Archive for the “Microtonalism” Category

pie20Saturday, July 25, 2015 at Boston Court, People Inside Electronics presented Man on a Wire, a concert of new music featuring pianist Aron Kallay.  A capacity crowd filled the Branson performance space to hear eight pieces incorporating electronics, piano, keyboards and acoustic instruments.

The first piece was Four Roses (1997) by Annie Gosfield and this was written for cello and de-tuned keyboard. Aron Kallay played the electronic keyboard and Maggie Parkins, cello. According to the program notes “Three of the cello strings are tuned conventionally, and the ‘A’ string is tuned 80 cents flat (just short of a semitone). This scordatura creates microtonal intervals between the open ‘A’ string and the normally tuned strings. The keyboards use prepared piano and piano samples, tuned to a scale that is 32 notes per octave.” This opened with stark, scratchy sounds from the cello that soon coalesced into a pleasing pizzicato groove while the keyboard added short, metallic notes that provided a good contrast. This order was then reversed, with long, sustained tones coming from the cello while the keyboard fashioned a melody from riffs of 8th notes that worked nicely against the smooth background. The cello then embarked on a slow, dreamy solo and when the keyboard entered again there was an added sense of tension that persisted through a brief revisiting of the opening theme. A sudden ending concluded the piece. Four Roses ably incorporates unconventional tuning into an engagingly listenable piece that was artfully performed.

Get Rich Quick (2009) by Ian Dicke followed. This piece is for piano and fixed media and was performed during the May, 2014 People Inside Electronics concert in Santa Monica. A new video by Katherine Guillen was commissioned for this latest performance. Get Rich Quick was written shortly after the 2008 market crash and is a playful look at the fragility of our financial system. It begins with sounds of the frenetic bidding of a trading floor and the ringing sound of a coin spinning. A loud, scary piano crash follows, and a chilling melody is heard while a shower of falling coins is seen in the video. The dark melody builds in volume and tension as fragments from 1960’s-era commercials are seen extolling the virtues of consumer debt and stock market speculation. Phrases like “Debt is part of American life!” and “Investing is easy!” are heard while visions of conspicuous consumption are seen. Images of charts and currency tables are especially vivid in parts of this new video, with movement and bright colors that dazzle the eye. The music becomes increasingly ominous as the video narration turns suddenly righteous – “Pay those bills!”, “There’s no free lunch!”, and finally “Get out of Debt.” The video concludes with more falling coins and a music box melody of Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Get Rich Quick has lost none of its relevance and the playing of Aron Kallay perfectly fit both the video and the musical message.

The next piece was The Alchemy of Everyday Things (2015) by Jason Heath and this was for piano, violin and live electronics. Originally written specifically for the Villa Aurora performance space with five channels of audio, this Boston Court version was realized in stereo. Aron Kallay was at the piano and Shalini Vijayan played violin. The piece began with a lovely sustained tone from the amplified violin that was unusually deep and rich. The piano entered, but in an unexpected way. Aron Kallay was seen to be drawing a length of fishing line – or perhaps some thin wire – across one of the lower piano strings. The sound this produced was both exotic and profound, like some ancient Asian stringed instrument. When combined with the violin, the result was calm, soothing and meditative – a wash of warm tones without need of rhythm. A high, soaring violin line added a brightness and color and this was joined by several piano notes, struck now from the keyboard, breaking the spell. The violin became more active and piano chords added a new energy and movement to this middle section. At length the sounds of water lapping at a lake shore and a soft whispering were heard, adding an element of mystery. The violin played a soft solo of low, sustained tones and soon the piano joined with more notes bowed with the wire line, returning to the serenity of the opening. The Alchemy of Everyday Things is a beautifully transcendent piece that draws a surprising elegance from very simple sounds. The playing in this performance was equal to the task, delivering a delicate, introspective quality that precisely matched the music.

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Ojai100The 69th annual Ojai Music Festival featured the West Coast premiere of Sila: The Breath of the World by John Luther Adams, staged outdoors in Libby Park as a free community event. Performers from ICE, red fish blue fish and Cal Arts – some 80 musicians in all – were placed in selected positions in the center of the park and the audience was invited to move around and among them as the piece progressed.

Sila is an Inuit concept for the spirit that animates the world and marks the second outdoor piece by John Luther Adams at Libby Park. Inuksuit was performed here in 2012 under similar circumstances and was judged a great success. Sila is perhaps a more ambitious piece in that there are more players and a more diverse orchestration. Inuksuit is a dynamic percussion piece that was spread out over the entire park. Sila has strings, horns, woodwinds and voices organized into sections, all ringed by percussion stations. Sila probably occupied a bit less than half the area of the Inuksuit installation.

Sila is also a more delicate piece – its subject matter is intangible and highly spiritual. In a recent article by Tim Greiving the composer was quoted: “My image of the piece is really quite simple, It comes up, very slowly, out of the earth, out of these very low sounds — of bass drums and double basses and bassoons and tubas. And over the course of an hour or so, it just gradually rises up through this series of harmonic clouds and goes out and rises, and blows away in the wind.”

Sila opens with a great roll of the bass drums accompanied by sustained tones from the low brass. There is a primal, elemental feel to this that increased as the bass clarinet and oboe entered. The entrance of each section of instruments, in turn, contributed more sustained tones that gradually rose and fell in volume. The early parts of Sila were heard in the lower registers, but the sounds gradually rose in pitch over the course of the one hour performance. The musicians and singers slowly rotated as they played, adding a swirling effect to the texture.

Ojai200a

Microtones were notated in the score and the musicians were equipped with a cell phone app that helped to monitor the pitches and provide stopwatch time to mark the entrances of the various sections. There was no formal beat, but rather a series of long tones – always entering and fading – and producing a constantly changing color and texture to the sound. At times the ensemble sounded like a great sigh.

The crowd pressed in among the musicians and depending where one stood, there was a markedly different character to the listening experience. Standing near the woodwinds or voices, for example, one heard a lighter, ethereal sound while standing near the brass or percussion evoked a feeling of expansiveness and grandeur. Given its more diverse instrumentation, Sila is a much more position-sensitive experience than the percussion-driven Inuksuit.

About midway into the piece there were high trills on some of the xylophones while others were bowed and this produced a lovely mystical wash on top of the sustained pitches coming from the instruments. The soprano voices were also very effective when within earshot. The press of listeners as they moved among the players had a somewhat damping effect on the sound – especially among the higher woodwinds, strings and voices. The audience was quietly attentive and fully engaged for the entire hour. The piece gradually wound down in volume and in the final moments all that could be heard was the rushing sound of air coming from the instruments and voices. John Luther Adams was in attendance and acknowledged the sustained applause that followed.

Ojai300This performance of Sila was well matched to the Ojai Festival which, after all, is built on the idea of music outdoors. Much credit goes to the 80 musicians who had to bring off a subtle piece in the park setting and contend with microtones, stopwatches and the distractions of having their audience moving among them. The performance was successful, in part, because it involves the audience in a way that can’t be duplicated in the concert hall. Sila – and the other outdoor pieces by John Luther Adams – have added an important new dimension to the presentation of new music.

 

 

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betalevel-20On Thursday November 7, Betalevel, that famously obscure underground venue in Chinatown, hosted a concert of microtonal music entitled The Things That Overpower Us. The program featured the music of Kraig Grady, in Los Angeles for the week and who brought his personal greetings from the metaphorical Island of Anaphoria. A standing-room only crowd of about 50 jammed into the small space to hear performances by Tangerine Music Lab and a string quartet consisting of Melinda Rice, Mona Tian, Andrew McIntosh and Ashley Walters.

The concert began with an extended improvisation by Tangerine Music Labs that was loosely based on a series of selected individual words: Fire, Ginger, Lanterns, etc and short phrases such as The Hawk Cries and Return. The piece began with a series of slow, steady chords by Ryan Tanaka on keyboard and this was soon joined by warm sounds from the viola, played by Deanna Lynn. The smooth, languid feel from the flute-like registration of the keyboard was complimented at times by counterpoint in the viola but there were never any sharp edges. The words selected were sung by vocalist Emily Loynachan in simple, declaratory passages of just a few notes, playing off the other two instruments with a fine sense of timing. The blend and balance here were excellent and the piece flowed agreeably to a quiet conclusion.

This was followed by a string quartet composed by Melinda Rice based on familiar American folk songs surrounded by sounds produced by extended string techniques. The piece began with soft, small, airy sounds that were soon in the company of a traditional folk tune played strongly in the violin. The effect was something like coming out from a long walk in the woods into a sudden clearing and seeing a house, with smoke curling from its chimney. The piece proceeded in this fashion – the folk tunes, and then mouse or perhaps bird-like sounds from the extended techniques. Sometimes the folk tune would be carried by a single instrument, other times in full four-part harmony, but these were separated by sounds that evoked nature. This was a very effective structure – the traditional tunes provided an anchor of familiarity while between these were the more imaginative sounds. Given the Scots-Irish flavor of the folk tunes, it conjured a convincing portrait of an early America that was thinly settled and predominantly wilderness.

Kraig Grady’s solo violin piece was next, a tribute to Lou Harrison. This proceeded in a series of strong, marcato passages, often syncopated. A photo of an antique telegrapher’s key was projected on the wall behind the performer and the work included a series of Morse code passages that were embedded in the rhythms. A long time ago I was able to read Morse code but I confess I couldn’t detect anything of the familiar patterns here – but the effect was certainly present.

anaphoria-40Mica followed, a string quartet written by Terumi Narushima, who teaches at the University of Wollongong and is also married to Kraig Grady. Ms. Narushima explained that Mica was inspired by the sheen of the granite buildings in a big city, the mineral mica being the constituent of granite that gives off the brightest reflections. The piece begins with a series of slow, gentle chords that build in volume and then subside, reminiscent of an ocean swell on a lazy summer day. The microtonal technique here was nicely done and a feeling of a soft warmth was effectively realized. A Google Earth view of Anaphoria was projected on the wall and its state of seeming serenity was entirely appropriate. As the piece proceeded, a sharpness and intensity emerged that put one more in mind of the hard glint of sunlight reflecting off a granite skyscraper. The effective use of dynamics and skillful selections from the palette of pitches made hearing this piece a delightful experience.

The final piece in the program was Poole’s Lament by Kraig Grady, “a tribute to Grady’s colleague Rod Poole who was working on an arrangement of a set of Irish tunes before his tragic death.” This was performed by the string quartet. Poole’s Lament is based on a setting of an Irish reel and the piece begins with the tune resolutely played in standard tuning. Trills creep in to cover the main theme and the piece gradually unpacks into a series of long tones and quiet chords. Microtonal passages further enhance the sense of an unwinding process. In his comments prior to the playing of this work, Kraig Grady described the piece as following the arc of the natural processes that occur in the repose of death. This was not portrayed as morbid or unseemly in the music, but rather as a gentle disassembly into eternity. Soft tones and quiet pizzicato notes concluded this sweetly elegant commemoration.

betalevelBy way of encore, the string quartet was asked to improvise – as a group – on a series of placards held up by Kraig Grady. The words on these signs triggered all manner of interesting responses from the musicians, and proved to be very entertaining. This speaks to the high level of musicianship provided by Melinda Rice, Mona Tian, Andrew McIntosh and Ashley Walters. The excellent playing, enthusiastic audience and the company of the composers made The Things That Overpower Us a memorable evening of new music.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is home to a sizable community of sound artists, instrument inventors, and intonation innovators who spend all their time developing original and never-before-heard ways of relating to music and sound.  The local scene got a big national nod in 2008 when Walter Kitundu got the mysterious and exhilarating phone call and windfall that is the MacArthur Fellowship.

With such a lively local pool of talent, it’s natural that it has its own festival — Music for People and Thingamajigs — celebrating its 14th year from September 22nd to 25th, 2011. Edward Schocker and Dylan Bolles started it at Mills College in 1997, and it’s grown up to include a non-profit parent organization, Thingamajigs, and a profusion of programs including performances and arts education.

The festival Call for Proposals just went out this week.  Artists and composers working with invented instruments and/or alternate tuning systems, and performing ensembles featuring either one or both, are invited to submit proposals.  The deadline is June 15, 2011, although proposals which come in on or before May 15, 2011 will be included in festival grant proposals “and will have a greater chance of receiving outside funding,” says founder Schocker.

Proposals should include a bio of the artist/performer/composer(s), a specific description of the work or performance to be considered, and documentation of the submitted work (CD or link to a website).  Thingamajigs prefers electronically submitted proposals, sent to people@thingamajigs.org, but will accept hard copies at  Thingamajigs.org, 5000 MarcArthur Blvd PMB 9826, Oakland, CA, 94613, USA.

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We may have missed the first volleys of southern California’s MicroFest — concerts devoted to tunings other than our standard, boring old 12 steps to the octave — but there’s still plenty of time to get your octave-tweak on; events will be running all the way to the end of June. Composers represented include Cage, Harrison, Partch, Crumb, Lachenmann, Tenney, Alves, Corigliano, Gosfield, Haas, Ives, Wadle, Schweinitz, McIntosh, Kriege,  etc. etc… Quite a constellation of stars. For all the details head over to their website.

But I wanted to draw your attention to the MicroFest concert happening this weekend, since it involves an old pal and S21 alum. On Saturday April 24, 7:00 PM at the Steinway Piano Gallery (314 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood), pianist Aron Kallay with Grace Zhao will be giving a concert of music for “quartertuned+” pianos. In addition to pieces by Charles Ives, John Corigliano, Bill Alves, Georg Haas, Annie Gosfield and my internet friend “Down Under”, Kraig Grady, Kallay will be giving the premiere live performance of Jeff Harrington‘s monstrously difficult Prelude #3 for 19ET Piano. It’s taken a lot of years for someone to step up and take on one of Jeff’s preludes, many of which we’ve known and loved for years only through Jeff’s own MIDI realizations. It’s going to be fun, I’m telling you. You can hear part of the piece in this KPFK interview with Kallay.

Then on Sunday April 25th, back NYC -way, our long-time contributor Elodie Lauten is celebrating the 2-CD release of a whole passel of her piano music from the last 30 years, PIANO WORKS REVISITED (Unseen Worlds), with a performance at the Gershwin Hotel (4PM, 7 East 27 Street, $10).  Elodie herself will perform the Variations on the Orange Cycle (cited by Chamber Music America as among the 100 best works of the 20th century), and some of the early piano tunes that featured on WNYC as early as 1981;  also the Sonate Modale, released for the first time on these CDs. The Gershwin Hotel main lobby provides a beautiful grand piano and a colorful and elegant environment for this special venue, and there’ll be refreshments. So come on out and cheer the home team!

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The American Music Center’s NewMusicBox-meister Frank J. Oteri dropped by, with word of an upcoming gig of his own this Saturday:

“Just wanted to alert you folks that Tonally Perplexed, my trio devoted to improvisation with just noticeable differences (featuring moi on the custom built 6-octave ‘tonal plexus’ tuned to 205-tone equal temperament) will be performing on Saturday night at 7PM in Harlem for an art opening featuring new paintings by the wonderful Lisa Taliano (Chashama 461 Gallery, 461 West 126th St, between Amsterdam and Morningside). Since our last outing at the Cornelia Street Cafe, the group has taken a somewhat jazzier direction, no doubt urged on by the amazing bass playing of Ratzo Harris and the blues sensibility and sensitivity of Jeffrey Herman as well as my getting somewhat more comfortable on that beast of an instrument (which looks like a Lego assortment).”

Here are the full details. Meantime why not take a listen and a gander at Frank and crew, from a November 2008 outing?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzUXP1rCJyE[/youtube]

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Harry Partch playing the adapted viola, photo by Fred Lyon

 

So with all pleasures of life.

All things pass with the east-flowing water.

I leave you and go—when shall I return?

Let the white roe feed at will among the green crags,

Let me ride and visit the lovely mountains!

How can I stoop obsequiously and serve the mighty ones!

It stifles my soul.

His Dream of the Skyland – A Farewell Poem.

 

Li Po (Li Bai) (~701-763 CE) is universally recognized as one of the greatest Chinese poets of the Tang period, or for that matter, of the entire Chinese literary tradition. His poetry shows the influences of the interwoven philosophical religions of his time, Taoism, Neo Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, as well as a particular fondness for nature and wine. Well educated, highly regarded by everyone, he had lifelong trouble securing a post and spent his life as a wanderer, preternaturally creative and prolific. Over one thousand poems remain, along with the stories of his improvisations, drunkenness and generosity. Legend has it that he drowned while trying to grasp the moon in the water, but he is generally regarded to have committed suicide after leaving a farewell poem (partially quoted above). (This poem is the 10th of the set of 17 Lyrics).

 

The parallels between Partch and Li Bai are so striking as to imagine that they are the same person, re-cycled after a period of 1200 years. Hoboes, brilliant, often drunk, deeply admired, suspicious of authority, unable to find peace or security, and spectacularly creative, they are the irritating grain of sand in society’s eye that add the full dimension to our humanity – the rememberers of forgotten things.

“I am first and last a composer. I have been provoked into becoming a musical theorist, and instrument builder, a musical apostate, and a musical idealist, simply because I have been a demanding composer. I hold no wish for the obsolescence of the widely heard instruments and music. My devotion to our musical heritage is great — and critical. I feel that more ferment is necessary for a healthy musical culture. I am endeavoring to instill more ferment.” –Harry Partch 1942

 

In 1930, the composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) broke with Western European tradition and forged a new music based on a more primal, corporeal integration of the elements of speech, rhythm and performance using the intrinsic music found in the spoken word, the principles of acoustic resonance and just-intonation. Borrowing from the intonation systems of the ancient Greeks, he created a scale of 43-tones per octave, in part to enable him to capture the nuances of speech in his music, and to forge purer harmony. Read the rest of this entry »

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This Fall marks the twentieth season of provocative programming in New York City brought to you by Interpretations. Founded and curated by baritone Thomas Buckner in 1989, Interpretations focuses on the relationship between contemporary composers from both jazz and classical backgrounds and their interpreters, whether the composers themselves or performers who specialize in new music. To celebrate, Jerry Bowles has invited the artists involved in this season’s concerts to blog about their Interpretations experiences. Our second concert this season, on 16 October, features cellist Ted Mook, who has put together a program celebrating Ezra Sims’ 80th birthday on one half and promoting the music of Daniel Rothman on the other half:

Pansonority/Luminance: Music of Ezra Sims and Daniel Rothman

The two composers sharing this program have several things in common, things which are easy to talk about, write about and argue about. Sadly, some of these things can also be used as labels, to either wave as a standard of allegiance or a category to avoid. Neither composer has an institutional association, both composers work quietly in the calm, away from the frenzy of self-promotion. Both composers write meticulously considered music, consciously keeping the past in mind, but always stepping away from their last piece. Neither composer is on the tip of anyone’s tongue, but they are as well regarded as any similarly controversial artist. They are comfortable writing music that departs from the 12 note equal-tempered scale that dominates music today, though they can and do otherwise. Hence, pansonority.

Luminance, because it’s music that, for whatever reason, glows with its own light.

Daniel Rothman’s musical and visual preoccupations wander beyond the concert hall into eccentric spaces and timescales both smaller and larger than life. I’ll be performing a work Daniel wrote for me, aptly titled For Ted, a short, simple cello monologue, composed almost exclusively on the extreme upper harmonic partials of the instrument, assembling a narrative from heard, barely heard, unheard (imagined) sounds, much in the same way that the mind assembles a darkened room’s features from wisps of information from the dark adapted eye and the mind’s fabrications rushing in to fill the void. Pianist Eric Huebner will be playing la mùsica: mujer desnuda – corriendo loca pro la noche pura — the title being a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez in its entirety, and Telling the Bees, which Eric premiered last year, and concerns a ceremony performed by a younger member of a household when his/her master or mistress dies, who visits the beehive rattling a chain of small keys, and whispers:

Little Brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress is dead.

Little Brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress is dead.

Little Brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress is dead.

Ezra Sims is a horse of a different color, and an older one, too, since we are celebrating his 80th birthday. Born in 1928, far off the musical reservation in Birmingham, Alabama, he showed intellectual and musical precociousness as a youngster and progressed through piano, string bass, choral singer, composer, Yale student, Mills student (with Darius Milhaud), New Yorker, Guggenheim Fellow in Japan, inventor of a 72-note per octave non-symmetrical notation system, resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, co-founder of Dinosaur Annex (a Boston based new music ensemble) and still is writing music. In the 60s, driven by his ear to write down notes that were not reproducible on the piano, he developed a tonal system of 17 irregularly spaced notes, fully transposable, resulting in a 72 note sub-division of the octave. Taking it one step beyond the flattened system of Harry Partch (based on a root-ratio), Ezra’s system evolved a harmonic language allowing for closely related and fully chromatic modulations. These vast tonal resources are tamed by a somewhat conservative, almost Brahmsian romanticism, and the resulting music is clear and expressive. Pianist Eric Moe, mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger, and I will be playing a set of works spanning his career.

Interpretations at Roulette
20 Greene St between Canal and Grand
New York NY
8:00pm

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In the interest of furthering dialog between our 12ET brethren and our more flavorful microtonalist artists I present this provocative YouTube recording of America’s favorite band, Van Halen attempting to close a set with their signature cheeseburger – Jump.
The backstage sound guy accidentally plays the synth opening at 48K rather than 44.1 causing a 1.5 semitone tonal conflict to occur. Eddie and the crew attempt to roll with the microtonal noise but no… it is not meant to be. Somehow I believe new music’s brilliant microtonalist/guitarist Neil Haverstick could have done a lot better.

[youtube]Mjx_GjyXCs4[/youtube]

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