Most 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.
Zhaoyu 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.
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.
Friday night, April 10, 2015 and Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a concert titled I Hold The Lion’s Paw featuring the The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. A knowledgeable crowd gathered to hear four pieces of percussion music that included a world premiere.
The first piece on the program was Mallet Quartet (2013) by Joseph Pereira, written for two vibraphones and two marimbas. Pereira writes about this piece: “Each pitch is considered on its own as a scale, of many timbral particles waiting to be examined. For the most part the focus is on the resonances, the attacks, and the overtones. Whether it is the playing technique used or simply the natural sounds of the instrument, these can all be exposed and manipulated in different ways, depending on the register they are in.” The metallic sounds of the vibraphones and the more organic tones from the marimbas provided a rich set of contrasts and possibilities that were exploited throughout this piece. From the very first chord that came crashing down from the stage there was the immediate sense of ‘many timbral particles’ flying through the air. The feeling was like being inside a bipolar grandfather clock with metallic clangs and twinges intermingling with wooden knocks and rapping. Rapid and independent runs from each instrument added to the general cloud of sounds that alternated between a metallic, industrial hardness from the vibraphones and a more comforting, natural sound from the wooden marimbas.
There were quiet stretches and these had the feeling of being in a dark basement full of active industrial piping off in the distance. At other times the tutti crescendos that increased in tempo as well as volume produced an energetic, industrial feel – but without becoming overwhelming. A variety of mallets were used to create a series of changing effects and textures from each instrument. Joseph Pereira’s experience as principal timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is embedded in the sinews of Mallet Quartet – the techniques for extracting just the right sounds and colors were masterfully scored and in this performance carefully executed.
Lullaby 5 (2013), by Nicholas Deyoe, followed and for this the stage was reconfigured with four percussion stations having, variously, marimbas, vibraphones, drums, cymbals and other assorted percussion. This began with a light tapping on a snare drum and then cymbals followed by a sharp report from a drum. Some bowed sounds were heard, a flurry of loud percussion, and then a quiet stretch. A mysterious feeling predominated in the softer spots and carried forward a growing tension that was periodically discharged by loud tutti drum rolls and cymbal crashes. The piece progressed this way with slowly rising levels of stress broken by sudden surges in volume and energy. A drum stick drawn over the surface of a cymbal was especially effective in one of the quieter places. The louder sections were vintage Deyoe, who demonstrated that he can bring his characteristic intensity and frenzy to a percussion piece. Lullaby 5 is reminiscent of Lullaby 4 – written for cello, trombone, clarinet and piano – and comprised of the same tension/release pattern heard here. Lullaby 5 is an exacting exploration of strong feelings along these same lines, proficiently expressed by the LAPQ.
The Year Before Yesterday (2013) by Shaun Naidoo was next. The program notes state that “Naidoo’s use of rhythm, form and melody creates a gorgeous and singular sound-world that truly expands the existing percussion repertoire. … This work was among the last that Naidoo completed before his early and unfortunate passing in 2013.” Scored for marimbas and vibraphones The Year Before Yesterday begins with low trills that lay down a nice bass foundation followed by a series of single notes that generate a feeling of building tension. We are walking deep into a dark forest, and the crescendos and decrescendos add a sense of adventure to the journey . There are stretches of syncopated melody that add energy and movement as well as slower sections – as if we are resting from our trek, surrounded by the sounds of the forest. The Year Before Yesterday is a marvelous sonic exploration of an unknown place, powered by percussion and our imagination.
After an intermission, the final piece of the program was the world premiere of I Hold The Lion’s Paw (2013-2014) by Andrew McIntosh. For this there were two percussion stations center stage and one each in the right and left balconies. The piece began with single notes struck on bowls at all four stations followed by chime tones. There was a sense of being surrounded by the sounds and an overall exotic feel. From time to time water was added to the bowls, raising their pitch and this became something of ritual throughout the performance. The vivid imagery and sustained sense of motion and movement evoked a kind of sojourn, as if we were walking along some strange path. At times it felt as if we had arrived at some fantastic, yet dangerous hamlet – the mix of percussion changing towards chimes, bells and cymbals – and a great flurry of sound that felt orderly and civilized. At other times it was as if we were caught outdoors in a violent storm, complete with sheets of rain and loud claps of thunder.
I Hold The Lion’s Paw is a large-scale piece and, as Andrew McIntosh quoted in the program notes: “To summarize Morton Feldman, the form of a piece of music over 20 minutes or so in length ceases to be concerned with structure and instead is about strategy. There is a point in any long piece where you lose an emotional connection to the shape as a whole, and the piece then becomes about the moment-to-moment flow of experience and memory.” If the journey was long – and it seemed as if we had circled around and revisited a place or two – the sounds were always interesting and the variety engaging. The spacing of the percussion stations between stage and balcony was used to good advantage. The coordination of each remote station – with the slight delays in sound arrival – was nicely exploited and precisely executed by LAPQ. Different stretches of the piece varied in dynamics, texture or color and the journey was enhanced by the presentation of ‘gifts’ to the listener – elements that were unexpected or the result of the placement of the different percussion stations. This piece has a certain resemblance to McIntosh’s Hyenas in the Temples of Pleasure, from a recent CD; the same sense of exotic exploration comes through. I Hold The Lion’s Paw is a vast, but always interesting work that extracts the maximum from the varied percussion pieces of the ensemble, and this performance was superbly realized by the LAPQ.
The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet is:
Mallet Quartet, The Year Before Yesterday and Lullaby 5 are available from Amazon on a CD titled The Year Before Yesterday
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If you were having a conversation with fellow music lovers about the great American composers, Carl Ruggles would not be the first person to come to mind. The “Great American Composer” honor is most often bestowed upon Copland, Ives, or even depending on the company you are with, Bernstein.
Courtesy of SONY Music & Other Minds Records
This is not to say, however, that a popularity contest equates to greatness. An equally adept and creative composer, Carl Ruggles produced a small yet intriguing output of pieces for a variety of ensemble types. It is only fair, then, that when recording the complete works of a lesser known composer such as Ruggles, top-tier musicians should be brought in to lead the process. This recording does not disappoint, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, under the leadership of Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced an earnest and committed recording of Ruggles’ entire catalogue.
This venue was the location of this past Sunday’s concert featuring Iktus Percussion (Cory Bracken, Chris Graham, Nicholas Woodbury, and Steve Sehman), pianist Taka Kigawa, and toy pianist Phyllis Chen. According to Iktus member Cory Bracken, one of the missions of the evening (focused entirely around composer John Cage) was to take some of his pieces that are almost exclusively performed in academic settings, and begin to inject them into the public concert repertoire. What the audience encountered, therefore, was a healthy mix of both often and not-so-often performed pieces by John Cage.
Musicians on the outskirts of Libbey Park performing Inuksuit (note the percussionist playing water gong in the upper left hand corner)
They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, so consider this photo album a 26,000 word review until I file my story. Inuksuit was one of the most extraordinary pieces of music I’ve heard since–well, John Luther Adams’ orchestra and tape work, Dark Waves. (On Sunday, we’ll hear JLA’s two-piano version of Dark Waves.)
To give you some idea of what the performance was like, here are some crude videos I made on my not-designed-for-filming camera. The mike on the camera did a reasonable job of capturing the changes in sound as you moved from one spot to another, as I did throughout the performance.
If you’re reading this before or around 11 a.m. PST June 9, hop on over to the live stream from Ojai to watch/hear Marc Andre Hamelin, Christianne Stotijn, and Martin Frost perform Alban Berg, as well as an orchestral work by Eivind Buene. Watch it here.
This month, Gyan Riley is curating for New York venue the Stone. One of the San Francisco residents that he’s invited to visit the Big Apple for a gig is avant-cabaret artist Amy X. Neuburg, who performs there tonight (details below).
Neuburg eschews the usual instrumentation of a cabaret performer, instead using an electronic drumset. But the music isn’t isolated to percussive utterances; rather the synth drums serve as a control surface with which she can trigger live recording and overdubs. Thus, a drum hit might ‘sound’ like drums, or it might just as easily trigger backing vocals or synth patches.
Using this setup, Neuburg often creates multiple loops, each with its own place in the sound field. Her set at the Stone (her first appearance there) will introduce some new works, but also revisits her back catalog, updating several pieces to accommodate this “spatialized” aesthetic.
Amy X. Neuburg at the Stone
May 30 at 8 PM
Corner of Avenue C and Second Avenue
Tickets: $10 at the door
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So Percussion recently released remixes of tracks from Amid the Noise, their recording of music by Jason Treuting. You can grab it for free via their Bandcamp site (embed below).
Treuting recently released sheet music for Amid the Noise, which can be purchased at Good Child Music.
This year, a great number of artists and ensembles are celebrating John Cage’s centenary – even Jessye Norman and Meredith Monk are getting in on the act as part of Michael Tilson Thomas’s revival of the American Mavericks series with the San Francisco Symphony. While it will be fascinating to see that some of these “out of the box” Cage performances will be happening, it’s also nice to hear that groups like So Percussion, who have a long track record performing Cage’s music, are celebrating the centenary in style. On 3/26, they are taking part in the American Mavericks series at Carnegie Hall (details here).
The concert will be the culmination of a tour by the group featuring Cage’s Third Construction as the centerpiece of Cage-themed program entitled We Are All Going in Different Directions.
There’s an equally imaginative recorded component So’s feting of the maestro of indeterminacy. On 3/27, Cantaloupe will release So Percussion’s “John Cage Bootleg Series.” The release includes a blank LP (the better with which to perform 4’33”!), a CD sampler, and a card with download codes that will enable listeners to obtain all of the group’s Cage bootlegs online. And the audio artifact lover in me delights in the handsome homemade feel of its handsome packaging. Top to bottom, Cage’s aesthetic is well manifested in So Percussion’s activities this Spring!
We Are All Going in Different Directions: So Percussion Celebrates Cage
Feb 28: Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (Cage’s Third Construction)
March 2: The Royal Conservatory, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
March 6 + 7: The McCullough Theatre, University of Texas, Austin
March 10: Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin (Cage’s Third Construction)
Vicky Chow performing with Ekmeles at the Avant Festival about a year ago; 2/12/11 (Photo courtesy of Avant Media)
Celebrating John Cage at 100
Avant Music Festival
The Wild Project, NYC
February 11th, 2012
The Wild Project (a tiny venue that is kind of like The Stone with bleachers) is where the Avant Music Festival is going on from now (it started on Fri, Feb 10) until Saturday the 18th. This is the third annual festival, and on this particular night, I witnessed a program that I never dreamed I would have been able to sit through when I was younger and still shunning the works of modern composers like David Del Tredici. An entire program of John Cage in person seems like a lot to swallow, but it seemed to have something for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »
Laurie San Martin teaches at UC Davis. She’s one of our featured composers on the fast approaching Sequenza 21/MNMP Concert (October 25 at Joe’s Pub). In the guest post below, she talks about her work Linea Negra, which will be performed on the program.
The faint, dark, vertical line that appears on a very pregnant woman’s belly in the weeks before she bursts is called the linea negra. So it seemed like a fitting title for the solo marimba piece that I was writing during the final weeks of my first pregnancy in the summer of 2004. Real-life deadlines work in my favor as a composer. That is to say, the countdown leading up to a big life change is an intensely productive time for me. Linea Negra is a piece I always associate with that particular time in my life. When most mothers would have been preparing the baby’s room or redecorating the house, I was making deals with my daughter while she was still in the womb. “How about you wait a few more days to come out and I can finish this piece. Really, it’ll be much better that way.” She arrived a few days late, so I was able to finish the piece on time; I have the greatest daughter one could ask for (and the piece isn’t bad, either).
I compose from left to right. That is to say, I start at the beginning and pretty much write the musical events in the order that they happen. It probably comes as no surprise then that my music is very linear. Linea Negra is just under five minutes in length, with an ABA structure. The outer sections are a fast and repetitive moto perpetuo while the middle section is slow and lyrical. The piece is quite virtuosic–the marimba player is asked to play very fast runs, leaps, and chords; audience members often describe the piece as “acrobatic.”
Linea Negra is written for percussionist Chris Froh, who premiered the piece in October, 2004 at the American Academy in Rome. Chris is an exhilarating performer, and I was very lucky to be able to work with him while writing the piece. Hearing the work in progress influenced the direction of the piece and helped me iron out some of the technical difficulties, and clarify the musical gestures. Working with a musician of Chris’s dedication and commitment is such a privilege for a composer, not to mention, inspiring and rewarding.