Archive for the “Post Modern” Category

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.)

Do read Paul Muller’s account of this concert and Thursday evening’s concert.

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.

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Ah, this the Golden Age, my friends, when the mellifuous sound of Autotune is everywhere, bringing dulcet harmony and order to everything from the latest pop and hip-hop singles worldwide to even the news. And now, thanks to the inspiration of  Toronto composer Matthew Reid, even to the veritable sounds of “silence” as well!…  Of course we all know that John Cage‘s iconic piece 4’33″ is not really three movements of silence; the point is that those movements frame and draw attention to all of the other sounds present in the space where the piece is being played. What Reid has done is to create a performance of 4’33″, and then turn Autotune loose on that “silent” background. It turns the ambiance of the space into the sound of ghostly choirs and tiny chordal outbursts. While the Cageian purist might say this undermines the whole point of the piece (listening to the sounds that be as themselves), to me there’s a bit of innovation and subversion that recalls the twinkle in Cage’s own eye:

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Older readers may recall with fondness Edgar Bergen, a very popular American entertainer who poured his comic routines through ventriloquist dummies named Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Edgar so loved the performing arts, that he created an annual celebration to showcase classical music, dance, opera, and theater, which continues and thrives to this very day: the Bergen Festival.

Okay, that’s not really what the Bergen Festival is, but after hearing a modern composer with a strong Chinese musical identity—Bright Sheng—prop up Scandinavian folk tunes on his knee, and manipulate them to entertain the public, the spirit of Charlie McCarthy—a bourgeois puppet in top hat and tails, monocle in place, spouting low vaudeville patois—was in the air…

More about the American premiere of Bright Sheng’s Northern Lights and the world premiere of Anthony Newman’s Sonata Populare here.

I am very interested in reading your views on stylistic appropriation. Does it only creep out older dudes like me, or is it an affront to all contemporary composers? Why or why not?

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A few of the of the unusual and interesting events coming up soon, soon soon:

Victoria, B.C. : Wednesday May 12th, 8pm at Knox Presbyterian Church (2964 Richmond Road, Victoria / $10), LaSaM (Luminosity and Sounds by adventurous Musicians) is presenting a program titled “And Beethoven Heard Nothing“. As they tell it, the show will be “exploring Beethoven’s inherent belief systems, his deafness and the sonorities of his later work. Sonic phenomena; tinnitus and deafness; acoustic space, climax and stasis; memory and silence… The ensemble has pulled experiences of Beethoven’s thought and music through the filters of contemporary soundscape and performance practice into an evocative environment of dancing shadows, image and light.”  Directed by musicologist Dylan Robinson and composer Tina Pearson, with technical direction by George Tzanetakis and live video projections by Tim Gosley. Besides Pearson (flute, voice, glass) and Tzanetakis (clarinet, saxophone) collaborating musicians include Chris Reiche (piano), Cathy Lewis (voice, percussion), and Alex Olson (bass). Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Society will be on hand with information; the performance will be followed by a discussion about the project, and about how we use our ears in contemporary urban life.

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Baltimore, MD : Friday May 14th is the kick off for the 2010 edition of the Megapolis Audio Festival, running all the way through Sunday the 16th. Right from the horse’s mouth, there’ll be ”circuit bending /noisemaker constructions, sonic slumber parties, free-form audio editing sessions, kickass musics, interactive demonstrations, urban sonic explorations, experimental musical practice and theory, film with funfun sounds, musical performances, subversive audio tours, (un-boring) lectures, and moremoremoremore.”

The line up is mind-boggling in its scope, filled not only with listening but workshops, installations, player participation and likely wild parties hither and yon. A special shout-out to my composer friend Erik Spangler, who in his alter-ego known as DJ Dubble8 will be working with Baltimore’s intrepid Mobtown Modern ensemble.

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Toronto, ON : Saturday, May 15th is the day to catch Contact Contemporary Music: Six Team League at the Music Gallery (197 John St., Toronto / 416-204-1080 / $20).

In celebration of Canada hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics with a nod to the National Hockey League’s “Original Six,” Contact Contemporary Music is pitching in with an ambitious attempt to connect the country through music. Six ensembles across the country will simultaneously present and perform a concert of six new works by six composers from six regions of the country in a musical sweep from sea to sea to sea.

The participating ensembles are the Motion Ensemble (Fredericton, NB) who have commissioned composer Joel Miller; Bradyworks (Montreal, QC) who have commissioned composer Michel Frigon; St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble (Edmonton, AB) who have commissioned Dave Wall; Redshift Music (Vancouver, BC) who have commissioned Jordan Nobles; and Contact Contemporary Music who have commissioned Juliet Palmer..

Six composers. Six ensembles. Six cities. Six concerts. Six Team League.

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Saint-Gilles, Belgium : Also on Saturday, May 15th, 8pm but half a world away (Maison du Peuple de Saint-Gilles, Parvis de Saint-Gilles, 37-39), the brilliant pianist Stephane Ginsburgh will be joining  many other wonderful musicians, in a free concert titled “Constellations-Figure“. A clumsy translation:

What is a constellation? A design, a network. Links forged between the points seen from afar, but apparently close. They are a familiar and enigmatic. A graph that tells us about relationships, geometric and experienced. Paths traced between places and individuals symbolic or real. What form a constellation? The proximity of the points or the path of truth? Twenty artists are encouraged to draw their constellation, while participating in the figure which will rise by the force of things. Do you like the Milky Way?

Did I mention many other wonderful musicians? It’s a “Night of Soloists”: Jean-Michel Agius (voice), Primitiv (beatbox), Laurence Cornez (piano), Tom De Cock (percussion), Fabian Fiorini (piano), Stephane Ginsburgh (piano), Philippe Liénaert (piano), Céline Lory (piano), Barbara Mavro Thalassitis (voice/dance), Laurence Mekhitarian (piano), Gerrit Nulens (percussion), Isabelle Roeland (voice), Jessica Ryckewaert (percussion), Jan Rzewski (saxophone), Johanne Saunier (voice/dance), Laurence Vielle (voice), Gilles Wiernik (voice).  It’s a cryptic but promising event, in a beautiful and historic location.

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Last Friday I finally made it down to the new DUMBO location of Galapagos Art Space to see the release party/performance of Mikel Rouse’s haunting new album Gravity Radio. But let’s back up for a moment before we get to Rouse.

DUMBO, for you non-New Yorkers, is one of the myriad New York City neighborhood abbreviations, like SoHo (South of Houston) or Tribeca (triangle below Canal), and it stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” which is to say it’s in Brooklyn in the area just south of the Manhattan Bridge. It was one of the first places in Brooklyn that artists moved to find illegal loft space in the 70s after they got priced out of lower Manhattan. (The name “DUMBO” is actually an interesting piece of failed culture jamming–residents hoped that by coining such an unappealing name they could stave off developers.)

Galapagos Art Space is a mixed-genre performance space which used to be in Williamsburg, but when the rent in Williamsburg got too high they worked out a deal that has landed them in a converted industrial space in DUMBO which they were able to entirely remodel to fit their needs and aesthetic. In front of the stage, suspended a few inches above a shallow black reflecting pool and connected by bridges, is a set of circular seating pods with room for several small tables and chairs each.  A balcony with additional seating rings the room and provides space for the sound booth.  The whole place is done up in red and black and chrome, set against the bare concrete walls of the building.  It’s truly a beautiful space.  Galapagos has a new booker, and I’m told that they are going to be increasing their classical fare–they’re already hosting the New Amsterdam Records concert series Archipelago (the next show in that series will be this Friday at 7:30pm with vocal group Roomful of Teeth and percussion/flute duo Due East.)  To give a sense of how diverse the offerings at Galapagos are, in just the next week they will also be presenting Argentinian music by Emilio Teubal & Fernando Otero, punk/cabaret by Barbez, some sort of music/dance extravaganza called “Out Through Her,”  the Main Squeeze accordion orchestra, a production of Hamlet, a burlesque show, Jenny Rocha and her Painted Ladies (which apparently involves music, dance, physical comedy, and theatre), a variety show, and the American Modern Ensemble.  Perhaps “diverse” is an overstatement, but that programming certainly covers a lot of the territory of the hipster art universe, and that was just one week of shows.

Galapagos Art Space

Galapagos Art Space

That programming potpourri brings us nicely back to Mikel Rouse, whose album Gravity Radio may at first glance seem like a straight-up rock record, but which has deep roots in the classical music and theater traditions as well.  Mikel himself is clearly comfortable in the netherworld between pop and classical, moving effortlessly more into one area and then into the other.  In 1978 his band Tirez Tirez opened for the Talking Heads in Kansas City; in New York in the 80s when postminimalism’s highly rhythmically and structurally complex offshoot Totalism was emerging, Rouse was at the center of the movement along with composers like Kyle Gann and Michael Gordon.  In 1984 he wrote a 12-tone piece called Quick Thrust for a rock quartet, which features dizzying polymeters that somehow seem tightly controlled and completely haywire at the same time.  Mikel’s rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic instincts all seem grounded in rock, but he tends to deploy those materials much more like a classical composer than like a popular song writer.

Take “Black Cracker,” which is track three on Gravity Radio.  First, almost all popular music in 4/4 time has four-bar phrases, but for Rouse’s lyric that fourth bar is unnecessary and he leaves it out.  The whole song is perfectly seamless, and yet because every cycle is one bar shorter than you expect the whole thing feels constantly off-kilter.  Then part way through he cuts the tempo of the descending hook “When I’m bored I can’t be bored with you/When I’m blown I can’t be blown in two” by half. After establishing the half-tempo version he brings back the full-tempo version over top of it, making the chorus into a prolation canon.  That half-speed hook then becomes background for the next verse.  Later an ascending scale adds yet another counterpoint to the mixture, and the whole thing fits together like a puzzle.

The danger of emphasizing these elements of complexity, of course, is the risk of sending the message that complexity is inherently virtuous, or that the complexity in this music somehow “elevates” it above other less complex popular music.  Writing in Gramophone, Ken Smith once said that Rouse’s music is evidence that “pop music can sustain serious interest with the right person at the helm”–the implication that most pop music can’t “sustain serious interest” is the kind of thing that tells me the writer doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  The complexity in Gravity Radio is interesting and enjoyable, and connects the music to the classical tradition, but ultimately the music has to stand or fall on its surface qualities, and in this case it stands tall.  I’ll take a well-crafted Britney Spears tune over a tortured post-serialist brain-dump by a composer who cares more about combinatoriality than musicality any day of the week, and while I haven’t asked him I suspect Mikel Rouse would feel the same way.

If it sounds like I’m avoiding telling you what Gravity Radio is, exactly, the truth is I’m not sure what to call it.  It’s part song-cycle, part concept album, part theater piece.   It’s a series of thematically and musically related, country-inflected, infectiously memorable rock songs of ambiguous but evocative lyrical content, connected by interludes of spoken recitation of news headlines and fragments of lyrics from the songs delivered in an astonishing newscaster-kunst voice by Veanne Cox.  It has something to do with superconductors and gravity waves.  It’s abstract and catchy and deep.  It’s 52 minutes and 14 seconds long.

The beauty of the internet is that I can just tell you to go here to listen to portions of it and read Mikel Rouse’s description and the lyrics.

The performance at Galapagos was a stripped down version with just guitar,  string quartet (members of ACME), Mikel singing, Veanne reciting, and some background sound effects.   It worked well even in that format, and the absence of drums and other rock elements showcased how deeply integrated the string arrangements are into the composition.  The band fought a little against the acoustics of the space, which had a tendency to muddy up the sound, but overall the performance was tight and intense.  Rouse modestly sat among the ensemble rather than standing front and center like a rock frontman.  The headlines in the news recitations were updated with recent news, as they will be for each leg of the international tour that begins in January.

Gravity Radio ends with one last set of news reports from which I draw one final observation: Almost any statement is improved by the addition of the phrase “Chuck Norris wins.”

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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.

So head to the website for all the info and updates, then book early & book often. The first week in September the ol’ K.C. is the place to be!

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