As we all know, this year is the centennial celebration of John Cage’s birth in 1912 (not that we ever need a reason to program Cage, it always seems appropriate…). Instead of presenting an entire program, we’ve programming a concert’s worth of Cage that will take place in about 12 minutes in the first ever Hartford New Music Festival John Cage Musicircus. Musicircuses – a simultaneous performance of any of Cage’s works – have been taking place in Hartford for quite some time (they’ve taken place frequently in the percussion department at Hartt), and we’re proud to add ours to the growing list of Cage celebrations taking place all over the world this year. Included will be Atlas Eclipticalis, many selections from Songbooks, Suite for Toy Piano, 45′ for a speaker, One(7) and other songs. During the performance, the audience will be invited to wander around the venue to hear whichever performances they’d like.
Jordan Jacobson of Ensemble 016 sent some comments on how the preparations for Atlas Eclipticalis are going:
“I love sounds, just as they are.”
In the clip above John Cage speaks of hearing traffic noises as music. Atlas Eclipticalis is a traffic jam.
Atlas Eclipticalis is a piece with a number of indeterminate elements. Performers play notes made from staves overlaid onto star charts. Hence, to some degree the pitches are determined, but really only in their spatial relation to each other, as no clef is written for any part and the performer is to interpret this as he or she sees fit. Rhythm is not determined (only that some notes should be played short and others long, and how many of each) by the composer, nor does the performer have to play all the notes. Silence is welcome, even encouraged. The performer is strictly forbidden to make melodic lines out of the notes that are given. Instead the melodic lines emerge spontaneously from the aggregrate sound, just as a traffic jam may randomly create an interesting combination of sound.
At this point it would be easy for the performer to determine a certain aspect of the piece and it’s tempting to do so. After all, the audience will never know.
And that is one of the most difficult things about rehearsing a piece with so many indeterminate elements–resisting the urge to determine things. To be honest to the piece and the composer, we work to follow the composer’s instructions faithfully.
We are conditioned as musicians on a fundamental level to play our own part, but while doing so to listen around us (or at least a good musician does this), to be aware, and to react appropriately. Such a fundamental idea applies whether you are playing Beethoven or doing free improvisation. I don’t believe that this fundamental skill necessarily does or should apply to performing Atlas Eclipticalis.
It would for instance, be easy to begin to treat the piece as one large group improvisation–to react to the other performers. When they begin to create a more dense texture, we react to join in on that texture, or perhaps we would react to create some counterpoint. If they are playing a lot of fast notes, perhaps we play some long, slow notes to balance that. If those around us spontaneously crescendo we are inclined to join. If they are feeling somber, we go with that; if they are frenzied, we do that too. Perhaps we would drop out altogether momentarily to not muddy the texture. In most circumstances we would be right to try some of these things, but not in this case.
The technical demands of Atlas Eclipticalis on the performers are not great, but the mental demands of the piece require us to turn off elements of music making that have almost become completely synonymous with playing our instruments. We let the happy (or unhappy) accidents of sound happen where they will and love what sounds come out, just as they are.
– Jordan Jacobson
If you’re in the Hartford area, check out WWUH 91.3 around 5:45. Director Bill Solomon will be talking with Chuck Ubuchowski during the contemporary classical show.
Stay tuned for another post tonight about our John Cage Musicircus!
Since the program is going to run about 3.5 hrs, here’s a general schedule of when the pieces will be happening (although of course please allow a little flexibility as things might be early/late). Audience members are welcome to come watch as much or little of the program as they’d like.
Phantasy for oboe and English horn (2011) Feng-Hsu Lee
Oboe Duo Agosto
Ling-Fei Kang and Charles Huang, oboe/English horn
Charles Curtis for cello and electronics (2002) Alvin Lucier
Jessie Marino, cello
Selections from Hollywood Liederbuch (1943) Hanns Eisler (1898-1962)
An den kleinen Radioapparat
Über den Selbsmort
Peppermill Songs (2010) Kirsten Volness
Mann der Stunde
Darren Chase, tenor, Jessica Goldring, soprano, Lauretta Pope, soprano, Bill Solomon, piano
Memory Palace for percussion solo (2012) Chris Cerrone
II. Power Lines
Owen Weaver, percussion
Cello Peace for electronic cello and 4-channel playback system (2002) Cenk Ergün
Jeffrey Krieger, electric cello
John Cage Musicircus
All pieces will be performed simultaneously
Atlas Eclipticalis (1962) John Cage (1912-1992)
Sarah Washburn, violin, Laura Krentzman, viola, Emily Wolfram, cello, Jared Gardner, double bass, Ling-Fei Kang, oboe, Sheri Brown, saxophone, Dave Perkins, trumpet, Jordan Jacobson, trombone, Erberk Eryilmaz, piano, Mike Anderson, percussion
Suite for Toy Piano (1948) John Cage
Bill Solomon, toy piano
Solo for Voice 52 (Aria no. 2) (1970) John Cage
Anne Rhodes, soprano
Solo for Voice 6, 32, 10, 44 and 57 (1970) John Cage
Lauretta Pope, actor
Experiences no. 2 (1948) John Cage
A Flower (1950) John Cage
Steven Serpa, countertenor
Selections from 45’ for a speaker (1954) John Cage
David Macbride, Brian Cook, speakers
One7 (1991) John Cage
Nathan Bontrager, cello
Earth: Summer 2011 (2011) Todd Merrell
New Work (2012) Todd Merrell
Todd Merrell, electronics
Wind Quintet no. 2, “Bird of Guandu” (2009) Robert Carl
I. Sunrise Invocation
III. Sunset Blessing
Thiago Sousa, flute, Charles Huang, oboe, Alex Kollias, clarinet, Thea Groth, bassoon, Adam Schommer, horn
Compositions 256 and 307 Anthony Braxton
Anne Rhodes, soprano, Johnny Rogers, wineglasses, Maura Valenti, harp
no where I’m bound for electronics (2012) Matt Sargent
13 ½ (2012) Marc Burns
Junko Simons, cello/voice, Kit Demos, bass/voice, Gene Baker, trumpet/voice, Ben Klein, percussion/voice, Marc Burns, keyboards/voice
Embroidery for small ensemble (2012) Anne Rhodes
HARTFORD NEW MUSIC FESTVIAL COMMISSION
Ben Klein, tuba, Nathan Bontrager, cello, Libby van Cleve, oboe, Maura Valenti, harp, Carl Testa, bass, Bill Solomon, percussion, Anne Rhodes, voice
Owen Weaver, percussion
Chris Cerrone, composer
Those were the minuses. So there was some big pluses too. Owen is an awesome percussionist. He’s extremely technically gifted, but having gone to a bunch of good music schools, I have to confess that wasn’t what impressed me. What drew me in much more was the idea that he was basically completely willing to go out on a limb to do anything he could to make the project work. He got 9 other awesome percussionists to join a consortium. He was really happy to have electronics integrated into the piece. And he has been so game to do whatever else is necessary to make the piece happen—including spending a weekend cutting up wooden pieces, shaving metal pipes, and even searching for a zither—that the project has become a real joy and a great challenge.
Another thing that led me in a direction that I thought meaningful is that Owen had mentioned he’d really liked the short album ‘Five Days’ that Pink Pamphlet Records had released in 2010. Five Days is an album of short ambient works that I had created while a grad student at Yale. It’s a series of one-takes that I had written quick quickly while there. The idea of creating an EP of music for Owen, 5 semi-self contained pieces further reduced my anxiety about creating a grand, long 25 minute piece.
The piece that ensued (and is ensuing since it’s only about 4/5th complete) wound up becoming a kind of paean to places and people that have deeply affected me. The title refers to an ancient technique of memorization, which—heavily simplified—helped orators remember very long speeches by thinking of their speeches as a voyage through a place; they use mental signposts as a way to structure their memorization. In my piece, the memory palace is my life. The crickets in the first movement, Harriman, were recorded with my friends, the composers Scott Wollschleger and Vincent Raikhel, who are old and dear friends who I have worked with for years. The recording of windchimes in the third movement was recorded at my parents’s house in their backyard. The sounds in the piece are the signposts; they help me remember what is important in my life.
In addition to all the wonderful performances that we have scheduled, we also have several audio and video artists presenting work around Charter Oak Cultural Center, including Lief Ellis, Scott Comanzo and Brian Cook. Also featured will be a video/sound project by Gene Gort, Ken Steen and NewMediaNewMusicNewEnglad in the downstairs gallery. Audiences will be inviting to explore these various pieces during the concert, as well as before and after the festival. Here’s Gene Gort telling us more about NMNME’s project What If?:
What If? 60x60x60
”What If?” is a project designed and curated by media artist, Gene Gort and composer/sound artist, Ken Steen of NewMediaNewMusicNewEngland. The project uses 60 video clips and 60 sound compositions that are 60 seconds in duration each and pairs them randomly using a Cageian model of indeterminacy with 3600 potential variations. Each 60 second work is self-contained and can be experienced independently. What If? investigates the serendipitous relationship of sound and moving image in terms of coincidence, shifting context and potential meanings that result.
The screening for the Hartford New Music Festival 2012 is a newly generated random set of 60 pairings shown on a loop throughout the duration of the festival. To experience the full scope of the project visit the website www.nmnmne.org and try it yourself.
– Gene Gort
I heard composer-performer-artist Marc Burns play an improvised duo set with tubist-composer Ben Klein at Hartford’s La Paloma Sabenera this past winter and was utterly baffled by what I was hearing. The music steered clear of improv-music clichés; it was thoroughly original, wacky, disorienting, but also extremely compelling. He was playing an old Casio keyboard, some flowerpots, and other random objects and instruments. When he approached me about having some music on this year’s festival, it seemed like a tantalizing offer. I wasn’t quite sure what he would produce, but seemed convinced that whatever happened would be exciting and would at least fit the “new music”-ness of the festival. I’m still not quite sure what we are in store for this Saturday, but he’s assembled an ensemble of players, including himself on keyboard, Ben Klein on percussion, Junko Simons on cello, Kit Demos on bass and Gene Baker on trumpet, who will perform his new composition 13 1/2. I must admit that I’m extremely excited for this performance, mostly because I have no idea what to expect, but based on the program notes and images that he’s sent me, its going to be really fascinating:
BOXSCORE SERIES/CLOCK CONDUCTED
Notes on the basis and workings of the piece 13 ½:
‘Boxscore’ refers to scored gestures using found tablature consisting of ‘tabs’, number series cut from cardboard boxes. The tabs are chosen from an assortment and inserted by the performers into the score in predetermined rhythm and melody sets. Since we humans, for all our contrivance, are still necessarily a part of the natural world, these ubiquitous series must enable us to chance upon melodic entities as elemental as water, wind, birdsong, night-sounds, etc., etc.
The clocks’ purpose is to situate the performers in fixed time to utilize and subvert clocked orderliness. Rhythmic structure is freed by performers not having to internalize it. Inherent tempic structures are allowed to arise. Percussion is through scored. We are always hearing. Listening, however, we decide upon—along with time, and numbers, and music—a few of our bastions of order, which, lest we forget, are always subject to chance…
– Marc Burns
A SUDDEN beginning or sudden cessation of sound of any considerable force, has the name power. The attention is roused by this; and the faculties driven forward, as it were, on their guard. Whatever, either in sights or sounds, makes the transition from one extreme to the other easy, causes no terror, and consequently can be no cause of greatness. In everything sudden and unexpected, we are apt to start; that is, we have a perception of danger, and our nature rouses us to guard against it. It may be observed that a single sound of some strength, though but of short duration, if repeated after intervals, has a grand effect. Few things are more awful than the striking of a great clock, when the silence of the night prevents the attention from being too much dissipated. The same may be said of a single stroke on a drum, repeated with pauses; and of the successive firing of cannon at a distance. All the effects mentioned in this section have causes very nearly alike. — Edmund Burke
Electronic musician and performer Todd Merrell has been living and working in Connecticut for a bit of time, and its really great having him present some newer works on the festival. His set will include a recent piece “Earth: Summer 2011″ (which can be heard here) and a new work that will be given its first performance at the festival. When Todd and I were talking about what new work he’d present, he offered me two choices out of the things he was working on: something more ambient that took its inspiration from Cage (in his words, “something pretty”), or “a very rhythmic, electronic dance piece” he was concerned would be “overwhelming”. I obviously opted for the latter, figuring we’d need to have some dance music about two hours into the festival.
For this post, Todd wrote some words about “Earth: Summer 2011″. I’m also going to include a link to a video/sound piece that he made in 2008. Enjoy!
‘Earth: Summer, 2011′ is a new work commissioned by the NOW! Concerts series for software instruments, field recordings, shortwave radio, and processing. Inspired by the idea of reconstructing the present in the future, it is a kind of musical archaeology, describing what it felt like to be alive during Summer of 2011 on this planet, but from the perspective of the future. A series of vignettes, it is a nostalgic look at something very recent, as if it had been put back together many years hence, with the inevitable errors of anachronism, and hypotheses filling in missing information. Stylistically, the piece is an amalgam of many recent and contemporary electronic music styles, including Jamaican dub, downtempo, ambient, drone, glitch, and microsound. This work is a paean to our world, now, and a celebration of being in it.
– Todd Merrell
There seems to be a theme emerging this year of music inspired by Taiwan. We had a recent post about Robert Carl’s new woodwind quintet based on Taiwanese birdsong, and now here’s an entry by oboist Charles Huang on Feng-Hsu Lee‘s Phantasy for oboe and English horn. This work will be opening the festival this Saturday, but in the meantime, you can listen to Oboe Duo Agosto‘s performance here (along with the composer’s performance notes).
Phantasy for Oboe and English horn was commissioned by Oboe Duo Agosto for the inaugural Asian Double Reed Conference in 2011, which took place in Bangkok, Thailand. We wanted a piece that had a strong Taiwanese influence, to reflect our mixed backgrounds. Charles was born in Taiwan, but raised in America; Ling-Fei’s family emigrated from Taiwan to Montreal, Quebec when she twelve. Feng-Hsu, a Taiwanese composer pursuing his doctorate at The Hartt School, used a traditional folk melody from the Atayal people, a tribe of Taiwanese aborigines (melody is posted below).
We love this piece for its use of the folk melody in many forms and fragments, oftentimes with strong dissonances or in different rhythmical contexts. Even though there are only two melodic lines, his counterpoint creates a very dense texture at times. The variety with which he uses these ideas comes to fruition in the form of a “phantasy,” a single movement work that features multiple sections with contrasting rhythms and character, yet with unifying ideas.
– Charles Huang
Our dear friend (and co-founder of the Hartford New Music Festival in 2011) Matt Sargent moved from Hartford, CT to Buffalo, NY this past fall to continue his studies. We were all of course sad to see him go, but are happy that he will be presenting some new work at this year’s festival. The piece he’s presenting, entitled no where i’m bound, grew out of a collaboration with DC-based visual artist Colby Caldwell. Matt sent me a folio of images today with some words about the piece to share on the blog.
no where i’m bound was commissioned by the Hemphill Gallery in Washington D.C. to accompany Gun Shy a visual art show by Colby Caldwell. Colby’s work for the show utilized high-definition scanners to capture detritus from the rural landscape of southern Maryland: spent shotgun shells, bird carcasses, and strands of milkweed.
In creating this piece, I set upon working with my own memory of rural landscapes and processes of decay: musical ideas that could be heard as a point in time within an ongoing process of erosion, similar to the states of the visual materials collected and documented by Colby.
The resultant piece focuses on the melody “I Don’t Know Where I’m Bound”. The piece is an abstraction of the original melody, using a “crossing” process of lines connecting intervallic relationships in the melody. The crossing process produced eight new melodies, each a linear traversing through the original melody: these eight new melodies were then layered over top of one another as interlocking parts and recorded at the Hemphill Gallery with Kelli Kathman (alto flute).
Once recorded, the audio of each of the eight parts underwent a process of erasure. I constructed an algorithm to stretch the each flute note individually, then run the stretched tone through a failing/destructive ancient reel-to-reel preamp (which erases and filters out some audio with each pass), and then stretch that resultant reprocessed recording, etc. The decay process ||: stretch->erasure->stretch : || is repeated many times, until it reaches an iteration in which one more pass through the system would completely erased all of the audio. These sounds, on the brink of complete erosion from acoustic sound back into signal noise, form the resulting piece: a flickering halo of residual sound from the original Cash melody.
– Matt Sargent
Images from Colby Caldwell’s Show
HNMF is going to be presenting the premiere of Robert Carl‘s Wind Quintet no. 2 “Birds of Gandu”. Dr. Carl is the chair of the composition department at Hartt School, writes on new music for Fanfare and recently published a fantastic book on Terry Riley’s In C. The quintet’s second movement requires the players to scatter to various locales in the hall, mimicking the recordings of birdsong that only they can hear via headphones. This novel approach to birdsong in the tradition of composers including Messiaen and JL Adams will be a perfect fit in the beautiful architecture of the Charter Oak Cultural Center’s sanctuary. The premiere will be given by Thiago Sousa, flute, Charles Huang, oboe, Alex Kollias, clarinet, Thea Groth, bassoon and Adam Schommer, horn.
Robert wrote the following about the work:
My Wind Quintet No.2, “Birds of Guandu” resulted from a trip to Taiwan in June 2009. My partner Karen McCoy was invited to exhibit in an international sculpture show in Taipei’s Guandu Nature Reserve, a large bird sanctuary on the northern edge of the city. While there with her, I heard the calls of many species of birds I didn’t know, and the mystery of their calls throughout the wetlands was evocative. This piece is the result of that experience.
The piece consists of three movements:
1. Sunrise Invocation: c.2′, a traditional chorale, though using a harmonic procedure where the notes are selected through a gradual rotation through the overtone series.
2. Aviary, c.15′, timing variable: an open-form environment using MaxMSP generated birdsong as a guide for the players’ performance. The effect of the piece is a gradual crescendo of overlapping birdsongs, morphing from one set to another at different rates over its duration.
3. Sunset Blessing, c.6′. Again traditionally notated, with a blend of the original chorale and the transcribed birdsongs, now harmonically unified.
– Robert Carl