Ashley Walters and Nicholas Deyoe on their history as collaborators

Composer Nicholas Deyoe and cellist Ashley Walters celebrate the release of their albums for Duane and Another Anxiety on October 20th, 2017 on Populist Records.

Each album has a distinct narrative, but the two releases are connected — two of Deyoe’s works appear on Walters’ album and Walters appears as both a member of the WasteLAnd ensemble and as a soloist on for Duane.

For this interview, Nick and Ashley reminisced about their collaboration over the past decade. Here, they present stories about their albums, music, and friendship.

First Impressions of Each Other

ND: I first met Ashley Walters in rehearsals for my second jury piece at UCSD (September-ish 2007), but I’d seen her perform with the Formalist Quartet a few times in the year before that. She was really astonishing in the quartet performances that I’d seen and I was really excited to get to work with her. She was detail-oriented, clear and direct in her feedback, and unbelievably positive. When we met, I was still really figuring myself out musically. I had a lot of insecurities that I was desperate to keep hidden and regularly felt like I wasn’t making music that was as interesting as that of my colleagues. Ashley was someone whose support and enthusiasm for my music made an incalculable difference in how I saw myself. As I became more confident in myself and my music, I began to feel much more free to develop my language (I’m not sure I’ve ever expressed these sentiments to Ashley). Daniel Tacke (who wrote a beautiful essay for my liner notes) and Stephanie Aston were two others who played pivotal roles for me. These were people who helped me question my work in a constructive way, helping me understand who I wanted to be musically.

AW: I met Nicholas Deyoe when we were grad students and neighbors in San Diego. I immediately noticed Nick’s presence and energy in rehearsals — he was professional yet sensitive; gregarious yet humble. I found tremendous energy and extreme contrasts in his music, which has biting, severe, and brutal sounds with moments of purity and sweetness. Whether I think of Nick in those early meetings or as a current collaborator and friend the word that always comes to mind to describe him is kind. He is a prominent force in the LA music scene not only because of his professional drive but because our community knows that he is invested in making connections with people and building strong friendships. I think there are many people who would consider themselves lucky to have met Nick.

Cellist Ashley Walters and composer Nicholas Deyoe. Photo by Warren LaFever.

Cellist Ashley Walters and composer Nicholas Deyoe. Photo by Warren LaFever.

ND: After this, Ashley and I started working together a lot, especially once we discovered that we were neighbors. Hearing Ashley’s perspectives on working with other composers, rehearsal preparation, and performance materials shaped my own approaches toward all things. I had the luxury of not only learning from her through our collaborations, but by drinking tea and talking about issues in other music, teaching, and life. She is thoughtful, direct, and never negative without warrant. If Ashley thought something was a problem, there was a good reason. She was the person to teach me that cello music is just as much about the person holding the instrument as the instrument itself (seems silly to make such an obvious statement) and that not all cellists have massive hands. She also demonstrated time and again that she would always strive to find a good solution for anything. Her dedication is remarkable and is something I witnessed immediately. In the 10 years we’ve known each other, I’ve only watched that dedication to her craft, her community, and her students deepen.

AW: Our first collaboration, For Stephanie (on our wedding day), was written for a momentous occasion — the marriage of Nick and Stephanie Aston. I am still touched to this day that our first collaboration was presented at such a personal event for two dear friends. During the process of creating this piece we spent as much time drinking tea and building our friendship through conversation as we did experimenting with sounds. This allowed us to connect first as friends and artists and then as collaborators not long after. [There is a work on each of our albums that was written for and performed at each other’s wedding. Six years after Ashley performed For Stephanie at my wedding, Stephanie performed Immer Wieder, which was composed for Ashley’s marriage to Luke Storm.—ND]

Then and Now

AW: In some ways it is impossible for me to imagine my career without the presence of Nick Deyoe — both as a colleague and as a composer. Releasing these two albums on the same day feels like the perfect celebration of a chapter in my life that has been enhanced by our work together.

As a performer, I try to be a portal between a composer’s voice and the audience’s experience. It has been a true honor that Nick has chosen me time and time again to be his ambassador of sound. Nick has challenged my technique and my own creativity; his music constantly inspires me to explore new colors and timbres on my instrument. I am a better cellist because of our work together. Nick’s musical language is unique but now feels completely familiar and comfortable to me. It’s like riding a bike — but his music is much more difficult than that!

ND: My relationship to pieces like another anxiety or for Stephanie are a lot different now than when I composed them four and eight years ago. At the time of creation, I was very focused on every detail, fussing over the sculpting of small moments. Now, as Ashley plays the pieces over and over again, across several years, I’m continually excited by the way she surprises me. At this point, I assume the time she has spent practicing the pieces surpasses the time I spent composing them. She has put incredible thought into every moment of the interpretation. She owns these pieces now, and it is an honor to watch her thought process unfold. In our early meetings refining her part for Lullaby 6, it felt like I was hearing her play an old piece. Ashley’s earliest interpretations were already nuanced and persuasive. It felt like she had already internalized the piece in a way that felt so familiar despite the music being completely new to us. [I truly think this work is a masterpiece, Nick. While it is an intensely difficult to play it was never anything but pure joy for me to uncover the nuances in your notation.—AW]

AW: Nick is often outgoing and effusive after concerts but the two performances that I remember and cherish the most are when he was speechless backstage — it was in those moments that I felt like we truly understood the magnitude of our collaboration. For me the performance of Nicks’s concerto, Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” is my most memorable — that night was not about virtuosity or even about collaboration — it was truly about friendship. Nick and I stepped on stage, he with a baton [“baton” is figurative, because I rarely use one.—ND] and myself with my cello, and together we celebrated the life of Nick’s father, Duane, who had passed away earlier that year. I was again honored to be asked to share a profound moment in Nick’s life through his music.

ND: Each new project we start together feels like it is embedded in everything we’ve already done while still moving forward. My collaborations with Ashley (similar to what I’ve done with Stephanie Aston and Matt Barbier) are what I use as a model when encouraging composition students to focus on building relationships with their peers. With these people, whom I’ve made so much music with over the last several years, a very different set of possibilities emerges. A new piece is a continuation of a long, thoughtful, and mutually respectful dialog rather than a fresh start. I am excited for every new musical relationship I begin, but maintaining the old ones is what I cherish about being a musician.

The Recording Process

AW: The collaboration between the composers and myself on this album extended past the composition/performance stage and into the recording process. Every composer (except Berio) was present when I recorded their piece. For me, recording solo repertoire in a large studio can feel lonely and isolating. However, in these sessions the energy of each composer was palpable through the glass. Wolfgang von Schweinitz brought his masterful ear and bolstered my own confidence with the fragile intonation in Plainsound-Litany. Wadada Leo Smith’s spirit in the booth was as contagious as it is on stage. The flexibility of his notation allows the performer to find her own voice and Smith provided constant support about the decisions I was making and the risks I was taking in my interpretation. Andrew McIntosh, a string player himself, is more frequently sitting in front of the mic than in the producer’s seat. (However, he is a talented producer in his own right, as you can hear on Nick’s album!). Knowing the great difficulty of his own piece, Andrew was my cheerleader throughout the process. Nick Deyoe was the first composer who joined me in the recording studio. Because this recording was documenting our first collaboration it felt like a special moment for both of us.

ND: All of the topics that Ashley and I keep discussing come back to collaboration. Making this album was a giant collaboration, involving 20+ people. My role composing the music, making the scores/parts, and editing the recordings feels, relatively, like a small part of everything that came together to make this album. This was the incredible work of 15 performers, 2 poets, a visual artist, a designer, and the miraculous producer/engineer pair of Andrew McIntosh and Nick Tipp. During our recording days last March, I spent time on both sides of the glass. I conducted Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along and Lullaby 6 “for Duane,” and I sat next to Andrew in the control room for Immer Wieder and 1560. As a performer, I was trying to simultaneously think in-the-moment while considering what would make a good recording. Thankfully, Nick (Tipp) and Andrew (Mcintosh) were paying great attention to everything, taking notes, and also reading the room and managing the overall flow of the session. Recording challenging music is stressful for everyone, and having people who can help keep a productive flow while ensuring that everyone in the room is happy can’t be understated. On the other side of the glass, with the opportunity to listen more objectively (Immer Wieder, 1560), I was no less grateful to have Nick and Andrew’s sensitive ears reinforcing (and sometimes contradicting) what I was hearing. Their notes were crucial to me when I edited the album.

To learn more about the albums and the release party/concert that will take place on October 20th, visit here: http://deyoe-walters.brownpapertickets.com/

Pre-Order from Populist Records here:

Ashley Walters – Sweet Anxiety
https://populistrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ashley-walters-sweet-anxiety
Nicholas Deyoe – for Duane
https://populistrecords.bandcamp.com/album/nicholas-deyoe-for-duane

Shannon Knox, Micaela Tobin, Sharon Chohi Kim’s Unseal Unseam is not easily forgotten

Unseal Unseam, the title of an hour-long experimental chamber opera presented on October 6th and 7th  at Highways Performance Space, doesn’t give much away in terms of the rich programmatic soil from which it grew. This palimpsest of a piece by Shannon Knox, Micaela Tobin, and Sharon Chohi Kim developed through multiple iterations of MFA projects which responded to Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle (A kékszakállú herceg vára), which itself is influenced by previous settings of a French literary version of an even older folktale. Unseal Unseam seeks to recast Bartok’s female victim as heroine. Elevating and centering female subjectivity is the project at hand, and this nastiest of fairy tales couldn’t be a riper subject.

Unseal Unseam. Photo by Katie Stenberg.

Unseal Unseam. Photo by Katie Stenberg.

For the uninitiated, the original folktale of Bluebeard boils down to a cautionary tale about the unknowability of abusive husbands and the price of female curiosity. In most versions of the story, a nobleman with an unearthly blue beard selects a new wife from a small village. Whisked to his opulent castle after a shotgun wedding, the new bride is entrusted with a set of keys and a warning that all rooms may be opened save one. Of course the curious wife opens the door to the forbidden room, wherein she finds all Bluebeard’s previous wives dead, dripping blood, in some versions, hanging on hooks. She is subsequently caught by Bluebeard, and either dies similarly, or is saved by some handy brothers ex machina.

The tale can either be read as a literal warning against male violence, or perhaps more subtly as a warning against the horrors revealed in men by unsuspecting women who probe too far, desire too much power, or demand too much from their spouses.

The plot itself is a little thin, so in Bartok’s version, the locked doors number seven, each revealing a new treat: a torture chamber, an armory with terrifying weapons, a treasury with blood-spattered coins, a garden with flowers watered by blood, a pool of tears, an entire kingdom whose clouds are darkened by – you guessed it, blood, and the final chamber entombing Bluebeard’s dead wives. It is unclear how much of this exponentially unbelievable drama is literal and how much is psychological torment, but either way, the terrifying portrait of a serial killer is not soon forgotten.

It is this melange of folk and classical creepiness with which Unseal Unseam wrestles. Before Unseal Unseam is fully started, as the audience chats and catches up, one performer quietly conjures electronic whines with pedals on the floor, nearly inaudible to the meandering crowd, invisible to society. Another performer sits stiffly at a white piano as the lights dim and a scene begins on the concrete floor. Three wives enter in voluminous black skirts, connected by red cords bound over their faces as Judith, in beige, crochets a net with her hands. The group slowly unfurl their cords, their choreographed liberation punctuated by slams of the piano lid, plonks of prepared piano strings, and hocketed, dissonant phrases of “locked… what was locked?” and “Where did this happen? Outside or within?” These snippets of plot hints are as concrete as the libretto’s narrative gets, but the haunting, spare music and visual drama unfolding are so enrapturing that not knowing what’s going on doesn’t much matter. The attention to visual impact, from costumes to props, choreography to lighting, is intoxicatingly stunning, especially given a limited budget.

Unseal Unseam. Photo by Katie Stenberg.

Unseal Unseam. Photo by Katie Stenberg.

Similar scenes unfold in different areas throughout the space, from a domestic scene with broken plates used as percussion, to a particularly arresting scene of the women singing through hands over their mouths – both their own and sculpted plaster male hands which flare into trombone-like bells. The audience moved reverently throughout these transitions, naturally matching the ceremonial pace of all involved.

Each of these scene changes is meant to represent one of the seven rooms from Bartok’s original opera, and in some cases, this is clear, as in the pool of tears represented by three amplified cylinders full of water into which are dipped vibrating chimes, and the final tomb, a spectacle of the women singing “open the doors and you will find us” while smoke is somehow magically kept within the bounds of an invisible cube. But, it seems nearly impossible to determine where each door stops and start, and when we are in each chamber. Bartok’s original is present in the overall sense of suspended terror, but everything feels fractured – the throughline of Judith’s own subjectivity has broken even the physical structure of his castle.

Chohi Kim and Tobin’s music itself is built from a balanced palette of hypnotic, cyclical vocal ostinati, lyrical aria duets, earthy classically-structured cello lines, atmospheric electronic manipulation of acoustic phenomena (bowed and rubbed metal, amplified water, rubbing a steel wool-like substance over a microphone) and aggressive metallic percussion (throwing metal objects into a resonant tin). The music is very clearly workshopped, organically developed to flow between performers. It breathes. When the singers do let their full bel canto powers unfurl a few feet from audience members after such restraint, the effect is either hair-raising or paralyzingly beautiful, or perhaps both.

To do service to Bartok, in the original, Judith is hardly a two-dimensional opera character. Neither larger nor smaller than life, Bartok’s Judith is nervy, exhibiting both love and strength and moving Bluebeard with her agency: “I will dry these dripping walls. With my lips, I will dry them. I will warm the cold stone. With my body, I will warm it… together we will overcome these walls… I will have no doors closed to me.”

But of course, by the end, she pays with her life for these transgressions and assumptions of power. In Bartok’s version, Judith may temporarily exercise the power to open doors, but Bluebeard himself is still the defining palace in which her dramas unfold and ultimately end.

In Unseal Unseam, Bluebeard himself is all but erased. Judith is the setting and the actors, the past and the present. In some ways, she seems even more victimized. She is reacting in relation to Bluebeard’s castle, but his personage seems melted into the furniture, a memory she is trying to expunge. At one point, two Judiths appear and she sings to herself disconnectedly about her body, as if trying to gain power over her own objectification. As composers Micaela Tobin and Chohi Kim explained, “…we wanted to re-focus the story on Bluebeard’s wife Judith, and make it about how she was unlocking–unsealing, the doors to her own story… In our version, Judith eventually unlocks the door that reveals her true self, and finds the empowerment and self-love she needs to walk through the final door out of her psychological purgatory.

Was the project effective? Nearly all the audience members seemed moved afterward, and it’s hard to imagine that the dazzling impact of the visual effects could have been lost on anyone. Judith didn’t seem as completely freed from her bondage as the composers might have hoped, but there are things more authentic than an effectively happy ending. Quietly undergirding the entire project was the testimony of actual domestic violence survivors. Composers Micaela Tobin and Sharon Chohi Kim note, “Shannon, Sharon, and I decided that the design and structure … needed to be informed by the truths of actual survivors of domestic violence… every prop, color, and texture you witnessed in this production came from the anonymous answers to our questions.”  The project may not have completely succeeded in transmuting pain into power, but such a success is almost never achieved. More viscerally present, and perhaps more important, were chilling intimacies of abuse which were recognizable, disturbing at a level we almost never choose to experience, and like Bartok’s, not easily forgotten.

 

Hocket and Friends in Pasadena

On Saturday, September 30, 2017 People Inside Electronics presented HOCKET along with special guests Vicki Ray, Aron Kallay and Derek Tywoniuk at the historic Throop Church in Pasadena. The varied program included a world premiere by Samuel Wells, a minimalist landmark work by Steve Reich from 1970, and an unusual piece for three toy pianos. The auditorium was filled to capacity for the first People Inside Electronics concert of the fall season.

The first part of the concert was given over to the world premiere of The Lacuna (2017), by Samuel Wells. HOCKET – Sarah Gibson and Thomas Kotcheff – were seated at the piano while the composer manned a computer behind the audience. Soft, dreamy electronics filled the stage to open the piece. A strong chord marked the entrance of the piano, followed by a series of sparse notes adding to the solitary, remote feeling coming from the electronics. The four hands of HOCKET soon began producing a great profusion of notes from the piano, accompanied by the sound of lapping water. As the piano went silent for a moment, a more tentative and uncertain feeling prevailed as if we were standing on some distant shore. A series of softly repeating arpeggios then began in the piano – reprocessed by the computer and echoed through the speakers – and this was very effective in creating a quiet, settled feeling. At length the piano became more rapidly active and a sort of conversation ensued with the electronic reprocessing of the acoustic sounds.

At one point a dance-like groove broke out, growing in volume and generating a pleasantly warm feeling, much welcomed after the prior remoteness. The cycle of emotions continued, sometimes animated and with counterpoint, sometimes hopeful and at other times dramatic and anxious. The piano and electronic processing were amazingly well-coordinated, each complimenting the other to generate a wide range of expressive sensations. The electronics became a natural partner to the excellent playing by Hocket, even in the fastest and most intricate stretches. The Lacuna is a cutting edge work that does much to validate the capability of electronic reprocessing when joined in real time with skilled piano playing.

qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq (2009) by Tristan Perich followed the intermission and three toy pianos equipped with three-channel 1-bit tones were occupied by Vicki Ray, Kotcheff and Gibson. They opened with an unexpectedly bright and vivid sound, full of rapid passages and precise counterpoint that filled the space with a pleasingly playful energy. The 1-bit electronics augmented the normally modest dynamics of the toy pianos, adding a whimsical arcade game sensibility. There was some minimalist DNA in all of this, but the phrasing was more compact and the harmonic changes more engagingly frequent. Intricate layers of notes poured forth from the players, with sudden stops and grand pauses sprinkled throughout. All of this was skillfully performed, a feat made more remarkable by the cramped postures necessitated by sitting at the small instruments. qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq is a surprisingly attractive and inventive piece for unlikely musical forces, delivered with precision and style by HOCKET and Ms. Ray.

Orizzonte (2004) by Missy Mazzoli for solo piano and electronics was next, performed by Gibson. A clear, slowly pulsing tone issued from the speakers to begin, followed by a series of single piano notes that were close in pitch to that of the electronics. Open chords were soon heard in the piano producing a somber feel and as the piece proceeded the phrases by Ms. Gibson turned more complex and darkly dramatic. The playing here was satisfyingly expressive as the texture gradually became more dense and colored by variations in the dynamics. The piano wove intricate passages in and around the electronic tone which remained more or less constant in pitch and timbre. The simple electronics proved to be surprisingly effective as the foundation for the strongly plaintive mood. Orizzonte artfully combines skilled playing with a straightforward electronic accompaniment in a way that augments each to the benefit of the whole.

Musique de Tables (1987) by Thierry De Mey contained three solid tablets equipped with contact mics on a narrow table. Ray, Gibson and Kotcheff were seated so that their hands, fists and fingers could easily contact the surface of the tablet. The auditorium was completely darkened and the players wore LED head lamps so that the motion of their hands was highlighted as they performed. All of the possibilities of hands and fingers on a flat surface were adroitly explored in this piece, often with striking results. There was, of course, drumming with all three players in unison or separately weaving complex passages and this was often reminiscent of a marching band drum line. There was the tapping of fingers and pounding with fists. There was rubbing of palms and scratching on the surface of the tablets as well as hands clapping, all making for an effective contrast with the more dominant percussive sounds. In the darkness it often felt as if we were witnessing some primal ceremony in a remote village. Musique de Tables is a wonderfully imaginative piece made all the more impressive by the simplicity of the materials, the staging and the ingenious lighting.

The final work on the program was Four Organs (1970) by Steve Reich. Vicki Ray and Aron Kallay joined HOCKET at keyboards on a table in the center of the audience. Derek Tywoniuk began the piece with a steady and continuous eighth-note pulse from two maracas. Four Organs is early Reich, and it was one of his first pieces to be performed for a large audience at a concert by the Boston Symphony in 1971. In his book Writings on Music, Reich wrote that Four Organs was “…composed exclusively of the gradual augmentation of individual tones within a single chord. From the beginning to the end there are no changes of pitch or timbre; all changes are rhythmic and simply consist of gradually increasing durations.” The process-driven feel of this piece is immediately apparent from the beginning and it slowly unfolds with an unrelenting rigor. As the pitches lengthened, the chord took on a sort of grandeur as the tones were allowed to ring out. The playing by all was both accurate and disciplined as Four Organs uncoiled along its deliberate course – a nice reminder of the early days of minimalism.

People Inside Electronics continues to explore the many possibilities of acoustic and electronic collaboration in ways that consistently create good music. Their concert will be Sunday, October 15, 2017 at the Throop Church and will feature cellist Ashley Bathgate.

Sequenza, Sequenza!

The next Tuesdays at Monk Space concert will feature a unique opportunity to hear almost all of Luciano Berio‘s famous Sequenzas – all in one place! Berio wrote these solo pieces throughout his life, starting in the 1950s up until his death in 2003. Numbering fourteen in total, they speak to the unique possibilities of almost every orchestral instrument. The concert will take place in the warehouse at Monk Space, with a simultaneous performance happening in the Annex across the hall. Audience members are invited to move between the halls at their own pace (and maybe stop for some wine in between).

An all-star cast of performers will be lending their talents to these works, and are graciously donating their performances to this fundraising concert. I asked some of the performers about their challenges, triumphs, and overall experiences with these pieces. Here’s what they had to say: 

Elizabeth Huston – Sequenza II (Harp)

I find it fascinating how Sequenza II uses nearly every known extended technique for the harp, while simultaneously making the piece cohesive using thematic material. Often, when composers use too many effects and bizarre techniques, it comes off as just a showcase of weird sounds, not a thoughtful piece of art. This is not the case with Sequenza II, however, which really showcases Berio’s skill as a composer. I also find it incredible how many new rhythmic, melodic, and dynamic themes I find every time I practice the piece. It’s incredibly dense.

I first performed it on my own showcase of all the Sequenzas. Like any piece with this level of complexity, you can practice it indefinitely and it always has room for improvement, which is simultaneously frustrating and rewarding. It’s very significant to me because the challenge of putting together the showcase was, like the piece, incredibly frustrating and rewarding, and resulted in one of the most fun projects of my life. The research put into all of the pieces to create a cohesive show made me really understand the incredible thing that is the Sequenzas, and how the evolution of the Sequenzas in many ways maps the evolution of western music as a whole. I applaud Aron for taking this on!

Stacey Fraser – Sequenza III (Voice)

I think the most interesting and challenging thing is that you need to remain humble and continue to revisit the score despite the number of times you may have performed it! There really are so many notes, subtleties and nuances that it is essential for one to continue to study the score, vocal and silent practice are critical. This is not an improvised piece, Berio notated every note and every vocal gesture. I have been singing the piece since I was a student in the late 90’s and I think the fun thing for me is to see how the piece has matured in my voice over the last 22 years. I have the technical facility to do a lot more in the way of actually making tone yet the “young me” somehow still emerges every time I take the piece out to practice.  Those were the days of rock and roll – Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and BERIO!

I first performed the piece on the stage of Borden Auditorium at the Manhattan School of Music on February 25, 1995 as part of their annual Festival of New Music. I was the first act on the program and the concert closed with Tan Dun’s Circle with Four Trios and he was indeed in attendance, I of course had no idea who he was at the time. Not only was it my first time performing the Sequenza III but this also marked my New City debut. I was a young soprano from Nova Scotia, Canada having just completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. I found myself enrolled in the Master of Music program at MSM and among a sea of 90 amazing sopranos, graduate and undergraduate combined. I figured out within my first month that if I wanted a solo opportunity in my first semester at MSM, it would likely only happen if I sang music that the other 89 sopranos would not be so interested in learning. I hoped and prayed that that my U of T training would allow me to tackle such a challenging work. Claire Heldrich, percussionist and Director of the Contemporary Music Ensemble entrusted me with the piece, she hadn’t even heard me sing but somehow my passion for new music convinced her that I could do it.

A few days before the concert I came down with sinusitis/laryngitis but by some miracle I was able to sing – I didn’t realize until my teacher Cynthia Hoffmann called me the following Saturday morning to tell me that a photo of my performance and a favorable review by Allan Kozinn was gracing the front page of the Arts Section of the Saturday edition of the New York Times. Although not a new music aficionado of contemporary music herself, Ms. Hoffmann was proud and felt that the piece was the key to me opening up my operatic voice; I believe she was correct.  It is always fun revisiting the work, and I can’t help but feel like that 20 something year old naive soprano from Canada is somehow reflected in even my latest rendition of the piece.

Mari Kawamura – Sequenza IV (Piano)

This piece casts of variety of small sections with different characters that are sequenced one after another, and this demands of the pianist a great deal of concentration and delicate control.  As the section move on, you have to change the technique immediately: the touch, speed of attack, amount of body weight…these constant shifts are the most difficult thing about this piece.

I first performed this piece last March, so our relationship is rather new. The more I learn it, the more charming and playful I find it to be.

Matt Barbier – Sequenza V (Trombone)

For me the most interesting parts about the trombone sequenza relate primarily to it’s place in the canon. It’s really the first piece in the trombone repertoire that asks a player to redefine their relationship with one’s instrument. It also has an interesting, and somewhat dubious, history, but I suppose it’s best to leave somewhat off the record. The biggest challenge for me is picking the sequenza back up as these moments arise. I always find it an interesting dichotomy when I return to the piece because the it’s ingrained on my memory for the view of a much less skilled trombonist, so my return visits always find me questioning if I’ve made the musical choice I’m remembering to cover a lack of skill or to embrace a past vision. I always enjoy trying to access my 22 year oldish brain and try to sort what was going on in there.

I first performed it in the fall of 2007. For me it’s gone from a piece that I thought would, at one point, be a repertoire cornerstone, but, as my relationship to traditional new music has changed, has really become something I view as quite old (it’s 51 years old). As something of that age, I came to feel that it’s important to know, but ultimately something to be moved past. Now my relationship with it is primarily in teaching it as a jumping off point with students who are more interested in exploratory techniques. That said, the piece does have a very nostalgic place for me as when I started to learn it I ended up having about ten days to do so for a master class with Mike Svoboda. That moment laid the foundation for our relationship and Mike has been an incredibly helpful resource as I’ve found my own creative path.

Trumpet player Daniel Flores has his mentor’s copy of Sequenza X, with handwritten markings from Berio himself.

Daniel Flores – Sequenza X (Trumpet)

For me, Sequenza X represents a unique blend of both technical challenge, and an opportunity to express oneself in a freer manner than one might find on a standard piece of trumpet literature.  As you can hear throughout the different sequenze, Berio offered both a consistent set of textures and effects he wanted created, ranging from trilled notes on one pitch, frantic scale runs, and extreme dynamic contrasts, to more instrument native ideas.  In the case of Sequenza X, Berio had both the great jazz trumpeter’s Miles Davis and Clark Terry on his mind, and really, jazz was certainly on the mind of Berio throughout.  Whenever you hear the interval of a minor third from D natural to F natural in the first gesture of the piece, you are actually hearing Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” sang by Nancy Wilson in 1964!  So, what I find most interesting about Sequenza X is the blend and balance of the evolution of Berio’s original ideas, coupled with the taste and information of what makes sense in the trumpet tradition.

I first performed this piece in 2015 at the Chosen Vale International Trumpet seminar, which was  quite a year!  I had the opportunity to learn the piece from two very special artists, the great Thomas Stevens, former principal trumpet of the LA Philharmonic, who premiered the first iteration of the piece, as well as the famous Italian trumpet soloist, Gabriele Cassone.  In fact, I had to perform the piece in masterclass for both of  them, which made me quite nervous, but things seemed to work out!  That night, Thomas Stevens gifted Berio’s manuscript of the third iteration of the piece, which we play today, to Gabriele…what a special night that was!

So, Sequenza X has a very close place to my heart in that my teacher in Italy, Gabriele Cassone, worked directly with Berio in the recording studio, to create what many of us consider to be the benchmark recording of the piece.  In fact, the score in front of me on stage is a copy of Gabriele’s part with Berio’s personal hand markings, as well as penciled in meters that were the genesis of what would become Chemins VI, otherwise known as Kol-Od, which Berio wrote specifically for Cassone.

I would definitely consider myself a 2nd generation student of Berio in that the information Cassone received was directly passed to me, and my relationship with the piece certainly has evolved from one of understanding the basic architecture of the work to that of being able to interpret the piece on a much more personal level, really striving to play it from the heart…to not worry about being surgical with the technique, but to play each and every gesture with as much freedom as possible.   It never will sound the same twice, and in my opinion, that is the beautiful result of Sequenza X!

Mak Grgic – Sequenza XI (Guitar)

I find that the most interesting characteristic of the Sequenza written for guitar is also its biggest challenge. This might be the case with the others as well, but amongst the plethora of notes used in all the crazy permutations, which sometimes seem a bit repetitive, there is a clear progression and pathway from one “tonal” center to another. These tonal centers are sluggish to shift, as each lasts for a few pages easily. Battling through all the virtuosic material with grace while underlining such a global progression of musical mass is what intrigues me most with this piece and is also a very tasking thing to do well.

I performed this piece for the first time at Jacaranda Series, and had less time to prepare it than I would have hoped for. At that time, which I believe was a year and a half ago, I had told myself that it will be impossible to land every single of the notes, so I went for “the gestures”. The performance was just as nerve wracking as it was successful. Now, a year or so later, I have had the opportunity to play it a few times around, and have grown fond of its intricacies, which I hope will speak with grace and vigor at the performance on Tuesday.

Ashley Walters – Sequenza XIVa (Cello)

As a kid, I grew up playing both cello and percussion and I think part of why I love this piece so much is because it allows me to play both! In many ways, Berio set the precedent for composer/performer collaboration making the unique characteristics and capabilities of each dedicatee a central theme in many of his Sequenzas. In the case of this final Sequenza, Berio incorporates these Kandayan drumming cycles, which were shown to him by the great Sri Lankan cellist, Rohan de Saram. I first learned this piece 10 years ago and it has been a staple of my repertoire since.

Tom Peters – Sequenza XIVb (Double Bass)

Sequenza XIVb is a re-imagining of the cello Sequenza, by double bassist Stefano Scodanibbio with the blessing of Luciano Berio. The most challenging part is learning Stefano Scodanibbio’s crazy pizzicato harmonic techniques, something he was famous for. This will be my first performance of Sequenza XIVb.

Check out Tuesdays at Monk Space for more information about this event.

 

Alex Wand: The Great Hunt

MicroFest Records has released The Great Hunt, a new song cycle of chamber music pieces by Alex Wand. With a first-rate ensemble that includes members of wild Up and Partch, The Great Hunt explores the many aspects of mortality and death as seen through the lens of poetry by Carl Sandburg. Nine short tracks make up this collection, described in the liner notes as music that “weaves together folk and classical influences, microtonal guitars, improvisation, and speak-singing recitation.”

Cool Tombs is based on a poem about the burial of Abraham Lincoln and begins with a mysterious solo flute line followed by sustained cello tones and counterpoint in the bassoon. The poetry is spoken against a series of darkly mystical harp passages, soon rejoined by the flute. The feeling is solemn and grave, but not frightening. More spoken text about the burials of U.S. Grant and Pocahontas amplify the theme that, great or small, we are all equal in the tomb. The perfectly woven instrumental lines produce just the right combination of uncertainty and expectation that infuses Sandburg’s text.

Grass takes up a similar theme, but from the more overwhelming perspective of large-scale death in battle. Beginning with a quick percussive hit and followed by languid guitar strumming, the text speaks of the dead piled “high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work; I am the grass, I cover all.” The spare ensemble reflects the anonymity of mass casualties in war – the graves obscured by grass so that years later the resting places are forgotten. The feeling here is decidedly tragic, especially in a stark cello solo by Derek Stein as Grass rolls to a quiet close.

An unexpectedly brighter view of death is heard in Time Sweep, beginning with strong vocals, pleasing harmonies and an upbeat tempo that starts with the text “Since death is there in the light of the sun, in the song of the wind…” Death is artfully portrayed as a new and vivid experience, neither grim nor frightening, but rather occurring as a natural experience. A somewhat slower instrumental interlude is almost mournful, but never melancholy, with long, deep tones and thick harmony. The vocals take this up, bringing a warm and comforting color to the piece as it glides slowly to the finish. Time Sweep is an extraordinary musical and poetic statement on death as the natural consequence of life.

Under the Harvest Moon returns to the more familiar territory of Halloween spookiness and the sense of foreboding on a dark autumn evening in the graveyard. “Death, the gray mocker, comes and whispers to you…” A strong percussive presence, repeating guitar riffs and some discordant tutti playing add to the sense of dread. This pivots in the second half of the piece, however, becoming more of a summer reminiscence with less jarring harmonies and a softer beat. The ensemble here is very precise, leaving just a hint of the uncertainty, even as this track arrives at a smooth finish.

Not all of the album is focused so tightly on death. Jug is an engaging tribute to the simple clay vessel used to hold so many commonplace things: cider, maple syrup, vinegar. The relationship to human mortal insignificance is perhaps metaphorical, as the poem states: “There is nothing proud about this; only one out of many…” A strong repeating cello line, cleanly sung vocals and a catchy rhythm all serve to celebrate this ordinary but useful object. New Weather is a nicely nostalgic look at the highly personal way that climate and landscape were experienced in the last century. With a lilting, waltz-like melody the text seems to be a throwback to a time when we paid more attention to our surroundings. Passersby has a wonderfully breezy flute obbligato by Christine Tavolacci that floats above a determined vocal line, and this manages to impart just a hint of pop sentiment. The Great Cool Calm is even more nostalgically whimsical, with some lovely vocal harmonies and an excellent tutti ensemble section.

The Great Hunt, the title track, begins with a repeating guitar riff soon joined by the vocals of Alex Wand. The singing of Jackson Browne flashes briefly to mind here, but the exquisite harmony of Laura Jean Anderson along with sustained cello and flute lines clothe the pop sensibility with a dignity equal to the text. This piece is just two minutes long but manages to be both beautiful and captivating. The entire album, for that matter, has been carefully crafted around the touching Sandburg texts with just the right balance of the simple and the formal – all superbly performed.

The Great Hunt is available for high resolution download at prostudiomasters.com/album/page/15460.

EXCLUSIVE ALBUM STREAM: Joel Feigin’s Mosaic

This is exciting. Composer Joel Feigin has his first digital-only release coming out this Friday, September 8, and was kind enough to give New Classic LA an exclusive stream of the whole record, which features the Ciompi Quartet performing his piece Mosaic in Two Panels. Here’s the stream:

Mosaic drops Friday in all the normal spots that records drop these days.

Daniel Lentz – River of 1,000 Streams

Cold Blue Music has announced a new album, River of 1,000 Streams, by composer Daniel Lentz. Written in 2016, this is a single track of solo piano music inspired by a visit to the Yellowstone River and performed by Los Angeles-based pianist Vicki Ray. From the liner notes, “…River of 1,000 Streams is a virtuosic piano piece in which a live/solo part is expanded by the addition of hundreds of ‘cascading echoes’ (reappearing fragments of music) that appear kaleidoscopically in up to 11 simultaneous layers, creating a thick texture of primarily tremolos that gradually gains in density and volume as rich harmonies climb, in a great arc, from the very bottom to the very top of the keyboard.”

Although simple in concept and consistent in texture, River of 1,000 Streams is always changing and begins with a deep rumbling in the lower registers – almost like the roar of a distant flight of old bombers. There is a strong flowing sensation to this, as if unseen waters are roiling just out of sight. At 2:00 the rolling phrases rise just slightly in pitch, adding a new sense of expectancy. While still very dark and ominous, the expressive playing by Ms. Ray creates a powerful surging sensation; the texture and dynamics here are expertly shaped, and the result is like listening to a restless tide. The repeating patterns move slowly up the piano keyboard and each new set of pitches adds to a sense of evolving motion.

By 6:30 the notes are high enough in pitch to become a bit more distinct in the hearing – less like a roar and more like a patter. The flowing feel remains as the piece proceeds, but the small variations in pitch and the artful shaping of the dynamics keep the listener engaged. By 11:00 the register has moved high enough that there is a greater sense of drama in the notes, even as the passages and textural density remain consistent. At 14:24 a short melodic fragment is heard – like the cresting of a wave – marking the transition to the middle registers. The same pattern of tremolos and trills persist, but the new pitches feel more introspective and less menacing here. By 17:30 the pitch register is high enough to spark a sense of tenuous optimism – as if a ray of the sun is emerging from behind a dark cloud. At 19:00 another short melody fragment is heard, followed by dramatic surges of the low and ominous notes from the opening. The many subtleties in this piece rely on the perceptive playing of Ms. Ray, who manages to perfectly articulate the slight variations in density and texture from moment to moment.

By 20:00 the piece has arrived at the higher reaches of the keyboard with the notes sounding crisper and more distinctly percussive, as if a climax is approaching. At 21:54, another short melody fragment appears while the trills in the upper registers sound like an alarm going off. Middle and lower register trills roll by in accompaniment, adding a sense of layered depth to this section. At 23:30 the high register texture is now very animated and a wash of middle register trills fill in nicely below, adding balance. At 25:00 another short melodic fragment appears and the mix of pitches becomes somewhat more calming. By the finish, the very highest notes on the keyboard trill anxiously but are accompanied by a series of lower surges that offer a comforting sense of closure. At the end, the sound simply ceases, the last notes ringing out and slowly dying away.

River of 1,000 Streams is a prodigious work, in its vision as well as the realization. The subtle variations are always engaging, even as they unfold slowly, and the intricate layering of the various passages is precisely formulated. The performance by Ms. Ray deserves special credit – River of 1,000 Streams will only add to her deserved reputation as one of our premiere interpreters of contemporary music.

River of 1,000 Streams is available directly from Cold Blue Music and also Amazon Music beginning August 18.

Paul H. Muller’s New Music Los Angeles available now

New Classic LA writer Paul H. Muller has collected the reviews that he’s written for this site over the past four years, along with the reviews he’s written for Sequenza21, and released them as a book titled New Music Los Angeles, 2012-2016. The book is available at lulu.com and he’s graciously selling it for no profit to himself, and donating a percentage of the proceeds to the upkeep of both Sequenza21 and New Classic LA. It’s a great overview of many of the happenings that we’ve had in our town over the last few years, and certainly worth having on your shelf. Thanks for all the writing, Paul!!

Julian Day and Jason Barabba on DuoFest

Julian Day. Photo by Felicity Jenkins.

Julian Day. Photo by Felicity Jenkins.

A couple of years ago the composer Jason Barabba told me I had to meet Julian Day. Julian’s an artist/composer/writer/broadcaster from Sydney, and he just happens to be in Los Angeles this week participating in the closing night of Synchromy and Boston Court’s DuoFest and interviewing people like Henry Rollins (we’ll get to that). Ahead of tonight’s event, we had a minute to catch up with both of them.

How did the two of you meet?

Julian: It was an unlikely venue – a 13th century monastery in Tuscany. But we were as areligious then as we both are now.

Jason: It was the Cortona Sessions for New Music in 2011, an excellent new music festival bringing composers and performers together for performance and way too much eating of stunning food. I remember telling Julian he sounded British to me and not Australian, and he gave me that look that people give Americans when they don’t know how to respond to us.

Julian, what are you doing here in LA? I know you’re a composer, but I’d heard something about interviewing US musicians about their politics…

Julian: I’m jaunting around the country interviewing musicians about politics in the age of Trump. So far here I’ve caught up with hardcore punk legend Henry Rollins and UCLA scholar Shana L. Redmond. But my main task is to dust off my turntables to play in Ludwig Van, a music theatre work composed by Mauricio Kagel for Beethoven’s 200th birthday in 1970. It’s a riotous piece that you simply can’t miss – you may not hear it again for another 47 years.

Tell me about the piece.

Composer Jason Barabba

Composer Jason Barabba

Jason: Kagel’s Ludwig Van has always been a bucket-list piece for me. In my circle I’m fairly well known for having a bit of an antipathy for Beethoven, and so it makes sense that I should be involved in a new music concert that is all about Ludwig. Kagel’s score is the centerpiece of the night, surrounded by works by Ludwig himself, as well as John Corigliano and Clarence Barlow. We’re having an absurd amount of fun with it. The thing about the Kagel is, you can do almost anything you want, as long as Beethoven is the source. In some ways it makes it easy, but in many ways it is significantly more work than presenting a normal score. But, I’ve always wanted to do it, and we’re grateful to Boston Court for giving us the space and the support to put it on. Expect a disco ball, Julian on turntables with my complete set of Beethoven on vinyl, and a stage full of mind-blowingly-excellent musicians.

Julian: Jason isn’t the only one with a funny thing for Beethoven. I think he’s been a complex touchpoint for many composers over the past century – too willful, too bombastic, too ‘genuis’ – and it’s time we reclaim his obsessive, brilliant and dramatic ouevre and basically luxuriate in it.

How have the other DuoFest events been?

DuoFest has been a big step forward for Synchromy, and we’re enjoying the chance to try so many things out in one week. We brought along four duos that are either already collaborators us, or are people we have always wanted to work with; Aronson-Valitutto, Panic Duo, Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity. They have all shared the stage this week, and I’m just so pleased with how great they’ve all been to work with. We’ve premiered a few pieces: a gorgeous work by Andrew Tholl and a great new violin and piano piece from Juhi Bansal, and I wrote a new piece for Aperture Duo and Autoduplicity and a pair of singers. It’s a 6 and a half minute opera called Any Excuse Will Serve a Tyrant.

Would you like to share anything about the opera?

Jason: I had an idea for a piece for the Aperture Duo, and we were going to do that, but this year I suddenly felt like I had to compose pieces that were in some way dealing with the world (political/social/environmental) that we find ourselves dealing with. I needed to do something that made some manner of statement. I felt like one of the things we need is to remember how to be part of a society, and how to treat the people around us, so I thought back to the old Aesop Fables, and found The Wolf and the Lamb fit the bill perfectly. Since we had Aperture sharing a program with Autoduplicity, I brought in two singers that I love to write for, Baritone Scott Graff and soprano Justine Aronson to be my Wolf and Lamb, and I couldn’t be more happy with the result. They were stupdendous, under the baton of Geoffrey Pope and directed by the awesome June Carryl.

Julian, with your musicopolitical reporting, what was your take on the piece?

Julian: It’s really clever. Fundamentally it’s a beautifully scored vignette that combines comedy and pathos with dramatic flair. By using a very old fable Jason can also comment, with historical distance, on the turbulent politics the States is currently experiencing. I strongly urge my good colleague to set more Aesop fables to music as he’s a natural.

What are you both working on now that people can look forward to?

Julian:I’m working on an album-length composition for London pianist Zubin Kanga using electronics and theatrical staging, as well as a 24-hour choral piece which will premiere in Sydney in early September. And adjusting my crazy sleep patterns.

Jason: I just finished a commission for playwright Tom Jacobson’s new play, and am planning to take a short sabbatical from composing while I decide what needs to be said next. I hope to be able to create an entire set of Aesop micro-operas in the coming year, because Tyrant was way more fun to do than should be allowed. Once DuoFest is over, Synchromy will start making plans for the upcoming year, and we’ve got some very cool things on the table.

Tickets for Ludwig Van are available at bostoncourt.com/events/333/duofest-night-8-finale-ludwig-van.

Scot Ray and Vicki Ray: Yar

Vicki Ray and Scot Ray

Vicki Ray and Scot Ray

Is Yar perhaps a word, in some other language unbeknownst to me, that means “delicious sonic experience”? After listening to the new album, Yar, by siblings Scot and Vicki Ray, that’s what it means to me.

Neither Ms. Ray nor her excellent playing is new to me. She has been an impressive fixture on LA’s new (and not so new) music scene for many years. She plays or has played with an impressive litany of our best ensembles and players. Her recitals with the PianoSpheres series are always a joy. I confess to being unaware of her brother Scot. He was, I learned from the liner notes of their new release, originally a brass player. And not just any brass player but one who was in the thick of LA’s modern jazz scene. But while still very much enjoying a successful, vibrant, jazz career he uprooted himself, and moved back to his (and Ms. Ray’s) home state of Montana and decided to focus on the guitar. Listening to him play, in various guises and styles, including a lot of slide, would have me think he was a guitarist from the beginning.

Yar is a generous offering, a full 73 minutes of music. It uses that length brilliantly, exploiting a great variety of styles and timbres yet somehow managing to make the record, as a whole, feel cohesive, integral, and logical. But it is more than just a triumph of logic, to be sure. There is a synthesis of the modal and atonal, the consonant and dissonant, the timbrally delicate and harsh, sharp-edged noise. As I said, above, it’s truly a delicious sonic experience.

Only one of the album’s nine tracks comes in under 5 minutes (For Harry, at 4:47). Each piece is a substantial music journey on its own. Thematic elements are present, as is some notion of development and evolution of those elements. Every piece feels complete, fully realized and, by its end, satisfying.

Each one of Yar’s compositions present a unique territory, great fodder for one’s visual imagination. I see the players, surrounded in the detritus of musical instruments, cables, microphones and other electronic paraphernalia, yet I close my mind’s eye and I’m wandering in a new, delicious, hitherto unknown land of visual and auditory oddities. Some are more pleasant than others. But each one is enticing in its own way.

Listening to Yar, from start to finish, is like taking a beautiful tour of the artists the Rays have loved and been influenced by. Was this by design? Was this of primary importance to them? I can’t say. But to this listener, it is the aural equivalent of a challenging but ultimately rewarding scavenger hunt. The musics evoke many great composers and players. Some references are more explicit, some subtly hinted at. There are the helpful ghosts of so many great musical predecessors as well as various industrial machines and devices, perhaps angry with their lot in life, plotting to overtake their human overlords.

Anamorphosis, (the second track on Yar) according to my dictionary is defined as such:

1. a distorted projection or drawing that appears normal when viewed from a particular point or with a suitable mirror or lens.

  • the process by which anamorphic images are produced.

2. Biology

  • a gradual, ascending progression or change of form to a higher type.

I cite this definition here because, a) you might not be familiar with the word, (I wasn’t), and, b) taken together, both of these definitions do a wonderful, if abstract job, of explaining the work by this name. There are low drones which are then combined with slow-attack sounds fading in and out. Then comes a staccato, stutter-edit treatment of a plaintive vocal track or sample. It more than flirts with Middle Eastern modes and nasal double-reed-implying timbres. It’s cool, sure, but honestly, it earns its place not because of its treatment of what it’s referencing, but rather how it manages to mangle it, turn it into something all its own, unique, and yet somehow perfectly at home amid the other compositions.

Zero Doesn’t Exist is quite restrained but still a vehicle for Scot’s rather blistering solo. He doesn’t expose his technique often, but when he does, it’s impressive. I hear a lot of my guitar heroes from NYC’s Downtown scene, people I’d see in the first Knitting Factory iteration. Ray’s guitar playing pierces, and floats high above randomly recurring noises, from piano wires to other harsh metallic sounds, all above a quite unobtrusive, spacious electric bass ostinato.

I think it a fair assumption that For Harry is inspired by, perhaps a tribute to, Harry Partch. Ms. Ray is no stranger to the prepared piano, and she uses it here to approximate the more percussive elements of Partch’s music (Barstow, among others) while other sounds, from both Rays, fill out the would-be ensemble. Scot’s plucked strings are reminiscent of Partch’s adapted guitar, and these instruments combined with overdubbed percussive elements create a wonderful Partch-a-rama. It made me yearn for Partch’s strict 43-tone octave, but I’ll forgive the absence.

Thrice Ephemeral Journey was inspired by For Marcel Duchamp by John Cage. Cage’s prepared piano is easy enough to hear, and its tribute to his Sonatas and Interludes is clear and explicit enough, and beautifully executed. But Thrice adds another layer or two. In a soft but creepy, lurking percussive woodblock of sorts I hear PIL’s Under The House. And then Bill Frisell walks in, plugs into his volume pedal, and jams along. I’d like to think that Cage would be pleased. (When wasn’t he pleased by sounds like these?!)

In Fear of the Wind I hear something reminiscent of Stockhausen’s Kontakte, or perhaps some of David Tudor’s realizations of Cage’s later works. (Electrified cactus, perhaps?) It’s like a spinning top bouncing on a table while some odd servo-motored device churns in the backgroup, while outside a group of evil aliens play recorders! Demonic voices enter, and then a blistering quasi-rock guitar solo. And maybe that’s Bill Laswell on the bass?

I’m struck by the gorgeous evolution in The Highline, how it develops and unfolds the way Eno’s Ambient music might, but with decidedly less delicate timbres. It invokes the drama and tension of a tightrope walker’s wire, perhaps Philippe Petit’s line across the Twin Towers, tight yet buckling across that distant span, so many feet up in the air, shifting with the weight of its passenger, colored by the winds. Vertigo translated into sound. I much prefer it this way.

Among the many things to like on Yar is its great mix of beauty and noise. This is manifested movingly in Cortege. A cortege is a solemn funereal procession. As we hear the rattles in irregular staccato rhythms against the bell-like, slow-metronomic pulses, one can imagine the casket slowly, religiously carried by the pallbearers through the streets of a dark, eerily desolate town.

Just a few tracks in, and I start to wonder, “What is their compositional process?” And the more I listen, the more this delicious music turns this musing into a burning question. There are obviously real-time duets, but also other overdubs, layers, loops. The formal structures at work here warrant my curiosity, so I continue to wonder: how much of each track is pre-arranged, how much is improvised, how much is added and/or edited after the initial “basic tracks” are laid down?

Of course, how something is made is often not a satisfying question. (In certain situations, it can even be counter-satisfying.) You don’t need to wonder, or ascertain the “compositional process” of Yar. What matters, ultimately, is what we are left with. What is this music, and how does it make us hear, how does it make us feel? It delights with improvisational constructions, austere sonic fields that define their own territories, by way of harmonic language, timbral depth, and instrumental content.

This is a record that you can listen to passively or actively. I usually hate the idea of “background music” (and I hope that Yar isn’t used as such) but I find it to be equally satisfying both in “deep listening” (to borrow Pauline Oliveros’ term) or just having it be part of a more passive, meditative background.

I am genuinely fascinated by the creative process invoked here that resulted in the wealth of musical coolness that is Yar. For all my references to other composers and players, the payoff, the legitimacy, the wonder, all stem from my understanding of these works as not merely a collection of representations of their influences, but somehow some dialectical syntheses of the siblings’ collective musical instincts and influences into something quite unique, quite marvelous and quite beautiful.

To its great credit, despite the very wide-ranging sounds, Yar is devoid of irony, not at all anything resembling a postmodern commentary on anything. But that is not to say that it is always entirely serious or completely devoid of humor. It is, rather, a sincere and genuine exploration of a wide range of sonic possibilities. A collection that isn’t afraid to embrace beauty or ugliness, alone or in combination, without any faux-clever attempt to subvert or invert such subjective classifications. This, like so much of the music itself, is refreshing and extremely rewarding.

Yar is available from Orenda Records at orendarecords.com/orenda0040, and from most music retailers.