This Tuesday, Tuesdays @ Monk Space presents an eclectic evening of new choral and brass music featuring a double bill with the Trio Kobayashi (Allen Fogle, Matt Barbier, and Luke Storm) and C3LA (Contemporary Choral Collective of Los Angeles). Cristina Lord, T@MS’ Social Media and Outreach Director, interviewed both ensembles ahead of the concert. This originally appeared on the T@MS site, and is reprinted here with permission.
T@MS Interviews C3LA
The Contemporary Choral Collective of Los Angeles has no single director, and is instead collectively run by its members (all of which are talented new music singers, many composers themselves). What unique insights, opportunities, and/or challenges has this approach led to for the ensemble?
One of our main challenges has been scheduling. We are all busy students and/or professionals, so finding times when we can all meet to rehearse, perform, or discuss administrational business is often difficult. Finding a consensus takes time, which is of course not an issue in a traditional ensemble with a single director who makes all the decisions.
Since the conductors vary piece to piece and come from the group as well, adapting to varied conducting and rehearsing styles keeps things fresh. Composers do not conduct their own pieces, which encourages collective music making and an openness to various artistic interpretations and aesthetics. Everyone brings their own unique and formidable skill sets to our concerts, from the planning stages to the actual performances.
The program at Monk Space on December 20th includes ten diverse pieces written by composers within the last 25 years. How do you go about programming new works together? For example, can you speak a little about how the pieces on this program relate to one another?
In our concerts, our primary concern as a group is to program interesting, well crafted pieces. Thematic continuity seems secondary, but its consideration can often help shape a program and assist us in deciding which pieces will be on a given concert, and in what order. Stylistic variation is also important to us. “Passing Flight” has various interpretations; there are pieces that deal with literal flight, ephemeral moments in nature, and philosophic contemplations.
What about performing new music do you find most rewarding?
I can only speak for myself, but as a composer it is always satisfying and exciting to have one’s own music performed. As a singer, it is wonderfully challenging and stimulating to encompass such stylistic breadth within a single concert, as well as to tackle the various technical hurdles each piece presents. Our goal as an ensemble and as individuals is to show people how vital, inventive, and intellectually and emotionally gratifying music written in the last quarter century is. Introducing and being introduced to wonderful new repertoire and composers is incredibly rewarding.
T@MS Interviews Trio Kobayashi
Plainsound Brass Trio (2008) was written for your ensemble by the German composer Wolfgang von Schweinitz. It involves 18 microtonal variations, and explores the trombone’s trigger valve action at various tuned slide positions. What has been your experience learning and performing this piece?
This piece was the impetus for the creation of Trio Kobayashi and has been a major part of our repertoire for more than eight years. Wolfgang, Matt Barbier, and I all arrived at CalArts in the fall of 2007—Wolfgang as the James Tenney Chair of Composition and Matt and I as graduate students. Conversations about just intonation and brass technique planted the seeds of this collaboration. The first performance took place after nearly a year of rehearsals and meetings with Wolfgang, an intensive process of learning a new notation system and unfamiliar intervals. The Plainsound Brass Trio continues to be one of the most challenging yet rewarding pieces we have ever faced and occupies a special place in our repertoire.
Your trio specializes in just intonation for brass. What about just intonation (or microtonal music in general) is most interesting to you, and what do you see for the future of microtonal music?
Microtonality is often thought of as a means of creating extra dissonance, exoticism, or just a general sense of ‘weirdness.’ In just intonation, all intervals come from the harmonic series, the theoretical collection of pitches that comprise musical timbre. Among these intervals are familiar consonances, unexpectedly sonorous dissonances, and shadings of microtonality.
Non-tempered tuning has been a fascination of composers since the earliest writings of music theory. The broad acceptance of a single tuning system—as we have today with equal temperament—is really an exception in musical history, which has seen a nearly constant debate over various systems and practices. What the future of microtonal music holds is anyone’s guess. It will be limited only by the imagination and skill of composers and performers.
Besides microtonal works, you’ve also performed vocal music arranged for brass, and will be sharing the concert with vocalists at the upcoming performance at Monk Space. From your perspective, what similarities do you find between brass and voice?
Brass players and singers share the distinction of being the only musicians to produce sound with their own bodies and early brass instruments were often used to accompany singers and to strengthen the choir. We are thrilled to share this program with C3LA, as this pairing reflects the natural affinity between these two families.
Iannis Xenakis wrote three pieces involving Game Theory, a branch of probability theory, including Linaia-Agon (1972), which you will be performing at Monk Space as well. The piece also involves free choice as a central component. What unique challenges did this piece pose? Can you talk a bit about the process of learning and performing it?
Linaia-Agon is a depiction of a mythological battle between Linus, the famed musician, represented by the trombone, and Apollo, the god of music, represented by the horn and tuba. In this piece, we are asked to make in-the-moment decisions that shape the overall form of the piece, affect individual musical events, and determine who is the victor of the ‘combats.’ This seat-of-your-pants approach lends an intense energy to every performance, each of which is different from the last.
Art Share LA in the heart of downtown Los Angeles was the site on Friday May 15, 2015 of Tactile Sound, a concert of new music featuring the wasteLAnd musicians, Trio Kobayashi and other assorted soloists and guests. A good size crowd filled the roomy spaces of the comfortable Art Share venue.
The first piece on the program was The Flypaper by Steven Kazuo Takasugi. The stage was populated by Elise Roy, flute, and Stephanie Aston, listed as a soprano, but who appeared holding a flute. Microphones were positioned very near the flutes and speakers were placed in front and behind the audience. A single recorded voice was heard coming from the speakers, and this consisted of stretches of disjointed speech in what sounded like a man speaking in German. The flutes were heard initially as rushing air, with no tones produced and the recorded voice faded away, seeming to recede to the back of the room. The valves of the flutes were heard opening and closing, still without any tone being produced – a technique that continued throughout the piece. This sound was amplified and the effect was similar to hearing the dripping of water in a leaky basement. The use of the flute as an amplified percussive instrument was unexpected, challenging the listener’s expectation – but this was exactly on target with the Tactile Sound theme. The voice returned, in English this time, as the clicks and pops increased there was an undercurrent of mysterious discomfort that stopped just short of threatening, providing the connection to title of the piece. The Flypaper is a remarkable combination of electronics and conventional instruments used in unconventional ways. Steven Kazuo Takasugi was in attendance and received a warm round of applause.
Invisibility by Liza Lim followed and this was a solo cello piece performed by Ashley Walters. For this piece Ms. Walters used a bow with the hair strands wrapped rope-like around the bow stick. This produced a lovely combination of warm cello sounds and sustained, yet scratchy tones that were often rough but never crude. The overall effect was one of complexity, a mix of the alien and the familiar and clearly ‘tactile’. There was a vague sense of anxiety running through the piece and this was heightened with the unorthodox bow. It sometimes seemed that more than one instrument was in the room; the playing always sounded assured and under control. Midway through Ms. Walters picked up a conventional bow and the sounds became noticeably smoother with more individual notes. This section contained perhaps a bit more dynamic range – very light at times, and much stronger at others, especially in the lower registers. There were some smooth and harmonious stretches here that provided a good contrast to the opening sections. Towards the end of the piece both bows were used – one in each hand – to produce an intriguing mix of sounds that was at once both rough and soothing. Any remaining doubts about the virtuosity of Ms. Walters were dispelled by the enthusiastic applause that followed. Invisibility, like The Flypaper before it, is a piece that challenges the expectations of the listener in new and unusual ways.
The world premiere of eiszeiten by Richard Barrett was next, and this featured the playing of Trio Kobayashi – horn, trombone and tuba. The piece began with the sound of air rushing through the horns and tongued so as to create a kind of pinging sound. This was picked up and amplified through the speakers and the effect was like hearing the cold wind blowing. These sounds eventually morphed into tones from each horn, forming sustained chords that were somewhat high in pitch and dissonant at times, producing an otherworldly feel. The harmonies here were indefinably unorthodox – reminiscent of train horns that are close in pitch, and not quite forming a conventional interval. Powerful tutti chords were heard and these became more traditional in character as they gained in strength. The electronics emitted a deep bass drone and the players joined at approximately the same pitch with some zero-beating becoming audible at times. The brass then began to play passages of moving notes and this brought a sense of movement to the texture. The electronics replied with a loud dissonant chord – in full 1950s Sci-Fi mode – and the brass added a syncopated line that enhanced the alien feel of this section. The electronic sounds suddenly ceased and the brass trio played the piece to a close. Eiszeiten, which translates to Ice Ages, certainly evokes a cold, alien landscape and the integration of the electronics with the playing of Trio Kobayashi was precise and effective.
CYMBALMUSIC II: Centerflow/Trails II by Eleanor Hovda followed, performed by Justin DeHart. This is the second piece of a five piece set, and was inspired by the rigors of cross country skiing as experienced by the composer. The graphical score, in fact, includes a series of marks and squiggles that resemble ski tracks. For this performance two cymbals were mounted on a single pedestal. The audience was asked to hum or sing a sustained tone as heard from the cymbals as they were bowed by DeHart. The sound produced by the bowing was generally high in pitch but full of overtones and this nicely suggested a cold, sunny day in a white landscape, with a stinging headwind blowing. The vertical motion of the bowing across the edge of the cymbals was itself was reminiscent of ski poles pumping up and down as the skier moved through a frozen landscape. The humming from the audience was mostly tentative, but added a smooth timbre and seemed to amplify the sounds coming from the cymbals. As the piece progressed the tempo slowed and the sound felt more labored, as if the skier was becoming fatigued. Towards the end the volume also decreased until there was just a low humming heard from the audience as the piece concluded. CYMBALMUSIC II: Centerflow/Trails II is an artful work that produces the maximum effect from minimal musical forces yet delivers a vivid imagery to the mind of the listener.
After the intermission, Trio Kobayashi returned to play Tones and Noise II by Dustin Donahue. This began with a low roaring from the stage speakers, sounding very much like a rocket exhaust at close range. The horns joined in, playing syncopated notes that provided an interesting contrast to the noise texture. The roaring became intermittent and the brass passages more animated as if we were in the presence of a large beast or mechanism. The roaring noise was renewed and perceived as coming from different directions through the speakers on both sides of the audience. The brass parts became louder and longer, as if combining with and matching the roar. The feeling was that of being inside a rocket in space, hearing the blast of the engines and the sounds of mechanical automata as portrayed by the brass. Tones and Noise II is an intriguing piece that manages to work effectively on the imagination by using amplified noise and simple brass figures.
The final piece of the concert was the world premiere of Saxony by James Tenney in a version for brass quintet. James Tenney, an influential West Coast composer and educator, died in 2006, but this piece from among his unperformed works was selected for premiere at this concert. Trio Kobayashi was joined by two trumpet players – Jonah Levy and Aaron Smith – to complete the ensemble. Saxony opened with a low, sustained tone in the tuba, matched by the electronics coming through the speakers. At length the trombone entered, doubling the tuba and noticeably changing the timbre of the chord. The trombone moved up what sounded like a third and the horn entered changing the timbre yet again. All the tones were sustained and this anchoring of the sound by the low brass seemed almost Wagnarian – certainly German – and in keeping with title. The piece proceeded in this way, the trumpets adding their parts, piling pitches on top of pitches within the chord, all combining to create a powerful sound. The intonation here was critical and the ensemble held together admirably. When all the players were engaged, a series of trills in each horn added pleasing new colors and shortly after, each horn began to play a series of short phrases that added an agreeable variety to the texture. The piece then reversed – the tones tapering downward and the trumpets going tacet. The sound became lower and more cohesive, producing some lovely chords. When only the trombone, tuba and electronics remained, the sound became lush and warm. The piece concluded by slow diminuendo with the remaining horns laying out until only the tuba held the bottom note. When the sound finally ceased the audience remained silent for a good 15 seconds, a tribute perhaps more notable than the enthusiastic applause which followed. Saxony is masterful work that extracts considerable emotional impact from its minimal structure and pitch palette.
Trio Kobayashi is:
Alan Fogle – Horn
Matt Barbier – Trombone
Luke Storm – Tuba