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Posts by Violet 湯

these are the tears of things…

photo credit: Violet 湯

It was merely a week ago that I made another visit to a Green Umbrella show with my husband at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was gleaming with excitement at the prospect of being able to review the LA Phil New Music Group for the first time, especially with the traction that California Festival has gained in recent months. However, two days later, I received word that my grandmother had passed away, merely a week before I was planning to visit her in rural Taiwan. And so, I find myself writing to you from an empty cafe in Taipei, set to a gentle drizzle near my childhood home. Right now, my heart is heavy with love & sorrow, my mind racing with core memories. Everywhere I look I see her smile, I hear her voice. As an immigrant child, I cannot help but share a sliver of what I feel after missing every one of my grandparents in their final moments. Though many of you have never met her, I can only hope you will remember her as you remember your own.

As I begin to process everything these past two weeks have offered, I am having a hard time forgetting the glistening sounds of heaven in Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (these are the tears of things) written by Dylan Mattingly. From classic literary passages of The Aeneid, Mattingly was able to capture the totality of human experience through the universality of tears, illustrating the beginnings & ends of life through a palette unlike any other composer I have encountered. Written for two prepared pianos & two harps slightly detuned and estranged from one another, one could hear a powerful semblance of traditional Gamelan music through the ancient metals of gangsa & kemanak and the transcendental strings of siter & rebab. The piece began with the two pianists, Joanne Pearce Martin & Vicky Ray tiptoeing in pointillistic, Ravel-like fashion, only to be joined by Emily Levin & Julie Smith Phillips strumming low, pentatonic chords on their bright red harps, inviting us to let go of all of our inhibitions and to feel everything we are capable of ever feeling. In Mattingly’s own words, “these are not tears of sorrow – or at least not sorrow alone. These are the tears of everything, of the everythingness present in each moment, the superabundance of life’s experience, an understanding which we fear overwhelming us should we turn towards it too often. These are the tears of life’s entirety…”.

And as these tears continue to unfold & unravel, more of our collective experience continues to reveal itself through the organic fraying of microtonality found in nature. Our bodies gently ascend into the twilight, while our ears quietly submerge into a toy piano lullaby. Martin & Ray do a marvelous job at hypnotizing & pacifying the crowd like the dream mobile I once had under my crib, only to be awakened by a sudden recall of the very beginning, a reminder of the inevitability of death and the promise of peace in the afterlife. As Levin & Phillips renter the scene, they build into an immovable mass of sound, steadying with lifting volume yet tangling itself with polyrhythmic complexity. Finally, the last chord strikes, as if we have reached the end of time, a new beginning, and our ears are coated with the everlasting reverberation of heaven’s gates, a moment of nirvana that can only be experienced in the acoustic & visual spectacle that is Disney Hall. 

Before the audience has long to think, our ears perk up as like meerkats to the sound of little branches splitting in the quiet. Like most pieces, our percussionists Matthew Howard & Joseph Pereira are placed in the back of the ensemble for Sketches of Chaparral, composed by my wonderful colleague M.A. Tiesenga, but it is no coincidence they are the first & last to be heard in this piece. We see Vimbayi Kaziboni on the podium motion to them with not much else happening, encouraging us to the edge of our seats. Though I’m well acquainted with this music (Tiesenga has composed a piece for me in the past) I truly did not know what to expect. We start to hear those same ordinary branches ruminating, coalescing with metal, accompanied by gristly sul ponticello gestures from Ted Botsford on the bass. Our attention is redirected to indeterminate wind gusts in the form of air shooting through woodwind instruments, a recall of the psithurism I used to experience on long picturesque walks with my grandmother. We are treated to fleeting overtone glimmers, like morning sunlight peaking through leaves, brushes rubbing on the head of a bass drum, with wood knocks & sounds of bowed cymbals scattered all across. As a fearless multidisciplinary artist, Tiesenga has this uncanny ability to turn something as mundane as a branch into a motif, a bush into a concept, a biome into a hand-sketched graphic score, and an intangible feeling into a masterclass in chance music.

Growing up in a place like Taiwan, I was surrounded by nature that was incredibly vivid & larger than life. The landscape was luxuriously saturated from rain, forests as dense as the weather, with delicious tropical fruits found in abundance. So when I moved to the states, I too had my reservations on the biodiversity of California’s chaparral landscape, one that I have now come to  love. It is true that these bushes of great variety, seemingly ordinary, are the ones that protect us from the constant threat of wildfires and preserve the delicate balance going as we struggle with climate change going forward. As Kaziboni calmly takes us through numbered sections of the graphic score like a wise steward of the land, we are offered glimpses of the multifaceted character of the chaparral biome through the deliberate choices of each individual sound maker. I can think of no better way to highlight California Festival than this heartwarming homage to nature and the indigenous land that provide us all with everything we could possibly need and so much more.

Perhaps the most interesting component of this experience is the pleasant coexistence of aleatoric gestures with beautifully written solo melodies that hint at the cultivators of this land. Though conflict is natural, we can really feel the harmonious relationship between living beings and their respective surrounding through expressivity of solos from Bing Wang on the violin, Robert deMaine on cello, to Catherine Karoly on flute. While these solos were played in a virtuosic manner, they were still highly attuned to the sounds & gestures of the environment around them, never to disturb or disrupt. This is a masterful reflection that is seldom offered in a place like this. From the stillness of the desert to the magic of the night, the turmoil of our climate to the contemplative nature of California’s history, Tiesenga wears their heart on their sleeve with an exquisite premiere of Sketches of Chaparral.

Writing this has been nothing less than transformative for me as I embark on a new journey of healing. Through the lessons of intention & care from Tiesenga to the wisdoms of life & embrace from Mattingly, I can only hope to see the many truths that will reveal a path forward. And for you, not only do I wish you could hear the sounds that remain, I hope you will have the chance to say all there is to say to those you love dearly. these are the tears of things…

Chaparral and Interstates: New Music from California

LA Phil New Music Group

Nov 14, 2023

Walt Disney Concert Hall (111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012)

LIFE CYCLES – Friday Night at High Desert Soundings

photo: Violet Tang

Living and working in Los Angeles is no easy feat for anyone, especially for young musicians like myself. This fall, it has been incredibly difficult for me to find any time for a small change of pace, so I decided to look elsewhere, well beyond the city. Friday the 13th had been circled on my calendar for a while – it was meant to be a weekend I could escape the routine with my husband & my girlfriends, but instead, the world saw a steep and frightening descent into darkness as we journeyed into High Desert.

Suddenly, with horrors of genocide looming over our heads, music became secondary. The four of us were reminded of how privileged we are, to be traveling in love & safety at a time like this. We felt a sudden wave of helplessness, being so far removed from the dire situation in Gaza. Seeing many of my colleagues gather in modest comfort, in a place like Twentynine Palms, and seeing artists from all walks of life come together at The Palms for High Desert Soundings to experiment with the healing powers of silence & noise gave me a sense of (re)new(ed) purpose. I have put this review off for far too long, having recently been perturbed with waves of grave inhumanity and sternly occupied with my personal, unrelenting activism against the ongoing apartheid. I have finally decided – this is the only way forward for me.

I shall begin with Life Cycles, by Stephanie Cheng Smith, one of the headliners of Friday night, and certainly the most appropriate set for the long days our civilization faces ahead. Part of an ongoing sound installation, Stephanie has amassed in her own words “eighty-four cicada apparati separated into seven broods, installed long term as an accelerated representation of overlapping periodical life cycles of different broods and species of cicadas.” And to High Desert, she carried only less than a handful cicadas with her. Accompanied by the faint crackle of firewood and the lovely smell of sand & smoke, her cicadas were as cryptic as the desert animals themselves, joining the little grey moths dancing above our tables in glistening twilight. It was truly a quiet meditation, a gentle reminder for us all to breathe deeply with love & intention. A contrast to some of the more provocative noises we have heard tonight, Stephanie’s work gave us a glimpse at how interconnected we are with the environment around us, and how everything we know is precious simply because it is impermanent. Indeed, it is true that annual cicadas are species that emerge asynchronously every year. Before emerging from darkness to find their mates with song, their life cycles can vary from one to seventeen years living as underground nymphs. We must remember, as the limits of music technology continue to defy all odds in a post-Cageian, postmodern musical landscape, nature will only continue to journey alongside us, surprising us with an honest reflection of our own organismic values and behaviors.

To send us off into the stars of the night, Technical Reserve returned us to a jarring, industrialized reality. A trio of two laptops & one pedaled-up cello, Hunter Brown, Dominic Coles, and TJ Borden threw an eclectic & original vernacular at us – one that no one was ready for. With shades of Morton Feldman’s late cello works and the subtle foreshadowing of the implications of artificial intelligence, Technical Reserve tautly flexed their outstanding expertise in an astonishing, semi-improvised set. Around midnight, it seemed as if we were launched into an immersive historical survey, illustrated by paradoxically paired genres of structureless free jazz and rigid serialism. Through jurassic growls, explosive feedback, silences of space, and instruments of war, the trio suggested that what makes us unique as human beings is our unwavering curiosity. At this point, the outdoor classroom that is the quaint courtyard of The Palms were now littered with stimulated, engaged minds, with Bach, Coltrane, and Stockhausen acting as our instructors on behalf of the trio sitting in front of us.

The road ahead is long, and our humanity is being put on full display. We must continue to lead with hope & fight urgently for freedom. Our resiliency will show not only through activism, but also through the thread of all humanities – in literature & the arts. High Desert Soundings has given me an important moment to breathe and a second chance to do what is right in fighting with courage for human rights. I am most certain many of those in attendance returned home feeling the very same.


photo credit: Violet Tang

What seemed to be another Tuesday night turned into an honorable celebration of the remarkable life of Klarenz Barlow. Through fun, quirky snapshots of his ever evolving musical works, his varied research interests in technology & language, and of course, his hilarious fascination with the infinite ways to spell his own name, it was hard not to feel the warmth & impact he has left on our community. It was only fitting that this celebration coincided with the opening night of the tenth anniversary season of Brightwork’s Tuesdays @ Monk Space, now a storied institution in the LA new music concert scene. A joint curatorial effort between Shalini Vijayan of Brightwork newmusic and Barlowe protégés Brandon J. Rolle and Nick Norton of Ensemble Barlow, eager attendees were presented with eight, drastically different works that served to give only a glimpse of the diverse compositional ideas Barloh was capable of.

Let’s start with Four ISIS Studies, the elephant in the room and perhaps the most sonically strange piece on this colorful program. In 2005, Barlö quietly published an essay on Intra-Samplar Interpolating Sinusoids (ISIS), the perfect example of one of those little research interests I had mentioned earlier. Stemming from a substantial branch of his studies from the tree of Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as the many long summers he had spent at Darmstadt developing their computer music program, this audio analysis-synthesis algorithm became a way of thinking for Barlow. In his first study, Für Gimik: Vortag über ISIS, our ears were coated with percolating computer sounds reminiscent of the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Played in a quadrophonic array, the audience experienced a recording in german set to a Space Mountain ride of thrilling sine-tone runs. With Eleven Steps In Staying a Kingly Dream, our setting turned into an abstracted alternative of the MLK Speech, accompanied by bubbling hyperpop noises and interrupted by jarring beeps. In the third study, Untitled/Oil on Metal, Wood, we felt gentle tension from a low rumbling underneath a myriad of industrial sounds. Lastly, in Ceci nest pas une oeuvre d’art, we were presented with anti-art from another extraterrestrial, organismic instrument that could’ve been dreamt up by Sun Ra himself, serenading us with indistinct lyrics & pleasant backup harmonies generated from the robotic algorithm.

Fast forward to Pinball Play, a mesmerizing piece written for four soprano Bohlen-Pierce clarinets. But for this concert, we were gifted with Brightwork staple Brian Walsh who covered the jobs of four clarinetists on his very own (with the help of Nick Norton once again manning the electronics). Playing to a click, Walsh manages to sound even better than four live clarinetists would, as his playful gestures cascade off of pre-recorded sounds with impeccable timing, creating an inescapable atmosphere of a masterful merry-go-round. 

Finally, Ensemble Barlow closed the program with Sachets des ciseaux Insatiables, with Brandon J. Rolle at the podium. The last time this piece was performed at REDCAT was the only time Rolle’s mother had ever seen him conduct. This work exemplifies Barreleaulx’s signature outlook on his compositional style – he never once concerned himself with writing experimental music for the sake of sounding modern. The first movement opens up with a wood block ostinato, followed by wind players expanding the palette in the style of jazz you would find in a typical American film noir. Here, Sarah Wass shines on the flute, and once again, Brian Walsh opens up the dynamics of the movement with pentatonic flourishes on the clarinet. As we attacca into the second movement, we find ourselves a blank canvas, waiting to be colored. In an unexpected turn of events, those melodies have now been abused by Barlovicus algorithms, dotting an impressionist painting you would find in a typical modern museum. Here, Nick Terry demonstrates his brilliance with a traditional four-mallet grip, spanning the entire width of the marimba and hitting obfuscated passages with ease. In the finale movement, we face descending lines of brooding character, building tension towards the very end. And as we approach the coda, we are entranced by a slow, melancholic dance. The trumpet melody rests in a major tonality while the clarinet & flute layer minor lines, creating a polytonal texture, but only so he could end the entire piece with a cute, storybook “V-I” finish.

At the end of this profound night, we are left with more questions than answers…how will Barlow’s sounds permeate through contemporary canonical literature? How will his legacy carry on in his work, his pedagogy, his research? How will we remember his warm personality and uncanny ability to bring people together? No doubt, the forces of nature at Brightwork & Ensemble Barlow would respond – some questions are better left unanswered.

Curated by Brandon Rolle and Nick Norton, this evening is dedicated to remembering beloved composer Clarence Barlow through his music and writings.

The program will include a varied retrospective of Barlow’s works including quarantasette estratti da un vicolo ludofilo, ISIS studies, Sachets des ciseaux insatiables, KLAVIERSTÜCK Für Luise, Pinball Play, Für Simon Jonassohn-Stein, and Fantasy Prelude Miscibly Interfused.

The entire audience is invited to stay for a post-concert reception to share memories and celebrate Clarence.

8:00pm. Tuesday Sep 12, 2023 at Monk Space (4414 W. 2nd Street Los Angeles, CA 90004)

GHOST GUN, VIOLA JOKES, & FOLGERS IN YOUR CUP – A Night of Clever Storytelling with Aperture Duo

In the quiet aftermath of Hurricane Hilary, an adventurous crowd gathered at the intimate Monk Space in Koreatown, fresh out of unexpected hibernation. In return, they were gifted several memorable stories in the form of spiritual guidance from Adrianne Pope & Linnea Powell, the two cornerstones of Aperture Duo.

On the menu were two brand new specials commissioned by the duo and workshopped with the composers in recent weeks, starting with Thomas Kotcheff’s delightful Obbligato String Music No. 1: Allegretto in G Minor. Much more than an appetizer, Thomas masterfully weaves together a series of discordant ideas from vastly different genres, taking the audience for a whirlwind of a journey. One could quickly discover tasteful moments of microtonal dissonance between the violin & viola, as well as between live sounds & pre-recorded samples. Through Aperture Duo’s confident approach to tackle everything from recreating classical standards to accompanying altered versions of the Folgers jingle (a musical stunt that has unsurprisingly generated over $40,000 for the coffee company), we can now begin to see the bigger picture that is the clever collage of eons of compositional techniques and motifs, melting together into a beautiful, hot mess. In a way, the true meaning of obbligato is reinforced by this mesmerizing work, contributing to the inextinguishable lineage of canonical literature while effectively challenging the notion of what is considered pure or fixed in the classical genre. It is through this strange paradox that Kotcheff was able to keep the audience deeply engaged in a dizzying fashion, as we felt the tension of all of his conflicting melodies spiraling into instability, only to find itself pieced together again.

The entrée of the night is most certainly their second commission, Jessie Marino’s incomparable Murder Ballads Volume I: Sister Sister. A departure from her usual works, these ballads showcase a stunning tapestry that revealed the unbreakable trust Pope & Powell hold for one another. Much of the night encouraged Aperture Duo to sing their soulful hearts out, but through these vulnerable, haunting ballads, the two performers were compelled to melt their voices & instruments into a powerful quartet of bagpipe & storytelling. A strong parallel to Kotcheff’s earlier work in the program, Marino continues to explore the concept of time through meaningful libretto meant to stand as timeless. In both the first and last ballad of this four-part song, O Death and Ghost Gun, Marino lit an angry flame under us with her unfiltered, fed-up emotions reflecting on the living state of profitable, senseless violence that is the American gun problem. In a country where we have experienced over 400 mass shootings this year with over four months left, at a terrifying pace greater than two mass shootings a day, the powerful composite of folk harmonies, vivid thoughts, painful overdrive, and screeching feedback left a stinging taste in the mouths of many. While O Death touched upon the national bitterness over the unfair immunity of police brutality, Ghost Gun properly detailed the grave threat of endless violence we face at every corner of our neighborhood, without fail or warning. The inner ballads, Edward and Twa Sisters, are no less powerful than the former, serving as a shocking reminder that while murder isn’t new, its dirty cousin, systemic violence, is a unique weaponized threat to modern society. In Edward, we find an old English elegy full of regret & sorrow, while the tale of Twa Sisters is based on an actual 17th century murder ballad of a girl drowned by her jealous sister. In Marino’s version, however, it isn’t the jealous sister who descends into murder, but rather, the bloody violence of Johnny, transforming into a hexed act that persists to haunt him until the very end. I believe this particular distinction falls in line with the rest of the ballads, emphasizing the radical normalization of systemic violence enacted by people in positions of privilege and power.

From Kotcheff & Marino, we are faithfully presented with the reality of the myriad of pertinent challenges we are facing in an unprecedented climate. From Pope & Powell, we learn that these very real challenges can be faced head on, with limitless imagination. And to the devout followers of Aperture Duo, I believe they are venturing into a new and inimitable realm of contemporary classical excellence.

Join Aperture Duo (Adrianne Pope, violin and Linnea Powell, viola) in an evening of boundary-pushing new music featuring world premieres by Berlin-based composer Jessie Marino and LA-based composer/pianist Thomas Kotcheff. Join LA’s own Aperture Duo as they explore the shiny, surreal, and sometimes scary depths of chamber music for violin and viola.

7:00pm. Tuesday Aug 22, 2023 at Monk Space (4414 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90004)