Archive for October, 2005

The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council is presenting: New Data – a digital media arts exhibition (November 17, 2005 – January 7, 2006) at 15 Nassau Street @ Pine St. NYC, with free Saturday special events from 3 to 5 pm.

November 19: David Stout / Robert Lisek
December 3: Zoe Beloff / Jillian McDonald
December 10: Marc Lafia / Terry Nauheim

David Stout a video artist, composer and performer who creates computer systems that create the piece in a dynamic relationship. Zoe Beloff works with film, stereoscopic projection, performance, interactive media and installation.Jillian Mcdonald, from Winnipeg, uses film clips, images, animation, and sound. Marc Lafia’s does multi-screen video compositions. Terry Nauheim explores another artist’s hand movements with video and audio machinery. Some of these artists were in residence at Harvestworks, the locus of experimental media in New York. Note that all these pieces have a sound component, but it is integrated with other media in as many ways as there are creators.

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An accidental channel switch on the television brought me face to face with the new hot media phenomenon, a film titled Get rich or die trying, a success story about a rapper whose name reads like currency. This is an example of how people can buy into the success = cash (obtained by any means including crime) equation. Only a great level of struggle and frustration can bring people to that state of denial of right and wrong. I can understand how a ghetto kid faced with no alternative to a life of crime would embrace rap music as a propeller – but let’s get some things straight: it is not a means of salvation. The attitude expressed is based on greed, anger and machismo. It is undeniable that rap serves as a social equalizer, but if the standard of success is to be measured only in terms of sales, there is not much hope for music as a consciousness-raising tool. In fact, this kind of music is by nature a consciousness-lowering tool. It brings you to a place where all values are rejected but for the almighty dollar. I remember a group named The Last Poets, way back when, who originated the rap form, with literary panache and sensitivity. Langston Hughes expresses struggle in his uniquely artful and compassionate style. We have to separate the grain from the shaft.

My philosophy is just the opposite: forget about getting rich and try to survive with consciousness-raising creativity. This approach may seem out of sync with capitalism, but it has its benefits, i.e. after a number of years I can live with myself. I don’t know how what’s his face will feel about himself in a few years once the buzz is over.

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Here is my short list of upcoming events:

Mary Jane Leach has a premiere this Friday October 28, a piece for soprano and 8-part women’s chorus, at Fifth Ave Presbyterian (55 St), at 7:30PM.

Next Saturday, October 29, French composer Gérard Grisey is featured at St Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University, at 8PM.

Thursday Nov. 3, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presents works by Allen Shawn, Veli-Matti Puumala, Athanasia Tzanou and Eric Moe.

Wed. November 9, the Beth Custer Ensemble performs an original soundtrack to a 1929 Soviet film, at Merkin Hall (8:00PM). The same evening, Maryanne Amacher appears at Roulette (20 Greene St) at 8:30PM. Also at Roulette – same location, multimedia artist Julia Heyward will perform on November 11.

Both Maryanne Amacher and Julia Heyward are important artists who have won NEAs, Guggenheims, International Awards, major recognition for their work – why are they performing downtown? Wouldn’t a Lincoln Center gig be more appropriate? Or conversely, how many NEAs and Guggenheims does it take to get a gig at Roulette?

..and your truly has a piece in the Artistas de Loisaida annual group show at the Cork Gallery (downstairs Avery Fisher at Lincoln Center), opening reception on Friday November 4, 4-6PM. Other featured artists are: Deborah Aslanian, Mario Bustamante, Hector Cardenas, Lois Carlo, Ken Ecker, Dennis Edge, Lauren Edmond, Walter Fields, Keiko Kato, Yiannos K, Patricia Melvin, Horacio Molina, Susie Rankine, Carolyn Ratcliffe, Ana Ruiz- Castillo, Anna Sawaryn, Gavin Spielman, Leslie Tanner, Mario Vallejo, Anastasia Zielinski. The show’s theme is ‘life in a time of decadence’.

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I spent last week in Paris attending pressing family matters. I snuck in a rehearsal of the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, conducted by American expatriate John Nelson, about to go on tour with an all-French program. At the auditorium of the Conservatoire de Paris, I heard snippets of Darius Milhaud’s Le boeuf sur le toit (Ox on the Roof) with its funny, mischievous dissonant passages.

On my way out, I saw a huge billboard showed an attractive brunette nude to the waist, with the caption: SHE SHOWED HER BREASTS! SHE SAVED HER LIFE! (covert advertisement for breast cancer screening, French style).

The current food trend was a diet disaster and a vegetarian’s nightmare. Nouvelle cuisine has now been completely discarded for rich, heavy, peasant-like food. Someone dragged me to a food fair where I saw hundreds of goat cheeses in freaky shapes and colors, including a red one well-named “Satan”. Every shop competed for more fat and calories in the shape of rich cheeses, patés, sausages, jams and jellies. The wine-tasting stands seemed attractive enough but I am in essence a teetotaler. A notable and original product however caught my attention: herb-flavored crystal salt, which makes it just about the most refined food item I have ever encountered.

And I heard more divorce horror stories from women…Paris hasn’t changed a bit. In France, woman is second to man. Have you ever looked at French music programs? Are there any women on these programs? Eliane Radigue is certainly a name that should have its place in these events. What about Joelle Leandre – and myself… although I am more American than French at this point, and maybe you understand why!

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The New Music Calendar is a good indicator of what events are taking place in New York, and this October, the scene according to NMC shows that a large percentage of new music concerts include Bach, Schubert, Liszt, Bartok and the unavoidable Mozart, as well as 20th century staples like Schoenberg, Berio, Davidovsky, Carter, Stravisnky, Ligeti and Webern. Now that Interpretations has turned jazzy, there is even less exposure for post-classic music. The old-new-generation is still well represented with Philip Glass who is doing something every season, and John Adams who seems to be everywhere lately. Meanwhile, newcomer Corey Dargel seems to have earned his place on the scene. James Tenney is having two pieces performed at Manhattan School of Music on November 9. Fred Hersch appreared at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study – curiously, his program title With and Without Words is similar to one of mine from 1995, (With or Without Words). In addition, many new, foreign, unfamiliar names appear on the programs.

There is very little female representation. Women get the less-glamorous school and church gigs – Eve Beglarian and Elizabeth Brown at Manhattan School of Music, Laura Kaminsky and Mary Jane Leach at Fifth Ave Presbyterian (Oct 28), Augusta Reade Thomas at Madison Ave Prebyterian (Oct 30 afternoon), Tina Davidson at the Society for Ethical Culture, in a festival of spiritual music offsetting Halloween on October 29-30. As usual, Roulette has the best female-to-male ratio, with Zeena Parkins, Nicole Zaray, Monika Heidemann. The Composers’ Ensemble at Princeton presents no work by women whatsoever.

Generally, concerts are fewer than in the past. The scene seems to be unfocused. It is good to present music from all over the world, in addition, but not instead of music by local composers and by women. Also there is way too much straight old classical music being performed. How are we supposed to evolve?

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I was in the process of thinking through a new piece, and this is what I came up with – a lot of aspects to consider. It seems that composing entails more than one would think at first. In red are the elements that currently are more in focus – or have become part of the process because of new technologies.

Are we really in the 21st century yet? Some continue to write string quartets and symphonies like Brahms and Mahler, with the same instruments. But there are new elements in the composition process that didn’t exist before. The perennials are rhythm, melody, harmony, texture and style; however, defining style is much more complex. Before the 20th century everyone wrote in the same style. Now we are dealing with multiple stylistic elements, some from classical Western music, some from so-called modern Western music, including the old ‘avant-garde’ – which is actually 20th century music, as opposed to 21st century music; some from ethnic and folk traditions from all over the world; some from popular music, rock and jazz. This should be it, but it really isn’t.

Our society is visually oriented. The proliferation of vision-enhancing devices and laser eye surgery afford people clear vision. We are constantly looking at screens: at work on the computer, at play watching television, films and DVDs. People have become much more sensitive to visual stimuli and they crave them. This poses a problem for the composer: should a piece have a visual content? Does the decline of classical music have anything to do with the fact that the visuals are lacking? Who wants to sit and watch 50 people dressed in black sitting practically still reading music for two hours? Isn’t it better to listen to the piece on a hi-fi? Meanwhile, opera is still popular because it is a show.

Composing in the 21st century also entails balancing a number of other elements: scripts – even for instrumental music, it is easier to get a new piece across if you have a story to tell about it, even if it isn’t program music. The context element actually has always existed; it may even have been stronger in the past when most pieces were written on demand for a special occasion, when music had stronger ties to the social fabric. But now, it seems even more important to compose in context, as a composition addresses many levels of consciousness, and if we are to compose responsibly, social elements have to be taken into account.

In addition, we now have the option of making use of new technology: electronics, hyper-instruments enhanced with additional capabilities and most recently, interactivity through the web. Right now, only a few pioneers are working with these forms, and some of them were gathered at the IAMIC panel on music and technology moderated by Frank Oteri, that took place on September 27 at the Thalia Nimoy. Bill Duckworth and Nora Farrell do everything on and for the web. Tod Machover designs hyper-instruments for children to play. His hyperscore software enables anyone to ‘draw’ a piece on the computer, and the program translates the visual data into music. Every teenager gets to be a rock star on screen, with no practice time. This is the way of the future: instruments that require no practice; you can play them along with someone else in Hong Kong in an interactive jam session.

The web killed the music industry but it may save music-making eventually by making it accessible to each and everyone, no longer restricted to elite of highly trained practitioners. Check out Music: How the Web Got Wired for Sound (Routledge 2005) by William Duckworth, whose site is actually hard to find – don’t look under William Duckworth or Bill Duckworth, but go to www.monroestreet.com; on cathedral on you can participate in a collective composition project on the web. Also, check out www.hyperscore.com, Tod Machover’s visual music creation tool. Also visit www.lemurbots.org for some surprising interactive instruments.

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