On Friday, January 22, 2016 the wulf in downtown Los Angeles presented a diverse concert of electronic music by four groups of artists. A standing-room only crowd turned out for an evening of intense sounds created by computer algorithm, spectral analysis and traditional percussion. The room was filled with all kinds of amplifiers, speakers, mixers, patch panels and miles of cable. The four sets made for a varied program that challenged both the mind and the ear.
First up was PDRM, by John Krausbauer and David Kendall. According to the program notes this piece is “…constructed from a ‘just’ tuned, three-string electric guitar with real-time and algorithmic delay and spatialization processing.” Four large speakers were placed on the four corners of the completely darkened performance space that also included active strobe lights. PDRM began with a warm, droney sound from the bowed guitar, accompanied by a substantial bass line in the electronics, providing a solid foundation. The sound filled the room and the consistent texture immersed the audience in a congenial sonic wash. As the piece progressed the volume seemed to gradually increase and the tempo quickened slightly as well. PDRM is very powerful experience that takes control of the senses – there were occasional bass tones that were felt as well as heard. The complete darkness and compelling sounds command the listener’s attention; Krausbauer and Kendall might consider adding an aromatic component to their performances to further extend this sensual dimension. The steady drone and flickering of the strobes give PDRM a distinctly primordial feeling – as if the audience is gathered around some ancient communal bonfire, meditating together in a deep trance.
Next up was an improvisation by percussionist Ted Byrnes with William Hutson on accompanying electronics, and this marked their debut as a duo. Hutson operated an old school reel-to-reel tape machine fed with a ten foot loop of tape that stretched across the room and produced a steady stream of metallic clattering and crashes as well as what sounded like a barrel of broken glass shards being rolled across the floor. To this chaos Byrnes added his athletically active drumming with a variety of mallets and brushes on a standard drum kit along with a number of found objects. The rhythmic drumming formed a kind of counterpoint to the crashing tumult from the tape and this became an anchor for the ear. The piece took on an epic character as it progressed: the heroic drummer in combat with the forces of anarchy. This contrast was so effective that the listener often found himself rooting for the drumming to prevail. Byrnes was a constant blur of motion and activity, yet the continuous outpouring of the electronics added a helpful consistency to the texture, filling in for those times when Ted changed drum sticks or reached down to add a new object to his kit. There were quiet stretches, as when brushes were used on the drum heads, but overall the intensity and drama that emerged from this mix of electronics and drumming proved to be a winning combination. The addition of fierce electronics to the animated style of Ted Byrnes was inspired, achieving a new level of energy and excitement for this duo.
Cameron Shafii, the San Franciso-based composer was next, presenting a solo sound piece, part of a collaboration with Joe Gilmore that according to the program notes, “…transforms brass and string instruments by spectral analysis.” This began with a loud drum clap followed by exotic electronic tones that added a vaguely alien feel. The steady electronics were accompanied by a drumming rhythm, producing a sense of anxiety and mystery. The volume seemed to rise as the piece progressed and the drumming became more concentrated and powerful – at times the beats were felt as blows to the chest. The electronic sounds morphed into purer tones and a series of loud rumbles, like distant thunder could be heard. At one point the mood lightened and there were some lovely harmonies. The total darkness and the relentlessly increasing power soon restored the feeling of menace, however, and at times the sound overwhelmed the senses and verged on the painful. Cameron Shafii and Joe Gilmore have crafted a daunting listening experience that operates at the harrowing edges of human perception.
The last piece in the program was VRS, a project from Ellen Phan of Los Angeles who presented “…a new piece exploring modalities of experimental sound.” This piece deftly unpacked an eclectic variety of sounds – a loud buzzing, gongs, bells and the crash of smashing china. The pitches accelerated and became higher and more cutting even as the texture attained a sort of frenetic consistency. Voices were heard in an unintelligible scat singing and the electronic sounds assumed a bouncy, arcade-like feel. As the piece progressed a powerfully percussive hammering dominated, and this soon morphed into a nicely rhythmic groove. VRS is full of fast-changing textures that made for a refreshing wash of bright colors and energetic surfaces that agreeably filled the performance space and the listener’s ear.
Update on the wulf: The building has now been sold and the wulf is seeking new accommodations, although no schedule has been announced. Fund raising for the expected moving expenses has been successful and donations are still being accepted – see www.thewulf.org for details.
POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER!
Thanks to Joshua Banks Mailman for this post about Augustus Arnone’s Babbitt recitals.
Augustus Arnone performs Milton Babbitt’s Time Series and other solo piano works at Spectrum, Sunday January 24, at 2pm
This year marks the centenary of the legendary composer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011). To my ears, his extensive body of piano works especially channels his singular charm as a raconteur. Over the decades a number of pianists have championed some of Babbitt’s major piano works, for instance Robert Helps and Robert Miller performing and recording his Partitions (1957) and Post-Partitions (1966) in early days and much more recently Marilyn Nonken did as much with Allegro Penseroso (1999). Babbitt’s Reflections for piano and synthesized tape (1975) has been performed by the likes of Anthony de Mare, Martin Goldray, Aleck Karis, and Robert Taub, the latter two of whom also recorded it. Robert Taub and Martin Goldray recorded and released full-length CDs. Alan Feinberg too presented stellar renditions of Minute Waltz (1977), Partitions (1957), It Takes Twelve to Tango (1984), Playing for Time (1979), and About Time (1982) on a 1988 CRI CD.
Yet only one pianist has earned the distinction of presenting the entire oeuvre of Babbitt’s solo piano works in concert. And that is Augustus Arnone, who performed the entire set, spread over two concerts, in 2007. In honor of the Babbitt centenary, Arnone is performing the entire set again (this time spread of three concerts) at Spectrum on Ludlow in NYC. The largest work on the program is Canonical Form (1983) which I’ve heard several Babbitt aficionados recently describe as their “favorite” and “most beautiful” Babbitt composition. The most recent work is The Old Order Changeth (1998). The concert also presents a rare opportunity to hear the entire ‘The Time Series’ (Playing For Time (1977), About Time (1982), Overtime (1987)), the last part of which has never been released on a commercial recording.
Arnone’s performance begins at 3pm, but prior to that, at 2pm, will be an interview-discussion between me and the composer-theorist Robert Morris, who, in parallel with the latter half of Babbitt’s career, developed his own independent approach to serial and post-serial composition. Morris has also been an avid listener of and writer on Babbitt’s compositions over several decades. The event should be worth the trek through any rain, sleet, and slush.
Augustus Arnone: The Complete Piano Works Of Milton Babbitt, Concert II
Sunday Jan 24, at 3pm (pre-concert discussion at 2pm) $20, $15 (Students/Seniors).
Spectrum, 121 Ludlow St, NYC.
Those interested in still more Babbitt can check out the Focus Festival at Juilliard, which begins tonight and goes through next Friday. I’ll be writing about that more next week.
Pierre Boulez, one of the great composers and conductors of our time, has passed away.
The extraordinary pianist and composer Paul Bley, has passed away.
Pianist Jenny Q. Chai is a versatile artist. Her repertoire includes works by contemporary Europeans such as Phillipe Manoury and Marco Stroppa (her dissertation topic), and she recently recorded an excellent portrait CD on Naxos of music by Nils Vigeland. She also performs standard repertoire, such as Robert Schumann and Claude Debussy.
On January 10, in a program entitled Where is Chopin? (subtitled “Steampunk Piano 2″), Chai creates a juxtaposition of Carnaval by Schumann with brand new pieces that feature artificial intelligence, performing the music of Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, a Stanford University-based composer who uses the AI program Antescofo. It supplies a live visual component that responds to the particular nuances and inflections of a given performance. Doubtless Chai will give the program plenty to think about.
Peter Phillips conducts the Tallis Scholars
Christmas Across Centuries
The Tallis Scholars
Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Miller Theatre’s Early Music Series
On Saturday December 5th at New York’s Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, presented a program that included two composers firmly ensconced in their wheelhouse. Sacris Solemniis and Gaude, Gaude, Gaude by John Sheppard (c. 1515-1558), with long held chant notes offset by passages of sumptuous counterpoint and spare plainsong, provided context and set the stage for the later Renaissance work on the program, Thomas Tallis’s Missa Puer Natus Est Nobis. This piece is also filled with the intricate polyphony, but it makes use of what was by then an archaic device – long held notes in the tenor voice. At St. Mary’s, the piece felt jubilant, bustling with busy passage work and corruscated with counter-melodies.
The concert also featured music by a composer active more recently, the Estonian Arvo Pärt, who turned eighty this past year. These newer works were given incandescent performances. In contrast to the Tallis mass’s busy textures, Pärt’s O Antiphons epitomized clarity of line. The upper voices soared in his Magnificat. I am the True Vine featured delicate and touching harmonies, rendered by the Tallis Scholars with impressively pure diction. Indeed, while one hesitates to downplay the Renaissance portion of this thoughtful and well-balanced program, it was the Pärt that stole the show.
Photo: THOMAS GRØNDAHL
This Thursday, the Danish Piano Trio will make their US recital debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. The group – Katrine Gislinge, piano, Toke Møldrup, cello, and Lars Bjørnkjær, violin – will present piano trios by Niels Gade and Felix Mendelssohn (one of my personal favorite chamber works, the swoon-worthy Piano Trio in D minor). The group will also present the premiere of Bent Søresen’s Abgesänge. Pianist Steven Beck guests, joining Møldrup in the world premiere of Geoffrey Gordon’s Fathoms (Cello Sonata).
The group’s DaCapo recording Danish Romantic Piano Trios is out now.
Danish Piano Trio
Weill Recital Hall
December 17 at 8 PM
Student/Senior tickets: $10. available in person at box office only.
Carnegiehall.org | CarnegieCharge 212-247-7800
Box Office at 57th and Seventh
On Tuesday, December 8, 2015 the first Green Umbrella Series concert of the season featured three Los Angeles-based string quartets: Calder Quartet, Formalist Quartet and the Lyris Quartet. Disney Hall was mostly full for the event, evidence of the strong following contemporary music has attracted by this concert series over the years. The music for the evening spanned works by John Cage and Christian Wolff to two world premieres and LA Philharmonic commissions from John Luther Adams and Tristan Perich.
First up was the Formalist Quartet performing Music for Marcel Duchamp by John Cage. Originally written for prepared piano, this piece was arranged for string quartet by Eric Byers, cellist for the Calder Quartet. This opened with a flurry of pizzicato figures that nicely approximated the expected percussive jaggedness of a prepared piano. These irregular rhythms were soon supported with a soft, soothing undertone from the cello. This made for a good contrast and the piece took on an exotic, almost Asian feel. Some sharp rapping on the wooden parts of the string instruments along with some new pizzicato reinstated the rhythmic to prominence and also added a bit of mystery to the mix. Rhythmic textures alternated with smoother sections as the piece progressed. As played by a string quartet this new Byers arrangement of Music for Marcel Duchamp came across as finely drawn and delicate, with a quiet, contained feel – especially in the comparatively vast Disney Hall performance space.
The Calder Quartet followed with Edges by Christian Wolff, arranged by Chiara Giovando. This began with a high, thin sound in the violins followed by a solid pizzicato thump in the cello. More high, stressed sounds followed, adding a palpable tension. At times there were very soft – almost inaudible – sounds that focused the listener’s attention. At other times there were fast and furious runs full of thunder and drama, and at still other times slower, more harmonious stretches. Edges was notated by Wolff using a graphical score and this was skillfully interpreted for strings by Chiara Giovando. This outcome was successful in that there were a wide variety of individual textures and dynamics present that, combined with the precise playing of the Calder Quartet, made for a highly detailed and intricate experience taking the listener beyond the normal boundaries of string quartet music.
Amazing Grace by Ben Johnston followed, performed by the Lyris Quartet. This began with the familiar hymn tune, realized as folksy fiddle playing combined with an appealing harmonization. This soon evolved into a more elaborate sequence that included some excellent counterpoint. More variations followed, increasingly complex, but always with the hymn tune appearing to provide a familiar landmark for the listener. There was a violin solo that sweetly carried the tune, a more muscular tutti passage, alternating fast and quiet sections as well as more relaxed stretches as the piece unfolded. The hymn tune finally became submerged in a series of fast passages in the cello and viola and this swirled about until at last Amazing Grace emerged intact at the satisfying finish. The precise playing of the Lyris Quartet and the skillful weaving of a familiar tune in and out of the more complex passages makes this piece both accessible and enriching.
Triple Quartet by Steve Reich followed, a logical programming choice given the assembled forces. All three string quartets took the stage and soon the familiar pulsing and purposeful rhythms so characteristic of Reich’s music rose up from the twelve players on the stage. Reich’s Different Trains came briefly to mind. The ensemble was good, and given the number of players, the syncopated rhythms were tight and secure. There was no attempt to combine like instruments together – all three quartets were seated separately around in a semicircle.
About midway through, a violin solo appeared, adding some pleasing pathos to the otherwise uniform texture. This theme was passed around to the other violins and then through the entire ensemble; this was both effective and engaging. A quiet section followed that added some drama and provided a good contrast to the more strident beginning. This eventually led to a recap of the opening section and the intensity built to a rousing finish that had the audience cheering.
Following the intermission, the Calder Quartet again took the stage for the world premiere of Canticles of the Sky by John Luther Adams. A larger realization of this has been performed at Northwestern University by a choir consisting of 45 cellos, but the version presented at this concert was for a single string quartet. This began with a low, sustained tone in the cello, constructing a solid foundation. The other strings joined in with more sustained tones, forming a lovely harmony that was warm, welcoming and serene. The pitches climbed higher, with each passage bringing new harmonic combinations that were powerful in their simplicity and grace. There is an open, organic feel to this music in keeping with other recent works by Mr. Adams.
Three more movements followed, the second starting on a thin, high tone and working downwards but with the same warm hospitality. On reaching a low, the pitches worked their way back up again to the starting point. The third and fourth movements proceeded in a similar fashion, but with added vibrato that brought a nice variety to the texture. The beautiful harmonies and the quiet, spiritual feel of this piece seemed always in danger of being swallowed up by the spacious Disney Hall – this is an intimate work and might be better served by a more cozy performance environment. Canticles of the Sky, for string quartet, captures all of the virtues of Adams’ music in a compact, accessible package.
String Quartet by George Brecht followed and this had all three string quartets sitting on a darkened stage in separate circles. A spotlight shined on the first quartet, who got up from their chairs, shook hands, and returned to their seats. A short period of dark silence followed, and the second quartet was similarly spotlighted, arose and shook hands as well. The third quartet was then highlighted and they also arose and greeted each other similarly. By now the audience was more than suspicious and at last all three quartets were spotlighted so that that the twelve players greeted each other before assembling in a long line on the stage for a bow. This Event Score proved to be a good conceptual interlude for audience and players alike.
The final piece of the evening was the world premiere of Triple Quartet by Tristan Perich. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, this piece had twelve speakers arrayed in a semicircle around the twelve players of the three quartets. The sounds from the speakers were intended to combine with the playing of the string quartets. As Andrew Berardini wrote in the program notes: “The liveliest of human sounds couples with the algorithms of our machines, the squelch of data and the heat of life sonically mingle so that one cannot be separated from the other.”
Triple Quartet opened with a vigorous, syncopated rhythm in the violin with a lively counterpoint in the cello. More violins entered, accompanied by more cello, and the result was an engaging groove with a distinctly minimalist feel. The timbre was nothing like that expected from strings alone and the electronics added a kind of wood wind sheen to the sound. It was as if some great pipe organ was playing using exotic stops. The ensemble among the twelve performers was impressive given the quantity and complexity of the electronic sounds pouring out of the speakers. There were smoother stretches that offered a welcome contrast, but always a new and satisfying rhythmic pattern would emerge, propelling the piece forward.
The minimalist gestures and driving beat recalled the Reich piece heard earlier, but the Perich addition of electronics created a more successfully diverse texture and appealingly complex surface. The playing by the three quartets was both prodigious and precise and all were rewarded by sustained applause at the finish.
The Green Umbrella series of concerts continues on January 19, 2016 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group.
The Calder Quartet is:
Benjamin Jacobson, violin
Andrew Bulbrook, violin
Jonathan Moerschel, viola
Eric Byers, cello
The Formalist Quartet is:
Andrew Tholl, violin
Mark Menzies, violin/viola
Andrew McIntosh, violin/viola
Ashley Walters, cello
The Lyris Quartet is:
Alyssa Park, violin
Shalini Vijayan, violin
Luke Maurer, viola
Timothy Loo, cello
Composer William Mayer turned ninety this past November. On Friday December 11th, Ardea Arts has supplied him with a slightly belated birthday gift, and audiences with a treat, by presenting his one-act opera One Christmas Long Ago (1962). It will be performed in concert at Metro Baptist Church. The cast features baritone Ron Loyd, tenor Anthony Webb, and soprano Julianne Borg, conducted by Richard Cordova. Grethe Barrett Holby, a name well known to those familiar with American Opera Projects, supplies stage direction.
Grethe Barrett Holby
One Christmas Long Ago by William Mayer
December 11, 2015 at 7:30 PM
Presented by Ardea Arts
Metro Baptist Church
410 W. 40th Street, New York City
Tickets are $20 for general admissions and $10 for seniors/children 16 and under.
On Saturday, November 21, 2015 People Inside Electronics presented the contemporary vocal chamber ensemble Accordant Commons in a concert at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena. A Saturday night crowd of new music enthusiasts gathered to hear an evening of vocal music combined with electronics.
The first piece presented, “those remaining words in nuance”, by Chen-Hui Jen featured soprano Stephanie Aston who began with a soft sustained pitch, accompanied by electronics fed through speakers on the stage. More pure tones and vocalizing followed and this gave a vivid sense of multiple voices – Ms. Aston sang along in harmony and this was quite effective. “those remaining words in nuance” is based on two fragments of text in two different languages -Mandarin Chinese and English – with deconstructed phenomes from each used as vocalise materials The electronic sounds were derived from voice and synthesis of voices.
As the piece progressed, the electronics produced cooler, remote-sounding tones and the blending with the solo voice added a familiar human element. That the overall feeling was one of a curious strangeness, but free of anxiety. Ms. Aston skillfully found her pitches quite accurately and sang with careful attention to the often wide dynamic changes. Towards the end the electronics emitted a series of chirps and whistles that could have been whales calling and this produced a warm, natural feeling that drifted off to a whisper at the finish. The sense of ensemble in “those remaining words in nuance” is most impressive and provides a new benchmark in the artful combination of electronics and the human voice.
Improvisation was next and this featured the three voices of Accordant Commons: Stephanie Aston, Odeya Nini and Argenta Walther. This began with whistling and breathy sounds and was answered with low moans from the electronics. As the piece progressed soft, sustained tones from the singers mixed with tweets and calls in the electronics, building in volume. A series of falling pitches followed that morphed into thunder and a sharp shriek into the microphone faded into a low roar. There was an exotic and isolated feel to this, as if we were hearing the sounds of some foreign fauna in a remote canyon or valley. By the finish, more breathy sounds and low sighs drifted off into a thunderous background while squeaks and squeals added to the echoing ambiance. Improvisation takes us on a journey to a unique, primal landscape crafted from voice and sound.
Position, influence by David Coll followed and this was scored for voice and sound sculpture. The voice was supplied by soprano Stephanie Aston and the sound sculpture consisted of an imposing assembly of rectangular aluminum plates hung from a frame and actuated by speaker drivers mounted behind. Ms. Aston ascended the pulpit with headphones and began with a few phrases spoken in French. A series of loud metallic screeching sounds ensued, accompanied by a sharp series of yelps. The aforementioned sound sculpture unleashed a great metallic clatter, supplemented by a low roar and the wail of gnashing gears. The sense was one of great anxiety and anguish, an almost tortured feeling. More fragments of French from the pulpit triggered another round of frightful agony from the electronics as Ms. Aston added some high decibel screams to the mix. The sound level increased and the sheet metal plates in the sound sculpture rattled and shimmered like cymbals, but with a more somber color. After a final crescendo, the stage went black and the piece suddenly halted into a stunned silence. Position, influence is a powerful amalgam of voice, electronics and mechanical sculpture that evokes potent images and strong feelings.
Lullaby for Daisy Pauline by Pauline Oliveros was next and proved to be a peaceful interlude after the energetic drama of the previous piece. All three voices of Accordant Commons were seated on the stage in front of the microphones, but mostly out of sight. A series of bird calls could be heard from the speakers, perhaps a recording of an early morning along a lakeshore. Soft, sustained tones came from the voices and this created a peaceful serenity and a familiar, organic feel. No words were sung and the sounds of nature mixing with the quiet voices created a welcoming, tranquil space. Lullaby for Daisy Pauline was a nicely programmed stretch of placidity in a mostly intense program.
Divergence by Michael Edwards Edgerton followed and this was performed by Stephanie Aston and Argenta Walther. High, bird-like sounds mingled with a low rumbling from the electronics and this soon took on a more frighteningly aggressive character reminiscent of the distant howling of wolves. This increased in savagery as well as loudness, with scratching and baying that gradually morphed into a series of pure pitches that increased in frequency – like a spaceship taking off. These were the result of a weather simulation applied to electronic sounds, a process that allows, according to the program notes, “miniscule irregularities in the initial conditions [to] become responsible for potentially large changes over time.” Low, raspy moaning was added and this made a nice organic contrast with the sterile sine waves. Towards the end, the relatively benign tones in the electronics became a series of explosions, as if some battle was occurring. Divergence is an evocative metamorphosis in sound between earthly, natural elements and remote cerebral coolness.
The audience was asked to exit the theater for a short intermission so that the space could be prepared for the final piece, the world premiere of Where I Am, I Am, by Odeya Nini. As everyone filed back inside, a number of small flashing lights – as might be found on a Christmas tree – were scattered among the empty seats. Field recordings, taken at various places from around the world, were heard through the speakers on stage. In the full darkness the blinking colors added a mystical dimension to the proceedings which began with the three voices of Accordant Commons singing along with some industrial strength scraping and clapping that emanated from the speakers. Breathy sounds from the voices along with the blinking lights added to the primitive atmosphere. Accordant Commons then dispersed among the aisles of the audience, singing through small megaphones with single tones ringing out against the electronics.
The singers regrouped while pure sine tones were heard from the speakers and this inspired a yell in reply, matching the electronic pitches. This continued, evolving into a more harmonious blend, the cool, electronic tones mixing with the primal sound of the voices. A bit of an African communal song was heard in the speakers and the singers began repeating a series of low, solemn tones. There was a sudden sense of the recapitulation of the entire history of music – from primal yell to tribal song to a spiritually driven consonance – all inspired by the pure tone. The piece concluded with the singers chanting in reflective harmony, processing down the center aisle and out into the night, leaving the audience in silence with only the lights blinking in the darkness. Where I Am, I Am is a compelling narrative of the primordial need for human expression through sound.
This concert by vocalists Accordant Commons and People Inside Electronics furthered the bond between live performance and electronics, giving a real sense of partnership between ancient and contemporary musical methods of expression.
Photos by Adam Borecki (used with permission)
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