Sitting in Bing Theater in the heart of Los Angeles, I found myself experiencing a unique insight into Hungarian culture at The Vision of Moholy-Nagy and Contemporary Music. The performance was timed to coincide with the Moholy-Nagy exhibition Future Present at LACMA. In all fairness, there was a dose of German culture mixed in too, since the ideals of the Bauhaus school (of which the Hungarian painter and photographer Moholy-Nagy was a prominent figure) were a resonating theme throughout the evening. The performers came from all over: Hungary, yes, but also Los Angeles and New York. True to the Bauhaus movement, different approaches to music, technology, and art were combined, necessitating the concert to be a multi-disciplinary event – even the walk to the theater involved passing some pretty spectacular sculptures and architecture.
The concert began with the fearless Gőz–Kurtág–Lukács Trio, who performed various selections of electro-acoustic works on cimbalom, trombone/bass trumpet/seashells, and synthesizer/computer, with mesmerizing visualizations by Szabolcs Kerestes. Partly through-composed and partly improvised, these works were a collective microcosm of the Hungarian classical electronic music scene, a creatively vital genre during the repressive decades of state socialism. Their performance transported me to a meditative, almost spiritual state, yet somehow simultaneously rooted me with technical, detailed focus. I was entranced by the immaculate, reverberant textures, ranging from pointillist and chaotic to celestial and broadly gestural. The accompanying visualizations featured rapidly moving lines, shapes, and colors, and were directly responsive to live sound. The exception to this rule was György Ligeti’s graphic score to Artikulation, which was comically incredible to watch on a big screen with surround sound.
Lukas Ligeti, who recently moved to Southern California for a new teaching position at UCI, was the featured composer after intermission. The art of the Bauhaus movement, and of Moholy-Nagy, seems to have a marked influence on Ligeti’s music, which showed impressive breadth, experimentation, and proportional symmetry. He presented three works with varying instrumentation and compositional approaches. The first, Language: PROUN: music (2016), had its west coast premiere by soprano Ariadne Grief and wild Up members Matthew Barbier (trombone), Matthew Cook (vibraphone), Derek Stein (cello), and Andrew Tholl (violin). The piece itself is a reaction to Moholy-Nagy’s exhibition Future Present, and follows the Bauhaus tradition in its unconventional exploration of balance and symmetry (however, this is done on Ligeti’s own terms). While in many cases text is made to fit the cadences of music, Ligeti turns the usual plot on its head by allowing the natural rhythm of freely-flowing speech to entirely dictate the music. Continuing on with the natural progression of this idea, the instrumentalists follow the cadences led by the soprano, which Ariadne Grief accomplished with radiant, playful sincerity.
Next was Thinking Songs (2015), a fiercely virtuosic five-movement work for solo marimba. Few marimbists could have pulled it off like Ji Hye Jung – she not only played it perfectly, but also somehow made it look easy (in fact, she danced through the hardest parts). The technical expertise required for movements such as Four-Part Invention and Dance was matched by a musical expressivity that was stunning to behold. The composition itself took us an incredible musical journey: exploiting timbral possibilities with different mallets in Dance, slow-moving lines in Lamento, technical impossibilities manifested into reality in Four-Part Invention, playful exploration of prepared marimba in Scherzo, and quasi-minimalist shifting accents in Two-Part Invention.
Closing the show were three works for Notebook, an ensemble founded by Ligeti to explore the intersection between composition and improvisation. These pieces featured not one but two electric guitars (Eyal Maoz and Tom McNalley), trombone (Rick Parker), violin (Amma Savery), saxophone (Daniel Blake), synthesizer (Ricardo Gallo), and the composer on drums. The performance was pure fun, with an exploratory energy that reconfirmed the experimental and playful side to Ligeti’s musical personality.
wasteLAnd opened their first Friday concert, U/L, at Art Share LA on September 2, 2016. For the coming season, wasteLAnd will perform there on the first Friday of the month. An overflow crowd turned out on the start of the long Labor Day weekend to hear the music of Todd Lerew and wasteLand featured composer Erik Ulman.
Reading the Dictionaries, by Todd Lerew, began the proceedings with Movement Q and Movement V. Five performers stood in a semicircle on stage, each holding a copy of a different dictionary. Given a starting signal, they began reading the entries from each dictionary in unison, starting with those for the letter Q. At first the words were identical and the slight differences in pronunciation made for ragged, but intelligible speech. Soon the words in each dictionary began to vary – as might be expected for several different editions – and the words became less understandable. Those listening focused their attention, but was soon possible to hear and comprehend only a single word at a time. Eventually the words differed to the point that what was perceived was not language but the overall shape of the sound. The Q words from each performer came in and out of synchronization, as it were, and your brain was constantly hopping back and forth between comprehending the words as speech or simply hearing the texture and colors of the sound. About three-quarters of the way through Q, one of the performers – Matt Barbier – simply ceased speaking as the abridged edition of the dictionary he was given apparently ran out of words. The others finished as each dictionary dictated, and soon just a single voice was heard finishing up.
Movement V proceeded in the same way, each of the words spoken simultaneously at intervals of about one second. The initial sound of a word beginning with V has a sharper attack, and this made for more dramatic intonation. The V words also seemed to have a greater variety of letters and lengths so that the arc of their soundings was richer in sonic detail. All of this worked to sharpen the listener’s hearing so that by the end of the piece the ear became sensitized to even minute variations. Several of the dictionaries contained long lists of vitamins – Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, etc – and when these were encountered there were invariably some giggles from the audience. Matt Barbier once again finished first and stoically awaited the conclusion of the piece some minutes later.
Reading the Dictionaries proved to be an insightful experience, transforming a seemingly dry recitation of words into an engaging exercise in perception, language and comprehension.
String Quartet No. 3, by Erik Ulman, followed, performed by the Formalist Quartet. Ulman is the featured composer for wasteLAnd and will contribute works throughout the current season. String Quartet No. 3 began with a series of high squeaks and chirps followed by an energetic burst of sound in all the parts. The phrases seemed to alternate between sustained tones in one part and a flurry of complex sounds by the others. There was an underlying feeling of tension in all of this, but there were also smoother and more placid stretches. Most of the activity seemed to be centered in the middle registers with the cello typically blending into the texture. Midway through, a series of high, syncopated pitches were followed by sustained tones creating a sort of ebb and flow to the rhythm that made for a good contrast with the more complex passages. Towards the finish a low growling tutti effectively escalated the sense of tension and suspense – this music has a mysterious feel, like walking in an alien landscape. String Quartet No. 3 constantly challenges the listener and performer with its intricate and independently moving lines. The Formalist Quartet delivered to their usual high standard, and the audience responded with strong applause.
After an intermission, Spherical Harmonics, by Todd Lerew, was performed by six singers and conducted by Matt Barbier. This began with a low unison humming tone that soon broke into various related harmonics. The singers then began whistling their tones while humming – something we have all idly done at one time or another – and this combination added a convincing perception of depth. The humming gradually diminished, leaving mostly whistling sounds turning the feeling somewhat desolate and a bit lonely. All of this was reminiscent of the Rhyolite sound installation in the Nevada desert where the sound of the wind blowing across dozens of old glass bottles was recorded by Chris Kallmyer and Andrew McIntosh. At times Matt Barbier could be seen striking a tuning fork and holding it close to his ear as he set the pitch for the other singers. The group repeated this sequence with different several tones before quietly finishing. Spherical Harmonics artfully mixes the simple acts of humming and whistling to fashion an intriguing amalgamation of harmonic possibilities.
The final piece on the program was Bowing to Pressure, also by Todd Lerew, and this was a solo piece for violin performed by Andrew Tholl. As the title suggests, Andrew applied the maximum amount of pressure as he began a vigorous bowing action across the violin strings. This produced an active, muscular set of tones that were reminiscent of the more primal country music pieces sometimes heard from historical archives. The pressure began to take a toll and strands of hair could be seen streaming from the bow. The tone coarsened, settling into a drone-like sound and the audience held its collective breath as if waiting for the violin bow, strings or bridge to self-destruct. Andrew Tholl powered on, the sounds becoming rougher and almost desperately violent. The forcefully crude intonation carried the audience into uncharted violin territory, completely removed from the delicacy and smoothness normally expected from this instrument. At the end, the bow was in tatters and Tholl was clearly fatigued by the effort. Bowing to Pressure might be a metaphor for the stress of contemporary life, but it is surely a vivid demonstration of the powerful feelings a violin can convey when pushed to its physical limit.
The next appearance of wasteLAnd will be at the Green Umbrella Noon to Midnight concert, Disney Hall, on October 1, 2016.
Performers for the this concert were:
Reading the Dictionaries:
Matt Barbier, Nicholas Deyoe, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Todd Lerew, Élise Roy
String Quartet No. 3 – The Formalist Quartet:
Andrew Tholl, Mark Menzies, Andrew McIntosh, Ashley Walters
Nicholas Deyoe, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Andrew McIntosh, Cody Putnam, Élise Roy
Matthew Barbier, conductor
Bowing to Pressure:
Populist records just posted a new record from Andrew Tholl, Corey Fogel, and Devon Hoff, entitled CONDITIONAL TENSION. As populist points out on their site, the record is a great step forward for them, as it’s their first release of entirely improvised music. It’s also their 10th record (congrats!), and they just got a great review and profile by Will Robin on Bandcamp, which you can read at blog.bandcamp.com/2015/11/10/creating-a-wide-platform
The record is available for pre-order now, and comes out on November 20. The track above is my favorite of the two extended improvisations, but the whole thing is just fantastic.
Composer, singer, and percussionist Jodie Landau‘s new record with wild Up is now out on Bedroom Community records. There was a great listening party at Pieter Space last weekend (photo below), and the official release concert is this Friday at 9 at the Bootleg. Jodie’s been busy. In addition to commissioning works from fellow composers for this album — guess that was a while ago now, actually — he’s been world hopping to perform with Valgeir Sigurðsson and other Bedroom Community musicians, re-arranging the record for live performance, getting ready for wild Up’s NY debut next week, and, thankfully, answering questions from me. Here’s Jodie.
So what’s happening this weekend?
This Friday, we’re celebrating the release of our new album you of all things at The Bootleg Theater presented by Live Arts Exchange. I’ll be joined by members of wild Up and four singers to perform my pieces from the album, other original compositions, arrangements of Bjork and My Brightest Diamond, and a piece written for me by Valgeir Sigurðsson.
Featured in this performance are Andrew Tholl, Adrianne Pope, Linnea Powell, Derek Stein, Brian Walsh, Archie Carey, Erin McKibben, Richard Valitutto, Alison Bjorkedal, Ivan Johnson, Sam KS, and singers Anna Schubert, Justine Aronson, Sarah Beaty, and Lacey Jo Benter. With sound by Nick Tipp.
About the record: can you share the backstory on how this multi-part collaboration came to be?
I met Graduale Nobili, the Icelandic choir featured on the album, in 2013 while they were performing with Bjork on her Biophilia residency in LA. We got to hang out after the shows, and even had a pool party, at which they performed, I performed, and we sang a little thing together.
After hearing their beautiful, unique sound, and getting to know them, started to think, what if I went to Iceland to work with them? A few months later I sent them a message asking if they’d be interested in doing a concert and/or recording. At the time I wasn’t sure what this could be. When I mentioned this possibility to Chris Rountree, he eagerly said “I’ll conduct!” and we then both agreed that we should bring members of wild Up. With Chris and wild Up on board suddenly this crazy idea was legitimate.
But then… where do we record? We thought of no one else but Valgeir and Greenhouse Studios. To our pleasant surprise, Valgeir had a few available days and was intrigued by this ambitious project.
In July 2013, we ran an Indiegogo campaign to help cover the costs of the recording, the choir and our travel. We are so forever grateful to all those who donated to help make this project come to fruition.
You picked a diverse group of composers to write for you for this project, yet the album sounds very cohesive. Was that Valgeir’s doing? Or did you discuss a certain sound or direction with the composers you worked with?
Beyond the options of instrumentation/players, I actually made a point not to give Ellen, Marc, or Andrew any specifications regarding what they wrote. I wanted them to write anything their hearts desired.
The cohesiveness, I think, stems from a several things. For one, all of these pieces were written with these players in mind. They each have such a distinct sound and ways of interpreting the written material and moments of improvisation. And of course, the choir’s presence and unique sound throughout definitely helps to tie these all together. And then there’s all the exceptional work that Valgeir and his co-engineer Paul Evans did in capturing, editing, mixing this record.
I heard a bit about the choir learning everything by rote rather than reading parts. Can you talk a bit about working with them?
Working with them was unlike anything we’ve done before. Many of them have been singing together since they were very young and they have this impeccable unified, pure, and gorgeous sound. It was quite insane and wonderful teaching them an hour of new music… in a week. And some of this music is really hard. But they all pulled through so excellently. As group, they were fascinating. Some of them seemed to have perfect pitch, while others didn’t really read music, or at least music this complex and often polyrhythmic, but yet learned it all by ear.
There’s a certain androgyny in your singing voice, and some of the lyrics discuss gender – particularly striking is the line “I am neither boy nor girl.” We’ve been friends a while, yet gender or sexuality have never come up in our conversations. It’s not so much that I’m interested in your particular preference or identification, but I’m very interested in how whatever that may be influences your art making.
Ellen chose Mandy Kahn’s text for her piece based on one of the first conversations she and I had. We were talking about writing operas, and she asked what topics I was interested in. Ideas of gender, gender fluidity and transgender came up. And, I think, both she and I relate so heavily to these words “I am neither boy nor girl, I am a figure that has known and lost a love.”
Gender is definitely a major topic in my life, and yes I’m surprised it hasn’t come up in our conversations. So thanks for asking about it. And I’m happy to be quite open about it and give you a bit of my personal history.
To start, my parents tried to have a girl and they got me, “the boy with long eyelashes” as my mom says. Also, my name is Jodie. As a kid, I occasionally received girl’s trophies in sports leagues (I’m a little bummed I didn’t keep them). In high school, the class roster had an M or F next to each name, and mine mistakenly had an F next to it. Substitute teachers would get very confused when they called “Jodie” and I raised my hand. Their double takes were priceless. And, I’m occasionally asked if Jodie’s my real name, or if it’s a nickname or short for something.
Most Halloweens I dressed up in some combination of my mother’s clothing (which unfortunately doesn’t fit me any more). I even went to prom in a dress, because I wanted to go as a girl without a date, because it strongly upset me that a few friends hadn’t gone the year before because they didn’t have a date and/or a guy hadn’t asked them. Also, for whatever reason, I felt more comfortable and was able to have more fun going to prom in a purple dress and heels.
Last anecdote. From 8-13 years old I played hockey. My teammates listened to music together, often rock and rap. We’d sit in the back of the car and curse along with Eminem. But I also taught a few of them some choreography to dance and song “I’m gonna ruge my knees and role my stockings down…” and the rest of the Chicago musical soundtrack.
Anyway… all of this to say that I’ve never quite felt like “boy,” “guy,” “man,” or “male” accurately represents all of me, as I don’t always relate to meanings people associate with them, and I’ve received a lot of, let’s say, interesting, or maybe influential comments about my gender and/or sexuality based on the way that I behave and interact with the world, simply because of my name, or even my singing voice. (A youtube comment from several years ago reads “He sounds like a little gay girl”. I found this oddly flattering.)
These are all certainly a major part of my identity.
Now, I’ll stop myself from continuing with the anecdotes — I could go on forever — let’s talk about gender as it relates to my music.
All of my pieces on the album, are sung from the “I” perspective and sung to you. I, myself, never directly bring up gender or gendered pronouns. I hope that they can be sung, or heard, or felt from any one perspective to another. So I think this adds to the sense of androgyny, along with my own personal androgenic tendencies, and the fact that I’m quite often singing in my upper range.
Along with these ideas of gender and androgyny, sexuality is also certainly an influence. Though, by sexuality, I don’t quite mean sexual preference, especially not in relation to questions like “do you like men or women?” as the nature and structure of this type of question is quite limiting (and super binary). Rather, a lot of this music is about allowing for any type(s)—or maybe, my type(s)—of sexuality and sensuality.
You’ve been, from a career standpoint, on the up and up lately, and of course signing with Bedroom Community is going to be huge for both you and wild Up. Has anything changed in how you work as a result? Does music making feel any different to you now than it ever did?
What a great question. Certainly remains to be seen. But, thus far I certainly feel my music making beginning to enter the “professional realm,” whatever that means. In some ways, both in joining Bedroom Community and just in working with wild Up, there is a different sense of care and thought into what I’m presenting to the world and why.
I recently performed in London with Bedroom Community, and it was such a warm welcoming and a wonderful experience. It was so fascinating to thrown in the midst of this tight-knit group. They played new music, and older music, and new versions of older pieces that are in their BedCom “repertoire”. They way they engaged with the music and the charts, was some beautiful hybrid between an ensemble and a band. This made me feel right at home. So in regards to your question, maybe joining Bedroom Community is actually going to help keep music making that beautiful hybrid that I so enjoy… while of course elevating it quite a lot, as they are so wonderful and incredible!
What’s next for you?
This Sunday I head to the east coast with wild Up for our NY debut. Then, I go to Iceland to perform off venue shows during Iceland Airwaves with Bedroom Community. After that, we’ll just have to wait and see 🙂
Anything else you’d like to add?
Info on the release concert this Friday is up at liveartsexchange.org/event/jodie-landau-wildup-you-of-all-things. More on the record is up on Bedroom Community’s site, at bedroomcommunity.net/releases/you_of_all_things.
Composer Nat Evans is currently somewhere in Washington state, walking to the Canadian border. This is significant because his walk started at the Mexican border in the Californian desert. It’s a project he’s calling The Tortoise and His Raincoat, in which he not only walks 2,600 miles, but records sounds along the way, and sends those sounds to composers to turn into pieces. Composer/violinist Andrew Tholl is one of those composers. His piece, Hi/Hey was released a few weeks ago. It’s got some really beautiful textures, and combines its electronic sounds (some kind of monosynth pad) with the field recordings in a very convincing way.
Other composers on the project are Scott Worthington, Carolyn Chen, Chris Kallmyer, Brenna Noonan, Scott Unrein, Hanna Benn, and John Teske. Once complete, the whole thing will be released on Quakebasket Records.
If you can make it out to Valencia tomorrow night by 7:30, the Cal Arts Orchestra is premiering Andrew Tholl’s violin concerto, titled Asphyxiation, at The Wild Beast on their campus. Tholl himself is the violinist. The program also has works by Devin Maxwell, Roger Reynolds, Mike Fink, Michael Pisaro, and Anastassis Philippakopoulos. Should be a good time, to say the very least.
Last Monday populist records held the release party for Nicholas Deyoe’s album with throbbing eyes at Machine Project in Echo Park. It’s a significant event not only because we’ve got a sweet new album to listen to, but because it marks the new label’s first release. We managed to catch up with founders/owners/operators Andrew McIntosh and Andrew Tholl to discuss plans for the label and all of the stuff coming up that we get to be excited about.
First off, how was the release party? I’m sorry I had to miss it.
The release show was very successful. You can’t really go wrong with beer, cupcakes, live performance, and a bunch of people who are excited to hear some new music.
Ha, agreed. It seems like there’s been a serious groundswell of new classical and experimental music coming out of LA, and specifically Echo Park, in just the last couple of years. Is that the case, or is something that’s always been there just gaining more exposure lately?
Los Angeles and the West Coast in general have traditionally been places of great creativity and experimentalism. In the earlier part of the last century we had Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and John Cage. Other composers like Harry Partch, Lou Harrison, Harold Budd, and James Tenney chose to make this area their home as well. The West has an iconic history of being an enclave for free spirits and rogue thinkers, while on the East Coast there seems to be much more infrastructure and a more clearly defined concept for how music is made.
[See: this cell phone video of Nicholas Deyoe and Clint McCallum playing at the release party]
That being said, it is hard for us to speak for LA’s more recent history since we both have only been here for the last six years, but it seems that right now there is a whole community of exciting musicians who are choosing to make a place for themselves in this city. Many of us come from elsewhere, but a connective thread in the community that we’re referring to is that many of us came to LA for CalArts at some point. What we like about the community here is that it is not clearly defined and has many faces, but it seems to be made up of people who really believe in what they are doing, do it well, and are committed to presenting a wide range of music in a compelling and often slightly unusual manner.
One might think that by starting a label at this moment, you’d be perfectly poised to capture what’s been going on (and I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough references to what New Amsterdam is doing in Brooklyn). At the same time, with all of the developments over downloading, minuscule payments from streaming royalties, and so forth, this is a pretty rough time for labels, perhaps even more so than artists. Could you discuss your thoughts on going into this business side of the scene?
Well, I don’t think either of us ever really thought we should start a record label because it would be a great way to make money. We probably won’t…at least not for quite a while. But it still seemed worthwhile for us to start the label anyway. While it might seem like we’re suddenly jumping into the music business, both of us have been working as freelance musicians for years – which is very much a kind of business that you run for yourself; starting a label is just another aspect of that. As far as the comparisons to New Amsterdam go, we haven’t really heard many…we’re just starting out and I don’t think too many people are aware of us yet. But we are very aware of New Amsterdam and think the community they’ve created is pretty amazing. If we could do the same out here, we’d be pleased.
Nicholas Deyoe’s with throbbing eyes is one hell of an aesthetic statement for a label’s first release. Do you see yourself as representing the whole of this music that’s being made in and around LA, or do you have a sound in particular that you’re hoping to cover? Perhaps something akin to the more drastic side of modernism featured here?
Well we had to put something out first, but I don’t think that our first release should necessarily be taken as a statement towards what “kind” of music we intend to continue putting out. We put out Nick’s music because we like it and think it’s really good and deserves to be heard, which is probably the biggest criteria for anything we will put out in the future – we have to like it. But there’s a lot of different kinds of music that we like. While we both live Southern California and want to put out projects from our community and invest in the people around us, we don’t really have a goal of representing the entirety of the Los Angeles music scene…it’s just too big.
How hands on are you with production? I know that sounds like a silly question, but I’m curious…I know some label heads who are check in on their artists every day in the studio, while others, in a sense, foot the bill and wait for a recording to be delivered for them to take to the market. I know this first release had been previously recorded. Is that the plan?
Well, we had been talking about starting a label for at least the last year, maybe two, and we had already played on half of the works on with throbbing eyes, so we were already pretty involved before anything official happened. The album needed a home so it motivated us to actually get things going and start the label. While the album was Nick’s project, there was still a strong collaborative effort between ourselves and him throughout much of the production process. For now, I can’t really see us putting anything out where we don’t already have some sort of relationship with the composers or artists involved. Also, the way an album is put together – the space it’s recorded in, the musicians, the mixing, the track order, the album cover, etc. – is very important to us and is something we are very consciously crafting for each project.
What’s next for the label?
Our second release comes out on March 13 and will be a mostly solo album of music by minimalist composer Tom Johnson that Andrew McIntosh is recording and organizing. It also features local musicians Brian Walsh on clarinet, composer Douglas Wadle as a narrator, and is being recorded and mastered by Nicolas Tipp, who has very much been a part of the creative process for that project. It’s also interesting that both Tom Johnson and Nicholas Deyoe are originally from Colorado.
After that things are a little open, but we have several projects in the works. It is extremely likely that we will put out an album with wild Up (in collaboration with Chris Rountree and again, Nicolas Tipp). Also, we will at some point put out a duo CD of the two of us featuring composers who have come out of the CalArts community, a CD of Andrew Tholl’s experimental/improv ensemble touchy-feely, maybe a full length from the Formalist Quartet, and possibly some Morton Feldman. Oh, and in the indie label tradition, we’re toying with the idea of a single of the month club that would allow us to put out some shorter things that we think should be heard but don’t necessarily work on a whole album.
That would be amazing, please do that. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We’re really thrilled at the response we’ve had to the label so far. It’s encouraging that so many people are interested in what we’re trying to do. We hope you’ll check out our first release, enjoy it, and continue to follow us as we try to build something great.