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Love and Cow Bells
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John Cage (born Los Angeles, 5 September 1912; died New York, 12 August 1992).
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Record companies, artists and publicists are invited to submit CDs to be considered for review. Send to: Jerry Bowles, Editor, Sequenza 21, 340 W. 57th Street, 12B, New York, NY 10019

Saturday, August 12, 2006

ANALOG arts ensemble's latest project, ComplineNYC, is an effort to bring meditation through Gregorian Chant to New York City. Compline is the last of the monastic hours, and while such a decidedly historical project wouldn't seem to concern the contemporary classical community on the face of it, the whole ComplineNYC service was composed by ANALOG member Oliver Brewer, a living, breathing tenor/composer/copyist/etc.

His idea is to present the Compline service in a completely non-judgemental, secular public offering, allowing people in attendance to worship, sleep, meditate, or whatever they please. ComplineNYC is utilitarian new music that happens to use an ancient syntax.

While Oliver is fine-tuning the project, he's been previewing it in churches around town. Eventually, ComplineNYC will take place in secular spaces like hotel lobbies, subways, offices, and the like. For now, you can catch it at St. John the Divine tomorrow evening at 6 p.m.

Sunday, August 13 at 6:00 p.m.
Saint John the Divine, NYC
1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street)

The Mobile Phone is the Next Electric Guitar

Tim Cole and his brother Peter have just introduced a smartphone, Pocket PC / PDA and Windows XP desktop music mixer. He writes in receiver magazine:
The mobile phone as the next electric guitar? We all know that the electric guitar changed the face of popular music, but what's this all about? How can a phone be a guitar or other instrument? Why would anyone want that, anyhow, and who would want it?

Since my youth I have been interested in musical instruments and the power they have. I can still strongly recall seeing a movie on television, nearly 35 years ago, where a boy was playing a flute to a seemingly attentive killer whale. I will never know what the real impact was, if any, on the whale, but seeing a child playing a small musical instrument and commanding such attention and communication – potentially interspecies (!) – made an indelible impression on me. I often come back to this image as it provides a convenient and vibrant example of the many factors and relationships at play in music making – the artist, musicianship, performance, audience, instruments, melody, sound design, analogue/digital, meaning, communication, expression, attention, and so on.

Since that initial impression, and prior to reaching the view that "the mobile phone is the next electric guitar", a lot of water has gone under the bridge. I have found that the journey has, to some extent, determined the destination, so it seems appropriate to tell a bit of the story. In 1986, after reading Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series, I was hit by a crazy dream. Fuelled by the thoughts above, I decided to try to build a small hyper-instrument, a hand-held sphere as I imagined then. I wanted to build something that would allow others to create beautiful, interesting live music and I envisioned this to be something that would allow one to interact, live, with an audience...

Read the rest. Hat tip to the indispensible Howard Rheingold.

Tim Mangan has more on the Fanfare flap. Does it really surprise anyone to learn that Fanfare links editorial coverage to advertising? In an age in which our every keystroke on the internet is being tracked by somebody for the purposes of invading our privacy with irresistable sales offers or to find out if we know anybody in Pakistan or have recently googled (oops, genericide) "girls kissing videos," not that any of us would actually search for something like that, a little old-fashioned you-scratch-mine-and-I'll-scratch-yours seems a bit quaint.

Speaking of online videos, if you're up for a little self-torture, Felsenmusick has a link to a charming little piece called "One Apartment, Six Drummers."

The composers (for so it will be convenient to speak of them) are expounding a recondite matter to us.

Harkening back to the second concert of the Cabrillo music festival, there were three excellent pieces besides the Puts Percussion Concerto (Sunday, August 6th post) that I did not have a chance to review at the time. Here they are now.

First on the concert was a piece by Laura Karpman, who has been highly active in the film and television industry. In this piece, entitled the Transitive Property of Equality, she has taken a group of famous themes and used her own music to ‘remix’ these themes together. She seeks and finds relationships between Mozart, Wagner, Rossini, and many others. Despite what you might think about mashes (and believe me, there are few greater skeptics than myself) there is no doubt of Karpman’s skill. She refuses to let the piece be solely funny or serious. Rather, she places juxtapositions that work humorously, and then takes the theme and develops it as if it were her own. I did have one ‘issue’ with the piece. I felt that her development of the themes was remarkable, but she had too much thematic material to develop it all to its fullest potential. But overall I greatly enjoyed the piece as did the audience.

After intermission was a second percussion concerto, this one for snare drum. Just snare drum. Solo snare drum above the orchestra. While it is easy to believe that such a piece would be dull (the soloist can only play themes that are solely rhythmic in nature) this is one of the most fascinating pieces I have ever heard. It is amazing how many sounds you can get out of a snare drum, most interestingly (to me) the various pitches that the sticks evoke from the instrument. While I think that the piece was excellent, I admit that I was so fascinated by the extended double-stroke crescendos and decrescendos with audible, pitched harmonics that my ears were often following the individual sounds rather than the form of the piece. But I think it was more important that it was Evelyn Glennie playing. Wowza.

The final piece on the program was by Michael Daugherty. His fun nature showed through in a programmatic piece partially based on H. G. Wells novel, The Time Machine. The piece is in two movements with the orchestra divided into three parts, each with its own conductor. The first movement takes place in the past, and alternates gentle rocking in the strings with dance music evoking the early Renaissance. The second movement takes place in the future of the H. G. Wells. Opening with a harp passage representing the time traveler’s idyllic beliefs about the future, but the beauty of the harp is quickly dropped as the traveler reaches the future. It is not long before he realizes that one of the two sentient species is planning to eat the other. The piece is a rollicking journey, and has many excellent moments and passages (the shaking of Bamboo bones and the climbing of Timpani towers being particularly memorable). However, I did feel that the three conductors were frequently doubling one another, and wished were sometimes as independent as in Stockhausen’s Gruppen. The overall effect of the piece was incredibly fun and passionate, and the concert was one of the most enjoyable orchestral recitals I have been to at least since last year’s Cabrillo Festival.

Unfortunately I must traverse the seas to the horrible pain that is Hawaii. Ack! No more Cabrillo! Those that are left behind will hear the music of Ades, Brewbaker, Kernis, Gatonska and Salonen. Go Cabrillo Festival! Das Vidanya.
—Matthew Cmiel, finally, out—
Clock's tickin'

Hey Folks,

Just wanted to remind everyone interested that our open call for scores ends one week from today. The committee will be meeting on Saturday the 18th to select the program, so if your score isn’t in my hands by then (as we say in Brooklyn) fuhgettaboutit.

Also: remember that the pesky announcement to the left incorrectly lists the concert date. The concert takes place Monday November 20th at 7:30pm – same location.
Bang on a Vibe

The Cabrillo Music Festival continued Saturday night, and all we can say is (insert positive expletive here). Last night’s program included Laura Karpman, Kevin Puts, Askell Masson, and Michael Daugherty.

And let us not forget Evelyn Glennie.

Every piece was communicative and effective, starting right from the first second, but let me focus (for this post, more tomorrow!) on my personal favorite; the Kevin Puts.

Puts’ style has changed dramatically over the recent years. Post college, he was righting standard, albeit good and exciting, post-minimalism. He had not yet found a style that was uniquely his own. However, in recent years, he most definitely has.

The piece is scored so that the soloist plays exclusively pitched percussion. Glennie explores each instrument for long period before moving onto the next. Each instruments’ section (Vibes, Glock, Crotales, Tubular bells, and marimba) opens with a ritornello theme. This theme is not developed or altered much at all, but its presence shows the form of the piece, and each time it returns brings a satisfaction to the listener. Frequently I found myself anticipating the theme as he delayed its return, playing with the mind of the listener and surprising our expectations.

The second theme he uses is a series of chords, first in the winds, but heard in almost every instrument. The chords are fascinating in their construction, as they can express (depending on rhythm and orchestration) anxiety, comfort, beauty, sorrow and other powerful emotions. His light textures were ethereal, his heavy textures passionate, and all was aided by the marvelous musicianship of Evelyn Glennie.

In recent years, more and more unusual ensembles and instrumentations have been rearing their heads. No longer do people have to write violin concertos and string quartets. Now they can write music for Clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, or saxophone, drum kit, guitar and bass or (my favorite) Piccolo, guitar and bass trombone. These percussion concertos that have been emerging of the previous several years (including this, the Rouse Der Gerettete De Alberich, and the MacMillan Veni Veni Emmanuel) have been some of the most interesting to come out in recent times. Percussion, due to its nature as many instruments rather than one, has so many possible sounds that it is hard to imagine the medium ever becoming an uninteresting one.

And the ending, Oh! Once the marimba enters with the ritornello, everything is fated to be. The ritornello turns into a gorgeous, winding melody above the chord progression that flows smoothly into the cellos and violas taking it over. The elegance and beauty leads Glennie to now use all her resources, playing all the instruments rather than exploring one, and build to a climactic ending that burns a whole right through the ear and into the memories of the audience.

Man he’s good.
—Matthew Cmiel out—
Decca deliver Malcolm Arnold Edition

The BBC Proms may have ignored him, but Decca are doing Sir Malcolm Arnold proud in his 85th birthday year. The Malcolm Arnold Edition is the largest-ever collection of his music. It embraces 61 works, assembled in three Volumes totalling no less than 13 CDs, including the nine symphonies for full orchestra. For the full story click over to Recommended cure for Shostakovich fatigue
Britten on the War Requiem

Bob Shingleton, aka Pliable, has uncovered some remarks by Benjamin Britten about the making of the War Requiem that shed some light into his creative process. Especially interesting to me was the mention of Britten having won the Aspen Award, which was started by Robert O. Anderson, a famous petrolem executive and pioneering environmentalist. I wrote about an article about Anderson many years ago and spent a few days with him. He was that rarest of birds--an oil man with a conscience.

A reminder that you can still get cheap tickets to tomorrow night's concert of Jody Redhage, Margaret Lancaster, and Corey Dargel at Cci's Non Sequitur festival at the Cornelia Street Café (29 Cornelia Street). But, you must call 212-663-1967 today and request the $10 ticket price. The concert also features music by Nick Brooke, Molly Thompson, and Ryan Carter. Corey promises that it will be a good show.

We're neglecting the Composers Forum. Someone needs to start a good donnybrook over there.
Reading Taruskin

In every music department across the country, it’s likely most faculty members have some story about Richard Taruskin. Maybe the story didn’t happen to them, but the story is told with relish nonetheless: perhaps it’s about how he makes his graduate students cry, or how belligerent he can be at conferences, or how he walks around the Berkeley campus talking to himself waving a finger in the air saying (accusatorially) “Ah, ah, ahhhh!” But let us hope there is also in every music department across the country someone who has read at least one volume of his recently-published “Oxford History of Western Music.” I have now read the two twentieth-century volumes, and – while Rodney Lister’s review in Tempo makes some pointed criticisms – I am much the wiser for both volumes.

I was anticipating Taruskin’s book to downplay analysis and emphasize political and social trends. This is not the case. The musical analysis in the OHWM is frequent, detailed, in-depth, and insightful. And not only does Taruskin turn his analytical eye on the usual suspects (Second Viennese School, Stravinsky): Ives, Richard Strauss, Arvo Pärt, Benjamin Britten, and Philip Glass are also some of the composers Taruskin deems worthy of close reading. But at the same time that Taruskin explains serial rotation technique and metric modulation, he makes clear the surprising ways in which compositional techniques can intersect with history and society. We learn how Webern and Stravinsky sympathized with fascism; how some (seemingly sympathetic) performers actually found John Cage’s indeterminacy to be oppressive; how Elliott Carter’s music was appropriated in Cold War ideological battles; how contemporary religiosity has helped the careers of composers like John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov. And yet for all the dirty laundry on display, I actually didn’t get the sense Taruskin personally disliked the music he was discussing. Taruskin may find the patronage behind some of the music (and much of the discussion surrounding it) suspect; but the music of Schoenberg, Babbitt, Carter, and other modernists seemingly inimical to Taruskin’s scholarly program is treated with an open appreciation for what it has to offer.

My only question for Taruskin and Oxford University Press is: who’s going to use this book? The discussion is far too dense for undergraduate survey classes, and the scope of the book is too broad for graduate seminars. For textbook purposes, the OHWM is very impractical. To my mind, this is a scholarly book written for other scholars. As these scholars will come to the book already with a decent knowledge of music history, Taruskin’s project seems to me at least as polemically motivated as it is pedagogically. As such, he has thrown down an enormous challenge to future scholars of music: let us hope their erudition, passion, and discipline will match Taruskin's, and that this book will be rigorously debated, read, and, one day, superseded.


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