A day that starts at 9AM and ends after 11 at night, in which 15 different people give presentations, and which culminates in a two hour concert, is not a day that is easy to distill down to a single theme (except perhaps happy exhaustion). We began with no fewer than six papers on Steve Reich, some of which were thematically linked but none of which was redundant. Perhaps my favorite moment of those morning sessions was when Sumanth Gopinath compared a feature of Different Trains to the music from a classic 1980s IBM commercial. In the afternoon we had papers on Part, Eastman, Glass, and Young. Kyle Gann described his painstaking reconstruction of Dennis Johnson‘s pivotal-yet-nearly-lost November, which Kyle and Sarah Cahill will be performing in all its 5-hour glory on Sunday. And at the end of the day the great Tom Johnson, who was the Downtown critic for the Village Voice from 1971 to 1982 and who now lives in Paris, gave an hour-long presentation on European minimalist music that we in the United States aren’t familiar with, and on some of his own music. Johnson’s book The Voice of New Music is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand minimalism, and it was a real thrill to hear his current thoughts on the European scene.
After dinner, the Kansas City based New Ear Ensemble gave a concert of minimalist works. New Ear is, to begin with, a superb group–they played some very difficult music very well. The concert had three high points for me: Vladimir Tosic‘s Arios for piano and cello was quite beautiful and highly formalized in a way that made every moment feel like a natural, organic outgrowth of the preceding. Jacob Ter Veldhuis‘s The Body of Your Dreams for piano and tape is always great fun, with its Reich-inspired interplay between piano melodies and a tape part assembled from an infomercial about a piece of exercise equipment that promises great results with minimal effort. The final piece on the program was Tom Johnson‘s Narayana’s Cows, which is an ingenious representation (including Johnson providing explanatory narration) of a math problem supposedly posed by the 14th century mathematician Narayana Pandit: “A cow produces one calf each year. Beginning in its fourth year, each calf produces a calf. How many cows are there after, for example17 years?” That may sound dry, but it’s actually a very fun piece.
If good luck in travel is a harbinger of things to come, then the fact that my flight into Kansas City for the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music actually touched down twenty minutes early is surely a very good sign. And so far today things have worked out that way.
The conference got underway with two papers on Intertextuality in the music of Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and British composer (and the first journalist to use the word “minimalist” to describe music) Michael Nyman. Apparently Nyman steals liberally from everybody, including himself. I mean that in only the best possible way–Nyman seems to deeply interested in the artistic possibilities that such borrowing and referencing, and he even once had a microfilm reader in his house next to his piano to enhance his ability to quickly look for material to work with. After a short break we then had three papers on the music of Phill Niblock, whose microtonal drone music is strange, fascinating, and beautiful.
After dinner, and after an on-stage conversation with Kyle Gann, Mikel Rouse presented his 2000 film Funding at the Kansas City Public Library. The film is a fascinating non-narrative (or perhaps extremely-limited-narrative) exploration of New York City, money, and identity, underscored by Rouse’s post-minimalist, rhythmically complex music. Rouse has clips of some of his films, including Funding, on his website, so I’ll just direct you there, since I need to get some sleep so I’ll be fresh for day two, which starts at 9AM tomorrow with a paper on Steve Reich.
Also, remember that some of the conference participants are Twittering about the conference with the hashtag #minconf.
Here’s your heads-up that the Second International Conference on Minimalism is fast approaching! It runs Sept. 2-6 and Kansas City gets the honors this time out.
Papers and presentations abound, as do a string of wonderful concerts. Of course there’s talk on Glass, Reich and Adams; but also Phill Niblock, Julius Eastman, La Monte Young, Tom Johnson, Mikel Rouse, Dennis Johnson and more. Concerts not only include one by prodigal legend Charlemagne Palestine, but a closing that puts none other than our old pal Kyle Gann at the keyboard with Sarah Cahill! (I’m sure Kyle’s practicing and sweating bullets at this very moment…) S21’s own resident minimalist, Galen Brown, is giving a spiel on Saturday, and hopes to post here throughout the shindig.
For all you Angelenos and outlying: word from Paul Bailey that this Thursday evening there’s a midnight performance of Terry Riley‘s In C, and you’re all invited to come on over and participate. Bailey’s eponymous ensemble will be joined by the Los Angeles New Music Ensemble and others — now, said others can include you! The place is Juanita’s (5930 York Blvd., Highland Park); there’s a 10:30pm load-in, 11:30pm rehearsal, and the midnight performance.
In C is shaping up to become this century’s new Messiah — except we don’t need no stinking Christmas to trot it out and have a go. So why not get into the spirit, and do your bit for communal music-making? To give you a head start, Paul’s thoughtfully included a PDF of the score, so you can spend a little time beforehand brushing up on your chops.
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?!?”
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.
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?
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.
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.
Program: 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) Intermission
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!
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!)