Canadian composer Stephen Chatman recently was nominated for a JUNO Award for his Centrediscs recording of Earth Songs (CMCCD 14709). The composer kindly provided some background information about his JUNO-nominated work.

The JUNO Awards will be announced on Saturday, April 17.

In 2008, I was commissioned by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver to compose a major work in celebration of the university’s centenary.  The resulting 22 minute work, Earth Songs, for large mixed chorus and orchestra, was premiered at the Centenary Gala on September 28, 2008 by the UBC Singers, prepared by Bruce Pullan, and CBC Radio Orchestra, Alain Trudel, conductor.  The Gala also featured UBC alumnus and world renowned tenor, Ben Heppner.

Earth Songs celebrates the universal spirit and beauty of our natural world.  Based on settings of diverse, multilingual texts pertaining to nature and earth, the six-movement work features an eclectic array of musical approaches, influences and both western and Chinese instruments.  Through its marriage of words and music, Earth Songs not only expresses a profound concern for the frailty of the earth but also exudes a joy of nature, optimism and hope for the future of our planet.  Ultimately, the work is meant to inspire the global community to respect, restore and protect the natural and human world.

Given the natural beauty of Vancouver, the historical influence of British, American, European and, more recently, Chinese and Asian immigrants in British Columbia, and the growing multiculturalism in Vancouver and UBC, the subject of “earth”, that is, the combination of world nature and these selected cultures, was a natural inspiration.

As a North American trained classical contemporary composer of piano, chamber, choral and orchestral music, I am comfortable with western classical contemporary musical traditions.  But in recent years, my cultural and musical environment and corresponding influences have expanded.  Having traveled to China several years ago in the first official exchange of Chinese and Canadian composers and subsequently working with many Chinese musician colleagues in Vancouver, I am particularly attracted to certain Chinese instruments:  the erhu, dizi, zheng, and various percussion instruments.  It was a challenge to learn to write idiomatically for these instruments in a musical style both natural to me and sympathetic to aspects of Chinese tradition.  Working with Chinese instrumentalists, Charlie Lui, Mei Han and Kenny Chu, was extremely helpful in composing the Chinese instrument solos in the fourth movement of Earth Songs.

The initial selection of texts for Earth Songs was critical to the creative process.  Not only did the choice of texts shape the work, suggesting an overall form, trajectory and scope, it inspired certain musical ideas and feelings, sometimes expressing overpowering, broad sweeping lines contrasted by more restrained lyricism.

Settings include, in order, the famous Genesis text, 1. Light upon the earth (Et inluminent terram) sung in Latin—perhaps a subconscious Carmina Burana influence; 2. Earth and sky by Vancouver poet laureate, George McWhirter, 3. The Butterfly, by 19th century British poet, Robert Hawker;  4. The Waterfall, by 7th century Chinese poet, Jang Juling, 5. Danse des pluies, based on my own “sound lyrics’ and containing words from many languages, and finally, 6. Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth! by the American poet, Walt Whitman.

The slow, chorale-like final movement, a setting of my favorite poet, Whitman—and perhaps my favorite movement of the work, reiterates the opening motive of the piece and then builds to a climactic conclusion.  The reaction of the audience at the world premiere, clearly audible on the live recording, was overwhelming—a warm response and a  rousing standing ovation.

I am grateful to the University of British Columbia, in particular President Stephen Toope, Sid Katz, and Richard Kurth, without whose support a commercial recording would not have been possible.

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Time Out New York had this to say about composer-hyperpianist Denman Maroney: “Pianists have been tinkering with the guts of their instruments for nearly a century now, but it’s altogether likely that no one has explored the art of prepared piano as diligently or creatively as hyperpianist Denman Maroney.”

The music of “hyperpianist” Denman Maroney is inspired by natural sounds and the music of John Cage, Ornette Coleman, Henry Cowell, Duke Ellington, Charles Ives, Scott Joplin, Olivier Messiaen, Thelonius Monk, Conlon Nancarrow and Karheinz Stockhausen among others. Maroney plays what he calls “hyperpiano ,” which involves bowing and sliding the strings with copper bars, steel cylinders, Tibetan prayer bowls, rubber blocks and CD cases and gives him a unique sonic vocabulary. He also uses a system of temporal harmony based on the undertone series that allows him to improvise and compose in several tempos at once.

Maroney’s February release on Innova is entitled Music for Words, Perhaps (INN717). In  a recent conversation with Innova, the artist offered the following answers…

What’s your pet’s name and why?

My last dog’s name, after the daughter I never had, was Molly, Queen of Dogs, a Portuguese Water Dog, from a shelter, too, unlike, Bo, the Obama’s dog. I travel too much to get another dog now.

How do you spoil yourself?

With a good French wine, preferably in France.

If you weren’t making music as a career what would you be doing?

Making money!

Where do you live and how does that affect your music and the way you make

I live in Rockland County, New York near Harriman State Park, where I get inspiration.

What is your first sound memory?


Name three Desert Island discs (or MP3s), recordings that you feel especially close to.

Work (Thelonious Monk with Sonny Rollins), Prestige LP; Goldberg Variations (Bach, played by Glenn Gould), Columbia LP; Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant Jesus (Messiaen, played by Pierre Laurent Aimard), Teldec CD.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why?

A duo concert with Mark Dresser at Vision Festival XIII (June 2008), released on Kadima Collective in 2009. We hooked up really well, and the audience was fully engaged.

Describe your most mind-blowing art experience (in any art form), something that instantly changed your life.

The first time I saw Cecil Taylor play solo in 1969.

What is your greatest fear?

Outliving myself.

What has been your career low point?

The eighties.

What were your first compositions like?  How have they changed?

I’ve been writing the same piece all my life. Later versions seem better.

What did you learn from your teachers?  Any words of wisdom to share?

From Miss Matsuki (my childhood piano teacher), I learned harmony; from Leonid Hambro, technique; from James Tenney, Ives and Joplin. But mostly I taught myself.

How are you like your music?  Would an outsider see/hear any similarity between your personality and your music?

I am my music, but no one who doesn’t know me could tell this.

Tell us about your release and some of the thinking behind it.

See my liner notes.

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This morning I found an item on NewMusicBox which intrigued me greatly. It was a post by Colin Holter entitled “This is Why People Hate Modern Classical Music.” As I would have expected there was a fair amount of discussion on NMB about the article, which originally appeared in the Telegraph. In fact, composer/critic Kyle Gann, among others — pretty much flipped his lid.

Here’s Kyle’s first comment:

“Ohh, that’s just lovely, a science correspondent informing the public that the “modern” music of Schoenberg and Webern (circa 1930s – ’40s) is typical of what still goes on in music today. Just what we need. Maybe I’ll contact The Telegraph and ask them to let me write a guest editorial on my profound musings about heredity versus environment, or orgone accumulators, or some other piece of outdated scientific crap.

But how do I contact a publication locked in a 70-year time warp? Telegram?

And here’s his second comment:

“Also, as pathetically ignorant and culturally illiterate as the Telegraph article is, the rejoinder that the intricacies of classical sonata form are hardly ‘natural’ doesn’t seem pertinent. Obviously what the article obliquely tries to say without the proper terminology is that tonality is more conducive to structural intelligibility than atonality, or specifically than the 12-tone system. This is certainly more true or less true depending on compositional context, but it is difficult to deny as a gross generality. Fred Lerdahl has written about cognitive constraints on music, to the effect that our brains aren’t set up for perceiving permutational identities; Ben Johnston has written a lot about ratio organization being more clearly intelligible than ordinal and interval organization. In short, without falling for the simplistic tonality = natural and natural = good platitudes that the Telegraph seems to think pass for intellectual discourse, the article’s feebly-stated points are roughly paralleled by some legitimate and more nuanced arguments made by distinguished and experienced composers and theorists…”

Notice, however, that Gann doesn’t dismiss the article’s premise entirely — he corrects the terminology and cites composers who have written about the same thing. Personally, I think our individual brain chemistry does, to some degree, affect what we like and dislike. Quite simply it has to –how else can you explain differing tastes in food and clothing. Music can’t be all that different. I also think psychological factors play a role. I, for example, am very, very highly strung. And, I do find certain kinds of music very difficult to take because of my nervous system.

I realize we’d all like to believe that great art will only be perceived and appreciated by the “best and the brightest.” And truth be told, many people do feel stupid because they do not like certain kinds of new music. But I truly don’t think it is a matter of intelligence.  Some of us are wired to be able to appreciate or enjoy certain things. In a sense, it depends on what sort of brain you have — and that it has nothing to do with creativity or intelligence. It is what makes us unique.

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European new music has always gotten a fair amount of coverage in U.S. newspapers and on the web. But, for some reason, Canadian new music seems to be a different story. I’ve always thought that coverage of Canadian composers on this side of the border was pretty — sparse (to put it politely).

On February 3, the JUNO Award nominees were announced. Two composers with recordings on the Canadian new music label Centrediscs were nominated: Stephen Chatman and Marjan Mozetich (I will be posting an entry by composer Stephen Chatman later this week).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Centrediscs label, I thought it might be useful to provide some background:

The music label of the Canadian Music Center, Centrediscs was founded in 1981 with the assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The first Centrediscs release was an LP featuring electroacoustic music composed and performed by the Canadian Electronic Ensemble. When the recording format changed to CD in the mid-80s, Centrediscs first CD release– Impact — also featured electroacoustic music (it received a JUNO nomination in 1987).

From 1981 to 1987, Centrediscs produced 27 vinyl recordings, two highlights being the 3-disc box set of Harry Somers’ opera Louis Riel, and the album of Canadian art-song by the great tenor Jon Vickers. Also during this time, Centrediscs recordings went from being distributed only through mail-order to also having full retail sales across Canada and selected export to foreign countries.

Centrediscs has produced more than 130 compact discs, including the double-Juno Award winning Schafer: 5 with the Orford String Quartet, the more recent ambitious retrospective series of CDs devoted to the late Harry Somers, A Window on Somers, and the Canadian Composers Portraits series of CDs documenting the pioneering composers of Canada. Centrediscs recordings have been awarded the Grand Prix du Disque Canada, the Juno Award, the Western Canadian Music Award, the East Coast Music Award, and the Canadian Music Week’s Indie Award.

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: Matt Marks and Corey Dargel are both New Amsterdam Records composers who have new albums coming out on May 25th. Matt Marks's album is The Little Death: Vol 1; and Corey Dargel's is Someone Will Take Care of Me. Matt Marks will interview Corey Dargel in a future installment]

Interview with Matt Marks

by Corey Dargel

Does Matt Marks’s music make a mockery of billions of believers and their beatific bliss? It’s easy to be dismissive of religious zealots and sexually repressed hypocrites, but The Little Death — a “post-Christian nihilist pop opera” composed and written by Marks — doesn’t take the easy route. Sure, there are plenty of funny and silly moments, but ultimately The Little Death is a complex, sympathetic portrait of two lovesick teenagers and the religious certainty that gradually renders them paralyzed and impotent.


Mellissa Hughes and Matt Marks, who sing the roles of Girl and Boy in Marks's The Little Death: Vol. 1 -- Photo by Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler of New Catalogue.

I spoke with Marks about the first installment– The Little Death: Vol. 1– which will be released as an album on May 25th, and which Marks and Mellissa Hughes will perform on March 19th as part of New Amsterdam Records’s Archipelago series at Galapagos in Brooklyn.

Dargel: The first thing that struck me about your album, The Little Death: Vol. 1, is the instrumentation. I haven’t listened to Christian pop music in many years, but I get the feeling that you have. What can you tell us about the Christian pop music of today?

Marks: One of the main influences on The Little Death is contemporary Christian production technique. There is this über-clean, glossy, overproduced quality to most Christian pop. Many people find it banal, but I find it fascinating. The producers don’t feel the need to make their music edgy, so they edit and auto-tune their tracks into this otherworldly state. It reminds me of the desire to wash oneself free of sin.

Dargel: It’s like freeing the music of all references to anything but itself. Is that the opposite of transcendentalism?

Marks: Yeah, and it’s one of the purest expressions of post-culturalism. There is often no trace of cultural or ethnic identity, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. There are a variety of folky styles appropriated in The Little Death — doo wop, hip hop, gospel, Weimar-style cabaret– but I only use them in the most self-serving ways. There are no real tributes. My culture– modern Western culture— is the devouring of cultures, and I love it.

Dargel: You’ve taken your instrumentation and production technique from Christian pop music, but what about the actual notes and rhythms? What was your starting place compositionally?

Marks: The compositional process was related to production as well. I view the two as one in the same. I’m a big fan of hip hop and sampling, so most of the melodies and chord progressions are based on samples from my record collection. The rhythm tracks are almost entirely made from chopped-up break-beats. The songs themselves are pretty simple for the most part; I’d say ninety-five percent of my work was spent on production– editing and mixing.

ArchipelagoDargel: You’re performing The Little Death: Vol 1 as part of the Archipelago chamber music series on March 19th. You say you made it primarily in the studio. How do go from a studio recording to a live performance?

Marks: I’ve performed different versions of The Little Death in the past, but the March 19th performance will be the closest to the album. It will consist of the instrumental tracks from the album with me and Mellissa Hughes and singing on top, backed by a doo-wop quartet of sorts called The Little Death Praise Choir! I’m incredibly pleased to be working with my stage director, Rafael Gallegos, who is finding very novel ways of portraying the unconventional narrative theatrically.

Dargel: Sometimes I can’t tell if a song is supposed to be funny or devastating. Do you want us to sympathize with the characters? Should we hate the sin but love the sinner?

Marks: That’s awesome. Hopefully it’s funny and devastating. I’m a big fan of combining disturbing material with humor and sentimentality, without letting it succumb too much to the forces of irony and camp. The characters are flawed. Boy is lascivious but weak-willed; Girl is pious but manipulative. They’re also charismatic, so hopefully the listener will root for them, despite the fact that we know there’s a tragic ending.

Dargel: The song “OMG I’m Shot” reveals the tragic ending, but it comes at the beginning of the album. Why did you choose to put this ending song at the beginning?

Marks: I couldn’t resist infusing the album, which is chock-full of bubble-gummy pop songs, with the flavor of grief. Aside from the dramatic effect, I believe the subsequent songs actually sound different with this knowledge. But knowing that Girl gets shot doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of it being a happy ending.

Dargel: I have to ask you about the title. Are you suggesting that the crucifixion was like an orgasm?

Marks: The references to Le Petite Mort take a lot of forms. There is the opening violent act of “OMG I’m Shot,” which is a little death in the semi-literal sense, but it’s also a play on musical climaxes, often so overblown in pop music. Most of the tunes on the album have an intense, inexorable drive toward a specific explosive point, usually followed by a swift drop in energy. It’s totally gratuitous, but still satisfying in the most carnal way. I hadn’t thought of the crucifixion as orgasm, but it’s definitely the narrative climax of the gospel.

little-death-violent-loresDargel: I don’t know why I immediately went to orgasm and crucifixion. Must be my religious background. Do you think religious people are particularly prone to perversion?

Marks: I think overly suppressing the sexual drive– which tends to be the norm in religious people—causes, let’s say, interesting manifestations in other walks of life. Sexual undercurrents in Christian music–be it pop, gospel, or polyphony– is ubiquitous. It’s kind of like whack-a-mole. You smack it down but it pops up elsewhere. The Little Death explores the many ways it pops up, from the humorous to the horrific.

Dargel: There’s an outrageous arrangement on the album of the hymn, “He Touched Me.” I was once a closeted gay Southern Baptist, so that hymn has a special place in my heart! The Little Death: Vol. 1 makes such a complex and strong statement about religion and suppression that I feel compelled to ask: Does it come from personal experience?

Marks: Indeed, I was also raised Southern Baptist. Like many others, I was left with residual issues based on much of what the church instilled in me. The most peculiar issue was a certain fetish for traditional Southern Baptist imagery. To this day I find gingham sexier than silk. My experience understanding where that came from was a major influence in writing The Little Death. Mellissa Hughes singing “He Touched Me” is one of the sexiest things ever.

Dargel: If a devout Christian listens to this album, what would you want him or her to take away from it?

Marks: I have a fantasy of it passing off as a legit Christian album, similar to how J.G. Ballard’s Why I Want to F*** Ronald Reagan was passed off as a real study at the 1980 Republican Convention. The Little Death: Vol 1 is much less hostile though. I just want it to mess with your head a little bit, whether you’re a devout Christian or not.


Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes will perform The Little Death: Vol 1 on March 19th as part of the Archipelago chamber music concert series at Galapagos in Brooklyn, NY. The album is out May 25th on New Amsterdam Records, distributed by Naxos of America. To download two free songs, visit New Amsterdam Records.

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American composer Jeremy Haladyna just might be the foremost musical alchemist in the Americas. Because, for a decade he has been quietly turning the laws of the Mayan calendar into music in different ways. Over twenty years and eight visits to the Mayan region, he has ventured ever more deeply into the magic and mystery of Mayan culture, and given something back in the form of his unique body of work, THE MAYAN CYCLE. Spanning media and genre, from a single instrument, to voice, to computer, to DVD-audio, to full orchestra, this wide variety of pieces seeks to address everything from the most ancient roots of Mayan cosmology to contemporary Mayan political struggles.
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innova: What’s your pet’s name and why?

I don’t currently have a dog, although I’m a dog person. I can’t explain why, but I feel a strong kinship with the Australian wombat. He’s a little moving tank on legs.

How do you spoil yourself?

That’s easy! Black licorice, classic car magazines, time in the gym, and anything gooseberry. I’m a fanatic about this. Gooseberries don’t grow in California where I live, so it’s a constant quest. In Newfoundland, on vacation, I bought them from a little girl at a roadside stand who was selling only gooseberries in plastic bags. Then I littered the floor of the rental car with gooseberry skins. In Hawaii last summer, I found gooseberry [puha berry] ice cream.

If you weren’t making music as a career what would you be doing?

I’d be plying my trade as a writer, in magazines or in advertising,and wishing every day I’d been born a composer. If I’d been given an early push into tools and skinned knuckles, I could be restoring Studebakers.
I love Studebakers (Small)
Where do you live and how does that affect your music and the way you make it?

I live in Santa Barbara County and I have a mostly rural commute, about fifty minutes each way.Half the journey goes through a big ranch that survives from the Spanish period. The other half is on the coast. So I have a lot of time to think and observe the subtle effect of the changing seasons on the beautiful scenery. I don’t compose in my head on my commute, but the journey acts as a balm and gets the frustration out. It primes me for making music. Not quite as good as surfing, but almost.

What is your first sound memory?

I remember the sound of the little two-stroke engine of one of the early Saabs as it fought up the hill near our house in Delaware. And my Dad’s polka records, for certain! The rhythm of the Saab and the polkas weren’t anything alike!

Name three Desert Island discs (or MP3s), recordings that you feel especially close to.

One would have to be the Dutilleux cello concerto in the Rostropovich performance. Wow! Another is Theolonius Monk’s “Lulu’s Back in Town.” Why? Because I was once enlisted to play a transcription of it made right off the record…tough assignment! And from the “Jungle Book” cycle of Charles Koechlin, “The Bandar-Log,” about the monkeys and their senseless attempts to self-govern! I’ll take the Leif Segerstam performance there.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational performance and why?

I would say playing El Llanto de Izamal from the Mayan Cycle in Mexico City, in the National Palace. The lighting was muted and soft, audience rapt and attentive. Everything seemed right for the transmission of this cry of a subjugated race. And the next day, there we were on Mexico City arts television! There was a great sort of harmonic convergence to it all.

Describe your most mind-blowing art experience (in any art form), something that instantly changed your life.

Certainly it’s got to be tuning the Mayan cosmological numbers–their “time code,” and then putting my fingers on those notes for the first time. You know immediately if there is anything but dry mathematics there. And the Mayan calendar sounded! I seemed to have unlocked an ancient “key.” It happened first in 1999, and again with the Earth/Venus scale I made almost a decade later. Just as powerful was staring all alone at the ruined Structure 22 in the jungle at Campeche’s Chicanná . This is an ancient Mayan city in their most outrageous and flamboyant architectural style. The mind-blowing experience was brought on the presence of this perfect building. It was pouring rain and a doorway in the ancient house had been my only shelter from getting doused. Then, climbing outside, I look back and see that the artistry and wild fantasy in this building tops everything modern I’vee seen in Mexico!

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What is your greatest fear?

That increased drug-trafficking may sentence the Mayan ruins back into jungle-shrouded obscurity, as visitors cease to come because they are afraid.

What has been your career low point?

Realizing while living and studying in England that 12 notes weren’t going to be enough. I was in my quarters, maybe a hundred yards under Guildford Cathedral, from which the bells rang out, but the notes I was hearing on my shortwave radio from Turkey were different, and I had to admit, putting down my pen; they were better! I knew then that I had a lot of work to do…and I’m happy to say I’ve since done it.

What were your first compositions like? How have they changed?

They were juvenilia…a symphony, a piano concerto, a Christmas oratorio. But in my works for church organ from the same period I began to play around with much more daring harmonic combinations. I’m still the same person with the same ear, but I’ve been reaching out more, discovering more, and less interested in fitting ANY sort of classical music “mold.”

What did you learn from your teachers? Any words of wisdom to share?

From Karl Korte, the same sort of patience and indulgence I now practice with my own students, as well as a distrust of extreme effects purely for their own sake. I remember how he said he couldn’t concentrate as his head was so full of “our” music. Boy, do I know what he meant now, having the number of students that I do! From William Kraft I learned the need to proceed on a timbral and dynamic basis as a full-fledged ’second front’ right alongside the notes and the rhythms. I love his statement about orchestral textures…’that ‘every good one has at least 3 things going on at once.’

How are you like your music? Would an outsider see/hear any similarity between your personality and your music?
building a Mayan scale (Small)

People who know a good portion of my music say they can trace me through all the extremes of the Mayan incarnations, which have been deliberate. They can hear my harmonic fingerprints through the work in the new Mayan tunings, the electronic textures, as well as the notes for solo cello, solo piano, and flutes plus ocarinas. I suppose that’s a plus. It could mean I’m not a musical chimera and that in auditory terms I stand for something. Those who explore my music would also find the same sort of wry humor I exhibit as a person, and which I share with the Mayans. And I hope they might find the music generous (perhaps even too much so), by way of compensation for so much stingy music we’ve had recently. I’m kind of like that as a person, in that I try to be generous with my time…in my advocacy of my students and their work, as well as my own. The Mayans have a “horror of the void,” of any empty space, in their pictorial compositions. I like to fill my work in sound with that same sort of richness, aspiring to something like an “artisanal glow.”

Tell us about your new release and some of the thinking behind it.

726708675424 (Small)Selections from the Mayan Cycle (INN754) is a reaction by innova to a whole batch of master recordings I sent them, spanning a period of 18 years or so. Senior producer Philip Blackburn has taken pains to exhibit the twin sides of the output–electronic and acoustic, just as I would have wished. There are 28 Mayan pieces now exploring most aspects of the culture that I’ve been able to research. The first was written in 1986 just after my first trip to the Mayan area. I’ve just completed the 28th now in 2010 and more are planned. There are settings of the Mayan Yucatec language, pieces tied directly to Mayan art and architecture, Mayan sport, the gods of the Mayan pantheon, their immortal legends, even their prophecy. The CD’s opening cut,”Borgia” from “Demon Zero,” has the clearest exposition of the Mayan tuning I invented based on their Earth/Venus numbers. This tuning expresses in notes the interesting cyclical relationships between Earth, Venus, and the Mayan almanac–working off a 104-year cycle for all three together. In hearing this cut, you are literally listening to the Mayan calendar. There’s more literal ritual in “Godpots,” in the version for 4 flutists, which occupies a central position on the disc. This virtuoso work for all sizes of flutes and ocarinas includes a player assuming the role of a Mayan shaman who conducts the ceremony. The position and activity of the players follows the rite of the godpots [Sp., ollas] observed in the population of the remote Lacandón Maya of Chiapas, which is tied to keeping the influences of the gods on human activity in balance. And in “Puczikal Peten,” the concluding work on the disc, Sergio Ortiz narrates extracts from a court document from just after the Spanish conquest [1562]. My music is an electronic tapestry in musical accompaniment to the story, done mostly in musique concrète. It chillingly relates the conscription of a young teacher into a plot to sacrifice a child under the Spanish observational radar. No clearer picture was ever wrought of the conflict that happened when Old World suddenly rammed into New, and how the twin value systems of royal Spain and the indigenous indians were put into the shock of sudden crisis. The Spanish acts in reaction to these presumed Mayan acts were severe and brutal and are remembered by the Maya with dread to this very day.

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It’s not often that I’m involved in both sets of an evening’s lineup. I’m Beth Meyers and I play viola in janus (also Amanda Baker, flutes and Nuiko Wadden, harp) as well as QQQ (“triple Q”) which is Monica Mugan, acoustic guitar; Jason Treuting, drums and percussion; Dan Trueman, hardanger fiddle. These two acts have shared the stage before about a year ago at Joe’s Pub for QQQ’s album release. But this Friday we’ll share the bill as part of a special New Amsterdam Records and Galapagos series called “Archipelago” at Galapagos Art Space 2/26, 8pm.
The series presents “cross-genre chamber music” and as a member of both janus and QQQ, I can’t think of many other ways to describe each group let alone tie the two together! One group was born from music by the likes of Claude Debussy and has been moving steadily away from classical notation and performance practice as we find the future sound for flute/viola/harp. The other ensemble (please refer to us as a “band”) draws it’s inspiration from folk music written for Norwegian dance and “picking”on the porch as much as it does from contemporary pop/groove and classical counterpoint. So, this “cross-genre chamber music” is a good place to start.
Okay, so there’s another thing that ties us together besides me. It goes without saying that we’re all friends, too. janus was formed in 2002 when Amanda and I were at a party that my then boyfriend, Jason, took me to. One of the first conversations Amanda and I had was about how much we loved the Debussy Sonata for trio and how we’d love to play it together. The story goes that the trio was formed in January (hence, janus) after playing the Debussy and anything else we could get our hands on. Turned out there wasn’t much music out there. But, lucky for us, we were both friends with lots of composers from our respective schools (Eastman and Yale)…and the rest is history.
As for the tale of QQQ… again born out of love for a sound (and in this case my absolute infatuation with all things fiddle – and of course drums) the band came to life on Thanksgiving, 2006. It wasn’t all my doing of course. I was first introduced to “Trolstilt” at the CMA conference a few years before where I also met Dan and Monica for the first time. I have to admit I was not only blown away by the interesting tunes this duo performed on guitar and fiddle, but completely in awe of this instrument I’d never seen or heard before. It’s hard to say which aspect of the hardanger fiddle is more striking, it’s delicate and ornately detailed body or its other-wordly sound. I think I bumbled a little while meeting them and definitely said “how can I get one of those?” A few years later while performing a show at Princeton with my now husband, Jason, the four of us got to talking. Apparently Dan had been dreaming of adding a low sound like viola to the duo and drums were the icing on the cake (or the cake itself?). Dan had a few tunes he wanted to play and Jason wrote a few tunes…and history.

But, as much as we’re all friends (in QQQ’s case, two married couples) and part of these two “genre-bending” ensembles, the sounds from these two groups couldn’t be more polar-opposite. At Friday’s show you’ll hear QQQ, a band that writes its own music, premier two new works:

Dan’s “From Ort,” is a suite of songs featuring vocalist, Daisy Press, and animation by Judy Trueman. This piece is a tribute and memorial to Trueman’s great-uncle, Ort, from Wausau, Wisconsin, who died in 2008 at the age of 102. Ort,whose family was from the Enstad farm in Norway, was a huge fan of the hardinfele (hardanger fiddle). He was also a record keeper, and compiled a huge book of information about the family tree. Judy Trueman, Dan’s mother and Ort’s niece, used photographs from these records to create a beautiful “animated painting” that will accompany the tunes.

From the other side of QQQ’s sound comes a collection of pieces titled “11 words” by Jason, inspired by 11 of the new words added to the Webster Dictionary this past year. These short tunes also call for Daisy to join forces with the band. But like QQQ’s debut album title “Unpacking the Trailer” hints, it’s hard to know what you’re going to find from words like agroterrorism, abdominoplasti, hoody and crunk. Personally, I’m really looking forward to “yogilates.” The set will be rounded out with a tune from “Unpacking” featuring just the band.

Following QQQ, janus, who collaborates with and commissions composers to write for the group, will take the stage and present music from its forthcoming debut album due to drop sometime in Fall 2010. The program features works by Anna Clyne, Cameron Britt, Ryan Brown, Angelica Negron and Jason Treuting as well as a few other surprises. One of the best things about working with so many different composers is that we continue to discover new sounds through their composition. This album is no exception as you’ll hear from these tunes that feature us playing our flutes/viola/harp, adding a little banjo and percussion here and there (literally in the harp), singing and performing with electronics and video… we’re a far cry from Debussy these days!

So, “cross-genre” covers many bases: from janus’s classical chamber music roots to Dan and Monica’s folk background and Jason’s 2 and 4 backbeats in QQQ. Maybe someday soon we’ll have a 12th word to add to the dictionary that encapsulates this genre of new sounds into a few syllables. For now, “new” also works. Thanks to New Amsterdam Records and Galapagos for programming these two great groups on the same show! Looking forward to sharing a lot of new music with new ears.

-Beth Meyers

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I need to thank my colleague Kelly for spotting this today and sending me the link. I’m a regular reader of Parterre Box, but I have to admit that I missed this one: “es gibt ein chat.”

Now, granted this was an invitation to discuss Strauss’ opera Ariadne auf Naxos, not a reference to our label. And quite a lengthy discussion on the site follows. Unfortunately, I can’t offer U.S. writers access to the Naxos Historic catalog, which has quite a peachy little 1954 performance of the opera in question, which includes Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Rita Streich, Irmgard Seefried, Rufolf Schock, Hugues Cuenod, Gerhard Unger, etc.. and is conducted by Herbert von Karajan. But I can’t talk about these recordings because, well, U.S. copyright laws don’t allow us to sell them here.

Anyway, I digress as this really isn’t a discussion topic for Sequenza21 as this opera falls out of the new and contemporary music arena.

But I want to thank La Cieca anyway for using our logo. It reminds me that branding counts. I always find myself annoyed at the daily deluge of GOOGLE alerts in my Inbox that refer to this wonderful opera, but have nothing to do with Naxos or any of our distributed labels. Finally, I have found a reference to that wonderful Strauss jewel AND to the Naxos label.

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Once again, I owe this clip to the VERY smart mind behind Proper Discord:

Question: did you watch the clip to the very end? Thoughts?

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In early March, Arthaus Musik is releasing Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices (102055), a film by the iconic German filmmaker Werner Herzog.

807280205596Of course, Prince Carlo Gesualdo of Venosa (1560-1613) is perhaps remembered more for the brutal murders of his wife and her lover than for his unique and highly expressive madrigals with their stringent, chromatic harmonies, and unexpected rhythmic contrasts. Produced in 1995 for ZDF Television, Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices explores the life, music, and legends which surround this infamous (and brilliant) sixteenth-century composer.

The last decade of the twentieth century produced three operas alone based on the life of the Carlo Gesualdo: Alfred Schnittke’s Gesualdo, which premiered in 1995 at the Vienna State Opera; Franz Hummel’s opera of the same name (1996), a commission from the city of Kaiserslautern; and Salvatore Sciarrino’s 1998 Luci mie traditrici, composed for the Schwetzingen Festival, after a sixteenth-century drama about a prince who murders his wife. For Herzog, whose preference for eccentric protagonists is legend-Aguirre, Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo- Gesualdo seemed a natural subject for a film. In fact, he once noted that “of all my ‘documentaries,’ Death for Five Voices ”¦ is one of the films closest to my heart.”

Death for Five Voices features performances of Gesualdo’s Madrigals by two renowned Baroque and Early Music Ensembles – Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis, director; and the Gesualdo Consort of London, Gerald Place, director. Performances and scholarly narratives are woven into a larger “docu-drama” which consists of staged and invented scenes. In fact, Herzog relates, “Most of the stories in the film are completely invented and staged, yet they contain the most profound possible truths about Gesualdo.” In one scene we see two cooks discussing the extravagant meal which Gesualdo ordered for his wedding feast; another sequence shows a man playing music to the walls of the ruined castle hoping to free it from its demons (presumably, Gesualdo’s tormented soul). The ghost of Gesualdo’s murdered wife, Donna Maria d’Avalos, is portrayed by the very busty, Italian actress/singer Milva, who sings and dances about in full costume, before vanishing like an apparition down a flight of winding stairs. Herzog also visits a local mental health clinic, where they claim to have two patients who believe they are the reincarnation of Carlo Gesualdo. Finally, he visits the home of composer Francesco d’Avalos, a direct descendent of Maria d’Avalos, who has written an opera about her dramatic life and death (Maria di Venosa/CHAN 10355). He even shows the filmmaker the bed where the murders were said to have taken place.

Yet through this fantastic web of cinematic myth and invention, we are reminded that it is Gesualdo’s music which has served as the inspiration for so many modern composers. In the 1950s, Igor Stravinsky not only made two pilgrimages to the Prince’s family home and grave, but he arranged three of his madrigals as an homage to the composer- Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum. Another admirer, German composer Wolfgang Rihm, commented, “How wonderfully refreshing is this sexually charged remorse compared with the dreadful collection-plate pietism of most northern European masters. No sooner as the Principe finished sticking his dagger into corpses, than he is back at his desk writing achingly bittersweet counterpoint, the most beautiful there is”¦ “

But it is perhaps Gesualdo’s reputation as a risk-taker that provides the key to Herzog’s fascination. In the film, conductor Alan Curtis notes, “Risk-taking is one of the clues to Gesualdo. Performers must take risks and be dangerous, [only] then the beauty of this wild music comes forth.”

The clip below was clearly edited for YouTube, but it provides one of the more amusing scenes from the film:

And here is the wonderful Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco:

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