Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Back in 2016!

In 2015, Auscultations took a back burner to my own musical projects. In 2016, it will awaken with more reviews, rants, and some new projects. Please stay tuned!

In the meantime, please enjoy X-Ray Glass, a collage/plunderphonics/mashup of (mostly) punk rock materials treated with classical minimalist techniques.

Monday, June 15, 2015

REVIEW: LBO's Hydrogen Jukebox

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
On Sunday, June 7, I got to see Long Beach Opera's production of Hydrogen Jukebox. One of the most interesting parts of LBO productions is their exploration of new performance spaces. Hydrogen Jukebox is their second production at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, the first being Ernest Bloch's Macbeth. While Macbeth took place in the World Cruise Center, Hydrogen Jukebox was produced in a giant warehouse that is part of Crafted. As the production got underway, the golden light of the sunset over the sea seeped gently through and between the cloths covering the giant doors and windows, creating a sort of industrial pastoral vibe.

Interacting with new spaces creates a world of unforeseen challenges and discoveries, and there seemed to be quite a few of both for director David Schweizer. The layout of the audience reduced the perceived stage area so that the size of the vast warehouse didn't overpower the performers. Scenic designer Caleb Wertenbaker's set pieces consisted of mostly-unadorned warehouse paraphernalia, like ladders and platforms, wheeling on and off stage on casters. This created a moving/spinning parade of objects that seemed to thoroughly explore the vertical space of the stage. Dan Weingarten's lighting design seemed busy at first, but when you consider how much space needed to be transformed with such minimalist stage design, it did a great job of making each song exist in it's own head space.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
I am big fan of both Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass, so there were high hopes for their collaboration. I was already familiar with many of Ginsberg's poems that became part of Hydrogen Jukebox. Partially inspired by Howl, I even incorporated the character of Moloch into my own Collapse

Though I almost always enjoy Glass' instrumental music, his vocal music after the initial operatic trilogy is still a quagmire to me. The sporadic beauty of his operatic output in the last 30 or so years belies its stagnant consistency. In Hydrogen Jukebox, the most stunning moments feature either vocalise or spoken text. The most frustrating parts attempt to reduce the organic flow of Ginsberg's poetics into neat couplets. The resulting flourishes of multi-syllabic anti-melisma stuffed into unwavering periodicity reduces the florid libretto to a phonemic and rhythmic obstacle course for the singers to run.

But, there were some really powerful musical moments as well, like Michael Shamus Wiles' recital of Wichita Vortex Sutra, the vocalise in Nagasaki Days, or the plaintive choral ensemble singing in Father Death Blues. I've listened to Ginsberg's original version of Father Death Blues quite a few times, and appreciated the New England church vibe that Glass' arrangement gave it. As Morton Feldman said, "OK, give them a moment of beauty - how much more do you need?"

Hydrogen Jukebox finishes LBO's 2015 season, but they'll be back in 2016 with works by Tobin Stokes, Francis Poulence, and Jacob TV. You can find more info on the Long Beach Opera website.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Stage Banter

Here are some albums and collections of stage banter by famous musicians.

Almost all of the fatty musical excess has been edited out, leaving only the raw and true cult of personality.

I'm sure there are plenty of others out there, so please share if you know of one!

Having Fun With Elvis On Stage

Kiss' Paul Stanley

Having Fun With Fugazi On Stage

Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard's Relaxation of the Asshole

Venom's Cronos

Friday, May 1, 2015

PIE's The Magnetic Resonator Piano 4/19/15

On April 19, I went to the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena to see People Inside Electronics' presentation of Andrew McPherson's Magnetic Resonator Piano.

Like all great ideas, the MRP is the sort of thing that seems both far-fetched and so obvious that it is a surprise it doesn't already exist. It would be reductive to call the MRP merely the ultimate e-bow, though it works on a far more advanced version of the same concept. Strings can sustain endlessly through electromagnetic induction, but it can also bend pitches and alter the timbre of the sustained pitch by highlighting various partials. The resulting sounds are surprisingly similar to the CMC-ish timbres that riddle the history of electronic music, and I suspect that comes from a similar ADSR approach to sound. The retro-futurism that the MRP lends to the familiar sounds of the grand piano gives it a surreal flair. That it does so acoustically hints at exciting possibilities.

The concert featured a hockey line of fantastic pianists, including Genevieve LeeNic GerpeSteven VanhauwaertRichard Valitutto, and Aron Kallay. To my ears, all the pianists sounded great at the helm of the augmented piano, especially considering that they probably didn't have a lot of hands-on time with the MRP. The first half of the concert featured works written previously for the instrument by east coast composers. It was opened by McPherson's own Secrets of Antikythera, which was a nice and gentle brain palate cleanser to start the concert off. The second movement of Daniel Shapiro's Kirchengesang had a delightful sheen of processing that reminded me of a tonal, pastoral echo of Stockhausen's Mantra. Daniel Fox's Intermezzo remained astutely pianistic, and Tony Solitro's Spectra of Morning had some moments that reminded me of an Aeolian harp.

The second half of the concert featured works by local LA composers commissioned for this concert. Of these pieces, Elise Roy's Sonatine seemed to integrate the device the best. Pianist Richard Valitutto performed the piece, extending the ADSR approach to included vocal sounds and soloistic explorations of the string's partials. Julia Adophe's Magnetic Etudes was a great way to start the second half, and Jeremy Cavaterra's Gegenshein had some nice moments using the sustain of the MRP. Alexander Elliot Miller's 88MPH ended the concert with a playful fantasy on the theme to Back to the Future.

Contemporary western music has something of a love/hate relationship with the piano and all it symbolizes. The MRP is a productive contribution to that conversation, and it is probably best that device was gently introduced rather than prominently featured. Much of the music heard on Saturday only scratched the surface of the MRP's capabilities, and I found myself wondering how each piece would sound were the MRP not present. Really, most of the music would have sounded roughly the same. Each piece had a few key moments that integrated the device into the music, but the majority of it would have fit into a perfectly pleasant late 20th century piano recital (or sometimes a Vangelis concert). They weren't roaming freely in the greener pastures of a timbrally expanded piano, but rather building a solid bridge to get there.

Tonight, May 1, People Inside Electronics teams up with the Hear Now Music Festival to present electroacoustic works by local LA composers. I won't be able to make it, but it sounds like a great concert!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

REVIEW: Richard Valitutto - NAKHT at REDCAT, 11/11

On November 11, Richard Valitutto opened Pianospheres' Satellite series with a performance at REDCAT. The turnout must have been better than REDCAT expected, as there weren't enough programs to go around by the time I got into the theater. No matter, as the pieces on the program were so distinct from each other that a cursory look at the composers' names would make it immediately clear which one was being played.

The first piece was so quintessentially 20's Parisian that that must have been the Poulenc (a notion that the program notes confirmed, it turned out). Valitutto moved through the gauzy sheen of these pieces effortlessly, like a fish in water.

The second piece, titled as above, so below, was composed by Valitutto. It began with natural harmonics played on individual strings of the pianos lowest octave. After a while, these notes were ornamented by phrases in the surrounding octave of the resulting partial. It was a nice, meditative piece inspired by the annual moon charts of Valitutto's birthday month. I enjoyed the use of natural harmonics in the piano, and I imagine that the best listening position for this piece would been right next to the piano, where the resulting beating between the natural harmonics and the equal temperament notes would be nice and strong.

Someone I spoke to after the concert found Sciarrino's Due Notturni Crudeli's surface-level lack of subtlety a bit offensive, though not I. During the first piece, I imagined a cognitive dissonance between the damperless top octave of the piano and the jealous lower notes that were subjugated by felt. For the keyboard spanning second nocturne, the bottom octave joined the top in its dialectical argument with the middle ranges. Valitutto sounded great hammering away at these cruel nocturnes, though I wondered if the acoustics of the theater weren't working against him.

After intermission came Messiaen's La chouette hulotte, from his Catalogue d'oiseaux. While I would describe many of Messiaen's harmonies as wonderfully complex, there are only a few pieces I would categorize as dark. A sonic portrait of a Tawny owl, this movement is of those few. Valitutto's playing seems rather well suited for Messiaen, whose musical gestures run the gamut from hammers to feathers.

Skryabin's Poeme-Nocturne, Op. 61 returned to a delicate twilight, though far from flowery. After the Sciarrino and Messiaen, this piece's place in the program was to remind us of the post-tonal prettiness that the piano is also capable of before the Giallo shadows of Deyoe's NCTRN.

Nick Deyoe's NCTRN was a dark reflection of the concert that preceded it. The top few notes of the piano was muted, creating an unpitched percussive sound that imitated the Sciarrino. The sostenuto and sustain pedals were tastefully used as triggers to highlight surprising moments of lack of sustain and resonance. Clusters disintegrated into smaller chords, and each gesture revealed a uniquely harsh novelty. The piece culminated in what I think of as a Oiseaux Exotique ending, where one repeats a single chord ad nauseum until the only thing left to do is stop.

This concert was the second Pianospheres performance of the season. I appreciated the clear programmatic focus of Vicki Ray's concert, and Valitutto's followed that trend. The next Pianospheres event is another Satellite concert, featuring Aron Kallay.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Support imminent COLLAPSE album!

Timur and the Dime Museum is making an album of COLLAPSE!

This past spring, I premiered COLLAPSE with Timur and the Dime Museum at REDCAT, and it traveled to Miami Light Project and Operadagen Rotterdam. Developed by Beth Morrison Projects, one of the leading U.S. producers of contemporary music works, COLLAPSE is a piece that I wrote as a "post-ecological requiem." Each song is about a different man-made natural disaster, following the traditional form of a requiem.

The live show was transformed into an amazing multimedia experience with costumes and interactive video, and I was really proud of how it turned out. We've gotten a lot of great press, including the LA Times, Miami Herald, Financial Times, LA Weekly, and others. COLLAPSE will continue in 2015 with shows in New York and beyond.

In order to fully realize this piece, we are creating an album of COLLAPSE! We're trying to do it right, which involves more of a budget than our previous recording projects. From start to finish, the process will cost us over $13,500. For independent artists like us, this is something of a challenge. So, we're turning to our friends and supporters to help fund this project! The future of COLLAPSE is in your hands. All money raised will be used to create an amazing recording of COLLAPSE, helping spread awareness of the important environmental issues addressed in the piece.

All donations to COLLAPSE are tax-deductible, and we have lots of perks and rewards. Payments can be made via credit card, paypal, or check.

Our deadline for raising this amount is December 7! Please check out our fundraising page and consider supporting COLLAPSE:

This is a pivotal moment in scale for me and for TDM, and I'm hoping you will be able to help us transition towards bigger and even more exciting projects.

Check out this great video Timur made in support of our fundraiser!

Monday, November 10, 2014

REVIEW: David Rosenboom's Zones of Influence

On November 1, I went to REDCAT to hear David Rosenboom's Zones of Influence, performed by Rosenboom and percussionist William Winant. I made it in the door right before the lights dimmed, and didn't have time to read the program. The title of the piece itself was actually an apt programmatic guide as we ventured into the music (I read the program afterwards, which was just as insteresting).

The idea of a musical adventure always takes a slightly more literal meaning when the performer has to move across the entire stage to play a piece. Winant had 5 stations across the stage of varied percussion instruments - one station for each movement. Rosenboom had only one station downstage on stage right, but it had a whole array of computer and electronic gear, a MIDI grand piano, and his amplified violin setup and pedals.

Part I: The Winding of a Spring saw Winant at a setup of multiple snare drums. He played a magnificent flurry of rudimentary snare phrases, which triggered simultaneous MIDI notes from Rosenboom's setup. I was initially confounded trying to figure out how the melodic pitch content related to what Winant was playing, but decided that was a complicated answer that may or may not become apparent later.

Winant moved upstage to the marimba for Part II: Closed Attracting Trajectories. At times the marimba notes were presented bare, and other times they triggered electronic processing and sounds. This movement built to an inhuman head as Winant went to full wingspan to play notes at both the top and bottom of the marimba's range, switching from 2 to 4 mallets and back again. I wondered how many of the disparate notated pitches he was hitting, as opposed to the gestural material that he most certainly nailed. Such is the blessing and curse of contemporary harmonic modernism, I suppose. At one point he made a lightning quick switch to xylophone mallets, which startled me with how seamlessly and silently the switch happened.

For Part III: Given the Senses the Real Pregeometry, Winant moved to a set of vibes, gongs, and various hanging resonant metal objects, and Rosenboom took the helm of the MIDI grand piano. This was my favorite movement, sounding like something between an epic electro-acoustic piano/percussion improv session and a Stockhausen score.

Part IV: Epigenesis, Ontogenesis, Phylogenesis, Parthenogenesis featured eight tuned tabla, as well as Rosenboom's keyboard offering something akin to the sort of ostinato melodies that I've heard on harmoniums playing with traditional tabla players.

For Part V: The Buckling of a Spring, Rosenboom took to his processed violin, and Winant moved stage left to a setup with timpani, woodblocks, brake drums, and various metal objects. Together, the two of them glissed up and down through an ocean of electronic sounds.

What I found most fascinating about the piece was how each movement seemed to involve a different mode of interaction between the live performer(s) and the algorithmic processing environment set up by Rosenboom. Thus the title, I suppose.

I also thought of Jo Kondo's concept of sound shadows. My bad attempt at defining a sound shadow is to say that it is a sort of reactionary sub-phrase - not quite independent enough to merit it's own gestalt, but readily discernible from the musical content being shadowed. Following this train of thought, the piece could be seen as a sort of surreal musical shadow puppetry, in which one plays with which element is the shadow and which is casting it. Another compartment of this thought train involves Pythagoras' acousmatic screen (as interpreted by Schaeffer), and how it related to the vary nature of electro-acoustic music.

Rosenboom's music is not for the unprepared. It is often an uncompromising sensual barrage of data that feels no reason to consider the line between signal and noise. But, that is what is so fascinating about it. Seeing those computer algorithms converge with the visceral world of percussion created an existential musical drama. A battle between man and technology took place before our very eyes and ears, and man had to sweat to keep up.