Next Tuesday, gnarwhallaby (Richard Valilutto, Matt Barbier, Brian Walsh, and Derek Stein) will be performing an adventurous program at Monk Space, including two world premieres and some recent commissions. I interviewed Matt Barbier (trombone) about the program, the future of gnarwhallaby, commissioning, and more. Here’s what he said:
On June 5, you’ll be performing “Lullaby 4” by Nicholas Deyoe, world premieres by Olga Rayeva and Daniel Tacke, and recent commissions by Elise Roy and Richard Barrett. Can you tell us a bit about the works on the program?
It’s a fairly personal program for us in a lot of ways, especially at the group’s current juncture. Nick’s piece was the first major work written for our iteration of the quartet and what we made our Carnegie debut with, so it’s always been a very special piece that’s at the core of our repertoire and the work that is most closely tied to us as individual players. Dan’s piece is quite exciting for us because we’ve played a pre-exising work of his that had no trombone, but did have voice (the change to trombone is questionable), so we’re looking forward to being able to have a work of his that we all play. His piece is based on Morton Feldman’s Half a minute, it’s all I’ve time for, which is an actual 30 second piece Feldman wrote for the original group that we’ve enjoyed playing over the years, but can be a little odd to program. We look forward to playing something that is based on it, but has a little more room to breathe. Elise’s piece is a bit like Nick’s in the sense that it was written by a friend who we’ve all known quite a while, however we mostly know Elise from performing with her (she’s a very good flutist on top of her great composing). Because of this, her approach to us is from a very different angle than Nick and a very different type of familiarity, but we look forward to them sharing that space. Olga’s piece is a bit of wild card for us. I met Olga when she was a fellow at the Villa Aurora and she came to a concert I gave that included Michelle Lou’s colossal HoneyDripper and really enjoyed it. From there we started conversing a little bit and she asked to write us a piece. It’s really excitingly out and feels, in certain ways, to tie to some of the more ethereal works written for the early Polish group, who, I think, everyone in the group feels a kinship (or fondness?) for. Richard’s piece is probably our ‘biggest’ commission to date and something that was in the works for quite a while. We’re big fans of his music and have been discussing doing a concert of his music for a long time. The idea of getting a new piece came up a few times and so I ended up just asking and he was, very kindly, interested in writing quite a large piece for four people in jumpsuits. His piece is in four movements, each based on an important jazz artist for him: Cecil Taylor, Thelonius Monk, Eric Dolphy, and Miles Davis.
Were all the works you’ll be performing on this program gnarwhallaby commissions? What do you enjoy most about commissioning new works?
Everything on the program was written for us by people we know, or got to know in the process. Commissioning new works for gnarwhallaby has been an especially rewarding process because our group exists as the third iteration of an ensemble founded in Poland in the late 1960’s and we’ve tried to be very cognizant of the instrumentation’s history when contributing new works. The Warsztat Muzyczny had a very particular bend to their own commissions and the Quartet Avance did a lot to keep the repertoire alive while adding their set of works that related but also reflected the generation that they were of. It’s been an exciting challenge to find composers whose music fits into that progression but also reflects our own interests, particularly as the first American group.
How did you get started as an ensemble? Has the group’s goals and/or focus changed since you formed in 2011?
Our origins come from CalArts where we were all students. We weren’t there together but everyone overlapped as MFAs (Brian’s last year was Matt’s first, Matt’s 2nd was Derek’s first, and Derek’s 2nd was Richard’s first). I (Matt) had a very keen interest in this one specific piece by Gorecki, which Brian, Derek, and I all played together before Richard arrived, and that interest led to finding a treasure trove of other works (over 60). At first our focus was to primarily revive that repertoire and occasionally add new pieces. However, over time our focus has really shifted to a much heavier focus on new works by people we like to work in close collaboration with.
What are your thoughts about how gnarwhallaby’s repertoire fits within the existing canon, either in the context of your particular instrumentation or in the wider context of chamber music?
It’s a fun group in a lot of ways given that we’ve got three instruments that can be quite loud and one that can only be…moderate? So our instrumentation has kind of violated some understood orchestration rules from it’s very origin, while also functioning as a micro orchestra. It has a very traditional but also somewhat unique place in the canon in terms of the way the ensemble functions. A huge portion of our repertoire functions as the clarinet, cello, and trombone as a meta instrument that fits with the piano. This isn’t a particularly new idea, but it is something that happens quite consistently from a wide range of composers so one wonders if it is something inherent to the nature of the group. On the personal side (as a trombonist that is), it fits in the canon in a very unique way because of this. Many composers (whether related to range, touch, velocity, color, etc.) demand that the trombone not only do things that’s not quite in it’s understood nature to do, but do them as well as the other three instruments. So it’s fairly unique in the canon of brass music that you’re being held against very idiomatic writing for instruments that do very different things than your own.
What’s in store for the future of the band?
Well we’re entering quite a new and kind of terrifying stage. Very shortly Richard will be leaving LA to get a doctorate at Cornell so we’ll have to sort out a new mode of existing and this will be our last show for a little while. We’re all quite close friends and we rehearse a lot over long periods of time. And drink lots of coffee. So we’ll have to, sadly, find a new mode. We’re planning Exhibit B, however. It’ll include music by Nicholas Deyoe, Michelle Lou, Andrew Greenwald, and Adriana Holszky. We’re also planning some more large scale concerts, including the full Barrett cycle.
For more information about the concert or to get tickets, check out Tuesdays at Monk Space.
WasteLAnd continues to impress audiences with a program of new music, most of it from LA-based composers. Each performer has their respective claim to fame in LA and is closely associated with wasteLAnd, and each composer is a long-time favorite of wasteLAnd’s. New to the scene, however, is Allison Carter, a poet whose words found their way into Deyoe’s new piece. Her work made quite the stir among the audience members, and I have a feeling we will begin to hear her name more in the future.
Before I review the concert itself, I find something worth mentioning: the gender representation. It was an even split. In my day job, I currently have my students writing a paper on 19th century gender roles and women composers in the Romantic era, so this has been on my mind a lot. One hundred years ago, women could not vote in the United States, and it was nearly impossible to earn respect as a composer or performer. Nowadays, female representation in the music scene is gaining. It is not yet even, but progress is happening. WasteLAnd’s October concert featured six composers; three were women and two were men (Erik Ulman had two pieces, so the ratio of compositions is 3:3). There were seven performers (including Allison Carter reading aloud), and four were women. The best part was that I didn’t notice until afterwards. I have come to recognize that gender equality is already quite common in the LA new music scene. So much so that this is the first time I put it together. I looked back over some old programs I’ve reviewed, and every concert has women as composers, performers, directors or all three.
Ok. Feminist aside complete. Moving on, because there is so much good about this concert to discuss.
The night opened with Kaija Saariaho’s Folia, performed by Scott Worthington on double bass and electronics. Like many compositions from the end of the 20th century, this piece focuses on dynamics and timbre over pitch and harmony. Sometimes the bass whistles like an icy wind, other times it rumbles like an earthquake, putting palpable pressure on your ears. Scott saws out some kind of textural melody, phrases build and climax and fade – textural intensity carries the musical line. The electronic aspect augments and echoes the timbres. It overlays overtones, resulting in both a more ‘open’-sounding composition and greater complexity overall.
Next on the docket was the duet Tout Orgeuil… by Erik Ulman. Stephanie Aston and Elise Roy are always an amazing team, and their performance on this piece was no exception. It begins with a piccolo solo, and Roy gradually descended down the flute family to alto flute. Aston sang sleepily about pride smoking in the night. Given that the text is from a Stephan Mallarmé poem, my mind turned to Debussy. Ulman is no Impressionist, but I feel Debussy would have approved of the modern counterpoint and expressive extended techniques. The pitches bent down, down, down into sleep, and the flutes became larger and the words grew heavier. Erik captured the good sinking feeling, the kind you feel in a cozy armchair while drifting to sleep.
Third up was Matt Barbier on trombone and electronics performing puddles and crumbs by Katherine Young. For me, this piece created a very specific soundscape: I, the listener, am a koi in the pond on a rainy day and the daily miracle of food raining from heaven is happening. Three of the major elements that contribute to this soundscape are 1. Sharply sucking air through the trombone, 2. Sharp plosives into the mouthpiece that are amplified by the electronics, 3. Dynamic tempi. Matt’s deep breathing combined with the electronic influence reminded me of snorkeling, the plosive pops like rain on water’s surface when I swim underwater. These are instinctive memories, of course, and it may be a coincidence that they play so well together. Now you understand my watery theme. The push and pull of the tempo took me a while to incorporate into my soundscape idea. At first I thought it felt like seasickness, but I eventually concluded it was more like watching fish dart in a pond. They sprint only a few inches or feet, depending on the size of the fish, and then hesitate. The tempo seemed to do exactly that. And then it all became clear, that the soundscape was from the point of view of a koi in a pond in the rain during feeding time. I’m sure many will disagree, whether they had another idea or didn’t find it so blatantly programmatic at all; one of the wonders of music is how everyone experiences things differently. For what it’s worth, I did come up with a secondary interpretation that involves heavy breathing, plosive pops, and sprinting-and-stopping: Darth Vader playing basketball. So really it’s all relative. Regardless of the loftiness or pop art-iness of my personal experience, Barbier proved yet again that the trombone is more than just a brass instrument in a marching band. He played every color in the palette, and demonstrated rigorous control over his body and his instrument to perform such a demanding piece.
Fittingly the 100th piece wasteLAnd has programmed, Erik Ulman’s this until is a flute solo, and Elise Roy absolutely nailed it. I’ve said before that she has superhuman control of her instrument, and she proved it again with this piece. She made her flute sing, speak, howl, wail and whisper. Though a solo composition, I could sometimes here a ghost of counterpoint when she effected heavy harmonics. I honestly couldn’t say if that was Ulman’s intention or Roy’s execution, but every so often a particularly turgid note would quietly sound the octave or fourth below, creating a beautiful, haunting harmony. this until was the only solo acoustic musical composition of the night and it was right in the middle of the program; Elise managed to keep up the energy on her own, and carried us into the final pieces of the evening.
The program ends with a sort of binary piece. First, Allison Carter read her Poems from A Fixed, Formal Arrangement; Nicholas Deyoe used the text for his piece Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along, a line from the poem. I can’t say I have ever attended another concert that had the poet read their work first before the musical product, and I wish this would become the norm everywhere. As a general rule, increased understanding leads to increased appreciation, so knowing the text ahead of time (and from the author herself, no less) helped Deyoe’s work succeed. The instrumentation sounded like speech slowed down by a factor of ten. The melodies felt like they wanted to resolve up to a tonic, but they kept bending downwards, defying expectations. One thing I love about Deyoe’s style is that it’s always interesting and it never fulfills your expectations. Once you think you have it figured out, he changes it again. This piece feels like your mind wandering and getting lost – when it’s 4am and you have to wake up in two hours but you’re caught up in the twilight zone that is four in the morning. Knowing composers, that is probably the mindset he was in while writing. Also, knowing composers, that is a hard composition to pull off. I commend Nicholas Deyoe for a well-constructed and evocative ensemble composition.
WasteLAnd concerts are on the first Friday of every month at ArtShare. Check out Weights and Measures on November 4.
Editor’s note: WasteLAnd is currently running their annual fundraiser. Take a minute to support them at https://squareup.com/store/wasteland/
There’s something fitting about the fact there was a zoetrope of the Artic Circle upstairs above the stage during the performance. When the show is called the future of terror, the ensemble is named wasteLAnd, and there’s a stag head mounted on the wall staring at you the entire time, you know it’s going to be bleak and beautiful.
My initial thought on Emergence by Elise Roy for flute and soprano saxophone was, “I need this for my alarm clock!” Beginning literally and figuratively like a train pulling out of a station, Emergence features multiphonics, key clicks, vocal fry and hiccups from the flutist. There was even a section of vocal fry duet between Elise on flute and Elise on the recorded tape. Both the flutist and saxophonist exhibited more and more extended techniques over the course of the piece, seeming to emerge from their shells as mere instruments and becoming something more. Given the title, I constantly wondered what was emerging; sometimes it sounded like an egg hatching, and other times like a rift in time and space (I watch too much Dr. Who), and anything in between. The ending on a sustained vocal fry, no diminuendo or crescendo, left the piece feeling deliciously incomplete.
Multiplicities for solo flute by Jason Eckardt bounces off the walls like a game of registral tag. This piece sounded like an argument between different personalities, perhaps between a shoulder angel and shoulder devil. Or Smeagol and Gollum. After the last note fades out, there is one final tiny “I told you so” that made me laugh out loud. The sheer amount of energy and technique Elise put into this solo is superhuman. She exhibits superhuman control and stamina over every note, gliss, click and hum, and it was utterly spellbinding.
I idly wondered who miscalculated that the concert would be almost two hours long, because I estimated the first two pieces to be approximately ten minutes each. Never underestimate the future of terror. Kurt Isaacson weaves a desolate wasteland with piccolo (and then flute), simple percussion, and soprano Stephanie Aston singing words by Matthea Harvey. The music of the piece lies not in the spoken words alone, or in fact in any one sound, but in the electronic artifacts on tape, the phonemes of the poem, the tapping of the snare like heartbeats or rainfall, and the whispering and tweeting of the piccolo. It seems to transcend melody and harmony, and only the rhythm and the sounds in each moment matter. It’s a tapestry of children’s chants, white noise and growling snare drum, screech owl imitation by piccolo, and thought-provoking lyrics. Almost a solid hour in length, the music was exhausting even for the audience. It never let up. The intensity of the sounds and intricate detail in motifs never allowed the mind to wander. We the audience existed on the Twilight Zone line between watching and participating, and the end felt like waking from a dream only to realize we had been awake all along.
People Inside Electronics has been busy lately — fresh off the heels of their concert with Gnarwhallaby, they’re presenting a concert this Saturday of new works for the Magnetic Resonator Piano, with pianists Nic Gerpe, Aron Kallay, Richard Valitutto, Steven Vanhauwaert, and Genevieve Lee. What the heck is the Magnetic Resonator Piano, you ask? In the words of its creator, Andrew McPherson:
“The magnetic resonator piano (MRP) is an electronically-augmented acoustic piano capable of eliciting new sounds acoustically from the piano strings, without speakers. Electromagnets induce vibrations in the strings independently of the hammers, creating infinite sustain, crescendos, harmonics, pitch bends and new timbres, all controlled from the piano keyboard.”
This is gonna be awesome.
In addition to the concert, there’s also a Kickstarter campaign to commission four local composers — Julia Adolphe, Jeremy Cavaterra, Alex Miller, and Elise Roy — to write new works for the Magnetic Resonator Piano that will be premiered this weekend. Here’s a video about both the MRP and the campaign:
Which you can help support here:
If you can’t make the Saturday concert, on Sunday at 4:30pm McPherson will present a free lecture demonstration at Keyboard Concepts in Van Nuys that will include performances by Gerpe, Kallay, Valitutto, and Rafael Liebich.
Full details and tickets are at http://
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!