Archive | May, 2012

John Cage at HNMF

4 May

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 SongbooksSuite 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.”

–John Cage

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


Radio spot today on WWUH

4 May

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!

Festival Program

3 May

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.

2 pm

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
Hotelzimmer 1942
L’automme californien

Peppermill Songs (2010) Kirsten Volness

Frau X
Mann der Stunde

Darren Chase, tenor, Jessica Goldring, soprano, Lauretta Pope, soprano, Bill Solomon, piano

Memory Palace for percussion solo (2012) Chris Cerrone

I. Harriman
II. Power Lines

Owen Weaver, percussion

3 pm

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)
Ensemble 016
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

4 pm

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
II. Aviary
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

5 pm

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


Ben Klein, tuba, Nathan Bontrager, cello, Libby van Cleve, oboe, Maura Valenti, harp, Carl Testa, bass, Bill Solomon, percussion, Anne Rhodes, voice

Chris Cerrone and Owen Weaver discuss “Memory Palace”

3 May
Composer Chris Cerrone and percussionist Owen Weaver each contribute their thoughts on Cerrone’s Memory Palace, which will receive a preview performance on Saturday:

Owen Weaver, percussion

One thing I’ve been meaning to mention is an ongoing collaboration with Brooklynite composer Chris Cerrone.  When I met Chris at a picnic table outside of MassMoCA in the summer of 2010 he immediately recognized the IFARM sticker that adorned my old laptop. That’s notable because to this day no single other person has that distinction.  Sure I’m into obscure thrashers but come on, people.  Get with it.
In the year that followed I heard several performances of Chris’ music.  Most memorable was the large-scale production of his opera Invisible Cities at Columbia University and the small-scale production of How to Breathe Underwater, performed by Loadbang Ensemble at a tiny violin shop in New Haven.
The haunting, reflective, lyrical qualities of these works stuck with me and I began to think of them as qualities lacking in percussion music, known more for its bombast than coloristic subtlety.  I was keen to hear how Chris would treat a percussive medium, and the process has been one of continual discovery.  However, I wasn’t much help.
     “No big instruments,” I said.  “No marimbas.”
     “How about vibraphone?”
     “Dude, you are killing me.”
When commissioning composers I tend to get obsessed with keeping things small and “tour-able”. This runs the risk of inhibiting the sonic scope of a piece, but Chris picked up that creative gauntlet and got crafty.  No marimba?  No big deal.  Instead, he prescribed that I cut and sand seven boards, fine-tuning them to specific pitches.  In our recent test run of two movements at Fast Forward Austin we close mic’d the planks, added reverb, and the electronic component of the piece did the rest.  The result?  Humming drones from the boards, with the amplification and electronics acting as the resonators of our “marimba”.  Other melodic instrument workaround experiments have included tuning metal pipes, plucking pianos, autoharps and zithers, tuning glass bowls with water, and some surprises I’d like to keep under my hat just yet.
The title of the piece is Memory Palace, a reference to the method in which medieval monks constructed imaginary buildings in their mind’s eye as a means to mentally store information.  The finished work will span five movements with twenty or so minutes of music within a full premiere slated for June 20th at the Stone as part of a Sleeping Giant Collectivebash. However, just as with FFA we’re thrilled to offer a preview at next Saturday’s Hartford New Music Festival.

Chris Cerrone, composer

Memory Palace has been the fruits of the last few months of my life. Last summer Owen Weaver called me and asked me for a long percussion piece. Like, TV-episode-long. That scared me, because long solo instrumental pieces are generally not my favorite thing to watch, let alone write. I mean, I can’t think of an experience—maybe a few Beethoven Piano Sonatas excluded—where I really have been captivated by a single performer playing a solo piece for that long. On top of that, a lot of my music has focused on the subtle interplay of musicians. So to write a solo piece would undermine much of what I’d be working on. And not only that: Owen was extremely interested in playing the piece around and touring it in a car. Which meant, in short, that I couldn’t compose a piece for the percussion instruments I usually default to: Vibraphone, Bass Drum, Tam-tam, Etc. It had to be light and portable.

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.

Sound and video art at HNMF

3 May

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 and try it yourself.

— Gene Gort

Marc Burns creates enigmatic work

2 May

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:



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

Dance party

1 May

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