Archive for the “Experimental Music” Category
Posted by Chris McGovern in Composers, Concert review, Contemporary Classical, Electro-Acoustic, Events, Experimental Music, Festivals, tags: Dafna Naphtali, Gelsey Bell, Iva Bittova, Judith Berkson, Paul Pinto, Socorpo, Toby Twining Music
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 »
Posted by Chris McGovern in Choral Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Events, Experimental Music, Festivals, tags: choral, Iva Bittova, Toby Twining Music, Violin, Vital Vox Festival
The following are extended versions of the interviews I had with Toby Twining and Iva Bittova, who are both appearing at the 2011 Vital Vox Festival (Both will be performing on Night 2: Vocals + Strings)
First up, Toby Twining talks about his beginnings and inspiration as well as the new and current material.
CM: How did you go from roots in country-swing to rock to the other-worldly music you’ve been making for various instruments, including voices and chamber ensemble?
TT: This is a long story—I’ll attempt a Reader’s Digest version.
I grew up in Houston and my maternal grandparents were both pro musicians—grandad played guitar, pedal steel, string bass; grandmother played gospel piano like Liberace/Debussy mix. As a teenager, I played guitars, bass, and keys in rock bands. All the kids played Texas blues as well. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Chris McGovern in Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Festivals, tags: Dafna Naphtali, Gelsey Bell, Iva Bittova, Judith Berkson, keyboards, Socorpo, strings, Toby Twining Music, Vital Vox Vocal Festival
The 3rd annual Vital Vox Vocal Festival, this year being held at Roulette in Downtown Brooklyn (Sat, Nov 5th and Sun, Nov 6th, 8 PM), is not just about singers, but those that are equally skillful at creating music. On November 5th and 6th, there is a sensational lineup of artists that are gifted at both of those as well as skirting genre lines between new classical, indie, jazz and world music. Read the rest of this entry »
The Kerrytown Concert House
As those of you who regularly read my reports from Ann Arbor know, most of the new music I cover is related to the University of Michigan, usually in the form of a student composer concert, a performance by the resident Contemporary Directions Ensemble or the appearance of a contemporary work or two on a Symphony Band concert. Beyond these highly active groups at the Michigan School of Music, our town is gifted with two wonderful concert presenting organizations who regularly feature contemporary music on their programs: the University Musical Society and the Kerrytown Concert House. Last year I attended several UMS events, but hadn’t stepped inside KCH as an audience member until last week when composer Ezra Donner invited me to hear the Aurea Silva Trio premiere his work Variations for Flute, Bassoon and Piano.
More so than UMS, the Kerrytown Concert House focuses on experimental programming and intimate presentations, garnering recognition from the Nation Endowment of the Arts for their important role in the music community of Southeastern Michigan and, frankly, the whole country. Unbeknownst to me, KCH has hosted a new music/jazz festival called “Edgefest” for fifteen years, which wrapped up last month. Although, I missed out on an opportunity to report on that concert series, I was able to catch a bit of new music there last week with the aforementioned recital by the Aurea Silva Trio.
Commissioned for the Trio, Variations reflects a consistent theme in Mr. Donner’s music: the influence of his upbringing in the Rust Belt of western Pennsylvania. To my ears, the connection was apparent in the first, expansive sonority of the piece, which ascends from the rumbling depths of the bassoon’s lowest register to the higher ranges of the flute and the piano. This section is the theme of what Mr. Donner called a, “classically oriented theme and variations” in pre-concert remarks, and does more than establish the root of all the subsequent music, it introduces bassoonist Gareth Thomas as a very prominent figure in the narrative of the work. Beyond the structure, the only stylistic allusion to classical tradition occurs with one variation I noted as a, “demented waltz”. I found the link impossible to ignore thanks to the section’s typifying meter and accompanimental pattern in the piano, though the passage’s melodic material is more of a grotesque caricature of than a respectful homage to traditional waltz music. As the variations continue, the ‘waltz’ music returns in a decayed form while the bassoon maintains its status as the principle melodic figure in the work – until the theme comes back. With the bassoon relegated to its lowest range, pianist David Gililand and flutist Brandy Hudelson are given an opportunity to expand on what we’ve heard before, leading to a rousing conclusion that caused one attendee – luminary America composer William Bolcom – to call out “good!” before the Trio could take its first bow.
Read the rest of this entry »
Too Many Concerts and Cloning is Still Illegal!
Tricentric Orchestra. Photo: Kyoko Kitamura
October in New York is becoming an embarrassment of riches in the new music world. So many wonderful concerts to hear in town! But the plethora of notable events can be a source of frustration too: sometimes you wish you could be in two places at once. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Steve Smith has figured out a way to do this!) So, while we won’t get to review everything, there’s nothing saying we can’t preview as many events as possible! What follows are some, but rest assured not all, of the excellent upcoming goings on.
- Starting Wednesday evening (Oct. 5) running through October 8 at Roulette is one of the biggest festivals celebrating the music of Anthony Braxton yet seen in the United States. It includes performances by the Tricentric Orchestra, the US debut of the Diamond Curtain Wall Trio – Anthony Braxton (reeds, electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (brass), and Mary Halvorson (guitar) – and two world premieres. The first, Pine Top Arial Music, is an interdisciplinary work integrating music and dance. The second, which is the culmination of the festival, is a concert reading of Acts One and Two of Trillium E, Braxton’s first opera. Those who can’t make the festival, or who want ample Braxton at home as well as live, can enjoy two new recordings of his music. The first is a freebie: a Braxton sampler featuring a diverse array of pieces (including an excerpt of the opera) that’s available for download via the Tricentric Foundation. The second is a recording of Trillium E in its entirety, available from Tricentric on October 11 as a download or 4 CD set.
- On October 6, Ekmeles, everybody’s favorite New York group of experimentally inclined youngster vocalists, shares a triple bill with Ireland’s Ergodos and Holland’s Ascoli Ensemble at Issue Project Room’s new 110 Livingstone location (details here). Ekmeles will perform Kaija Saariaho’s Sylvia Plath setting From the Grammar of Dreams, two short pieces by James Tenney, and two US premieres. The first, Madrigali a Dio by Johannes Schöllhorn, incorporates singing, spoken word, and even boisterous shouts in a vocal work that explores counterpoints between pitched and un-pitched vocalizations. Peter Ablinger’s Studien nach der Natur explores a plethora of sounds from the natural world as well as manmade noises: mosquitoes, quartz watches, the Autobahn, smoking, electric hums – all replicated by the human voice. Mr. Ablinger was kind enough to allow us to share a small score excerpt below.
- Also on Thursday, October 6 (drat it to Hades!) is the premiere of the Five Borough Songbook at Galapagos. Twenty composers were asked by Five Boroughs Music Festival to each contribute a single work to this project. Participants include Daron Hagen, Tom Cipullo, Lisa Bielawa, and other heavyweights in the songwriting biz.
- On October 8 at 7 PM at the Tenri Cultural Institute (ticket info here), the Mimesis Ensemble is doing a program of “Young Voices,” featuring three youngish composers who specialize in vocal music. It’s a program that’s a bit more traditional in approach than is, say, Ekmeles’ wont, but it presents some noteworthy repertoire. Thomas Adès’ Three Eliot Landscapes and Gabriel Kahane’s current events inflected Craigslistlieder are featured alongside several works by Mohammed Fairouz.
- On October 9 at 7:30 PM, Sequenza 21′s own Armando Bayolo will make his Carnegie Hall debut (as the kids say, whoot!). Armando’s Lullabies, a newly commissioned work, will be premiered at Weill Recital Hall by Trio Montage (more information here).
- Just around the corner is the ACO’s SONiC festival, Ekmeles’ concert on 10/21 at Columbia (a humdinger of a program!), Bridge Records’ Anniversary Concert at NYPL, and, yes, the Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert at the newly revivified Joe’s Pub on 10/25. But those previews will have to wait for another post! In the meantime, there are pieces to compose, papers to grade, and both my wife’s and my birthdays this weekend. October is the month that keeps on giving: it’s good to be busy, right?
Peter Ablinger's Studien Natur (a wee excerpt)
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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
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.
Posted by Polly Moller in Bass, Chamber Music, Composers, Concerts, Contemporary Classical, Experimental Music, Festivals, Improv, Interviews, Piano, Premieres, San Francisco, Women composers
San Francisco Bay Area composer/performer Kanoko Nishi wraps up our series of interviews with composers who are premiering new works at the 10th Annual Outsound New Music Summit in San Francisco on Friday, July 22nd. The Friday night concert, entitled The Art of Composition, starts at 8 pm at the Community Music Center, 544 Capp Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online from Brown Paper Tickets, and you can also buy them at the door. Listeners who don’t want to wait that long can get up close and personal with the composers, and learn about their creative process, at a free Monday night panel discussion at 7 pm on July 18th.
Kanoko is classically trained on piano and received a BA in music performance from Mills College in 2006. Her recent interest has primarily been in performing 20th century and contemporary music on piano and koto, and free improvisation in a variety of contexts. SF Bay Area contrabassist Tony Dryer and guitarist IOIOI, visiting from Italy, will perform Kanoko’s graphic scores as a duo.
S21: How has your classical piano training prepared you – or not prepared you – for improvisation and composition?
I think that one very important element that is particular to musical improvisation as opposed to improvisation in other fields is the role of the musical instruments one performs and interacts with, and classical training for me was just a very deep way of building a relationship with my instruments. What has been helpful is not so much the technique, vocabulary or repertoire, but the time, energy and thoughts spent in the process of acquiring these more concrete skills and knowledge. For me, every improvisation I do is like a battle with the instrument I’m playing, in my case, either the piano or koto, and though I cannot really practice improvising by its definition, it’s only by practicing regularly that I feel I can enrich myself as a person, build my stamina and confidence enough to be a suitable match for my instrument to bring out its full potential. Read the rest of this entry »