Archive for the “Minimalism” Category
Last week the BBC reported that the seminal electronic act Kraftwerk wowed the crowd at the Manchester Velodrome, not just with their music but a live riding appearance by the British Olympic cycling team during their classic song “Tour de France”! But also interesting was the opening act: Bang on a Can premiering Steve Reich‘s newest composition “2×5“. Scored for two sets of five instruments (hence “2×5”), the 21-minute piece calls for a total of ten musicians: four electric guitars, two pianos, two bass guitars, and two drum sets. And this from Reich:
“It took me until 2009 to finally hear their [Kraftwerk's] music, although I knew of their existence and their name and that they looked like robots and were interested in electronics,” he explained. “When I heard Autobahn, it reminded me of the world I was living in, in the 1970′s. It was the beginning of people doing repetitive music and I guess in rock ‘n’ roll, Kraftwerk were an extreme example of that, very deadpan.”
As someone who spent the ’70s listening to both Kraftwerk and Reich in almost equal measure, I’ll offer from one Steve to another both a bravo and a “what took you so long?!?”
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Carles Santos has been a force on the Spanish “downtown” scene (taking musicians like Santos, Llorenç Barber and Maria de Alvear in opposition to the “uptown” likes of Cristobal Halffter, Joan Guinjoan and Tomás Marco) since the early 1970s. This “downtown” movement had a huge impact on Spanish musicians in the 80s, and still carries through to today.
Starting as a formidable young pianist who’d breeze through the Second Viennese school, Santos turned his attention to a combination of minimalism and theatrical spectacle (often with himself as protagonist). But aside from his fanfare composed to open the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, very little of his music has ever reached the U.S. A lot of it has to do with the personal and theatric nature; so much is wedded to the visual and dramatic action (much of it with an over-the-top, campy and/or erotic agenda).
You’re still not going to find much in the CD bins, but Santos has slowly been building a nice website, and stocking it with a lot of clips from his work over the last 30-some years. This particular clip shows the “foreplay and consummation” between Santos’ piano and 6-time world champion rider Adam Raga’s motorcycle from the show “Ebrofalia Copulativa”, live in Ulldecona in 2008.
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The last concert I attended that involved one of the great minimalist composers was a concert over the summer at the Dream House–a three hour long close encounter (small, hot and sweaty room) with La Monte Young and crew. While I enjoyed the music, I felt that I had my fill of hot and sweaty for the rest of the year.
So it was a surprise when I saw La Monte Young talking to Terry Riley at a specially reserved table just some 10 feet away from me (as well as the fact that I was hot and cramped once again). As a young musician, and fan of the two composers, I imagined Riley’s and Young’s close interactions as just another story out of my not-so-favorite music history book and not something of real life, played out so many decades later before my eyes. It was a warm scene and I found myself wondering what they could be talking about, if only I could get a few feet closer.
The show began with a BOAC All-stars solo set. The set included two pieces, Glamour Girls by Lukas Ligeti and a BOAC arrangement of four player piano pieces by Conlon Nancarrow.
Glamour Girls was apparently written just a few years back, but overall felt like it was born out of the 1980s funk scene. The piece was purposely disconcerting with its tendency toward disjunct lines, mismatched rhythms and wild speech. Of course, none of these qualities make it a terrible piece but it certainly is one where it is more enjoyable to be on the performing end than on the listening, if only because it makes you feel just slightly frantic when the musical rapport streaming off stage hits your ears. At times I was reminded of Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra (the group flourished in the eighties), but on an acid trip. Either way, the piece was performed well and it is apparent that BOAC All-stars are called all-stars for their great technical expertise.
The Nancarrow suite was a mixture of jazz and varying tempos going on simultaneously. One of the pieces was so characteristic of the 1950s, with its combination of jazz and Nancarrow’s playfulness with tempo and rhythm, that it would have been the perfect follow-up for Marty Mcfly’s Johnny B Goode. Like the Ligeti piece it followed, there was a strong sense of intentional discontinuity and uneasiness and despite all of the complexities of music written originally for a machine with the ability to outperform the strong performer, the ensemble was tight and clean. Had they not, the nuances that evolve from the tension created by the rhythmic complexity would have been totally lost. So it is good to feel uneasy after all.
There was a short intermission, and I heard a LCD Soundsystem song that I knew I had heard piping out of the speakers the last time I was at Le Poisson Rouge. The club was crowded, or so it appeared crowded as there were several tables along the floor cramping people in the back. It seemed like a good turnout, nonetheless. I surveyed the faces of the crowd, trying to surmise whether it was young or old; while there were people under their thirties and even in their twenties (such as myself), the crowd still maintained a strong forty-plus following. I wondered what the connection was between each individual member of the audience and the headliners. I thought, it could not be possible that they were all classically trained musicians like myself. Some of them were lawyers and CEO’s and New Kids On The Block fans, right?
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David Lang, who you will recall won this year’s Pulitzer with his piece The Little Match Girl Passion, will be submitting himself to the hard-hitting S21 interview next week. I’ll be asking him what he plans to do about the financial meltdown, the war in Iraq, and whether he stands by his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Or something–I haven’t written the questions yet.
In the meantime, those of you who live in New York may want to know that Wordless Music is presenting a concert of Lang’s music next Wednesday, November 5th, at Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker Street, New York). Doors at 7:00, show starts at 7:30. The show will consist of the American premiere of his piece Pierced with the Real Quiet. Special guests include the Flux Quartet and Theo Blackmann singing Lang’s version of Lou Reed¹s Velvet Underground song “Heroin.” Both pieces appear on Lang’s new Naxos disc, which I’ve been listening to a lot and recommend.
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This September marks the 50th anniversary of musical Minimalism, an artistic revolution which critic Kyle Gann has described as “the most important musico-historical event of my lifetime.” I’m delighted to announce that Sequenza21, in collaboration with the exciting new concert series Music On MacDougal, will be celebrating this important milestone with a concert of early Minimalist music.
When: September 17th, 2008 at 8:00 PM
Where: The Players Theatre, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan
115 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012
Tickets: By Phone: 212-352-3101 or Online.
Steve Reich — “Piano Phase” (1967) (Version for two Marimbas)
Philip Glass — “Piece in the Shape of a Square” (1967)
Terry Jennings — “Piano Piece” (December 1958) and “Piano Piece” (June 1960)
Terry Riley — “In C” (1964)
We know that this September is the fiftieth anniversary because in September of 1958 La Monte Young completed his “Trio for Strings,” which is generally regarded as the first true Minimalist piece. Young is arranging for a performance of the Trio later in the season, and our concert is focused on representative pieces from the first 10 years of the movement. “Piano Phase” is arguably the high point of Reich’s use of phasing, and a perfect example of his “music as a gradual process.” “Piece in the Shape of a Square” illustrates Glass’s early interest in additive processes. “In C” represents the arrival of the pulsating, repetitive, tonal Minimalism which has dominated the genre ever since.
In some ways the most exciting pieces on the program are the early “Piano Pieces” by Terry Jennings. Jennings (who died tragically in 1981) was the first composer to understand what Young was doing and to follow in his footsteps, and in December 1958, a mere two months after Young completed the “Trio for Strings,” eighteen year old Jennings wrote the first of three “Piano Pieces.” We’re presenting the first two of these pieces, which we believe haven’t been performed publicly since 1989.
This concert is also the inaugural concert of the Players Theatre’s hot new concert series “Music On MacDougal.” Curated by pianist Sheryl Lee, Music On MacDougal promises to become one of New York’s most interesting presenters of new music–classical and otherwise. This season’s lineup includes the DITHER Electric Guitar Quartet, Mantra Percussion, Moet, Newspeak, Grenzenlos, Matrix Music Collaborators, and others. The full season schedule can be found here.
The M50 concert has been sponsored in part by a generous contribution from Cold Blue Records. The performers are a veritable who’s who of hotshot New York musicians. The current lineup (subject to a few changes) is Mike McCurdy (Percussion), Jessica Schmitz (Flute), Elizabeth Janzen (Flute), Joseph Kubera (Piano), Dan Bassin (Trumpet), George Berry (Trombone), Sila Eser (Viola) Gillian Gallagher (Viola), and Adam Havrilla (Bassoon).
This concert is, to the best of our knowledge, the only concert celebrating this important anniversary, so you won’t want to miss it. See you in September!
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Steve Reich’s seminal 1967 Piano Phase has always been a fantastic challenge for any two pianists. But here is the Russian Peter Aidu (b. 1976) going them all one better, by performing both parts solo, on two pianos at once.
Released on the netlabel Top-40, the complete recording is available to freely download at Archive.org. (There’s also a link there to further information on the pianist and release, and the MP3 download at Archive.org is fine, but I would recommend NOT visiting directly the Top-40 homepage. There may be some malware lurking there!)
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…Who needs an aerobic DVD? The clip title is roughly “Maraca Driven Crazy”, but I don’t think that’s the only thing coming unhinged here. Though this was posted around a year ago, I can’t help feeling that somewhere in Italy they’re still running through this phrase, over and over… (The piece rehearsed is Reich, but I’m not sure which piece; help, anyone?) Thanks to my wonderful cellist pal Francesco Dillon for the tip to the clip.
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Our regular listen to and look at living, breathing composers and performers that you may not know yet, but I know you should… And can, right here and now, since they’re nice enough to offer so much good listening online:
Hanne Darboven (b. 1941 — DE)
What better way to mark a new year than with something that is only and utterly about time, history and the march of events (or their stubborn recurrence)!
Only one piece to listen to, but it’s a full hour-plus. Darboven’s Opus17a for solo double bass was composed in 1996 for her massive artwork “Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983″, shown at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. Played here with almost superhuman concentration and doggedness by Robert Black, it’s a piece guaranteed to either absolutely fascinate, repel or bore you to tears, depending on who you are.
The artist Hanne Darboven was born in Munich. Following a brief episode as a pianist, she studied painting in Hamburg. Between 1966 and 1969 she lived intermittently in New York City, then returned to her family home in Hamburg, where she continues to live and work.
Why and how does a visual artist turn to musical composition? The progression makes perfect sense as described in the essay by Lynne Cooke:
…[Darboven's] work has been informed by Conceptual art practices. Based by the late 1960s on various forms of numerical writing, her systematic work securely occupied the realm of abstraction and universality.
“I only use numbers because it is a way of writing without describing. . . . It has nothing to do with mathematics. Nothing! I choose numbers because they are so constant, confined, and artistic. Numbers are probably the only real discovery of mankind. A number of something (two chairs, or whatever) is something else. It’s not pure number and has other meanings.”
Time has become the focus of Darboven’s art. For her, Annelie Pohlen argues, time constitutes the primary and essential structure of human life — it is “a basically intangible measure for the totality of the indices determining being; it is the content of consciousness; it exists beyond human comprehension.” The calendar, which subsequently formed the foundation of Darboven’s art practice, again offered a universal orientation, embodying a given, prefabricated, ready-made temporal system. Calibrated in her work in many ways over almost three decades, it has provided the basis of an arbitrary artistic system that has the appearance of objectivity. Conjoining a rigorous numerical process with free-associative roots, and tight rational thought with intellectual freedom, Darboven’s capricious sense of time has resulted in diverse monumental works that may span a month, a year, even a century, all recorded day by day.
In the early 1970s Darboven introduced a kind of writing into her work that took the form of an even cursive script. Although executed by hand, this script was standardized and regulated, systematic and abstract. [...] In 1973 she began to incorporate texts—transcribed directly because, she has claimed, they could not be bettered— from various writers, initially Heinrich Heine and Jean-Paul Sartre. These texts spoke both to her recognition of the failure of the grand narratives of Enlightenment thought to provide convincing, encompassing interpretations and, equally, to her fundamentally romantic existentialist position. Then, in 1978, she introduced visual documentation alongside her numbers and looping texts, primarily in the form of found and rephotographed images, which allowed her to address specific historical issues for the first time. Shortly thereafter, she invented a system of musical notation, based on her system of numbering dates, which she has used since 1979 to compose scores for organ, double bass, string quartet, and chamber orchestra. Darboven sees her music as she does her “mathematical writing,” a highly abstract language functioning in an entirely self-referential manner; it thus serves as an abstract correlative to the concrete, visual nature of her artwork.
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Steve Reich turns 70 today. There will be the usual superlatives–greatest living composer, most important musical thinker, and other fun, but largely unreliable, speculations. We won’t burden Reich with any of them. The path of music history is already littered with the ghosts of greatest livings whose work has since fallen into neglect and obscurity. Others fade for awhile only to have their reputations re-claimed by forceful new advocates. One of the great things about leaving behind a body of work as essential to its time as Reich’s is that it is a legacy each age can evaluate on its own terms and through the prism of its own judgements and tastes.
Suffice it to say that Steve Reich is one of the few composers to have captured fame, fortune and widespread admiration in his own lifetime and one of the even fewer who have a real shot at musical immortality. That’s an achievement worth celebrating.
And he still has time on the meter.
Events in the Steve Reich@70 festival:
BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC
Choreography by Akram Khan and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, with the London Sinfonietta, Tuesday and Thursday through Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene, (718) 636-4100
A concert by young artists participating in a weeklong professional training program, on Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m., Zankel Hall; a concert of works performed by the artists they were written for, including Pat Metheny and the Kronos Quartet, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m., Isaac Stern Auditorium; and a “discovery day” of lectures, talks and films, and an all-Reich program including “Drumming” and “Daniel Variations,” Oct. 22 starting at noon in Weill Hall, with the concert at 7:30 p.m. in Zankel Hall. (212) 247-7800
A concert with the Los Angeles Master Chorale including “Tehillim” and the New York premiere of “You Are (Variations),” Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. at Alice Tully Hall; and “The Cave,” Nov. 2 to 4 at 8 p.m., Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 899 10th Avenue, at 58th Street. (212) 721-6500
An installation of “Three Tales” from Wednesday through Oct. 15, with a free four-hour concert by some important young ensembles (including Alarm Will Sound on Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. webcast live on whitney.org. 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street(800) 944-8639.
Composer of the Month
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