Thursday, February 25, 2010

Amy X Neuburg: The Secret Language of Subways: Vital Weekly Review

Amy X Neuburg's The Secret Language of Subways CD has received a fine review at the influential Dutch publication Vital Weekly. Dolf Mulder writes:
A beauty this one. Let's say an album of "chamber pop". Dozens of references were triggered: Fibonaccis, Kurt Weill, opera, Kate Bush, cabaret, Laurie Anderson, Dagmar Krause, etc, etc. We have here a collection of 13 very accessible songs, but too much avant garde and experimental to reach a bigger audience I'm afraid. The first time I was impressed by the combination of voice and cello was through the work of Arthur Russell many years ago. On this new work of Amy X Neuburg we find the same combination. The classically trained voice of Neuburg combined with three equally skilled cello players: Jessica Ivry, Elaine Kreston and Elizabeth Vandervennet. Besides voice, Neuburg also makes effective and sparse use of electronics and drums. Also she uses the technique of multi-layering voices. It is surprising that this music was created for a live performance, what makes this recording even more astonishing as the role of technique is considerable. The creator is Amy X Neuburg who wrote all music and lyrics, except for the improvisation "Tongues" and the closing track "Back in NY" by Genesis. After Residue by Amy X Neuburg & Men, it took her about 5 years to return with a new CD, this time as Amy X Neuburg & The Cello Chixtet. I don't know much of her musical past. From what I understand she is best known for her live solo performances, using MIDI drum kit, sounds and samples.
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The Secret Language of Subways shows that Neuburg is open for many influences, eclectic in a way, but her pronounced musical language and vision binds everything strongly together following a convincing inner logic. This makes it sound all very natural and undivided. Her songs are carefully modeled and arranged. I guess it must have taken quite some time to sculpt all this material. For sure Neuburg is a very skilled composer, singer and performer. The narrative and dramatic content of the texts are very precise and beautifully accentuated in the music and its the performance. With each listening I discover new subtleties. No doubt this will continue.
Read more about Amy X Neuburg.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mile High Voltage Concert Two

The second concert of Denver's Mile High Voltage Festival opened with Imaginary City, a major music/video/performance work from Sö Percussion, who not only performed the work but also created it. If you see 4 young guys on stage with numerous percussion instruments, you might expect the music to proceed tutti fortissimo. Instead, these söwers offered mostly quiet, contemplative, attractive sounds. In addition to the usual instruments, we heard a toy piano, prerecorded material both played into mics as well as via tiny powered guitar practice amps, crashing tin cans, and shouts from the audience; a lot of variety during the hour-long performance. Accompanying all this was a seductive, slowly dissolving video, using images from the Denver area, all created by (uncredited) Jenise Treuting. The work was directed by Rinde Eckert, a familiar name here at Starkland.

It's a pleasure to report the ambitious Newman Center was a co-commissioner of this substantial work, along with the always cool Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Myrna Loy Center (Helena, MT), The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Flynn Center (Burlington, VT), and Diverseworks Art Space (Houston, TX).

The evening's other major work was Michael Harrison's compelling performance of excerpts from his astonishing Revelation, a major work for a standard piano extensively retuned according to the composer's theories. The unexpected sonorities that emerged were rich, otherworldly, striking. In short, a, well, revelation to me. I guess I'm the last on my block to learn about this, since the CD has been widely praised and ended up on many Best of the Year lists.

The concert also included performances of David Lang's classic Cheating, Lying, Stealing, as well as DU's Conrad Kehn's Maximinimal, for accordion (live, processed, and pre-recorded) and visuals.

The unprecedented Mile High Music Festival was ambitious and successful. This is not your grandfather's new music that was "good for you" (like foul-tasting medicine), but rather the music was invigorating, beautiful, and leading-edge. The festival had some world-class performers playing some of today's most vital music. Congrats to all involved. Let's hope there's more in the future.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mile High Voltage Concert One

The opening Friday night concert of Denver's Mile High Voltage Festival was an especially fine evening for new music fans. Some of us travel to New York or San Francisco to hear high level performances of "alternative classical" music, but this was just about the first time such concerts have occurred in the Denver area. As critic Kyle MacMillan wrote in the Denver Post, this event "is a first for Denver and probably for the Rocky Mountain region."

The concert opened with Burkina Electric, described as the "first electronica band from Burkina Faso" (located in the deep interior of West Africa). The group blends pop/dance music with unusual, sophisticated rhythms. In live concert, the focal point is the charismatic vocalist Maï Lingani, who sings and moves with an appealing passion. She's flanked by 2 energetic male dancers. They are backed the electronicist Pyrolator and the multi-talented percussionist/composer Lukas Ligeti, who brings a highly developed sense of rhythm and meter to the band. The audience responded enthusiastically to the group.

Next was a new work, commissioned by the Newman Center, for this festival. The composer is Andy Akiho, who specializes in performing on the steel pan. In recent years, he's received considerable attention as a composer. This new piece, NO one To kNOW one, was performed by Andy and The Playground (a new music ensemble in residence at DU's Lamont School of Music). The exciting piece presented mostly driving rhythms and further established the worth of this composer.

The wonderful clarinetist Evan Ziporyn played several pieces by David Lang, Michael Harrison, and Ziporyn himself. Having heard him perform many times in New York, I was again so pleased with his committed, glorious performances. Evan played 2 pieces with Michael Harrison, who performed on his distinctively tuned piano.

In addition to the Lang piece, the other 2 co-founders of the Bang on a Can Festival, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, were also represented by effective pieces: Gordon's pulsing The Low Quartet (which features 2 bass clarinets in its ensemble) and Wolfe's Early That Summer, a typically driving work for string quartet.

What the Newman Center has done is most impressive. They've brought in top musicians, normally not heard in this area. For example, this was Lukas Ligeti's first performance in Colorado. (As I chatted with him afterward backstage while he packed up, he mentioned he was leaving for a performance in Dusseldorf, due on a plane leaving about 8 hours later.) The music we heard was vibrant, energetic, engaging alternative new music. In addition to the concerts themselves, the Newman folk also organized performances in the student center, a lunchtime performance of Terry Riley's "In C" in a public atrium (which I heard went well), master classes by both Lukas Ligeti and Evan Ziporyn, meetings with composers, and a panel presentation on Building a Profile in the Music Business.

And, in addition to the performance in the fine Gates Concert Hall, they also setup a separate lounge, dubbed the Cantaloupe Cafe, where folks could watch and hear the concert on screen, while ordering food and drink. They even put all the program notes online beforehand, and sent out emails to ticket-holders detailing the full schedule. And they brought in a distinguished moderator, Tom Moon, who's interviewed everyone from John Adams to Frank Zappa.

Overall, it's a major, ambitious, and surely quite expensive effort. Let's hope this becomes a regular event.

Saturday's concert will have the Sö Percussion, along with The Playground performing music by David Lang (his classic Cheating, Lying, Stealing), Michael Harrison, and Conrad Kehn. It'd be great to see lots of new music fans there.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Denver: rare new music concert features Andy Akiho, Lukas Ligeti's Burkina Electric, Evan Ziporyn, Michael Harrison, Sö Percussion

This weekend, Denver area audiences will have a rare opportunity to hear some leading-edge "downtown" new music. And the venue is not some funky alternative space, but rather the distinguished Newman Center at University of Denver.You can get tix at Ticketmaster.

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The Mile High Voltage Festival features artists of the Cantaloupe Music Label who show the evolving notions of what can be offered as classical music. Performers surprise with new instruments, video as an integral part of music, and boundary-crossing composition. As part of the audience, you may eat, drink and surf the net while you view the concert through live simulcast in our Cantaloupe Café, where signature food and drink will be offered, or you may choose to enjoy the concert in June Swaner Gates Concert Hall as part of a new culture of listeners, a freer, more interactive audience, or do a bit of both. There are 2 concerts on Fri-Sat Feb. 19-20, including:

Andy Akiho - award winning young composer and steel pan performer. Recently featured on PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Burkina Electric - Led by Artistic Director Lukas Ligeti, this band from West Africa mingles the traditions and rhythms of Burkina Faso with contemporary electronic dance culture, making it a trailblazer in electronic world music.

Evan Ziporyn - Composer/clarinetist Evan Ziporyn is a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-stars. He is Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael Harrison - One of the present day masters of alternative tuning creates mystical and memorable piano soundscapes. A long-time collaborator of minimalist masters Terry Riley and LaMonte Young, Harrison also brings his own aesthetic point of view into a deeply reflective and emotionally powerful composition.

Sö Percussion - Since coming together at the Yale School of Music in 1999, Sö Percussion has performed its music all over the world. Sö will perform its new work "Imaginary City," which will be played on a transforming percussion instrument constructed on stage during the work and will include video featuring reflections and images of the co-commissioning cities.

The Playground - Made up primarily of graduates of the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music Masters Program, The Playground expands common conceptions of both contemporary music and the chamber ensemble.

Tom Moon - Festival Moderator (Award-winning music journalist Tom Moon is the author of 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List, a New York Times bestseller. He is a regular contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered as well as Rolling Stone, Blender and other publications.)

Lukas Ligeti writes this will be "my first performance ever in Colorado!" He does have a local connection, however. Boulder's Starkland label commissioned a surround sound piece from Lukas that premiered on Starkland's first-of-its-kind Immersion DVD, released in 2000.

We hope Denver audiences will pack the hall and café for these superb performers and the worthwhile new music.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Phil Kline's Around the World in a Daze: Best of 2009 at WHUS

Phil Kline's Around the World in a Daze release has landed on another "Best of 2009" list. This time it's from Joel Krutt, who airs his "Pushing the Envelope" show on WHUS.

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Joel is a great guy, and this is a fine place to send your new music CDs. He's been steadily broadcasting his show since 1988 (!).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Surround Sound Grammy

It’s especially fitting that this year’s Surround Sound Grammy went to a recording where the title work was indeed composed for surround sound. It’s the first time that’s happened.

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The main work, On the Transmigration of Souls by John Adams, is a musical commemoration for the victims of the 9/11 attacks. The composition is neither an official public memorial, nor a personalized response, but Adams describes it as "a memory space – a place where you can go and be alone with your thoughts and emotions." To enhance the atmosphere, the composer specifies that the audience be surrounded by multichannel playback of “prerecorded city sounds (quiet traffic, voices, footsteps, etc.) and the reading by many different voices of the names of the victims.” John Rockwell has commented:
"The emotional kick is the juxtaposition of the orchestra and the sound collage. You couldn't have done that 50 years ago and had it considered classical music. His acoustic, amplified acoustic and electronic blend adds a contemporary element to him."
The hybrid SACD also offers works from Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, and Jennifer Higdon (who also picked up a Grammy for her Percussion Concerto). The sound of the surround sound SACD has been called “spectacularly clear and atmospheric” (All Music Guide).

Congratulations not only to John, but also to sound designer Mark Grey, surround engineer Michael Bishop, and surround producer Elaine Martone. The label is Telarc, known for high quality sound and originally founded by classical musicians. (Unfortunately, in 2009 most of the key staff was eliminated.)