Archive for the “Lectures” Category

NYCEMF_logoMost New Yorkers are walking about, minding their own business, completely oblivious to the international sonic earthquake vibrating through their midst all week: The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). The first wave of the festival (seven concerts) took place as part of the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial at National Sawdust in Brooklyn last week. Yet the lion’s share of the festival is happening right now: 28 more concerts during June 13-19, at Abrons Arts Center on Grand St., for a total of 35 concerts. Yes you read that correctly: 35 concerts of electroacoustic music, including some 350 works, by almost as many composers from all around the world! Indeed a mammoth undertaking organized, produced, and presented miraculously by Hubert Howe, Travis Garrison, David Reeder, Howie Kenty, and a highly dedicated energetic staff.


The variety on offer is astonishing. There are pieces for live instruments or voice and electronics (live processing or premade sounds); pieces for synthesized sound, sampled sounds, and both together. Some works feature video. Other works feature graphics generated through live video feeds of the performer, or graphics generated through movement. Concerts are heard alternately in two small traditional auditoriums and a cozy cocoon-like space with 16-channel surround sound, seating in the round, amongst stratospheric ceilings. Sound art and visual art installations are mounted in the hallways and foyers. The concerts are at 12:30, 2, 4, and 8pm; workshops and paper presentations on such topics as “Oral History as Form in Electroacoustic Music, “Orient Occident: An Alternative Analysis,” and “Wireless Sensing” occur in the mornings, at NYU.

Among the international cast of composers and performing artists heard in the festival are Tania León, Ken Ueno, Alice Shields, Clarence Barlow, Elizabeth Hoffman, Simon Emmerson, Alvin Lucier, Shelly Hirsch, Annie Gosfield, Phil Niblock, Alan Licht, Judith Shatin, Michelle Jaffe, Maja Cerar, Marianne Gythfeldt, and Arthur Kampela. Most of them are on hand and the casual atmosphere is conducive to conversation with and among participating artists.


Togo seed rattle

One of the most interesting works I heard was Precuneus; Sonic Space no.8—Iteration No.4 (2016) by Michael Musick. This is a work for live performer and “sonic ecosystem.” And yes, it sounds as great as that sounds. During the performance, Mr. Musick gently wafted throughout the stage, as if in a trance, while playing sometimes a recorder and sometimes a Togo seed rattle and other percussion instruments. Meanwhile Mr. Musick’s software reacted in the most delightfully musical way. Its “digital agents” listen to the live sounds and spontaneously extract features from them and then generate new sounds sculpted by these features. These sounds percolated and jiggled all around the hall in a delicate lavander tornado for the ears.

Percussion_setupZhaoyu Zhang’s Night Snow brought my ears close up and inside mysterious objects and intriguingly close to strange materials in action—as though my ears were intimately touching the source of the sounds, quiet sounds of brushing, crushing, caressing, burning, scraping, and feathering. Deeper sounds were felt more than heard, creating an altogether visceral experience, evoking what the ancient Chinese poet Juyi Bai’s calls the four senses: tactile (cold), visual (bright), feeling (to know), and auditory (to hear)

On the same concert, Larry Gaab’s Weird Orbits Need Explaining seemed to use the lyrical gestures and sweeps of melody to steer the trajectories of other sonic material. An eerie yet friendly vocality emerged. So much I wish I could go back to hear again


violinist Maja Cerar in action

The highlight of the late afternoon concert was Xiao Fu’s Longing, a ravishing audio-visual kinetic spectacle that lasted nearly a quarter of an hour, involving two performers supported by a crew of four who manipulated hand-held projectors and sound. It is based on a song of the Huang He Ge from the Chinese Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD). Beautifully colored hand-painted animation of Chinese calligraphy was projected on a video screen with computeized sound before two women emerged in flowing costumes, gracefully dancing and singing (both). One of them later played the flute against the sonic digital backdrop while a new, and highly original, ornate style of colorful animation permeated the visual field, zooming and granulating. Strikingly colored calligraphic imagery punctured the progression toward a taut climactic episode in which the second performer dramatically played an accelerating drum pattern against flickering virtuosic lines of the flute.


AV artist Michelle Jaffe

The overflowing diversity of creativity witnessed in this festival is simply inspiring. What I described above is only a snippet of what happened on the first day. After today there are still five days left. So most of the highlights are yet to come. It’s well worth the trip to this somewhat neglected corner of Manhattan, between Chinatown and the Williamsburg Bridge.

While in the neighborhood, check out the gourmet ice cream shop Ice and Vice on East Broadway, or Cafe Petisco, also on East Broadway, Cafe Katja on Orchard, or Ost Café on Grand, one block east of Abrons.)

The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF), June 13-19, Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street, near the F/M train Essex st. station) Each show $15 (evening shows $20); day pass $40; festival Pass at $160.

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Drummer, composer, and lecturer Chris Cutler

Drummer, composer, and web radio star Chris Cutler

Radio Web MACBA is a radiophonic project from the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) website that explores the possibilities of the internet and radio as spaces of synthesis and exhibition. The programs are available on demand, and as a podcast subscription.

Beginning with a program called Probes #1, drummer extraordinaire Chris Cutler (one of the founding members of the legendary band Henry Cow) examines the side-effects of the collapse of tonality in the 20th century, and intriguingly addresses the idea of Western music notation and modern recording as “memory technology.” As Cutler explains, “Different forms of memory will engender different forms of music.”

“In the late nineteenth century two facts conspired to change the face of music: the collapse of common practice tonality (which overturned the certainties underpinning the world of Art music), and the invention of a revolutionary new form of memory, sound recording (which redefined and greatly empowered the world of popular music). A tidal wave of probes and experiments into new musical resources and new organizational practices ploughed through both disciplines, bringing parts of each onto shared terrain before rolling on to underpin a new aesthetics able to follow sound and its manipulations beyond the narrow confines of ‘music’.”

“This series tries analytically to trace and explain these developments, and to show how, and why, both musical and post-musical genres take the forms they do. This first program sets the scene and investigates early reconsiderations of pitch: probes that postulate new scales to be constructed through the ever-greater subdivision of the inherited intervals of equal temperament.”

Probes #1 is a fascinating podcast, just one of several on the RWM website. Special thanks to composer and sound artist Douglas Henderson for bringing this site and Culter’s podcasts to my attention.

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Milton Babbitt. Photo Credit: Pierce Bounds

On Thursday, I’m giving a talk about Milton Babbitt’s life and work to high school composers at Westminster Choir College’s Composition Camp. It seems only fitting to introduce them to Babbitt as part of the week’s activities. He lived near WCC’s campus, attended a number of events at the college, and until it closed some years back, could often be found at the Annex at lunchtime. Many of our students knew Milton best because they’d waited on him there!

Another reason that I want to share my interest in Milton’s music with them: he was the first composer that I met; when I was about the same age as many of the composers attending this week’s camp. And yes, I found his music to be baffling at first; but it made me want to learn more about contemporary music: how it’s made and what makes the composers of it tick. I’ve been at it ever since!

It’s difficult to sum up Milton’s work in an introductory lecture. I’ve limited myself to 12 slides (pun intended).

Milton Babbitt overview: Powerpoint presentation

An hour after my lecture on Babbitt, I’ve been asked to give a composer talk about my own work. I’ve set myself with a tough act to follow!

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[Noted composer/performer Bunita Marcus asked to share some information on her upcoming lectures on Morton Feldman.]

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

I am doing two lectures on Morton Feldman’s Notation and Compositional Process here in NYC this coming January 16th and 23rd at 1:00 to 3:00 pm. These lectures will also be available via for people outside of NYC.

These lectures are unique audio/visual powerpoint presentations. The first lecture is on the influence of Rugs and the Visual Arts on his Composition and Orchestration. The second lecture is a closer look at his Rubato Notation and his Compositional Process, examining the vellums and manuscripts. I will also discuss the ramifications of this type of notation for the future of contemporary music. I have been lecturing on this subject for 24 years, but unfortunately very few people understand how Feldman went about putting a composition together. I have not published this information anywhere in this much detail. If you are at all interested in Feldman’s compositional process and how he notated his music, this will be an essential introduction. As most of you know, Morton and I composed together for over seven years–a crucial seven years–where he solidified his notation and compositional process in the late works.

I would like to invite anyone interested to attend. I have set it up so that anyone with access to a computer can watch it live. We are trying to make the internet participants able to ask questions via chat.   I will be addressing the issues surrounding the vellum scores that Morty created and the problems that have arisen when Universal engraves a score and loses this information. This will be of particular interest to anyone doing research into Feldman’s work.   Morty created some of the most interesting and ingenious notation in his late period and we will look at that in detail and it’s implications for the future of contemporary and common-practice music. The lectures are really sequential and I urge you to see both for the best comprehension.

The space in NYC is somewhat limited, so I do encourage you to get your tickets soon and reserve a seat. From the way things look now it will sell-out.  There is also great interest in the live internet feed and there is no limit to how many people can use this. But for my sake, please don’t wait until the last moment, try to order the tickets at least 4 days ahead of time. If for some reason you are interested but cannot make either form of the lectures, please do send me an email ( and I will put you on a list to keep you updated on future lectures, and a DVD I have in the works.

Feel free to pass on this news.   It’s about time we started to clear the air concerning Feldman’s contributions to music.   The more people understand what he was doing, the more interesting it becomes.  Even though we worked together for many years, my music is nothing like his–except in one way:   I adopted and adapted his notational ideas.   And in all my years of teaching composition, I have learned that his notational ideas work with any type of music.  This I find amazing.   It gives me hope for a contemporary music that is accessible to traditionally-trained classical musicians.    It is no longer necessary to be a specialist in contemporary music in order to play it. Feldman’s notation shows us the way.  It is a composer’s solution, as it should be.

Remember, anyone, anywhere with a computer can log-on and participate, this is not just for the US, it is world-wide.  You just need to order tickets to get the correct URL for the lectures.

I will be demystifying Feldman to the degree that one can do so.
I hope to see you there!

Bunita Marcus
Ph.D. Music Composition


If you have composition students please let them know about these lectures.
There is plenty to learn here, especially about composition and notation.

You can buy the tickets (discounts for students, seniors and limited income) here:


1-3 pm, Jan. 16th and 23rd, 2011 in Tribeca, NYC

Piano Magic, 78 Reade Street #5E (corner of Church), 10007
(This is a four flight walk-up on Sundays)
1, 2, 3, A, C at Chambers St.; 4, 5, 6, R at City Hall

Piano Magic: 212-732-8828
Bunita 347-715-6518

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