May 2013


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Transit presented the final concert of their “new music from around the world” DoubleBill festival on Monday, which featured the incomparable Vicky Chow on solo piano.

NYC

Clifton Gates (2011) by Jacob Cooper. Vicky puts in earbuds, cues up her laptop for live processing, plays from an iPad (instead of paper sheet music). Each chord she plays repeating in a rhythmic echo via the processing. Chords far enough apart to let the echo beat a couple times. A disjointed melody is woven in. Chords occur more closely together as the melody expands, intensifies. She moves gradually higher and higher on the piano, playing louder and louder, the reverberations of the high chords bouncing around the church. Minor mode. Becomes gradually softer until the end.

Hoyt-Schermerhorn (2010) by Christopher Cerrone. Named after the stop on the G train route. The piece is about waiting, the expectation of something to happen, as in waiting forever for the G train to arrive (I can personally attest to the scarcity of that train at that stop). Very still, quiet beginning, chords/dyads played in slow tempo. Four-note melody repeats with different chords underneath. New character as melody goes away and low rich chord pattern repeats and expands while another, higher pattern also repeats independently. High goes away and we’re left with rich low chord pattern. Abrupt loud and high dyad, which repeats in processed echo. Slow diminuendo as the train leaves the station.

Aorta (2010) by Daniel Wohl. Angular melody and its twin an 11th (or farther) apart played simultaneously, major 2nd dyads. Pace quickens exponentially, electronics enter. II. Repeated note in syncopated rhythm. Piano’s sound altered electronically, echoey with percussive effect like pitched wooden block. She takes hands away from piano to reveal the sound is looping. III. Electronic track begins, she plays a pattern in which almost every note is struck twice, wide contour spanning the entire keyboard. Built on melodic 2nds. Playing intensifies, activity increases, ends abruptly.

NETHERLANDS

Wave 3 (2007) by Peter Adriaansz. Electronic track and she play the same low note, she adds octave while reaching inside piano and touches ebows to the strings. Now a fifth added, she plucks a string. Track disperses into multiple barely discernible notes. Octaves and fifths persist creating with track an ever growing cloud of sound. Now a major 3rd added. She continues to touch the ebows to the piano strings. Electronic track producing beating, filling the church with its oscillations, eerily making the sound feel very close. Beating continues and intensifies, just this side of uncomfortably so. All the while she continues the octaves and fifths. Beating gradually attenuates, her playing grows softer.

The Body Is an Ear (2012) by Kate Moore. Vicky performs with pre-recorded track of herself playing the same part as she’s playing live, resulting in big, layered sound. Minor scale, different meters in left and right hands. Lots of motion, minimalistic in its slight permutations of repeated figures. Very dramatic, gradual build, sudden decrease. Watching her playing the multiple meters very exciting. Another increase, loudest yet, pounding away, using full expanse of the keyboard. Another decrease and more metrical difference between the hands. Sudden increase and much more discordant. Extreme decrease, reduces to one repeated note.

Digit #2 (2003) by Mayke Nas. David Friend joins her at the piano. Begins with deceptively simplistic alternation between loud cluster, silence for several seconds, loud cluster again. David and Vicky slamming both of their hands on the keyboard; at one point they hit so hard it makes the sheet music flutter off the stand. The clusters occur at different parts of the keyboard, and the timing in between varies. Speeding up, alternating between low and high end, both striking with their right hands and then with their left hands. They begin clapping in between the clusters, pace is regular, rhythmic now. Also slapping their thighs. Then they begin clapping each other’s hands pat-a-cake style. The rhythms become increasingly complex, amazing to watch the coordination of the clapping and cluster-playing. (A little worried one might accidentally slap the other in the face!). The seemingly simplistic piece has become really engaging. Amazing lightning fast pat-a-cake at the end! Performance ends with our cheers.

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TRANSIT New Music had their first ever DoubleBill three-day festival over the weekend. DoubleBill is an ingenious concert series that has a five-year history of presenting the “latest offerings from composers” from around the world alongside recent works from NYC composers. Here’s my take on Concert 2, Australia/NYC, performed with excellent taste and skill by Sara Budde (clarinet), David Friend (piano), Evelyn Farny (cello), Joe Bergen (percussion), and Andie Springer (violin).

AUSTRALIA

Onliving (2008/2013) by William Gardiner. World premiere of an arrangement of a longer piece.

Opens with piano, a repeating pattern in the right hand, short gestures from the left hand. The sound is gentle, major-ish, resonant. The others instruments join in, and the piece becomes more rhythmically active, louder, the scale more minor-tinged. Nonetheless it is always gentle, an ebb and flow of loudness, always a repeating pattern in the piano. Definitely a touch of minimalism.

Beginning to Collapse (2007) by Julian Day.

Pre-recorded track opens piece. Much different mood than first piece. Sparse, less activity, single notes, strings performing extended, slow downwards glissando. The track fades out, leaving complete silence, then fades back in (this happens several times). Cymbal roll quiet (soft mallets), extended. Crotales, high piano note alternating in quick, regular beat. The piece has a definite awareness of silence, as if both track and instruments trying not to obliterate it too much.

Kokain, Champagner und Beruhigungsmittel [Cocaine, Champagne and Sedative] (2013) by Tim Hansen. World premiere.

Short, quick gestures punctuate sustained notes; gestures’ character is playful, lusty. Piece is rhythmically complex, the group moving their bodies as a result of the effort to stay synced in the meter. Lots of bombast, especially from piano, and some kit playing. The clarinet and cello play stratospheric melody in unison, humorous ending as entire group plays last two, quick notes in unison, eliciting laughter from audience.

NYC

|D@L!/\/\P$3S7 ζf(f(2)) (2011) by Pat Muchmore.

I. High notes, dramatic crescendo into fast-paced rhythmic activity, a genteel tonal section punctuated by a cluster in the piano. A chill clarinet solo, abruptly interrupted by vibraphone. Moments when all are playing the same note, which then scatters out into thicker texture. A violent outburst, and then back to calm.  II. Shrill high note from the whole group, oscillating widely in vibraphone. A drastic drop to calm, eerie vibes solo. Strings abruptly switch to rhythmic sawing. Piece lives in the extremes.

Ulrikke (2008) by Matthew Welch for cello and percussion.

Gong-strike, light skittering on the cello. Vibraphone, wide vibrato. Cello plays a light melody in double stops. Vibe plays intermittent polychords. Cello plays melody reminiscent of Matthew’s opera  Borges and the Other. Vibes plays repeating upwards moving dreamy scale. More fully round sound than heretofore in the piece. Vibes now playing downward scale. Cello short-long melody with chords in vibes. Cello melody, quick-paced interlocking accompaniment from vibes. Folk and dreamscape hues.

What I’m Trying to Say Is… (2009) by Angélica Negrón.

Joe holds a red plastic toy to the microphone that says letters of the alphabet in a robotic voice, “i” and “u” (and “a” as a joke during the tuning). Bowing vibes. Ensemble playing light but active. Clarinetist speaking through mini megaphone, Joe popping bubble wrap into mic, the toy robot-voice again. Now David using megaphone, then violinist. Cool unison melody with cello and piano. Layering lines that don’t line up rhythmically, until they do. Piece has a fresh, light sound even with its heavier moments.

What I loved about this performance was that I was unable to make any sweeping generalizations (heaven forbid) about the two halves of the concert. The music really did run a gamut of styles and techniques, and I guess that is the beauty of the global “new music” scene,  that there is no overriding style; you’re always tuning your ears to new sounds.

It’s interesting, this idea of the composer performing alone onstage, simultaneously with her or his past self, whether immediate (via live looping) or more distant (via recorded track). This was the unifying feature of Instrument Unbound at 92Y Tribeca, which featured sets by composers Jennifer Stock (also the curator of the concert), Florent Ghys, Angélica Negrón, and Lesley Flanigan. It was composers unbound from the constraints of time, but also unbound from the often unwieldy act of performing with other people, a sort of streamlining of the creative process.

Jennifer Stock’s set was divided into five parts; in each, the electronic track enveloped her piano playing, often beginning and ending sections while she sat like us in the audience, listening. The music had major and minor scale hues, and was also open sounding (more sixths than thirds, e.g.). There were times of metrical activity, and times when the rhythmic element manifested itself more loosely. The energy of the music and the accompanying video was a notch above ambient, creating a subtle mood that nonetheless drew you in.

Florent Ghys’ set featured live looping of both his double bass playing and the video captured by the laptop sitting next to him. He achieved parts of this by using the iPad that was affixed to the front of his bass. There was a playful aspect to his set, the ebullient bass gestures repeating at a catchy beat, the videos of himself splitting in time with the music into four frames that spun and shrunk away into a white screen. After his set, the barefoot Ghys asked the audience to approach him with any feedback, as he was still experimenting with the technology.

As a matter of necessity, Angélica Negrón writes on her site that lately she has been thrust into the role of composer/performer; performing her music live by herself has become a “rite of passage” that her new songs must go through before she arranges them for others. A collector of toy instruments, her live performance featured a gentle layering of ethereal sound, her whispery singing floating in and out of the texture.

Lesley Flanigan is in many ways the perfect example of the solo composer/performer, building her own instruments and relying only on a PA system and microphone to broadcast her music to the audience. Flanigan creates her sounds by holding the microphone near her handmade speakers to achieve varying levels of feedback, which are then looped to create rich textures of sound. She also vocalizes into the microphone, the overall effect that of a dissipating intimacy.

Instrument Unbound told a compelling story of the writers of music, one in which both their process and sentiments were openly displayed on the stage. The audience saw, at least partially, the compositional process in action, and heard the composer’s voice directly, unaltered.