Here at New Classic LA we love it when musicians and composers talk with each other about their work. In what is becoming an ongoing series, flutist and wasteLAnd executive director Rachel Beetz had time to speak with the performers, composers, and poet involved in their concert this Saturday at 8pm at Art Share. Tickets and details are at wastelandmusic.org. Here’s Rachel:
Happy Valentine’s Day!
wasteLAnd’s upcoming concert on Saturday includes collaborations and realizations of some quirky and weird love songs. We’re featuring Stephanie Aston throughout the program, including a premiere by Nicholas Deyoe. I asked some questions of composers Katherine Young and Nicholas Deyoe, performers Stephanie Aston and Dustin Donahue and the author of the text of Deyoe’s new work, Allison Carter. We hope you can join all of us to celebrate all of the weird types of love this program has to offer!
Manoalchadia – Chaya Czernowin
Love Letter – Liza Lim/Dustin Donahue
and I am responsible for having hands (five Allison Carter songs) – Nicholas Deyoe (world premiere)
Cellogram – James Tenney
Folk Songs – Luciano Berio
Master of Disguises – Katherine Young
RB: Stephanie, this concert involves a huge range of vocal colors! Can you talk a bit about how you’re approaching each different style? Are there connections between pieces in your approach at all?
Stephanie Aston: A lot of what I do is based on not just the indications given by the composer, but also the text. The text I sing in Manoalchadia is very aggressive for the first two thirds of the piece, so everything I do, be it low notes in full chest register, vocal fry, breathy singing, etc. has an aggressive and raw feeling behind it. Later in the piece the text becomes loving rather than aggressive, so everything I do comes from a gentle place.
Deyoe’s settings of the Allison Carter texts are very much in his style of setting text. There’s an ease of production and moderation of sound, in a certain sense. I have “poco vib” or “no vib” written in several times because nothing should be taken to excess; it’s just a clear beautiful ringing sound. In a way that allows me to bring out the nuances of the text as they come by and respond to them uniquely each time I sing it.
Young’s piece has mostly extended techniques until the end. It feels like an arrival piece of sorts because there was a time when I couldn’t do a tongue trill. The piece gives you hints along the way. Then at the end, when the text is fully there, it still isn’t, because it’s quiet and divided. I have the vowels and Leslie has the consonants.
The Berio Folk Songs have a wide variety of texts, so each movement has its own character. I try to keep my approach simple, thinking of how someone in the countryside of each piece might go about singing it and just try and have some fun.
RB: Dustin, Liza Lim’s Love Letter for solo hand drum asks the performer to “write a letter to your beloved” and “translate the letters of each word into rhythmic information.” Could you describe your encounter with this process? Was there anything that was particularly challenging in realizing this piece?
Dustin Donahue: The open-ended nature of this brief score was particularly daunting. There is no suggested process for translating letters into rhythmic information – this must be a system of my own design. As a first step, I created my text, where my own “love letter” runs in counterpoint with texts by Margaret Atwood and Simone de Beauvoir which were read at my wedding.
Emphasizing the score’s instruction to make rhythms from letters themselves, I explored a range of coded methods for translating individual letters into sounds; these, at first, included standardized practices like Morse code and ASCII, all of which felt impersonal and mechanical. Ultimately, as I analyzed and copied these texts, I became enchanted by the sound of handwriting. This was an intimate, highly personal method of producing sounds from letters; I recorded myself writing each text, and then transcribed in meticulous detail the exact rhythms of my writing and the articulations created with each stroke. In my performance, these rhythms and articulations are reproduced on the frame drum not with the intent of imitating the sound of writing, but instead to create a new kind of percussive language based upon the idiosyncratic movements of the hand in writing.
RB: Katherine, Could you talk a bit about the connection of the tape players to Kelly Links’ “The Girl Detective?” To me, with the idea of searching, it reminds me of old times looking for a particular song on a tape and having trouble if the tape wasn’t in a clear spot to begin with.
Katherine Young: Absolutely – I had the same association from my childhood in mind – looking for that one particular spot on a tape that you remember… and then there were for me, those special investigations when you never find what you’re looking for. It’s like that part of the song never existed, or maybe it only existed in your imagination.
For me, the tape recorders could also signify searching in terms of research, the way people used to conduct interviews with small tape recorders.
But at some point, the machines stopped being directly related to the story, and I was just interested in the sounds they made. I love the whirring and murmuring of the rewind and fast forward and the percussive clicks and clicks of the eject.
These sounds then became the basis for the instrumental sounds. The percussive tape recorder sounds, in particular, they circle back and inform how I treated the text when it is finally sung completely, breaking up the attack of the sound (word) and the sustain and splitting it between the two voices. To me this displacement relates to the ideas of elusiveness in the text.
RB: What other ways does this piece “search?”
Katherine: In my experience, playing many extended techniques in a woodwind instrument feels like a form of searching. Unstable multiphonics and the overblown squeaks are very hard to find and control. They will be a little different every time. These are my favorite kinds of sounds – the ones that surprise you!
RB: Allison, Nick has written a lot of music with your text at this point! Have you had text set before? Has it changed your approach? How has that shaped your approach to writing or your creative process?
Allison Carter: Yes! I love that Nick has composed multiple pieces using text I have written. His music teaches me about the text and sort of opens up the perimeter around the text. Like – oh, yes, it can sound like that! It can feel like that! It can be about… something like that! I have had text set before. Several years ago Gabriel Kahane composed music using my work. The experience of hearing how the text is met and built on by a new composition opens my mind to new directions the writing could go, almost as though the music turns the light on in an adjacent room. Hearing the text sung also confirms and pushes some elements of my writing process, like always editing out loud.
RB: Allison Carter, the author of the poetry you set in “and I am responsible for having hands” mentioned that this piece really captures the ambience or aura she had while making these works. You also seem to capture and feed off of skills of specific players. Can you talk a little bit about how these worlds collide into this piece? How did you consider the text and then the players while composing this work?
ND: I was really touched (and relieved) when Allison said that in rehearsal last night. I wasn’t setting out with the assumption that I fully understood the essence of what Allison was feeling when she wrote those words, but was responding to what they made me feel. Reading Allison Carter’s poetry resonates with me because her words elicit in me the same difficult-to-define emotions that are driving a lot of the music that I write.
When setting the words into a vocal line, I try to respect what is printed as much as possible. Punctuation, grammar, space on the page, and line breaks all guide how I pace the text. I don’t repeat words, I don’t change orders, and I don’t intentionally distort anything regarding the words. My aim is to present the text in the way that most closely resembles how I read it and then to create a musical context around it. For Allison to say that this piece has captured the aura that she was feeling when writing it makes me feel even more connected to her words, because my goal with the musical setting is to capture my own emotional state reading the words. It feels very personal to me. This is definitely related to the way that I like to work with performers. When I write music for you, Ashley, or Stephanie, the process becomes so rooted in our histories with each other. The whiskies and teas we drank together, the times we’ve spent sitting in a room and exploring sound with each other, the experiences we’ve had performing in ensembles together. I’m not writing for flute, cello, and voice. It’s for Beetz, Walters, and Aston. It’s about the way you interact with each other, how you sound as individuals, and the smartass remarks you make in rehearsals. This is the first time I’ve composed music for Alison Bjorkedal, but having her as a part of this ensemble has felt completely natural. After our experience of preparing Tenney’s massive Changes for six harps in 2017, Alison has felt like a good friend and a similar musical spirit.
Working with Allison Carter’s poetry makes me feel closer to her on a certain level, but also makes me feel like I understand myself a little better. I feel the same way working on a project like this with close friends. The openness and honesty present in these collaborations deepens my connection to all of you, but also sparks a self-reflection that continues to define who I want to be as an artist. And I am responsible for having hands is a cycle that engages poetry with an uncanny resemblance to my inner thoughts and is composed for some incredible friends. This is music designed to be created with people I love.
This was my first time seeing a Jacaranda concert. I always look for an excuse to hear Messiaen and Debussy live, so I jumped at the chance to attend “Extrasensory.” Based on the title, I was expecting a focus on synaesthesia, and probably some multimedia works. After all, in the 21st century, one comes to expect some electroacoustic elements or re-tunings. I was a little surprised that the entire program used acoustic instruments in traditional systems with nary a quartertone or key-slap in sight. It was different to hear 20th-century music that does not rely on the bells and whistles of the modern era.
Only one piece on the program was younger than me, and the oldest isn’t even 20th century. The program notes provided a history lesson in a nutshell. Rather than giving each piece a paragraph or two, Patricia Scott provided an entire essay that tied together all the pieces on the program. She tied together Debussy’s compositions and audience reception to Messiaen’s early works and development, and how he, in turn, trained and inspired the next generation of composers, like Betsy Jolas.
Though the beginning of it all, Debussy was put at the end as the show-stopper. Debussy is often called the father of modern music, and his Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (1894) is touted the beginning of the twentieth century. As a flutist, I have a deep-seated adoration of Prélude and Debussy’s flute pieces in general, and it was a great joy to hear the 1920 arrangement for a smaller ensemble plus harmonium. To our 21st-century ears, Prélude can sound tame and a little sappy, but it was an absolute scandal to the 19th-century audience. Think “Victorian woman showing ankles” scandalous. The extended tonality and the unique timbres it built in addition to the erotic source material left listeners either appalled or ecstatic. And thus began the noble tradition of 20th-century music.
Besides the Debussy, the Messiaen was even better than I had hoped. I always enjoy Oiseaux Exotiques (1956), and it was just as good as any other performance or recording I have heard. I have to give Aron Kallay a gold star for his performance, as always. My absolute favorite piece of the night was Messiaen’s La Mort du Nombre (1928). It is an unequivocally stunning lament, and it felt as though the violinist (Jessica Guideri) were drawing her bow across my heartstrings rather than her violin strings.
Andre Jolivet’s Chant de Linos (1944) is a flute piece with accompaniment, in this case, harp and string trio, written for the famous Jean Pierre Rampal. Again, as a flutist, I was in love. Rachel Beetz is a master of Rampal’s French style, and a worthy successor to play this beautiful piece. The story Chant de Linos tells is that of Linus, the son of Apollo (who you all know is the god of music, poetry, art, medicine, the sun, light, and knowledge – so, just a few things). Linus himself is credited with inventing melody and rhythm, the two most fundamental elements of our Western music tradition. The story goes that Heracles killed Linus with his own harp after one too many tutoring sessions gone sour. The flute represents Linus, while the accompanying quartet performed a quasi-recitative part for plot points and mood changes. The trick in the piece is the continuously shifting tempo on top of wild rhythms and intricate melodies. The music flipped on a dime between calm repose and fleeing from an enraged god. It is an astoundingly trying piece, and a beautiful way to start the concert.
Next, Eric Tanguy’s Sonata for Two Violins (1999) was an intellectually stimulating piece. His spectral training shows in the way he treats sound versus music. The violins sawed away without a break, never allowing the audience’s ears to rest. Debussy once said music is the space between the notes, but there wasn’t much space to be had. The music was not so much the quasi-minimalist violin duet, but rather the difference tones that squeezed out between the violins like juice from a lemon.
The remaining piece did its part to fill out the narrative of Debussy’s influence on the twentieth century, but I could take it or leave it. Betsy Jolas’s Quatour III “Nine Etudes” (1973) is the product of several inspirations coming together in her mature period. It stems from her love of Josquin des Prez, Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1915), Messiaen and Milhaud, and finally Boulez’s improvisation and Cage’s aleatoricism. The result is a quilt of nine movements, each with its own identity based on techniques like harmonics and tremolo. The ninth movement, “Summing up,” combines the eight traits into one final etude. I like the concept behind the piece, and the quartet executed the notes well enough. But frankly, it didn’t do much for me. I think it was too many flavors in one pie, so to speak.
It’s great that Jacaranda is able to program less familiar 20th-century composers alongside the 20th-century greats. I love what Jacaranda is doing for the community in this way. I encourage anyone who wants to hear more acoustic 20th century works to check out the rest of Jacaranda’s series. The next concert, titled “Science,” features works by Xenakis, Messiaen, and Barraqué.
Rachel Beetz and Jennifer Bewerse, also known as Autoduplicity, curated the wasteLAnd concert at Art Share L.A. on Friday, December 1, 2017. The duo presented six pieces by women composers, ranging from an electronic work by Pauline Oliveros to a premiere by Celeste Oram.
Bye Bye Butterfly by Pauline Oliveros was first. The lights faded to total darkness and the high whine of an electronic oscillator came from speakers hanging from the ceiling. The sound was reminiscent of an old heterodyne radio tuning in a far-away station. The pitches varied a bit, creating a somewhat alien feel. The oscillator was soon joined by a chorus of faint voices, and this served to add a human element to the mix of sounds. The piece proceeded with the voices overlapping the electronic tones so that it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began. The context shifted back and forth between alien and human, while the sounds themselves mixed together, blurring the distinction. Bye Bye Butterfly is classic Oliveros, inviting the listener to experience familiar emotions through unexpected combinations of sounds.
DiGiT #2, by Mayke Nas followed. Ms. Beetz and Ms. Bewerse both seated themselves at a piano and the piece began in dramatic fashion with a great forearm crash to the keyboard. The massive sound rang into the hall, slowly dissipating into silence. After a few seconds, a second powerful crash hit in a somewhat higher register. This continued, alternating between the ominously low and the anxiously high portions of the keyboard. The length of the intervening silences decreased as the crashes shortened, and this built up a definite feeling of tension. At about the midway point, the two performers began clapping hands just before they struck the keyboard. This happened briefly at first, but as the piece progressed the clapping sequences became longer and more intricate. By the finish, the clapping predominated, creating a playful feel that dispelled the previously menacing atmosphere. DiGiT #2 artfully illustrates how even the most sinister musical foreshadowing can be overcome by a simple expression of optimism.
2.5 Nightmares, for Jessie, by Natacha Diels, was next. Ms. Bewerse, with her cello, occupied a low riser in the center of the stage. Ms. Beetz and Dustin Donahue took their places on either side, sitting at tables with a ukulele, a sand paper block and other assorted percussion. The cello began by playing short, scratchy strokes while the wood blocks were drawn across the sandpaper. Silence followed, and a mallet striking a pie tin combined with bowed ukuleles to create a sequence of wonderfully strange sounds. The players also choreographed their movements and vocalized as the piece proceeded. Weaving together found sounds, cello, ukulele and choreography, 2.5 Nightmares, for Jessie nicely expresses that precise blend of the formal and the surreal that populates our dreams.
a…i…u…e…o…, a video piece by Michiko Saiki, followed. The opening scene simply showed a beautiful young woman alone in a room with red chairs lining an interior corner formed by two white walls. The soundtrack started with some vocal sounds which evolved into singing, often with lovely harmonies. The images portrayed a strong sense of loneliness mixed with a search for identity. There was also an element of the surreal to this – at one point the young woman was shown with several sets of arms, and again with something like sprouts of clover growing out of her skin. The technical effort was of a very high order, and none of the effects seemed contrived or forced. The powerful images and appealing vocals of a…i…u…e…o… made a strong impression on the audience.
The thin air between skins, by Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, was next. Ms. Beetz and Ms. Bewerse seated themselves back-to-back on the stage. A low trill from the flute began the piece and the cello entered with soft tones, creating an air of quiet mystery. Skittering flute sounds mixed with the cello to create a remote feel, as if hearing a breeze sweeping through a lonely forest. The flute occasionally became more agitated, but The thin air between skins remained consistently understated and sensitively played. A short, overblown blast from the flute ended this peaceful and reserved work.
The premiere of Machut: sanz cuer / Amis, dolens / Dame, par vous (Ballade #17), by Celeste Oram concluded the concert. Autoduplicity, clad completely in black, returned to the stage. The piece began with strong passages from the cello and a stately counterpoint in the alto flute. The feeling was very formal, a bit like early baroque music. The rich tones in the flute and cello made for an elegant combination, especially in the lower registers. Part way through, Ms. Beetz rose from her chair and walked behind a black screen at the rear of the stage. As she did so, an image of her – now dressed in a white top – appeared on the screen. The players traded off, walking back and forth from their music stands, an image of them appearing at the moment they walked behind the screen. At times there were scratchy or breathy sounds heard from the screen, at other times musical sounds, and sometimes silence.
The illusion of seamless, live action was very convincing and all the more remarkable as the images on the screen were prerecorded videos. The music was smoothly continuous and the comings and goings on the stage seemed to connect the players to another dimension. The complex choreography of movement by the players and the split-second timing of the images was remarkable. This flawless premiere of Machut: sanz cuer / Amis, dolens / Dame, par vous is even more impressive given the potential for a technical catastrophe. The skill of Autoduplicity and the ingenuity of the music and video combined for an engaging and entertaining performance.
The next wasteLAnd concert will be on February 10, 2018 at Art ShareLA and will feature new works by Ulrich Krieger and Sarah Belle Reid.
Tonight! Come one and all to Mor York Gallery at 8 for the next installment of Dog Star 12, Autoduplicity, a project of flutist Rachel Beetz and cellist Jennifer Bewerse. Amid their preparations (and moving New Classic LA headquarters to a new house – hence the down to the wire interview), Jennifer and Rachel had time to talk about their project.
How did this band get started? Was it a mutual interest in the works you explore, or did one of you invite the other?
Jennifer: Rachel and I had had the chance to play Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Crumb’s Vox Balaenae together, and I felt like we had great performance chemistry and similar working habits.
Rachel: Jen was interested in exploring performance without the cello and she invited me to join her.
Jennifer: We were both really interested in what would happen in that context. As an instrumentalist, you often identify yourself so strongly with your instrument. What would happen when we didn’t have that?
Rachel: Together, we negotiated a program for this exploration that was neither fully myself (long, dark, tiring) or Jen (bright, light, short). Working on the program together was so rewarding for both of us that the project stuck.
Jennifer: Right, we actually started very much as NOT a band – the title of the duo was the title of our first concert. But the collaboration makes a lot of sense for both of our artistic interests and has grown to include other concert projects.
The first time I saw you you put on a phenomenal performance with almost no playing of your instruments in the traditional sense. As “musicians,” how does your performance training translate into these works for your bodies/you as humans. Seems like acting and stagecraft would be big for you.
Rachel: A lot of people brought up terminology relating to theater when we were presenting our first concert. It was interesting, because we weren’t thinking about the program in those terms at all. A lot of people thought that because we no longer had instruments in our hands, it meant that we were using other types of tools of the stage, mostly involving theater, acting, and such. However, this was not the case AT ALL.
Jennifer: Our mode of working so far has been to look at very targeted questions or materials then explore them in our concerts. So, this concert was very specifically about our interest in a negative space – music without our instruments. The rest really emerged from that spot – issues of feminism, identity, physical relationships…
Rachel: All of the musical decisions for that first performance were made as if our bodies replaced the external instrument. In a way, we translated the practice of performing on an instrument to our bodies, employing the same modes of questioning and thought as an instrumentalist would.
Jennifer: Honestly, these terms were really tricky for us. When does a score (music) become a script (theater)? In some ways the differences between our performing Samuel Beckett’s Footfalls and Vinko Globokar’s ?Corporel are a matter of the composer/author’s preferred notation. But we’re also not interested in “tearing down the boundaries between the arts” or anything like that. This concert was very much in a grey area and that’s an interesting space to inhabit.
Does this week’s concert follow that exploration (body/music), or is it a new direction for you?
Rachel: This concert was one I was really interested in – combining Peter Ablinger’s Instrumente und Rauschen with music by Machaut. In a way, it’s a very simple juxtaposition, but as we dug into the music – moving from single tones, the “everything always” of white noise – we found beautiful paradoxes between the ideas of “simple” or “complex.” At its core, the concert is really about audibility.
Jennifer: So in relation to body/music, the answer is no and yes. No, because this is a very sonic concert – we play our instruments and all of the pieces explore sound. But also yes, because we’ve constructed the concert in a way that ended up shaping sound into a very tangible, physical, object. The sonic extremes – soft/loud, high/low, simple/complex – create a field of listening that situates the body in space.
What excites you about this material?
Rachel: The sound as object in connection to the body’s reaction to it as such is what excites me in this program.
Jennifer: I’m also really excited about the focus of the concert. We’ve worked really hard to construct a continuous listening experience where the pieces can come together and make a larger narrative. It feels like the performer’s version of composing, and it’s very satisfying.
What are your favorite ensembles/series/composers/whatever else in town to go see and hear?
Jennifer: Dog Star Orchestra! This concert is part of the Dog Star Orchestra Volume 12 Festival that’s happening between June 4th – 18th.
Rachel: The concerts are excellent and it’s a great way to see what’s happening in the experimental community around Los Angeles. You can see all of the concerts at www.dogstarorchestra.com.