Thursday, September 26, 2013

REVIEW: LBO's King Gesar

Last year, Long Beach Opera initiated their Outer Limit Series with Gavin Bryars' Paper Nautilus at the Aquarium of the Pacific. This year, they continued that series with Peter Lieberson's King Gesar, a monodrama/opera that tells the story of a legendary Tibetan warrior king.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
This "campfire opera" was produced at Harry Bridges Memorial Park, right by the Queen Mary. Two narrators told the epic tale of King Gesar, accompanied by two dancers and a musical octet. Anyone expecting a traditional opera would have been disappointed, for the text was almost entirely spoken, with only a few moments of singing. The two narrators, Danielle Marcelle Bond and Roberto Perlas Gomez, did a fantastic job recounting a verbose narrative that spanned several decades.

Originally written for a single narrator, the text was bifurcated to give Bond and Gomez's characters distinguishable personalities. While Bond's character seemed in the vein of Shelley Duvall (a la Faerie Tale Theatre), Gomez portrayed a stearner counterpoint. Gomez also had all of the parts written in strict rhythmic unison with the musical ensemble. Many of these sections were lengthy, uptempo streams of language in odd time signatures that seemed to have no spaces for breaths, and I was surprised that they were able to pull them off. Dancers Javier Gonzales and Kelly Ray joined Bond and Gomez onstage, sometimes giving a literal physical portrayal of the story, sometimes holding symbolic masks or puppets.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
Lieberson's score is in a 90's post-Stravinsky/post-minimal vein. While the instrumentation is similar to Histoire du Soldat, the rhythmic leitmotifs seem to recall the Augur Dance from the Rite of Spring, or Messiaen's rhythmic manifestions of his modes of limited transposition. There were some terrific moments of virtuosic playing, with Timothy Loo's cello solo being especially notable.

LBO always has creative venues for their performances. While the Paper Nautilus used the features of the aquarium to great effect, the framing of King Gesar as a "campfire opera" fit it nicely into the context of the outdoor performance space at Harry Bridges Memorial Park. It was an interesting outlier in relation to the types of outdoor performances I have seen in various parts of Asia.

During the performance, we were joined by an unexpected Long Beach resident, who sat down and promptly began talking on his cell phone during the performance. Ah, the peaks and valleys of social spaces! After a dramatic exit, the unexpected guest left and the audience could settle their attention back on the performers, who were doing an amazing job continuing their performance, remaining as unfazed as possible by the incident.

Long Beach Opera's next season starts on January 26 with Duke Ellington's Queenie Pie, followed by John Coolidge Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer opening on March 16.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: The Electric Voice @ MorYork

On September 7, People Inside Electronics and LA Sonic Odyssey presented the inimitable bass baritone Nicholas Isherwood at the MorYork Gallery in Highland Park. The program was called The Electric Voice, and it featured 8-channel works written for, commissioned by, or dedicated to Isherwood.

One can't help but be amazed as soon as you step inside MorYork. It might be the most unassuming building in what Huffington Post calls America's "Hottest Neighborhood," but what lies within is only comparable in uniqueness to the likes of Culver City's Museum of Jurassic Technology. It was a perfectly surreal setting for this otherworldly concert of contemporary vocals and electronics.

As soon as Isherwood began singing, it was immediately obvious why the likes of Stockhausen, Eötvös, Bussotti, Messiaen, and numerous other composers and musicians have desired to work with him. The undeniable richness of his voice is coupled with a clear and deep commitment to musical experimentation, making for a startlingly powerful performance.

The concert kicked of with Michael Norris' Deep Field I, which drew inspiration from the Hubble Space Telescope. After a false start, the performance was underway, with Isherwood's voice reverberating around the 8 channel system, channeling early astronomical texts.

Otro, by Jean-Claude Risset  found Isherwood navigating an acousmatic sound environment populated with errant harps, synthesizers, voices, fires, and other aural miscellany. In such an intimate space, I imagined what it would have been like if Isherwood could have been singing from the center of the audience. The piece seemed to portray the interaction of the external world of recorded sounds with the internal world of the singer, and that sort of centralized spatialization could have further enveloped the audience within the introversion of that aural role.

This was followed by Lissa Meridan's shafts of shadow, in which Isherwood wore headphones and reacted in immediate vocalize imitation to the sounds he alone could hear. The piece involved spatialized echoes and delays, but during this piece the wireless mic started noticeably cutting out. However, there were moments when I was grateful fo this. The parts when the microphone failed and the voice carried its own weight reminded me of Demetrio Stratos or Cathy Berberian solos. It was a fascinating A/B between the otherworldly, effected sheen of the intended piece and the raw talent going into it, vaguely similar to hearing the vocals-only track by David Lee Roth (though Isherwood's was entirely different and much better).

After attempts to replace the delinquent wireless mic led to a brief intermission, Isherwood premiered PIE artistic director Isaac Schankler's Mouthfeel. On the surface it was a mere commentary on consumption and industry, pairing a mass-produced consumer item (Doritos Locos Tacos) with the aesthetics of laptop electronics and voice. However, that pairing also implied a commentary on programmatic subject matter in contemporary music, banging the gavel of absurdity at both.

Following a longer intermission, it was time to hear Stockhausen's Capricorn. As is inevitable with a Stockhausen piece done right, all other attempts at spaciness, zaniness, or eccentricity were trumped. After the recorded track began, Isherwood took the stage dressed in an amazing silver bodysuit with silver facepaint. One got the impression that this was a more natural state for him, while the other version was the real costume. After standing silently for some time, his sudden strong vocal entrance recalled Andy Kaufman's Mighty Mouse. What followed was a stellar performance by an amazing performer - one that brought the house down and was the highlight of an already ambitious evening of music.

I was surprised that this was somehow my first People Inside Electronics show, but it will definitely not be my last. Their next concert is on October 8, featuring the Lyris Quartet. The last time I attended an LA Sonic Odyssey show, it featured Stockhausen's Kontakte, and I'm very happy that the Sirius flag has been waving high this last year.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Notations 14: Denio and Krausas

Here is the fourteenth installment of Notations! Apologies for not posting any Notations last week, but I was busy with work and no one voiced any objections...

Inspired by Cage's 1969 bookNotations is a collection of graphic scores, hand drawn music calligraphy, computer code, compositional sketches, text scores, and other innovative forms of musical notation.

Every Monday we'll showcase notation by two different composers, primarily focusing on those local to Los Angeles. This week's composers are Amy Denio and Veronika Krausas. All images used with permission, and copyright is retained by each image's respective creator. Click on the images to see a larger view.

Seal Love/Sluice Gates Tilted by Amy Denio

Amy Denio (rhymes with ‘Ohio’ or ‘gennaio’) is a composer, singer, multi-instrumentalist, audio engineer, international collaborator, and record producer. Her collaborative efforts have been seen and heard at Carnegie Hall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Seattle Opera House, Detroit Institute of Art, Venice Biennale, Roman Theater Trieste, and on top of 3 Metro Busses in Seattle. She recently completed a 2-year commission from Meet The Composer to compose the sound track for Dan Froot and Dan Hurlin's toy theater/puppet piece 'Who's Hungry? - Santa Monica'. Fascinated by 'unheard voices', she is now doing research for her new oral history project called 'Mythunderstandings' in collaboration with the Tiptons Sax Quartet, which will be first presented in Seattle in January, 2013.

More info at

from Inside the Stone by Veronika Krausas

Veronika Krausas has had commissions and performances by the Penderecki String Quartet, San Francisco Choral Artists and the Alexander String Quartet, Ensemble musikFabrik, Esprit Orchestra, The Vancouver Symphony, ERGO Projects, Continuum Music, Toca Loca, and Motion Music. She has music composition degrees from the University of Toronto, McGill University in Montreal, and a doctorate from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Of Lithuanian heritage, she was born in Australia, raised in Canada, and lives in Los Angeles. Krausas is an Assistant Professor in the Composition Department and the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Theory at the Thornton School of Music, on the advisory council of Jacaranda Music, an associate artist with The Industry, a lecturer at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and an artist with Catalysis Projects.

More info at

Thursday, September 12, 2013

X-Ray Sunsets Album Release Show, 9/21 at the Bootleg!

I am very excited to announce that Timur and the Dime Museum will be performing a release show for our new CD, X-Ray Sunsets, on Saturday, September 21 at the Bootleg Theatre!

X-Ray Sunsets is an album I am particularly proud of, having produced, mixed, arranged, and edited it. I also wrote most of the music and recorded much of it. These are songs that Timur and the Dime Museum has been playing live for a while. The recordings expand on that energy and will blow you away! You can stream the album right now on Bandcamp, but this show will be the only place to get a physical copy for some time, so don't miss out!

This event is part of Live Arts Exchange (LAX), a home-grown performance series that showcases some of the most innovative artists and independent companies in LA, creates social events that encourage cross-genre hangouts, and provides opportunity for peer to peer critique.

X-Ray Sunsets is an album I am really excited to present, and September 21 will be a unique evening of music that I very much hope you will want to share with us. I sincerely hope to see you there!

Get your ticket online HERE, and use this discount code to get 40% off when you purchase in advance:

Timur and the Dime Museum
Bootleg Theatre
2220 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90057

I will also be collaborating with writer Mandy Kahn on a performance for the LAX Launch Pad on Sept. 19! This piece will incorporate Kahn's poetry and an accordion quartet by me, performed by Free Reed Conspiracy. It will be an exciting evening curated by The Series' Nicole Disson, so check it out as well!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Happy 101st Birthday to John Cage!

Today is John Cage's 101st birthday! While last year's centennial was widely celebrated, this year's post-humous post-centennial seems to be a less lauded event.

A great way to celebrate is to come to SASSAS' free Kids Play Cage performance this Sunday afternoon at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts! Local high school students will perform Cage's music and original compostions along with the directors of the Southland Ensemble.

This free concert starts at 2pm. You can RSVP on the SASSAS website, and/or check out the Facebook page for more info.

In the meantime, here is a 1986 performance of John Cage and Sun Ra at Coney Island!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Notations 13: Nini and Tholl

Here is the thirteenth installment of Notations! Inspired by Cage's 1969 bookNotations is a collection of graphic scores, hand drawn music calligraphy, computer code, compositional sketches, text scores, and other innovative forms of musical notation.

Every Monday we'll showcase notation by two different composers, primarily focusing on those local to Los Angeles. This week's composers are Odeya Nini and Andrew Tholl. All images used with permission, and copyright is retained by each image's respective creator. Click on the images to see a larger view.

Untitled by Odeya Nini

Composer and vocalist Odeya Nini, constructs acoustic, electro acoustic, and electronic music, incorporating experimental improvisation and malleable forms. At the locus of her interests are textural harmony, gesture, tonal animation, and the illumination of minute sounds, in works spanning chamber music to vocal pieces and collages of musique concrete. Utilizing various mediums of expression, space, atmosphere, acoustics, tone, performance and syntax are reconsidered to allow novel ways for sonic experiential reverberations.

More info at

Holistically Yours by Andrew Tholl

As a composer, Andrew Tholl’s interest lies in the exploration of the passage of time, the physicality of making music, noise, nostalgia, memory, and the merging of diverse musical styles. He has been commissioned by wild Up, the New Century Players, Machine Project, Danny Holt, and more. His works have been heard at REDCAT at the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles), the Dartington International Summer Festival (England), Complice (Berlin), Beyond Baroque (Los Angeles), Princeton University (New Jersey), Listen/Space (New York), Gridlock (Vancouver), CNMAT (Berkeley), and the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles).

More info at