I’m submitting this as my review of the soon-to-be-released recording of The Industry’s Hopscotch opera project, but here’s the thing: No such thing exists. Conceived by The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon, Hopscotch was an opera presented in the fall of 2015 in twenty four cars driving between a number of locations scattered around Los Angeles. At the start of each performance, a few audience members would get into each of the cars along with a group of performers, and would then experience part of the opera en route to the next physical location, where they’d see another scene before being whisked away in another car. To make matters more confounding, the cars travelled along three different routes, meaning that any given audience member could only see part of the whole in any given performance. Only at the very end did all of the routes converge on a central location for the final scene.
Needless to say, this project doesn’t lend itself easily to a traditional recording. Do you present each of the car routes as a unit to approximate the experience of attending? Do you present the scenes in order to give a view of the work impossible for someone who attended it to have seen? How do you balance the inside of a limo against an open-air concrete bank of the Los Angeles River?
Difficult questions, and ones without obvious answers. Fortunately, with current technology, we can sidestep some of them. With the album released as files on a flash drive instead of tracks on a CD, you’re free to open them in any order and explore the world of this opera as you see fit. You can follow each of the car routes separately, play everything in the order of the plot, or even sort things out by individual composer or lyricist. (There were six primary composers for the project and six primary librettists, all working in a range of different styles in their respective fields.) The liner notes — in the form of a wide-ranging interview with Sharon and Josh Raab, the opera’s dramaturg — encourage this kind of self-guided exploration, though elsewhere in the booklet there are some helpful lists of which tracks to listen to to follow which routes.
Unsurprisingly, given the range of artists that contributed to this project, the tracks cover a lot of ground. “Lucha’s Quinceñera Song” (music by David Rosenboom and text by Janine Salinas Schoenberg) is a sweetly plaintive verse-chorus affair, while “Floats the Roving Nebula” (music by Ellen Reid and text by Mandy Kahn) hovers in an ecstatic crystalline stasis. “Jameson and Lucha in the Park” (music by Mark Lowenstein and text by Erin Young) presents a tightly controlled dance number coordinated with spoken dialogue, while other spoken sections feature music improvised by the contemporary performing group Gnarwhallaby. The plot is a surreally altered (but predictably heterosexual) retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, and snatches of Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 treatment of the same myth rub up against bristlingly contemporary soundscapes. There are as many contrasts as there are tracks on the album.
Such stylistic diversity can make for an uneven listening experience, especially when paired with the differing qualities of the recordings. Some of the tracks are beautifully mastered studio takes, while others are invaluable field recordings from the site-specific scenes around town. Obviously, there’s room enough in the world for both of these approaches to recording, but repeatedly switching back and forth with such short notice can be a little jarring. (So perhaps another fruitful approach to organizing your listening could be to tackle all the field recordings followed by all the studio takes, or vice versa.)
These slight jars, however, feel in keeping with the nature of the project. Hopscotch the opera wasn’t a singular experience as much as it was a collection of possible experiences, and Hopscotch the album follows suit. There’s no one single recording of the work; there’s a collection of possible recordings all dizzyingly contained on a single flash drive. Elsewhere in the liner notes, Sharon describes the piece not as an opera but as a web, a series of interconnected points with many possible paths leading between them, none more inherently valid than any of the others. The more I listen to the album, the more this description feels right. This album isn’t a documentation or presentation of an artistic event that happened and is now over, it’s an invitation to enter into this world and explore it on your own terms, to find your own way through the work’s myriad winding paths, to make the piece yours as only you can. It’s an opera in twenty four cars, and you’re the one behind the wheel.
You can order the “album” at records.theindustryla.org/album/hopscotch.
The Industry is presenting two events on January 20 to celebrate the release. Details are below:
Friday, January 20 (4 pm)
USC, Wallis Annenberg Hall (ANN), Room L105A
3630 Watt Way, Los Angeles
Panelists include composers Veronika Krausas and Marc Lowenstein, Yuval Sharon of The Industry, and arts journalists Mark Swed and Sasha Anawalt (moderator).
Hopscotch in Concert
Friday, January 20 (7:30 pm)
USC, Newman Recital Hall (AHF)
3616 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles
This special evening emceed by director Yuval Sharon will be the first live concert of songs from the opera. Six chapters from the work will be performed (one from each of its six composers), including the expansive choral finale by Andrew Norman.
Over the years I’ve spent running New Classic LA, I’ve heard time and time again the narrative that the torch of new music in Los Angeles is being passed down from our venerable old institutions like Monday Evening Concerts and the LA Phil’s Green Unbrella series to newer, more agile ensembles and series like wild Up and WasteLAnd. Old wisdom had it that the best way for a composer to get played in LA was to move to New York. I hope, with the massive triumph and all-inclusive nature of the LA Phil’s Noon to Midnight event on Saturday, these narratives can finally be put to rest. The torch isn’t being passed down, it’s being shared, and everyone is invited.
First, let’s talk scale. Disney Hall’s spaces were opened up to many of LA’s ensembles and series, and the 12 hour marathon, in which it was impossible to catch everything, featured the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Piano Spheres, wild Up, gnarwhallaby, WasteLAnd, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Monday Evening Concerts, the USC Percussion Ensemble, The Industry, Jacaranda, Chris Kallmyer, Lucky Dragons, the LA Phil Bass Quintet, the LA Phil New Music Group, as well as a slew of food trucks and a small tasting area for a few beers from SolArc, a brewery that began life catering wild Up parties.
Programming was the spirit of inclusiveness itself, though with a somewhat surprising slant toward sounds and big works from the European, harder, avant-garde. Piano Spheres presented Messiaen’s complete, three-hour, Catalogue d’oiseaux in the garden’s Keck Amphitheatre, calling on pianists Vicky Ray, Susan Svrcek, Thomas Kotcheff, Aron Kallay, Steven Vanjauwaert, Nic Gerpe, Danny Holt, Mark Robson, Joanne Pearce Martin, Sarah Gibson, Richard Valitutto, and Nadia Shpachenko. The playing was top notch, as expected with a roster like that, and the sounds floating in from the garden and street actually served the piece well, putting Messiaen’s birds in a context where you might actually find a few of them.
Other euro-avant picks for the day included the USC Percussion Ensemble’s performance of Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique with a restoration of the original Léger film, and gnarwhallaby’s even-more-aggressive-than-usual delivery of Gorecki’s Muzyczja IV, a brief, crushing, aleatoric sort of trombone concerto that was the original impetus for the group’s formation. With the LA Phil’s penchant for Gorecki’s later, more accessible, work, hearing this punch in the face in Disney Hall was a serious treat, and a highlight of the day.
But let’s get to the new stuff. Wild Up has built a National Composers Intensive in partnership with the LA Phil, in which young composers get to write for the chamber orchestra on a fast deadline, with mentorship from established personalities in the field. Wild Up picked four works for their 1 pm show, from Tina Tallon, Thomas Kotcheff, Katherine Balch, and Ali Can Puskulcu. All showed off unique voices and impressive command of orchestration. Thomas Kotcheff’s gone/gone/gone beyond/gone beyond beyond was the highlight, a riotous, overtly physical, totally insane, “total excess in all things all the time” piece that only a band like wild Up could pull off. It was convincing, self indulgant, and I loved it. I was also unaware before hearing it that guitarist Chris Kallmyer could shred that hard.
Tina Tallon’s Sear, which delved into her life with tinnitus after rupturing an ear drum a couple years ago, was a wrenching and effective listen, and my favorite piece of hers yet. Bowed styrofoam and a power drill could have been gimmicky, as could the whole idea of basing a piece on high drones and sounds disappearing – but Tina handled them with aplomb. It’s a dangerous artistic line she chose to walk with Sear, and she nailed it.
Turning back to the heavier avant-garde, WasteLAnd’s set in BP Hall had the premiere of Nicholas Deyoe’s Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along, with text by Allison Carter sung by soprano Stephanie Aston. This seemed to show a slightly simpler and more direct side of Deyoe’s writing, as his vocal music sometimes does – but I say seemed to because the bleed of crowd noise into BP Hall became a real problem for the chamber music sets as the day went on. I am sure Ashley Walters’ performance of Liza Lim’s Invisiblity was utterly stunning, and Erik Ulman’s Tout Orgueil… seemed delicate and thought provoking – but we’ll have to go to WasteLAnd’s repeat of the performance this Friday at Art Share to be sure.
Not at all affected by the crowd noise was the LA Percussion Quartet’s performance in the same space later in the day. Daniel Bjarnason and Ellen Reid presented pieces in line with their dominant aesthetics. This is by no means a bad thing – Bjarnason’s Qui Tollis had a few ideas about varying ostinati and loops from his piano concerto Processions and was similarly thrilling, and Reid’s Fear / Release was covered in decorative flourishes reminiscent of her rooftop scene from Hopscotch, a highlight of that massive opera. Jeffrey Holmes’ Ur, on the other hand, was a break through premiere. With the ensemble surrounding the audience, each musician surrounded by similar set ups of gongs, toms, bass drums, flower pots, and cymbals, we listeners were bathed in swirling cascades of sound, as players echoed each others gestures a few beats apart. I’m not sure that the piece would work as well without the spatialization – but with it, it was magic. Thankfully LAPQ tends to record in surround sound, so the effect won’t be lost when they get around to Ur.
Surprisingly, the evening Green Umbrella concert, with its more traditional format, felt significantly less interesting than the rest of the day. The music was perfectly good – Kate Soper’s The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract was wonderful, as was the composer/singer’s assured and entertaining delivery of the text, and Ingram Marshall’s Flow was lovely as expected – but sitting in the hall, being quiet between movements somehow felt like a comedown from the high of running around from show to show, seeing friends from across the new music spectrum enjoying all sorts of different things.
Wild Up’s 10 pm set changed that. Conductor/composer Christopher Rountree’s Word. Language. Honey., a violin concerto commissioned for Jennifer Koh who tore into it with abandon, was unequivocally the best thing Rountree has written yet. Days later, as I type this, I still get chills thinking about the unison bass drum hits decaying into the distance, and the frantic shredding of strings at the opening giving way to more lyrical passages throughout, and the clever use of text (the piece began with misdirection, as the band started playing while Rountree was seemingly introducing the program), his words coming back in recorded form later. I’ve always liked his music, but Word. Language. Honey. takes his composing from “assured, effective, solid, I like it” to stunning, unique, and powerful. It’s a piece not to be missed.
This review could easily continue for another thousand words. Andrew McIntosh’s Yelling Into The Wind was clever and effective, a sort of play on the whole concept of the virtuoso concerto, as pianist Richard Valitutto traded simple lines with individual soloists from the rest of the ensemble. The Industry’s installation, Nimbus, with music from Rand Steiger, clouds floating above the elevators, musicians and singers walking around (also reminiscent of the last scene of Hopscotch) was whimsical and fun and gave life to an unusually dead space in Disney Hall. Jacaranda’s performance of Steve Reich’s Eight Lines was solid – Donald Crockett’s conducting is impossibly clear, useful for minimalism – and the crickets in the literal spotlight of Chris Kallmyer’s Crickets sang their little cricket hearts out.
The support from a major institution like the LA Phil of all these smaller, grassroots organizations is a huge boon to the LA scene. The phil knows that they wouldn’t have an audience for new music without the work of all these other presenters, and despite the right-leaning shade of the phrase “a rising tide lifts all ships,” every new music group in town will benefit from days like these, whether they were on the program or not.
A day after the event, I saw an instagram post from Kallmyer, a photo of his crickets being released into the wild. They sang together in his little box. Maybe now they’ll go spread all over LA and keep singing, inspired by what they did when they were together. As for the zillion musicians and ensembles and composers that the LA Phil invited into their home on Saturday, I know they will. LA Phil, thanks for having us.
The inaugural summer series of WasteLAnd is an exciting addition to the innovative concert series – over the span of eight days, four concerts explore facets of WasteLAnd’s aesthetic. Summer casts a more languid hue on concert-going, and WasteLAnd’s thoughtful programming, and aptly named Waste(d)LAnd limited edition beer, seem to take advantage of this seasonal atmosphere.
On Saturday, July 25th, WasteLAnd teamed with the forces of Gnarwhallaby at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena for the second of these summer performances. The Neighborhood Church has been home to a number of Gnarwhallaby concerts, and it was a refreshing surprise to find that the space had been transformed by the arrangement of the ensemble in the middle of the sanctuary, seats and speakers closely surrounding them, all lit by paper lamps and music stand lights. This subdued atmosphere had a noticeable effect on the experience of these pieces. Visual aspects are often distracting when trying to focus on sound worlds of great detail, and this staging facilitated an un-self-conscious concentration, which is lacking in many audience environments.
The first two pieces, DSCH by Edison Denisov and avance|impulsions mechaniques by Adriana Hölszky, are part of Gnarwhallaby’s standard repertoire, and were executed with characteristic familiarity and care. The pieces were both lovely in their jaggedly taut way, with surprisingly similar languages although separated by a number of decades (1969 to 1997). Both pieces use a vocabulary of ‘classic’ extended techniques, post-tonal, rhetorical gestures, and an abstracted sense of form, but explore different concerns. DSCH is form-driven, with clear demarcations of gesture and response, complex interaction and moments of reflection, while the Hölszky is more unified in its brutality and trajectory, building and exploring a singular kind of momentum with 90’s additive intensity. The experience of these pieces was also made different by the unique arrangement of the ensemble. Contrapuntal sections were clearer and more obviously social, rhythmic interactions more defined and intimate.
The focus of the night, however, was the premiere by composer David Brynjar Franzson, The Cartography of Time, commissioned specifically for Gnarwhallaby.
The commission has been a long time coming. Gnarwhallaby has been in consultation with Franzson since 2012, when the group first heard a piece by the composer at The Industry’s First Take concert. The quartet agreed that Franzson’s piece was their favorite of the evening, and began corresponding with him about writing for the group. In 2013, Franzson came to see the ensemble in New York, as well as in Iceland in 2014. The length of this association is evident in the extraordinarily subtle treatment of the ensemble.
The Cartography of Time begins imperceptibly, with electronic clicks and percussive effects in surrounding speakers gently immersing the audience in the three-dimensional world that is to unfold. Gradually, the ensemble enters with extended, strained tones built from an expertly orchestrated vocabulary of harmonics, multiphonics, and subtly colored intonation. A look at the score shows that the entire piece is organized with exact metrical shifts, and a tempo click heard in a headphone by the cellist who cues the ensemble, but this structural underpinning is completely hidden. Ensemble tones and percussive gestures combine seamlessly with the audio track, building and waning in dynamics from indiscernible to a mezzo-forte at the loudest.
The composite effect is mesmerizing and convincingly organic. Something is definitely living and breathing – if not a human being, then the landscape itself swells. The bass clarinet seems to lead in many areas, even if this is unintended, as its versatility allows for a range of expression that naturally contrasts with the other parts. From impossibly strained high tones, blending with the electronics, to low growls and multiphonics at the bottom of the range, the bass clarinet provides a frame and impetus for the rest of the ensemble. Muted trombone swells are insistent, but self-possessed. The piano is used economically, in a percussive manner. Franzson carefully chooses to forgo the enormous gestural capabilities of the piano. No cliché registral leaps are in evidence here: sharp attacks on single tones with subsequent ringing or damped harmonics fit beautifully into the texture. Cello tones are somehow simultaneously woody and glassy and blend imperceptibly with the electronics. Gnarwhallaby is at its best here; the execution was precise, integrated, and beautiful.
Rather than building from this texture or jostling the listener in another direction, however, Franzson remains in this temporality for the entirety of the thirty-or-so minute piece. Where other composers may have easily been tempted to exploit the materials here, quickening the pace, or exploring all electronic possibilities, Franzson’s approach is more receptive, and decisively so. The remarkable restraint here is by far the strongest feature of the piece; by focusing on a single experience of temporality, Franzson truly creates an altered sense of time, rather than simply the idea of one.
Many works of this scale and intent miss this crucial distinction. When a sense of immersive, suspended time is attempted, audiences are too often left adrift. A composer can easily disregard the natural ebb and flow of attention, demands on the listener are too great for the aesthetic reward, or the suspension of expectations in a piece breaks down, forcing attention elsewhere.
Here, Franzson has displayed the true craft of the composer – informed attenuation of the audience’s attention. The organicism and looseness of the landscape allows for real fluctuations of audience attention and perception, without dogmatic demands or meretricious ploys for listener interest. A glance around the room showed evidence of this skill: the energy in the room had dropped, people’s breathing had slowed, many had eyes closed and almost all wore contemplative expressions.
Rather than a first effort, Cartography is obviously the work of a composer experienced in creating this particular experience of time. Ironically, the title The Cartography of Time seems a bit misleading – cartography is the detailed cataloguing of uncharted territory, but in this piece, we have already arrived. We know exactly where we are, planted firmly in a single temporality in which gray, smoky landscapes seem to come in and out of focus, approach and recede around us. The world we inhabit is not the two-dimensional world evoked by maps, however allegorically intended, but a very real and vibrant three-dimensional world, crafted by an extraordinarily capable composer.
This Friday, wild Up presents an evening of music curated by and celebrating the work of clarinetist Brian Walsh. Walsh is a staple of the LA scene, most frequently inhabiting the contemporary classical and jazz worlds, and having worked with everyone from the LA Phil and wild Up to Nels Cline and Bright Eyes to his own ensembles (Walsh Set Trio and gnarwhallaby). I’m glad he had time to answer a few questions ahead of tomorrow’s concerts at Boston Court (tickets available here).
This concert on Friday explores and celebrates your musical influences and experiences. Could you talk a bit about the program?
I wanted to present music that I love listening to and love playing. I also wanted to work with some of my best friends who are incredible musicians. The two pieces that first popped into my head when chatting with Chris Rountree were Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study 1 for solo bass clarinet, and Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus. The program developed out of that initial connection. gnarwhallaby will be performing a wonderful piece by Martin Smolka-Euphorium. This is scored for baritone saxophone, euphonium, cello, and prepared piano. It is both disgusting and beautiful. It also grooves. Magnus Lindberg’s Ablauf features a slithering clarinet solo bombarded by two bass drums. I will play a solo I wrote for clarinet striking assorted small objects. Walsh Set Trio(bass clarinet, bass and drums) will play my compositions that mix absurdist vocals, jazz and contemporary music. The music of the great Charles Mingus will round out the concert.
It’s a really wide-ranging program, and I’ve seen you in many different contexts as a performer. What opened you up to exploring such diverse musics? Do you even see them as diverse, or all part of the same practice?
I grew up only listening to classical music and some 60’s folk rock. When I hit 8th grade I discovered jazz and that opened the flood gates. At first, any music that featured the clarinet really interested me, and that pretty much exposes you to almost every kind of music. Almost. I don’t think so much about the diversity aspect. If I hear something and love it, I do it. The different styles just have slightly different needs. I still listen to a lot of music so my brain is used to moving relatively fluidly between styles.
Is there a particular music that’s your favorite to play? Why?
As soon as I think there is, something else comes along. I do tend to always return to contemporary music and jazz though.
What attracted you to clarinet in the first place? Was it your first instrument?
I saw a wind quintet play in the mall and liked the look of the oboe. The group was wearing tuxedos and socks that looked like shoes. I told my band director that I wanted to play oboe and got a clarinet. I figured it was close enough.
What other musicians in LA inspire you?
I have to say that all the groups and musicians I work with are constantly pushing me and inspiring me. Composers as well. Groups like wild Up and Chris Rountree, gnarwhallaby (Richard Valitutto, Derek Stein, and Matt Barbier), Nicholas Deyoe and all the folks at WasteLAnd. Daniel Rosenboom and Orenda Records just to name a few. Local heroes who are trying to make great art as well as build a strong, supportive community.
I mean this as a compliment: anytime I see you onstage I think, “oh, of course they’d get Brian, he can do anything.” That said, are there any musical goals or projects, that you’re interested in and haven’t yet been able to pursue or accomplish? Anyone you’d like to work with but haven’t yet?
I’m planning on recording an album of music featuring an expanded version of my trio, using strings and guitar. My current dream is to record an album with organist Larry Goldings. He doesn’t know that yet. I’ve also been thinking about recording a solo clarinet album. I usually don’t like listening to a whole album of solo anything so I’m not sure what to do about that.
First, a quick site update: the calendar/event time zone bug is FIXED! All event are now in Pacific Time.
Remember how the other day we were like “go see Gnarwhallaby this Sunday!” and then later we were like “we’ll have a preview of Isaac Schankler’s piece soon?” (If not, check out that post here.) Well, Isaac’s got a piece for Gnarwhallaby and electronics called Sad Trombone that is getting its world premiere on Sunday at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universal Church of Pasadena, and he sent me an excerpt of the electronic part, which is titled Sad Sinusoids. It’s really pretty:
As for what Gnarwhallaby will be doing with these sad sinusoids is something we’ll have the hear to find out, though we can assume it’ll include Matt Barbier doing sad stuff on a trombone.
Complete details on the concert are up at http://peopleinsideelectronics.com/gnarwhallaby-wild-beasts
Our friends over at People Inside Electronics are putting on a show with our friends in Gnarwhallaby this weekend. It might seem weird to say “our friends” about both groups in that sentence, but it’s really true, and the friendliness-factor is a big part of what makes our city’s scene so wonderful. Anyway!
In addition to a couple Gnarwhallafavorites from the Polish cadre of composers that influenced the formation of the band, this show has pieces for musicians + electronics from Morton Subotnick and Donald Erb, and a world premiere from Isaac Schankler.
Here’s a video of Gnarwhallaby performing Włodzimierz Kotoński pour quatre, which is also on the program.[vimeo https://vimeo.com/84455079]
Full details and tickets are up at http://peopleinsideelectronics.com/gnarwhallaby-wild-beasts
I’ve been working on getting a better event calendar together to this site for quite a while, and am extremely pleased to say that the new one is live. If you’re on a computer, look to the right. If you’re on a phone, scroll down. Or simply click Calendar on the site’s menu to check it out.
If you’re reading this post today, you’ll see an event called Gnarwhallion listed. That’s Gnarwhallaby’s concert celebration of Andrew McIntosh’s new record, Hyenas In The Temples of Pleasure. It came out today, and we’ll have a feature on it out soon. You can beat us to it by going and grabbing your own copy at tonight’s show.
I’m still working out the most efficient way to take calendar submissions. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, if you post a Facebook event to our forum page, we’ll make sure it gets listed.
Gnarwhallaby open their season tonight at Boston Court, with premieres from Colin Wambsgans and Nick Deyoe, and music by Martin Smolka, Edison Denisov, and Henryk Gorecki.
These guys rock. Here’s an example of why:
Tickets are at http://www.bostoncourt.com/events/221/gnarwhallaby, and you get $5 off with the code “MUSIC2014”.
I received a facebook invitation from my friend Richard Valittuto (pianist, in wild Up, blew everyone’s collective mind with his performance of Gubaidulina’s Introitus back in May) today that I feel deserves some public attention, seeing as it’s the first performance from a new ensemble, at a relatively new venue.
The ensemble/band/whatnot is called Gnarwhallaby. It’s Richard on piano, Brian Walsh on clarinets, Matt Barbier on trombone, and Derek Stein on cello. Their debut concert is going to be held this Saturday, November 5th, at the the wulf, an experimental art space downtown that seems to be doing all sorts of awesome stuff. Starts at 8, and
no price is mentioned in the invitation all shows at the wulf are free. They’ll be playing music by Henryk Gorecki, Edison Denisow, Morton Feldman, Steffan Schleiermacher, Wlodzimierz Kotonski and Marc Sabat.
I’m really sad because I’m going to be out of town this weekend, and would LOVE to hear these guys. You should go.
In other news, I interviewed the composers who formed Synchromy yesterday. It’s the first time I’ve ever tried doing a video interview, and it will be posted soon, ahead of their November 12 concert, which is looking pretty sweet too. They’re currently fundraising for that concert on Kickstarter. If you’d like to support them, you can access the campaign page here.