyn was yet another creatively edgy program, put on this time by the pairing of West-coast avant-cabaret artist Amy X Neuburg and New York’s own pianist-composer, ICE’s Cory Smythe. Presented without an intermission, the show was almost entirely electronic or electro-acoustic in nature (with the exception of a refreshing burst of Fats Waller’s “Handful of Keys” from Mr. Smythe), and most of the pieces were composed and/or arranged by both of them. Read the rest of this entry »
Judith Berkson performing “Vor an Sicht” (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Reddin)
Vital Vox: A Vocal Festival (Vital Vox 2011)
Sat, Nov 5 & Sun, Nov 6, 2011
I guess there was no better way to kick off the Vital Vox Festival than with a primal scream. Gelsey Bell and her partner for this performance, composer/performer Paul Pinto, actually gave us several of them separate and together at the start of the song cycle Scaling, and they seemed to be the sound that signified both the power of vocal performance and the experimental nature of the festival as well.
In general, the festival is a huge emphasis on artists that recognize the human voice as an instrument, an instrument that has just as much range and capability as any great violin, piano or guitar, and works wonderfully as a duet with other instruments or other voices. These artists are all equally gifted as vocalists as they are composers or musicians of other instruments, and they all put on compelling performances. Read the rest of this entry »
The following is the extended interview I had with singer/composer Judith Berkson, who will be appearing at the Vital Vox Festival this Saturday at Roulette in Brooklyn (She’ll be appearing on Night One: Vocals + Keys). Here she talks about her beginnings, and the preview of selections from her upcoming opera.
CM: Can you give sort of a small recap of how you got from your musical beginnings to your current status as a composer/performer? Was there a significant a-ha moment or was this something that was gradual?
JB: My father who is a cantor taught me to sing when I was very young by methodically teaching me Hebrew blessings which I would sing back by rote. He was demanding about precise pitch, I remember that. From about age 5 to 10 my family had a singing group/band where we played community centers and synagogues and we were required to be in it. It wasn’t really that fun since we had no choice and rehearsals were long and my father a perfectionist. But despite these conditions I was secretly compelled by music. I liked discovering how to do it. I started classical piano at age 5 and when I was 10 my father insisted on music theory lessons too. None of my friends had to do anything like that. I actually really enjoyed it though. I remember the circle of fifths blowing my mind. In high school I took singing seriously and started voice lessons. I reluctantly auditioned for conservatories not really wanting to go to college and ended up at the New England Conservatory. I thought I’d drop out and find people to play with and start a band but then I ended up falling in love with opera. Read the rest of this entry »
Some festivals have a curatorial vision that takes pages and pages of press releases and program notes to explain. Other curators, like Glenn Cornett, revel in the whimsy of amusing composers’ names. Why organize a one-night Nono, Muchmore, and Warp(ed) mini-marathon? The names sounded fun together and the players are the bee’s knees.
The evening will feature music by Italian modernist master Luigi Nono, New York cellist/composer and Anti Social Music member Pat Muchmore, and San Francisco based composer/sound designer Richard Warp. With a 7 PM start time, the show is three and a half hours long, and is full of noteworthy fare for adventurous souls.
Starting things off is a set by Muchmore, featuring members of Anti Social as well as Ken Thompson (Gutbucket, Slow/Fast) premiering new pieces for strings and winds.
Cornett and Warp join electroacoustic forces on Warp’s in-progress piece “Illustrations,” a chamber work loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.” Pianist Taka Kigawa, violinist/composer Caroline Shaw, and bass clarinetist Jonathan Russell pitch in.
One of New York’s finest violin soloists, Miranda Cuckson, joins sound artist Christopher Burns in Nono’s “La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura”, one of the composer’s last compositions (1988-9). According to Cornett, this is likely to be the first New York performance in which the violinist performs the optional vocal part. Singing, playing, coordinating with electronics – all this while moving throughout the space.
The New Spectrum Foundation
Nono Muchmore Warp(ed) Festival
Saturday 17 September 2011
James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary, Broadway at 121st Street, Manhattan
Presenting music by Luigi Nono, Pat Muchmore and Richard Warp
Several world premieres
Accomplished performers from both coasts (and in between)
Time: 7 to 10:30 PM on Saturday 17 September 2011.
Place: James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary. Enter via door on Broadway at 121st
Advance tickets ($12 for students and underemployed; $20 for others) are at:
Tickets purchased at the performance will be $15 for students and underemployed; $20
Take a seductive voiced art-pop singer and a post-jazz/alt-classical trumpeter. Add fragments of nineteenth century classical melodies, electronics elicited by a “mutantrumpet” controller. Then add influences ranging from ancient Greek mythology to the Hudson River Valley. What you have are the intricate yet intimate sounds on an evocatively beautiful new CD: Songs for Persephone.
The Persephone legend is one of the oldest in Greek mythology, with many variants that provide twists and turns to the narrative and subtext of the story. In the myth, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and the harvest goddess Demeter, is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld. During her absence, vegetation is unable to grow in the world; fields fall fallow and crops cannot be harvested.
To break this horrible time of famine, the gods come to an understanding with Hades. Persephone is eventually freed, but on the condition that, if she has eaten anything while in Hades’ realm, she must return to his kingdom for a certain length of time. Thus, each year she must remain in the underworld one month for each pomegranate seed that she has consumed. This serves to rationalize, in mythic terms, the change of seasons, times of decay and renewal, shifts in light and weather; even the autumn foliage and the falling of the leaves.
Vocalist Mimi Goese and trumpeter Ben Neill have updated the Persephone story, while retaining its iconic essence, on their new recording Songs for Persephone (out now on Ramseur Records). As one can see from the pomegranate on the cover, (a visual designed by Goese), the duo is mindful of the legendary Persephone’s history; but they are not hung up on providing a linear narrative.
In a recent phone conversation, Goese, who wrote the album’s lyrics, said, “The artwork that I did for the cover, featuring the pomegranate, is one acknowledgement of the myth of Persephone. And there are other images that I found in the lyrics. But we were interested in using what was evocative about Persephone to create our own story. That’s sort of how the myth evolved too – one storyteller picks up the thread from another down through the years.”
They started work on this music some five years ago, but originally presented it as part of a theatrical production by the multimedia company Ridge Theater, starring Julia Stiles. In 2010, it was produced at Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Next Wave Festival.
The theatrical presentation and the mythological story behind it are only two strands in a disparate web of influences that resonate with Songs for Persephone. Both Goese and Neill make their home in the Hudson River Valley. Both for its stunning natural surroundings and its history as a home for artists of all sorts, the valley is rich with reference points. Neill feels that these are subtly imparted to the music.
In a recent phone conversation, he said, “I found myself particularly interested in the Hudson River School of painters. These Nineteenth Century artists depicted the local landscape and the changing of season with a dimensionality and symbolism that seemed to have an affinity with what Mimi and I were after in Songs for Persephone.”
For Neill and Goese, these extra-musical influences – artwork, nature, and theater – are an important part of the music’s genesis. But the polystylistic nature of their music making adds still another layer to the proceedings.
Goese says, “I started in dance and theater and later moved to performance art. Singing came along later. But I don’t have the musical background or training that Ben has – I’m self taught.”
She doth protest too much. Goese’s voice provided the steely, dramatic center to the work of late eighties band Hugo Largo. One part art rock and another dream pop, the group incorporated bold theatricality and ethereal experimentation, releasing two memorable full lengths, Arms Akimbo and Mettle, and the Drums EP, an alt-pop connoisseur’s delight. She’s also collaborated on several occasions with Moby and, under the moniker Mimi (no last name) released Soak, a solo album on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop label.
Goese is a powerful singer, but Songs of Persephone brings out the lyricism her voice also possesses. Cooing high notes and supple overdubbed harmonies are juxtaposed with the more muscular turns of phrase. Experience plays a role in Goese’s tremendous performances on the disc. But she also credits the musical creations of her collaborator Neill with spurring on her inspiration.
“Ben has been a terrific person with whom to work,” Goese says. “He’s inventive and willing to try new things. From the moment we first performed together, at a concert nearly a decade ago, I’ve felt an artistic kinship with him.”
One can readily hear why Neill’s music would be an engaging foil for Goese. His background as a producer, and his years of work designing the mutantrumpet, have encouraged Neill’s ear toward imaginative soundscapes. His 2009 album Night Science (Thirsty Ear) is an example of Neill’s nu-jazz arrangements and soloing at their very best.
On the current CD, Neill’s playing remains impressive; but his arranging and collaborative skills come to the fore. There are intricate textures to found, on which Neill’s trumpet and electronics are abetted by strings, bass, and drums, but it’s the melodies, floating memorably past, one after the other, that are most impressive here. Some of the melodic lines he crafts are imitative of the voice in their own right: it’s no accident that some of the most inspired music-making on Songs for Persephone are when Goese and Neill create duets out of intricately intertwined single lines.
Neill says, “The classical materials that I used as the basis of the compositions on Songs for Persephone were melodies from the Nineteenth century: from opera and symphonic music. Many of them were from relatively the same era in which the Hudson Valley painters worked. I found it fascinating to juxtapose these two genres that were in operation more or less at the same time.”
He continues, “I’d describe the material as fragments of melodies: small excerpts rather than recognizable themes. None of them are treated in such a way that most listeners will be able to say, ‘Hey that’s Berlioz,’ or ‘That sounds like Schumann.’ They were meant to be a starting point from which I would develop the music: it’s not a pastiche.”
At 7:30 PM on September 27th, Goese and Neill will be having an album release party at the Cooper Square Hotel, part of Joe’s Pub’s Summer Salon series. Goese says, “It’s an interesting space – we’ll have glass windows behind us, which is unusual as compared with a more conventional stage. But it’s fun performing in non-standard venues. It allows you to try different things and to bring different elements into the mix in terms of theatricality, lighting, and the way that you play off of each other. I’m excited to see how Persephone changes as we take it into various performing spaces.”
-Composer Christian Carey is Senior Editor at Sequenza 21 and a regular contributor to Signal to Noise and Musical America. He teaches music in the Department of Fine Arts at Rider University (Lawrenceville, New Jersey).
David Fulmer plays his Violin Concerto at FCM. Photo: Hilary Scott
David Fulmer, Violin Concerto: Written in 2010, Fulmer’s chamber concerto revels in complexity. Those who have heard his performances of the music of Brian Ferneyhough or that of his teacher Milton Babbitt, which sizzle with hyper-virtuosic playing, can readily understand such predilections. Fulmer’s performance as soloist on the Sunday morning FCM concert (on 8/7) was imbued with similar intensity.
Compositionally, it’s an abundantly promising work: but it isn’t perfect. Occasionally, one feels that a bit of crowd control might be brought to bear on the thickly scored busyness of the orchestration, to better clarify the angular counterpoint that propels the proceedings. Also, the inclusion of three keyboard instruments for one player – piano, harpsichord, and celesta – (without terribly extended parts for either of the latter two) seems an impractical choice that may limit the number of ensembles who will mount the piece. That said, Fulmer’s compositional language and performance demeanor exemplify an edginess and gutsiness notably in short supply among many of his contemporaries in the emerging composer realm.
Marie Tachouet plays the solo part in Felder's Inner Sky. Photo: Hilary Scott
David Felder, Inner Sky: Tanglewood is blessed with excellent student performers. And while there were a number of fellows who distinguished themselves on the festival, the standout for me was flutist Marie Tachouet. A member of the New Fromm Players, Tanglewood’s SEAL Team Six equivalent for contemporary music, Tachouet played on several FCM concerts. But she took her solo turn on its finale, an orchestra concert held in the evening on Sunday, August 7th.
The flutist was featured in David Felder’s Inner Sky. Composed in 1994 and substantially revised in ’99, this piece requires the soloist to perform on four flutes: piccolo, concert, alto, and bass flute. The trajectory of the piece is charted by the move from high to low flutes, which is registrally mimicked by a supporting quadraphonic electronics part that features both distressed flute samples and synthetic sounds. An “analog” surround effect is also created by an even distribution of strings and percussion across the stage.
Inner Sky is an immersive listening experience. It’s also a highly sophisticated colloquy between soloist, ensemble, and electronics; one that achieves a carefully choreographed balance of elements, both acoustic and musical: a balance that is all too rarely found in works for orchestra plus electronics. It certainly helped to have Tachouet’s sensitive performance and Robert Treviño’s fine direction of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.
Later this year, Inner Sky sees release in both stereophonic and surround-sound formats. I’m looking forward to checking it out again (hopefully in both versions!).
San Francisco Community Music Center, July 20 – 23, 2011
The first sound of the festival’s Wednesday night show was, perhaps appropriately, nothing. Theresa Wong started offstage, down front, with just a microphone. She circled it in front of her face, no sound coming out of her pursed lips. Fluid looping gestures, but no vocal to be heard for perhaps two minutes. Then, a “Woo.” Silence, the mic passing back and forth. “Hoo,” silence, then another and another. Hoots and cuckoos, then a low-flutter “Wo – wo – wo – wo” for thirty seconds, then putting the mic to ear and droning (can throat sounds pass out the ear canal?), long high tones splintering off whistling multiphonics, static noise, razzes, gulps, and hums, more microphone manipulation for Doppler effects, then an episode of something close to song-singing, ending on a slow tremolo submerging into underwater warbles.
Theresa Wong stands at a deeply resonating node where a number of Bay Area new music waves converge, and is thus an emblematic artist for the Outsound Summit. Wednesday night’s all-vocal concert was titled “Face Music,” and the audience was faced with four singular solo approaches to the first instrument. Wong’s approach comes from a deep human connection to music and a direct, unaffected performance mode. When she took up her ‘cello for the second piece, even the most “abstract” sound worlds somehow evoked song-based territories. The instrument itself, when bowed, seemed to sound directly as her voice.
Aurora Josephson went even deeper during a short, ritualistic reading of John Cage’s Experiences No. 2. All in black, kneeling among candles on the floor in front of the stage, she conjured a dark and mournful atmosphere. She allowed herself long pauses between phrases, giving the listener time to savor her exquisitely precise enunciation and powerful delivery which, unamplified, rocked the room.
Joseph Rosenzweig, whose set closed the first half, delivered a choppy, harsh live sample-driven piece, a Hiss Concerto as it were, all glitchy and jarringly loud much of the time, causing the audience to jump in their seats when he’d suddenly pop a scream. His digital manipulations would seek out the hidden harmonic artifacts within his scratchy drones and, at one point, he pulled out the always useful “reverse glottal fry.”
Raising “Face Music” to its multimedia apex for the evening, bran(…)pos, aka Jake Rodriguez, erected a makeshift projection screen out of an umbrella and some diaphanous cloth, and placed it between his rig and the audience, Wizard of Oz-like. All paid attention to this Man Behind The Curtain, for his face filled the screen while wet vocal pops and kisses danced around the room from loudspeaker to loudspeaker. Cheap electronics are one of his main soundwells, and, even though the materials and visuals suggest mass violence, escalation, and propaganda, it’s all somehow delivered in a cheerfully demented style that comes off as no more threatening than a swarm of angry pixies. Eventually, after a well-crafted arc of electronic disaster movie re-enactments, bran(…)pos’s face melted from the screen (replaced by a butterfly), and Jake stepped out from behind to take his bows.
On Friday night, local composer/performer Polly Moller curated “The Art of Composition,” featuring works by Krystina Bobrowski, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Kanoko Nishi, and Gino Robair. Showcasing the huge range and robustly idiosyncratic heuristics of the Bay Area new music scene is not an easy job, but Moller’s selection cut a deep slice, if not the widest possible range (although the latter could fairly be claimed for the festival as a whole).
Mr. Robair demonstrated his centrality to many of the sub-scenes that populate the worldwide out-sound landscape, being on stage for three of the four groups and performing diverse roles with nonchalant virtuosity throughout. First, he assisted composer and instrument inventor Krystina Bobrowski in “Lift, Loft and Lull,” which employed amplified balloons as resonators for thick steel plates and long tubular bells. The first part was a slow underwater procession, with the composer blowing a mournful kelp horn while Robair did the balloonatics; the second part, with the pair playing the long tubes, gradually expanded its phrasing and language into a kaleidoscope of bongs, scrapes, rubs and singing gong-like tones. The second piece had Bobrowski moving to the Gliss Glass and Robair applying his wet fingers to a set of wine glasses.
The Gliss Glass is Bobrowski’s most complex and compelling instrument: three open-topped vessels partly filled with water, suspended on height-adjustable tripods and connected with valved tubing. Using the principle of water seeking its own level, the glasses can be struck or finger-bowed then moved up or down, causing the tones to change as the water travels among the different vessels. The resulting sounds are guaranteed to haunt the ears for days afterward, and the set provided a bang-up opening to the night.
Andrew Raffo Dewar, formerly a Bay Area stalwart (now based at the University of Alabama), is a saxophonist and composer whose Interactions Quartet has performed in San Francisco before. Robair, again on percussion, was joined by Dewar on soprano saxophone, Kyle Bruckmann on oboe and English horn, and John Shiurba on nylon-string guitar. Typically for Dewar, every new composition for the group is miles away from its predecessors in sound and form. “Strata” sounded as if impressions of Dewar’s recent jaunt to far-off Ghana had rubbed off, the slow opening moments hovering between pointillism and hocketing, all in simple pentatonic harmonies. As it gathered speed, dissonance and density — settling into a sort of pulse for the middle section (Robair and Shiurba stomping feet, ankles wrapped in bell shakers), then moving beyond a simple pulse into polymetric, panchromatic complexity — the piece stayed suspended, timeless, as if one were swimming in adjacent dimensions of streaming gossamers.
Gino Robair led his own Ensemble Aguascalientes to finish the Friday concert through a suite “based on the politically charged engravings of … Jose Guadalupe Posada.” As with many of his compositions, Robair’s conducting [see the video above, from Robair’s I, Norton workshop and concert footage @ the CAID (Detroit) and The Heaven Gallery (Chicago)] using hand cues and relying on the players’ spontaneous responses to the cues and the score, ensures that no two performances sound as kin. Shiurba was back on guitar, along with Scott Walton on bass, Joel Davel and Jim Kassis percussion, and Ms. Moller on bass flute, flute headjoint, and two sizes of ocarina. The choice of ocarina is a pivotal one in realizing Robair’s conception. “I definitely want to get away from standard tuning in this piece,” he says. “It’s all a bit unstable, pitch-wise. Which I happen to like.” The ocarina’s fragile tone and nomadic pitch —negatives in the European tradition — might be said to represent a “village” or even “revolutionary” approach (in the anti-imperialist sense), to music-making. If improvisation posits a direct-democracy alternative to the imperial composer/conductor/ensemble hierarchy, then the ocarina fires a sonic shot across the equal-temperament bow. Forgive the tortured analogies — such are the deep thoughts that Outsound concerts regularly evoke. (Besides, it’s Bulwer Lytton season.)
Kanonko Nishi’s piece (some explanation of her aims and methods may be found here), a graphic score realized by bassist Tony Dryer and guitarist IOIOI, seemed to be all about punishment of the ears, aided and abetted by a sound engineer who blasted the audience not once but four times with feedback before the thing even got started, then pegged the levels of Dryer’s droning bass-feedback section at stadium-rock levels — maybe fifteen minutes’ worth, although it went by like hours. IOIOI followed Dryer, dropping stuff on her electric guitar and banging on it occasionally, which was a little softer but more piercing and unpredictable. At least their racket drowned out the party carrying on next door. Somebody must’ve liked it — from my bunker I heard applause after it was over.
Saturday night of the Outsound Summit was dedicated to instrument makers. Co-curated by Outsound founder/quarterback Rent Romus and Edward Shocker, of the Thingamajigs group, the evening proved the maxim that the inventor is not always the most winning exponent of his or her invention. (Another point, demo’d by Walter Funk: It may not be the best idea to put a lasagna pan full of water onto a stage bustling with electric wires, computers and effects boxes, etc.) Among the presenters were new-instrument stalwarts Bart Hopkin and Terry Berlier (Her instruments are often quite beautiful sculptures). David Michalak played them in place of Ms. Berlier; unfortunately, the most impressive-looking one, a wooden dodecahedron riddled with sound-tubes and slapped with spatulas, was a sonic dud), Tom Nunn with Michalak and Stephen Baker, Brenda Hutchinson and Bob Marsh, Sasha Leitman and Walter Funk, and Sung Kim with Dan Ake. Ms. Hutchinson manipulated and sang into her long tube, enhanced by electronics and field recordings while Mr. Marsh, having donned a full-body suit covered in sliced-up water bottles, performed a pantomime to Ms. Hutchinson’s sounds that suggested Godzilla waking up to find he’s been genetically spliced with a jellyfish. It worked.
The highlight performance of the evening belonged to Tom Nunn, supported by Michalak and Baker. Mr. Nunn has been doing what he does for a very long time; he may be fairly said to be one of the granddaddies on the sonic sculpture family tree. His instruments are always a treat to look at and a delight to the ear. He favors nonharmonic, complex resonances such as are generated by metal rods and plates. His Skatchboxes generate insect and electronic sounds from mundane materials like combs, screws, and washers. Nunn debuted a new instrument on this night, a 3’ by 3’ stainless steel plate suspended by balloons in buckets and vibrated by cardboard tubes. Somehow the varying lengths of the tubes make different tones possible when rubbed along the steel. Mr. Nunn’s performing style is deeply rooted in his long, lanky body, never showing any doubt that he knows exactly what sound he wants and how to get it. The groaning sounds coming from the plate plunged the room under a mile-deep glacier, where blue echoes lightly glanced off the icy, inching walls.
Outsound.org’s New Music Summit has been around ten years, and granters like SF Friends of Chamber Music and The Zellerbach Family Foundation are just now beginning to pay attention. The programming that Outsound practices is vital in supplying fresh ideas and energy into the Bay Area’s music culture. Emerging and difficult-to-classify artists are given a forum. The value of these services cannot be overstated. Here’s to ten more years of Outsound.
Book of Ice
by Paul D. Miller with an introduction by Brian Greene
Mark Batty; 128 pages
Paul D. Miller is probably best known as DJ Spooky, outelectronica artist. But he’s also an eloquent author about DJing and musical aesthetics in books such as Rhythm Science and Sound Unbound. Well versed in contemporary classical music, Miller has collaborated with and remixed music by Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, and Terry Riley. His latest project is perhaps his most ambitious and it involves one of the longest field trips and most far flung residencies an artist can make: a trip to Antartica.
In order to do research for Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antartica, a work commissioned by BAM for its 2009 Next Wave festival, Miller travelled to this remote region, soaking in its forbidding landscapes. Book of Ice is a companion to the Terra Nova project, a journal of the work in process. It’s also a travelogue for this most unlikely of destinations. Miller meditates on a complex array of associations – historical, sociological, and imaginational – that humankind has with this principally uninhabited continent.
Along the way, readers are treated to a glimpse of Antartica’s fascinating past and its very uncertain and environmentally unstable future. Miller is a nimble ecological advocate, expounding upon the dangers we face from climate change – underscored by the impact it’s already had on polar ice caps – without ever allowing the book to tread too heavily. He also manages to make what might at first seem to be an unlikely pairing – that of DJ culture and Antartic exploits – cohere into an edifying and engaging read throughout.