Archive for April, 2008

As I’ve mentioned previously this has really been a good year for 20th Century Composition in the Pacific Northwest. The string of great performances continued on with a rare visit of Stephan Drury to Seattle thanks to the Washington Composers Forums Transport Series. What with the Feldman Marathon and Frederic Rzewski’s recent performance, his selection of works from those composers seemed almost a continuation of those events. The concert had been listed on the Chapel’s blog for a while but with just the Rzewski piece listed. As this is such a great piece I had already planned to attend and when with a late update to the listing the Feldman piece was added it was just gravy.  Alas at the same time they also changed the concert start time to 7:30 which means I’d have to leave work early to make it. Compounding this situation was an incredibly rare mid-April snowstorm. Luckily things are a bit slack for me at work this week and I was able to leave early enough that I made it to the show a few minutes before start time. What with the foul weather they ended up starting around 7:45 so it wasn’t quite as tight as I feared.

I: Palais de Mari (c. Morton Felman)
I’m quite familiar with this piece having heard several recordings of it and having seen Ivan Sokolov perform it earlier this year as part of the Seattle Chamber Player’s Feldman Marathon so this would be an interesting comparison. Drury gave us a brief introduction to the piece mainly mentioning that this was Feldman’s final solo piano piece and that like the bulk of his works was instructed to be played softly. He also mentioned that one of Feldman’s primary concerns in his late works was patterns often constructed from repetitions of short segments inspired somewhat by oriental rugs. This is something that is definitely present in Palais de Mari, which prominently features short little arpeggios and broken chords that seem to slowly iterate though a self similar pattern.  Every so often in the piece there is a discordant chord in the lower register which hangs in the air until it mostly fades away. This always makes me think of how in an oriental rug there is always a ldeliberate flaw so as not to be an affront to Allah.

Drury’s performance was very well paced taking around twenty-five minutes to transverse the piece and his touch was light but sure.  I thought that one of those aforementioned chords was out of place at one point toward the end but it is hard to say, as they are irregularly spaced and I wouldn’t claim to know the piece that well.  As promised the dynamics were uniformly soft, though those discordant moments provided a nice contrast.  The excellent acoustics of the chapel allowed even the faintist of sounds to be heard with a crystalline clarity. Ambient sounds would leak in from time to time, though always at an even softer volume, a dopplering siren at one point being particularly nice.  In comparing the two recent performances I’ve witnessed I would say I found Drury’s superior to Sokolovs. Sokolov I thought rushed through the piece a bit, which isn’t all that surprising as it was the last piece of a nearly four hour concert that prominently featured his playing.  While I think that Drury’s performance is excellent I would say that I still prefer my recording of John Tilbury playing it.

Interval SeriesGhost Light Trio (c. Matt Sargent, film by Mike Gibisser)
Apparently part of each of Washington Composers Forum’s Transport series is a short film made to the music of a local composer. This film is shown at the end of intermission before the second half of the concert.  The film we saw tonight was Ghost Light Trio which overall I wasn’t that impressed by.  There seemed to be odd technical difficulties, which as it was just a DVD playing through a projector seemed a bit odd – it could be they were part of the piece, which if so was wholly uninteresting.  The music was made up of three sounds, each heavily processed at times. These sounds were recordings of water, traffic and bells.  The film was two images with dividing line as if there was two projectors. The film began with the sound of surf and corresponding imagery of blurry ocean. The chimes came in, often overlayed and at times quite dense. The imagery was blurred windows, a mostly empty room and water. The music was uniformly ambient with the bells being the most dramatic aspect. It wasn’t very interesting music and the filmmaker seemed to have responded likewise. There was two overwhelmingly loud blasts of sound that came across as a technical error but again its hard to see how that could happen. Additionally there was a bit where it looked like the video signal went down which is certainly possible but as it was just a DVD again seems unlikely. Especially as one of these times half of the video went to a “no input” screen but considering that there wasn’t two inputs seems like it was staged. If so this was visually and conceptually uninteresting and didn’t redeem the overall tepid affair.

II: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (c. Frederic Rzewski)
Shortly after the film, Drury again took the stage and again began with some explanatory remarks. This piece, which is thirty-six variations on the Chilean song ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayún, takes nearly an hour to perform. So Drury explained he wanted to give us a roadmap as it were to the piece.  The organization of the piece is nicely laid out in its Wikipedia page but he explained several features to the structure of the variations that I wasn’t aware of.  The piece is 36 variations which are organized in sets of 6. Each set of 6 is 5 unique variations with the 6th being constructed of the previous 5. This principle continues one level high in that the 6th set of variations is made up of the corresponding sets of the unique variations. That is to say that variation 31 would be made up of variation 1, 7, 13, 20 and 27. Variation 32 would be made up of variation 2, 8, 14, 21 and 28 and so on through variation 35. Variation 36, following the structure, then is made up of the previous 5 which being constructed from the preceding 30 means that it is a microcosm, a reflection of the entire piece.

The People United Will Never Be Defeated! is a rousing piece based on a catchy theme that one can completely understand being used as a revolutionary anthem. As I walked out from the show I overheard at least three different individuals independently humming the theme.  The variations, as variations do, present this theme in myriad ways, but in classic 20th Century style it deconstructs it further and further to the point that some variations would only be recognizable as derived from it via analysis of the notes themselves. Yet it always maintains the propulsive energy of the piece even in the softer, slower sections.  Drury performed the piece from memory which I found quite impressive. Variations do make aspects of memorization easier, but at the same time their self-similarity can make it easy to get lost. Especially at that great a number of variations over such a length of time.  Having seen Rzewski perform just a couple of months ago I can say that Drury captured his energy and the strength of his attacks quite well. The piece while having a fairly romantic feel to it, does incorporate a variety of extended techniques, including whistling along with his playing and one point slamming the lid down over the keys.  Another part I liked quite a bit was a sequence of vigorous one finger oscillationg playing way up in the upper register. This was done at great force with his hands as fists with just the pointer finger extended hammering at the keys. This created layers of overtones and reverberations that reminded me of nothing so much as the techniques I’d seen used in the Lachenmann performance a couple of weeks back.  In fact the very concept of using a popular melody and exploring, exploiting and deconstructing it in this way was a connection between these two, one that I have to assume Lachenmann is doing after Rzewski.

It was a bravura performance as powerful and as well executed as the recordings I’ve heard of this piece. After pounding out the thirty-six variations Drury delivered on the optional improvisation with a short bit of reference to the them and them of course the rousing reprise. At the conclusion he lept away from the piano and received a well deserved standing ovation at the conclusion.

AMM with the Gunter Hampel Group
March 26th 1972
Deutsches Jazzfestival, Frankfurt Germany

This is without a doubt the single strangest recording in my AMM archives. It basically is a huge jazz group that ranges from bop to fairly free with AMM buried somewhere in there. Prévost seem relatively content with to throw in some serious drumming along with his more percussive work, and Gare mixes his sound oriented sax with some more tonal lines. The first time I heard this I just assumed this was the duo AMM, which as they broke up in early 1972 made sense. But on doing some research and some close listening it does seem that Rowe and Cardew are present. Rowe seems to be laying out or perhaps just completely buried for nearly the first half, but then those scrabbling manipulated pickups of his can be heard coming and going depending on how much else is played. As for Cardew, well it’s impossible to really say, there does seem to be some of his dry bowing now and again, but impossible to say that it wasn’t the bass player or even another instrument.  March 26th 1972, is right on the cusp of the disintegration of the quartet AMM; by the end of the month Rowe would have left the group with Cardew to follow shortly.

What is particularly bizarre about this recording is that if it is the quartet AMM it seems diametrically opposed to all that they espoused. The jazz that they had turned away from is the primary form here with continuous scatting from Jeanne Lee dominating this performance. Evan Parkers playing is a bit more sympathetic to AMM but here it leans toward tonal lines or fiery blasts, two poles this group swings wildly from as if they were a revue of the last decade of jazz. Rowe’s completely non-idiomatic guitar just sounds like noise on the tape and I suspect would be dismissed as such by your average jazz fan. Speaking of which your average jazz fan, one who could find nothing to like about AMM could get right behind this recording.

All in Together Now (G. Hampel)
Günter Christmann (trombone); Gunter Hampel (soprano sax, bass clarinet); Lou Gare (tenor sax); Evan Parker (soprano sax, tenor sax); Perry Robinson (clarinet); Alexander Von Schlippenbach (piano); Cornelius Cardew (cello); Keith Rowe (guitar, etc.); J.B. “Buschi” Niebergall (bass); Eddie Prévost (drums, percussion, etc.); Jeanne Lee (vocals); Unknown (announcer)

The recording begins with an intro in German that announces AMM “from London” and then the members of the Gunter Hampel group.  The music comes right up with a bit of brushes on a ride cymbal and then some piano chords kick in. Melodic sax line over the top of this and then a bit of vamping background sax.  A bit of discord between the saxes and then everybody is playing in this swirling miasma of sound. Very free jazz, nothing super out but only loosely connected. And then begins the vocalizations. Jeanne does either abstract vocalizations or scatting for pretty much the rest of the set with only a few short breaks. Lots of right up front drumming, a feature that runs through the bulk of the set it no matter how abstract it gets. The drums and the vocalizations are a constant and it really grounds the piece and keeps it from exploring new territory. Trumpet bleats come and go, some odd squiggles in the background, probably from Gare. Around thirteen minutes in things mellow way out, with the drumming at its most sedate, long vocalizations from Jeanne, and drawn out tones on the horns. But as is always the case in free jazz the mellow parts just serve to emphasize the active parts and it picks right back up with wailing sax, maddening drums and vocal wailing.  This continues apace for some time, leading to a section with some real upfront scatting. Then another drop out, with just some cymbal work, low volume snare rolls (Prevost?), sax squeaks (Gare?) and a splattering of piano, under the scatting.

Finally she drops out and it is just piano and very quiet trombone. Some bass plucking comes into this, almost a solo with scattered drums and a almost mechanical sound very quiet. Some electronic-ish sounding squiggles, the first obvious sign that Rowe is actually present. Then the scatting comes back up. The electronic scrabbling becomes a bit more aggressive, piano now being constantly played, though fairly low in the mix, Gare style abstract sax-work also fairly quiet. After this more down-tempo, almost AMM-ish interlude things explode again. Off the hook trombone, the scatting fast and furious, piano chords being pounded out, a drum “solo” level freakout, scrabbling on the guitar a total miasma of sound. Very dense now, the vocals drop out and there is some serious sax work. recognizable as Parker. Then as the vocals come back in, everything drops out but piano tinkling and a low plaintive horn. A lazy baseline drifts through, a bit of scrabbling guitar. One sax line comes in, then goes, then another and so on. Runs on the piano, some skronks and squeaks, the scatting now right up front and rather guttural. The energy isn’t so high but everyone seems to be coming back in for one last go around as the piece is in it’s final minutes. The track then ends with just as honking horn as Jeanne gives us a “Thank you very much”. Then applause and one last bit of sax probably from Parker.

This recording really raises far more questions then I have answers for. It could be that at this festival the organizers threw all these people together in the end for a “large group” and they all played along. Perhaps in the end this quote from John Tilbury is what we have to be satisfied by:

“Sometimes, when other people play with us, and because it’s a little bit unfamiliar to them, they’ll do something, and I think, ‘Well, what do you do when somebody does something that you don’t like?’ You can’t go up to them and say, ‘Don’t play that!’ You have to somehow take them by the hand and lead them somewhere else – but then why should you even do that? Maybe they don’t like what you’re doing, so who am I to judge? That’s not just a musical question, that’s also an ethical question.”

-John Tilbury (3)

Thanks to Brian Olewnick for further information about this period of AMM.

Addendeum January 30th 2009:

I have since discovered that this was the final AMM performance. In John Tilbury’s fantastic Cornelius Cardew biography he quotes from Cardew’s journals where he states that the final AMM show was March 26th, 1972 at the Frankfurt Jazz festival (7, p. 651)

1) Gunter Hampel:  Website, Wikipedia
2) Notes on AMM: Entering and Leaving History Stuart Broomer, CODA Magazine no. 290. 2000
3) Meta Machine Music, Rob Young, The Wire Issue #132 (February 1995)
4) Edwin Prévost, No Sound is Innocent, Copula, 1995
5) The AMM page at the European Free Improvisation Home
6) Keith Rowe interview by Dan Warburton at Paris Transatlantic
7) John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, Copula 2008

Eye Music
Friday April 4th, 2008 | 8:00 PM
$5 – $15 sliding scale
Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center
50th & Sunnyside, in Wallingford

So the group that I did that performance of Treatise w/ Keith Rowe is doing a performance this Friday of some of the other Graphic Scores we’ve been working on. Info about the group can be found here and info on the venue can be found here. We’re going to be playing the following pieces, in various combinations of the ensemble:

Mike Shannon Matrix
Toshi Ichiyanagi
Cornelius Cardew
Treatise (pages 72,73 and 76)
Bob Cobbing
Chamber Music
Robin Mortimore
Very Circular Pieces
Clifford Burke
Upside Down & Backwards
Michael Parsons
Piece for 1 or More Guitars
David Toop
Lizard Music