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.