What is the worth of a real quiet, meditative time? The worth of an almost perfect silence, not the noisy background that keeps my ears alert and awake even in the night, in New York. I found silence in a small town near Paris, and in an island off of the coast of Vendée, the Ile d’Yeu or Ile-Dieu, (the translation is Isle of God, well named), with rocks and sands and winds and sea, nearly deserted from cold weather, but utterly romantic and peaceful even in the storm, with clear night skies with haloed moon and bright constellations.

Ile d'Yeu, France

When I hear my New York sounds the noises become music; but what if there is no noise to speak of, except for maybe a solitary bird whose singing is not pretty, among the little white houses with colorfully painted shutters, originally from mixes of left-over boat paint yielding an infinity of shades of blues and greys with the occasional iconoclastic yellow or red. What is the worth of watching a solitary donkey grazing in a field and listening to his loud ha haa, of walking into a deserted, tiny chapel, impeccably clean with its modern stain glass…

I went away in search of music that does not exist. I found it in my head when less crowded with urgent matters. I even ventured briefly with the holiday crowds descending the Champs Elysées gaily decorated with pink banners against the sad grey skies. An incursion to the newly built Museum of the Quai Branly (which boasts a collection of international art)  revealed a new construction by architect Jean Nouvel who never ceases to amaze – quite a departure from the Musee du Monde Arabe he designed some twenty years ago.

Jean Nouvel's Quai Branly Museum near Eiffel Tower

Fermette Marbeuf

I spent a couple of evening hours at the Louvre, teeming with endless crowds of all tongues – the museum catalogue exists in about fifty different languages. I did not make the pilgrimage to the Mona Lisa as I was advised that it is now covered with a plastic shield of sorts which apparently prevents any real appreciation, along with theft. I only visited more obscure paintings of various part of Europe and discovered the original of VerMeer’s LaceMaker to be a very small, square-shaped painting and not as spectacular as its reproductions led me to believe. On the other hand, the Fermette Marbeuf restaurant with its 1910 original designs of peacocks, sunflowers and billowy maidens (some by Bartoldy who gave us the Statue of Liberty -  in fact there is a smaller version of it by a bridge in Paris) was a real find. I went away with few expectations and even though at times I was cold and wet, I come back with a spark of some new music. Happy 2010!


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In connection with the release of the book by Tim Lawrence:  Hold on To Your Dreams; Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, a series of panels and events will take place at NYU on Saturday October 10, 2009 at Tisch Performance Studies, 721 Broadway Suite 612. I read Tim Lawrence’s book as a draft and it  is a well-documented, historic biography with a level of objectivity that does not leave any gaps in the history or press a gay viewpoint. This is the link for the conference, book party and concert schedule which will appear only if you scroll down the page…

http://arthursymposium.blogspot.com/

Arthur Russell and Elodie Lauten at LaMama

Arthur Russell and Elodie Lauten at LaMama, 1988

My own presentation in the first panel (10:30-11:30AM) will cover “Lesser-known relationships: in the Singing Tractors nexus, a sense of freedom and exploration”. The elusive Singing Tractors were actually more than a band per se, a set of creative relationships that evolved between Arthur Russell, myself, Peter Zummo and Mustafa Ahmed some of which last to this day. I will also speak between 5 and 6PM in the panel Remembering Arthur Russell.

When I first met Arthur Russell at Allen Ginsberg’s apartment where we were both staying, he was a classical music student and I was the lead singer and songwriter for Flaming Youth, the all female band formed by Denise Feliu, guitarist and on-and-off girlfriend of Peter Orlovsky. Arthur was curious about our band and came to a Flaming Youth performance or two. Classical meets rock at Allen’s: being at opposite ends of the musical scene, the serious music student and the rebel songwriter, we were very interested in each other and I recall that Arthur invited me to record for him at a studio at NYU.

But I left Ginsberg’s place and lost track of Arthur for several years as he went to the West Coast and then back in New York, I did not find him again until 1977 when in a memorable jam session with his band the Flying Hearts, I sang nonstop for two hours. Then again, we lost track of each other. Three years later, I ran into Arthur on Second Avenue; he was in the process of recording Go Bang. He immediately asked me to and record for him at Sorcerer Sound – the studio’s atmosphere was created with various  species of insects including a live tarantula.

Then something magical happened: the classical and the punk rock were merging all around us. Without being “influenced” by it, we were inside of the trend – generally perceived on the scene as a crossing over from rock music to experimental and classical music to microtonality, with the rise of artists like Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham who began to perform works that borrowed freely from various forms.

Taking advantage of the proximity of our apartments we started getting together around sunset to improvise. I was playing a Casio and he was playing cello. His favorite key was G minor natural – I still have some of those recordings on cassette.  Our playing together was not prompted by anything else than making music.

Later I found myself participating in various sessions with Arthur and Peter Zummo and the three of us soon became a trio. We loved Casios. The mini keyboards allowed easy transport and some toy-like electronic sounds that were usable. All three of us played the Casios. We also did cello, trombone and Casio trios and occasionally were joined by guitarist Ken Goshhorn and also Ron Kuivila on one occasion.

When Mustafa appeared, I was thrilled because I always loved African percussion. It runs in the family: my father, Errol Parker, who played jazz piano and drums, customarily replaced the snare on his drum set by a conga which gave his band a more African feel…

The four of us became  the Singing Tractors, after Arthur had visited his family in rural Iowa and came back inspired with the name…. So that’s what he called the ‘band” although there was not the kind of pressure that you usually have with certain common goals and business. It was just a purely creative gathering, a  nexus of free-form exploration.

The music itself was very experimental and mostly improvised although there were usually a couple of lines written out but no strict arrangement for them. We would explore harmonically and melodically reacting to one another’s sounds and occasionally reading a part but always expanding from there. We were merging influences  from post-Cagean randomness to free jazz to rock and pop music to classical elements to African beat and dance music… such as In the Light of a Miracle, recorded by the group at Battery Sound where Arthur had time booked by Sleeping Bag Records.  I recall working on many, many sessions during the winter of 1982,  but the song was somehow never finished – I think Arthur was fascinated by it and wanted to keep working on it, as finishing it would mean to let it go: he keep remixing it  for years on end without ever bringing it to final stage, although every different remix was good enough to release. I was very involved with this song initially to the point that I co-wrote the music, but I also wanted to see it finished and released. Despite many attempts, remixes and partial releases the piece  has never been properly released in its entirety – it  could probably fill an entire album.

Arthur was a crossover artist who bridged the gap between pop music and experimental music, in the same way as I and many other of my contemporaries have bridged between classical music, minimalism, experimental music, rock and jazz.  No wonder this seed band and its members’ interaction led to such a fruitful variety of recordings and performances for the next 20 years.

Peter Zummo had innumerable collaborations with Arthur Russell including on his own album Experiments with Household Chemicals and on his projects for Trisha Brown Dance Company and more.  Mustafa Ahmed has a well documented MySpace page that will tell you how many albums and tours he worked on that involved Peter Zummo, myself, and others he met through Arthur Russell like Peter Gordon.

We worked together in all different ways, trading leadership on different projects.  I would play on some of Arthur and Peter’s gigs, they would join and play on some of my gigs also. Arthur and Peter are an integral part of my early 80s releases, Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory and The Death of Don Juan. We worked closely together until 1988. When I did a sound sculpture installation in Soho based on the work of Marcel Proust (in collaboration with Carl Karas), Arthur played with me at the opening. Also we performed together at LaMama the Music for the Trine, a custom electro-acoustic lyre I designed to facilitate microtunings, and Arthur participated in a commissioned project I had at Lincoln Center that summer. I continued to work with Mustafa Ahmed on  Existence my multimedia opera at the Performing Garage (1991), Waking in New York (1999-2003), Harmonic Protection Circle (2004). I also worked with drummer Bill Ruyle on Waking in New York and my recent Two-Cents Opera at Theater for the New City last March which also featured Steven Hall.

I was involved creatively with Arthur Russell in the early to mid-eighties. It is interesting to mention that Arthur was open to working with women – mostly myself, and later on Joyce Bowden. I was working with Arthur in an early stage of my career when I was in a process of evolution from musician to composer – I went to NYU for my Master’s in the mid-80s and got an NEA grant in 1985 for The Death of Don Juan. By the late 90s  I had evolved into a composer and multimedia artist writing chamber and orchestral music as well as multimedia operas and doing visual art as well. My band days were  over by the late 80s.

Elodie Lauten & Arthur Russell and collaborators:
Discography/Performance Highlights

Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory (LP, Cat Collectors 1984), soon to be reissued on Unseen Worlds: with Arthur Russell, Peter Zummo

The Death of Don Juan (LP, Cat Collectors 1985), reissued on CD by Unseen Worlds (2008) with Arthur Russell, Peter Zummo

Music for the Trine, LaMama, live performances with cello and Trine, with Arthur Russell (1988)

Five Pieces for Processed Strings (Lincoln Center Commission Serious Fun 1988), with Arthur Russell

Remembrance of Things Past, live performance with gallery installation, Penine Hart Gallery, Soho, 1988), with Arthur Russell (1988)

Existence, live performance at the Performing Garage, Cat Collectors 1993, with Mustafa Ahmed

Arthur Russell, Another Thought (Point, 1994) - In the Light of the Miracle

Dry Ice, songs by Steven Hall, produced by Steven Hall and Elodie Lauten (Studio 21, 2002)

Waking in New York, portrait of Allen Ginsberg, (4Tay, 2003) with Mustafa Ahmed and Bill Ruyle

Harmonic Protection Circle, with Mustata Ahmed (Studio 21, 2004)

The Two-Cents Opera, with Bill Ruyle and Steven Hall (DVD, L.E.S.P.A., 2009)


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Bach bust in a park (photographed by Johnny Reinhard)

Bach bust in a park (photographed by Johnny Reinhard)

What kind of tuning did Bach really use? That is the subject of Johnny Reinhard’s new book, Bach and Tuning. You may know Johnny Reinhard as the host of a wonderful Bach show on WKCR every Christmas Day. He has passionately studied this subject for most of his life, including several pilgrimages to Germany to the places where Bach had lived and the churches where he played.

I am welcoming this book because it challenges a widely accepted misconception: the idea of a connection between Bach and equal temperament; I have been annoyed at times when reading or hearing from respected classical practitioners that Bach “created equal temperament”. The truth of the matter is a lot more complex and subtle…but a clear answer is provided and well-documented in this book.

Many musicians accept standard tuning as a given or even though they are quite capable of hearing the subtleties of other tunings, they do not want to complicate things for themselves – I have had some violinists refuse to rehearse in a Baroque tuning because they said “it ruins my intonation when I go play a Broadway show later tonight”. Sad but true. However, I stand by the principle that Baroque music “sounds” much better when using the correct temperaments that bring out beauty of the natural harmonic intervals. It does require a fine ear… or an average ear that can be educated.

When I discovered the power of just intonation through the work of LaMonte Young (even though his his just intonation is highly customized), and the beauty and subtlety of Baroque tunings for keyboards, I had my piano tuned to Vallotti Young for several years and then moved to Werckmeister III, which I find to be an exquisite tuning that works for any kind of material, Baroque, jazz or other. It is as they called it a “well temperament”, as in “The Well-Tempered Klavier”.

manuscript

Reinhard’s thoroughly researched book covers Bach’s family and lifelong relationship with Johann Gottfried Walther, a distant cousin who became more like a brother to Bach; Dieterich Buxtehude and the type of keyboard tuning that his improvisations would necessitate; Andreas Werckmeister, responsible for a revolution in tuning through his published temperament alternatives; a discussion of tuning and very detailed comparison of Werckmeister II, IV, V and VI tunings, Kirnberger II and III tunings, Trost tuning, and Neidhart I, II & III tunings, including tuning tables in cents; Bach cities, through well-informed visits to Germany complete with photos; a chapter on “Thuringian aesthetic”, featuring the popularity of certain tunings in Bach’s particular region of Germany, Thuringia; tuning notation including samples of rare manuscripts; a chapter on Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a former student of Bach who introduced  tuning innovations; and a conclusion establishing what Bach’s tuning really was, with detailed answers to a multiple choice question: was it Meantone, Irregular Tuning, Equal Temperament, Idyosincratic Tuning (personal), or Well Temperament (Werckmeister III), the latter being the correct answer.

In addition, the appendix features the complete translation of Andreas Werckmeister’s Musical Temperament, which makes this book very convincing.

The book can be ordered directly by email to afmmjr@aol.com in hard copy or pdf version. It belongs in every music college library.

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Friday September 11, 2009 at the New Museum: performance of S.O.S.W.T.C. for solo synthesizer, followed by a performance by the group Arthur’s Landing featuring the music of the late Arthur Russell. New Museum, 235 Bowery and Prince. Tickets $12/$10 at the door.

sos.Program notes

It’s the day before 9/11. A block away from World Trade Center, I am working on a poster design with a big brown shoe against the New York skyline, as if stepping on it. I don’t really know how I came up with that idea. At night, my cats are acting up. On 9/11, I am in midtown, lucky not to be in the downtown office that day. Around 8:45 AM, people are gathering in the conference room, staring at a television screen: there is smoke coming out of the Twin Towers. It looks like a fire or accident. No one understands until a half hour later the plane crashes into the second tower. Around 11AM we are told to evacuate the building. The buses are at a halt, and there is no subway service. There are droves of people walking, walking. It’s a panic. There is a smell in the air. At home only one television channel reports live on the events.

Several weeks before I dreamed that my grandmother (who had long passed away) was on fire… I knew it was a warning of danger, but what kind?… After the disaster, I felt a scramble of mad energies, the firefighters, the tragedy and heroism, the folk music. But the jobs were gone. I was home playing my synthesizer, taking dictation from what I sensed and I saw. To avoid the smell and smoke, I stayed in, totally involved in this piece, which remained untitled for a long time. My personal tragedy of 9/11 is that with the recession that followed, I had to move to a smaller place, and give up some of the things I loved the most: space, piano, cats.

In the music of  S.O.S.W.T.C., the tonal center is either missing or constantly shifting, like a carpet pulled from under. The pitch is indefinite. The sound components are controlled via the touch sensitivity of the keyboard so that the improvisation literally ‘sculpts’ the sound. This technique allows tri-dimensional control of melody, harmony and color. The mystery surrounding pitch creates a sense of floating in space, of vulnerability, of a growling, chaotic presence. In the original recording, sections are arranged according to the “3 short, 3 long, 3 short” Morse code for S.O.S. This premiere performance is both excerpted and expanded from the original. However I replaced the reality footage with a more abstract take on the fragility of life which I created thanks to a residency at Experimental Television Center.

S.O.S.W.T.C. had its first performance (with news footage of the tragedy) on December 22, 2001 at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, in an event where the organization Dharma Nature Time had gathered spiritual leaders from all different faiths to pray and reflect on the disaster. A CD was released in November 2001 (Studio 21) and it was pledged to the Red Cross. It is now out of print. If you wish to obtain a CDR copy of the recording, or any other material, please email: elauten@yahoo.com.

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homageginsbergshowpsd

Art Loisaida’s Homage to Ginsberg – Howl Festival

Coming up on September 1st through September 30,  the new Art Loisaida show presents an ‘Homage to Ginsberg”,  at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue at 10th St)  with an opening reception on September 9 between 5 and 8 PM. The artists in the show are: Deborah Aslanian, Amy Cohen Banker, Kathryn Bloss, Kathy Creutzburg, Lauren Edmond, Haim Elisha, Kris Enos, Millie Falcaro, Kathy Jennings, Randy Jones, Angela LaMonte, Phoebe Legere, Len Leone, Marlis Momber, Jerry Pagan, Jo Pendola, Carolyn Ratcliffe, Mike Rimbaud, Christine Rodriquez, Anne Stanner. NOTE: During the opening on September 9, I will perform (assisted by Andrew Bolotowsky, flute, soprano Mary Hurlbut and guitarist Jonathan Hirschman) a new setting of the poetry of Ginsberg, entitled – so appropriately – Velocity of Money… ‘”whistling through windows of Lower East Side…”

Art Loisaida people Read the rest of this entry »

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Vegetarian musicVegetarian Music? This is a photo taken by Peter Zummo himself. As I am enjoying the taste of fresh vegetables this summer, I enjoy the feel of this picture: a Dada spirit if there ever was one, as I am listening to Experimenting with Household Chemicals, a most unusual recording conceived by Peter Zummo and performed by him, Mustafa Ahmed (percussion), Jon Gibson (flute, soprano and alto saxophones), Joseph Kubera (keyboards), Dennis Masuzzo (contrabass), Bill Ruyle (marimba, voice), and Arthur Russell (amplified cello, keyboard bass, voice). It was released by Phill Niblock on XI the mid-90s but it hasn’t aged a bit. In evidence, a playful attitude but – make no mistake – a very serious commitment to avoiding redundancy and finding something unusual to groove by.

Zummo came up with a unique system of improvised composition based on symmetries of the movement patterns of the slide of his trombone, which lead to certain sequences of tones and their harmonics. What I love about his approach to composing is that he is comfortable saying that the written score can be quite different from the sound of the performance. This is definitely an album to remember – even though he has had other releases since, such as the intriguing Slybersonic Tromosome with Tom Hamilton (Penumbra) and the classic Zummo with an X re-released by New World Records. The reason for the “X” is not for effect: the X is actually one of the trombone slide patterns that he uses in his composition. There is a certain consistency of the music between the various releases and musician combos, an inimitable pacing of the melodies and rhythms. Interestingly, he is inclusive of microtonality without calling himself a “microtonalist”; in other words he knows all about alternative tunings and tuning adjustments that occur at various octaves on the instruments, but he is being cool about it, not fussing over of the sophistication of his tunings. Also I love his didjeridoo playing… Who else? Also note that Peter plays keyboards proficiently and can also sing (I used his vocals on choruses of The Death of Don Juan – who knew?)

Flash back: Peter Zummo meets dancer and choreographer Stephanie Woodard as Wesleyan University and they get married in 1969; they collaborate on many projects. They come to New York. Stephanie establishes her own dance company. Peter writes for the Soho News. He meets many musicians. He tours with shows from LaMama with Bill Ruyle; he performs with the Big Apple Circus with Peter Gordon, Boris Policeband, Michael Canick and Denman Maroney. He tours Europe and Japan with the Lounge Lizards, given a chance to develop his own free style. He meets Arthur Russell…and that is the beginning of a long and productive interaction.

In the early 80s, Arthur Russell, Peter and myself, along with Mustafa Ahmed, were the Singing Tractors (named by Arthur returning from a visit to his folks in Iowa), an experimental nexus that led to innumerable projects. Every member of the Singing Tractors was totally productive – recording Arthur Russell’s underground hit In the Light of the Miracle (which wasn’t released by Point until after he died in 1992), contributing to his albums and his many, many performances including Experimental Intermedia, the Walker Arts Center and The Kitchen; Peter Zummo’s compositions for choreographer Trisha Brown: Lateral Pass. Newark and Fast Dream, and his above-mentioned, amazing album  Experimenting with Household Chemicals; Mustafa Ahmed’s own production of Let’s Go Smimming, another of Arthur’s underground dance music specials, and his collaborations with other bands as one of the most popular percussionists on the scene; and  my early 80s albums Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory and The Death of Don Juan – the latter has been recently reissued on Unseen Worlds – and the Concerto (and other piano music from the 1980s) is scheduled to be reissued this year on the same label. Since then, every time I needed live rhythms I worked with Mustafa Ahmed and/or Bill Ruyle, including Existence at the Performing Garage, Waking in New York, where both carried the strong and driving rhythm section, and up to the present:  Bill Ruyle and Steven Hall on drums and bass performed the rhythms of my Two-Cents Opera, recently premiered at the Theater for the New City.

Peter Zummo is very active on the scene; he performs frequently in New York, with a group including Ernie Brooks, Bill Ruyle, Mustafa Ahmed, Danny Tunick, Michael Evans and Yvette Perez. He is also core member of Arthur’s Landing, a group devoted to the music of the late Arthur Russell (Steven Hall, Joyce Bowden Kirby, Mustafa Ahmed, Bill Ruyle, Ernie Brooks and other guest performers such as Peter Gordon). Arthur’s Landing will be performing at the New Museum on coming up on September 11 at 7PM. The program will also include my SOSWTC – for solo synthesizer that was composed immediately after the 9/11 trauma,  a meditative and healing piece for departed souls… Synergies will happen…

Peter Zummo in performance (2009)

Peter Zummo in performance (2009)

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Host of WPRB's Classical Discoveries

Marvin Rosen, WPRB Princeton

24 hour Classical Discoveries Marathon: 21st Century American Music

Tuesday, September 8 at 7:00 pm until Wednesday,  September 9 at 7:00 pm


These days it is nearly impossible to find a “radio” station that plays our music and other new music of interest. In my experience, some of the New York stations that used to play a lot of new music have somewhat shut us out for whatever reasons. There are new releases coming out from every country in the world, but who has the time to actually search this material on the internet?

Marvin Rosen, host of Classical Discoveries on WPRB Princeton, does. He is a devoted listener and audiophile and leaves no stone unturned, taking his search worldwide.

He is assisted by his wife Beata Rzeszodko-Rosen, who was born and raised in Poland and acquired a wide-ranging knowledge of the music of Eastern Europe.

In Marvin’s programs, which have been on the air for 12 years now, and have received an ASCAP award in 2005, I find rare music that is truly fresh and interesting. Even though I don’t have access to the broadcast from my radio in New York City, I can hear the music streaming on the WPRB  web site “www.wprb.com or you can find a link from the Classical Discoveries own website: http://www.classicaldiscoveries.org. This site is soon to be updated with a new look and additional ease-of-use features. The web site also provides a guest book for comments and feedback on the programs.

Through mid September on Wednesday mornings, from 5:30AM through 11 AM, Classical Discoveries airs; and then, from 11AM through 3PM, it is followed by Classical Discoveries goes Avant-Garde. Also, during the summer, special early music programs air on Saturdays from 6:00 to 9:00 PM – and that’s really premium time so check the web site for those.

Classical Discoveries represents a landmark of knowledge with programs that are uninhibited, with the widest possible range of music both historically and geographically. On Classical Discoveries you will hear the noble sounds of Polish Baroque from the 17th century, or the enchanting voice of a nun from Lebanon who also happens to be a composer. Here is the list of composers from letter L from the repertoire page on the web site – how many of these names are familiar?

Gyorgy Lang, Judith Lang Zaimont, Libby Larsen, Rick LaSalle, Elodie Lauten, Vytautas Laurusas, Jón Leifs, Leon Levitch, Zara Levina, Frank Ezra Levy, Peter Lieberson, Gyorgy Ligeti, Lukas Ligeti, Christian Lindberg, Bo Linde, Binnette Lipper, Ricardo Llorca, George Lloyd, David Loeb, Doug Lofstrom, Fernando Lopes-Graca, Oleksa Lozowchuk, William Lovelock, Pawel Lukaszewski, Wojciech Lukaszewski.

On the site, the “Special Presentations” page comprises a number of categories as for example: Women’s music, American music, Avant-garde and Electronic music, rare Baroque and Renaissance music, and music from other countries (Spotlight/Focus On Countries).

Some of the programs are particularly well researched: Voices Of Lithuania – Musical Voyage, The Glorious Sound Of The Polish Baroque, Music By The Nuns Of Italian Baroque, Beyond The Mysteries Of Middle-Eastern Music, Iceland: Land Of Fire And Ice, Classical Discoveries Goes Outback- Musical Voyage To Australia, Polish Music Beyond Chopin And Gorecki, Music For Kwanza – and other holiday programs from all different traditions.

The 24-hour Marathon program (see date and time above) is specially exciting as it is focused on exclusively new American music. Classical Discoveries has become a major source of cultural preservation in a shrinking music scene.

An article came out just recently about Classical Discoveries you might want to peruse it. This is the link: http://www.centraljersey.com/articles/2009/08/24/time_off/entertainment_news/doc4a8c2f83149a4057334441.txt

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Andrew Bolotowsky performs a free program of solo flute by twelve different women composers from the 20th and 21st century, in a variety of styles, each performed on a different flute. August 22, 2009 at 2PM, FREE, Hamilton Fish Public Library, 415 Houston at Ave D.

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Yesterday I was at the New Museum on the Bowery in the all-white (from seats to walls) auditorium downstairs, enjoying the sounds of Nick Hallet’s Whispering Exercises which staged four singers and a harpist (all young women) as if sitting on a cloud, surrounded by quickly evolving and contrasting light projections all around the theater’s inviting walls. With some of the tunes, one felt surrounded by nearly angelic sounds but there was an edge in the occasional slight dissonance, or the directness and simplicity of the vocal work, or the constrasting passages where the roar of an old analog synth or quietly cycling arpeggiator brought a man-machine element. In Nick Hallett’s through-composed world, the sweetness and the rumble get along and share the same universe, which adds a spiritual dimension to the statement; and one is aurally delighted and comfortable within a clearly defined, accessible esthetic. The piece, a work in progress to be completed by next year and presented at The Kitchen, weaves the stasis of whispers and breathing sounds that recur throughout, with short tunes with tonal vocal harmonies, sometimes reminiscent of early music, but beyond the purity of the voices there was the memory of rock music. The performers, Daisy Press, Rachel Henry, Katie Eastburn, and Rachel Mason (voices) and harpist Shelley Burgon were compelling and so were the visuals created by Seth Kirby and Brock Monroe. The music was wonderfully refreshing and reaching for its very own language beyond tonal minimalism.

Nick Hallett is continuing his residency at the New Museum for one more week with Voice and Light Systems Part Four: Auroville on Thursday May 28 at 7pm, a multimedia “ritual” inspired by Sri Aurobindo featuring Seth Kirby and Ana Matronic.
Visit: Newmuseum.org/events

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Legend: top to bottom: Terpstra, Bikelophone, OrbiTouch, FingeRing (hand), Jankó keyboard, Bowafridgeaphone (right).

People have been inventing new instruments ever since the beginning of time, but it is almost frightening how lately people are thinking up alternatives to the ever-present keyboards we use: the piano keyboard and the QWERTY keyboard.

The OrbiTouch is a “keyless” keyboard that integrates the mouse and the keyboard According to the manufacturer, ““The orbiTouch creates a keystroke when you slide the two domes into one of their eight respective positions. You type the different characters by sliding the domes to create letters and numbers. The orbiTouch also has an integrated mouse, so moving the domes gives you full mouse and keyboard capability!”

The FingeRing is a wireless wearable keyboard invented by NIT Human Interface Laboratories in Japan. It is the prototype of a full-time wearable device for the input of commands and characters. A small accelerometer is worn on the base of each finger to detect the typing shocks generated by tapping the finger on any typing surface such as the thigh, knee or desk (called “finger-tip typing”). Commands and characters are generated from combinations of finger-tip typing actions. Each accelerometer is small and the finger-tip is not covered so they can be worn continuously in everyday life without trouble. In addition, no take-up action is needed for use, so immediate start of operation is possible.

I also found some weird musical instruments interesting: for the Bowafridgeaphone, instrument maker Iner Souster used refrigerator grates, violin bows, a broken old speaker, a cake pan, a metal salad bowl, and the few other spare pieces of metal. There are 36 strings along the body to help with its resonance, and pick up a few sympathetic tones; the Bikelophone, originally constructed in 1995, is a palette of sonic exploration, with magnetic pickups attached to amplify the sound, anything connected to the bike becomes amplified. The current configuration includes bass strings, scrap wood and metal, metal bowls, telephone bells, a mechanical foot pedal and a touch sensitive tone generator.Using a loop-based recording system and outboard signal processors (reverbs, delays, pitch shifts, etc.), sound compositions can include acoustics and electronics.

The Terpstra keyboard, brainchild of engineers/designers Dylan Horvath and Siemen Terpstra (in collaboration with artistic director Garnet Willis, advisor Joel Mandelbaum and executive director Reinhard) has been out of the box for a couple of years now, a full-capacity microtonal keyboard with a non-piano interface, i.e. 280 velocity-sensitive keys that can be assigned various micro-tunings with a maximum of 55 notes per octave. It is a control surface for microtonal music which requires a) software to run the tuning (such as Scala) but also b) a timbre module or sampler or sound library. I had a chance to play the Terpstra once and enjoyed the keyboard action as I didn’t find it difficult to adapt to the key layout and got some entertaining sounds out of it even though they weren’t pre-planned – you kind of have to move the hands vertically as well as horizontally.

For a keyboardist though it is a question of losing virtuosity at the piano keyboard in exchange for acquiring virtuosity on this unusual keyboard. Will the Terpstra, despite its undeniable creative possibilities and microtonal options, take off or will it be rejected by the players as was the Paul Jankó keyboard at the beginning of the 20th century – it offered a stack of six keyboards one above the other, which changed the entire action to make it more accessible to play with less of a stretch for the hand. And that was actually truly brilliant because for some people especially women with smaller hands, the stretch of the hand which barely goes to the 10th, precludes from playing material that requires very extensive chords as in Liszt, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, etc.

The Terpstra has already found its enthusiasts: Aubrun Schect says “When a key is depressed, the entire change in position is monitored and translated to a very accurate and nuanced velocity by the time the key hits the bottom. Every key is easily re-mappable and if mapped to a continuous controller, then slowly depressing any re-mapped key sends out continuous data like a fader in real time. It does all of this with no latency.” Meanwhile, The Gizmodo web site calls the Terpstra “an instrument for musicians from another planet”. We’ll see what the future holds, but I am eager to hear some of these new sounds.

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