Happy Valley Band’s debut album, ORGANVM PERCEPTVS, is described as a virtuosic decomposition and reconstruction of the Great American Songbook. Think of it as American Classics + The 21st Century. In this album, you will hear a microtonal version of “You Make Me Feel,” a distorted funk version of “Like a Virgin,” and a crunchy, grungy, middle-school band-esque take on “Jungle Boogie” that I am convinced is an actual recording of my high school’s pep band at a snowy football game when every brass instrument detuned after five minutes out of their cases. This album is fresh, deceptive, and insanely fun to listen to.
ORGANVM’s raison d’être is to encourage the listeners to examine biases and expectations. For example, we all know “Ring of Fire.” Listening to “Ring of Fire” that’s been put through a learning algorithm is a different experience. This is not just covering or reimagining music. This is hearing music as machines hear and interpret music. The artistic license is not so much an artist’s personal flair as it is their personal algorithm choice and process.
Love it or hate it, this is the age of algorithmic music and computers creating art from intelligent programs. I’ve heard some crazy things come from algorithms, some of which I loved. It often boils down to what the composer wants the algorithm to accomplish, lest ye worry about a lack of human musicians in our future. David Kant, the head composer and director of the Happy Valley Band, says in liner notes, “We should use machines to hear differently, not to reinforce our expectations – because whose expectations are they anyway?” Don’t hate the process, hate the preconceived notions and preferences. Or something like that.
David Kant also confronts the notion of intellectual property in the perspective of deconstruction and manipulation. If anything can be extracted, sampled, reworked, and replicated, then is the result The Thing-Changed, or A Different-Thing? By rooting itself in familiar territory and turning these songs on their heads, ORGANVM gives us a glimpse through the looking glass.
The Happy Valley Band is in LA on April 29th at Human Resources. You can check out more on ORGANVM PERCEPTVS here at Indexical’s website, and the sale options via bandcamp (digital download album or 12″ vinyl plus booklet) are here.
Kristen Klehr is a name I’ve seen related to so, so many concerts in LA, but never onstage. We became friends over a shared “I run into you at everything, what are you doing here?” sense of curiosity. The short answer is that she produces events and helps run ensembles. We cover a lot of performers and composers on New Classic LA, and thought it would be interesting to talk to the people who put those performers and composers onstage. So we’re starting that with Kristen, who recently founded her own production company, BEAR, and is collaborating to put on the MARS Festival, which starts tonight. Here we go:
When we met you had just moved to LA, and had most recently been producing the nief-norf festival in Greenville, SC. What brought you out here?
Ha! Honestly, it was on a whim! I had finished with Cabrillo Fest up in Santa Cruz, actually was expecting to wind up in SF, but I thought, “well, I don’t need to go back to New York or Cleveland yet, and I finished my master’s, so I’m not heading back to Florida, hmm, might as well go explore?!” …and so I road-tripped down the 1 with a violinist friend that had a session in LA after Cabrillo, crashed on a friend’s couch – as the typical LA transplant does apparently – and let life unfold!
As I understand it you did some work for Kaleidoscope to their next stage, and then founded BEAR to run your own productions. Since then I’ve seen the name on a few collaborations, like the ones with Kensington Presents at the Viaduct. Your next one is with the MARS Festival, starting on April 14. Tell me about the festival.
Oh, it is super exciting – a ten-day long music, arts, and technology festival in the Arts District – partnered with Art Share LA and Angel City Brewery – featuring some truly killer artists and innovators – totally rad talent – I mean, what could be better?!
I don’t mean for this question to come off as confrontational, more like curious. I had heard rumblings about the festival before you were attached. What does BEAR bring to the groups you collaborate with?
I think BEAR has a unique advantage, the musician/performer perspective in combination with a production focus. Being able to think about creative solutions for projects and innovative concert designs is what sparks me, and I LOVE when organizations get to thrive from a slightly more streamlined experience. Funny enough, I’ve found my hands in a good amount of organizations that are either in their inaugural year or looking to take growing steps forward; I didn’t set out to purposefully help young non-profits launch or grow, but I do like to think about how I can help strengthen their missions, encourage new connections or exposures within their communities, and honestly ease some of the workload off of them – that is a producer’s job after all, to dial in focused productivity while not letting anything slip through the cracks. Easier said than done of course, but it’s my hope that BEAR brings to the table an ability for the founders or directors to focus on the artistic direction and design (while I love doing that as well in my own projects), and to have to worry less about the delegation. When I see all the gears turning smoothly like a well oiled machine, I feel like I did my job.
There’s no shortage of great musicians and composers in town, but being able to produce an event is something special. What would you like to see improve, on average, about the ways groups present themselves? Phrased another way: what advice do you have for concert producers?
Hmm, well – what I’d like to see is a bit different than probably the advice I’d give for concert producers haha. Advice I’d give to other producers is a simple thought, but is so so important: that everything you have, do, and list in a line item budget or schedule, realistically has a body behind it. A physical person must be there – as simple a cue on a headset as, “lights to half, audio stand by, house out, and go: conductor” quite literally means: “there is a physical person that has to be cued to switch the lights to half, there is a team of people that did the stage lighting design prep and programming the week prior, there is a physical person that not only is standing by to turn the audio live but also another backstage prepping and handing the mic to the conductor, there might be a third audio engineer standing by to hit record or go live for radio broadcast (in communication with another human at the station!), and then not only is the conductor a physical person but there also was person that placed his/her music on the stand prior to the house even opening, etc. etc.” …or in a budget sense, “music rental” does not just mean that the music is magically there at rehearsal at X-amount of dollars, but that some BODY picked it up from the shipment, a different person probably wrote in bowing or cuts, another human submitted and paid for the ASCAP/BMI, an administrator organized and distributed the music to the correct musicians in instrumentation, and there are human beings playing said music of course. The point being, they’re all human. Treat people with respect, and account for things with an understanding that it requires a person to complete the task. I think things fall through the cracks when multiple people know that things have to happen, but they all think that someone else is handling it. And then it becomes a “he-said-she-said” scenario…which is never ideal! Staying clear about job responsibilities and communication is key, as well as treating people with kindness and gratitude – stressful times happen, but try to keep it in check as you work through it, and keep your eye on the prize – which is creating an awesome concert experience!
You’re also a percussionist. How does that figure in what you do as a producer? Do you ever feel internal conflict of interest?
Well, funny enough, a few friends have joked that because I have a percussionist’s brain, logistics have always been in the forefront of my planning and coordination, which is super helpful for a producer of live concerts! Internal conflict with that topic doesn’t really happen too much anymore, other than that there are only 24 hours in a day, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I enjoy doing both! I feel that if I was only a producer/entrepreneur or only a performing musician, I would feel a bit unsatisfied – both sides keep me balanced and moving me forward. More to the point, I can’t imagine not playing, or not dreaming up new creative endeavors, or producing cool shows – or working out haha – it’s just a part of what makes me, me – and I think if I cut out one side completely, the other side would suffer in quality.
Now that you’ve been in LA for a couple years, how does it measure up to your expectations?
Well, I’m not sure I had crazy high expectations, however I do feel that I’ve done a lot of random things in my life since moving here – things I never thought I’d get to experience. Like film sets, fitness adventures, new media-tech conventions, photo shoots, truly incredible live gigs, amazing recording sessions, meeting so many remarkable people that are also all about the hustle…and I’m so grateful for that! When I first arrived, my expectations were more centered on a pretty narrow mindset of an orchestral admin career path to be honest, and well, that has certainly taken a new turn for sure! But I see it as being all interconnected, so it’s not a bad thing. I will say, I think I’ve eaten more burritos since moving to LA than I have the entire history of my life prior! Taco stands here definitely exceeded my expectations hands down! So good.
What else in town are you excited about?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m thrilled that you’re taking the time to ask me these questions! I think that as entrepreneurial initiatives keep emerging with musicians after they graduate from great music schools, even with great new programs or tracks with this focus branching out in conservatories, there’s still a bit of a haze in, “okay, but now what…and what if I want to do this?…but it’s not quite been done before…but I have this gut feeling I think I could do it…but what does that actually take?…what does that look like realistically?…” and I know for me it was so valuable to hear other people’s stories as to how they got to where they are now, as well as perspective/lessons learned along the way. I’m a huge advocate for strong arts admin tracks as well as “entrepreneurship for musicians” type classes to be growing at universities, because those people behind the scenes making it happen so that the musicians on the stage can perform great concerts are not two different people. They are often two sides of the same person, and it’s important to make resources available to them on both sides. Thanks!!
On April 8, 2017 the Pasadena Conservatory of Music was host to Richard Valitutto along with gnarwhallaby, Arpeture Duo and a subset of wild Up – all in a concert from wild Up’s WORK series, which focuses on single members of the group. Several new pieces and arrangements by Valitutto were heard, as well as reference works by Messiaen, Feldman and Wolfe. Soprano Justine Aronson made a special appearance and the elegant Barrett Hall was filled almost to capacity on a quiet Saturday evening.
The program opened with Papier Mâché, an original piano work by Valitutto. This began with a slow, mysterious feel and just a hint of tension in the chords that increased as the piece progressed. The density and complexity slowly built up, adding to a sense of uncertainty, just as the dynamic crested and fell back, fading at the finish. Papier Mâché has a sophisticated sheen and a solid, well-crafted construction that made for a fine opening to the concert.
Polichromia, by Zygmunt Krauze, followed, and this was performed by gnarwhallaby, the Los Angeles-based new music group who have made a mission of performing works by Polish avant-garde composers active in the mid-20th century. Polichromia begins with sustained tones in the cello, muted trombone and clarinet while the piano counters with rapid one and two note figures separated by silence. The highly chromatic tones in the instruments make for some intriguing harmonies and the sharper piano licks offered a fine contrast. After a few minutes this sequence finishes and there is an extended silence by all. This process restarts twice more, with the tones in the instruments becoming more active in each new sequence. Polichromia creates an environment filled with many varied tone colors, vividly portrayed by gnarwhallaby.
Next was an arrangement by Valitutto of two piano works: From the Cradle to Abysses by the Romanian-French composer Horațiu Rădulescu and Hungarian Passacaglia by György Ligeti. As Valitutto explained, these pieces felt like piano reductions of some larger instrumental work and the purpose of his arrangement was to fill out the parts that seemed to be embedded in the original scores. Two Arrangements for gnarwhallaby was the result, and this was played continuously as a single piece of music. The brass, woodwind and string components present in the gnarwhallaby ensemble was ideal for this sort of exploration.
Two Arrangements for gnarwhallaby began with solitary piano notes followed by a sharp sforzando from the trombone and quietly sustained tones in the cello and clarinet. Something like a melody materialized from the piano and cello while the trombone continued to emit loud sforzandos at various intervals. The dynamics of the piano chords increased rapidly and soon joined the trombone in making unsettling statements as the cello and clarinet continued with their smoothly understated response. The contrasts here were very effective – the more so because of the difference in instrumentation.
A soft cello solo appeared and seemed to tiptoe around the dramatic piano crashes. This melody was soon passed around to the clarinet and trombone. The piano calmed down to a series of steady two-note chords as the clarinet took up the melody in a higher register. Eventually all three instruments joined in together and some lovely harmonies emerged. The passages in the instruments gradually increased to a rapid tempo just as the piece concluded.
Two Arrangements for gnarwhallaby is an inspired expansion of the works of two 20th century masters, and confirmed Valitutto’s sharp instincts for orchestration. This arrangement creates a seamless connection between the two source pieces and the vivid colors brought out by the expanded instrumentation were matched by the coordination and precision of gnarwhallably’s playing.
Shadow (2013) by Rebecca Saunders followed. This is a solo piano piece that explores the sympathetic vibrations of the piano strings that occur after a loud chord is played. An acoustic ‘shadow’ is heard, and with the sustain pedal depressed, the soft tones are allowed to ring out and decay in the subsequent silence. Accordingly, Valitutto struck a series of crashes, tone clusters and sharp chords – often with maximum force – so that the resulting acoustic shadow was clearly heard, even up in the top row of Barrett Hall. These effects were amazingly varied – from lightly hovering and insubstantial to menacingly ominous to warm and welcoming. After a few minutes of listening you begin to ignore the initial impulse and focus instead on the quiet shadows that follow. The process is something like hearing a loud crash of thunder and then listening to the rolling echo as it dissipates into the distance.
The playing became more complex, loud crashes alternating with softer ones, multiplying the contrasting character of the various shadows. The interactions between the shadow tones themselves, although very understated, were also intriguing to the ear. Shadow is an instructive piece that points to the importance of listening for nuance, even when confronted by repeated dynamic outbursts. Valitutto’s sense of timing and the application of energy was perfect, allowing this piece to unfold with all of its subtlety intact.
Another solo piano piece was next, The Black Wheatear, by Oliver Messiaen, from Catalogue d’oiseaux (1958). This began with strong, crashing chords reminiscent of a booming surf; the breeding grounds of the black wheatear include the rocky sea cliffs of the Iberian peninsula. A series of short and rapid runs in the upper registers portray the brief but rich warble of the species. These skittering phrases regularly recur, nicely suggesting the chattering of birds wheeling high above a coastal meadow. The quick and spiky passages were accurately played by Valitutto, fully realizing Messiaen’s unconventional vision.
Voice, Violin and Piano by Morton Feldman followed, and for this Valitutto was joined by Adrianne Pope on violin and – naturally – soprano Justine Aronson. All the familiar Feldman virtues were present – the soft, airy voice of Ms. Aronson hovering lightly over a quiet violin and gentle piano chords. Each sound seemed independent of the others, but the sequences often produced memorable moments despite the spare texture. The intonation, especially in the voice, was impressive as there are almost no landmarks for pitch; even so, there was no hesitation or tentativeness in the many entrances. Voice, Violin and Piano is counted as a miniature in the Feldman canon, but this performance contained everything that makes his music so distinctive.
Valitutto’s Another Spring was next, based on poetry by Denise Leverton and with violist Linnea Powell joining the other players on stage. The opening piano chords of this were bright and sunny while the strings played very high, thin pitches that brought to mind wisps of wind. With the entrance of the soprano voice, Another Spring gained its focus and produced some lovely passages; the strong vocal part giving Ms. Aronson some room to stretch after the restrained Feldman piece. The seemingly disparate piano chords, airy strings and lovely legato vocal parts came together in a fine balance that nicely captured the optimism of a radiant spring day.
In his final remarks Richard Valitutto explained that the composers of his generation have spent their artistic lives working in the shadow of 9/11, and this burden has only increased since the November election. Accordingly, the last piece selected for this program was Compassion (2001), by Julia Wolfe. This begins softly, with an ominous slow trill that steadily builds tension, followed by a series of strong chords that become progressively more chaotic. The roiling chords roll in like a booming surf, freighted with powerful emotions. The rumbling continues to build in intensity, especially in the lower registers, until there is an explosive silence – and the roar slowly dies away. After a short silence, a new trill is heard, now filled with a quiet sorrow. Compassion is destined to be a landmark of our era and was played to perfection by Valitutto, whose efforts were received with extended applause.
The impeccable playing by all the performers made Work an engaging evening of contemporary music that ranged from forceful and complex to the soft and subtle. This concert was a good benchmark reading of Valitutto’s varied musical influences as well as pointing to his continued artistic growth.
On April 8th, REDCAT will host a concert of composer Clarence Barlow’s works of the 21st century, including major ensemble, electronic and intermedia works. Tickets and info for that are at redcat.org/event/clarence-barlow. Full disclosure: I’m a student of Clarence’s, as is my friend Brandon Rolle, who interviewed him for UCSB’s website. The university kindly gave us permission to reprint that interview here ahead of this Saturday’s concert. Here are Brandon and Clarence:
Clarence Barlow is a composer and the Corwin Chair of Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While Barlow is recognized internationally for his contributions to electronic music and his pioneering work in algorithmic composition, his voluminous artistic output defies categorization, breaking boundaries of style, genre, and form. Recently, the dynamic and diverse output of Barlow’s career was celebrated by a three-day festival of his works in Cologne, Germany—a city that introduced Barlow to Bernd Alois Zimmermann, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the avant-garde music of mid-20th-century Germany from which his distinct compositional trajectory launched. This year Southern California, too, celebrates his career and music: January 28th marked the premiere of his recent major intermedia piece )ertur( in Fullerton, CA, and February 24th saw a program of his early chamber works (from ages 14-22) at UCSB.
Many of your best-known works in the academic community are those which utilize algorithmic processes or your original software, but early on you were an active pianist and conductor and your compositions are markedly more romantic—can you talk a bit about your early musical experience/education?
Well as a young boy, age eight, I used to play in a school band in my then home town Calcutta. Then at the age of 11, I decided to make my own music, though I had no formal teaching. At 13, I got into a general classical mode and at age 15 I got into a historical style at more or less Haydn, Mozart, reaching Rachmaninoff at age 17. Then a music critic heard my stuff and told me I was too conservative, and that there was other music I should listen to—he played me Samuel Barber on the piano—and I did move on. But all of these pieces were written for regular classic acoustic ensembles. My first electronic music was written at age 24, so these early pieces from 50 years ago—of which there will be a concert here at UCSB—are all going to be in styles of Haydn, Mozart, Bartók, etc. There will be two string quartets, and a wind quartet sounding a bit like Prokofiev, or Hindemith. Those pieces are a natural outcome of the process of my historic music development through my teen years and early 20s.
How did that first computer piece at 24 come about?
As one of the few people in India—well, the only one—writing Western contemporary music, I got a scholarship to go to Germany to study composition there. After the interview I was told I could pack already, and it was through this scholarship that I ended up studying with Zimmerman and Stockhausen. The Cologne school where I started my studies in 1968 was the place to study electronic music—it had the only electronic music studio in a school at the time. So that’s where I made my first electronic pieces at 23 (Studies) and my first serious electronic piece at 24 (Sinophony I), gradually easing myself unwittingly into the very avant-garde contemporary music scene in Cologne, where I found my roots. But all the same, I broke with rules of the avant-garde in crazy ways.
When I started to do computer music—I was 24—it was because I understood there were certain algorithmic things I wanted to do which could probably only be realized by a computer. I remember that at the end of 1972, I drove a night and a day to Stockholm where I worked for two weeks in a studio over the Christmas break making my piece Sinophony II. I realized, a computer could do anything I wanted it to do, if I learned to program it properly.
In your teaching and lectures you talk about algorithms as a means to an end, compositionally. In the beginning, were you primarily experimenting to find new sounds?
No, I knew what I wanted. I could imagine the first stages of the compositional process and said ‘okay, let me work on that and listen to it’. For instance, my piece …or a cherish’d bard… is written for piano, but it’s highly algorithmic. I computer-programmed a first version of the piece, listened to the result and thought ‘boring, what do I have to change?’ I moved my program in a new direction and thought the result was a lot better, but now this gave me new ideas, which changed the process further until I finally said ‘this is it’. I had my piece.
I can’t imagine everything at the beginning, but listening to test results always gives me new ideas. The imagination is always the carrot, and I am the horse following it, as it were. And this holds for my algorithmic piano, ensemble, and electronic music alike. My electronic music is inspired even in its timbre by algorithms—someone told me recently that there is no such thing as algorithmic timbral composition; I said that isn’t true, I do it all the time.
A major component of your teaching, writing, and composing are your theories on tonal and metric functions as a continuum.
I came to Germany at age 22 writing conservative early 20th century music. But at the age of 24 my style broke completely and I became radical. My piano piece Textmusic was unlike anything I had done before; it was accorded a 20-minute response from the audience at Darmstadt—boos and applause; it was one of the big scandals of Darmstadt that year. From then on I was no longer writing in any historical style, unless I wanted to deliberately.
At 29, I first imagined a variably tonal music, not as in the past where it was simply tonal or semi tonal or atonal—I wanted tonality to go from 0% to 100% and back. It became clear that if I wanted to make this variable tonality—and variable metricity—that I had to develop a theoretical fundament. So I got into prime number theory, looked at Pythagoras and Euler and found my way through algebraic formulae which I programmed all summer in Cologne at the Institute of Phonetics. That is how these formulae became the cornerstone of a lot of my work.
Why was it important to be able to move between tonal/atonal styles as a parameter or variable?
One of my great heroes in literature is James Joyce. He absorbed culture into his work, which is not only fantastic literature but is also a commentary on culture. Looking at music culture of the past—tonal, atonal—I wanted to use all of that. I saw tonality as a kind of magnetic field, the strength of which I wanted to change at will. Joyce often writes in historic styles with a twist—I do that too, in my derived music. But in my algorithmic music I also conjure up and generate styles which might or might not make you remember past history.
What about the incorporation of extra-musical elements into your music?
I have been synesthetically oriented for most of my life. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but I’ve always been very interested in the visual. And language—when learning German at 22, I discovered my great love of language. So I think it is because I love all these things that I start to perceive bridges between them and music.
As a composer for both fixed media and human performers, what is it that you look for in a performance of your acoustic work?
For me it is important to listen to the result—now the humanly played result may not be 100% accurate as in a MIDI rendition, but if it were, it would be without soul. A great human performance has expression, phrasing, nuances. If it comes across as something fresh, something with musical spirit, then I’m happy.
Then do you find it problematic for electronic music that it lacks such human “spirit”?
No, it’s not a problem. It is like being in a planetarium, looking at exact moments in time, exactly placed, with exact frequencies.
Like much modern music, your compositions can be challenging to listen to for many people. Is there ever temptation to adjust the musical language to make the concept more accessible?
I don’t need to be accessible. I believe in the grand body of culture we have behind us, and in the propagation and extension of it. You cannot make it accessible to everyone. You don’t doctor art to propagate it. I love James Joyce: should Joyce have written in a simpler style to be more accessible? I believe very strongly you stick to your guns, you do what you have to do.
So what would you suggest to a listener in order get the most out of your music? Out of modern music in general?
I would say first of all, frequency of listening is very important. You have to listen often. You’ve got to go to lots of events, you’ve got to have an open mind. Get to know the music.
We couldn’t agree with that more. Check out Clarence’s music at REDCAT on Saturday at 7. Tickets and more information are up at redcat.org/event/clarence-barlow
It’s Lou Harrison’s 100th birthday! (Well, almost.) San Francisco-based pianist Sarah Cahill will be joining LA’s own Varied Trio (Shalini Vijayan, violin, Aron Kallay, piano, and Yuri Inoo, percussion) at Monk Space on April 4 to celebrate, performing a variety of Harrison’s works. I had the opportunity to ask Cahill some questions about the upcoming concert and more. Here is Sarah:
You’ll be performing several solo piano works by Lou Harrison at Monk Space, including Jig, Range-Song, Dance for Lisa Karon, Conductus from Suite, and Summerfield Set. Can you tell us bit about these works? Also, what are your thoughts about Lou Harrison’s music in general?
Even though Lou Harrison said “Equal temperament destroys everything,” and was far more fascinated by just intonation and other tunings, he wrote some extraordinary music for the equal tempered piano (which describes basically all modern pianos). His Jig and Range-Song have been played only rarely, if at all, since he wrote them in 1939. He was 22 years old, studying with Henry Cowell, who was in San Quentin at the time. In these pieces, he evokes Cowell with his chord cluster techniques. There’s a third piece from this set called Reel, and it’s sometimes called Reel for Henry Cowell. That gets played a lot, as opposed to Jig and Range-Song. Dance for Lisa Karon is a year earlier, from 1938, and the manuscript was discovered just a few years ago in someone’s house in San Francisco. Conductus is from the Suite which Lou Harrison wrote when he was studying with Arnold Schoenberg, and it resembles Schoenberg’s own Suite in that it uses a twelve-tone row but is not strictly twelve-tone. Summerfield Set is an exuberant three-movement work from 1988, and it’s the Lou Harrison we know and love, with dance rhythms and singable tunes. It’s dedicated to the keyboardist Susan Summerfield.
What do you find most compelling about commissioning and performing new works?
I love the surprise of receiving a new score, of bringing a piece of music to life and knowing it’s going to enter the repertoire and be interpreted by countless other pianists (after I have lots of time with it!). It’s exciting to explore a piece of music that’s completely unknown territory. And I love working with living composers, the exchange of ideas, the whole process of developing a piece and working towards a premiere or a recording.
What initially drew you to the piano, and what are your favorite (and/or least favorite) aspects about being a pianist?
I was initially drawn to the piano by a charismatic and beautiful teacher named Sharon Mann who is a Bach specialist. Because of her, playing Bach was everything to me. My least favorite aspect of being a pianist is the pressure of trying to learn a piece fast when ideally it should be given a year or two. My favorite part of being a pianist is immersing myself in practicing all day long, which is a luxury, and that feeling in performance that someone else is playing and I’m just listening– when the music seems to play itself. One other thing I find exciting is getting to the point where I know a composer’s work so well that I can identify mistakes in the score.
Do you ever compose? If not, what kind of composer do you think you would be?
I would be a terrible composer. I love the whole process of interpreting.
On April 1 Jonathan Morgan is premiering a new work of yours, [[[clouded]]]. What can you tell us about the piece?
[[[clouded]]] for electro-acoustic viola and live video is 1 of 14 works in an electro- acoustic chamber works series called [[[nexus]]]. This chain of works started in 2013 and stems from three joined ideas.
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French ordre, from Latin ordo, ordin- ‘row, series, rank.’
ORIGIN late 15th cent. (denoting a gaping void or chasm, later formless primordial matter): via French and Latin from Greek khaos ‘vast chasm, void
ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘unoccupied’): from a dialect variant of Old French vuide; related to Latin vacare ‘vacate’; the verb partly a shortening of avoid, reinforced by Old French voider.
chasm |ˈkaz m|
a deep fissure in the earth, rock, or another surface.
• a profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.: the chasm between rich and poor.
chasmic |ˈkazmik| adjective( rare)
ORIGIN late 16th cent. (denoting an opening up of the sea or land, as in an earthquake): from Latin chasma, from Greek khasma ‘gaping hollow.’
I’m familiar with your music for instruments and electronics, but not so much with what you do with visuals. Could you discuss your approach, and how the audio and visual work with each other in your view?
In my sound/visual works i am interested in embracing an indeterminate (glitch) graphic/design element. In the case of the series [[[nexus]]], all of the visuals are representations of the harmonic waves happening in real-time. Everything from the speed of the rotations to the changing of parameters is mapped to the behavior of harmonic space and time. To take it a step further, i have started projecting the waves onto the performer/s to create a sense of ‘digital’ or ‘VR’ type of experience that if done correctly turns your shit projector into the most advanced projection mapping effect available.
I’ve seen you list this piece, in various places, as being by Josh Carro or by your band/artist name, [[[personablack]]]. I’ve seen records out by both. Is there a distinction? Do you write a piece and then decide who it gets released by? Or does deciding that in advance influence your writing?
That’s a fair question, in 2012/13 i created the moniker [[[personablack]]] literally meaning ‘black sound’ because i had over 20 albums under josh carro and was simply ready for something new and anonymous like. Everything made from 2013 is by [[[personablack]]]. As far as the writing goes, my influences are always coming from sound and or design.
This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Jonathan. What’s your working relationship like? Is there a lot of back and forth?
Jonathan is exceptional and skilled, he has been nothing but open and interested in doing something new. When we first met at the Now Hear Ensemble premiere of my work
I typically don’t have back and forth communication because it can tend to make the work/writing contrived and boring.
What else do you have coming up?
Right now, i am working on 5 separate project albums with Blood Oath (U. Krieger, josh carro) Ehnahre, [[[personablack]]]6, VHS release of [[[personablack]]] PERVERSION and can’t talk about the last one, all of which will be coming out from late summer 2017 to end of 2018.
A new work for electro-acoustic piano commissioned by Vicki Ray which should be premiered in the end of spring.
Seattlemix for Bf clarinet, cello, piano – April 5th @ FSU
falling into the blackness – April 15th @ UNT
420 Fest – April 20th @ TBA
In the summer my postcard works will be performed by NMCE partly for the Tenney Symposium and partly for chamber concerts throughout the year.
As always a lot of random underground shows, most of which are listed on any of my sites:
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank my family and friends for their endless support and patience. Also, thank you for the opportunity to discuss my work with you and your readers.
Please come to the concert Saturday, April 1 at 8 PM – 10 PM Bird Studio, Occidental College
Tickets for vla. are available at synchromymusic.org/vla
People Inside Electronics (abbreviated PIE) performs and promotes electroacoustic music in LA. Often, concerts go beyond music and present interdisciplinary multimedia collaborations with dancers, actors, scientists, and so on. PIE focuses on the artists, and electronic synthesizers and modulators are the media. The more time passes, the more I appreciate the name of the series. Today, we live in a world where music can be created entirely by programs and algorithms, without people at all. Furthermore, an increasing portion of the population has electronics inside them, from pacemakers to RFID implants (yes, really). To turn the lens from the machines’ ability to the people’s, and what they can make the machines do, is something to behold.
Beginning the concert on a fantastic note was The Deep State by Isaac Schankler (2017), performed by Scott Worthington on bass and Isaac Schankler on electronics. Right from the start, I could hear Pauline Oliveros’s influence and inspiration on the piece. She is one of my favorite pioneers in electronic music, and I know she is an influence to Schankler as well. Her pieces change slowly, like delicately bending metal into a sculpture. Like Schankler, she often provokes contemplation.
Schankler writes in the program note, “This piece is ‘about’ both the necessity and seeming impossibility of this kind of contemplation in our…current situation.” It is not difficult to interpret what he was getting at by ‘current situation.’ The ambiguity of the phrase also allows the listener to turn to any other situation, perhaps one more personal and probably less dismal. Regardless of any narrative one applies to the piece, Schankler’s genius composition, performed by my favorite bassist in southern California, is sure to stimulate a deep state of contemplation and peace in anyone who hears it.
Next on the program, pianist Aron Kallay and percussionist Yuri Inoo performed Elliptic by Caroline Louise Miller (2012). Elliptic paints the landscape of a “particularly beautiful dream” Miller had about “our pre-apocalyptic, neoliberal world.” (Compared to Schankler’s The Deep State, we can infer that the apocalypse has occurred sometime between 2012 and 2017.) Miller’s program notes describe an enchanting ellipsoid planet with a golden moon, orbiting a pink star. Monoliths appear on the water and break the spell.
The monoliths were the harbingers of change. The Earth appears on the horizon and destroys the reverie with an onslaught of media noise. In the music, Kallay’s otherworldly electronic piano depicts the beautiful planet, while Inoo’s bombastic snare and gong invoke the Earth’s cacophony. The Earth vanishes, and the music freezes for a second…and then quietly resumes, as if tip-toeing through the wreckage. The third movement, “Exodus,” sounds like flying into the unknown. It is different than the beginning, but there is a similar sense of being, of existing. I would recommend listening to this piece on its own once, then with the program notes, and then a third time on its own again. Close your eyes if you wish to visualize the alien landscape, just don’t forget to open your ears to the sonic landscape Miller crafts.
After intermission, PIE introduced BitPanic, a computer music collective based in LA. In a computer music collective, performers improvise on networked composition systems on laptops. Mark Trayle cofounded The Hub, the godfather of computer music collectives, dating back to 1986. BitPanic took on Trayle’s semi-aleatoric piece Pins and Splits (2004). In this piece, the background sound is fixed, and the foreground allows improvisation. The players affect each other’s timing, like a music game of duck-duck-goose. The result of the game is a constant transformation from chaos to order and back again. The program note says the title comes from an email thread with Trayle’s Hub-mates. To me, this is delightfully meta. Like an email thread, in Pins and Splits each participant takes turns at the lead, asking questions and resolving conflicts.
After Trayle’s piece, BitPanic concluded the concert with a totally improvised set. The quartet set loose on keyboards, knobs, and violins. Each player seemed to exist in their own little bubble. Sometimes they coincided with another player, and sometimes seemed like polar opposites. One performer played the violin normally, albeit hooked up with wires to the laptops for sound processing. Another performer laid his violin on the table and treated it no differently than the laptop. The other two stared stoically at their screens, clicking and typing and twiddling away. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. That’s the beauty of electroacoustic music. The limit is your imagination, and my thoughts and experiences were certainly not the same as the members of BitPanic. New music, in the hands of PIE and BitPanic, will continue to surprise and delight.
Choral Arts Initiative’s debut album, out today, features the works of LA-composer Dale Trumbore; the bulk of it is dedicated to the composer’s secular requiem, How to Go On. I was lucky enough to be at the premiere performance of this work, and was deeply moved by its wisdom, quiet strength, and feeling. As such, I was excited to spend more time with it. In its entirety, the album tackles the universal questions of mortality and the challenges of life’s journey – no easy undertaking, but one that Trumbore takes on with elegance and grace (and, importantly, without making things too heavy). Choral Arts Initiative, a non-profit choral organization under the direction of Brandon Elliott, successfully convey its powerful messages. Their talented performance achieves that delicate balance of strength and fragility.
Contemporary poet Barbara Crooker asks a simple question: “How can we go on / Knowing the end of the story?” This question is the germinating seed of the eight-movement requiem, as Trumbore seeks to find an answer – or, perhaps, to ask more questions (can we ever really find an answer?). Movement 1, How, is set to the text of this question. It features rising clusters, increasing in dissonance and culminating in a sublime stacked harmony, which leaves the listener with a sense of reverence for the unknown. The altos and sopranos continue this sentiment in the next movement, However Difficult, (set to text by Laura Foley). This is juxtaposed by the tenors and basses, who ground us with the message that however difficult life may be, it is still yours, and there is solace to be found in this simple truth. Movement 3 (To See It) feels like a warm blanket, its soft lines unfolding delicately over a quiet, soothing drone and holding the listener in close. CAI delivers this text (again by Foley) with patience, warmth, and sincerity.
Movement 4 (Relinquishment) is where the pacing begins to quicken. The growth and decay in dynamics, orchestration, shifting tempo, and harmony reflect a larger metaphor for the cyclical nature of life and death – learning “how to give it up again and again.” The following movement is similar in theme, but where Relinquishment calmly beckons, Requiescat is more direct in its urgency. It represents a larger gamut of emotions – from the peace of spring rain to the fury of earth and fire – and makes us confront the concept of mortality head-on. More questions lead us to the final movement, a calm acceptance of our ultimate fate, that culminates in a musical meditation to allow us the space to reflect.
The remaining pieces on the album are some of Trumbore’s earlier works, which further showcase her ability as a choral composer (and pianist, in the case of In the Middle). Embedded in these pieces are moral tales of some of life’s many challenges, from our need to connect with others to the feeling after a storm has passed. Combined with How to Go On, these works tell a complete story of life and death, acceptance and defeat, and growth and decay. They remind us that life is about the journey, and that questions are often more important than answers.
.On Saturday, March 18, People Inside Electronics present the computer music collective Bitpanic at Boston Court, as well as pieces by Isaac Schankler and Caroline Louise Miller. While prepping for the concert, Bitpanic member Scott Cazan had a minute to answer a few questions.
I’ve seen Bitpanic’s name floating around for a while now and unfortunately haven’t had the chance to catch a show yet. Could you describe a bit about what you do?
Sure! Bitpanic is a computer music collective based in Los Angeles that explores networked compositional systems, experimental sound practices, and improvisation. The group follows the computer music lineage pioneered by groups like The Hub (who have been doing this sort of things since the 70’s). In fact, the current members are all former students and colleagues of one of the co-founders of The Hub, the late Mark Trayle and includes Casey Anderson, me, Clay Chaplin, David Paha, and Stephanie Smith. We perform new works for networked electronics as well as repertoire and improvised music.
As a networked computer ensemble, I’m sure you have some thoughts on the challenges of live performance in electronic music. How do you ensure your performances are engaging?
Well certainly there has been a lot of talk in the past about electronic performers and their stage presence but I think, luckily, we are moving past the idea that someone on stage with a laptop is not engaging (in any case there are five of us on laptops!). It has become pretty common to do so and I would only say that perhaps laptop performance has a really nice focusing effect for the ears (although we do have many more LEDs than your typical instrumental player). Certainly I hope that we can create a space for listening and that the music, itself, is central to do what we do and engaging on its own terms. Particularly in a network piece like the Trayle piece we’ll play this Saturday, “Pins and Splits,” where there is a palpable sense of urgency as we find ourselves reacting in real-time to prompts thrown out by other members of the ensemble in real-time.
As to improvisation, or even the simpler “playing together on multiple computers,” I have two questions I’d love your thoughts on. The first is how you think the traditional materials of music making figure in what you do, if they do at all. The second is more technical – are you using a live coding environment? Just syncing your clocks and on your own setups beyond that?
Well, it depends on which tradition one might be speaking of. We draw from a number of musical traditions. Electronic music has had a particularly fascinating tradition (roughly since the 40s) of highlighting timbre and gesture as a prime musical parameter and I think we, as individuals, each approach our own sounds with a careful attention to timbral detail.
Our predecessors, The Hub, certainly found a lot of inspiration in David Tudor and Cage and their ways of working with emergence (there is a really wonderful article by Tim Perkis on this subject called “Complexity and Emergence in the Experimental Music Tradition” that you can find on his website). In a lot of ways what Tudor experimented with was to move the compositional idea from a fixed score into a system/circuit. In other words, the circuit itself becomes the score and network music takes that to an ensemble setting. Of course, you see a lot of that type of thinking present in earlier and later works of Pauline Oliveros, Christian Wolff, John Cage, and many others as well. Bitpanic certainly carries on from that tradition of creating systems in which people are able to interact in very specific ways over a network. It is actually a pretty rich musical tradition of experimental music, from Tudor, The Hub, the cybernetics of Bebe and Louis Barron, and even all the way back to early electronic telemusic experiments such as Thadeus Cahill’s Telharmonium (1895) among others. And that is not even touching on the long history of improvised music that is worth an entirely separate discussion of its own.
How does the concert this weekend stand out, to you, from other performances you’ve done?
Every concert is different given the nature of pieces. Its really wonderful that we can be assured of that as the scores themselves, while specific in their interactions, allow new things to always emerge in the course of performing it. Every concert we do is preceded by reworking our own setups and finding new ways to explore the works so I’m really looking forward to see how this will evolve come Saturday. The last performance of “Pins and Splits” occurred at REDCAT so I also think it will be interesting to hear it in the more intimate setting of Boston Court.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Big thanks to People Inside Electronics for including us on the program. I’m also very much looking forward to hearing a new Isaac Schankler/Scott Worthington piece and a Caroline Louise Miller piece performed by Aron Kallay and Yuri Inoo. It should be a pretty diverse concert!
Tickets are available at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10123260.
Microfest is teaming up with Tuesdays at Monk Space on March 14, featuring composer/performer duo Larry Polansky and Giacomo Fiore on guitars – with a variety of tunings. I had the chance to interview the performers about the program and more. Here are Larry and Giacomo:
The upcoming concert features microtonal works for two guitars by American maverick composers, including Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lou Harrison, James Tenney, Christian Wolff, and two new works that you will be presenting as composer/performers. As a collective, do you find something uniquely American about these works?
Larry Polansky: In the simplest sense — that they’re all American composers — yes. But more importantly, each of these composers, in very different ways, were (are, in Christian’s case) deeply embedded and woven into American culture and American music, particularly the most beautiful parts of each. None of them looked to Europe primarily as a model (though Lou looked often to historic Europe, and Christian’s musical and cultural viewpoint is pan-geographical and pan-linguistic).They emerge organically — like wildflowers — from the terrain American music in the best of all possible ways. Their ideas and music are not in contradistinction or opposition to other musical geographies or histories, but rather operate, as my friend the composer/poet Chris Mann would say, in a mammer that “doesn’t waste one’s own virtuosity”. They are all, in very real ways, related, and also to me personally. Three out of four of them were (are) among my closest friends, colleagues, collaborators, fellow musicians, mentors, and musical influences, and the one who left us before I was born (Ruth Crawford Seeger) has been a huge influence on my life and work.
Giacomo Fiore: Maybe—with the exception of my piece—I would say that all of the pieces share a degree of unpretentiousness. Each of them is clear in musical intent, generally focuses on a single idea or musical conceit, and doesn’t presume to unveil (or communicate!) some kind of cosmic truth. As I see it, those are characteristics of at least one branch of U.S. music—what we may call “American Experimentalism”—and I must say they’re what makes the genre so attractive for me both as a performer and in my research.
Can you talk a bit about your new piece, which you will be performing at Monk Space? What was the compositional process like for this work?
Larry: My piece, #4 (“34 More Chords: Charles Dodge in Putney” ) from the guitar duet 8 Fermentations has a happy history. 8 Fermentations was based on on a sketch for a never realized solo guitar piece for me by my friend and colleague — and wonderful composer — Charles Dodge. The piece is a tribute to his work, but written after he had stopped composing. For many years, Christian Wolff, Charles and I have had a regular lunch date. Some years ago, on a festival honoring Christian, I wrote him a solo guitar piece called 34 Chords: Christian Wolff in Hanover and Royalton, which I’ve played many times (as has Giacomo). 34 Chords… was intended as a gift to him to replace the “lost guitar piece” (now found) that Morton Feldman wrote for Christian. For me, it seemed logical to also write a similar piece for Charles, who had not “lost something” by no longer composing, but had in fact found a new passion (winemaking in Vermont!).
How has your experience as performers affected your work as composers, and vice versa?
Larry: For me, the older I get, the more all activities — most of life — become simply part of being a musician: composing, theorizing, performing, teaching, editing, researching, writing code…. living. For a number of felicitous reasons (including my close musical and personal friendship with Giacomo), I have been writing a lot more for guitar in the last few years. And fortunately for me, younger, gifted players all over the world seem to enjoy playing this material. I am however, very clearly, simply a composer who loves to play guitar (and not vice versa!).
Giacomo: Let me again clarify one thing—I don’t identify as a composer. I’m a performer and a musicologist, maybe I’d go as far as claiming to be a music theorist, but I don’t have the training nor the discipline to claim the title of “composer” (mainly out of respect for those who do have the credentials!). However, when I was asked to write a new piece for this concert, I figured I could use the opportunity to comment on some of the recurring tuning problems, approaches, and solutions that I’ve been exploring in my academic research as well as in my performance career, both as a soloist and in the duo with Larry. “Cognates” Is Just a Fancy Term for “Relatives”—as the title suggests—is not a particularly serious piece. It muses on tuning theory and its terminology (“cognates” are pitches who share the same name, but are tuned differently) and uses a fairly complicated tuning scheme for two guitars to try to show that these differentky-tuned pitches can be traced back to a common ancestor (both guitars tune the lowest string to D, which is the true fundamental of the piece). Nerdy stuff aside, the piece is simply an improvisational framework for Larry and me, referencing some of wacky the things we do in our playing, and serving as a small homage to the way he has inspired me as a musician, mentor, and friend over the past several years.
What do you find most compelling about microtonal music?
Larry: Pitch is so important in music that we are obligated to treat it with the respect it deserves, much as we treat other people with the cognizance of their individual extraordinary potentials, and the freedom and capacity to be what they want to be (not what they are told to be). If we use pitch, we should consider what pitches are, and can be. In that respect, as composers we should do what we can to contribute to the history and present of an unencumbered, ever-fecund world (universe) of musical pitch.
Giacomo: Before I answer that, let me say I’m not a fan of the term—maybe because it reminds me of microbes, or perhaps because it sounds overly fastidious. From a technical standpoint, much of the music Larry and I will play at T@MS is not microtonal—meaning it doesn’t necessarily feature tiny intervals. I prefer to think of it in terms of *tuning* music—music born out of concern about how we relate one note to the other. What I find compelling about that is manifold—I like how it puts me in touch with more rudimental aspects of music-making, forcing me to consider pitch (and its relationship to timbre) in a more attentive way. I also like how it questions commonly-held musical “givens”—that an octave should be divided into twelve equal parts, for example, or that every octave should feature the same pitches. Ultimately, though, I enjoy this music on a sensual and sensory level; I love the way it sounds, how it makes me marvel, and how it opens windows onto unforeseen musical worlds.
Tickets for the March 14 concert are available at http://tuesdaysatmonkspace.org/shows/microfest-presents/<./em>