Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bang on a Can: Marathon 2010

I think I've attended every Bang on a Can Marathon concert since 1993, and it's a pleasure to report that this year's offering was one of the best so far. From start to finish of this 13 hour event, the varied music was mostly interesting and attractive.

For me, the best was last. Jointly composed by the BOAC triumvirate of Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, Shelter was co-commissioned by BAM and originally seen at their Next Wave Festival in 2005. The music is strong and effective throughout. Adding the dreamy, at times surreal videos of Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder to the superb performance by SIGNAL produced a wonderful, impressive experience.

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One standout for me was Tim Brady's live electric-guitar work which was heavily processed and accompanied by excellent videos from Martin Messier. (The cumulative conclusion of the increasingly multiplied John Lennon guitar was mesmerizing.)

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Another virtuoso performer was Moritz Eggert, who attacked the keyboard with not only the standard 10 fingers, but also his left foot, chin, and butt. Of course he also roamed inside the piano, produced handheld noise-makers, slapped the the piano's surfaces, banged the keyboard lid, tossed in some body percussion, and more. Somehow, the choreographed expertise and an appropriate brevity made the music more than mere novelty.

Fausto Romitelli, a new name to me, died in 2004 at age 41. His Professor Bad Trip apparently has received considerable European acclaim. The fine performance here by the Talea Ensemble skillfully presented this 45-minute work, which blends "distorted colorations of acoustic and electric instruments as well as accessories like the mirliton and harmonica," and was inspired by "Henri Michaux's writings under the influence of psychedelic drugs." I liked it.

Outstanding performers played for the appreciative audience from both the main stage in front as well as an elevated landing towards the rear, from where we heard an excellent performance of Xenakis's Tetras by the JACK Quartet.

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Early on, two folk musicians from Kyrgyzstan, Kambar Kalendarov and Kutman Sultanbekov, presented lovely performances on the main stage, a haunting recorder and electronic-sounding jaw-harps resonating nicely in the setting's reverberant acoustics. Later, they emerged on the rear stage to dazzle us with showy performances on lute-like instruments.

I also enjoyed music from Tristan Perich, Seung-Ah Oh, Evan Ziporyn, Mary Ellen Childs, Fred Frith, Buke and Gass, and Kate Moore.

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David Lang listens to the sartorially enhanced Evan Ziporyn
discussing his upcoming piece.

Also noteworthy, the teenaged group Face the Music, directed by Jenny Undercofler, gave a fine performance of Graham Fitkin's Mesh.

The Dutch percussion group Slagwerk Den Haag offered several top-notch performances, including a work using blackboards outfitted with contact mikes that triggered samples when "played" by the chalk-writing performers, providing entertaining visual theatrics. This piece, I Delayed People's Flights By Walking Slowly in Narrow Hallways, can be viewed on YouTube.

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There are pluses and minuses in the Winter Garden's unusual venue. It suits the free-to-come-and-go-as-you-please nature of this long event, as well as taking place in a nontraditional public setting far removed from the standard uptown concert hall. On the other hand, this noisy, highly reverberant space favors certain styles of music and diminishes the impact of some pieces. For example, the important vocal samples in Vernon Reid's Ghost Narratives were unintelligible, and the vocal contributions of the uncredited Theo Bleckmann with a performance by SIGNAL were unheard (as if his mike was turned off).

About 30 photos, taken over the 13 hour concert, are here.

Overall, this was an extraordinary event. Bang on a Can remains one of the most important forces in new music.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Trimpin DVD: an early report

A documentary about the sculptor, sound artist, and MacArthur "genius" grant recipient Trimpin has been making the rounds of film festivals, and a commercial release is due out this fall. We've previously written about this news here.

Recently, an advance copy of this DVD surreptitiously arrived at Starkland headquarters. Since I've been a Trimpin fan for years, I'm pleased to report that "TRIMPIN: The Sound of Invention" is a fine, engaging portrait of this fascinating individual and his odd, captivating works. The film strikes a good balance between Trimpin's persistent eccentricity and his effective creations that emerge in the real world, working flawlessly and charming observers both visually and sonically.
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Though I was somewhat familiar with Trimpin's story, it was an unexpected treat to watch interviews with both his father and sister, and to hear stories revealing that Trimpin's particular genius began to reveal itself early on. His interactions with Conlon Nancarrow, some of which I saw in Telluride in 1989, are also effectively presented.

The DVD's opening menu offers either stereo or 5.1 playback, and I found the surround playback significantly enhanced the DVD, at times placing you in the middle of Trimpin's sculptural installations. Indeed, the use of space is essential to most of his final creations.

Another interesting story arc in the DVD follows Trimpin's creation of a staged work for the Kronos Quartet. We see the initial meetings, an early presentation of a colorful "score" that perplexes the performers, the array of playback instruments that Trimpin conjures up, and a sense of the how the premiere performance finally unfolds.

This well-paced film was produced, filmed, and directed by Peter Esmonde, who explains that he made the film "out of purely selfish concerns," that "I needed to document the most creative person I could find, to discover how they'd managed to survive in this society. And I was lucky enough to find Trimpin."

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Trimpin with Peter Esmonde

Up to now, however, the film has only been viewable at various film festivals, where it has been well received. It's great to know that this fall it will be released on DVD.

Monday, June 14, 2010

WNYC airs Bimstein, Gann, Byrne

Yesterday at WNYC, John Schaefer aired a "Found" Sounds show featuring music of Phillip Bimstein from a New Sounds Live concert performed at Merkin Hall. It's fitting the show also airs music from Kyle Gann (a Starkland fan) and David Byrne (a Bimstein fan who attended this concert and chatted with us at intermission). You can hear the show here:

It was a fun evening.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Paul Dresher: "Casa Vecchia" CD: now digital

Paul Dresher's "Casa Vecchia" CD is now digitally distributed. Sources include iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic. The original CD picked up some fine reviews:
"Four works... by one of the best and most original of post-minimalist composers."
- Stereo Review

"Paul Dresher is perhaps the best of the postminimalist composers who learned at the altar of Reich, Riley, and Glass... A gorgeous gem."
- Wired

"Some of the most hypnotic music to come from his generation of renegade composers."
- Classical Pulse
The CD presented the premiere recording of one of Dresher's strongest and most engaging works. Commissioned and premiered by the Kronos Quartet, "Casa Vecchia" (performed here by Vienna's Ensemble 9) offers convincing minimalism within an evolving, cohesive structure. In his introduction, John Diliberto writes that "There’s a solemnity... that recalls the contemplative paths of Górecki and Pärt." Here's an excerpt from "Casa Vecchia":

The CD opens with the hypnotic "Underground," which originally appeared on Starkland's compilation CD, "From A to Z." "Atmospheric and otherworldly" (CMJ), it is perhaps Dresher's most ambient work.

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The infectious "Mirrors," performed by Bang on a Can's Robert Black, deftly generates, weaves, and layers electronically processed materials within a virtuosic, real-time performance. "Other Fire" skillfully processes and combines environmental sounds into an evocative soundscape.

Fanfare’s review concluded that this "Starkland release is an excellent introduction" to "a significant emerging voice in American music."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Erling Wold: Mordake: chamber opera CD released

Erling Wold’s latest chamber opera "Mordake," starring John Duykers in the title role, has been released by MinMax Music and is distributed by Starkland.

The CD is physically available at Amazon, CD Baby, ArkivMusic, and more.

The CD is digitally available at iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, MySpace Music, and over 20 additional sources.

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The opera tells the story of young Edvard Mordake, a man of high birth, secreted away in his apartments due to his disfigurement: a woman’s face on the back of his head, whose constant imprecations, heard by him alone, lead him on a terrifying course of action, one that may result in his own destruction.

The librettist of the opera is the remarkable Douglas Kearney, a teacher of African American poetry, opera and myth at CalArts, well known for his recent performance work with Anne LeBaron. This recording follows Wold’s earlier release on MinMax, the critically acclaimed opera "A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil."

"Mordake packs a multi-sensory punch inside a tightly knit production... If the story of Mordake is a tragic, eerie and at times wickedly funny rumination on the split in the human ego – the violent psychic struggle to reconcile the different parts of our own porous personality – we appreciate its universal tensions because it wraps us so completely in its subject’s deeply fraught isolation,” writes SF360. The San Francisco Chronicle rhapsodizes that “[Duykers] storms, he blusters, he bewails his fate – and, when necessary, he taps into reserves of sweetly tuned lyricism... a dynamic, affecting performance.”

Wold, an eclectic composer whose teachers include Gerard Grisey, Andrew Imbrie and John Chowning, has been hailed as “the Eric Satie of Berkeley surrealist/minimalist electro-art rock” by the Village Voice. His opera Queer, on the book by William Burroughs, will be in San Francisco and New York as part of the 25th anniversary of the publication of the book. His Missa Beati Notkeri Balbuli Sancti Galli Monachi was commissioned and premiered by the Abbey of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He has collaborated with electronic and noise musicians, filmmakers (Jon Jost) and dance companies, including interactive audio and video projects with Palindrome Dance, Nürnberg.

John Duykers, an internationally acclaimed tenor, has appeared with many leading opera companies,  including The Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, Netherlands Opera, Frankfurt Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and the Los Angeles Opera. Duykers most celebrated role was Mao Zedong in the 1987 world-premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China, which was televised (winning an Emmy Award), and recorded (winning a Grammy Award).

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