Archive for the “Houston” Category

Skull courtesy of Casa Ramirez (photo by Chris Becker)

Skeletons! Witches! Vampires! No, I’m not talking about candidates in Houston’s midterm elections. I’m talking about Halloween and the two days that follow known as Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Like many other places in the Southern U.S., Houston culture is a healthy mix of the supernatural and the spiritual. In the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Meurtos, food, beverages, and sweets are placed on homemade alters as gifts for the spiritual manifestations of those who have passed who will, over the course of the 48 hours that is All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day, visit the people they knew before the afterlife. Gift giving and the ephemeral nature of playing music – particularly improvised music – have all been on my mind lately.

In his recent book Tradition and Transgression about composer John Zorn, author John Brackett includes a chapter describing Zorn’s music from the perspective of “the gift and gift giving.” The composer receives a “gift” from an artist – maybe an artist from an earlier time – in the form of creative inspiration and techniques that can be applied to their respective medium and then passes the “gift” along in various forms of musical homage. There are so many examples of this practice in music. Many compositions by Charles Mingus are named for musicians he knew and loved and directly referenced in melody, harmony, and/or rhythm (A few examples are Reincarnation of a Lovebird, So Long Eric and Goodbye Porkpie Hat for Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy and Lester Young respectively). Certainly there are parallels between creating art and celebrating our ancestors. Maybe there’s actually no difference between the two actions?

Who are some of the composers, friends, and/or family members you yourself have paid homage to in musical form?

Alexandra Adshead and Chris Becker at Avant Garden (photo by Jonathan Jindra)

For the month of November, the tireless Dave Dove and his organization Nameless Sound continue their They Who Sound “First Time Duo” series at Houston’s Avant Garden, every Monday from 7pm to 9pm. Each week, two to four improvisers who have never played together share the stage to perform a set of entirely improvised music. This is a great concept, and I wonder if it could expand beyond its current network of free improvisers to include pairings with members of Houston’s classical, jazz, and rock communities. Maybe some students from Houston’s School for the Performing Arts could share the stage with people with a history in Houston’s free improv and/or so-called noise scenes and try to find some common ground?

Also at Avant Garden on the last Wednesday of every month, keyboardist Robert Pearson presents a program of experimental music (Robert was kind enough to invite me and Alex to play last Wednesday, and we had a ball). These Wednesday shows are also an opportunity to hear Robert who doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever heard before. Imagine Matthew Shipp, former Birdsongs of the Mesozoic Roger Miller, and Erik Satie all at 200 bpm and you sort of get an aural impression of what Robert sounds like on the keys. The resulting music is almost Zen-like in spite (or maybe because of) the tempi. Go hear him for yourself!

On November 2, 2010, 7pm at Talento Bilingue de Houston, Cuban tenor Alejandro Salvia Cobas and belly dancer provocateur Ms. Y.E.T. perform at show of artist and longtime A.I.D.S. activist Lourdes Lopez Moreno’s show of hand built clay skeletons. Moreno’s work will be on display through November 7th. A short, spooky video featuring Cobas’ voice is up on YouTube.

On November 7, 7:30pm at Zilkha Hall, Houston’s composer led contemporary music organization Musiqa celebrates the work of Benjamin Patterson, a groundbreaking artist who was a founding member of the avant-garde group, Fluxus, and whose work explores the experimental and improvisational possibilities in music. The concert Born in a State of Flux(us) is free, and Patterson will be there for what should be a crazy evening.

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Mezzo Soprano Zheng Chao

The music season has definitely kicked into gear all across the country. Sure, I will always love and find inspiration via New York City; I just received a great CD from a new friend in Brooklyn and the other night skyped for the first time with another NYC friend and collaborator who helped lead Burnt Sugar in a recent musical tribute to James Brown at the Apollo Theater (Salon Series at the Apollo is looking really, really cool. Miller Theatre, you have been warned…).

But I’m excited by the music new I’m reading from all the coasts (and Midwest). Here’s yet another great concert event taking place in my new home – Houston, Texas.

This Saturday, October 16th, Houston’s contemporary music group Musiqa launches its 9th season with the world premiere of composer Stewart Wallace’s chamber piece for She Told Me This composed for and performed by Mezzo Soprano Zheng Chao with a libretto by Amy Tan. Sara Jobin, Assistant Conductor of the San Francisco Opera, conducts. A native Houstonian, Wallace is best known for his opera Harvey Milk , which premiered in Houston in 1995. Zheng Chao’s recently diagnosed and current battle with lung cancer in part inspired Wallace to compose this piece especially for her. You can read more about Chao and her story here.

Saturday’s program also includes a world premiere dance performance by Dance of Asia America to works by Lei Liang and Lou Harrison as well as two pieces by composers Anthony Brandt and Todd Frazier commissioned for the recent anniversary of Rice University’s Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology.

It all takes place Saturday, October 16th, 2010, at 7:30 p.m. in Zilkha Hall of The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. A pre-concert screening of a film about Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan’s collaboration takes place at 7:00 p.m. You can purchase tickets at www.musiqahouston.org

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It’s a cliché to say Texans like things BIG although a mid morning drive on Houston’s freeways will do little to dispel this notion. However, many incredible opera companies in Houston presenting cutting edge programming and embracing fresh approaches to audience outreach are relatively small operations. But that doesn’t mean these companies and their ambitions aren’t growing.

Viswa Subbaraman is the Founder and Artistic Director of Opera Vista, Houston’s innovative contemporary opera company. October 15, at 8pm at Zilkha Hall (located in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts) maestro Subbaraman and company present the world premiere of composer and Bangkok Opera artistic director Somtow Sucharitkul’s The Silent Prince. Billed as a “Bollywood Opera,” The Silent Prince tells the Buddhist tale of Temiya Jataka, a Buddha who has been reincarnated as a prince. When forced to choose between committing terrible karmic deeds and disobeying his father, Temiya withdraws from the world into silence.

After visiting Sucharitkul’s website to hear samples of his music and blog to read his first hand accounts of composing and conducting music in Thailand, I reached out to Viswa Subbaraman with a few questions about next Friday’s premiere and the future of opera:

What are the connections between Bollywood and The Silent Prince? Does the Bollywood connection have to do with the production’s staging and choreography as well as the appearance of a live elephant?

The Bollywood connection has primarily to do with the staging, dancing, and costuming. In a lot of ways, I see this as a throwback to to the Bollywood movies I remember watching with my parents. When I was really young, it seemed as though my parents could only find Bollywood movies that had been out for at least 5-10 years. It wasn’t as prevalent to find Bollywood movies in the US back then. Those old movies had a very operatic element to them. I think the Bollywood connection in this opera harks back to that type of Bollywood film.

Musically, the work tends to be a very eclectic piece. There are moments that strike me as being old-school Bollywood. There are also times that I’m reminded of Sondheim, Wagner, Bernstein and a score of other composers. What I find extremely successful is that it does not sound piece meal. There is a definite unity between the various musical styles.

The score for The Silent Prince combines Western and Indian instruments. What Indian instruments are used? Does the score incorporate instruments from other parts of the East as well?

The Indian instruments in Somtow’s score include Tamburas and Harmonium. In the original conception, there were ideas to use Indian percussion and a variety of Indian instruments, but in the end, it seemed as though Somtow pared things down to create a much cleaner texture. One could make the argument, however, that he uses the violins and flute in a very Carnatic way at points. There is a definite South Asian connection in the instrumentation. Somtow uses a number of tam-tams, gongs, and antique cymbals, so there is a “gamelan” influence. Granted, those instruments tend to be so common in the orchestra that we don’t consider them as exotic any more. That being said, there is a definite nod to eastern traditions in the way those instruments are used.

From your perspective as a conductor and director of an opera company, where do you think contemporary and yet-to-be-written opera in the 21st century is headed? Are the costs of production stifling the development of this tradition of music? Or are more and more people like yourself discovering innovative ways to keep this particular genre of music and its audience growing?

This is an interesting question in that these days I see a ton of new opera. Opera Vista runs an annual competition for new opera (The Vista Competition), and since our focus is primarily opera by living composers, we also receive a number of perusal scores. When I started Opera Vista, I was wary of what we would receive in the way of submissions for the competition, and I was also curious to see what the state of new opera was. I can honestly say that we should be excited by all the great opera being written by living composers. I think opera, much like other areas of contemporary composition, is marked by eclecticism. I don’t know that you can say that there is a specific style or direction that marks contemporary opera. We’re seeing every manner of opera under the sun. There seems to be almost no subject area that is taboo. There also doesn’t seem to be a musical style that is necessarily in vogue right now.

Costs of production are probably the biggest hurdle. I have literally hundreds of ideas for new productions of new opera as well as a variety of directions we could go to help composers develop their art. That being said, it is still difficult to convince potential donors of the necessity of donating to support new music. New music still scares people. This is an area that I guess I could write a book about now. I love all types of music, but as Artistic Director of an organization that is still in its infancy, there is no doubt that I have tabled some productions that I think would be amazing to explore – Elliott Carter’s What Next? comes to mind – because I need to develop my audience base as well as their faith that new opera can be interesting and not scary. I really want Opera Vista to develop a consistent donor base and to be able to truly afford its staff and musicians before pushing the envelope too far – although a Bollywood opera with a live elephant really does feel like pushing the envelope! In some ways, that is the beauty of The Vista Competition.

The Vista Competition for new opera has been an amazing way to introduce living composers and their music to audiences. Every year, I have thought that there might be a piece in the mix that is “above the audience,” and to my amazement it does extremely well in the competition. The Vista Competition is run in an American Idol style. We perform 6-10 minute excerpts of the opera to give the audience a flavor of the work. The jury then asks the composers questions about their work, and in the end, the audience votes for the winner. Because of the interaction between the jury and the composers and in the finals directly between the audience and the composers, there is an opportunity for the audience to learn about the piece in fun and hopefully not-so-scary manner. It has been a building process. I’m excited each year by the number of people who return for the competition and bring friends. We are slowly finding a way to overcome the “opera” and “new music” stereotypes that scare people.

I think there are a number of groups that are working towards fostering new opera. It takes time and a ton of effort. It truly is a labor of love initially. It’s an exciting time for new opera. I really believe in the work we are doing. I know there is now the Microscopic Opera Company in Pittsburgh, Bluegrass Opera in Kentucky, and a number of others are growing.

The Silent Prince by Somtow Sucharitkul, performed by Opera Vista, Viswa Subbaraman conducting, will premiere October 15, 2010, 8pm at Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts,
 800 Bagby St.,
 Houston, TX.

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Pyramid and Michelle Yom at Labotanica (Houston, TX)

This Friday, October 1st at 7pm, Michelle Yom will present her sound performance installation Back To Imagined Spaces at Houston’s alternative arts and music venue Labotanica located at 2316 Elgin Street. This is a part of Labotanica’s ongoing Hear/Her/Ear series spotlighting women in experimental music.

I got a chance to hear Michelle last month in a solo vocal set at Avant-Garden where she recorded and looped her singing in real time to additively build a series of haunting chorales. Michelle is perhaps best known as a flautist with a strong classical technique and the skills and imagination of a great improviser. Her flute and drums duo Doggebi features Michelle with drummer Spike The Percussionist – a musician I name checked in my Houston Mixtape #3: The Epicenter Of Noise – freely and (almost) breathlessly improvising music that is somehow stark yet filled with a minutiae of details.

Back To Imagined Spaces imagines the human body as a collection of cells that sing and are heard in a “self-imposed timeless space” contained within the pyramid Michelle has constructed inside Labotanica. Regarding the music she will perform, Michelle writes: “The first set is a series of staccato vocalizations with syllables from the mantra, Asato Ma Sad Gamaya, processed through seven delays. The second set will be a live performance of tonal pieces titled Heart, Ears, Kidney, and Stomach, also using vocal sounds. The pieces are intended to capture a version of imaginary but prudent sounds, much like taking a microscope and focusing the lens into singing, living cells.”

Also on Friday’s program are performances by artist, vocalist and electronic composer Melanie Jamison and Labotanica’s tireless curator, visual and sound artist Ayanna Jolivet McCloud.

There is a $5 cover charge for the show. All proceeds go to the musicians. Michelle Yom’s installation will be up October 1st through October 9th, 2010.

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Joachim Koester, Still from Tarantism, 2007, 16mm black-and-white film installation. Courtesy of Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen, and Greene Naftali, New York.

2010-11 marks Houston based Musiqa’s seventh year of presenting free “loft” concerts at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Each of these informal, intimate concerts is produced in conjunction with a different exhibition.

On Thursday, September 23, 2010, at 6:30 p.m., in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit Dance with Camera, Musiqa presents a collaborative “loft” concert with video artists BeJohnny that will merge live music and video. The Thursday program includes Alvin Lucier’s Queen of the South and Frederic Rzewski’s To the Earth, featuring Craig Hauschildt and Luke Hubley on percussion.

I wrote about Musiqa and their May 2010 Hand + Made concert in my first Houston Mixtape for Sequenza 21. Musiqa percussionist Craig Hauschildt’s solo performance of Vinko Globokar’s primal piece of performance art Corporal was one of the highlights of that program, and I can’t wait to see what he and the rest of the ensemble have cooked up for this Thursday’s concert.

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What Not With Skyline (photo by Chris Becker)

As a recent transplant to Houston, I am just beginning to take in the breadth and variety of the city’s cultural scene, especially its music. Each article will focus on contemporary composition, improvised idioms, and performances that integrate theater, visual arts, and/or dance. Inevitably, my love for rock, folk, blues, jazz, country, zydeco, and all out noise will creep into future writing. The goal is to expand people’s perceptions (including my own) about how and where one can find innovative music.

Last Month (August) I visited Kaboom Books for the first time and in addition to buying a few great used books including a copy of Ralph Ellison’s Shadow and Act with its wonderful essay about Charlie Christian, I met and spoke at length with one of the owners about Kaboom’s former home New Orleans. For this summer’s White Linen Night, Houston sound artist Doren Bernard turned Kaboom Books into a sound installation with a mysterious piece of entirely comprised of sounds recorded within the store. As I moved through the aisles of Kaboom that night, Doren’s piece seemed to sit at the edges of my peripheral hearing creating an effect similar to seeing a ghost and then – after blinking your eyes – seeing nothing but the space where your spectre had made its presence known.

A friend from New York asked me for a little more detail regarding my comparisons in last month’s Houston Mixtape #3: The Epicenter Of Noise between his city and Houston and each town’s respective “noise” level. He rightly pointed out that Houston, being more spread out with little or no zoning regulations, results in a more horizontal (as opposed to vertical) cityscape thereby diffusing and spreading out the noise of the city.

Horizontal also means you get to see wide-open skies and gigantic cloud formations from an uncluttered 360-degree perspective.

Clouds Over Tommie Vaughn (photo by Chris Becker)

Maybe this is a stretch, but I do wonder if Houston’s big skies and flat lands inspired the artist Mark Rothko directly or indirectly while creating the fourteen paintings contained in the Rothko Chapel. I do know Rothko worked closely with Philip Johnson and Houston architects Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry in designing the sunlit chapel that would contain his fourteen paintings, and there’s no question in my mind that sunlight played a role in the planning and construction of the chapel. On a recent visit to the chapel (which is located in Houston’s Museum District), I was struck at how dramatically Rothko’s paintings transform in appearance as the light from the chapel skylight shifts in relation to cloud cover and Houston’s crazy weather patterns. These changes occur almost minute-to-minute, and the paintings transcend their frames, colors, and textures.

It makes absolute sense then that composer Morton Feldman was asked by John and Dominique de Menil to compose a tribute to Rothko. In his essay regarding the resulting work Rothko Chapel , Feldman writes that his choice of instruments was affected by the space of the chapel as well as by Rothko’s paintings and that he wanted the music to “permeate the whole octagonal-shaped room” just as the paintings seem to continue beyond the borders of their canvases. It’s a ways ahead, but on February 11, 2011, the Houston Chamber Choir and Da Camera of Houston will present Feldman’s Rothko Chapel as well as works by John Cage and Erik Satie in the Rothko Chapel to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

On September 21st, 7:30 pm at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, you can hear a performance of Thomas Tallis‘ 40 part motet Spem in Alium by the Houston Chamber Choir. This is another piece of music that permeates “the whole” of any space it is heard.

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Photo of The Ink Spots Museum by Chris Becker

Being a recent transplant to Houston, Texas, I am only just beginning to take in the breadth and variety of the city’s cultural scene– especially its music. Each dispatch I bring to you from Houston will focus on contemporary composition, improvised idioms, and performances that integrate theatre, the visual arts, and/or dance. Inevitably, my love for rock, folk, blues, jazz, country, zydeco, and all out noise will creep into future writing, the overall goal being to expand peoples’ perception (including my own) of where one can find innovative forward-thinking music.

There may be a connection between Houston’s (lack of) zoning laws and the way that the past, present, and future inform each other throughout its landscape. Maybe that sounds like a cliche. But, if you’ve ever ridden the Houston’s Metro 80 bus through the Third Ward up Dowling Street, past Emancipation Park, and – just before turning left at Sparkle’s Burger Spot toward the glass cathedrals of downtown – observed an unfenced horse enjoying some grass in someone’s front yard, you know that I’m not talking some tourist board hogwash. There are many “zones” throughout this city dedicated to celebrating its history and nurturing its creative spirit. And they sometimes seem to appear out of nowhere.

The Ink Spots Museum (located in Houston Heights) is dedicated to archiving and celebrating the life and work of Texas born guitarist, singer, and educator Huey Long. The museum’s curator Anita Long (Huey’s daughter) welcomed my wife and I for a visit earlier this month and like many Houstonians I’ve met since our relocation from New York City, she was generous with her knowledge of Houston’s cultural scene. Every musician I know would take great comfort in knowing that a family member like Anita would take care of their legacy after they were gone. The museum and its accompanying website (featuring plenty of photos, audio, and video) serves to remind people that the history of American music includes the collective participation of many, many artists each committed to their respective craft. Which is one way of saying you might know that Huey Long was a member of  The Ink Spots (from 1944 to 1946 with Bill Kenny as their leader), but not know he also played guitar in ensembles that included Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Father Hines, Sarah Vaughn, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and many other luminaries of 20th century jazz and popular music.

Huey Long (who lived to be 105!) was born in 1904 in Sealy, Texas. For the people in Sealy as well as on the farms in surrounding areas, music was a vital part of a day-to-day dominated by hard labor (by the time he was a teenager, Huey was working as a sharecropper). Describing those formative years in Sealy in his pictorial autobiography The Huey Long Story, Huey recalls the names of no less than four different pianists (including his brother Sammy) playing “rags” on the pianos in people’s homes. “Ragtime” was indeed heard in Texas in the early 1900s as was what would become known as “the blues.” Huey’s sister Willie – also a pianist -studied music in Houston, at Wiley College, and brought back to Sealy classical and popular sheet music to play note for note when “grown ups” were in the house and improvise off of when the youngsters were on their own (some parents considered improvisation to be almost sinful behavior).

In addition to classical, popular, and ragtime music for piano, Huey was exposed to the up-tempo groove oriented music (my description) played on guitar at all night “suppers” (which included plenty of dancing, eating, and gambling) as well as its more somber and “sorrowful” counterpart known as “slow blues.” Huey began playing both guitar and piano, eventually moving to ukulele – a very popular instrument at the time. After setting out on his own at the age of fifteen and relocating in Houston, he began playing banjo (tuning it like a ukulele but an octave lower) and joined the Frank Davis Louisiana Jazz Band. This was a popular and well-respected band in its time, that played for both whites and blacks in Houston’s segregated communities. He would begin playing guitar after relocating from Houston to Chicago and joining Texas Guinan’s Cuban Band (who traveled to Chicago from New York City to play the 1933 World’s Fair). Later, Huey would join Fletcher Henderson’s Band and Earl “Father” Hines’ All Star Band (I apologize for skipping ahead a bit, and neglecting a lot of formative music making…)

Fast forwarding a bit…

Two sessions Huey did around 1946 with trumpeter Fats Navarro, tenor saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, pianist Al Haig, bassist Gene Ramey, and drummer Denzil Best were released on two separate records: In The Beginning…Bebop (which is a compilation of sessions by three different bands) and of Fats Navarro’s recording Nostalgia. These recordings feature some truly kick ass guitar playing from Huey who definitely holds his own in the company of two phenomenally creative horn players. The rhythmic interplay between guitar and piano (and bass and drums…) is incredibly funky. This is bebop (probably) inspired by the music heard at Sealy’s all night suppers: Danceable, unpredictable, and filled with sly humor.

Huey Long in 2008 (photo courtesy of Anita Long)

Teaching and composing music – including several chord melody solos based on themes from European Classical repertoire – would be a major part of Huey’s life along with researching his family tree creating an exhibit of his life’s work that would become The Ink Spots Museum. Anita talked to us about the possibility of the museum one day becoming a virtual exhibit – and there is plenty of history and music from Huey’s life as well as from Texas that should be shared with the world. For now, in addition to the website, there is this small museum – a standing structure in the midst of Houston’s un-zoned landscape – that you can make an appointment to visit. 

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[Ed. — After many years in NYC but fresh to my own stomping ground of Houston, Chris Becker has offered to write some semi-regular musings on the new-music scene down thisaway. His own introduction:

In its March 2010 Global Ear column, The Wire magazine described Houston as “the weirdest and wildest of (Texas) cities” with a “rich tradition of unofficial and DIY art.” Speaking as a recent transplant from New York City (where I lived for twelve years), I can confirm that our British friends were on point with their analysis of H-Town. I am in my third month as a native, and only just beginning to take in the breadth and variety of Houston’s cultural scene– especially its music. Although I’m also enjoying the city’s classical music (Houston Grand Opera, Mercury Baroque) each dispatch I bring to you from Houston will focus on contemporary composition, improvised idioms, and works that integrate theatre, the visual arts, and/or dance. Inevitably, my love for rock, folk, blues, country, zydeco, and all out noise (Red Krayola, anyone?) will creep into future writing, the overall goal being to expand peoples’ perception (including my own) of where one can find innovative forward-thinking music.]

2009-2010 marks the sixth year that Houston’s contemporary ensemble and presenting organization Musiqa has presented its “loft” concert series at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. Each concert program is produced in conjunction with and inspired by a different exhibition. In May, CAMH debuted the show Hand + Made featuring works that blur the lines between craft (crochet, pottery, glass blowing) and performance. As a composer who has collaborated with clay and crochet artists (often in combination with dancers and improvising musicians), I dug the curatorial concept immediately and looked forward to hearing what pieces the composer founded and led Musiqa would choose for Hand + Made’s corresponding May 20th concert.

The concert took place at CAMH with the musicians surrounded by the artwork on display – including several elaborately designed and decorated “sound suits” by artist Nick Cave (a former dancer with Alvin Ailey’s troupe, not the singer with the Bad Seeds). I was happy to see people of all ages and filled CAMH’s space for this concert, using up all of the available benches and much of the floor space.

The program – performed by three percussionists (Craig Hauschildt, Alec Warren, and Blake Wilkins) included Clapping Music by Steve Reich, Panneaux en acier by Marcus Maroney (a beautiful and relatively new work for percussion soloist on various metals), Vinko Globokar’s primal piece of solo performance art Corporal (bravely and convincingly realized by a half naked Craig Hauschildt who was required to – among other actions – slap and strike parts of his body), and Ohko for three djembes by Iannis Xenakis. The performances were incredible, blurring the lines between what was composed, what was improvised, and where “music” as one might define it begins and ends. Musiqua’s program illuminated the creative interzone that is “in-between categories” where many of Hand + Made’s artists (and many Houstonians) reside.

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Artist and performer Yet Torres is responsible for the handmade design and packaging of the new double CD Screwed Anthologies: improvised music under the influence of DJ Screw featuring David Dove (trombone) and Lucas Gorham (guitar, lap steel). David and Lucas celebrated this CD release Sunday May 30th at Resonant Interval – a concert series (“Sideways Shows For A Straight Laced City”) that features Houston’s experimental, electronic and improvising artists. David is the director of Nameless Sound, a presenting organization that, in addition to bringing experimental musicians from around the world to Houston, offers music instruction to young people in the public schools, community centers, and homeless shelters. Screwed Anthologies is a “disjointed exhibition” initially conceived at Labotanica (an experimental laboratory for art and performance located in the historic Third Ward) featuring music and mixed media performances inspired by the “screwed and chopped” music of the formidable DJ Screw. The venue for the Resonant Interval performance was an empty storefront located a few doors away from a cool wine and beer bar with its own show on its walls of lovely and haunting photographs of New Orleans. Once again, the space was filled with people ready to take in the music.

Throughout David and Lucas’ set, excerpts of DJ Screw’s music were cued and superimposed over the sometimes (but not always) heavily processed sound of David’s trombone and Lucas’ lap steel and guitar. “Under the influence…” is the tag to this project, but legacy or homage did not seem to drive the actual improvising in performance (although both David and Lucas created sounds that harkened to the slow tempos, shifted pitches and soulful timbres of DJ Screw’s mixes). The disparate qualities of each sound (including the stray transmissions of DJ Screw) hung in the air like parts of a mobile (or a collection of Duchamp ready-mades) creating an experience where one seemed to hear each component to the music as an individual entity sitting in its own time and space, even as the music unfolded in the context of a duo (trio?) improvisation. The influence of Houston-born Pauline Oliveros was apparent, along with the sounds of Houston’s birds, traffic, and weather. I am excited to hear (via bootlegging or perhaps another CD-R or two…) how this music develops on the road. David and Lucas are currently touring Screwed Anthologies throughout the South and East Coast. You can get the tour dates here.

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Spring has definitely sprung down here in Houston; everything that looked dead just a few weeks ago is sprouting all kinds of new growth. And that goes for opera as well, seeing that this year’s iteration of  Opera Vista begins this Saturday, March 20th, and runs through March 27th.

Opera Vista focuses on bringing contemporary opera to Houston and the Vista Competition is an international search for ground-breaking new works by modern composers.

“The Vista Competition is unique in that it gives composers the opportunity to have their works performed by professional singers and instrumentalists,” says Viswa Subbaraman, OV‘s Artistic Director. “They have a wonderful opportunity to interact with many well-known people from the world of opera and classical music, but I think more importantly, they get an insight into how their work is perceived by the audience.”

In October, six semi-finalists (Lembit Beecher, Katarzyna Brochocka, Alberto García Demestres, Joseph Eidson, Jonathan N. Kupper, Catherine Reid) from three countries were selected, ranging from adaptations of a Japanese folk tale to a horror opera.  Excerpts from each work will be performed on March 24th & 26th at the Czech Center Museum Houston (4920 San Jacinto, at Wichita), each night beginning at 7:30pm.  A panel of judges, including world-renowned composer Daron Hagen (There will be an evening of chamber music composed by Hagen at 7:30pm on March 25th at the Czech Center) and Leslie Dunner of the Joffrey Ballet, will critique each excerpt, and the audience will vote to select which operas will advance. In the final round the winning excerpts will be performed again with a longer critique from the judges, but then the audience will get to directly question the composers. The audience then votes to determine the winner of the competition, which will be announced March 27th at the festival’s closing performance. The winner receives $1,500 and a full production of their opera at the next festival.

This year’s festival will also include the world premiere of the winning opera from the 2009 Opera Vista Festival, Anorexia Sacra by Line Tjørnhøj. Line couples the plight of a young woman suffering from anorexia with the writings of the 13th century nun Claire of Assisi. Anorexia Sacra will be performed at 7:30pm on March 20th and 27th at the Live Oak Friends Meetinghouse (1318 West 26th Street).

There’s also a bit of meet-and-greet with all the composers on March 23rd, 6-8pm, at Momentum Audi (2315 Richmond Avenue).

Whew! Tickets and more information can be found at the OV website, which also contains sketches of each of the composers, operas and judges.

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