Archive for the “Experimental Music” Category

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We had just seen John Cage recite his mesostic/theater work, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet. My composition teacher, a tenured faculty member who had won many awards including a Pulitzer Prize, told us, “Everyone should see John Cage once.”

And then, as if to underscore the idea that one only needed to see Cage once, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer added, “But of course, his ideas are much more important than his music.” At that time (the early 1980s), there weren’t many recordings of Cage’s music available, and I rarely encountered any performances of his music, so my professor’s utterance was a reasonable statement for many.

Three decades later, there are 279 recordings featuring one or more works by John Cage available on arkivmusic.com; my old teacher has under 30 listed. It isn’t just that Cage is the most-recorded member of the postwar avant-garde—he has more recordings than plenty of conservative composers. Here’s a list of the top 10 recorded composers born in the 20th century at arkivmusic.com

1. Shostakovich 1449
2. Britten 958
3. Bernstein 632
4. Barber 541
5. Rodrigo 461 (and 103 of those are the Concierto de Aranjuez)
6. Messiaen 431
7. Walton 413
8. Khachaturian 357 (138 of those are the Sabre Dance)
9. Cage 279
10. Arvo Part 239

Clearly, Cage’s compositions, as well as his ideas, are very important in the classical music industry. This year you’ll be hearing a lot of his music, as various cities and organizations celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth. The John Cage trust is a useful web site to learn about upcoming performances, but if you live in Southern California, you’ll want to consult this list I compiled for the LA Weekly of Cage events this year.

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Many of us love to see musical works created to accompany choreography performed with dancers involved. But this weekend finds musicians approaching these pieces from another vantage point. Ne(x)tworks, Greenwich Music House’s ensemble-in-residence, presents “Music Without Dance,”  a festival of works originally written for dance that are abstracted from movement and performed as absolute music.

What’s revealed about these pieces by listening to them while imagining (or even avoiding thinking about) the dances to which they were originally attached? Curation by subtraction: I like it!

Ne(x)tworks Presents the “Music Without Dance” Festival

Saturday, February 25th: 7:30PM concert

Sunday, February 26th: 6:00PM free panel discussion, 7:30PM concert

at Greenwich House Music School

(46 Barrow Street at Bedford, 212-242-4770)

Concert tickets: $15 at door, Students/Seniors $10 (no advance sales)

Event Link

“Music Without Dance” Program:

Saturday, Feb. 25, 7:30PM

Concert program:

Moving Spaces (2002)  by Christian Wolff

Migrations (2008) by Miguel Frasconi

Future Sight (2010) by Shelley Burgon

Relative Calm (1981) by Jon Gibson

Sunday, Feb. 26, 6:00PM

FREE panel discussion on the relationship between music and dance.

With choreographers Yoshiko Chuma, Katherine Beyar, Nai-Ni Chen, Erica Essner,

and composers Joan La Barbara, Miguel Frasconi, John King, Annea Lockwood.

Sunday, Feb. 26, 7:30PM

Concert program:

Stuplimity No. 3 (2007) by Christopher McIntyre

Desert Myths (2006) by Joan La Barbara

Jitterbug (2007) by Annea Lockwood

DELTA (dreamdeepdown) (2002) by John King

Ne(x)tworks is: Joan La Barbara (voice), Shelley Burgon (harp & electronics), Yves Dharamraj (cello), Miguel Frasconi (glass instruments & electronics, Director), Ariana Kim (violin), Christopher McIntyre (trombone), and special guest Jenny Lin (piano). Learn more on the Ne(x)tworks website  www.nextworksmusic.net.

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So Percussion recently released remixes of tracks from Amid the Noise, their recording of music by Jason Treuting. You can grab it for free via their Bandcamp site (embed below).

Treuting recently released sheet music for Amid the Noise, which can be purchased at Good Child Music.





This year, a great number of artists and ensembles are celebrating John Cage’s centenary – even Jessye Norman and Meredith Monk are getting in on the act as part of Michael Tilson Thomas’s revival of the American Mavericks series with the San Francisco Symphony. While it will be fascinating to see that some of these “out of the box” Cage performances will be happening, it’s also nice to hear that groups like So Percussion, who have a long track record performing Cage’s music, are celebrating the centenary in style. On 3/26, they are taking part in the American Mavericks series at Carnegie Hall (details here).

The concert will be the culmination of a tour by the group featuring Cage’s Third Construction as the centerpiece of Cage-themed program entitled We Are All Going in Different Directions.

There’s an equally imaginative recorded component So’s feting of the maestro of indeterminacy. On 3/27, Cantaloupe will release So Percussion’s “John Cage Bootleg Series.” The release includes a blank LP (the better with which to perform 4’33″!), a CD sampler, and a card with download codes that will enable listeners to obtain all of the group’s Cage bootlegs online. And the audio artifact lover in me delights in the handsome homemade feel of its handsome packaging. Top to bottom, Cage’s aesthetic is well manifested in So Percussion’s activities this Spring!


We Are All Going in Different Directions: So Percussion Celebrates Cage
Feb 28: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (Cage’s Third Construction)

March 2: The Royal Conservatory, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

March 6 + 7: The McCullough Theatre, University of Texas, Austin

March 10: Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin (Cage’s Third Construction)

March 26: Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, NYC

Program

John Cage: Credo in US (1942)

Sō Percussion / Matmos: Needles (w/ Matmos) (2010)

John Cage: Imaginary Landscape #1 (1939)

John Cage: Quartet for Percussion, from She is Asleep (1943)

Cenk Ergün: Use (w/ Cenk Ergün & Beth Meyers) (2009)

Dan Deacon: “Bottles” from Ghostbuster Cook: The Origin of the Riddler (2011)

John Cage: 18’12”, a simultaneous performance of Cage works

-Inlets (Improvisation II) (1977)
-0’00″ (4’33″ No.2) (1962)
-Duet for Cymbal (1960)
-45’ for a speaker (1954)

Jason Trueting: 24 x 24 (w/ special guests) (2011)

John Cage: Third Construction (1941)

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Vicky Chow performing with Ekmeles at the Avant Festival about a year ago; 2/12/11 (Photo courtesy of Avant Media)

Celebrating John Cage at 100
Avant Music Festival
The Wild Project, NYC
February 11th, 2012

The Wild Project (a tiny venue that is kind of like The Stone with bleachers) is where the Avant Music Festival is going on from now (it started on Fri, Feb 10) until Saturday the 18th. This is the third annual festival, and on this particular night, I witnessed a program that I never dreamed I would have been able to sit through when I was younger and still shunning the works of modern composers like David Del Tredici. An entire program of John Cage in person seems like a lot to swallow, but it seemed to have something for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Avant Music Festival, a 5-night event being held at The Wild Project in NYC between Friday, Feb 10th and Saturday the 18th, promises to be a compelling series of shows of music in the vein of avant-garde. Along with music by living composers Randy Gibson (whom you are about to hear from), Eve Beglarian (Songs From The River and Elsewhere) and Jenny Olivia Johnson (After School Vespers), there is a performance of Schoenberg‘s ground-breaking work Pierrot Lunaire and a 2-part show on Saturday the 11th celebrating the 100th Birthday of John Cage at 4 PM and 8 PM respectively (This concert, by the way, features Vicky Chow performing the great Sonatas and Interludes on prepared piano). Randy, who is one of the curators of the event, spoke briefly about the festival as well as himself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Washington, D.C. readers may have noticed that the new music scene in the District has been exploding lately.  This week brings another significant event when New York’s Cygnus Ensemble makes its Washington debut at the Library of Congress.  The concert, part of a mini-residence by Cygnus at the Library, is presented as a tribute to legendary violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler.  Rarely heard music by Kreisler from the Library’s Fritz Kreisler collection will be performed, featuring guest violinist Miranda Cuckson on Kreisler’s own Guarneri del Gesù violin.

Most notably for new music fans, the concert features the world premiere of Harold Meltzer’s Kreisleriana, for violin and piano, commissioned by the Library of Congress’ McKim fund.  The concert also features Meltzer’s Pulitzer-Prize finalist work Brion, commissioned by the Barlow Endowment for the Cygnus Ensemble.

The concert begins at 8:00 p.m. at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium.  There will be a pre-concert discussion by Mr. Meltzer and Cygnus founder William Anderson at 6:15 p.m. at the Library’s Whitall Pavillion.  No tickets are required for the pre-concert talk.  Tickets to the main concert are free but require reservations and may be obtained by contacting Ticketmaster online or at 202.397.7328.

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From Bora Yoon's "Weights and Balances." Photo: Julia Frodahl

Many of us waited with bated breath during the recent breakdown of talks between management and the orchestra at NYC Opera. Even though the season is proceeding, the company’s plan to keep themselves afloat (if not artistically viable) seems dubious at best. No music director, draconian cuts for the players and chorus, and no base of operations. Instead NYCO will present a truncated season at several venues. After hearing how shabbily the company has treated its employees – while George Steel continues to make in excess of $300,000 – why would they expect their audience to follow them around town? It portends difficult days to come for opera – and opera goers – in the city. Take nothing away from the Metropolitan (although its recent conductor troubles are noteworthy): but a city with New York’s operatic history would seem to have room for more than one major company.

Fortunately, as Zachary Woolfe points out in a recent excellent article in the NY Times, several smaller companies are attempting to fill the void left by City Opera’s vicissitudes. Opera Omnia, Gotham Chamber Opera, DiCapo Opera, and others are making it possible to hear a plethora of works from the repertoire that are unlikely to be programmed any time soon, either at the Met or languishing NYCO: baroque gems, less known Mozart, neglected bel canto, and the like. The remaining challenge, and it’s a daunting one, is to nurture operas by living composers.

To further the efforts of those working towards that end, three longtime champions of contemporary works – HERE’s Kim Whitener and Artistic Director Kristin Marting and Beth Morrison of Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) – have recently announced a promising new venture. Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now, a festival that they plan to be an annual event, debuts in January 2013.

Unlike NYCO, Prototype will have a single performance venue, HERE’s space in Soho, for which they will try to build an audience. And, also unlike City Opera, the festival, with steady hands at the rudder, will pursue a coherent artistic vision, presenting chamber operas in the contemporary classical/post-classical vein. Some of the names being mentioned as participants in the Prototypes‘s initial presentations should be familiar to those who’ve attended recent editions of VOX: David T. Little, Byron Au Yong, and Bora Yoon.

Dare we hope for an open call for proposals for new chamber operas? More information about Prototype as it’s available.

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Long Distance Poison

Gamma Graves

Ecstatic Peace Cassette

Gamma Graves is a prime example of the kind of release that has helped to fuel the cassette resurgence on the indie/experimental music scene. Produced by a variety of sources, from bedroom DIY collectives and small tape-only labels to established imprints like Ecstatic Peace, the audio cassette format, long thought extinct, is back. Tapes have been unassumingly encroaching their way onto the shelves of connoisseur collectors and music critics (no less than Steve Smith is a devotee): even record sellers such as Insound and Other Music have made room for them again.

The Brooklyn triumvirate of synthesizer performers Nathan Cearley and Erica Bradbury and prepared guitarist Casey Block comprise Long Distance Poison. Armed with vintage gear by Moog, Arp, and Roland, they create experimental soundscapes with a sense of history, referencing everyone from David Borden and early Philip Glass to Keith Rowe, Alva Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, and Derek Bailey. Drone-based foundations are overlaid with coruscating ostinato loops and distressed with pointed interjections.

Gamma Graves is the type of music that would have been just fine to distribute digitally (or via CD). Indeed, some purists might argue that cassette is an inherently inferior audio format to hi-res digital played through good equipment (by no means do most consumers play their MP3s through good equipment). So, why do I like having it on cassette? I find the noise imparted by tape and deck to do no harm to this music: in fact, it adds another, subtle, layer of drones to the proceedings that is consonant with the musical intentions of the work.

The tape as artifact yields something important too. Limited runs of handmade cassettes are often lovingly attired with artwork more expansive and, obviously, more tangible than any JPEG can provide. They are a reminder of a bygone era in which the physical release WAS the release, in which tape-trading and digging in bins for rarities was a hobby to enthusiastically pursue: not something simulated in online forums and furtively grasped at brick and mortar outposts now few and far between. Long Distance Poison (and Ecstatic Peace) acknowledge their debt to history not only via musical reference points, but through the resonances found in a cassette as relic and artwork. Try finding all that in a computer file.

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This weekend, Ann Arbor’s University Musical Society is putting on its most ambitious project since I’ve been in town: Philip Glass‘s legendary opera Einstein On The Beach.

The production is directed by Robert Wilson with choreography by Lucinda Childs and includes a stunning cast hand-picked by Mrs. Wilson and Glass for the revival. Performances are this Friday (7 PM), Saturday (7 PM) and Sunday (2 PM) at the downtown Power Center performance space.

Alas, the shows are sold out at this point, but if you are a diehard fan, or just an interested individual in the area, there is always “second-acting” or last-minute availabilities to hope for (I’ve got my fingers crossed!).

For insights on the opera from one of its talented singers, check out Lindsay Kessleman‘s blog, “Inside Einstein on the Beach“.

I hope I can get in for at least some of it and report back on what it is like!

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Andy Akiho may have started out as a performer only, but his heart has driven him to become not only a wonderful composer in his own right, but a composer/performer that creates some of the most wonderful and compelling sounding pieces combining steel pans with a variety of instruments from other great new classical musicians. Having studied composition with such greats as Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Ezra Laderman, and Martin Bresnick among others, Akiho had just recently won eighth blackbird’s inaugural Finale National Composition Contest. Andy talked to me about that and some of my favorite works of his. Read the rest of this entry »

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