The Blue Whale in the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles was the venue for a concert entitled “The Other Side of Valentines Day” by the group Synchromy – appropriately on Sunday, February 15, 2014. A nice crowd turned out to hear an evening of original new music performed by soprano Justine Aronson, Matt Barbier on trombone and pianist Richard Valitutto. In all, some ten pieces were heard, most of them by Los Angeles-based composers. The concert programs were handed out in envelopes in the manner of a Valentines card – a clever touch that added to the convivial ambiance.
First up was Song for Justine and Richard by Nick Norton, based on a lyric by Conor Oberst. This began with some quiet notes in the upper registers of the piano that evolved into some nice harmonies as piece progressed. After some moments Justine’s voice entered with a single quiet word: “Never.” Her smooth soprano, and also the very high notes in the piano accompaniment, had to compete against some kitchen noise that occasionally intruded on the quieter sections. But the sweet, introspective feel of this piece was effectively brought out by good ensemble and careful observance of dynamics by the performers.
A silhouette of constrained motion, by Tina Tallon followed. This was a solo trombone piece including mutes and extended techniques played by Matt Barbier, who filled the room with all manner of squeaks, growls and guttural sounds. A wide variety of timbres and textures ensued, and as the piece continued one got the sense that a sort of feral language was unfolding, conveying a kind of elemental emotion. There was the sense of hindrance, impediment and perhaps slight vexation, but overall there was a more distinctly organic feel to this – an intriguing exercise in musical and non-verbal communication.
Falling, a work by Jason Barabba was next, based on a text by Annie Jankowski. This featured Justine Aronson’s voice whose range and power were more clearly evident. Richard Valitutto accompanied with a series of trills while long arcs of strong vocal passages soared overhead. The piano was more in an accompanying role, although the piece was punctuated with sharp notes and dramatic crashes that Richard does so well. At one point a sort of dance rhythm broke out and towards the end some recited text – “Grasping at hope that flies right by” – was very effective.
Parking in Cars by Dante de Silva followed and this was built around a mashed recording of a cautionary public service announcement from 1947 titled Are You Popular? Dante de Silva added a bouncy, 50’s sort of tune that incorporated its lyrics from the film: “Ginny thinks that she has the key to popularity – parking in cars with the boys at night.” This phrase was repeated, almost rap-like, while Matt Barbier played along, adding a jaunty bass line. The result produced a feeling that was part nostalgia and part amazement at a message so clearly out of date with 21st century deportment. But all this was more in fun than embarrassment and Parking in Cars proved to be a very enjoyable piece.
Next up was McCallum Songs by Nicholas Deyoe, written for piano and voice and based on a series of love poems written by Clint McCallum. The music consists of several shortish sections that opened with low piano chords and soft vocals, lending a somber tone to this. The text carries the story forward and was sung by Ms. Aronson with a quiet purity of tone. The feelings conveyed by these pieces are variously anxious, wistful, plaintive, frustrating, yearning, angry – all of the emotions that are part of the subject. Some of the text was narrated and this added to the sense of intimacy. Nicholas Deyoe has often exhibited a lively pyrotechnic flare in his compositions, but the McCallum Songs are elegantly infused with a soft, understated passion.
Unphotographable, by Scott Worthington followed and this combined electronic waveform tones with Matt Barbier’s muted trombone. This had a distinctly alien feel as the electronic waves began zero-beating and the trombone joined in, adding to the rhythms. It sounded, at times, like a sort of machine language was being spoken and the trombone playing was precise enough to blend in seamlessly. This piece occasioned an interesting reversal in the sense that the acoustic instrument was combined with the electronic waves as if it were another oscillator. Matt Barbier returned after the intermission for another solo work Mantram: Canto Anomimo by Giancinto Scelsi. This was a more conventional piece – no cold sine waves here. There was an exotic, Asian feel at times and this gave Matt Barbier a chance to stretch out using various slide effects and powerful playing that filled the room.
An arrangement of the Gershwin standard They’re Writing Songs of Love, But Not for Me, by Michael Finnissy was next, performed solo by Richard Valitutto on piano. This began with a tentative feel – as if the music was just below the surface, searching for itself. This had the effect of engaging the listener as the familiar melody slowly came into focus, artfully spanning the decades since the original was first heard. The playing by Valitutto had just the right touch of balance between old and new.
Walk of Shame, written by Richard Valitutto followed, performed by Matt Barbier on a muted bass trombone. A variety of interesting textures were produced with a sort of buzzing from the mute often riding on the pitch. The melody moved along quickly, with rapid passages, adding to a sense of pace. The playing required consistently good technique and Matt Barbier delivered even as this was his final piece in a long concert.
The concert concluded with Simple Daylight , the noted song cycle by John Harbison, based on a text by Michael Fried. Originally commissioned by Lincoln Center Simple Daylight was first sung by Dawn Upshaw and begins with a sharp piano introduction that settles into a distinctly mysterious feel. The voice enters, building drama, even as the lyrics seem concerned with the ordinary. The music and the text work together effectively throughout, creating tension that results in a kind of indefinite, disconcerting awareness. Now a faster section that adds a further measure of anxiety, and the mood turns variously loud, dramatic, scary, and at times quiet and reflective. This is a complex piece, always something just beneath the surface, but the lyrics and the music always compliment each other perfectly . Harbison’s wide experience with choral church music is evident as he weaves a delicate thematic thread through each of the songs that comprise Simple Daylight. The playing in this performance – and especially the singing of Justine Aronson – never wavered under the many demands of this long work at the end of a full evening of concertizing.
Synchromy will appear at Boston Court in Pasadena July 17, 2015 in a program that will feature Brightwork and a variety of new music.
I see my friends in Houston just had a brush with rare, almost-freezing weather. All the better to get you in the proper mind-set for a wonderful concert coming up this week… This Saturday, February 21, 7:30 pm, at the South Main Baptist Church (4100 Main Street, Houston, TX), the one-and-only Paul Hillier will make his Houston debut leading the also one-and-only Houston Chamber Choir, in a program of music from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Hillier is a world-renowned and award-winning choral director at the forefront of both early and new music, often combining the two with highly inventive programming across musical periods and cultures. Since the 1970s, Hillier has built a catalog of over 100 recordings (released on Harmonia Mundi, ECM, EMI, Finlandia, and Hyperion), and has won two Grammy Awards, for recordings of Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem (2006) and David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (2009).
Highlights of the program include Pärt’s Magnificat; Three Poems by Pēteris Vasks, and The Stomping Bride by Vaclovas Augustinas (which calls for members of the ensemble to perform interlocking percussive patterns on various instruments of their own choice). Also on the program are works by Veljo Tormis, Galina Grigorjeva, Rytis Mazulis, and Algirdas Martinaitis.
You can get tickets online at www.houstonchamberchoir.orgor by calling (713) 224-5566. General admission tickets to the concert are $40 for Adults, $36 for Seniors (65+), and $10 for students (with valid ID).
So H-towners, before those balmy 70s completely drive your winter away again, why not head there this weekend and chill with some truly beautiful music?
Comments Off on On a very different shore: Baltic music in Houston
The two living American composers who share the name John Adams were the big winners at last night’s Grammy Awards.
John Adams, of Nixon in China and Death of Klinghoffer fame, won the Best Orchestral Performance for the second year in a row with the Saint Louis Symphony, conducted by David Robertson, being selected for its recording of his latest scores: City Noir and the Saxophone Concerto. Last year, the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of his Harmonielehre and Short Ride in a Fast Machine took home the award.
The Seattle Symphony received the Best Contemporary Classical Composition award for its recording of John LUTHER Adams’s Become Ocean. The orchestral work, inspired by the Pacific Ocean and the effects of climate change, was premiered by the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot in 2013. Last year it won the Pulitzer Prize for music.
The wonderful Hilary Hahn and the pianist Cory Smythe shared a Best Chamber Music Grammy for “27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores,” a two-CD set of 27 short, diverse pieces that the violinist commissioned. .
A Lifetime Achievement Award went to the conductor, composer and 26-time Grammy winner Pierre Boulez, whom the announcer on the televised broadcast insisted on calling “BOU-LAY.”
For those you anticipating posthumous fame, the most encouraging selection of the evening was a Best Classical Compendium Grammy for late American maverick composer and inventor Harry Partch. Accepting the award for his recording of Partch’s Plectra & Percussion Dances, producer John Schneider noted that his musicians had to learn the composer’s daunting 43-note scale as part of their preparation. Congratulations and thank you to the great people at Bridge Records.
Comments Off on Big Night at the Grammys for the Adams Boys
Carnegie Hall will mark its 125th anniversary next season by launching a new music project that will commission 125 new works over the next five years. Carnegie will present 15 world premieres next season, two American premieres, and 19 New York premieres by composers including Magnus Lindberg, John Adams, Olga Neuwirth, Jonathan Leshnoff and the composing collective Sleeping Giant, which is made of composers Andrew Norman, Robert Honstein, Ted Hearne, Jacob Cooper, Christopher Cerrone, and Timo Andres.
Carnegie named the Kronos Quartet its creative chair for the season and said that as part of the newmusic project it would jointly commission 10 new works a year with the group for the next five years.
The Lincoln Center Festival schedule is out and, as usual, it has lots of goodies for new music lovers. The festival opens with Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton, July 6-12. Expect lots of fans dressed as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorshands and, alas, Batman. Of more interest to the hardcore, the Queens-based piano and percussion chamber ensemble Yarn/Wire will debut new works from three extraordinary contemporary French composers—Tristan Murail, Misato Mochizuki, and Raphaël Cendo—at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse.
For the really hardcore, there’s two events featuring the music of Harry Partch: In Harry Partch: Bitter Music on July 23, David Moss performs a portion of Partch’s musical text in a hybrid lecture-performance and on July 23 and 24, Heiner Goebbels will lead Ensemble Musikfabrik in Partch’s final large-scale work, Delusion of the Fury. For us older people, the Cleveland Orchestra will perform Messiaen’s Chronochromie and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 5 on July 16.
The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) has received a $450,000 award from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support OpenICE, a new initiative, that will yield more than 150 new concerts featuring more than 60 newly commissioned works over the next three years. The concerts will be presented through seasons in ICE’s home cities of New York and Chicago, as well as new seasons in cities and rural areas throughout the United States, and will extend internationally to diverse corners of the world including Greenland and the Amazonas region of Brazil that have little to no access to contemporary music.
In two days, the American Modern Ensemble joins forces with Del Sol, JACK and PUBLIQuartet to tackle a dynamic program of premieres and 21st-century stalwarts involving string quartet. Members of AME will start the evening by premiering Jacob Bancks‘ String Theory, for string quartet, and return to deliver premieres of Sidney Boquiren‘s in a mirror dimly, for string quartet and harp, and Robert Paterson‘s I See You for string orchestra and “tape”.
Del Sol will play Chinary Ung‘s Sprial X “In Memoriam”, which violinist Charleton Lee describes as, “a powerful cry for the common people suffering continuing atrocities throughout the world.” Next, PUBLIQuartet takes the stage in advance of their Carnegie Hall debut to play founding violinist Jessie Montgomery‘s work Breakaway and JACK will perform John Zorn‘s The Dead Man. Finally, the evening will close with all the players retaking the stage to perform John Luther Adams‘ Dream In White On White.
The concert takes place a SubCulture this coming Thursday at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 the day of the performance. More information about the program and purchasing tickets is available on SubCulture’s Website.
Comments Off on Upcoming: American Modern Ensemble at SubCulture on 1/15
Next to the early and unlikely appearance of Mr. Eliot’s cruelest camellias, the most anticipated January event for many of us wintering in the Low Country is the arrival (in the other mailbox out by the street) of the annual printed Spoleto USA program. For those of you who may not know much about it, Spoleto USA is one of the world’s major arts festivals–bigger and better, for example, than the annual summer Lincoln Center Festival, whose programming is similar. It is safe to say that Spoleto USA has been a key factor in making Charleston, SC–also blessed with great winter weather, gloriously inventive southern cooking, and Bill Murray–the biggest little city in America.
We have the composer Gian Carlo Menotti to thank for that. He founded the festival in 1977 as a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy. Over the early years, budgets were overrun, deficits mounted, philistines were elected to the board. There were the usual artist vs. accountant hissy fits and Menotti bailed for the good in the mid-1990s. The philistines and the angels have generally played nicely together since with the result that the programs are still excellent and finances are much more stable.
The program for the 17-day, May-June festival are a combination of classical and jazz music, dance, theater and a curious category called Physical Theater, which features the kind of tumbling, and acrobatic circus sort of dance, sort of not dance that I thought had disappeared with the Ed Sullivan Show. But, apparently not.
Not sure who to credit (I suspect John Kennedy) but there is also an especially generous amount of new music to heard each year. The featured opera this year is the world premiere of Huang Ruo and Jennifer Wen Ma’s opera Paradise Interrupted, featuring Qian Yi. May 22, 24, 27, 29, 31. And they’re also doing Huang’s The Lost Garden Chamber Concerto on May 23. There’s a conversation about the opera with Huang and Wen at the Charleston Library Society on May 24.
Bank of America sponsors a great series of 11 Chamber Music concerts which are usually sprinkled. with a healthy dose of music by composers who are still, more or less, breathing. This year’s composer-in-residence is Mark Applebaum, who will be premiering a piece. The St. Lawrence String Quartet will celebrate its 20th year of Spoleto USA residency. Alisa Weilerstein will be there.
Joe Miller’s Westminster Choir Concerts at St. Luke’s and St. Paul usually pair old and new works. Urmas Sisask’s Oremus and Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine join Montiverdi’s Si Ch’io vorren morire and the opening chorus of Bach’s Cantata 79 on May 24 and 27. David Lang’s marvelous The Little Match Girl Passion, with choreography by Poitus Lidberg, is scheduled along with Giacomo Carissimi’s Jephte for May 30 and May 31.
The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra, directed by John Kennedy, will do Bill Morrison/Michael Gordon’s Decasia (that old thing–just joking, just joking) on June 1. Kennedy is also directing a great-looking series of concerts called Music in Time that features the aforementioned Huang Ruo, Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata , Hans Otte’s concert-length piano suite The Book of Sounds, an evening of new commissioned works by Christopher Cerrone, Anna Meredith, Adrian Knight, Timo Andres, Nicole Lizzee and Samuel Carol Adams and–finally, for the hardcore–an evening called Quarter-Tone Shredding featuring the Living Earth Show, San Francisco’s electric guitar and percussion duo–performing Damon Waitkus’ North Pacific Garbage Patch, Brian Ferneyhough’s Renvoli/Shards, Ken Ueno’s WATT and assorted other stuff.
I’m sure I missed some things so take a look at the online program, get yourself some tickets, and get on down heah. You heah?
Cross-posted from my home site, The Big City, here are my lists for top new music recordings of the year, in a few different categories:
Best 2014 Albums of New Classical Music:
Dan Becker, Fade. Not just a set of excellent compositions, but a rarity in classical music, a set that is thought-out and made to work as an album. Becker’s music shares some of the hints of pop sensibility with that of Michael Torke, but has a tougher, more abstract edge. Terrific chamber pieces, played b y the Common Sense and New Millenium Ensembles, are interspersed with Diskclavier realizations of Becker’s “Reinventions,” harmonic structures from Bach on which he’s placed his own, improvisatory lines. Listening to the album is an affirmation of the past, of the incredible accumulation of music and ideas, and the possibilities of the future. Deeply enjoyable.
Martin Bresnick: Prayers Remain Forever. Bresnick has been indispensable as a teacher to the current generation of new composers, and his own music is sublime, with exquisite craft, an ear and heart for the beautiful, and a transparent, graceful and unselfconscious connection to the common musical materials all around us. This is a superb collection of recent chamber works, beautifully played.
Ralph van Raat: Fred Rzewski: Four Pieces.Rzewski’s political themes, as strong as they are, have overshadowed his achievements as a pure composer. The People United Will Never Be Defeated is a statement, and also one of the great works of variations in the classical literature. If that is his Goldberg, then Four Pieces is his “Hammerklavier,” a tremendous piano sonata in classical form.
Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony, John Luther Adams: Become Ocean. A welcome Pulitzer Prize winning composition that actually deserves the award, a concentrated culmination of JLA’s strengths as a composer. The recording is also superior to the live performance at Carnegie Hall in May, where the piano part was buried under the orchestral textures.
Arditti Quartet, Bernhard Lang: The Anatomy of Disaster. Another installment in composer Bernhard Lang’s Monodologies series, and one of several excellent Arditti Quartet albums released this year. This made the list due to my personal affinity for Lang as a composer and a man. Based on Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ, Lang’s writing is bitingly expressive, destabilizing, and a real ethical and moral antidote to the problem of endless, quantized, manufactured loops and repetitions.
Camerata Pacifica, John Harbison: String Trio, Four Songs of Solitude, Songs America Loves to Sing. I have mostly grudgingly admired Harbison’s composing, appreciating how his music was made without enjoying it, so this set of chamber music and songs was a surprise. The musical language has both greater expression than I’ve heard from him before, and also greater, coherent rigor. He’s pared down his materials and now says more. The Camerata Pacifica plays with natural ease and assurance.
Jeroen van Veen, Van Veen: Piano Music. Give the pianist some. Van Veen has produced two great, comprehensive sets of minimalist piano music, as well as the ultimate collection of Simeon ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato, so why not gives us this multi-disc box of his own compositions? Not all of the 50 tracks are great, but so much of this music is, especially his Minimal Etudes
yMusic, Balance Problems. Terrific chamber pieces from composers in and around the orbit of New Amsterdam records; clear, tough-minded post-minimal music, just skip the series of chords at the end, from Sufjan Stevens, that masquerade as a composition.
George Crumb: Voices from the Heartland, Sun and Shadow. Not fade away. Critical interest seems, oddly, to have turned away from Crumb, as if he is neither productive or relevant. This album proves otherwise, especially in the premiere recording of Voices from the Heartland, which concludes his American Songbook cycle. Crumb is misapprehended as belonging to a particular, dated, intellectual fashion for mysticism, when it is his critics who are lost in the vagaries of the zeitgeist. The beauty and craft of Crumb’s music are timeless.
Steve Reich: Radio Rewrite. Indispensable as every other new set of pieces from Reich, this is sure to please his pop followers with Jonny Greenwood’s solid playing of Electric Counterpoint and the premiere of his Radio Rewrite, a subtly strong piece that is part of an on-going transitional period. But most impressive is Vicky Chow’s fantastic solo performance of Piano Counterpoint.
Tyshawn Sorey Trio, Alloy. My personal favorite and overall best record of the year. One reason for that is the musical ideas inside it are so deep and powerful that they’re a little bit frightening, it’s a large universe in which to lose oneself. Alloy is on a lot of jazz lists, but I can’t put it on mine: Sorey is most closely and accurately defined as a jazz musician, but this is an album, like his others, of his compositions, and there is so little jazz concept and aesthetic in them that they are pretty much sui generis. One of the fascinating features of his music is that, while he can be heard at the drum kit, the sense of rhythm as time is almost nonexistent (except in “Template”). The music is full of space, a sense that notes and events are placed intuitively (which I deeply admire, it’s extremely difficult to develop the ear and confidence to write such sparse yet finely structured music), the feeling of an internal journey without beginning or end. Feldman is the heuristic commonly applied to Sorey’s composing, but that’s misleading. Feldman, especially his mature music, wrote scores that are dense with activity. Sorey shares a taste for low dynamics, but the sparseness of his music sounds closer to Cage, only with an entirely different idea of expression. Imagine a Miles Davis trumpet solo removed from a tune, with the space inside expanded by magnitudes, and you get some idea of both the manner of this album, and how great the music is.
Bora Yoon, Sunken Cathedral. Tremendously beautiful and involving. This is the audio portion of Yoon’s ambitious multimedia project that will appear at the Prototype Festival next month. The sound combines the purity of her voice. chant, electronic textures, folk instruments, spoke word, and more. Another concept that is fiendishly difficult to hold together, and the firmness of her form makes this exceptional.
Tristan Perich, Surface Image. Perich’s work combines imagination and process: as his pieces go along, or as you see them in an installation, the path connecting conception, process and execution is always clear. That alone is both important and satisfying, but the results, like this mesmerizing, new post-minimal piece for piano and electronics, are great music in their own right.
a.pe.ri.od.ic, Jürg Frey: More or Less. It’s a good year when I have to choose between this and Andy Lee’s album of Frey piano music, the difference being that I found myself listening to this set of amazing chamber pieces, in excellent performances, a little more often.
Harry Partch, Harry Partch: Plectra and Percussion Dances. Self-recommending. This is the first complete recording of the title work, and the CD includes a spoken introduction by Partch that he delivered in 1953.
Peter Söderberg, On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon. Söderberg plays the lute, and on this record he performs music by Alvin Lucier, James Tenney, John Cage and Steve Reich. That’s really all you need to know.
Flux Quartet, Morton Feldman: String Quartet No. 1. Utter masters of this music. Flux followed up what is now an almost routinely great concert of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 with this release. The finest recoding of the String Quartet No. 1, and the finest traversal of the complete string quartet music by Feldman.
Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, Meredith Monk: Piano Songs. Not songs, but piano music, with occasional shouts and yelps. Echt-Monk, the physical vitality of her music, the way the pianos sound like they are hopping and dancing, is a tribute to her compositional ideals. A little disorienting at first to hear her style applied to the keyboard, but it gets better with every listen.
Dai Fujikara, Dai Fujikara: ICE. This is simply one of the finest collections of music at the cutting edge of the classical tradition that I’ve heard in years. Fujikara renders the densest and most complex ideas with complete clarity and control of his materials, and ICE plays the music like they’ve been working on it for years. Which they pretty much have.
Sarah Cahill, Mamoru Fujieda: Patterns of Plants. Fujieda’s work is one of the most striking compositions in contemporary music. The music is literally organic, composed out of Fujieda’s recordings of electrical activity in plants. What comes out is music that has an uncanny feeling of belonging to every place and epoch, yet having no identifiable national or temporal features. It is truly strange and beautiful. Cahill plays it with the attention to detail and musicality that one usually hears pianists bring to Schubert. Not a complete set of this magnum opus, but the most extensive to date.
Nils Bultmann, Troubadour Blue. A set of musical rich and beautiful viola improvisations that delve deep into the history of western music.
Bernd Klug, Cold Commodities. A gripping, surprising, unique and accomplished album that combines found sounds, electronics and improvisation with tremendous rigor and expression.
Asphalt Orchestra plays the Pixies: Surfer Rosa. An amazing record. These arrangements are imaginative sonic adaptations of the classic Pixie’s album, transforming the originals into something more complex and more consistently satisfying.
Robin Williamson, Trusting in the Rising Light. A strange, entrancing disc from one of the founders of The Incredible String band. This is a collection of songs that, though originals, have deep roots in ancient memories and traditions. WIlliamson’s voice is ravaged with age, making the expression that much more effective. Fantastic accompaniment from Mat Maneri and Ches Smith.
Lumen Drones. Post-rock meets Hardanger fiddle. Difficult to describe, the music drone based, full of rhythm and improvisation, tough and delicate at once. Must be heard, it’s completely wonderful.
Carolina Eyck, Christopher Tarnow, Improvisations for Theremin and Piano. Much more than a curiosity, this is fascinating set. Eyck is a tremendous theremin player, with complete command of tone and texture. Mostly quiet and tonal, the playing is superb, don’t be thrown by the twee track titles.
Battle Trance, Palace of Wind. I have the privilege of experiencing a performance of this piece by this quartet of tenor saxophonists, and it was jaw-dropping and powerful. Imagine Colin Stetson times four, playing non-stop for about forty five minutes with a romantic conception of transcendence, and you have some idea of the depths of this album.
Travis Just + Object Collection, No Song. Downtown to the max, turned up to 11! The good natured aggression of this record adds a sense of fun, but the playing is purposeful, intense, and heavier than the doomiest sludge. (http://shop.khalija.com/album/no-song)
Plymouth. The members of this band are Jamie Saft, Joe Morris, Chris Lightcap, Gerald Cleaver and Mary Halvorson. They play dense, lively, passionate, intelligent noise improvisations. Excellent in every way, and the best release so far from Rarenoise records.
Thurston Moore/John Moloney, Caught on Tape. Loud, but delicate. The muscularity hides what, underneath, is a severe, even ascetic aesthetic, a search for beauty in the midst of conflict, like the edge of razor blade, shining through a pile of trash. Pretty much Moore’s finest moments as a guitar player.
Dave Seidel, ~60Hz. As pure as music gets. Seidel’s pieces are made by combing sine waves and letting them play. Engrossing and gorgeous.
John Supko, Bill Seaman, s_traits. This record is astonishing. I’ll refer you to Marshall Yarbrough’s article for the details, but this upends every idea of structure and form and makes it work. Hard stop listening to.
No Lands, Negative Space. A prime example of the possibilities of electronic music: this band’s debut (mainly it’s Michael Hammond), is as abstract as Ussachevsky and as appealing as Tangerine Dream. Excellent.
Guenter Schlienz, Loop Studies. A haunting exploration of looped acoustic instruments and electronics. The music seems to be coming from the type of future that the past imagined would arrive. (https://sinkcds.bandcamp.com/album/loop-studies)
Philip White, Documents. Plastic, complex sound produced from the raw musical data extracted from a series of well-known, popular recordings. (https://philipwhite.bandcamp.com)
Rand Steiger, A Menacing Plume. Electro-acoustic works with a classical feel of modernism. Steiger is fine composer and the pieces, including the superb title work and Résonateur, are played expertly by Talea Ensemble.
Jacob Cooper, Silver Threads. There are many projects that combine voice and electronics, but they are rarely as accomplished as this set of electronic art songs, with the terrific Mellissa Hughes singing.
Juan Bianco, Nuestro Tiempo. Electronic music from Cuba that might have been a mere object of curiosity, but Bianco, who was unknown to me when this arrived, is a serious and excellent composer, with a sense of vitality.
This is not the type of music in which there are frequent reissues, but notable this year is a Cello Anthology, a box set of four CDs with a beautiful, thick book. This collects performances and biographical information of the new music cellist Charlotte Moorman, without whom the musical landscape would be very different and far more impoverished.
ECM’s New Series has been producing classical releases of highest caliber since 1984. As the German imprint quietly celebrates its 30th anniversary, these words attempt an affectionate survey of its output. Then again, how does one delineate a history of that which is so much a part of it? Jean-Luc Godard addresses this very question in his Histoire(s) du cinéma, of which the soundtrack saw a New Series release in 1999 and from which this essay borrows its title. The parenthetical “s” of Godard’s masterwork serves not merely to hinge the singular and the anural, but to unravel the multiple, simultaneous registers of the filmic medium—moving, as it were, from an “either-or” to a “neither-nor” approach. A film breaks down not only into individual frames, but also into molecular compounds within those frames, until signs of the original become nothing more than the breath expended to describe it. Similarly, the New Series vision, under the watchful ear of producer Manfred Eicher, has for three decades programmed music as if it were a field of signs that live among and within us, each an ephemeral capture that begets infinite others.
The New Series bears no discernibly overarching aesthetic. Just as ECM proper has diversified the pasture of jazz with flowers of stark variation, so has the New Series loosened the borders of the classical landscape through democratic enhancements of technique, instrumentation, and concept. Indeed, the success of the New Series vision has grown in direct proportion to its inclusivity, even as it has refined an idiosyncratic corpus of composers. If one can say that Eicher has brought a classical sense of detailing toward the jazz-oriented records that earned him first renown, one might also say that he brought to classical recording a feeling of jazz, insofar as whatever spirit animates the improviser with unquantifiable purpose also thrums like a shell around every classical recording worthy of the ECM moniker.
Inception of the New Series traces back to 1980, when Eicher first heard Arvo Pärt on the radio. Not knowing what it was, he searched for quite some time before connecting those angelic sounds to a name that would define the label to come. In its role as the first New Series release, Pärt’s Tabula rasa is said to have introduced an ancient world to a new sound. And yet, it would be just as accurate to say that the album introduced an ancient sound to a new world. In other words, it wasn’t the newness of Pärt’s music that turned the album into such a watershed moment. It was, rather, its resonant heart, to which listeners across genres and affiliations found immutable connections, points of relatability, and glimmers of familiarity in its starry sky. Such an interpretation existed already in the name: New Series. As for the “new,” one finds it in the recordings and performances. The word “series,” on the other hand, connotes linkages between past and future tenses in an unbroken chain of influence. Like the single line that underscores the label’s logo, it’s a horizon, either side of which brings innovative possibilities to the old, and old possibilities to the innovative.