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.
Art Share LA in the heart of downtown Los Angeles was the site on Friday May 15, 2015 of Tactile Sound, a concert of new music featuring the wasteLAnd musicians, Trio Kobayashi and other assorted soloists and guests. A good size crowd filled the roomy spaces of the comfortable Art Share venue.
The first piece on the program was The Flypaper by Steven Kazuo Takasugi. The stage was populated by Elise Roy, flute, and Stephanie Aston, listed as a soprano, but who appeared holding a flute. Microphones were positioned very near the flutes and speakers were placed in front and behind the audience. A single recorded voice was heard coming from the speakers, and this consisted of stretches of disjointed speech in what sounded like a man speaking in German. The flutes were heard initially as rushing air, with no tones produced and the recorded voice faded away, seeming to recede to the back of the room. The valves of the flutes were heard opening and closing, still without any tone being produced – a technique that continued throughout the piece. This sound was amplified and the effect was similar to hearing the dripping of water in a leaky basement. The use of the flute as an amplified percussive instrument was unexpected, challenging the listener’s expectation – but this was exactly on target with the Tactile Sound theme. The voice returned, in English this time, as the clicks and pops increased there was an undercurrent of mysterious discomfort that stopped just short of threatening, providing the connection to title of the piece. The Flypaper is a remarkable combination of electronics and conventional instruments used in unconventional ways. Steven Kazuo Takasugi was in attendance and received a warm round of applause.
Invisibility by Liza Lim followed and this was a solo cello piece performed by Ashley Walters. For this piece Ms. Walters used a bow with the hair strands wrapped rope-like around the bow stick. This produced a lovely combination of warm cello sounds and sustained, yet scratchy tones that were often rough but never crude. The overall effect was one of complexity, a mix of the alien and the familiar and clearly ‘tactile’. There was a vague sense of anxiety running through the piece and this was heightened with the unorthodox bow. It sometimes seemed that more than one instrument was in the room; the playing always sounded assured and under control. Midway through Ms. Walters picked up a conventional bow and the sounds became noticeably smoother with more individual notes. This section contained perhaps a bit more dynamic range – very light at times, and much stronger at others, especially in the lower registers. There were some smooth and harmonious stretches here that provided a good contrast to the opening sections. Towards the end of the piece both bows were used – one in each hand – to produce an intriguing mix of sounds that was at once both rough and soothing. Any remaining doubts about the virtuosity of Ms. Walters were dispelled by the enthusiastic applause that followed. Invisibility, like The Flypaper before it, is a piece that challenges the expectations of the listener in new and unusual ways.
The world premiere of eiszeiten by Richard Barrett was next, and this featured the playing of Trio Kobayashi – horn, trombone and tuba. The piece began with the sound of air rushing through the horns and tongued so as to create a kind of pinging sound. This was picked up and amplified through the speakers and the effect was like hearing the cold wind blowing. These sounds eventually morphed into tones from each horn, forming sustained chords that were somewhat high in pitch and dissonant at times, producing an otherworldly feel. The harmonies here were indefinably unorthodox – reminiscent of train horns that are close in pitch, and not quite forming a conventional interval. Powerful tutti chords were heard and these became more traditional in character as they gained in strength. The electronics emitted a deep bass drone and the players joined at approximately the same pitch with some zero-beating becoming audible at times. The brass then began to play passages of moving notes and this brought a sense of movement to the texture. The electronics replied with a loud dissonant chord – in full 1950s Sci-Fi mode – and the brass added a syncopated line that enhanced the alien feel of this section. The electronic sounds suddenly ceased and the brass trio played the piece to a close. Eiszeiten, which translates to Ice Ages, certainly evokes a cold, alien landscape and the integration of the electronics with the playing of Trio Kobayashi was precise and effective.
CYMBALMUSIC II: Centerflow/Trails II by Eleanor Hovda followed, performed by Justin DeHart. This is the second piece of a five piece set, and was inspired by the rigors of cross country skiing as experienced by the composer. The graphical score, in fact, includes a series of marks and squiggles that resemble ski tracks. For this performance two cymbals were mounted on a single pedestal. The audience was asked to hum or sing a sustained tone as heard from the cymbals as they were bowed by DeHart. The sound produced by the bowing was generally high in pitch but full of overtones and this nicely suggested a cold, sunny day in a white landscape, with a stinging headwind blowing. The vertical motion of the bowing across the edge of the cymbals was itself was reminiscent of ski poles pumping up and down as the skier moved through a frozen landscape. The humming from the audience was mostly tentative, but added a smooth timbre and seemed to amplify the sounds coming from the cymbals. As the piece progressed the tempo slowed and the sound felt more labored, as if the skier was becoming fatigued. Towards the end the volume also decreased until there was just a low humming heard from the audience as the piece concluded. CYMBALMUSIC II: Centerflow/Trails II is an artful work that produces the maximum effect from minimal musical forces yet delivers a vivid imagery to the mind of the listener.
After the intermission, Trio Kobayashi returned to play Tones and Noise II by Dustin Donahue. This began with a low roaring from the stage speakers, sounding very much like a rocket exhaust at close range. The horns joined in, playing syncopated notes that provided an interesting contrast to the noise texture. The roaring became intermittent and the brass passages more animated as if we were in the presence of a large beast or mechanism. The roaring noise was renewed and perceived as coming from different directions through the speakers on both sides of the audience. The brass parts became louder and longer, as if combining with and matching the roar. The feeling was that of being inside a rocket in space, hearing the blast of the engines and the sounds of mechanical automata as portrayed by the brass. Tones and Noise II is an intriguing piece that manages to work effectively on the imagination by using amplified noise and simple brass figures.
The final piece of the concert was the world premiere of Saxony by James Tenney in a version for brass quintet. James Tenney, an influential West Coast composer and educator, died in 2006, but this piece from among his unperformed works was selected for premiere at this concert. Trio Kobayashi was joined by two trumpet players – Jonah Levy and Aaron Smith – to complete the ensemble. Saxony opened with a low, sustained tone in the tuba, matched by the electronics coming through the speakers. At length the trombone entered, doubling the tuba and noticeably changing the timbre of the chord. The trombone moved up what sounded like a third and the horn entered changing the timbre yet again. All the tones were sustained and this anchoring of the sound by the low brass seemed almost Wagnarian – certainly German – and in keeping with title. The piece proceeded in this way, the trumpets adding their parts, piling pitches on top of pitches within the chord, all combining to create a powerful sound. The intonation here was critical and the ensemble held together admirably. When all the players were engaged, a series of trills in each horn added pleasing new colors and shortly after, each horn began to play a series of short phrases that added an agreeable variety to the texture. The piece then reversed – the tones tapering downward and the trumpets going tacet. The sound became lower and more cohesive, producing some lovely chords. When only the trombone, tuba and electronics remained, the sound became lush and warm. The piece concluded by slow diminuendo with the remaining horns laying out until only the tuba held the bottom note. When the sound finally ceased the audience remained silent for a good 15 seconds, a tribute perhaps more notable than the enthusiastic applause which followed. Saxony is masterful work that extracts considerable emotional impact from its minimal structure and pitch palette.
Trio Kobayashi is:
Alan Fogle – Horn
Matt Barbier – Trombone
Luke Storm – Tuba
We did a rather large post about the difficulties of performing music by Brian Ferneyhough just before this WasteLAnd concert back in February. While that post covered soprano Stephanie Aston’s part in Ferneyhough’s Etudes Transcendantales, the difficulty and intensity is much the same for anyone attempting this music. And let me tell you, violinist Mark Menzies SHREDDED on Terrain, Ferneyhough’s violin concerto.
The other reason for posting this today? Menzies joins wild Up for another performance of Terrain this Sunday at UCLA. The show, titled FILIGREE, also has music by Gerard Pesson, George Lewis, William Byrd, Nico Muhly, Arnolt Schlick and Whitney Houston, with two World Premieres by Chris Kallmyer and Andrew McIntosh.
The FREE concert is an early one, starting at 4pm at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall. Full details are on the facebook event page at facebook.com/events/664460340325127.
If you’re in LA and haven’t yet heard about WasteLAnd’s program of Ferneyhough, Lutyens, and Griffeath-Loeb at ArtShare this evening, what are you doing?! Starts at 8, is $10, GO.
Tomorrow evening wild Up joins the Pacific Symphony for the next show in the Santa Ana Sites series. Looks like it’s gonna rock, with what is, as far as I know, the first performance of Johnny Greenwood’s Popcorn Superhet Receiver in the LA area, along with music by Andrew Norman and others. The LA Times has a big thing on it here: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-critics-pick-a-new-music-cornucopia-20150226-column.html
I just heard about a show at LACMA on Sunday that sounds really cool, and is free. Pianist Nadia Shpachenko emailed me in excitement about the beginning of her collaboration with composer Harold Meltzer, who has written a piece for actor and piano trio to be premiered at LACMA’s Sundays Live this weekend. There’s a second performance two days later out at Cal Poly Pomona. In addition, Piano Spheres has commissioned a piece from Meltzer for Schpachenko’s Satellite Series concert at REDCAT next season. This is looking to be a fruitful collaboration indeed.
Full details for all of these shows are available, as always, on our calendar page.
On February 27, WasteLAnd presents a concert titled Terrain at ArtShare. It’s a heavy-duty program of music by Brian Ferneyhough, Elizabeth Lutyens, and Brian Griffeath-Loeb, featuring Mark Menzies as violin soloist on Ferneyhough’s Terrain (see concert title) and soprano Stephanie Aston singing Etudes Transcendantales. I was lucky to be invited to a rehearsal, and the ensemble (which also includes Rachel Beetz, Ashley Walters, Richard Valitutto, and Paul Sherman, conducted by Nick Deyoe), let me film a few snippets of them preparing.
Nick had an extra copy of the score for me. If you’ve never seen Ferneyhough’s music, well, here’s a photo I took:
The whole score – all of his scores, really – is similarly difficult. I asked Stephanie how she approaches music like this (in this case, the measure above) and her answer was enlightening:
Here’s a copy of the same section, this time with Stephanie’s markings:
And now the part you’ve all been waiting for, this excerpt with the ensemble. The measure in question hits at 0:06:
Want to hear to the rest? Come to the concert at ArtShare on February 27. Details are available at wastelandmusic.org/concert-archive/february-27-2015.
Are you a composer? Want to have a piece performed on one of LA’s best music series? WasteLAnd just announced a call for scores on their site. Composers can anonymously submit up to two pieces for consideration. The deadline is February 28.
Full details at wastelandmusic.org/call-for-scores.
WasteLAnd‘s second season at ArtShare starts this Friday, September 19 (tomorrow) at 8 PM, with percussionist Justin DeHart performing John Luther Adams’ The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies in its entirety. Their first season at the venue was a blast, and drew great crowds for dense and challenging music. We managed to track down the series’ co-directors for an interview about the series and what’s coming up.
What was the impetus to start this series?
Scott: I think we had all individually dreamed of having a series that played music we wished would get played more ’round these parts. Then we realized that multiple heads can be better than one. Our programming is sort of a mash up of all of our desires. For example. I mostly just recommend pieces that are long enough to be the whole concert.
Matt: A lot of the music I really love has a tendency to fall in the cracks between different series in town, so for me, an exciting part of wasteLAnd is getting to focus upon music that I really love that is just outside of the mission of a lot of the series and groups I play with. It’s exciting to get to listen to other performers interested in this type of music and hear what they want to play, but don’t get to, and help provide a space for them.
Nick: I’ve been talking about wanting to do this for years. I’ve never really wanted to run an ensemble, but have wanted to run either a series or a venue for quite a while. In fact, I would love it if, at some point down the road, it became possible for wasteLAnd to have its own space. I had discussed this off and on for some time with Scott, Brian, and Matt, but nothing ever got started until Scott finally found an opportunity through ArtShare that looked promising as a way to launch wasteLAnd.
Is there a central mission, theme, or idea you program your concerts around, or is each one a beast of its own?
Scott: We try to focus on local performers the most (their repertoire interests and, of course, performances), local composers second, and then music that doesn’t seem to show it’s face much around Los Angeles. From there we try to put together concerts that we want to go to.
Matt: Frequently a programming decision is made around the idea of “I really want to hear/perform this one piece, but it’s too much for me to throw together a concert.” With wasteLAnd that’s frequently become a central kernel for a concert. We have an idea for one or two pieces one of us really loves and that gives us a bend and ensemble to build around. Or at least that’s how I think…
Nick: Basically what Scott said… We love LA and want to show how special the things that happen here are while also presenting music by composers around the country/world who excite us. The five of us (Elise, Brian, Matt, Scott, myself) have pretty different aesthetic positions. For anything to be programmed, all five of us have to be on board with it, rather than a simple majority vote. This is something I feel strongly about because it helps to keep our overall output broad and requires that we all give serious consideration to all of the ideas that are brought to the table (or G-chat conference).
I’ve heard Barbier joke that the directors are Deyoe’s minions. How do you guys divide responsibilities?
Brian: This is a classic example of Barbier’s inability to grasp infinite recursion. As one of the directors himself, Deyoe clearly makes this so-called “joke” an ontological cow pie.
Matt: Well maybe I’m just Deyoe’s minion, or at least try to be.
Nick: the division of responsibilities is an ongoing project for us. For season one, everyone kind of did everything. For each set of tasks that came up, we’d email around with a list of “what needs to be done” and divvy up the responsibilities. This will always be some version of how we do it (especially during concert weeks), but we are also working on better defining our individual roles within the organization to make certain aspects more efficient.
What do we have to look forward to in the coming season?
Nick: LOTS to look forward to! We’re excited to finally be at the point of announcing things (coming out this afternoon along with our kickstarter). We’ve been thinking about the concerts (programs/personnel/logistics) since April. We have 25-30 local performers playing and are presenting something around 30 composers. Some highlights are The Formalist Quartet with Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick in October, Mark Menzies and Stephanie Aston with the wasteLAnd musicians performing Ferneyhough’s Terrain and Etud
Matt: What Nick wrote. This year is exciting because it’s a wonderful mix of pieces I’ve wanted to play for a long time (Terrain, Saxony, Hölszky’s WeltenEnden, EARTH) and that I’ve always dreamed of hearing like- particularly Ferneyhough’s Etudes Transcendantales. So for me it’s very exciting and I think this year’s programs will have that for a lot of people.
Is Elise Roy having any issues with being the only beardless member?
Brian: All conditions are impermanent. My beard, for instance, has grown substantially in the last few days. Elise was brought on for her deep existential wisdom; I doubt she’d fall prey to fears of beardlessness as a permanent state of being…
Nick: I think there’s still plenty of beard to go around. Having Elise as a part of the team has been great so far. She came in once most of the season was already planned, but will be instrumental in our planning for season 3 and has also offered a lot of very useful insight as we prepare to raise the funds for the current season.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Scott: Please be on the look out for our Kickstarter which will help prolong wasteLAnd’s life and wellbeing.
Matt: Well one can braid top-of-head hair into a beard with quite successful results.
Elise: If you find yourself at any of our concerts, please introduce yourself or say hi to us. For the five of us, one of the joys of hosting this series is seeing the new music community of Southern California come together!
Ashley Walters and Derek Stein, cellos, and Ryan Nestor, percussion, performed Nicholas Deyoe’s piece Erstickend at WasteLAnd’s concert back in April at Art Share. It was such a cool piece and killer performance that I thought it deserved to be heard/seen on here.
WasteLAnd’s second season at Art Share starts next Friday, September 19, with Justin DeHart performing John Luther Adams’ The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies. Details are at wastelandmusic.org.