Sunday, April 28, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: Music of Christian Wolff 4/23

On April 23, REDCAT presented music by Christian Wolff, one of Experimental Music Proper's most influential living composers. The second half of a two-night series of concerts, this show was lead by Wandelweiser-er Michael Pisaro, who has done much to extend the direct lineage of the American experimental tradition in Los Angeles.

The concert began with You Blew It, from Wolff's Prose Collection (available online for free at Frog Peak Unbound). Two things that are likely to send crowds running are: 1. someone explaining the music beforehand, and 2. audience participation. That Pisaro was able to introduce the audience to the piece and lead them in an all-around enjoyable 3 minute performance is a testament to his experience as an advocate and educator of experimental music.  It was also an ample opportunity to draw the attention of neophytes to the game-like structures of many of Wolff's pieces - it is often music for participation, in which the ultimate vantage point is from the performers' perspective, rather than the audience's. In a genre where points of entry can be few and far between, this sort of conceptual dissemination is very important.

After You Blew It, regulars from the experimental music community centered around the wulf presented two excerpts from John Heartfield (Peace March 10). The first excerpt featured Casey Anderson on alto sax, Matt Barbier on bass trumpet, Eric KM Clark on violin, James Klopfleisch on upright bass, Kathy Pisaro on english horn, Michael Pisaro on guitar, Cassia Streb on viola, and Christine Tavollaci on bass flute. For the second excerpt, Cassia Streb rhythmically recited the life story of artist John Heartfield over a rhythmic/arhythmic bed of cardboard box percussion, making her probably my favorite Canadian rapper (with James Klopfleisch as her hype man - not Canadian, however).

In Trio V for James Tenney, new music piano virtuosi Vicki Ray and Danny Holt played four hands on one piano, joined by percussionist Colton Lytle on a multi-percussion setup. A delightful "unprepared" imitation of a prepared piano, I am particularly curious to see the score for this one (though James Tenney only occasionally wrote for the prepared piano, he had a penchant for performing Sonatas and Interludes. Last July, Hat Hut Records posthumously released a CD of his interpretation).

The first half of the concert finished with the Calarts Percussion ensemble doing Fall III. This piece included rhythmic notation, giving the musicians the opportunity to select their own timbres.

After intermission, Michael Jon Fink, Brian Walsh, and Andrea Young played For 1, 2 or 3 People. The potential "lesson" learned from the audience participation of You Blew It was most obviously applicable when spectating this seminal piece. Consisting of grouped symbols like the ones at right, it is the performers'  role to act and interact cooperatively to realize the given system. All three musicians were sensitive and experienced improvisers, which can make a huge difference in a composition like this.

The concert concluded with Changing The System, performed by the same ensemble that played John Heartfield (Peace March 10). Pisaro's program notes state that the piece "might be one of the few successful 'political' pieces of music ever written." I was glad the concert ended on a high note with both lithophonics (musical stones) and floorcore (where musicians sit on the floor).

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