Hi there dear reader,

This is Meg’s New Music Blog, a place where for four years I chronicled the goings on of the New York City new music scene. I went to shows, listened to CDs, and met a lot of great people. I’m unabashedly very proud of this little snapshot of a music scene’s moment in time. Many of the artists and groups featured here have moved on to other things—many have moved out of the city—but this blog remains as a testament to the fact that “we were here.” Enjoy yourself browsing through my tag cloud and, where possible, check out the music that’s featured here, you won’t regret it.

With much love,


P.S. to see/hear what music I’m currently listening to you can always hit up my Tumblr

This is my write-up of the research I did at the Paul Sacher Stiftung back in ’08. It’s been twice rejected by academic publications and at this point I’m too lazy to submit it to anyone else. Posting it here on the very off chance someone finds it useful. Enjoy!

Wilhoite_Feldman FJC

Tracks 1 through 4 performed by Megumi Shibata, track 5 performed by Jenny Q. Chai 

Here is some cool piano music for you to listen to: Five Easy Pieces by composer Michael Vincent Waller, written in 2012 and 2013.  The individual pieces each have their own distinct character, while their shared ethereality links them together nicely as a whole for the album. There are shades of Impressionism and minimalism, and thereby of gamelan music; “Ninna Nanna” in particular exhibits the cyclical, surreal merry-go-round vibe of gamelan.

“Per Terry e Morty II” makes skillful use of the Phrygian dominant scale. I know I’m always harping on about Morton Feldman on this blog, but there is definitely a link between his and Waller’s music, in the sense that it uses small, slowly-morphing patterns to sort of suspend the sense of time moving forward. The performances by Shibata and Chai are sensitive and compelling, and the production of the album does justice to the delicate sound decay of the sustain pedal.   

Be sure to check out the album on Bandcamp or iTunes.

(Bridge 9420)

I was recently the lucky winner of a Morton Feldman-related Twitter quiz given by Merkin Concert Hall, which has made me the proud owner of Aleck Karis’ 2013 Bridge Records release, Aleck Karis: Weber, Wolpe & Feldman. File this under unexpected-perk-of-being-a-Feldman-scholar.

As is evident by his pithy CD liner notes, Karis understands the inner workings of these pieces, and this knowledge clearly informs his performance here. Careful attention is given in each piece to texture and contour, arguably the most salient features of this style of music.

The quality of the recording strikes a nice middle-ground between dry and reverberant, a notable achievement considering the overall quiet dynamics of the pieces, and the use of the sostenuto pedal; the decay is fast enough for each delicate note to be heard clearly, without the piano sounding dry as a bone.

Form (1959) by Stefan Wolpe. Like the Webern later in the recording, Form is, as Karis puts it in his notes, “tightly constructed,” a twelve-tone piece that takes pleasure in the refulgence of the piano.

Piano (1977) by Morton Feldman. His first piece for solo piano since embarking on his late style, which first began manifesting itself in the early 70s, Feldman uses a little chordal variation device in Piano that I particularly enjoy, called “crossover revoicing” by Paul Kopstick Ames. A simple example: in the right hand is the chord F#4-A4 and G5, and directly following it is the chord G4 and F#5-A5—same notes, but their registral placement has been swapped.

Form IV: Broken Sequences (1969) by Stefan Wolpe. Karis draws the connection between Wolpe and the jazz scene of his time, and this piece really does sound like bebop, giving the appearance of chaos while still within the walls of predetermined musical constructs.

Variations, op. 27 (1936) by Anton Webern. As Karis points out, Webern’s influence reached both Wolpe (Webern’s student) and Feldman (Wolpe’s student). What I’ve always appreciated about Webern’s music is how laconic it is, using a concise amount of material to express something larger than itself. I hear this particularly in Feldman’s music, the use of concise material spread over long spans of time (both of the Feldman pieces on this recording are over 20 minutes long), which leads me to—

Palais de Mari (1986) by Morton Feldman. Palais for me is a beautiful example of Feldman’s late style, in that it defies a close listening, lulling the listener into a sort of trance. It’s the magic of pieces like this and the second String Quartet that Feldman somehow suspends the forward motion of time, leaving you with a sense of pure aural pattern; it’s almost a negation of teleology, defying the idea of a Designer (though we know from Feldman’s sketches that he was a meticulous Designer). Karis does a lovely job playing the piece skillfully and unobtrusively, being faithful to the music both in its technical execution and its intended effect.

Many thanks to Karis, Bridge Records, and Merkin.

Back in July 2011, at Exapno New Music Community Center, I interviewed composers Matthew Hough and Kate Soper about their music. We listened to clips and projected the scores so that the audience could follow along. The afternoon began with Matthew’s “You should all be shot! [2]”, written in 2011 for alto flute and alto saxophone, the latter of which replaces the spoken word of the original 2009 version. In this piece, the performers interpret texts written by Matthew; the recording features Nicole Camacho on alto flute and Matthew on alto sax:

MW: Can you describe what you and Nicole are doing in this recording?

MH: I lived in this area [of Manhattan] for a long time and when I left I wrote these little stories, almost like a diary, these things that happened to me which were sort of horrific and funny at the same time. When I wrote the piece the original conception was Nicole, who’s the flute player and a friend of mine–I basically read aloud these stories and she played along; she had a part, but she was doing a lot of improvisation based on the material that I gave her. However, I was doing this concert [recently] and I was concerned–the stories have a lot of cursing in them, and really nasty stuff happens–so because there were young kids coming to this concert, I thought “how could I censor it and still do the piece,” and I thought maybe I could just play the saxophone and “read” the stories while I’m playing.

MW: Just to clarify, you’re not a saxophonist.

MH: Yeah, I’m not really. I’m sort of channeling, not just the text, but the way I feel when I’m reading the stories, because for a while it was hard for me to even read them without getting really worked up and animated. And then there’s this whole other level to it; I can’t really play [the instrument], but that interests me, the idea of that type of limitation.

Next was Hough’s “Since We Don’t Understand…,” a work from 2007 for piano and guitar, recorded by Eric Wubbels (piano) and Matthew (guitar).

MW: This piece is a lot different from the first piece by you we heard today. What happened for you, artistically speaking, between 2007 and 2011?

MH: Definitely a lot changed during that time. It’s hard for me to talk about without being disparaging of my younger self…I was thinking a lot back then about “can I be a composer?” I wanted what I did to be really good, I wanted people to really like it, and so in this piece I chose notes and harmonies that are pretty pleasant for people to hear. At a certain point I realized I was thinking too much about how I was being perceived and not thinking hard enough about why I’m doing what I’m doing and what composition means for me.

The second half of the afternoon began with a video clip of Kate’s emotionally charged “Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say,” written in 2011, with lover’s-quarrel text by Lydia Davis, record by Kate (soprano) and Erin Lesser (flutes).

MW: This is definitely a virtuosic work, for both instruments. What was your inspiration for writing such a gymnastic vocal line?

KS: I’ve been a singer/songwriter for a long time and once I joined the ensemble Wet Ink in 2006 I started singing more new music. I’m really interested in finding ways to push myself vocally and see what I’m capable of. I tend to write very difficult material for instruments; I wanted to write this piece for Erin Lesser, who’s the flutist in our ensemble, and I wanted to do something where I felt like I was challenging myself to the level that I challenge my colleagues. I just wanted to kick it out there and see: what’s the highest note that can come out of my mouth, and the lowest one, and what kind of freaky sounds can I make with my voice.

Next was Kate’s “Prelude: May Kasahara” from her cycle Voices from the Killing Jar, written in 2010-2011 and recorded by Kate and the Wet Ink Ensemble. Kate’s program note for this movement reads: “In ‘Prelude: May Kasahara,’ the titular sixteen year-old of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle speculates on the true nature of the force underlying all human existence. In increasingly agitated fragments, she describes the essential malevolence of this force and admits its influence on her to commit acts of violence and cruelty.”

MW: How did you go about writing the words for this piece?

KS: For me, both singing and writing texts were something that when I was younger I felt prohibited from doing because I assumed I was unqualified, not having a vocal or a writing degree. Also, I’m constantly searching for texts and it’s really difficult to find something like the Lydia Davis where I feel like “yes, this is exactly what I want to work with,” so it finally occurred to me that I could just use the Murakami novel [as a basis] and make my own words. This whole cycle is about allowing myself to craft the narrative in terms of writing the texts and selecting these books and plays that have really meant a lot to me.


This interview originally appeared in the October 2011 ETM newspaper.

Offensive. Incredibly offensive. Just about everything about Anna Nicole’s life as portrayed by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas is offensive. From how her father failed her as a child, to how the father of her child failed both mother and child, to how an opportunistic octogenarian preyed on her fear of once again toeing the poverty line and exploited her desire to be something more than a small-town waitress.

Anna Nicole’s story is offensive, and Turnage and Thomas pay extravagant homage to this. The tragic tale is told primarily by the media: a group of reporters, who expound and comment on the unfolding story, Greek chorus style. A pithy choice, as it is indeed because of the media, that, for better or worse, we know about Anna Nicole’s existence at all.

Something that I found particularly disturbing is how Thomas’ libretto, as we were told Anna Nicole’s back story, had the audience howling at the dirt poor “hicks” of Mexia, Texas, at how excited Anna Nicole was to go to Houston, even at the giant Wal-Mart sign that descended towards the end of Scene 3. But, as she and her fellow coworkers subsequently began to trudge across the stage singing of the woes of low wages, the audience laughter began to die down–being poor and out of options wasn’t funny anymore.

Turnage’s score is all about pure texture cleverly clothed in the intended affect for a given scene. Clusters and non-tonal lines ride around familiar contours (e.g., as the energy rises, so do the notes), and the orchestration communicates a few different genres; Sondheim-esque musical theater, dramatic opera aria, some sort of jazz/rock hybrid.

Sarah Joy Miller shone in the role of Anna Nicole, not only singing the part extremely well, but offering top notch acting. The opera rests on the singer’s ability to acquire your sympathy, and Miller’s performance truly drew you in. I so desperately wanted to stop her from getting that boob job, which, because it led to a pain-killer addiction, effectively ended her life.

Anna Nicole’s life is of course perfect opera fodder, the tragic story of a doomed woman buffeted about and manipulated by an unfeeling and greedy world. It’s as if, like Rigoletto’s Gilda, Anna Nicole was cursed from the start.

Many, many thanks to my friend Elizabeth Keenan-Penagos for the tickets. This review is of the 25 September 2013 performance.


Below is my 2011 interview with awesome composer Ken Ueno for the Ear to Mind newspaper:

Ken Ueno occupies a peculiar space within the world of contemporary music: An actively performed composer and Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Ueno is a skilled throat singer and fluent in visual programming software such as Open Music and Max/MSP. As a composer, Ueno draws deeply from within his own experience, as in one of his latest compositions, “On a Sufficient Condition for the Existence of Most Specific Hypothesis,” which features Ueno performing in counterpoint with himself via the use of a recording he made at the tender age of 6 years old.

MW: You’ve spoken before about a sound embodying a feeling. Can you talk a little bit about the feelings that different sounds embody for you?

KU: Yes, for me, some sounds have an expressive power in and of themselves. These sounds give me a feeling that I can’t quite put into words or express in any other way.  I believe that is why, despite all the sophisticated developments of communicative modes in diverse cultures, we still have and need music. But since you asked, I will try to give some sense of what I mean. Some of Coltrane’s multiphonics and Hendrix’s feedback are like tidal waves of empathy. They scream something primal and reach in to the core of my body. It’s at once like a deep-tissue Shiatsu, it bruises my body, but heals my soul, for it seems to say something that I’ve known all along, but the rest of the world ignores. I will say what Stravinsky said of Webern: those sounds are like an eternal Pentecost for all who believe in music. See? When I try to say in words what I mean, it takes too long (though not enough!), and it comes out all cheesy. Multiphonics and noise help me express those things without having to apologize for what I feel. The discourse of words demands a different tenor. I want to give space for non-semantic expression. Looking back, I think it’s something I’ve felt my whole life. I have memories from before I could speak. I remember understanding language, but not having the dexterity to speak intelligibly. I remember adults not understanding me. But, when I made non-semantic sounds, they seemed to understand. Later, when I was a toddler, I used to record sounds on my cassette recorder. Just for fun. I also recorded multiphonics and noise-like vocalise I sang too. All of this, I have a hunch, is somehow related.

MW: Similarly, you’ve spoken about the ability of sound to transform one’s body. How do you feel your body reacts to certain sounds?

KU: Learning music, practicing our instruments, we transform our bodies. Here’s text I wrote for a theatre piece for Kim Kashkashian to recite:

On my neck, I have a scar

where my instrument has transformed my body,

carving out a space,

hard work of past loves,

which re-sculpted my body,

earthquakes shifting the landscape.

I think that composing changes the chemistry of my brain. It’s probably transformed how I perceive the world. For me, music mainly exists in memory space. And memory is related to the physiognomy of the brain.

MW: Where do you see yourself within the world of contemporary music? Do you ever think about your music contextually, as it relates to past and present composers?

KU: I think that the contemporary sense of identity is becoming increasingly manifold. I am a Japanese-American. Which actually means that I am both Japanese and American AND neither at the same time. When I think about historical artists, the narrative of their lives are often neatly teleologically linearized by historians. Beethoven and his three periods. How Pollock became Pollock. But when I think about contemporary artists, like Gerhard Richter or Damien Hirst, their works transcend any one stream of style or medium. Their works, and therefore their artistic identity, float much more like internet channels. I feel I fit into that kind of contrapuntal manifold as well: a composer of written works for classical ensembles, a throat-singing vocalist, an electronic musician, and a professor.

As far as how my music fits into the world with other composers, what I try to do is figure out how to just make music that is honest to me. At the same time, I recognize that classical music is a neo-colonizing agent and I have to contend with to what degree I am comfortable being colonized by it (not belonging to the dominant cultures). There is no way to compete or wrestle with Beethoven. He’ll always win that game. But, you know, there’s not many multiphonic-singing composers who know how to use Open Music and Max/MSP to analyze what they are doing vocally to orchestrate those frequencies for orchestra.

Yes, that little patch of sand on that deserted island surrounded by the sea of history and everyone else. That little patch of sand is mine!

MW: As a professor, do you feel there is a separation between the academic and non-academic contemporary music communities?

KU: No. I say no, because I don’t know what “academic” means any more.  It’s so overused by everybody that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I think in the vernacular sense, people like to invoke that word for something they think is intellectually snooty, i.e. something that makes them feel intellectually inadequate. How about we say here what it really should mean? Henceforth let “academic” mean any music that was created by anyone who was ever trained at any conservatory or department of music at the college level. One reason for that word being used so much is probably because academic composers have fetishized the hipness and wide appeal of rock musicians for a while now. But, you know what Babbitt and Radiohead have in common? Esse quam videri. They both are, rather than seeming to be.