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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 Biennale 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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

http://www.abronsartscenter.org/on-stage/shows/new-york-city-electroacoustic-music-festival-2/

http://www.facebook.com/NewYorkCityElectroacousticMusicFestival/

https://www.facebook.com/events/586542431515565/

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TwtrSymphony is an intriguing ensemble of musicians connected via social networking. Instead of working together to simply promote and distribute news about contemporary music, TwtrSymphony is a fully functional new music ensemble in absentia. The individual members of this orchestra never meet and rehearse as a group. Instead, the performers record their parts in isolation from each other, in widely different settings, and Musical Director Chip Michael and his merry band of engineers then assemble these recordings into cohesive works all 140 seconds in duration. Right now, TwtrSymphony is working on Chip Michael’s Second Symphony, Birds of a Feather, and the first movement “The Hawk Goes Hunting” was released on July 17.

While their website has a wealth of information including a recording, video, and thorough blog, I sat down with Chip on Monday night and chatted with him about the ensemble. While I should have kept a certain journalistic verisimilitude and had the exchange via Twitter, we opted for a slightly longer format (Skype).

Jay C. Batzner: Let’s start with the basics: what do you do in your role as Musical Director? Who else is involved (other than performers)?

Chip Michael: My role of Music Director is very organizational, pointing TwtrSymphony in the direction I think it needs to head and keeping the focus on what we need to do to get where we’re going. I am also the composer as that is a good portion of why TwtrSymphony got started.

I was looking for an orchestra to play my music and some of my Twitter friends suggested I start my own – a Twitter Symphony… and TwtrSymphony was born.

But, I want TwtrSymphony to be more than just a show case for my music. It’s a great concept, musicians from all around the world playing together. Musicians who might never get to play with other musicians making music. That’s cool. So, while I’ve written the first piece that we’re doing, Symphony No. 2 “Birds of a Feather,” I imagine a future when other composers can avail themselves of our ensemble.

As Music Director, I’m thinking about how the process works (and what doesn’t), what it means to be a symphony orchestra and how to get the pieces to fit together… so, when the time comes for us to have other composers work with the ensemble, we have the tools and setup to make sure it works right for both the musicians and the composer.

Nothing would be worse than for us to invite a composer to write something and have the end result be a horrible failure. So, in essence we’re using my music to test the waters.

We’re also in the process of re-designing the organization of TwtrSymphony. There is nothing formal to announce at this point, but the way we do things now isn’t the best way. It makes getting recordings out time consuming and requires a lot of engineering effort. A simple re-org should help that. As MD, I’m thinking about what’s best for the music and ways we can achieve quality and still maintain our global nature

JCB: The idea behind TwtrSymphony, the idea of crowd-sourcing performers, is something that we’ve seen taking off recently. I think of Tan Dun’s and Eric Whitacre’s YouTube-based performances. This seems to be a logical technological outgrowth of the “write for your friends” mentality that a lot of composers use (and rightfully so).

CM: Yes… the concept of crowd-sourcing performers is nothing new. Neither is the idea of remote recording sessions to put together an ensemble. However, I’m not aware of any instrumental ensemble to the scale of TwtrSymphony that’s been done. 60+ musicians with 90+ tracks is a lot to manage when the recordings were done in different places, using different equipment…Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir comes the closest to what we’re doing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Picture courtesy of Q2 Music

Sometimes, classical music gets a bad rap. To be perfectly honest, there is a chunk of the population that finds it to be synonymous with any number of derogatory terms: boring, annoying, or pompous.  Some classical music lovers and advocates will counter this popular belief with arguments that only go to further the opinion of the other side: “Some people want to listen to mindless music”, “Some people simply don’t have patience”, etc. These ridiculous arguments only go to further the stereotype that classical music lovers are all pompous windbags who believe themselves to be uniquely educated and informed.

How, then, do we get people to forget their misconception, and believe that EVERYONE can enjoy or even love classical music, regardless of education, socioeconomic standing, or profession?

It all comes down to how classical music is presented; and now, for a limited time,  you could join one organization that does it right.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Yesterday, Alex Ross wrote a short essay on The Rest is Noise about next season’s offerings at the New York Philharmonic. After discussing several highlights, including Stockhausen’s Gruppen at the Park Avenue Armory, the NYPO’s first presentation of a piece by Philip Glass (!), and a new work by John Corigliano, he pointed out some curious omissions.

Ross wrote,”The Contact! series will elicit new works from Alexandre Lunsqui, Yann Robin, and Michael Jarrell. The series has no American music this year, nor is there any music by women in the entire season.”

Like Ross, I’m very excited by some of the other programs the NY Phil has in store for audiences, but I can’t help but wish that both Contact! and the season in general were more diverse.

Let’s help them out: a list of American women composers that should appear on Contact! and subscription concerts at the NY Phil.

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Jennifer Higdon and John Clare in Dallas for her Violin Concerto performance in May 2010

It is a huge day for new music new releases tomorrow, Tuesday, September 21st. Last month you might remember I interviewed Nico Muhly about his new releases before he spoke in LA about the works on the Decca label and featured an in-store performance. Tomorrow those discs will hit the stores as well as two major works by another composer, Jennifer Higdon.

What is astounding about Higdon’s cds are that they are by two different labels (Telarc & DG) and by two different violinists (Jennifer Koh and Hilary Hahn) of two different violin concertos, written closely together: The Singing Rooms and the Violin Concerto. I was curious about how all of this came together for Jennifer.

Listen to the interview: mp3 file

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Received a blurb from the LA Phil the other day, which in all caps proudly declares “LA PHIL LAUNCHES MICROSITE CELEBRATING INCOMING MUSIC DIRECTOR GUSTAVO DUDAMEL”  … Kaboom!… Here’s the relevant bit (my bolds):

On September 24, 2009, the LA Phil launched a microsite celebrating the arrival of incoming Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. Introducing audiences worldwide to Gustavo in new and engaging ways, the comprehensive microsite, located at http://www.laphil.com/gustavo, features videos such as Gustavo’s first rehearsal with the YOLA Expo Center Youth Orchestra, the LA Phil’s video tribute “Welcome Gustavo,” and the press conferences unveiling Gustavo’s inaugural season and appointment as 11th Music Director of the LA Phil.  Visitors can also take a multimedia journey through Gustavo’s life with tiling photographs, video and biographical text.  The latest Gustavo-related news and newly recorded audio and video content will be added to the microsite as Gustavo’s exciting inaugural season progresses.

The Gustavo microsite prominently features a brand-new interactive online game and iPhone application, Bravo Gustavo, designed by Hello Design to simulate the experience of conducting an orchestra.  The Bravo Gustavo online game invites users to interact with Gustavo and the LA Phil performing Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique (music courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon).  The Bravo Gustavo iPhone application adapts the mobile device into a conducting baton, utilizing the accelerometer to directly affect the overall tempo and note duration of the music – just like a real conductor.

Wow, conductor as new “my best friend forever”, and it seems like the only thing missing from the package is the action figure. I suppose if the classical world had been cool enough to do a “Bravo Herbert” or “Welcome Antal” back in the day, the crowds would never have left.

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