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Posts by Jack Herscowitz

Smother My Ears: Kevin Drumm, Daniel Menche, Carlos Giffoni + Alex Pelly, and Peter Kolovos at 2220 Arts and Archives 

Experimental music series/labels, Carlos Giffoni’sNo Fun Productions” and Peter Kolovos’ “Black Editions Group,” teamed up to present four sets at 2220 Arts and Archives on March 23rd, 2024 (with rare Southern California appearances from Kevin Drumm and Daniel Menche). Capricious, intoxicating, glacial, and prickling: the curation provided something for anyone willing to risk their ears succumbing to pummeling sheets of sound. 

Peter Kolovos

Kolovos runs Black Editions Group, condensing the music of three previous label projects under a single roof and organizing concerts for Los Angeles based and The Rest of the World based experimental musicians. He also rips on the guitar. The ideas move in rapid fire: a timbral terrarium explodes into being only to collapse onto itself as Kolovos assembles another. These ecosystems last only for seconds, but are rich in texture, gesture, and color. Moments of immense sustained drones lull us into a sense of safety, only for Kolovos to rip them away and slingshot us elsewhere. This is uncompromisingly blazing music in its display of integrated guitar-pedal virtuosity. And damn was that tone delicious… 

Carlos Giffoni + Alex Pelly 

Giffoni has been active as an electronic musician and curator on both coasts since the early 2000s and Pelly is a Los Angeles-based live music visualization performer and longtime dublab affiliate. Tonight, they teamed up for easily the most convincing non-narrative audio-visual performance I’ve seen. Giffoni’s modular synth and Pelly’s modular video systems gelled so effortlessly that for the first half of the set, I couldn’t tell who was making sound and who was controlling the visuals. Pulsing overdriven oscillators informed dancing geometric streaks, but Pelly has clearly set up a largely autonomous system not limited by its musical input. As Giffoni and Pelly performed, I experienced a genuine counterpoint between video and music with my attention moving back and forth between the two. The form felt like a series of short stories, each held together by a short wobbly rope bridge: an immediate, but still substantive transition. Giffoni plays his modular brilliantly, and it was a delight to have his throbbing bitcrushed melodic clouds dance around my eardrums. 

Daniel Menche

Menche, like all of the night’s performers, is a musical polyglot. Portland-based and active since the late 80’s, he has made sounds in just about any way imaginable over the past 35 years. Whereas Giffoni’s and Pelly’s set was the Calvino collection of semi-related stories, Menche’s set was the epic novel condensed into 25 minutes. It felt like something in the air had changed, as a glacial wind had fully rolled in. Metallic tones folded onto themselves to create a glimmering sonic tapestry, growing rusty as a distortion slowly kicked in over the course of the set. Each knob turn gently sailed us elsewhere, but not too far away as we traversed over Menche’s sonic topography. By the end, the distortion had morphed into a full enveloping wall until receding into a final gust of wind. In the distance, I swear I could hear a melody.  

Kevin Drumm

Drumm is the only artist on the show whose work I was previously familiar with. He’s a long-time Chicago-based computer musician, tabletop guitarist, and modular synth player, so I was ready for a sonic tidal wave in whatever form deemed necessary. Today it was two laptops, in front of Drumm on an elevated stage a good 10 feet behind where the other performers had been. I didn’t realize my brain was itchy until the opening laser point 12+ kHz tones gave it the scratch that it craved. As Drumm massaged my nervous system, the audio spectrum slowly began to fill out until these pinpoint tones enwrapped my entire being. This fullness of the sound left me with the wisdom that there are many ways to saturate the audio spectrum and that noise does not necessarily imply a timbral monolith. And we sat in this fullness, with small changes jostling the texture. These modulations never appeared to threaten the soundscape’s structural integrity, but as Drumm slowly replaced part by part, I came to the realization that he’s rebuilding his sonic Ship of Theseus. I truly could have marinated in any moment of this performance for hours. And then suddenly, with a swipe of a fader and a slap of the hands on the table, it’s over. I love when pieces end like this: no coda, no spoon feeding, no bullshit. With Drumm’s facetious “booooo” at an encore chant, 3 hours of sonic smothering had come to a close.

The show reminded me that “noise music” is not an easily connotable aesthetic signifier, but rather a community: adorned with lofi scuba tanks made of pedals, synths, patches, and contact mics and committed to diving into the depths of the fully saturated audio spectrum. They’re off the deep end, but that’s because the shallows are so boring.

Kevin Drumm, Daniel Menche, Carlos Giffoni + Alex Pelly, and Peter Kolovos at 2220 Arts and Archives 

No Fun Productions + Black Editions Group

March 23, 2023

On Patience and Sustenance: Microtonal Brass Works by Ellen Arkbro and Sarah Davachi

Slow, barebones music engenders highly attentive listening. Each breath becomes a gesture and every compositional decision bears immense responsibility. In this music, details do not support a gesture: they are the gesture. So on Sunday December 17th, 2023, I was delighted to hear many of Los Angeles’ finest brass players perform a program of patiently glacial chamber works in just-intonation at Automata Theater in Chinatown.  

The program began with Ellen Arkbro’s clouds, originally premiered in 2022 by the tuba trio Microtub. The audience encircled an ensemble donning the slightly altered instrumentation of Mattie Barbier on euphonium, Luke Storm on tuba, and Mason Moy on tuba. From the first chord, the immense resonance of the two tubas and euphonium, amplified by Automata’s reverberant interior, shook my organs like Jell-O. The richness of the low brass amplified the quivering beating patterns of Arkbro’s precise overtone-derived harmonies to epic levels. For the duration of the work, it was as if I was inside of a colossal church organ. 

As compared to the pieces of Arkbro’s with which I am familiar, often based in sustenance of a single idea, clouds has a more dynamic narrative structure. Three blocky structures define the 20 minute performance: unison chords, layered harmonies with delayed entrances, and a concluding sustained drone with a shifting bassline. This coda is unique: in much of the piece, the upper two voices shift over a sustained bass pedal-point, while here, Arkbro reverses those roles. Barbier’s and Moy’s superb circular breathing brings this culminating drone to stillness, as Storm delicately places and replaces the bass. Here, Arkbro brings attention to the ability of a singular voice to recontextualize and reimagine a static harmony. A drone is perhaps less fixed than we might imagine. 

After a short break, we resituated our chairs into a multi-directional tangle to orient ourselves towards the spatially organized ensemble for Sarah Davachi’s Long Gradus (brass). Situated in the four corners of the room, the ensemble now surrounded the audience. Davachi offers some insights into the piece in her liner notes on Bandcamp. She originally composed Long Gradus for the microtonal string quartet specialists Quatuor Bozzini for the 2020 Gaudeamus Muziekweek in Utrecht. COVID delayed the premiere, which allowed Davachi the time to expand the work into its patient hour-long form. Although originally composed for string quartet, Davachi opens the instrumentation to any quartet of instruments with the ability to alter their intonation. This rendition of the piece was performed by the newly formed Diapason Brass Quartet of Nev Wendell on trumpet, Nick Ginsburg on horn, Mattie Barbier on trombone, and Mason Moy on tuba.

Throughout the work, the slowly pulsing lights in Automata cast a sequence of shifting shadows on the floor: a dynamic tapestry of ghostly limbs fading into and out of existence. This seemingly inconsequential detail serendipitously focused my listening towards shadows and patterns as an essential element of Davachi’s piece. The successive repetitions constituted a cubist rendering of a phrase’s shadow, until five minutes passed and I suddenly realized that I was no longer listening to the same shadow. Breath was equally vital. An undulating textural density of sustained tones created a pointillistic tessellation: fragmented, as if by four phantom asynchronous delay pedals. Unisions felt like a happy treat, as did silences. This allochronic meter allowed this brass-quartet version to differentiate itself from the sustained string quartet version beyond timbre (as I suppose bows do not need to breathe). The ensemble’s steadfast stability in their non-vibrato longtones over the course of the hour constituted a remarkable feat of musical/physical endurance. The resonance of the space allowed for the combination tones to tickle my eardrums, especially when Moy brought in a cavernous bass note. Davachi’s commitment to deliberate change did not lead my ear to a clear resting point, but rather demonstrated a devotion to metamorphosis. There is no “home” or V-I, but rather a diasporic wandering to elsewhere. A piece like this reminds me of one of my favorite literary quotes, from Octavia Butler’s’ Parable of the Sower: “God is Change.”

Davachi and Arkbro show us that work employing the harmonies of the overtone series need not to obsess with the harmonies themselves, but rather engage the altered processes of listening that such tunings beget. These are trans-temporal works: drawing from the non-metric monophony and hocketing polyphony of plainchant, Renaissance and Baroque temperament, and the stripped down non-expressive minimalism of Wandelweiser. The night’s expert brass performers brought out every detail from this ostensibly simple music, highlighting the underlying complexity of a long-tone. I am grateful that such investigative and patient art exists to grant me the curiosity to examine the details of our world. Maybe through such thorough investigation, can we begin to rearrange those details into something new and more just.

M A Harms and Matt LeVeque confront perfection and intimacy in “i am no longer afraid to run”

photo credit: Jack Herscowitz

On Friday September 22nd 2023, composer/percussionists Matt LeVeque and M A Harms premiered their co-composed evening length piece, i am no longer afraid to run, at the Automata Theater in Chinatown. This highly personal 45 minute video/performance piece juxtaposes LeVeque’s live percussion playing with Harms’ text/video manipulation to present a collaged portrait of two idiosyncratic artists/people. 

As a composer myself, I understand how tempting it can be to write a piece drawing from personal experiences, but then hide any semblance of intimacy behind layers of instrumental abstraction. LeVeque and Harms do no such thing, instead ripping their hearts out live on stage and laying them bare in the lines and spaces of candid iPhone notes. Text drives the piece’s narrative, as Harms intermittently live-types diary-esque revelations on an unadorned Google Docs file. The text is honest and direct: no pussyfooting. Both artists share their struggles with perfection, performance, and identity without the promise of an epiphany. These entries slowly elucidate context for the piece’s origins and for LeVeque’s and Harms’ relationship. We learn that the piece has changed drastically over the course of collaboration, bringing our attention to the tumultuous compositional process that composers far too often romanticize. In fact, relationships, both interpersonal and internal, provide the thematic backbone for much of i am no longer afraid to run

As friends and collaborators, each composer has had a profound impact on the other. LeVeque’s solo practice revels in the singularity of an idea, taking a sound and magnifying it under a microscope. Harms, on the other hand, indulges the maximal: grotesquely beautiful bodies of noisy garbage allow them to sculpt a space for themself. But rather than stagnate in this seemingly oppositional binary, these artists establish a truly hybrid practice in which each of their subjectivities shine. Harms makes this evident through their live layering of pre-recorded samples of LeVeque, accompanying his live performance. They layer LeVeque’s entire practice onto itself; a live vibraphone playing a dyad blends seamlessly with multiple digital vibraphones as multiple time-spaces coalesce. LeVeque’s instrumental choices are clearly guided by an intense relationship with each instrument, one that Harms twists and contorts into a shared vision. But LeVeque still stays true to their artistic ethos, always reeling Harms back towards singularity. Bound by the limitations of the other, their practices melt together into a gooey soup: deliciously decadent and sparse. Such fusion is essential to the piece, as i am no longer afraid to run questions binaries between the physical and virtual, between past and present, and between each artist’s personal understanding of identity and gender. 

Every detail of the piece feels personal. The directness of Harms’ frantic google searches and file directory scrollings question the cold sleekness of conventional video and audio cueing. These barebones hyperrealistic transitions make it clear that there is nothing perfect or pristine about vulnerability. LeVeque’s playing investigates every ridge in their honey dipper mallet and every micro-indentation in their vibraphone: a realization of a hyper-focused performance practice. Even their shadow, occasionally cast over Harms’ words, feels like a clash of subjectivities with LeVeque’s presence felt in Harms’ text. The ending of the piece, in which both Harms and LeVeque perform a vibraphone and marimba duet over LeVeque’s heartfelt iPhone note, signifies a gratifying hug between the two.

Harms and LeVeque set the bar for work which is wholeheartedly honest: never dangling the possibility of some great revelation but instead pulling a curtain back on the facade of grandiosity. Maybe none of us really know what we are doing. And only by recognizing that anxiety, can we truly begin to do the work that we feel is necessary. 

Matt LeVeque // M A Harms

Ghost Ensemble Makes Inflatable Friends

On Tuesday May 16th, the New York-based Ghost Ensemble presented a concert of chamber works at 2220 Arts and Archives as part of their California tour. The ensemble performed pieces by composers Miya Masaoka, Sky Macklay, and Ben Richter, featuring Sky Macklay on oboe and power strips, Ben Richter on accordion, Laura Cetilia on cello, Cassia Streb on viola, James Ilgenfritz on double bass, Kyle Motl on double bass, Chris Nappi on percussion, Margaret Lancaster on flute, Melissa Achten on harp, and conductor Carl Bettendorf. Each piece highlighted the gracious breadth of Ghost Ensemble’s expression: from tightly tuned harmonics, to jovial theater, to expansive sonic glaciers. 

Four Moons of Pluto, by NYC-based composer and sound artist Miya Masaoka, opened the program. Originally conceived for solo double bass, Ilgenfritz and Motl presented a chamber version of the work, in which any number of players can perform the piece in unison. The precisely tuned harmonies of a single voice widened into an intertwined duo. There were moments in which the sound of two basses became indistinguishable and others when their rhythmic beating patterns transformed the two distinct voices into a pulsating hyper-instrument. Ilgenfritz and Motl beautifully realized Masaoka’s vision of a piece fascinated with blend, distance, and closeness. 

The second piece, Harmonifriends, by performer-composer Sky Macklay, brought us back to earth with its joyful theatricality. The piece repurposed inflatable harmonica-adorned sound sculptures from Macklay’s installation, Harmonitrees, as instruments for concert performance. The physical act of inflating the sculptures, which Macklay controlled with simple power-strips, set into motion the piece’s musical material: dancing with and against the sculptures. Mid-way through the piece, harpist Melissa Achten and percussionist Chris Nappi abandoned their instruments to perform with the sculptures: sounding the harmonicas through precisely timed embraces coordinated with Richter’s accordion. Macklay and Ghost Ensemble managed to successfully animate plastic, electricity, metal, and air into cuddly loveable creatures. 

The final piece, Ben Richter’s Rewild, gently led the listener through a dynamic sonic topography. The piece, written specifically for Ghost Ensemble’s instrumentation, perfectly paced its collage of frozen musical tundras. Quiet delicate soundscapes faded into each other, slowly moving from one musical vignette to another. This commitment to gradual change unified the structure of the 45-minute piece, as Ghost Ensemble inhabited every corner of Richter’s vast musical world. As an ode to the time-scales and space-scales of the natural world, Rewild was a resounding success in its ability to build a sanctuary for presence and reflection.

The concert was one of the most memorable and heartfelt that I have seen in a long time, and I look forward to seeing Ghost Ensemble again when they are next in Los Angeles.

‘Ghost Ensemble’ at 2220 Arts & Archives

Ghost presents the West Coast premieres of two new works for the ensemble alongside Miya Masaoka’s Four Moons of Pluto, a delicate, drone-based work built on sustained harmonics and microtonal tunings.

8pm. Tuesday May 16, 2023