Posts Tagged ‘new music’

Interview: Aron Kallay on Beyond Twelve

Pianist, composer, teacher, theorist, writer, festival organizer, man-of-many-nouns-used-as-modifiers Aron Kallay has a concert this Saturday at Beyond Baroque, and it sounds just awesome. For this closing event of Microfest, of which Aron is the assistant director, he’s commissioned a bunch of composers to reimagine what can be done with a piano. With all that this guy does, I’m lucky that he had a moment to talk about the project. See you there.

Let’s get right down to business: you commissioned works for piano using two ground rules, 1) re-tune the keyboard, pretty much in any way imaginable, and 2) re-map the keyboard. How have the composers you’ve commissioned responded to or interpreted these guidelines?

It’s been fascinating, to say the least. I deliberately chose composers for this project whose music I really liked. I wasn’t looking to commission “microtonal” composers, necessarily, but rather composers who I knew would take on the challenge of exploring alternate tunings. For many of them, like Tom Flaherty, this was their very first excursion into the microtonal world, and the results have been nothing short of stunning. Some of them divided the octave into many more than twelve steps. Kyle Gann’s Every Something is an Echo of Nothing, for example, has thirty, and they are all out of order! Other composers went back in time to find their tuning. John Schneider goes all the way back to Pythagoras, basing his tuning on a string of pure fifths. The most novel approach, however, goes to Brian Shepard. He started with the most basic of scales, the pentatonic, and created something so vertiginous that it needs to be experienced to be understood.
What sparked your interest in microtonal music? It seems like a bit of a surprise move for a pianist…but perhaps that’s why it’s working so well.
Ah… it was a surprise move for a pianist, before the advent of physical modeling software and really fast computers. The problem with microtonal music for an acoustic piano is that the number of pieces that can be performed on a given concert is directly related to the number of pianos in the hall. There are an infinite number of tunings available to composers and they rarely choose the same one for each piece. Add to that the complication that pianos don’t like to be retuned, and we have a problem. Often, it takes five tunings to get a piano to hold its pitch, even for something relatively straight forward like lowering the instrument a quartertone. The software I’ll use for this concert (pianoteq) models all of the intricacies of the piano while taking the new tuning into account (how the sound board reacts, sympathetic vibrations, key noise, etc…). The result is something not entirely unlike a retuned acoustic piano. In fact, it’s pretty darn close to the real thing.
As far as who sparked my interest in microtonal music, that’s easy… It was Professor Bob Moore at USC. He is one of the great unsung new music heros of Los Angles. I took two years of his 20th/21st century music theory class while working on my doctorate. He would often start lectures with something like: “One day, I was sitting at the bar with Takemitsu talking about X when Morton Feldmen walked in all mad about Y, and you won’t believe what Bernstein had to say on the subject.” This was a great class… When he played Ben Johnston’s Amazing Grace quartet for us, I was sold.
You’re also known for your work in combining acoustic instruments with electronics. Could you talk a bit about the challenges of both composing and performing in this medium? I ask partially out of self interest, as I’m writing a piece for guitar and field recordings and finding it extremely hard to make the two work together, as opposed to sounding merely juxtaposed on top of one another.
It’s funny to think that I’m known for anything at this point of my career, but thanks for the ego boost!
Not to avoid your question here, but I think that it really comes down to style vs. substance, to steal from Charles Ives. The great monuments of the electroacoustic literature, Stockhausen’s Kontakte, Babbitt’s Philomel, any of Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, for example, work not necessarily because the electronics are integrated with the live instrument, but because of the depth of meaning in the musical material. In other words, the electronics were never conceived of as separate from the acoustic part, they were necessary to the composer’s vision.
Of course, there are tricks that performers can use to help the composer out… Speaker placement, sound projection of the live instrument, effects, etc…
You’ve certainly covered a lot of musical bases around LA – composing, performing, teaching, running a festival, co-directing an ensemble of sorts…do you view aspects of our scene differently when you approach them from different perspectives? Or are there things that you’ve found to be true no matter what role you’re playing?

It’s interesting, and this is something that I think about all the time: the creative precess is pretty much the same for me regardless of the medium. If I’m curating a concert for MicroFest, I come up with a vision, or allow the music to dictate the vision to me, and try to shape a program that will fulfill that vision. The vision can be narrative or abstract, or a combination of the two, depending on the material. The result is like a meta composition–a symphony in several acts to hopefully be experienced as a whole by the audience. Whether or not I’m successful is actually beside the point. If the process is sound and I’ve created something that is true to the vision, people will come, and if they don’t, well, then I need to find a new profession.

The same is true when I wear my performer’s hat. I need a vision, and I need to be true to that vision, regardless of the dictates of “tradition” or “performance practice” or even what the composer is asking for in the score. If I don’t own that piece of music on the stage, then no one will be happy, not me, not the composer, and certainly not the audience!

What’s the most fun for me is something like Beyond Twelve, where I get to produce, curate, commission, promote, and perform. It’s difficult to wear so many hats at once, but talk about owning an event! And, even if it falls flat and there are ten people in the audience, at least I’ve helped to create new microtonal repertoire, which really is the point in the end.

What’s your favorite thing about new music in LA?

The abundance of amazing performers in this city. I’m not sure if it’s having the studios or institutions like USC and the LA Phil or the weather, but I’d put our musicians up against those from any city–any day of the week.

And your least favorite, or something you’d like to see change?

We need a more geographically contained city, or a transporter like they have on Star Trek! The only thing new music has going for it in places like New York is that everything there is closer together.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Nope! Time to get back to practicing!

Info about this Saturday’s show is available at beyondbaroque.org/events.html. Learn more about Aron and his projects at AronKallay.com and MicroFest.org.

Interview: Composer Veronika Krausas on Misfits and Hooligans


This Saturday, Catalysis Projects and People Inside Electronics are collaborating to put on a show called Misfits and Hooligans at Beyond Baroque in Venice. I caught up via email with composer/the-brains-behind-it Veronika Krausas to talk about the show. While it’s nice to pretend I’m an objective journalist (I’m not), I’ve gotta say that the whole concept of this concert sounds completely awesome to me, and that I’m way excited about it, and think you should probably go. Thumbs up/high five, Veronika, I can’t wait.

The concert that your group Catalysis Projects is putting on with People Inside Electronics is called “Misfits and Hooligans,” and features music for all sorts of instruments that are often thought of as such. Aside from my being sad that melodica didn’t make the cut, this is really exciting. Where did the concept come from? And are you concerned about angering violists by including them on this?

AHHH … there are so many wonderful instruments that just didn’t make the cut … bagpipes, tuba, trombone, nose flute, banjo, and yes melodica. I think the violists are thrilled to be included.  Probably everyone not included is wondering how they can get into the club!  The question really should be – are you a misfit or a hooligan?  But then it depends which country you hail from because in the lands that enjoy soccer (aka as non-American football), a hooligan might have a slightly less savory connotation than a hooligan in my less aggressive-less violent-more mischievous-Edward Gorey-esque usage of the term.  Even so, I think I’m more of a misfit than a hooligan although I definitely appreciate musical hooliganism!

But, back to the concert!  The composer Daniel Rothman started a new music series at Beyond Baroque and asked me to organize a concert.  I enlisted my pals at Catalysis Projects, the visual artist, filmmaker, and writer Quintan Ana Wikswo, composers and performers Isaac Schankler and Aron Kallay (also of People Inside Electronics) to help with this extravaganza.  It started out as a ‘so what pieces do you have’? type of thing and slowly emerged as a collection of ‘interesting’ instruments and it went gloriously downhill from there!   On the program there are also some truly wonderful and crazy pieces for harpsichord by the French Baroque composer Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, whose name alone is great!  (We’ve all adopted Pancrace as our Misfit or Hooligan middle name!)  Pancrace (as he is now known by his friends) was a contemporary of, and eclipsed quite a bit by, his pal Rameau!  I heard Arthur Omura play Marche des Scythes and it was one of those ‘AH HA’ moments for me with the harpsichord.  I drank the Royer Kool-aid and that was it.  I’m now officially hooked on the harpsichord.  It was such a wonderfully bizarre piece that it and 2 other of the pieces from Royer’s Première Livre de Pièces pour Clavecin are being performed on the concert.  He unfortunately only has one book of harpsichord pieces.

Aron Kallay is playing a gorgeous piece for toy piano and electronics by Tom Flaherty.  Isaac Schankler has this great duo for accordion and electronics called Chocolate Phase that he’s playing with Daniel Corral.  I’ve asked them to wear lederhosen but that idea didn’t go over so well.   He also has his wonderful viola piece Dear Mr. Edison.

My instruments are harmonica and double bass.  Let’s make the harmonica the misfit and the double basses will be the hooligans!  Jonas is a solo harmonica piece that the harmonica player Bill Barrett commissioned a few years ago and it’s finally having its premiere at this show along with a great text and film by Quintan Ana Wikswo called The Anguillidae Eater.  The text is about the migration of eels to the Coronian Spit in Lithuania (which is one of my favorite places in the world) with a surreal twist.  It goes perfectly with the harmonica music.  The piece is named after my grandfather Jonas, who loved harmonica and smoked eel and was Lithuanian.  He was probably more of a friendly hooligan that a misfit.  I still have his harmonica in my studio.

The musical hooligans are represented in my double bass trio called Gardens of Stone.    This piece was inspired by a poem by the Canadian writer André Alexis:

out of silence, to another silence

from sun and water, dry white salt.

time moves like that, crest to crest,

and our selves, yours and mine,

are what is left from sea …

You often compose for multimedia. What’s your approach to collaboration with other artists?

I’ve been so fortunate to have an amazing group of writers, film makers, artists, acrobats, and musicians around me that they’re always so inspiring.  The process always happens so naturally – someone suggests an idea (or I have an image or sound in my mind) and that small kernel just grows (often like a weed) and just emerges.  Somehow we’re always on the same sort of wave length when working on projects.

Art by Krausas's collaborator Reneé Reynolds

You’ve also done a good bit of work outside of music on your own. Did you study visual art, photography, or writing formally, or have you sort of picked it up over time?

I’ve only studied music but I am an accidental photographer, occasional book-maker, story writer, and filmmaker.  The great thing about ideas is that often they take on a non-aural form, which sometimes gets translated into music and other times into another art form.  I started to collect quite a few photographs of graffiti from all over the world and one year decided to put them into a book.  Definitely an accidental photographer.  Another friend (writer and artist Renée Reynolds)  and I started with the idea of an errata in a magazine and slowly this developed into a project of a limited hand-made book that had very divergent ideas of our interpretations of what is an errata.   The cover was floor tiles held together with duct tape – itself an errata of sorts.

 You’re actually the first composer I’ve interviewed who is on a university faculty. I’ve heard some composition professors say that they only get to compose in summer because teaching and the work associated with it take so much time. What’s the balance like, for you? And are you pleased with it?

Tough during the year but it’s like anything – you make time, especially when you’re inspired or have a deadline.  As those deadlines approach I’m sure my students notice the crazed look in my eyes…I teach at 8am so I’m not sure how much they notice at that hour!

Being that you’ve had works performed all over the place, how would you say LA compares or fits into the world scene for new music? Seems pretty strong to me, but I’ve never spent time in New York.

I never imagined myself living in LA and ended up here a little bit by accident.  Since arriving I have LOVED it.  The musical and creative environment is so vibrant that it’s really inspiring to live and work here.  There so much music and art and dance and performance going on, it’s just a little spread out!  And the weather is pretty darn great.

Anything on the horizon you can tell us about?

I’m off to Belgium in the fall – my chamber orchestra piece analemma is an official selection for the World Music Days.

Also, I’ve been asked to present my films at a series run by Gerry Fialka in the fall.  Although not a film maker – just an accidental one – I have worked with several really spectacular film and video makers (Quintan Ana Wikswo and Nana Tchitchoua – who runs the Tula Tea Room at the Museum of Jurassic Technology).  This event with feature some of the works I’ve done with them and my own ‘accidental’ foray into making a film.  A few years ago someone ran an idea for a short film by me and I offered what I thought was a good (and slightly quirky) suggestion.  They didn’t like the idea or even use it so I thought “it’s a great idea, I’m going to make it.” So I came up with 7 short and silly scenarios that became 7 intermezzi for film that I wrote and produced.  It was shot by Marc Lempert and the music was by friends.   A very fun project.

Thank you!

Get your tickets for this weekend’s show at brownpapertickets.com/event/235385. See you there!

Interview: Justin Urcis, Executive Director of Monday Evening Concerts

If it weren’t for Justin Urcis and Monday Evening Concerts, I may never have found a way in to the new music scene in LA. Way back when I finished college, before the scene was as healthy and open as it is today, I was networking like crazy to find a job in music and largely getting ignored. Justin was kind enough to write back to me one day, and invited me to meet with him and, ultimately, intern with MEC. And let me tell you: if you want to meet a guy who can tackle an unbelievably gigantic task, running a season just as busy as those of many orchestras with large staffs, on his own, in what little extra time he has, then you want to meet Justin. I’m glad he had time to answer some questions.

Monday Evening Concerts has an enormous history, going straight back to Stravinsky in the 1930s, and getting to today by way of Boulez, the Arditti Quartet, and right up through Salonen and Stucky. Was taking charge of such a prestigious organization a few years ago, well, intimidating?

I suppose I was / have been too busy organizing things to worry about being intimidated. Someone had to keep the series going and somehow it ended up being me. That said, I do take the responsibility of running the series seriously and strive to present concerts of the quality and import that have made the series known and respected throughout the world.

With your series’ tradition of premieres from both luminaries of the avant-garde and up-and-comers, as well as performances of important pieces from the modernist and post-modern repertory, programming must be a bit tricky. What’s your approach?

The first consideration is that I will only program a concert that I would pay, and travel a reasonable distance, to hear. If a program does not meet that criteria, I cannot in good conscience ask an audience to buy a ticket or donate to support the event.

There are a lot of concerts I would pay and travel to hear but that are not appropriate for Monday Evening Concerts, such as a string quartet recital with works by Haydn and Schubert. I love those composers but the idea of presenting a traditional string quartet recital isn’t consistent with our mission.

A second consideration is whether anyone else in Los Angeles will present this program if we don’t; i.e. are we providing an experience that other organizations won’t. Obviously we don’t want to let other organization define us, but I think that MEC has always promoted concerts and events that are unique to Southern California. Last season REDCAT did a large Xenakis festival, so that seems less of a pressing concern for us in the near future. However, should a Xenakis piece fit just perfectly into a program or should we have an opportunity to present a special performer or ensemble playing Xenakis then we’d still do it. Last year the JACK Quartet played some short Webern pieces in between two quartets by Aaron Cassidy. The Cassidy quartets were classic MEC fare and it was the first time his music had even been heard on the West Coast. But I’m sure several string quartets each year play these short pieces of Webern in LA. So it’s not like audiences wouldn’t have had the chance to hear these pieces if we hadn’t presented them. However, the Webern fit just perfectly in this context so we presented it.

Clearly a lot of the programming reflects my personal tastes. That’s obvious from my first consideration. It’s difficult for me to articulate what qualities I’m looking for in music since there are so many. However, I do feel strongly that a concert should be something transcendent and spiritual, as vague and loaded as those terms may be. In a film we showed on Salvatore Sciarrino, Sciarrino said something like (I’m paraphrasing here), “When you go to a concert, it should really be a transformative experience. You should be transformed. Otherwise, what’s the point?” And I think he’s fundamentally right. There are a lot of options for entertainment nowadays. Life is short, and so while I have fun, I also take it seriously, knowing that we may not be around very long. And so, when an organization like MEC has really limited resources, and individuals decide to trust us with their money and generosity, we have an obligation to really do something that’s special and important for our culture. And each season, I feel this more strongly: that the concert has to be something special, that it can really change someone’s life, someone’s perspective on music, art, and humanity. And this can all be pleasurable (although at times it may not be, since it may also be disorienting, confusing, challenging, ugly, etc.). But it’s from this fundamental impulse that my desire for quality emerges. We certainly may not succeed all the time, but we need to keep trying.

More specifically, I spend a lot of time focusing on the pacing and contrasts in each program. I try to find compositions that will sound “just right” to follow another composition, even if they may seem unrelated. For the sake of our audience, I also try to provide a variety of styles throughout the season. I’m not in favor of presenting a series which clings to one type of aesthetic (i.e. only American experimental tradition, only Lachenmann and his descendants, only minimalism and its followers, etc). I think there are really great works in all of these traditions. Recently the series has presented a fair amount of recent European music. That’s probably because I’m finding a lot of that music interesting and because a lot of it is underrepresented here, so I feel more compelled to present it.

Every so often we’ll do something that may not seem especially new, but is unfamiliar. Last season we presented a 35 minute long a cappella passion by Heinrich Schutz. I happen to love Schutz, and especially his passions, but I quickly realized that these late works simply are not performed in LA. So we decided to present this sizable piece. Why not? I think MEC exists to take on projects like this. This meets the second consideration. We paired it with a very contemporary piece by Rolf Riehm which placed the Schutz in a contemporary context. I think this Riehm-Schutz combination is a good example of a Monday Evening Concerts program. Last month we paired organ works of Frescobaldi and Pasquini with a major piece by Klaus Lang. I’m sure the organ pieces were discoveries for much of the audience; I’m fairly familiar with Renaissance keyboard music and I had only known one of these three works before the concert.

Monday Evening Concerts has a distinguished history and I do consider this history when programming. I have my own interpretation of MEC’s history which may differ from others, but I see the organization as one that is constantly evolving and changing.

It’s important to state that I’m not coming up with all these programs on my own. On the contrary, I think our “secret” is that I rely heavily on friends, composers, performers, and anyone I can talk to for advice. Ultimately the programming is filtered through my sensibility, but I’m always speaking with people to get ideas and learn what’s out there. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it, and ask people to critique my ideas. It’s a constant process of refining and editing, and hopefully I do a good job, although I’m always nervous about the results.

Finally, none of the programming will work without great performers. All great music requires great performances. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Bach, John Cage, or Gerard Pesson. So we spend a lot of time trying to find the right performers for each piece and each concert. We have many really wonderful musicians based in Southern California and we invite them to perform frequently. (Composers from around the world have remarked on how well their music is performed here in Los Angeles). There are also marvelous performers elsewhere in the US and around the world, and we like to invite them as well, especially when they have special experience with a particular composer or tradition (i.e. Vincent Royer to play Radulescu, Mario Caroli for Sciarrino, JACK Quartet for Aaron Cassidy, Natalia Pschenitschnikova for Klaus Lang, etc, etc…). I think our audience enjoys hearing this combination of local and visiting performers which keeps the series lively and unpredictable. It’s also gratifying to watch local and visiting performers play together, which is an enriching experience for both and has the potential to foster new collaborations amongst them.

Tell me a bit about this season.

We’re midway into our 2011-2012 season. In December we presented the United States premiere of Gyorgy Kurtag’s major song cycle “…pas a pas…nulle part” which really had a major impact on our audience. Last month we presented the United States premiere of Klaus Lang’s “einfalt. stille.” for soprano, percussion, flute and viola which was particularly magical, and I marveled at the composer’s ability to create an incredibly rich sound world with such limited resources. Coming up is the United States debut of the Norwegian new music ensemble “asamisimasa.” Aside from being fantastic musicians, the group has developed a personal and idiosyncratic (in the best sense) repertoire which is quite refreshing. The music of Stefan Wolpe, Peter Ablinger, and Evan Johnson is featured in March, while our April concert highlights the many talents of Steven Schick, who will perform as a percussionist, speaker/actor and conductor in a program of Helmut Lachenmann, Kurt Schwitters and Aldo Clementi.

It must be very different to run a concert series than it is to run an ensemble or a venue. Can you talk about some of the work that goes into presenting this, and some of the differences?

I have never run an ensemble or a venue, but I believe I have enough of an understanding of the issues involved in administering both that I can accurately characterize some of the differences. An ensemble will have a fixed roster of performers and they will have a strong voice in determining the repertoire for the group. It is rare to have an outside party determine the repertoire for an ensemble unless it’s a music director, but even the music director will / should consider the desires of his / her performers in determining repertoire. The musicians should be enthusiastic about playing whichever music they are performing and not do it out of a sense of duty or obligation. Ensembles are also limited by their instrumentation. Because we do not have a fixed ensemble, I believe we have more opportunities available to us. Back to the Riehm / Schutz concert we did last season; I don’t think there are any ensembles out there that have 12 singers who sing Baroque music in addition to piano, violin, viola, cello, percussion, oboe, piccolo flute and contrabass clarinet! That said, I do regret that our concerts are often one-time affairs. The performers often put in an unbelievable amount of effort and time into learning and rehearsing demanding new scores only to play them once. This is not an ideal situation for them, but we don’t have the capacity to present multiple performances. Performers need to live with great music for many years to deepen their interpretations and an ensemble can provide this opportunity which we cannot (which is why we sometimes present ensembles or performers that have experience with certain pieces).

A venue has certain limitations as well. Our main venue is Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School although we do not use it for all of our productions It is a wonderful concert hall with superb acoustics and is an appropriate size for our events. However we do find occasions when we another venue is necessary. For example we presented Charlemagne Palestine several years ago in the First Congregational Church which has a monster pipe organ. This would simply not be possible in Zipper. So MEC has the flexibility of choosing venues based on their suitability for a given production.

Is there something that you are most proud of? I particularly remember when you managed to shut down a stretch of Grand Avenue for a performance of Ein Brise…

I am proud of introducing new music to our audiences and providing performers with opportunities to become more searching and creative musicians. I hope that we have done this on a number of occasions. It is especially gratifying when we have presented composers whose music should be better known, such as Frank Denyer, Horatiu Radulescu, Rolf Riehm and many many others.

From a logistical standpoint, shutting down Grand Avenue or obtaining 100% total darkness for our Georg Friedrich Haas concert were accomplishments, but I suppose the satisfaction would be no greater if I had shut down Grand Avenue for a rock concert or a random parade. Ultimately what’s important is the artistic experience. I’m always pleased when I’m told by a performer or audience member that a concert provided a lasting impression.

What’s something you’d like to work on, improve, or add, for the future of MEC?

There are an infinite number of possibilities, but they require funding. So the first answer to your question is that we’d like to increase the size of our budget. This would allow us to present more concerts and/or works with greater numbers of performers. I feel that our Sunday morning educational series at the Goethe Institut has been really wonderful and it would be great to begin recording these as they are a great introduction to composers and themes in contemporary music. I’ve thought about publishing short books on the work of various composers or producing documentaries. Collaborations with educational institutions are possible, as well as programs that introduce new music to younger audiences (i.e. under 18 years of age). There are also plenty of performers of early music and traditional repertoire that don’t get presented here in LA. It would be great to branch out and fill in some of these gaps. Opera, installations, and multiple performances of works are also dreams.

Being that you and your series are LA institutions, what is your favorite:

1. Neighborhood

While there are a number of neighborhoods I like for various reasons, I have to pick Vauban (It’s not in LA, but it’s the most intriguing neighborhood I’ve recently encountered and deserves to be recognized for its realization of some utopian ideals). Worth checking out!

2. Place to hear music

Anywhere that’s quiet and has decent acoustics.

3. Restaurant

Inaka

4. Bar/hang out

I like hanging out at home.

5. Store

Amazon.com

6. Thing to do/see

Practice piano.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you for your interest in Monday Evening Concerts.

“Jazz Encounters,” the next Monday Evening Concert, is on March 26 at Zipper Hall. For details, visit mondayeveningconcerts.org.

Interview: Andrew and Andrew of populist records

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.

You can check out all that populist records has coming up at populistrecords.com, and order (or download) a copy of with throbbing eyes here.

Concert you should go to: Piano Spheres next Tuesday

On Tuesday, January 31, at 8 pm, Kathleen Supové is playing an all LA premiere program with Piano Spheres down at Zipper Hall at Colburn. GO. Three of the five works have video with them. Supové is a monster player. The thing that excites me most about it, however, is getting to hear Carolyn Yarnell’s piece The Same Sky. I know absolutely nothing about Carolyn Yarnell, but Kyle Gann called the piece “one of the most fantastic keyboard works anyone’s written in the last 20 years,” and he’s absolutely right. Click here to read his blog entry about the piece, among other things. I’ve shown this recording to a lot of friends, and they all seem to be similarly blown away. Even the ones with no interest in classical music as such.

Here’s a recording:

And here’s the poster for the show:

Interview: Conductor Chris Rountree on wild Up

Forgive me for hyperbolizing here, but it seems like you can’t throw a stone at a new music event in LA without hitting Chris Rountree. With his extremely busy conducting and teaching schedule, it’s amazing that he has time for anyone else’s shows at all, yet he seems to be there to support his fellow musicians every chance he gets.


Chris is busy indeed. He’s the artistic director/founder/conductor/manager/etc. of wild Up  (who we have mentioned on here quite a bit before, with good reason), assistant conducting in Brooklyn, artistically advising the American Youth Symphony, teaching conducting at UCSB and elsewhere, releasing a record…the list goes on. With wild Up’s show at The Armory coming up this weekend, I’m lucky he found time to answer a few questions.

Right off the bat, you’ve got a show coming up this weekend, and it’s all about birds. Tell me something about that.

Birds! Yes. We’re crazy about them. (and so many composers have been!)

Ha, so they have. Your programming this season is diverse, but every show seems to have a thread holding everything together. How do you go about programming?

We’re interested in exploring ideas and exploring them from a variety of angles. Our main concern is how the audience will feel in the concert — how comfortable or uncomfortable they’ll be and how each piece creates context for the next.

So this time we started with Olivier Messiaen’s piano concerto: Oiseaux exotiques and went — stream of consciousness from there to Charlie Parker, to Haydn, to new complexity composer Brian Ferneyhough to indie rocker Andrew Bird. It’s become a crazy program.

On that front, can you identify anything that makes a piece stand out as being right for wild Up?

There’s some mystery here. I want to be able to feel the music we play in my gut. Visceral is the best description — but that doesn’t altogether do it. Also, it’s how well the piece fits into the program we’re considering — more about the fit actually than anything else.

At wild Up’s last concert I was sitting with Lacey Huszcza, the director of advancement of the LA Chamber Orchestra, when you decided to offer an autographed brick to an audience member whose had an obstructed view. She said something along the lines of “wow, I wish we could do that for our unhappy patrons.” Why do you think your audience is so much more receptive to stuff like that than a traditional classical audience? Do you think it’s about the demographic you’re attracting, or the vibe that you and the band seem to embody?

The Brick! Oh right. So, that was a last minute decision — we saw that three to five seats were very bad at Beyond Baroque. One is shared with a fire-extinguisher, one is a 1.5 person wooden love-seat-pew, one was directly behind a pole, and one was right under a trumpet bell. In honoring the audience we wanted to improve the experience of one or more of the people who happened to end up with those seats. A signed brick (signed bricks and obsolete printer the second night) did the trick.

I hope our audiences have come to expect nothing. Maybe, just to enjoy themselves. So they have to be receptive to things like this — because they didn’t expect tuxedos and coughing. It could be the aesthetic — I’m not sure. As long as it feels like we’re all characters together in some big adventure, I’ll be happy.

We once talked about feeling like we were right on the cusp of becoming professionals. That you, and the members of wild Up, were getting gigs all over town, and beginning to get some notoriety and releasing CDs and even getting paid a bit, but you were still all working extra jobs to make rent. This is a big question, but for you, where’s the line? Are you taking this concert by concert, or working toward a concrete set of goals?

We have goals. To succeed, I believe that’s a necessity. At this point, we’re planning a season at a time and moving toward being presented versus presenting ourselves — which has been wonderful and painful experience — some serious learning has taken place for all of us in the past two years.

You also teach conducting, or at least started to recently. Has teaching influenced your performance practice at all, and your working with your own performers?

I love teaching. In fact, I’ve been doing it for a decade (I’m 28) teaching: high school marching band, youth orchestra, community orchestras, pre-professional orchestras, college orchestras, middle school brass players, private conducting students, partners attempting to cook improperly and most recently students at UCSB.

Through teaching we learn so much — mostly, I’ve found, I learn about psychology — how people learn, how they want to be worked with, what collaboration looks like, what a dictatorship looks like, etc.

I know you guys are working to release a recording of the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony on limited-edition vinyl, which totally gets me nostalgic for NoFX’s 7 inch of the month club. Were you consciously drawing on the punk tradition there? Also, will you please play at Origami Vinyl for the release party?

Yeah, we’re working on releasing our album “Shostakovich and Rzewski, The Salt of the Earth” on vinyl and digitally — actually we have a kickstarter going at the moment. People can help us on Kickstarter and we’ll give them nice gifts!

Punk rock of the month club! Not intentionally, but we’re happy to reference that.

The recording was made live at the Jensen Rec. Center Studio, recorded and mixed by Nick Tipp. We didn’t make any edits, there are still errors on the album. But we mixed the tracks to feel like your head is inside a cello.

What’s next for wild Up?

We have shows in March at Beyond Baroque: Craft: DIY Art Music. Brooklyn vs. LA and in May at the Armory again, a program called: The Armory actually, the music is Stravinsky, Palestrina, and Slayer.

And for Chris Rountree?

I’m teaching in Santa Barbara, composing in Highland Park, Assistant Conducting in Brooklyn, Advising American Youth Symphony in LA and…drinking coffee at Intelligentsia.

And since you are a native, I’m sure readers would love to know about your current favorite:

1. Neighborhood

Highland Park

2. Place to hear music

Walt Disney Concert Hall (one of my favorite buildings, period.)

3. Restaurant

Let’s do a whole other interview about this! But for now: Elf in Echo Park

4. Bar/hang out

Verdugo Bar / Intelligentsia in Pasadena (the official band hangout…and SPONSOR!)

5. Store

Apple Store. RIP Steve Jobs

6. Thing to do/see

….the beach.

Anything else you’d like to add?

More to come, hopefully.

Click here to purchase tickets for wild Up’s next concert, this Saturday, January 14 at the Armory Center for the Arts. To donate to their record campagin, visit kickstarter.com.

Interview: Conductor Vimbayi Kaziboni on What’s Next? Ensemble

Continuing our trend of having an insanely packed new music November here in Los Angeles, What’s Next? Ensemble kick off their season next Wednesday, November 23, at Royal/T Cafe in Culver City. Amid preparations for the season, which features a mix of music by local heroes like Don Crockett and Ben Phelps and heavyweights like Andriessen and Takemitsu, Artistic Director Vimbayi Kaziboni managed time for an interview. We did this via email, and his most recent message opened with the phrase “Please kindly forgive my embarrassing tardiness.” With the season you’re working on and the music you’re preparing, please consider it well forgiven, sir.

Vimbayi Kaziboni (photo by Joseph Brunjes)

Please introduce us to What’s Next? Ensemble.
What’s Next? Ensemble is a group of dedicated musicians based in Los Angeles and devoted to championing the music of our time.

How did you get started?

I met my dear friend and colleague Jack Stulz who is a violist and serves as the group’s executive director in our freshman year as undergrads at USC in Morten Lauridsen’s freshman music theory class.  It was at some point in that year that we discovered we shared a passion for “contemporary classical music”.  We got hyper-animated at the utterance of Cage or Reich in a conversation.  We fantasized about starting an ensemble (or ‘band’ as we called it then) and putting on epic new music concerts that music enthusiasts from all over town would make a pilgrimage to every time we had a performance.  We were just dreamers then. Young and naive 18 year olds.

Our first concert didn’t happen until 2 years later in March of 2008.  We rallied a few musician friends and put on an outdoor evening concert at a pool outside one of the dormitories at USC.  The program was the simplest we have ever done: Steve Reich’s ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’ and Phillip Glass’ ‘String Quartet no. 3 (Mishima)’.  Even up to this day I think that performance was perhaps the best concert we have ever had.  So many people came, (mostly students), sitting in the moonlight, some lounging in the pool, some sitting on the grass and on loan chairs, and plenty more people standing on their apartment balconies above us.  What a crowd!  Our first concert, our first success.  I’ve always wondered, however, if our success that evening wasn’t entirely from the free pizza that was being offered at the event.  You know college kids – they’ll show up to any event were there is free food!

Anyway, after many more such guerilla performances on campus and around town in the summer of 2008 we eventually came up with what has become our highest profile signature series, and has propelled us into the world of serious and professional music presentations: the Los Angeles Composers Project (LACP).   The LACP is a comprehensive retrospective of music by LA composers featuring the music of both veteran talent and up and coming talent, every summer.  It’s usually a series of three concerts that take place within the span of two weeks.  Last summer we were at the Royal-T gallery where we are calling home this year.

Royal/T could be considered an “alternative venue” when it comes to classical music. How do you think that affects your audience? Do you find a lot of people who haven’t heard this stuff before get exposed, or is it more like the traditional audience just migrates to the different venue?

It’s certainly both.  The traditional audience has loyally and faithfully migrated with us. (Thankfully!)  Since performing at the Royal-T last summer we have found that the demographic of our audience has definitely diversified.  Now there are visual art lovers who on a different day might have come to see the art at the Royal-T gallery, customers who usually come and eat at the Royal-T café, and even jazz lovers who would have heard about us through the Jazz concert series at Royal-T.  We are constantly meeting people who are brand new to us and also new to the music they have come to experience at our shows.

What’s your approach to programming concerts?

Well, if there is sound and we like it, we do it.  There is no telling what we will do and we have no limits.  However, within such a broad scope there are some fundamental principles that are easily detectable and ever-present in our programs.  Performing the works of local composers who are established in our community is very important to us and possibly the most distinct element that has given WNE their voice in this city.  Last season we performed the music of William Kraft, Morten Lauridsen, Lalo Schifrin and Don Davis among many others and on the upcoming concert on November 23rd we will be performing the West Coast premiere of a wonderful new work for viola and ensemble by Donald Crockett.

Alongside such seasoned veterans and giants it is very important to us to champion the works of our peers – young, up and coming composers.  On the two concerts this fall we will be performing the works of numerous young, talented composers including Sean Friar, Wojtek Blecharz, Laura Kramer and Ben Phelps all of whom are wonderful and very talented up and coming composers and each of whom has a very distinct and independent compositional voice.

Music of the contemporary avant-garde from all over the world and beyond the Western paradigm also interests us very much.  In our spring season series we are planning on performing music from the Phillipines, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.  This allows us to give our audiences a taste of what is happening elsewhere in the world and gives our local community a perspective on how we and our art correlate globally with the world at-large.

And finally, the core repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries’ avant-garde is of course a staple for groups dedicated to new music.  It certainly is for us as well.  So, be it music by young and seasoned talent, from near and far away, from today and from yesteryear – you will inevitably find all of these elements as a common thread in all of the programs that we perform.

What’s your take on the scene in LA?

I believe that the LA new music scene is certainly thriving.  But we can certainly do plenty more.  There is not enough of a cohesive community not only in music but in art in general.  Granted, it is perhaps because of the large expanse of this city.  In either case, we can definitely do more with what we have.  There is not enough sustenance and championing of local talent and there is not enough support and collaboration among the individual groups in town.  That’s one of the gaping holes that my band is trying to fill.  Let’s embrace our peers and colleagues here in town and really display them to the world instead of jumping onto the band wagon and being mere champions of the art/music that is already trendy and popular everywhere else.  We can do much more to support each other and to build a real cohesive community.  I believe that such entities like your blog Nick are a good starting point.  Thank you for that.  We need more people like you to help build and unify the art/music community.  [Hey thanks!] We are too isolated from each other and we alienate ourselves too much from local culture.  We really need to integrate ourselves and really offer our artistic product as something that is very relevant and integral to our local culture and not a mere supplement to what’s going on at say the Disney Hall or the Music Center.  I truly believe that there is hope.

And, following the theme of that question, what is your favorite:

1. Neighborhood

Highland Park-Eagle Rock area

2. Place to hear music

Anywhere.  It especially depends on the music.

3. Restaurant

Thai Eagle Rox in Eagle Rock.  I’m there every Monday for lunch with a friend.

4. Bar/hang out

When I have time I find myself at The York in Highland Park.

5. Store

I’ve been finding myself at the auto body/parts shop too frequently lately… I wouldn’t call it my favorite though.

6. Thing to do/see

Besides music??  Gosh.  This rarely happens these days but I suppose it would be alone in thought at Point Dune Beach on a warm evening.   The stars bright, the moon white, the glorious tide…

Finally, what’s something you’d like to be asked, and how would you answer it?

People are always asking me about the name of our ensemble and I am always obliged to answer.  Besides the obvious allusion to the fact that we are a new music ensemble there is a more profound one to a work by Elliot Carter.  Elliot Carter is now what? About 103 years old now?  In his very long career spanning well over 80 years he has only managed to write one opera: a chamber opera entitled What Next? written in 1997, when he was already about 90 years old.   In the scenario of the opera there has been a car accident of some kind, involving six victims, five adults and a child. They emerge from the wreck unhurt but utterly dazed.  They are all unable to remember what happened, who they are, how they are related, where they were going when the accident occurred, or how they came to be in the same place at the same time.  One character, a diva, vocalizes and treats the others as admiring fans; one, a would-be seer, dispenses cryptic aphorisms; one cracks absurd jokes; one, an astronomer, is fixated on the stars; and one, evidently a mother, tries to bring order to the situation. The kid, on the other hand, is preoccupied with a more pressing matter: his empty stomach.

This, I believe is the ultimate allegory to the state of music today.  The mission of my colleagues and I in What’s Next? Ensemble is to attempt to answer these metaphorical questions as they pertain to art and music and our own lives.  And if we fall short, at least shed light to these questions and ask a few of our own.  And in the process satisfy our empty stomachs and those of our faithful patrons with wonderful music!

Check out What’s Next? Ensemble’s upcoming season at whatsnextensemble.com.

Vicki Ray plays an all premiere program with Piano Spheres on Tuesday

I love it when a flyer actually contains all of the information that you might want to know about a given concert. Who’s playing, what the program is, the location, the date and time, how much tickets are, and where to get them. That’s it! You’d be amazed at how many fail to include this seemingly necessary information. Having spent some time working in concert marketing, I’ve discovered that people aren’t going to call or go to your website. They will, however, loudly complain about being uninformed. Put all of the info on the flyer, in the email, the facebook event invitation…basically, make it so that the person reading it doesn’t have to do anything else to find out what’s going on.

Having completed that minor rant, I’d like to share a superb example I received this morning, and encourage you to check out this concert. Amazing players, cool programs, friendly people, all of that good stuff. I might go just to thank them for making my job easy by sending such a well-designed and informative flyer. And on that note, here’s ALL of the info for the show (click to make it bigger/higher resolution):