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Posts by Violet Tang


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)