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.