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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

REVIEW: Vicki Ray at Zipper Hall, 10/28

On October 28, Vicki Ray gave her 2014-15 Pianospheres concert at Zipper Hall. The title of this performance was Exquisite Corps(e) (A love letter to Calarts). It was divided into two halves, and the program requested that the audience refrain from applause until the end of each half (which the audience picked up on after the second piece of the first half).

The first part of the concert consisted of pieces by Calarts composition teachers who had passed away or retired. Each piece was preceded by a brief recording of its composer speaking and a photo portrait projected on the back wall of the stage. Without interstitial applause, the recordings and the live performances transitioned smoothly into each other, giving the feeling of movements of a larger work.

The concert began with Stephen Lucky Mosko's piano movement from Indigenous Music II. Hearing the California E.A.R. Unit's Indigenous Music recording had prompted the title for my own Diasporic Music series, so it was great to hear this played live.

Indigenous Music II was followed by James Tenney's Essay (after a sonata). This piece is a sort of severely reductionist extension of part of Ives' Concord Sonata, which Tenney had been known to perform from memory. The entire piece was played by plucking strings within the piano, which placed it in a crystalline sound world outside timbral expectations. Plucked piano strings can often seem like a cheap gimmick, but the severe consistency of sound made it effective, reminding me of Lachenmann's Guero (though obviously VERY different).

Mel Powell's Etude and Prelude followed. Powell's two pieces showed the most direct connection to European modernism, and were well placed in the middle of the first half. Couched between composers he had worked with, taught, or his students had taught, one could imagine a sort of musical lineage. After Powell's music, Art Jarvinen's The Meaning of the Treat came across as an updated West Coast collusion of musical tendencies most aligned with Powell's background in both jazz and classical music. For Morton Subotnick's Trembling, Ray was joined by violinist Sarah Thornblade. Both players were amplified and processed through a trembling chorus-y phase. The aural sheen created a sonic fourth wall reminiscent of Stockhausen's Mantra.

The second half of the concert was a single exquisite corpse-style piece by current Calarts faculty. I first heard of a musical exquisite corpse from Anne Lebaron, who uses the technique of collaborative composition in her Hyperopera classes (hyperopera being a term she coined and used to describe her opera Crescent City). The Exquisite Corps(e) was made up of thirteen sections, each by a different composer currently teaching up at Calarts. Though I couldn't always tell who wrote which part, each section displayed an individualistic musical voice that was drastically different from every other. The piece was alternately populated by bottom register clusters, e-bowed strings, spoken text, jazz extensions, spoons and motors in the piano strings, and more. The most surprisingly novel moment was when the theater was suddenly filled with bird calls, played by people planted throughout the audience, that were prompted by Ray playing a recorder. The piece ended with Ray speaking and playing kalimba while slowly meandering out the stage right door.

I haven't mentioned much about Vicki Ray's playing, but it could go without saying that it was wonderful, bringing the right style of expression to each of the diverse pieces. What I found most interesting about the concert was the effective execution of a clear programmatic idea, which was to be a testament to the strength of one of LA's musical communities. As an encore, Ray gave a fittingly nostalgic performance of an early, jazzier piece by Mel Powell, one of the founders of that community.

When I arrived at Calarts in 2005, all of the composers on the first half of the program were still around except for Mel Powell. By the following fall, Lucky Mosko and James Tenney had passed away and Morton Subotnick had left. It felt like I had arrived at a key transitional moment, and this concert reminded me of that.

The next Pianospheres event will feature Richard Valitutto at REDCAT on November 11. It is the inaugural concert of Pianospheres' Satellite series, which focuses on emerging performers and new music for piano.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Run Downhill's Spurs #1

Run Downhill recently released Spurs #1, which is both an album and comic book. Both elements stand alone perfectly well, but can combine to tell a story. On top of that, there are videos for each songs, as well as Aurasma auras within the comic book.

The group is led by TJ Troy, who is a diverse musician I've heard in widely disparate musical contexts. With musicians of skill sets that are both deep and broad, it is interesting to see what form their own artistic self expression takes.

For their album release show at Curve Line Space on Sept. 4, Run Downhill performed a regular set of songs followed by a performance of Spurs #1 along with each songs respective video (which were projected against the white walls of the gallery).

Run Downhill's webpage describes the music as such:
A band of varied and eclectic roots, they combine the classic country stylings of the mid-20th century with modern indie rock, folk, and world music aesthetics. Combined with Troy’s rustic fables of hardship, loss, and redemption, Run Downhill positions their work outside of a traditional music context, combining it with the world of comic art and graphic novels. Add a pinch of the California coast for flavor, and the result is broad, lush harmonies, deliciously sonorous melodies, and rich textures descriptive of their comic art counterparts.
All in all, that's a rather accurate description. The blending of styles is an inherent fact in the evolution of music, and how organic that integration is reveals a lot about the musicians' intentions with their inspirations. The syncretic nature of Run Downhill's music is subtle and tightly dovetailed, but comes to the surface when one tries to succinctly describe it in words.

Besides the musical fusions involved, Run Downhill is also a conscious exploration of the interplay of media. This cross-platform manner of thinking is innate to a percussionist, whose musical role involves proficiency on a wide collection of different instruments. At the same time, a comic book combines pictorial and textual elements in a similar way. What underlies it all is an examination of the nature of music in this 21st century. For musicians, there is no bigger existential question.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

REVIEW: NOW Festival Week 1

Saana/ the Foreigner - photo by Steven Gunther
I have participated in REDCAT's NOW Festival several times as an artist, and have probably gone as an audience member every year since moving to LA. I'm not sure there is a comparable festival-style incubator for performing arts in LA. For many artists, it is the perfect stepping stone up from self-funded, zero-budget projects to projects of the scale that a festival like Live Arts Exchange (which just started, BTW) might present. This is a key step to make. Sometimes a piece will be part of the festival one year, and presented in its fully-realized version the following season.

This year, I went to the first of the NOW Festival's three programs, featuring work by Wilfried Souly, Rosanna Gamson, and Overtone Industries. Wilfried Souly's Saana/ The Foreigner started the show, and it was the sort of piece in which the act of collaboration itself was at least as important as the final product. It is notable that this sort of statement IS in fact still important to make, and the integration of well-defined creative personalities is a tricky sea to navigate. Souly entered the lobby from outside in a dramatic solo entrance that was an effective use of that underutilized space. Following him into the theater, Souly was then accompanied by two fine musicians - Tom Moose and Julio Montero. One got the impression that the three had worked on the piece in a rehearsal space that was considerably smaller. A barren stage seems capable of dimishing the presence of a powerful performer if they don't know how to approach it. Despite this particular translation of space, it was an entertaining performance of dance and music around the theme of US immigration.

Still - photo by Steven Gunther
That was followed by another dance project of drastically different content. Rosanna Gamson's Still was the most finished piece of the evening. Gamson clearly had a mastery of space, with three rows of movable scrims chopping the stage into 3-dimensional coordinates that she investigated one by one. Her exaggerated movements accentuated her dancers' athleticism, which they seemed happy to employ. The lighting by Tony Shayne was used quite creatively, and to great melodramatic effect. The music, though entirely predictable, served the piece dutifully.

While Saana/ The Foreigner was a great first draft and Still was a stellar final draft, Overtone Industry's Iceland was an excerpt cut straight from the cloth of Los Angeles musical theater. The program notes describe the performance as a workshop for a piece to premiere in 2016. With such a huge cast, a singer descending from the catwalk, and a barrage of emotive arias, I imagine that they were able to get some great documentation to facilitate future support. Though titled Iceland, cast member David O's Lopapeysa seemed to be the only clear direct reference to the country. Otherwise, the narrative of this excerpt consisted of a very heartfelt trip to the airport. I found myself wondering if the final product would include more direct references to the fascinating country and burgeoning musical culture that exists there, or if it would remain an abstraction of LA exoticism.

Iceland - photo by Steven Gunther
I was sad to miss the rest of the NOW Festival, as there were plenty of other acts I was enthusiastic about. It is great to see so many different local artistic communities represented in the NOW festival. I look forward to seeing what crops up next year.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Every Single Beatles Song

If you need something to listen to on a Sunday (or whenever you're reading this), someone made this massive playlist with every Beatles song that's on YouTube.

Their description:
This is a working playlist that will have every single Beatles song recorded. Please put on shuffle for the best experience, for this is in alphabetical order. Thank you :D

Friday, August 22, 2014

sound. at the Schindler House: space as raw material

On Saturday, 8/23, come see this SASSAS event at the Schindler House that I partially curated. It will be a really fascinating investigation of a unique historical architectural space, and a chance to see the Tony Greene exhibit if you haven't yet. The whole event is 4-8pm, so you'll still be able to experience it and still have time to go see I Was Looking at the Cieling...!

  • 4-5pm Woody
  • 5-5:30 Carmina
  • 5:30-6:45 Woody
  • 6:15-7 Odeya
  • 7-7:30 Carmina
  • 7:30-8 Carmina and Woody

SASSAS, in conjunction with the MAK Center, presents sound. at the Schindler House: Space as Raw Material with Woody Sullender, Odeya Nini and Carmina Escobar on Saturday, August 23, 2014. Space as Raw Material embraces the intersections of divergent creative practices, including architecture and sound, performance and installation. The durational performances include "Furniture Music", a new site-specific installation by Brooklyn-based artist Woody Sullender, making his Los Angeles premiere, and vocal performance of "A Solo Voice" by Odeya Nini and "Source" by Carmina Escobar. Over the course of the four hour event, the artists will highlight the subliminal acoustics of the Schindler House, creating multiple listening spaces in the interior and exterior spaces of the historic structure.

Produced by SASSAS, the sound. concert series pushes new music boundaries by creating unique listening experiences for audiences that combine experimental music and unconventional settings. The August 23rd sound. event starts at 4:00pm and runs until 8:00pm. Advance tickets are $15; SASSAS members, Friends of the MAK Center and students/seniors are $10; and can be purchased at are $20 at the door. The Schindler House is located at 835 North Kings Road, West Hollywood, CA 90069. For more information on this concert, as well as other upcoming SASSAS events, please call 323-960-5723 or visit

For this concertSASSAS transforms the four studios and outdoor courtyards of the Schindler House into listening spaces resounding with temporal sonic investigations of architecture, voice and interactions with one another. Woody Sullender's performance, "Furniture Music" utilizes modular cardboard forms outfitted with audio transducers resulting in resonating ‘speaker’ objects that will be used to divide and shape the space into a reverberating ‘living room’ on the Schindler patio. Vocalist Odeya Nini's "A Solo Voice" explores extended bodily resonances, communicating textural harmony, gesture and tonal animation. Carmina Escobar's vocal performance "Source" reflects upon the body as a space that reveals, measures and recognizes itself through vibration.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Three Thirds' Buffalo Skinner

In February, Three Thirds released Buffalo Skinner, a tribute to Woody Guthrie. The album consists of arrangements of four songs that Woody Guthrie wrote, and a traditional song he also recorded.

Like jazz standards, an album of folk songs is all about the arrangement and ensemble. Luckily, those are the places that Three Thirds stands out. Heather Lockie and Jake Rosenzweig's strings move freely and organically between traditionalist and experimental, Claire Chenette's double reeds conjure up a sort of folksy Andy Mackay, while Alex Wand's vocals reminded me of The Microphones. The details of the close vocal harmonies add a nice Carter Family-like quality as well.

Shortly after getting Buffalo Skinner, I heard the title track on KPFK, and I would agree that it's my favorite. The ominous bowed bass and spacious, microtonal dobro give it a Morricone-like quality, revealing harmonic inflections that you may not have noticed were implicit in the melody.

Three Thirds also just started an Indie-gogo campaign to fund a new album of original songs. Check out the promo video:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Notations 28: Lee and Lindley

Here's the twenty-eighth 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 other Monday we'll showcase notation by two different composers, primarily focusing on those local to Los Angeles. This week's composers are Ingrid Lee and Eric Lindley. All images are used with permission, and copyright is retained by each piece's respective creator. Click on the images to see a larger view.

Pink Noise Etudes by Ingrid Lee

Ingrid Lee is a Los Angeles based composer, improviser, and pianist from Hong Kong. Lee’s work is influenced by ideas of failure and hybridity through the use of illegitimate and inconsequential sounds: feedback, sympathetic resonance, beatings, noise. She has worked with composers such as Tristan Murail, Michael Pisaro, Karen Tanaka, Christian Wolff, Wadada Leo Smith, Marilyn Crispell and Vinny Golia. In addition to composing works for herself and other musicians, Lee has collaborated with filmmakers, animators, dancers, and visual artists on projects that have been performed/exhibited in Hong Kong, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and Essen, Germany. Lee received a B.F.A. in music composition and performance at the California Institute of the Arts.

More info at

Parenthetical Reharmonization by Eric Lindley

Eric Lindley is a artist, writer, and musician working primarily in Los Angeles and New York City under the name Careful. His work includes recorded and live "glitch folk," works of fiction, poetry, performance art, photography, and interactive installation. After getting degrees in physics and music at Dartmouth College, Lindley studied composition with James Tenney at The California Institute of the Arts. In 2008, he moved to New York, where he released both "Careful" and "Oh, Light." Lindley currently lives in New York City, editing the literary and arts magazine Out of Nothing with collaborators Joe Milazzo and Janice Lee, and building robots part-time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gnarwhallaby's [exhibit a]

I had Gnarwhallaby's [exhibit a] album for quite a while before I actually listened to it. I wanted to be able to sit down and focus, and was a bit too busy. Once I had a chance to listen to it, I enjoyed the album as much as I hoped I would. 

Starting right away with Morton Feldman's Half a Minute It's All I've Time for (which also closes the album), it is clear that these pieces were very carefully selected - the notion of a bagatelle by Morton Feldman is so odd to me that I am immediately thrown off and paying attention.

Considering the Feldman as a sort of entrance/exit music, the re-imagined Shostakovich-ism of Edison Denisov's D-S-C-H sets a great tone what's to come. Throughout the album, the particular malaise of the 1960's European avant garde is cleverly contextualized by pairing it with pieces like Marc Sabat's subtly just Modernes Kaufhaus and the aggressive flurries of Nick Deyoe's FLUFF pieces. Of the Polish composers on the album, I was only familiar with Górecki. However, I look forward to exploring the many performances of the other composers' works that YouTube has to offer.

Beyond the connoisseurial curation of the album, these are some stellar musicians working at the epicenter of LA's thriving new music landscape. The uncommon instrumentation (Brian Walsh on clarinets, Matt Barbier on trombone, Derek Stein on cello, and Richard Valitutto on piano+) sets the album on a timbral road less travelled, but the whole endeavor is so clearly executed that the novelty of it seems beside the point. Though it explores a broad spectrum of consonance and dissonance, at no point does the album feel unduly melodramatic, stilted, or anti-social. It is clear that this Gnarwhallaby critter is elusive only because it travels in strange waters.

[exhibit a] is one of a few recent releases by Populist Records, who are on a great run featuring local LA ensembles and composers.

Give it a listen!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

This Land is Mine

Nina Paley's 2012 animation This Land is Mine is startlingly relevant as the news gets more violent.

And, if you haven't seen Sita Sings the Blues, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Notations 27: Setzer and Rosenboom

Here's the twenty-seventh 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 other Monday (Tuesday this week...) we'll showcase notation by two different composers, primarily focusing on those local to Los Angeles. This week's composers are Matthew Setzer and David Rosenboom. All images are used with permission, and copyright is retained by each piece's respective creator. Click on the images to see a larger view.

Setzer Sonic Locator by Matthew Setzer

Matthew Setzer is a musician, composer, and music technologist living in Los Angeles California. He is the guitarist for the gothic industrial band London After Midnight. Matthew received a Bachelor of Music in Composition/Technology from the University of Montana in Missoula. He studied Composition with Charles Nichols. In 2008 Matthew graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a Masters of Fine Arts in Experimental Sound Practices. While at CalArts he studied with David Rosenboom, Ajay Kapur, Mark Trayle, Ulrich Krieger, Morton Subotnick, and visiting artist Trimpin. Before CalArts Matthew trained with John Carruthers for luthier skills. From 2006-2008 Matthew worked as a luthier for the Moser Custom shop with Neal Moser.

More info at

From In The Beginning: Etude III by David Rosenboom

David Rosenboom is an American composer and a pioneer in the use of neurofeedback, cross-cultural collaborations and compositional algorithms. Working with Don Buchla, he was one of the first composers to use a digital synthesizer. Since the 1960s David Rosenboom has explored the spontaneous evolution of musical forms, languages for improvisation, new techniques in scoring for ensembles, multi-disciplinary composition and performance, cross-cultural collaborations, performance art and literature, interactive multi-media and new instrument technologies, generative algorithmic systems, art-science research and philosophy, and extended musical interface with the human nervous system. His work is widely distributed and presented around the world. He is currently Professor of Music and Dean of the School of Music at the California Institute of the Arts.

More info at

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

21 Versions of Aquarela do Brasil

In response to Brazil's startling defeat by Germany, here are 21 versions of Ary Barroso's Aquarela do Brasil, pulled from YouTube. There are loads of other versions out there. The song's Wikipedia page has a list of "Notable Versions"

Francisco Alves

Carmen Cavalarro

Ray Coniff

Gal Costa

Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney

Xavier Cugat

Trio Esperança

Gordon Franks Orchestra

Joao Gilberto

Julio Iglesias

Antonio Carlos Jobim

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

Geoff Muldaur

Perpetuum Jazzile and BR6

Pink Martini (with Storm Large)

Dan Newbie

Django Reinhardt

The Three Tenors

Orquestra de Teutônia

Toots Thielemans and Elis Regina

Caetano Veloso

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pete Seeger special on Democracy Now

Democracy Now had a great 4th of July special focused on the late Pete Seeger - known to American new music enthusiasts as a son of Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger.

The episode begins with an excerpt of Morgan Freeman reading Frederick Douglas' powerful 1852 speech, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro, then goes into interviews with Seeger from 2013 and 2004.

A favorite quote:
"They're all tangled up. Hooray for tangling!"

Saturday, July 5, 2014

REVIEW: Monday Evening Concerts, 5/5/14

This is latest review I've ever written. I can usually get it in at least within a month, if not a week, but this one definitely got away from me. And that's not quite fair, as it's for a Monday Evening Concert. MEC is a really great institution of new music in Los Angeles. It's "one of the longest running series in the world devoted to contemporary music," and the longest running one in LA as far as I know. So... sorry about that.

The concert in question was New Voices II: Apparatus, and it was the final concert of MEC's 75th season. Each piece on the concert built an aural apparatus of sorts by combining timbres salvaged from the wake of 20th century experimentation.

Thomas Meadowcroft's Cradles started the concert, with two percussionists (Eric Derr and Jonathan Hepfer) facing each other holding long threads of quarter-inch tape, accompanied by a recorded track of electric piano ambiance. The tape was threaded through reel-to-reel machines, and as they slid it back and forth, it created that unique warbly tape sound. These movements were pointillistically accented by percussion gestures on a variety of instruments. It came across as a sort of post-digital requiem for the analog - existing within the Books-ish aesthetic of a Max/MSP patch, but realized with tape machines.

Speak Percussion playing Meadowcraft's Cradles at the 2013 MaerzMusik Festival

Joseph Lake's Almost There was written in 2013 for prepared piano and percussion. Retro-modernism at it's finest, the piece floated along nicely in a 20th century fog.

Study for String Instrument #2, written by Simon Steen-Andersen, was written for "any string instrument and whammy pedal." It was performed energetically on double bass by Matt Kline with Samuel Dunscombe on the whammy pedal. Sometimes the novelty of the message of the medium can overpower the presence of the performance. While the playing was exciting, and the sound of an upright bass through a whammy pedal was interesting, the combination of the two was sometimes mutually distracting.

Sabrina Schroeder's He Cuts Snow was a wonderfully contrasting exercise in creative austerity. Abstract tones intermingled with percussion being buzzed by what looked and sounded to me like milk frothers. The result was a rich, blended soundscape, steeped in both the historicity of classical instruments and a surprisingly effective bricolage of consumer detritus.

OH LOOK. She put it up on SoundCloud. Maybe listen and pretend it's intermission:

After intermission came Timothy McCormack's Apparatus. It was an aggressive bagatelle, full of slides up and down the piano, multi-phonics on the bass clarinet, and extended technique on the cello. It was a nice little welcome back into the concert hall.

Rick Burkhardt's Alban was an experience akin to hearing an audiobook on mushrooms read by a neurotic librarian. Clarity faded in and out of a haze of modernist musical gestures, also occasionally detoured by bouts of stuttering repetition or silence. I was occasionally reminded of Aperghis' Recitations or Feldman's Words and Music (recently performed at MEC and review HERE).

The penultimate piece was Simon Steen-Andersen's Beside Besides/ Next to Beside Besides #4. A cellist and a percussionist played identical physical gestures, with the percussionist copying the bowing of the cellist on a set of dowels and sticks. The gestalt of the combined timbres seemed to echo the goals of many electro-acoustic pieces, with the percussionist emulating the role of laptop/electronic sound shadow. I found this all-acoustic simulation of electro-acoustic aesthetics particularly interesting.

Ume Duo playing Steen-Andersen's Beside Besides/ Netx to Beside Besides #4

The concert was bookended with another piece by Thomas Meadowcroft, titled The Great Knot. Three percussionists told a programmatic tale of "the migratory patterns of the bird, 'the Great Knot.'" A post-post-minimalist piece if ever there was one, The Great Knot was full of grooves, bird calls, synthesizer interjections, shakers, backing tracks, etc. At times I was reminded of Matmos, with the clearly forward-thinking timbres and gestures mixed with grounded, populist harmonies.

While the McCormack piece seemed like an odd musical choice to name the concert after, the title was quite apropos. Each piece examined the dichotomy between old and new sounds, and offered possible ways to build new sounds by combining, contrasting, or comparing the two. The overall result was a multi-faceted event that posited an optimistic future for sonic innovators to come.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Notations 26: Ivanova and Schunk

Notations has been on a brief hiatus do to me being quite busy myself, but here's the twenty-sixth installment of it! 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.

I'm changing the schedule of Notations to a pace I can keep up with. Instead of being weekly, every OTHER Monday we'll showcase notation by two different composers, primarily focusing on those local to Los Angeles. This week's composers are Vera Ivanova and Christoffer Schunk. All images are used with permission, and copyright is retained by each piece's respective creator. Click on the images to see a larger view.

from Pieces For... by Christoffer Schunk

Christoffer Schunk is a multidisciplinary composer and performer based in Los Angeles. His music involves theater, dance, film, text, electronics, field recordings, and western and world instruments, often combining multiple media. He has affinities for performance art and drawing musicality from human interaction. Schunk's compositions have been premiered by New Century Players, Santa Clarita Master Chorale, Ensemble for Contemporary Music, UC Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra, and various other artists throughout the country. As an award winning film composer, Schunk has worked with directors including Nikki Roberts, Jorge Sanchez, Anantha Perumal, animator Aron Bothman, and theater director Kestrel Leah.
More info at

Compositional sketch for Aura by Vera Ivanova

Vera Ivanova's compositions have been described as "... humanistic and deeply felt works ...". In her early Fantasy-Toccata (2003) for violin and piano, "the humor takes on a harder, sardonic edge recalling the composer's roots in the work of Shostakovich and Schnittke". In her later Three Studies in Uneven Meters for piano (2011), "the greatest power of her brief, angular, crystalline music lies in its power to provoke the gods of symmetry". After teaching as Assistant Professor of Theory and Composition at the Setnor School of Music of Syracuse University (NY), she was appointed as Assistant Professor of Music in the College of Performing Arts at Chapman University (Orange, CA). Dr. Ivanova is also teaching at the Colburn Academy. 

More info at

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Free Reed Conspiracy this Sunday!

There's been some radio silence from for a while, because I've been so gratefully busy! But I'm getting back on the ball this summer, with some reviews I'm so behind on.

This Sunday, my experimental accordion ensemble Free Reed Conspiracy will be playing at SASSAS' Blast![11] fundraiser! We'll be doing a sextet performance, along with Roswell Sisters and Hare's Breath Ensemble, and DJ sets from DJ Lady C.

The entire event is 4-8, and we'll be playing near the end. Come have some North Coast beer, bid on some art, and listen to some music!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

REVIEW: LBO's An American Soldier's Tale/ A Fiddler's Tale

At the intermission of Long Beach Opera's An American Soldier's Tale/ A Fiddler's Tale, the woman next to me turned and asked in a genuinely confused voice, "is this an opera? I thought I was going to an opera." Well, yes and no. LBO has done a number of solid productions that involved a considerable amount of speaking. Stewart Copeland's The Tell-Tale Heart and Peter Lieberson's King Gesar are examples of productions from last year that leaned strongly towards narration. It's an intriguing take on music's relationship to the voice, and a sign of LBO's willingness to explore those boundaries.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
LBO's Stravinsky-inspired production was a double header. Histoire du Soldat became An American Soldier's Tale with Kurt Vonnegut's updated libretto, and it was paired with Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch's A Fiddler's Tale, written for the same instrumentation. Both pieces focused on different aspects of C.F. Ramuz's original libretto. Vonnegut connected more to the war reference, while Marsalis and Crouch responded to the musician's deal with the devil for economic gain.

Hearing Stravinsky's score is always a pleasure, and that was no different with Kurt Vonnegut's new text. Commissioned by New York Philomusica in 1996, Vonnegut's libretto was based on the death of Eddie Slovik during WWII. I was reminded a bit of David Little's Solider Song, which I saw at Pace University last year (directed by The Industry's Yuval Sharon). Kevin Reich, Tony Abatemarco, and Mark Bringelson gave the piece an energetic theatrical performance, adorned with Commedia dell'arte makeup and various stages of military undress. This served the piece quite well, except for a few parts. There were several instrumental sections (in both pieces) during which the actors' dancing became distracting to a dedicated listener. In one section, the sound of actors rolling on the ground covered up some of the intriguingly nuanced spaces and polyrhythms in the music. How important that is depends on how your organize your priorities as an audience member.

Marsalis and Crouch's A Fiddler's Tale was about a violinist who made a dubious deal with a devilish producer for acclaim and fortune. Hearing such a story from such a commercially successful musician as Marsalis may seem suspect, but it's actually quite appropriate. Extremely text heavy, much of it felt like an augmented monologue for Roger Guenveur Smith. However, his rich performance drove the piece forward, and never felt unduly stilted. The music that made up the last third of the piece was quite amazing, though the musical buildup to it was maybe a bit extended. The overall piece felt like an updated response to Stravinsky's score, accentuating the elements that made the original so intriguing, while adding a New Orleans-inflected flair.

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
The musicians did a great job with both pieces. Alyssa Park was the featured violinist for both pieces. Conducted by Kristof Van Grysperre, she gave a particularly fine performance during the Marsalis, lending the part great energy and expressivity. The score was cleverly written, in that it didn't request a classical ensemble to swing harder than they might otherwise. Instead, it's Dixie syncopation was synthesized through an emulation of Stravinsky's odd-time styling.

I had never been to Long Beach's Center Theater, and I enjoyed the space. Danila Korogodsky's set was the environment in which both pieces lived, with the musicians behind onstage. The design elements reminded me of Basquiat, Picasso's Centaur, or maybe the cover to Unkle's Psyence Fiction

Knowing the original story of Ramuz's text might have given me an added layer of appreciation - one that my seat neighbor might not have had the point of reference for. However, such musicological stratigraphy is exactly what this production is about. In my own work, I work to build multiple levels of engagements and points of entry, and this production did just that. Even the dancing that I found so distracting was part of reaching towards that noble goal, so it all works out.

Monday, May 5, 2014

ALBUM REVIEW: Even the Light Itself Falls

Scott Worthington's Even the Light Itself Falls was released on September 10, 2013 by Populist RecordsPopulist has had quite a good run thus far, releasing stellar albums by local LA performers and composers.

Even the Light Itself Falls is an 86-minute piece that comes in gentle, post-ambient, post-post-Feldman waves. Sitting more comfortably in the Cold Blue wake of Harold Budd than the stormy seas of Roger Reynolds, it is full of calm repetition, quietude, and crippled symmetry. It doesn't reach towards an obvious golden mean peak, but rather invites you to quiet down and watch the waves roll by - meaning that it's streamlined complexity seems to encourage the listener to stop trying and just listen, much like Feldman's String Quartet and Piano.  The interjecting pulses almost invoke a hazy recollection of Music for 18 Musicians, and when it all ends, it feels more like a turning away than an act of finality.

Bringing bowed double bass and glockenspiel together at last (joined by clarinet), Even the Light Itself Falls is performed beautifully by Ensemble Et Cetera, which is Dustin Donahue, Curt Miller, and Scott Worthington.

Give it a listen on Populist Records' Bandcamp page:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

REVIEW: Maxium Minimalism, 4/8

On Tuesday, I attended the Maximum Minimalism  concert at Disney Hall, featuring Wild Up and ICE. It is a perfectly fitting concert title, being a 4+ hour concert featuring 14 pieces. To be clear, the hefty duration was a good thing. As Feldman said: "Up to one hour you think about form, but after an hour and a half it's scale. Form is easy: just the division of things into parts. But scale is another matter." That shift of thinking is something I'd imagine hermetic proto-minimalist La Monte Young might appreciate.

Photo by Chris Votek
Wandering through the pre-concert lobby, one could faintly hear the familiar ostinatos of post-minimal piano. Entering the hall, Wild Up's virtuosic pianist Richard Valitutto was already winding his way through William Duckworth's wonderful Time Curve Preludes. It was clearly going to be a good evening.

After the aural hors d'oeuvres, the concert proper began with Claire Chase's performance of Reich's Vermont Counterpoint. Her razor sharp syncopation, perfect blend with the electronics, and ability to lend the über-quantized piece an air of expressivity demonstrated one of the reasons why she received a MacArthur grant. My only complaint about this piece is regarding spatialization. Chase was in the perfect spot, standing at the pipe organ's console. However, the layered sounds came from the speaker array at the center of the hall. Sitting in the Orchestra East section, it was jarring to see the musician on my left side while the sound came from the right.

These solo performances were followed by Chris Rountree's Wild Up playing an energetic arrangement of Julius Eastman's Stay On It. Eastman is a fascinating composer whose story includes controversies with John Cage and a forceful eviction that led to the large scale loss of his scores. This arrangement accentuated the piece's dichotomy between structure and its apparent opposite, one that seemed to echo the composer's own life. Wild Up gave the piece the vibrant enthusiasm that has long been a hallmark of their performances.

The Calder Quartet then came onstage for a performance of Reich's Different Trains. This electro-acoustic string quartet was approached with the seriousness and accuracy that it deserved, and it is always a pleasure to hear live.

Though many new music concerts might call it a night after this heavy-hitting dose of minimalism, this was only the first of three sets. It was time for the first intermission, which was itself a spectacle. I somehow missed hearing Reich's Pendulum Music, but made it to the outdoor garden to hear a beautiful rendition of James Tenney's In a Large, Open Space. This piece owes more to La Monte Young's original JI steady-state music than the Riley-tinted, pulse-driven, post-Americana that we commonly refer to as minimalism. Wild Up and ICE gave the piece a beautifully delicate performance in the urban oasis of the garden, and the sounds of gentle swells had an intriguing counterpoint in the oceanic wash of the LA Freeways.

After intermission, the concert continued with a precious performance of Andrew McIntosh's Silver and White. Strings and muted brass inhabited an auster, microtonal, post-Feldman gestural space, framed by an extended snare drum roll, gently suggesting that we return to the county of Minimalism Proper.

David Lang's death speaks followed, sounding dutifully like the album. However, the most enjoyable surprise for me was hearing Wild Up's powerhouse violinist Andrew Tholl singing. Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite came after. This piece and the Lang fit together perfectly as works by older composers trying to explore what "indie classical" might mean in relation to their own body of work. An abstracted medley of two Radiohead songs, this piece did Reich as only Reich really can. However, the chord changes lent it an air of Satyagraha...

Though I missed Johanna Beyers' IV during the second intermission, I caught Tristan Perich's wonderfully streamlined Observations, for 1-bit electronics and crotales. I was reminded of his 2009 performance at the wulf of Dual Synthesis, a piece for 1-bit electronics and harpsichord.

After intermission #2, the actual L.A. Phil New Music Group took the reins for the world premieres of Mark Grey's Awake the Machine Electric and Missy Mazzoli's Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres). Both pieces fully inhabited the post-Adams Copeland-icana landscape of contemporary orchestral minimalism. What was most interesting was the way that both pieces attempted to augment the aural palette of the orchestra. Grey used a keyboard sampler filled with hyper-processed digital warblings, which struggled to meld with the skeletal musical framing the orchestra was providing. Meanwhile, Mazzoli used a varied percussion setup and a double-reed array of harmonicas and melodicas to create a sonically rich and well-crafted feast.

Wild Up's arrangement of John Adams' retracted American Standard was a great closer and foil to the pieces that preceded it. It exemplified LA Phil's apparent institutional advocacy of groups like the relatively small and new Wild Up. While other classical institutions struggle and/or fold, LA Phil seems to be thriving through consistently forward-thinking programming, engaging new audiences, and by fostering the colorful community of talented musicians that LA draw to it.