As described in these pages the core concerns of the Eleven Clouds project was Post-Tudor Live Electronics, Conceptual Music and Music as Object. Typically most pieces realized two or all three of these notions in one way or another in a way that directly informed what the piece was. Beyond each of these primary themes there could be numerous subthemes which shaped how the primary concepts was approached or realized. Of the eleven ‘Clouds’ three of them reversed this general form in that a subtheme was the primary driver for the piece and primary concept was somewhat tangential to this in that the expression of the subtheme resulted in an Object and (sometimes) the Conceptual aspect was a component of the interactions with the recipients.
Spontaneous decisions in the performance of a work and the possibility of the composed elements being “mobile” have been of primary interest to me for some time; the former to an extreme degree in Folio (1952), and the latter, most explicitly, in Twenty Five Pages (1953). For me, the concept of the elements being mobile was inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder, in which, similar to this work, there are basic units subject to innumerable different relationships or forms. the concept of the work being conducted and formed spontaneously in performance was originally inspired by the “action-painting” techniques and works of Jackson Pollock in the late 1940s, in which the immediacy and directness of “contact” with the material is of great importance and produces such an intensity in the working and in the result. the performance conditions of these works are similar to a painter working spontaneously with a given palette. – Earle Brown from his Instruction on conducting Open Forms
The primary element of Calder’s mobiles that Earle Brown utilized in his open form scores is the shifting and unfixed nature of mobiles. Most of the open form pieces are traditionally or partially-traditionally notated piece with a mutable structural element that reflects this “innumerably different relationships of forms”. The Calder Piece itself involves an actual mobile which is performed upon (as can be seen in this charming gallery from a performance of the piece) and engages with other aspects of the mobile such as color, construction, material and so on. The Open Form is in my mind an ideal kind of implementation of one’s influences: it captures a genuine aspect of said influence and yet is not so dominated by it that it is of limited utility. That is to say that Open Forms was something that Earle Brown was able to utilize and develop throughout his career as a composer. In that way it is akin to John Cage’s use of the I-Ching to implement his notions of indeterminacy – a deep well that one could mine endlessly.
Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku) is a complex web of influences, intentions and methodology. At the core though is the haiku and the poets to whom this project paid tribute. For the Eleven Clouds project, where a new piece was created each month, I delved into years worth of unrealized ideas, compositions and concepts. I’d long wanted to do a project where I turned haiku into scores and for this project I finally realized that goal. I created a simple meta-score, that is to say a score for generating scores, that is used in concert with the generated score to create the realization.
1) Select a haiku
2) draw lines for each word whose length is determined by syllable count
3) Perform outdoors or bring the outdoors inside
4) Play an event whose duration is determined by length of the line.
5) Pause for a set amount of time between each “word”
6) Between each line pause for 3-6 times the length of (5)
7) Begin and end with a pause the duration of (6) or 2x(6)
I followed this direction using brushed ink on rice paper. For each individual recording I chose to use the prepared wire-strung harp as the instrument. The concept was that each piece was recorded open air, ideally out of doors, utilizing a single preparation. I chose eleven haiku from among my favorite Japanese and American poets and on a long scroll of rice paper brushed out the graphical element of the scores.
A fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.
There was always meant to be Nine Haiku in this release but I recorded eleven for good measure. For the object that was the result of this process was to be unique; nine individual objects for each of the 9 haiku. For the construction of each object, I then copied the score onto rice paper which I hand stitched into an envelope utilizing a book binding stitching I had learned in elementary school. The music was burnt onto square “business card” CD-R’s which were painted white which fit into these envelopes. The final package was tied off with a red ribbon. The original description of the project:
Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku), the October entry in the Eleven Clouds project, are nine (9) individually handcrafted artifacts each one containing a singular piece of music. The culmination of several months of effort that began with a process that turns a haiku into a performable score, the selection of nine haiku (plus two), the creation of each score using brush and ink on rice paper, the recording of the score over a month (specific weather conditions were required), the editing and selection from among the takes of the most representative of each score, the development of the envelopes from rice paper which necessitated that they be bound by hand, the re-painting of the score onto the packaging, the creation of the labels, the preparing and burning of the cd-rs and finally the tying of the ribbon. Each one of this bespoke edition are unique from the score, to the music, to the packaging and each reflects this individuality. The music is a record of the artists explorations of the prepared wire strung with each recording utilizing a single technique, preparation or gesture. The score calls for the pieces to be performed out of doors (or the outdoors brought indoors) which makes for a varied accompaniment that is of course different session to session.
This world of dew,
is but a world of dew,
— Kobayashi Issa
As with all of the other Eleven Clouds releases the way the release was to be acquired varied. As I’ve explained in previous posts on this project this was part of the exploration of Music as Object and as well as often exploring various conceptual notions. When the conceptual was considered in this aspect of the project it was almost always to make the recipient a collaborator in the process. This was always to a greater or lesser extent and in this case while it was not a major factor (as compared to say 100 Black Kites or aleph) it was certain an important aspect. Again to quote the original press release:
Sometimes the rain is hard to see (9 haiku) is released in an addition of nine (9), each one a unique recording, in handmade packaging featuring the score performed within. In acknowledging the handcrafted aspect of this project these releases will be offered in trade for an item of your own making. Said item could be anything of your own creation that you are willing to mail out in trade: a handwritten poem, short story, a sketch, a piece of music, a fifty-ton cor-ten steel sculpture, a score of your own devising, a DVD, a 17 foot hand knitted scarf, a watercolor, or anything else that you have made yourself. Simply send electronic mail to the address below before November 12th stating your desire to trade for one of these and if one of the first nine to respond, you will be contacted with mailing information. All copies will be mailed out Saturday, November 13th; copies not claimed in trade will be mailed out randomly to previous Eleven Cloud recipients.
Five people engaged in this process sending me such objects as CD-Rs of their own music to little water color paintings. Three more were sent out randomly to those who had previously been sent releases. One release was kept as part of the archive which itself was considered the twelfth and final “release” in the project, titled aleph (there is more to aleph which perhaps I’ll write about at another time). There was at this point in this project a very small amount of people interested, but this group was pretty engaged with the project. As I’ve written elsewhere the degree of engagement in the project was somewhat discouraging, but (as also previously mentioned) I do tend to blame my own inadequacies in various aspects for this.
Another fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.
While I kept extensive notes throughout the project of recipients, communication, objects traded and so, by this point in the project other information was not being so rigorously maintained. For instance the oft cited essay No Ideas But In Things documented each release through August (47° 32′ 25.80″ N / 121° 54′ 32.0″ W) at which time I ceased writing it. Thus I do not have my specific motivations, thoughts, feelings and notions on record. Nor did I keep (at least that I can find now) a comprehensive list of the haiku that correspond to each of the scores. I have to admit I find that rather unfathomable and I do have vague memories of writing them down to use for reference to create the graphical elements. These pages were never completely digitized (I have a document with a couple of them) and has been lost in the course of several moves. I do recall that the poems were by Issa, Bash?, Sant?ka, Snyder, Kerouac and Whalen but I can’t say with any confidence which poem goes to which score (beyond No. 2).
Beyond the lack of keeping more rigorous notes I also did not end up really exploring the secondary more ‘conceptual’ aspect of 9 Haiku which was that each individual recording could be thought of as a ‘leaf’ in a Calder Mobile. The idea here is that one can take each piece and play it in concert, starting each one independently, repeating each one as often or as infrequently as required and so on. The structure for this was only ever mentally sketched out and due to my lack of writing on this entry it is actually hard to say what I really intended at the time for this aspect. The individual pieces could all be played live as described, or the files could be arranged in a DAW, or one could take the individual rice paper scores and make them into a physical mobile and perform them as it lazily moves around. This last notion is definitely something I’ve long had in mind and this piece was certainly part of that. The recordings released as part of this project, as their covers are the score, could certainly be tied onto a framework with their red ribbons and created into such a mobile. The bit of weight that is the CD-R in each one would help steady against light breezes. The far flung nature of the recipients who resided in Scotland, Maine, New Zealand, California, Spain, Texas, Australia and Illinois makes assembling such a mobile seem very unlikely but to me just add to the notion.
Another fragment of the original hand brushed (9 Haiku) score.
I do hope that someday such a mobile will be constructed. But until then sharing files digitally is easy and as each portion becomes available then one mobile becomes more filled out. Not monitoring online sharing sites I have no idea how much of it appeared online but now that I’m putting each of the releases out there myself and have described these intentions these forms can be experimented with. The two additional recordings I made, Haiku No’s. 10 and 11 are also part of the archive being release allowing for one to create 9 Haiku from these eleven sources (though only 9 should be used in any one realization). Archives in lossless formats containing these 11 recordings, plus supplementary documents and images can be found here: Sometimes the Rain is Hard to See (9 Haiku)
I barely listened to any music for a good half of this year and I also, in the interest in not having huge amount of unlistened to plastic objects littering my abode, tried to only buy things I knew I’d listen to a lot. I have to say that I did quite well in that regard thanks to various music blogs and Alastair Wilson’s top drawer Admirable Restraint radio programme. Thanks Alastair! Thus any sort of “best of” music list, even in the micro-domains that hold my interest, is even more useless than normal. But I found there to be quite a bit of captivating music – nearly everything I bought – this year and there is certainly some value in writing a bit about it. There won’t be many (maybe any) shockers here for those that trade in these realms – the usual suspects are all here – but I’ll try to make up for that with a few words on each. Not really reviews – you should buy them already! – and not really critical commentary either; perhaps it’s just rambling. Whatever it is, this is what I’ve got for you this year.
Whenever Keith releases a solo album on Erstwhile Records it tends to supplant the last one as the definitive statement in improvised music. The Room, ErstLive 007 and now September seem like a teleological continuum rendering the previous statement mute. But on revisiting these piece The Room retains it’s power, its place as the definitive declaration (at least until The Room Extended) of Rowe’s philosophy and music, even as it’s language feels increasingly arcane. The two Erstlives are more of piece utilizing the framing device of composed pieces from the classical tradition to which Rowe’s improvisation, radio grabs aids, abets and deconstructs. The previous of these two pieces is well explained by Keith him self in a post on the Erstwords blog as is the nature of this framing device:
The concept for my solo performance was only formed the night previous to the performance itself. Thinking about the forthcoming solo, I felt the need to somehow make clear “who I was”: what my background is, what are my concerns? Something about my interest, the music I love, the sounds that have influenced me, during the performance I came to realise these could be regarded as “Cultural Templates”. – Keith Rowe, EL007
In September of 2011 Jon Abbey (Erstwhile Records) put on the most ambitious to date of his Amplify festivals: AMPLIFY 2011: Stones – two weeks at The Stone in New York City followed up by several days at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. On September 11th, 2011, the ten year anniversary of al-Qaeda attacks on US power structures (more here if you are somehow unaware of this), the nights activities included this solo performance. Keith Rowe certainly had a burden of expectations placed upon him by his audience. A burden that he could choose to ignore as a British expat living in France, but one that he rose to embrace as a citizen of a world that has been transformed by the American lashing out in the aftermath of these attacks.
Of course we don’t have the benefit of a minute examination from Keith of September like we do for EL007 and certainly speculation on this piece likely reveals more of the speculator then of the musicians intentions – just compare the reception of EL007 that came out before Keith’s exegesis (for instance read my thoughts here: Amplify 2008: light – day 2 [though of course I had the benefit of being able to talk extensively with Keith at this concert]). I didn’t have the luxury of discussing this performance with Keith, but Brian Olewnick did and from his excellent review of this piece this note is particularly helpful:
For Rowe, the Dvorak Piano Quintet had come to embody certain ideas about memory, including nostalgia, loss and false memories. Knowing that he was scheduled to perform in New York, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it seemed an appropriate piece to utilize. – Brian Olewnick on September
Unlike EL007, September utilizes just the Dvorak piece as it’s framing device, but he works much more with extended radio grabs. These being from NYC on September 11th, 2011 create a similar aural zeitgeist as you would have found in 2001 but shifted by ten years of a pop and media media landscape that had been irrevocably transformed not just by the passage of time but by the events of that day and the aftermath. The pop music, much of which is even older than the ten year shift, can perhaps evoke in the listener the phrase “the banality of evil”, but is that not too a projection on the part of the listener? In many ways the whole enterprise is — memory, nostalgia, loss and false memories. I noted in my review of the concert eventually released as EL007 that Keith was playing with, complementing, even reinforcing the classical pieces he used as his framing device. With September the Dvorak is likewise not directly abused or deconstructed; the piece isn’t about the Dvorak. Instead it is held up in contrast, wistfully, as an exemplar of a world that never was, that can not be except in our imaginations and channeled into our art. And perhaps even there that world is lost to us. False memories of a world that never was, a world for which we feel such an intense loss and are nearly immobilized by our nostalgia.
My listening has been highly backloaded this year; I spent much of year on a cross country bicycle tour and when I returned to Washington State there was a lot to listen to. This set came out while I was on tour and was one of the first things I acquired upon my return. I never listen to headphones when I’m bicycling because apart from being patently unsafe it puts you at a remove from the environment and denies one a a true pleasure in my mind: listening to the sounds that you are immersed in. One who’s ears are open hears a lot and if there is one thing I’ve learned over my years of listening to experimental music is how to piece together disconnected sounds into an immersive experience. This ability has meant that my relationship with field recordings is somewhat complicated. I’ve worked with them myself for a decade now as detailed in this post on World Listening Day and I of course love many recordings that. I tend to feel that field recordings can make great material and in certain cases can stand on their own, but are often used lazily or as a type of cultural tourism.
Toshiyua Tsunoda has long been a favorite musician, one of the few who is able to release “pure” field recordings that are absolutely captivating. This skill is akin to photography in that a skillful photog can make a piece of art out of the same scene that your average shooter can not merely with camera placement, framing and working with the available light. A field recordist can control mic placement, when to start and when to stop the recording and some bare settings on their recorder. Both a photographer and a field recordist can apply effects, edits, overlays and the like upon a finished piece but it is then no longer “pure”. I for one don’t have much of a problem of this impure results, but it is a different thing, use the recordings as “material” as opposed to as a thing in and of itself. Michael Pisaro in his compositions often uses field recordings as material and also as an ‘environment’ in which his compositions take place (akin to the notion behind my “out of doors” series). The combination of these two musicians was something I was highly anticipating and I have to say I was not let down.
This set has been hard for me to write about, it has a presence and immediacy that just seems to exist. It is hard to talk in the same way that field recordings can be hard to talk about, but this is much more a piece of music. I haven’t seen much written about it, essays or statements from the artists and the reviews I’ve seen have seemed to share the difficulties that I have. Simply describing the sounds used, or guessing at them, talking about Pisaro’s contributions versus Tsunoda’s and all of that just seems of little merit. I was immediately captivated by this set and it immediately became my favorite thing I heard this year. As I began to catch up on other releases and acquired some new ones, nothing ever did displace this though the previous and the following releases joined it as my favorite music from this year. So really all I feel I can say about this, is that you need to hear it. It is absolutely engaging and interesting and challenging and musical. Perhaps my favorite thing from two artists of whom I like many, many things. I’ll have to think about that some – I do like so much from these two. But this is certainly the collaboratively project I’ve like the best from these two.
Morton FeldmanMusic for Piano and Strings volume 2 (Matchless Recordings) performed by John Tilbury and the Smith Quartet
The first volume of the this three volume set from Matchless Recordings was a favorite release from last year and I fully expect volume three to make next years list. But volume two is certainly going to be my favorite of the three. I wrote at length in this post, For Morton Feldman, about my love of Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello and this particular recording of it. Simply having a recording of this piece, given at the pace it requires, from John Tilbury, my favorite interpreter of Feldman is enough to put this right at the top of this years favorites. I won’t write more of this particular piece – see the linked post if you want my thoughts and history with the piece.
Patterns in a Chromatic Field is the other piece on this DVD which is also given the best performance of this piece I’ve heard. Now my relationship with this piece is complicated. I’ve listened to it many times in two other versions. The first of these was performed by Charles Curtis (cello) and Aleck Karis (piano) released on Tzadik. Curtis is an excellent cello player and I think his work here is top drawer. This piece launches right into it with a frantic, sickly cello line as the piano plays big bass clusters. Shorter realizations of this piece find this initial cello part too frantic the piano part rushed. Now it is not supposed to be languid but even just a few extra minutes can let this breath and let that opening not dominate the piece.
I soon moved on the version of the piece released much earlier on hat[now]ART as performed by Rohan de Saram (cello) and Marianne Schroeder (piano) which at around 1’45” is the longest version I’ve heard of this piece. No one can accuse this performance of rushing the piece. I dearly love Rohan de Saram’s playing and if I had a dream version of this piece it was with him sawing the cello and John Tilbury tinkling the ivories. While this is a very cello forward piece the piano, as always is the case with Feldman, is vital and the performance demands that ineffable touch. As has been said by myself along with many others, Tilbury has that touch. While I think many are good at performing Feldman, and I’d place the pianists of both of these other performances in that category, few are are great at it. Tilbury is and his magnificent touch is on display here. Even those opening clusters you can hear him pressing down on the keys with a velocity that hovers at some point. There is somehow still a softness to it amidst the big sounds.
Feldman’s string pieces with piano always have an interesting relationship to the piano. From Piano and String Quartet which the piano only place arpeggios to Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello where the strings are like the effects on a prepared piano there is never the attempts at a merged soundworld. The Smith Quartet do an excellent job at all of the string parts and while one may think of Irwin Arditti or Rohan de Saram as string players you’d love to hear in conjunction with John Tilbury I can find no fault in the musicianship here. These three DVD-A sets, which allows these pieces to unfold uninterrupted at around an hour and half each are sure to be considered among the very best realizations of these pieces and absolutely essential for an understanding and appreciation of these great compositions.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Ullmann’s A Catalogue of Sounds (also on Edition RZ) and furthermore enjoyed a string quartet of his recorded by the Arditti’s. But another piece of his, voice, books and FIRE 3 (again on Edition RZ) I consider one of my biggest disappointments of all time. It was because of how much I loved A Catalogue of Sounds – a piece I’d place somewhere on my favorite pieces of all time list – and how much I didn’t care for it. So I really hesitated on picking up this set. This is set of three CDs and Edition RZ stuff is always expensive, so what with the disappointment of the last piece of his they put out it was hard to take the risk. But good notices came in from people whose opinions I respect, people who also love A Catalogue of Sounds, and ErstDist was selling it for a quite reasonable sum so I decided to take the chance.
“Loud music forgoes the subtleties of perceptible sound.” -Bernd Leukert, from the liner notes
Of course it turned out to be fantastic, probably another set tied for the top of the list. But I just haven’t had enough time to come to terms with all of the music herein to honestly make that clam. The music is much closer in to A Catalogue of Sounds, especially on discs 2 and 3 – low dynamics, tentative brittle scrapes and percussive bits even some beautiful voice tones on disc three – the first use of voice I’ve liked from Ullmann. Disc one is pretty different with two shorter pieces instead of the disc length pieces of the other two discs. It is (of course) still pretty low dynamics, but much more varied, with a few louder interjections. The three discs are chronological with disc 1 featuring pieces from 1989 to 1993, disc 2’s single piece written between 1997-99 and disc 3’s piece the most recent composed between 2004-2007.
“We hear better because we make an effort to hear better.” -Bernd Leukert, from the liner notes
I should say that this is a very handsome set. The black on white on black of the box with it’s (seemingly) cryptic lines and dashes is really a stunner. Inside it continues to impress with the best individual disc sleeves I’ve seen. Each disc is housed in a little booklet with a pocket for the disc, the ever inscribed with disc number the same fragmented letterset of the box cover (and the Edition RZ composer series in general) and the interior featuring an image from the score. The back contains the textural information – title, year, performers et al – each disc like an individual Edition RZ release. Really well done and by far the nicest traditional release I purchased these year.
“I can’t imagine any music upon which the shadow of a thousand years does not fall and which does not, in turn, itself cast shadows.” -Jacob Ullmann, from the liner notes
The set comes with very nice liner notes by Bernd Leukert which discuses much of the notions and material of each of these pieces as well as notions on Ullmanns goals and ideas. With the little amount of time I’ve had with the set I’m going to beg off on any further writing on it. Read these liner notes for better information than that I can provide at this moment. I’ll end by simply saying that I love the music on this set; I have listened to it a lot since getting it and it will need a lot more listens. Maybe I’ll try to write more about it at a latter date, but just thinking about trying to write something for A Catalogue of Sounds, which I’ve been listening to for half a decade I suspect I’ll never really know what to say. Perhaps that says enough.
In the spring of 2010 I had the good fortune to be able spend four days in Boston attending the Christian Wolff at NEC events. Keith Rowe was there to perform several pieces and among these was a duo improvisation with Christian Wolff. This was a pretty short (though wonderful, read about it here) performance, 10-15 minutes and thus at the AMPLIFY 2001 their duo was able to be billed as their “first full length” performance. This CD of course is the document of that performance; perhaps the performance I was most unhappy to have missed in 2012. At the 2010 meeting I had truly wished for the performance to go on at length but it seemed that Wolff tends to prefer a shorter statement. In the performance of Edges, along with Rowe and NEC students, which is a graphic piece where you move through the material at your own discretion he was among the first, if not the first, to do so. So it is interesting to hear him improvising, in a situation with very little cover, for around 40 minutes.
Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff at NEC
Christian of course played with AMM during their most innovative and unruly period, concerts that could go on for two or more hours, so I really never doubted that he would rise to the challenge. He operates here similarly to his performance of Edges (which was indeed written with AMM in mind) moving through various gestures and simply allowing more space, more deliberation in them. Keith is operating in his recent, more more pared down mode – which I feel is the the only time in his long career that he has bent toward the prevailing aesthetic as opposed to pioneering it. Of course one could argue that he’d pioneered it with AMM back in the 60s and it is simply a return to the form for him. And yet it is the prevailing aesthetic in the circles in which he is best known and he had not moved to embrace it until pressed to. However once Keith moved in this direction I think he really showed how it should be done. That is he lets the silences be silences whereas I think most ‘silencers’ push the silence around (to paraphrase old Morty). The spaciousness and deliberation of both of the performers here works quite well, as does Christian seemingly moving through his gestures Edges style. Keith very slowly, at a pretty low volume, works with a few textures with again much space between them. The more upfront gestures seem to mostly come from Christian, again evoking Edges (one of the symbols is to make a loud noise). In fact considering Keith’s excellent and very subdued version of Edges on the excellent Christian Wolff double CD on Edition RZ from last year, this really could just be an unannounced duo performance of the piece. Thus you end up with a piece similar to the late Cage Number Pieces in which the events elide due to individual variations of choosing spaces. A wonderfully taught piece, with sounds from the Stone and the City nearly on equal footing with the performers own. Without a doubt the most engaging bit of duo improv (a diminishing genre in these circles) I heard this year.
This year was the John Cage Centenary and there was many great Cage releases and re-issues put out this year. Too many for me to keep track of or acquire all of (I really regret not hearing the four CD set of Etudes Australes performed by Sabine Liebner for instance) but good to see both in recordings and concerts Cage’s legacy seriously tackled. Among the most interesting of all the releases is this historical document of John Cage and David Tudor in Japan. The impact of their tour was described as John Cage Shock which was used as the title for this three CD set.
In this tour Cage championed new music beyond his own with pieces from Christian Wolff and Karlheinz Stockhausen being performed along with pieces from Japanese composers Toru Takemitsu and Toshi Ichiyangai. What is most interesting to me about this set is that it documents further use of David Tudor’s Amplified Piano that was so stunning on his realization of Variations II. Volume 1 of this set includes another version of that piece, shorter and not quite as powerful but more crunchy and even more noisy at times – A nice addition to the version available on Edition RZ.. This colume also includes a great version of Takemitsu’s Corona for Pianists and a Wolff’s Duo for Pianist & Violinst. All three of this pieces are excellent and this is I think easily the most essential disc in the set.
The amplified piano can also be heard on volume 2 in the realization of Cage’s 26’55.988″ for 2 Pianists & a String Player. Alas this performance is marred in my opinion by the interjections of Yoko Ono (whom I can like just fine in other contexts). As the other piece on volume 2 is Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X which is a piece I for one don’t care much for, I find volume 2 to only be of historical interest. The goods return with volume 3 which opens with a great, noisy realization from Cage of his 0’00”. Music for Piano #7 from Ichiyangi, a graphic score that Tudor interpreted with sudden and spaced out interjections on the piano while various electronic and concrete sounds are projected. Interesting to hear with some great sounds but not a piece I’m going to play a lot. The disc also includes the rather indifferent and unmemorable Composition II for 2 Pianos composed by Micheal von Biel.
Musically the whole set is pretty mixed. I would have been satisfied with Variations II,0’00”, the Takemitsu and the Wolff which could have fit on a single disc. But the set is quite nice with folde out liner notes in English and Japanese each with a nice sized picture or two on them. The set I bought also came with three postcard size photographs of Cage and Tudor from the tour. The document of the performances that created Cage Shock in Japan is certainly of a lot of interest for Cage enthusiasts along with those interested in 20th Century composition and the development of Live Electronics. While I may not connect with every piece I certainly value this entire set.
Morton FeldmanCrippled Symmetry: at June in Buffalo (Frozen Reeds) performed by the Feldman Soloists: Eberhard Blum, Nils Vigeland, and Jan Williams
While this may have been John Cage’s centenary year, his fellow NY School composer Morton Feldman received a number of fantastic releases this year as well. Few were better than this historical document of the Feldman Soloists – a group of musicians who performed Feldman’s work during his lifetime – performing Crippled Symmetry in Buffalo NY in June of 1983.
This turned out to be one of the best performances that we had ever given together. The rare and indescribable “magic moment” of occasion and ambience seems to have inspired us.” -Eberhard Blum writing on this performance.
I often turn to Morton Feldman to listen to as I fall asleep. I’ve long been burdened by insomnia and putting on music as I go to bed often leads to me listening to the entire thing before eventually falling into slumber. Some nights though I fall asleep relatively quickly and thus I like music that is both soft and gentle but that is worth one’s attention. Feldman has long been in that category for me and thus he is often on my night stereo. This set has gotten a huge amount of play in that regard and thus I’ve listened to this as much as anything this year. Of course it has also been played numerous times without the hope for sleep being involved and it is just an absolute stunner. I have two other versions of this piece including one by this very same ensemble released on Hat. I’ve played these other versions many times over the years, but the energy and vitality of this live performance is just unmatched.
Compilations are almost always mixed affairs and this is no exception. A USB memory stick with ten uncompressed recordings from people and groups who performed at or otherwise involved with the Dotolim venue in Seoul South Korea. The memory stick itself is quite cute: a little plastic square with plain text of the title and different colored rubber covers on the USB jack. Definitely my favorite bit of packaging from this year. Once you plug it into your computer you can run in your web browser and html page that serves as index and allows you to play the individual audio and the one video file. Of course one can just as easily copy the files over to your computer and play them with the device of your choice which was the method I chose.
The set features five solos from Joe Foster, Kevin Parks, Jason Kahn, Tetuzi Akiyama and Ryu Hankil’s solos. I really dug those from Foster, Parks, Kahn and Hankil but found the Akiyama rather short and slight. There are noisier pieces from Astronoise and Transistorhead that didn’t do much for me at all, but of course your mileage may vary there. But to me the highlight of the set was the quartet of Hong Chulki, Choi Joonyong, Joe Foster & Jin Santa and the duo of Olaf Hochherz & Jamie Drouin of whom I was previously only minimally familiar The quartet with its fluttery metallic sounds, rotated metal, crumpled amplifications and spaciousness feels like a lot of familiar ideas pushed one step beyond flirting with a structureless structure and is just completely riveting. The Drouin and Hochherz almost sounds like a duo of Sachiko M & Sachiko M with the pure tone and the fluttery side of her work playing together along with a sprinkling of the contact mic she sometimes deploys. Yet the context and the structure of this piece is all it’s own and there are sounds that Sachiko doesn’t try for. Thus it is a rare exploration into that soundworld and one I found completely captivating.
My personal copy of the set
In a period where composition seems to be leading the way, at least capturing the bulk of the attention, improvisation is alive and strong in Korea. There is a lot of risk in the work coming from there and it often doesn’t entirely succeed. But the risk is necessary and the payoff is high. If one’s attention isn’t solely on composed work at this juncture you can do no better than to tune your ears to the small but thriving scene in Korea.
The series of pieces named fields have ears represent my attempts to come to compositional terms with different notions of “fields”: how we hear them, how they might hear themselves, and what there is to hear.
– Michael Pisaro, from the aforementioned blog post.
I happened to be at the August 2011 performance of the the piece for guitar and sine waves in Seattle, (and met Michael in person for the first time as well) which I quite enjoyed and is interesting to contemplate in relation to this later version of the piece, in which the Seattle performance is incorporated. After that performance I picked up the realizations of the related pieces released on Another Timbre, which records several different iterations of the piece from several different ensembles. This I have to say is also a quite enjoyable disc and that I really liked the different realizations herein. These pieces have a lot more in common with the live performance I witnessed in their spare structure and delicacy which makes this disc an ideal companion for this new recording and along with the textual material allows the listener to really engage with this piece and it’s history.
One thing I’ve found is that is a lot of the Wandelweiser and related musics work far better in live performance than recorded. That is the music seems to be activated by their surroundings and since they often use space and silence these surroundings are oft given quite a prominence of place. I think that Pisaro has been the most successful of these related groups of musicians at translating his pieces to the recorded medium primarily because, I suspect, he takes the medium in account. That is the pieces released are often more layered, incorporate field recordings or specially take the limitations and differences of playing back a piece into account. Whereas a live recording of a performance such as the one I experienced in Seattle might seem slight or overly thin this really is a limitation of open air recording versus the listening experience. The way that we shift our focus from all the sounds that surround us and the effects of the space from two ears separated by the skull is quite different from what can be recorded. The listener constructs the piece as much as the muscian and the environment. It is this that I think is the difference between the versions of fields have ears: in the realization of (6) for the Gravity Wave disc Pisaro layered together different performances and recordings of various versions of the piece and added some site specific field recordings. This takes advantage of that effect, that John Cage understood so well with all of his simultaneous performances, happenings and “musicircuses”, of the layered event. The brain automatically fits sounds (and images too – watch any video the sound off and the music of your choice playing and note out it “syncs” up) together and creates it’s own context. For is this not how we experience sound all the time in nature?
So what began as something like a well-regulated garden became a space filled with all kinds of material, now resembling a rather unruly city park.” -Michael Pisaro, from the fields have ears (6) liner notes.
John CageSonatas & Interludes, James Tenney,Piano (hat[now]ART)
The John Cage piece that even those who don’t like John Cage enjoy. This relatively early (1946-48) piece, one of the last before Cage had fully embraced chance operations, is one of the pinnacle of Cage’s prepared piano works. This piece listened to in it’s entirety, develops as it goes along with a gentle tension and release and a wonderful percussive aspect that more fully explores the prepared piano than any other of Cage’s pieces to utilize the instrument. This is the most recorded of Cage’s pieces and is widely available from the original performance by Maro Ajemian to my personal favorite by John Tilbury. With so many versions out there one may wonder why it is this one is essential to add to one’s collection. The answer is that James Tenney, a fellow composer in the experimentalist tradition, adds much to one’s appreciation and understanding of this piece with his realization. Tenney heard Cage himself performing this piece at the age of 16 and that turned his head enough that he pursued music along with science and engineering. These dual interests informed Tenney’s experimentalism – his scores often worked with acoustical properties and explored mathematical functions. Furthermore he performed the Sonatas & Interludes throughout his life and this familiarity, expertise and love of the piece combined with his engineers precision in the preparations lead to a faithful yet unique realization. The preparations, which Cage detailed in his typically precise yet idiosyncratic way (for instance he uses measurements for the placement of the preparations that are based on a specific piano instead of being scale independent), were hand selected by Tenney based on he thought it should sound. So while he followed Cage’s instructions his primary driver was the sound. His performance was informed by his compositional interests in sound and relationships of sound and thus he performed the pieces a bit more brusquely than is typical. Listening to this with an ear toward the interactions of the sounds as opposed to the melodic and rhythmic is truly rewarding. While I may turn to the Tilbury two out of three times this version will be that other play. Beyond the historical interest of the Maro Aiemian recording these two recordings of the piece will suffice.
These six records are all as different as can be and are all ones I enjoyed quite a bit. The Kinoshita/Murayama (which I especially love the cover) I perhaps received too recently to really fully absorb. While I think that Kinoshita’s work is marvelous here I found that Murayama, while in the main adding very interesting and compatible sounds sometimes lets loose with sounds from his drums that pull me out. Too on the nose as it were. Overall solid and worth hearing, but just shy of greatness I feel.
Beuger has often left me cold and while I have enjoyed several of his compositions, it is this one that I feel I have truly connected with. There is a lot more diversity to the sound and dynamics here and a playfulness – perhaps brought by the performers – that I’ve found lacking in his work. This disc is definitely recommended for those that may have shared my skepticism, but also for those who feel like I do that Wandelweiser stuff is best live and in recordings that capture that aspect.
Neumann and Jones put out the only other outstanding duo improv I heard this year. Admittedly I didn’t seek out everything and thus you can take that for what it’s worth, but I heard enough clips and read enough reviews that I only bought things that I felt would appeal. And this one surely did. I’ve enjoyed both of these musicians work for years and I was really excited to hear this recording. I was a little disconcerted by reports of singing and text recitation which is often overly affected and earnest in experimental contexts but this small bit of that here works effectively. Lafkas’ large ensemble piece is a sprawling work that drones and chatters but always seems well considered. Another disc I got too late to absorb fully but one I’ll definitely return to many times.
At the end of my cross country bicycle tour my thoughts increasingly turned to the music of Codiene, the “slow core” band from the early 90s that were a mainstay of my later college years. On arriving in Bar Harbor I found out that they put out a set including their three albums along with three CDs of unreleased material (and also toured briefly). Quelle Coincidence! Owning the originally albums I didn’t feel much need to buy the whole set (plus I no longer have a turntable) but I was delighted to find I could purchase the unreleased material from iTunes. And so I did. These tracks, plus the original albums once I was back home, got many, many plays.
It’s been a great year for the New York School with absolutely vital discs featuring John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff released. Happily Earle Brown wasn’t neglected either with Wergo putting out this top notch set performed by my second favorite pianist Sabine Liebner. This set has piano versions of all of the expected “hits” plus many more, much more obscure pieces. All of these absolutely beautifully and creatively rendered by Lieber. Brown’s graphic and open works demand this creativity and likewise require many versions to get any sort of handle upon. Thus this is a most welcome addition to my collection of Brown realizations.
Merce Cunnigham’s impact on the dance world seems without question, but his legacy extends far beyond that with his championing of contemporary art and new music. The list of artists he collaborated with is staggering especially when you consider how many of them had such an impact themselves on their various fields: Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Frank Stella, Morton Feldman, Maryanne Amacher, Bruce Nauman, David Tudor, Pauline Oliveros, Jasper Johns, Toshi Ichiyangi and on and on. His continual promotion of new music,the subject of this set, even at critical cost to the company is frankly quite amazing. Doing research on modern dance for these posts, the really pedestrian music that most dance companies utilize, no matter how cutting edge their choreography may be, highlights just how forward thinking Cunningham was and how willing to place himself, his dances and his legacy at risk in support of this music.
Cunningham and Cage
Being allied with John Cage was clearly a massive boon in keeping abrest of the current trends in modern music and his long tenure as music director ensured that the companies music stayed on the forefront of the cutting edge. The very judicious additions of new regular musicians and use of guest musicians and composers kept continuity and kept things fresh. Cage’s legacy as musical director is in keeping with the rest of his career: also exploring, always experimental always looking for new sounds and new ways to use materials. Tudor’s tenure as music director was so short that he really had no time to make much impact. The company seemed to stick with the current regular musicians and composers and in fact there are no pieces on this set from that period. The final music directory, from 1997 until the end of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour in December 2011 is Takehisa Kosugi.
Kosugi has of course been a member of the Company’s pit since the sixties and had composed, or improvised many a piece for the company in the intervening years. I’ve expressed numerous time in these posts my mixed reactions to his work here – enjoying his violin and live electronics at times, his vocal work pretty much not at all. However to consider his work as musical director is a different matter as it is hard to say how much influence was Cunninghams. Cunningham was certainly well connected in artist circles and I’m sure met people that he’d like to work with and passed on suggestions. Equally so is Kosugi connected in the musical world, especially in NYC and certainly brought in a lot of the new voices. There has has been a Music Committee (currently Christian Wolff, David Behrman, John King) for quite some time in the company and they certainly have had some influence as well. Regardless of whomever may be ultimately responsible it is undeniable that the 13 year period after Tudor’s passing seems to be musicaly the weakest; the least cutting edge.
Robert Chase Heishman, etc,
printed backdrop for Merce Cunningham's Split-Sides, 2003
The use of musicians associated with (or sympathetic to) the downtown scene such as Jim O’Rourke, Ikue Mori, Marina Rosenfeld, George Lewis, Christian Marclay seems most likely to come from Kosugi who certainly has intersected with that crowd. The use of more avant pop musicians such Radiohead and Sigur Rós (for Split-Sides, 2003), seems like a move from Merce; perhaps responding to what his younger dancers were listening to. This set dedicates only one disc to the music between 1998 and 2009 and with the exception of Annea Lockwood all are from longtime collaborators with the company. This disc is also by far the least interesting in the set with only a repurposed Cage composition of much interest. The second disc covers Events, which feature improvised music and many of the aforementioned downtown musicians; more on Events in the disc ten section of this post. It is hard really to assess the final decade of the company based on what is here – the set is always misleadingly incomplete (the aforementioned Radiohead and Sigur Rós being a late example not included music). There was definitely a lot more revivals in the companies final decade, which I think is reasonable – the dances could be “lost” without this oral transmission. Kosugi and the rest of the pit clearly did an admirable job on recreating the old pieces, or at least playing recordings of them for these revivals. Cunningham continued to make new dances and innovate with the use of his DanceForms software but at an understandably diminished rate. Cunningham’s legacy is as I’ve said undeniable and even if its final years weren’t as strong as its earlier years, he was still not spinning his wheels.
Disc Nine (68′ 58″)
The final disc of pieces composed for the Company is a letdown. It begins well with a very nice, though short, extract from a late Cage number piece but its all downhill from there. Disappointing pieces from King and Behrman, form the core of the disc and the final piece, by Annea Lockwood is nice enough, but spineless. Lockwood’s piece though is the most forward looking of these concluding pieces in that they commissioned a new (ish) composer who is clearly more hungry for exposure. The Cage piece is from 1991, one of several of his older pieces that was put to use to accompany new dances. King and Berhman are of course company regulars (and music committee members) and shows Kosugi not straying too far from associates in his choice of whom to commission. As I’ll discuss in the disc ten section below, he does seem to bring in a lot more new musicians for the Events, so frankly this could be a lot worse. But it does seem to be out of touch with more interesting musical work occurring during the last decade of the company.
Merce Cunningham, Interscape (2000)
1) John Cage (1912-1992) 108 and One8 (1991) [excerpt] 14:18
Dance: Interscape (2000)
Loren Dempster, cello; Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, Arturo Tamayo, conductor
Recorded September 29, 2000, Venice
This is the only truly great piece on this disc; Cunningham utilzing a late Cage number piece for one of his later dances. It’s interesting to contrast how well they are able to get the orchestra to perform, considering the open rebellion Cage recevied from orchestra’s early in his career. But now he’s a household name, the practices of the experimentalists are, while not really embraced, at least understood. One8 was written for Michael Bach, who invented his own bow and commissioned a number of rather virtuosic cello pieces from Cage.
Besides the musical notation itself, perhaps the most informative part of the score, the key to its understanding, is the phrase “for Michael Bach.” I am reminded here of the composer Sylvano Bussotti’s 5 piano pieces for David Tudor: that the title was not so much a dedication as an instrumental designation. The same is true of Cage’s score, since Michael Bach is not just a cellist, but an inventor of playing techniques.
That One8 was composed for him tells us much about the way the music is to be played. First, there is the use of his unique curved bow – the BACH.Bogen®. This bow, first developed by Michael Bach in 1989, not only has a curved shape, but also has a mechanism for adjusting the tension on the bow hairs. These two features together allows the cellist to play three or even all four strings of the instrument simultaneously, something which is impossible with a traditional straight bow. – James Pritchett(6)
Many of the number pieces could be performed along with other number pieces, even the large orchestral pieces – 108 indicates the number of musicians. The description of this piece from the John Cage database describes all of the various options:
“108 can be played with or without One8 for violoncello solo and/or with One9 for sho and/or Two3 for sho and conch-shells. “- 108 in the John Cage Database
The piece itself is typical for the late time brackets pieces, with pitches indicated to be played within ranges of time as well as a variety of instructions on technique, tonality, dynamics and the like:
The composition uses flexible time-brackets with single tones, which should be played in a single bow, single breath, or a simulation of that (by circular breathing or imperceptible bow changes). Tones can be short or long, since the beginnings and endings of the brackets overlap. Long sounds should be soft, short ones may be louder. The piece is split up in parts with silence and parts with sounds: 0’00”-1’30”, 14’00”-18’00”, 32’30”-34’30”, 35’00”-39’00” and 42’00”- 43’30” are silent periods, the others are periods of activity. In the case of a cello concerto the violoncello is heard in the silent periods. In this case it is called One8 and 108.”
– 108 in the John Cage Database
The recording begins with skittery cello, sounding almost electronic. Then the darker sounds of the orchestra coming in, each instrument in long low lines. Often brooding, some real dense parts, lots of horns. The cello cutting through now and again. Dempster here as the featured cellist is really great, this excerpt is probably the best version I’ve heard of 108; wish this whole disc was this performance.
Merce Cunningham Fluid Canvas (2002)
2) John King (b. 1953) longtermparking (2002) [excerpt] 15:31
Dance: Fluid Canvas (2002)
John King, laptop
Recorded September 10, 2002, London
Early laptop piece, has a sort of “digital live electronics” feel a first but becomes increasingly typical of Max/MSP music of the time – grain based synthesist, sequenced rhythms, moving around the stereo field. Later sampled, looped piano that becomes pretty spectral and then a terrible sequenced digital percussion bit. Digital ping ponging and ponderous piano at the end. Overall a pretty lame piece and one where the excerpt could have been a lot shorter.
3) David Behrman (b. 1937) Long Throw (2007) [excerpt] 18:25
Dance: eyeSpace (2007)
David Behrman, laptop; Takehisa Kosugi, electric violin; John King, electric guitar, viola; Christian Wolff, prepared piano
Recorded October 22, 2007, Melbourne
“The music reflects the six-decade time span from 1947 to 2007 by combining a piano part, with preparations similar to those used by Cage in his “Duchamp” piece, with 21st-century music software and sound-sensing technology.
Long Throw was made with performance roles for the core musicians of the Cunningham Company in mind: Christian Wolff, Takehisa Kosugi, John King and Stephan Moore. In addition to the prepared piano part, the piece also calls for performances by several musicians playing violin, viola, and electric guitar. Its software was designed by the composer.”(1)
Piano, with swirling laptop initially. The piano from Wolff is really nice. The guitar comes in and is slide and harmonics; a bit silly. The piece has a sort of loping feel to it; like a Bill Frisell piece. Percussion from the prepared piano, gentle americana from the electric guitar and violin and a sort of brooding wash from the laptop. Solo piano part in the middle is nice, rather Wolff-ish in nature (beyond being played by him) but again with a touch of jazz – ragtime almost. I wanted to like this piece a lot more; while it has its moments it’s rather thin on the ground. Becomes kind of ping-pongy digitally toward the end.
Merce Cunningham eyeSpace (2007)
4) Annea Lockwood (b. 1939) Jitterbug (2007) [excerpt] 20:19
Dance: eyeSpace (2007)
John King, electric guitar, viola, live electronics; David Behrman, laptop, zither; Stephan Moore, live electronics
Recorded January 26, 2008, Stanford, California
Kind of a popping electrical sound, repeated guitar string taps, the sound of rushing water, metal on strings and so on. It goes through many different “movements” each with a different feel, but gives the piece a lack of unity (perhaps evoking the title). Best bit has this almost flatulent electronics that fades in and out along with a sound like a far away bull roarer and dripping water. All of this evokes frogs, insects and other flora and fauna pond. Like a sylvan version of Rainforest made for one of those “meditation” tapes. Lots of good moments like this but I can’t help but feel that every time I hear a Lockwood piece that while she may have innovated the style there are those that, even in imitation, do it some much more interestingly. This is an enjoyable enough piece but, frankly it’s background music.
A 2008 Event at Dia:Beacon
Disc Ten (77’30”)
“Presented without intermission, Events consist of excerpts of dances from the reportory and new sequences arranged for the particular performance and place…” -Merce Cunningham
Dancers need space in which to dance, to run on and off stage, to be able to generate the needed velocity for leaps and bounds; but space was not always a given in the early days of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. On their first World Tour in 1964 they took whatever space was offered to them and in one such space realized they couldn’t perform any of their current repertoire. Looking back to the “happening” at Black Mountain College where simultaneous music, theater, dance etc was performed in a cafeteria the Events were born. In these events the dancers would perform parts of dances, or improvise within a limited area, or perform simultaneous solos and the like. In the first Events, John Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis was the music performed, but in later Events the pit musicians would primarily improvise. Disc Ten of this is presents thirteen short extracts (and really short as these would usually be an hour and a half) from these improvisations.
“In Vienna, we were scheduled to perform in the Museum of the Twentieth Century, but it had no theater. In order to present our work in this unconventional space, Merce and John created a special format, reminiscent of Cage’s 1952 Black Mountain Happening. This format would serve Merce well over the next forty-plus years, allowing the company to perform in almost any situation, from New York’s Grand Central Terminal to Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco to the Piazza San Marco in Venice to North Cotteloe Beach in Perth, Australia. For want of a better title, he called the performance in Vienna Museum Event #1. In November 2004, forty years later, Event #725 took place in Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London. ” – Carolyn Brown(4, p.387)
This disc is sadly ahistorical as it begins in 1993 when hundreds of Events had taken place (they’ve done more than 800 of these so far) and it would be interesting to have heard parts from across the entire history. But apart from that, this was a disc I was quite interested in, as the Company musicians were primarily composer/performers and they primarily played their’s and others compositions. The Events also seemed to be a proving ground of sort for musicians -new and younger musicians would play in these pieces in the pit and some might later become regulars or be commissioned to compose for the Company. Perhaps it is to display the wide variety of musicians who were asked to play for these Events that they cover the era past John Cage’s tenure as music director. The first of these is the only one with Tudor and is easily the best of them; I for one would have enjoyed hearing some events from the heyday of the live electronics pit.
A 2002 Event
The disc of Events turns out to be the absolute worst disc of the set and its biggest disappointment. The downtown (and others) musicians they bring in are uniformly terrible here, performing horrific laptoppery, banal turntablism, uninspired and dated electronics, wanky guitar, overly muscular sax and so on and is just in general a complete and utter mess. Kosugi, who performs in the bulk of these, often displays his worst tendencies: terrible vocalisms, overuse of delay and so 0n but is often the best aspect of these performances. There are some exceptions, the first short one that is simply a Tudor/Kosugi duo and some of the latter pieces which are primarily old hands: Christian Wolff, David Berhman et al. But primarily they are unfocused, misdirected excess that really disappoint. It is a cliché that composers and musicians who primarily play composed works are poor improvisers but cliché’s often arise from the repetition of a truth (and it should be noted that improvisers that play composed works are also often equally lacking; a situation which we get to hear a lot of these days). But really it is the “professional” improvisors here that are really terrible; those members of the downtown and related scenes: Mori, Marclay, Lewis, Scanner and so on. The absolutely terrible nature of much of this music lends credence to the notion that Kosugi’s tenure as music director was the end of the long run of creative music that the company promoted and supported.
The dances during the Events on the other hand, seem to be of considerable interest. Especially as they are performed in galleries, sculpture parks and other unique locations. I’ve sprinkled the short descriptions of the Events recordings (I can’t really bear to listen to these enough to do more) with photos I’ve found on the web of various Events from the last decade. They don’t correspond to the music but they demonstrate some of the great settings and costumes used for these events. While this disc is a rather depressing way to go out, it doesn’t diminish at all to me the amazing legacy of music that Merce Cunnigham help facilitate nor the greatness of this set. Do I wish that some of the excerpts were longer and this disc to have simply not been part of the set? Yes. But then of course one would lose the historical record (no matter how incomplete) of what this music was like. Excerpts, or even better complete performances of all of the Events as digital downloads would be in my mind the best way to preserve this historical record without creating the vast amount of plastic that I suspect will be rarely played. In fact I hope that the MCDC moves in that direction to preserve the legacy – there is so much material and no amount of physical releases will ever represent it all. The MCDC has been very forward thinking with its use of online video, pictures and other materials, I hope that only increases in the future.
August 2009 Event
After his death the Company members did a performance of Events in Central Park of which the above photo is one of many on Flickr. It was a believe without music and just the dancers, performing his choreography. A beautiful tribute.
Rest in Peace Merce Cunningham, thanks for all the amazing work. And a big thanks to New World Records for putting out this amazing set.
Takehisa Kosugi's rig
1) Event””February 16, 1993, Red Wing, Minnesota 5:58
David Tudor, live electronics; Takehisa Kosugi, electric violin
The only one of the Events in this set to include David Tudor – a super rare opportunity to hear him improvise. Thankfully Kosugi keeps his mouth shut and this is overall a great, if short, piece. Electronic drops, scrapes, stutters and echoed string plucks. Nicely spare, perhaps a pointer to how Tudor would have improvised into the modern era. Nice sputters and splatters of live electronics as Kosugi does short, soft attacks on the strings. Several good spaces at the end.
2) Event””September 14, 1996, Annemasse, France 5:53
David Behrman, laptop, percussion; Takehisa Kosugi, electric violin, live electronics; Fast Forward, steel pan, objects
Bubbly laptop, metallic rattly percussion (sort of Beins like) then washes and rushes from Kosugi. Big synth pads and weepy violin lines at the close. Rather cheesy overall.
3) Event””June 5, 1997, Frankfurt 7:30
David Behrman, laptop, voice; Takehisa Kosugi, electric violin; Steve Lacy, soprano saxophone
Steve Lacy. Soprano Saxophone. Need I say anymore? Begins with Lacy, melodic at first and then honking. Berhman comes in with cheesy pads, Kosugi with high lines. Moaning singing from Berhman, even worse then the Lacy. Overall terrible, so of course nearlry the longest of the Events excerpted here.
A 2002 Event in NYC
4) Event””September 12, 1998, Minneapolis 5:22
Takehisa Kosugi, live electronics; Jim O’Rourke, laptop; Christian Marclay, turntables
Rather refreshingly noisy after the previous cheese. While rarely a fan of Marclay and O’Rourke this piece harkens to the energy, if not quite the quality of sounds, of the early Live Electronics. Bits of samples from the turntables, rushes of analog wash, digital bleeps and bloops; not stunning music but again good energy and above average for the disc.
5) Event””September 29, 2002, Oslo 4:12
Takehisa Kosugi, live electronics, percussion, voice; James Woodrow, electric guitar, live electronics
Sort of loping guitar, buzzing electronics and then Kosugi’s usual echo-laden live electronics and popping percussion. And particularly bad Kosugi voice performance – guttural syllabic and cut off. Horrid. Sort of hard to believe this is what they were doing in 2002, at this point the music for the MCDC, always so ahead of its time, sounds positively archaic.
A 2009 Event at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina SofÃa, Madrid Spain
6) Event””October 30, 2002, Munich 6:51
Takehisa Kosugi, voice, live electronics; Christian Wolff, piano, melodica, percussion
Almost ragtimish piano with more dominant (At first) electronic skittery sounds. It builds in intensity, both piano and electronics and then the piano drops out while the electronics continue apace. Real percussive oscillations from the electronics becoming a blurring wash. Moaning from Kosugi mixed in I think, but low threshold. This eventually fades away and its just short piano lines. Kosugi comes in with distorted vocal moaning/singing ruining an okay if not very special performance.
7) Event””December 14, 2004, New York City 3:54
David Behrman, laptop, violin, psalter; John King, electric guitar, live electronics; George Lewis, trombone, laptop
George Lewis electronics. meh. One of those pieces with bits and bloops coming everywhere – short percussive belts, long trombone moans and trumpet like wails. Shimmery laptoppery and so on. Pretty lame.
A 2008 Event at Dia:Beacon
8) Event””December 15, 2004, New York City 6:56
Christian Wolff, piano, melodica, percussion; Marina Rosenfeld, turntables, live electronics; Ikue Mori, laptop
Shimmery laptoppery from Ikue Mori which is typically meh but the excerpt includes some nice percussive, wandering piano lines from Wolff. Electronics become increasingly sequenced percussion which is pretty terrible. Wolff then jazzes it up a bit and frankly the whole thing falls into self parody. Alas.
9) Event””December 18, 2004, New York City 6:35
John King, electric guitar, live electronics; George Lewis, trombone, laptop
King and Lewis – not my favorite combo, but this is particularly terrible with distant rocking out guitar and electronic percussion and looped voices. Atrocious.
10) Event””June 14, 2005, London 5:21
John King, electric guitar, live electronics; Philip Selway, drum machine, live electronics; Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner), laptop
Drum machines are horrific here- bouncy and popping sort of like an academic attempt at techno that totally fails. This along with a sort of bludgeoning drone and higher tone digital cheese. Lame. I think Scanner is pretty much of his time and place but I’ve definitely heard a lot better from him.
A 2008 Event at Dia:Beacon
11) Event””June 17, 2005, London 8:44
John King, electric guitar, live electronics; John Paul Jones, electric triple-neck mandolin, live electronics; Stephen Montague, prepared piano, percussion
More bad rhythmic laptoppery and rather crap disjointed playing from Jones and aimless piano work. Also some truly banal percussive bits – just shaking things for a bit and then a bunch of rather recognizable near quotations on the piano. Jones becomes a bit more showy with his staccato playing oscillating back and forth. For the longest of the Events, pretty uninteresting and rather rubbish.
12) Event””June 23, 2007, New Caanan, Connecticut 3:09
David Behrman, laptop, recorder, guitar; John King, electric guitar, live electronics; Christian Wolff, electric guitar, melodica
Oscillating tone to begin, then a space, then sort of tuning up back ground sound and dot matrix printery sounds. Nothing super special but pretty listenable and for the Events – not bad.
A 2009 Event at Dia:Beacon
13) Event””February 22, 2009, Beacon, New York 5:17
Brenda Hutchinson, longtube, voice, live electronics; Ikue Mori, laptop; Robyn Schulkowsky, percussion; Christian Wolff, electric guitar, melodica
Lots of sound of movement. Melodica sort of distant then various squealing sounds. Got kind of percussive and drum circle-esque. A bit spineless, but not terrible.
While the historical record of the pieces performed in accompaniment to Merce Cunningham’s dances is of interest in and of itself the real treasure of this set is its cornucopia of unreleased David Tudor pieces. Tudor’s live electronics was always ahead of its time and interest in it has never been higher than it is now. There is a resurgence of sorts in live electronics right now that takes the form in myriad of directions from ultra-minamalistic to ultra-maximalist and everywhere in between. But the core techniques and ideas are almost always to be found in the live electronics of Tudor and some of the others of the time such as Cage, Mumma, Behrman and so on. Use of contact mics (Cage’s Cartridge Music), electronically modified acoustic instruments (Tudor’s realization of Cage Variations II, Tudors Bandoneon !, Mumma’s Mesa), mixture of text and electronics (Cage’s Indeterminacy, Cage and Tudor’s simultaneous performances such as Mureau/Rainforest), exploration of room resonance (Tudor’s Microphone, various Lucier pieces), event activated electronics (Cage’s Variations V, Mumma’s Telepos) and so on. These notions and others have been minutely explored, iterated upon, taken to new places, combined in myriad of ways and fused with other forms to a degree that they can sometimes completely obscure these sources, but the ideas can be traced to this work.
Tudor performed with the Cunningham Dance company from its inception in the early 50s, until his death in the 90s and during this time composed numerous pieces and was the companies music director after John Cage’s death in 1992. While a decent selection of Tudor’s pieces has been released there remains more pieces unreleased than currently available. Considering that these pieces were performed numerous times for dances and that due to the inherent unpredictability of live electronics each performance had its unique characteristics there is a vast archive of this material available. This set includes welcome new performances of several previously released Tudor compositions (Toneburst, Phonemes) but most valuably it contains four pieces that have heretofore not been released (Weatherings, Sextet for Seven, Neural Network Plus and the collaborative piece with Cage and Mumma 52/3) and longer excerpts from two pieces that have had very short excerpts released (7″ of Webwork appear onA Chance Operationand about 3″ of Virtual Focus on Musicworks 73). These are mostly presented in excerpts, which considering their unreleased nature is a real shame, but as the dances were often fairly long at this point it would be a box set in an of itself to release these pieces complete (which frankly there should be. As I said interest in Tudor’s work is at an all time high and I think such a set would be immensely valuable as well as presenting great music). The bulk of these pieces are presented over the next three discs and while the other pieces interspersed with them are mostly duds this makes for a pretty incredible run of music.
Disc Five (68’52”)
“Electronic music resources appeared in the work of Merce Cunningham as early as 1952. The use of electronic music increased into the 1970s by which time electronic music had become predominant in the Cunningham Dance Company performances. A major impetus for the development of electronic music resources in the Cunningham Dance Company milieu came from music director John Cage.” – Gordon Mumma (2, 202)
The music commissioned by the Cunnignham Dance Company by the end of the sixties until Merce Cunningham’s death in 2009 has primarily been electronic music. As I have stated earlier this was often to the displeasure of the dancers and the audience in the early days. It is interesting, especially considering that John Cage, then musical director, while instrumental in the introduction and development of electronics had, by the late 70s, primarily moved moved away from them. This is, I think, further proof of Cunningham’s commitment to the new and experimental. For again it was the composers he chose to work with that chose this direction; Cunningham would often provide only a time length and some vague description of what the dance is trying to achieve.
“Tudor’s contribution as a composer with electronic resources has developed from the now-legendary Rainforest into a formidable repertory of pioneering works. After Sounddance (1975, Tudor’s Toneburst), a new work employing a complex electronic system appeared a three-year intervals.” – Gordon Mumma (2, 206)
Disc five is nearly all David Tudor pieces with a single piece by Yasunao Tone among three of his pieces. Two of these pieces have never been released and the other, Phonemes, is one of his major pieces presented in a different version then that previously issued. While the Tone piece isn’t very interesting in my opinion this is otherwise nearly a full David Tudor disc and one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the set.
1) David Tudor (1926-1996) Weatherings (1978) [excerpt] 14:54
Dance: Exchange (1978)
David Tudor, live electronics
Recorded September 14, 1991, Paris
“The same 15 dancers, without Mr. Cunningham, made “Exchange” a much darker and more sinister dance than one remembered. The exchange of the title occurs between two separate groups of dancers who mesh only toward the end. There are playful highlights such as the duet between Mr. Komar and Miss Bartosik, but David Tudor’s score, bearing down like a freight train, created an oppressive context. Jasper Johns’s seaweed-green and gray leotards and bursts of light seemed all the more life-giving.” – NY Times review by Anna Kisselgoff, March 20th, 1992
The first real new David Tudor piece released in years and while perhaps not quite at the level of his best pieces, this is still a strong work. The piece begins with that trademarked percussive, chopped up feedback that Tudor was working with in the late 70s in pieces such as Toneburst and Untitled. Weatherings is a highly spatial piece, moving around the stereo sound field as if it might have whipped around the performance space. Made up of a jittering metallic sound and an swirling washing it has a strong feel of movement. A bit of an echoing phasing sound comes through as well. There seems to be several streams of sound and bits of it fade in and out with residue left echoing or squiggling in tight loops. It has a pretty wide dynamic range, with low density parts made up of just this aforementioned residue, whereas others are this huge roar whipping around the sound feled. If you have ever been in an intense windstorm that is the feel that the piece evokes: then whistling parts with the sound of trees swaying and a sense of waiting and then this freight train of approaching wind that on its arrival whips all around you. This piece more than most of Tudors belies its electronic nature and some of the sounds have a more clearly electronic nature as opposed to the otherworldly nature of a lot of the sounds he generates. It gets pretty intense at the end of this excerpt with streaming burbles of modified feedback and wallowing squiggles in the background. Another great piece and really nice to finally hear.
Merce Cunningham working on Roadrunners (1979)
2) Yasunao Tone (b. 1935) Geography and Music (1979) [excerpt] 21:18
Dance: Roadrunners (1979)
John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, voice; David Tudor, piano; Martin Kalve, qin;
Chinese text read aloud by Yoshiharu Suenobu
Recorded October 20, 1983, Leuven, Belgium
“On this recording we hear the Company musicians (Kosugi, Cage, Tudor, and Kalve) reading what is initially a self-referential text (“Introduction: The following texts are mostly taken from the geography section from TÃ iping YÃ¹lan, one thousand volumes of Chinese encyclopedias, published in 983 A.D. and the rest of them are excerpts from Taiping Quanxi, published in 981 A.D., and both volumes were edited by the same editor, Li Phuan . . .”), accompanied by the qin, and followed by the recording in Chinese.” – Music for Merce Liner notes (1)
This is the only piece from Fluxus artist Yasunao Tone included in this set. Personally I’ve always found the work from Tone, who is still actively making music today, to be highly mixed. At the very least his concerns seems to be pretty far from mine. However there are some gems among his pieces, but this one in my opinion is not one of them. Twangy qin played sedately as Cage reads the introductory text slowly ala Indeterminacy. Later Chinese texts are read in a similar manner and there is some piano along with the qin. Lots of laughter from the audience though so must have been a fairly amusing dance. While not a piece that does much for me, this is one of the few pieces that has been previously released. In this case it was released as a 3″ disc as part of a catalog for his first live performances in Japan after 28 years. The 50 page booklet includes an interview, criticism and biography all in japanese, but a list of compositions and discography are in English as well as Japanese. This version, which perhaps due to it having been limited to Japan (though you can get it from Mimaroglu Music Sales) is the exact same performance as that on this set.
3) David TudorPhonemes (1981) [excerpt] 14:00
Dance: Channels/Inserts (1981)
David Tudor, live electronics
Recorded November 29, 1992, Tel Aviv
“I use the principle of making the sound outputs different enough that you could not recognize them as being generated by the same signal, in all the later pieces. For instance, one of them was called “Phonemes“, which was also a dance score for Merce Cunningham. There I took two sound modifiers. One of them was a vocoder which could chop sound into small pieces. The second device I took was a percussion generator, somewhat like a percussion synthesizer which permitted me to lengthen the attack to several seconds. So then, I thought, ‘now… if I take short sounds and lengthen them and I use long sounds on the vocoder and shorten them, I have two processes which can overlap’… and so I began experimenting. Listening to the combinations, it reminded me of speech. The sounds were very short, so I called the piece “Phonemes“.” – David Tudor (6)
Another previously released Tudor piece (David TudorThree Works for Live Electronics. (Lovely Music)) but in a different presentation. On that disc Tudor had multiple performances of the piece (possibly including this one) mixed together utilizing a specialized routing system so that it was almost a new piece composed out of Phonemes – a meta-Phonemes as it were. This demonstrates quite clearly that way that live electronics pieces are a composition in their construction in that the form of the piece remains the same even if the realizations are always unique. This is one of the strongest Tudor pieces and one that while it evokes speech as Tudor notes, it also has an alien aspect to it and is the kind of electronics that Tudor was almost alone in exploring. This performance of the piece begins with a rising rather guttural tone with a good space between it and the next guttural rising tone. The repeats for a while: rising tone, silence. After the third or fourth of these it becomes percussive with gated clipped staticy sounds. These become increasingly wet and burbly and while style percussive arhythmic. Other parts sound like distant garbled speech but the percussive nature is pervasive throughout the piece.
It is interesting that this performance of the piece is from a decade after its composition. Again, not to belabor this point, this demonstrates the configuration is the score – if you can replicate the configuration you will end up with something akin to the original composition. This, as I’ve discussed somewhat in my Network Instrument posts, is something that is highly interesting to myself as a sort of physical realization of a type of graphic score.
4) David TudorSextet for Seven (1982) 18:15
Dance: Quartet (1982)
David Tudor, live electronics
Recorded March 24, 1990, New York City
Another brand new Tudor piece and the most sedate of his live electronics pieces I’ve heard. It has a sound of distant metal flexing in the heat and and a background hum and develops into almost melodic tones. The background sounds become a bit more swirling and the metallic sounds a bit more insistent though less frequent. The faint melodic tones become a kind of tuneless whistling as if the wind occasionally picks up and blows through a hole in a piece of steel. Almost can hear distant sounds that Tudor’s Rainforest at times, with very subtle colorings in the far background. After about eight minutes of this it then suddenly assaults one with a much louder staccato electronics which quickly goes away and returns to the previous events. It comes back though. Again it falls away to the swirling background sound which is again punctured this time by what sounds like an electronic whale, whose plaintive and deranged calls continue on for some time while a seriously low end rumble shakes far below. The piece continues on this way with its low level but complex base into which these big dramatic aural assaults take place. In several places it fades away so completely as to leave almost no trace, but always events of some sort – dramatic and dense, or sedate and swirling, rise up from it. A great piece heard in its entirety here and really a highlight of the set.
“WHEN does a quartet have five people? When it’s Merce Cunningham’s ”Quartet,” which was performed for the first time this season by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company last Wednesday night at the City Center. The unusual work for five proved to be both a working out of formal problems and an implicitly dramatic, though plotless, dance evoking isolation and loneliness.
However, Mr. Cunningham’s movements remained either crooked or floppy. He teetered and tried to reach toward the other dancers. But they always ignored him. The deliberate awkwardness of his steps and the forlorn way he danced them made him seem a modern equivalent of Petrouchka, the woebegone puppet in Stravinsky’s ballet who has come to symbolize the eternal outsider. At last, Mr. Cunningham walked off, yielding the stage to the quartet.” – Jack Anderson, NY Times, March 24th, 1982
The dance for this piece is Quartet which is for five dancers and following that lead Tudor composed his Sextet for Seven. As noted by the Cunningham Dance Company the piece is made up of “six homogeneous voices and one wandering voice.” emulating the dance with its quartet of dancers and Merce’s interventions.
Disc Six (74’12”)
Disc six in contrast to the nearly unified nature of disc five is one of the more mixed and varied of the set. It begins with probably the only Takehisa Kosugi piece that I can really get behind in the whole set. I feel I should pause a moment to clarify my disappointment in the Kosugi material on this set. This disappointment comes from being a long time fan of his work from Group Ongaku (recently reissued on LP!), Taj Mahal Travellers, solo pieces such as Catch Wave and various and sundry collaborations and performances that I have heard. However it turns out that while I have enjoyed his violin and live electronics work I’m not at all a fan of his vocalizations and “singing”. He seems to utilize this rather unfortunate aspect of his performance more often than not and as there are a quite a few pieces and performances from him on this set (his being a member of the Company’s music crew since the late 70s and the musical director since Tudor’s death) it begins to seem like those other works were more the outlier. He also it turns out over-relies on delays, which while in his earliest work (especially with Taj Mahal Travellers) was rather innovative and charming, clearly became a crutch. I’d still consider myself a fan of his work as there are so many pieces of his that I love, but this set has definitely brought on a major reconsideration of his performance practice for me.
The other pieces on disc six range from Tudor’s great Webwork, Cage’s strange Voiceless Essay, King’s rather uninspired electronic violin, to the banal new age-isms of Michael Pugliese’s Peace Talks.
1) Takehisa Kosugi (b. 1938) Spacings (1984) 23:52
Dance: Doubles (1984)
Takehisa Kosugi, live electronics
Recorded March 20, 1988, New York City
Rather 8-bit bleepy soundy, with a repeating pattern that speeds up after a bit. A whoozy also rather 8-bit whine oscillates in the background. Heavy use of delay and ping ponging between left and right channels (which could be indicative of a multichannel system recorded to stereo). While a bit cheesy this part which goes on for some time is not without its charms. As it progresses Kosugi begins to really overuse the delays and adding more and more sounds that are still pretty simple in and of themselves. More synthy type sounds come in though still rather low bit sounding (early 80s synths perhaps). While a bit cheesy it’s definitely the best of the new Kosugi on this set primarily because he keeps his mouth shut!
2) John King (b. 1953) gliss in sighs (1985) 16:19
Dance: Native Green (1985)
John King, pre-recorded and live electric prepared violin
Recorded March 12, 1985, New York City
Immediately begins with scritchy rather mechanical grinding violin and then layers of what sounds like sped up tape of violin. The tape contain a wide variety of sounds from tapping on the body to an almost human moaning sound as well as tape effects that sound like slewing, phasing and ping ponging. Pretty busy overall and while not a bad piece per say it’s one that doesn’t do much for me. It rather reminds me John Gibson’s flute and electronics piece on disc four, in that it works with layers from an electronically treated classical instrument, but it displays no creative use of electronics or of modifying the instruments sound. These two don’t seem really committed to the electronics and are perhaps using them because its the thing to do when composing for the company. When you contrast this to something like Mesa, where the bandoneon is completely transformed yet retains its inherent nature in driving the piece these pieces really fall flat.
Points in Space (1986)
3) John Cage (1912-1992) Voiceless Essay (1986) [excerpt]10:58
Dance: Points in Space (1986)
Recorded March 17, 1988, New York City
“The digital computer has become an important resource. LArge, mainframe computers have been used for composition and sound processing, as in the music for Points in Space (1986, John Cage’s Voiceless Essay) in which the sounds of the composer’s speaking voice were removed, leaving only Cage’s unvoiced phonemes as the essential musical vocabulary.” – Gordon Mumma (2, 206)
As is probably clear to the reader of these pages I often have trouble with voclazations. This is an aspect of Cage’s composition and performance, that while I can enjoy at times I can not always get behind. I love readings such as Indeterminacy as much as the next person but the pieces that are just fragments of words, odd vocalizations and isolated sounds I sometimes have a real hard time with. I absolutely can’t deal with such pieces on headphones and do always make sure to give them a try on the stereo. This piece is right on the edge for me, it is really interesting as a process and the sounds at times – whisperings layered together on tape with the starts of words and such – but sometimes its almost nails on chalkboard to me. However I found that when played on the stereo at lower volume so the sibilients fade away a bit it’s pretty haunting. While it will probably never be a favorite, I can say I like the piece and find it intriguing and well worth hearing.
4) David Tudor (1926-1996) Webwork (1987) [excerpt] 10:46
Dance: Shards (1987)
David Tudor, live electronics
Recorded March 17, 1988, New York City
“Nothing typifies Tudor’s work during this period more than the process of taking unique pre-recorded material, changing and layering it in real time and playing it through a multichannel sound system.” – D’Arcy Philip Gray(10)
Begins interestingly burbly, perhaps resonance from filters alternating with a sort of popping skittering sound. This is followed by a more bleating metallic section. This becomes very spare with an almost liquid kissing sound which evolves into a percussive bit with a wooden affect. For a live electronics piece this one has a much more organic sound then most, perhaps what Tudor was after in the beginning. White, hisses with short delays moving it more into more expected territory. Alas this excerpt really does seem to short to catch what this heretofore unreleased piece is all about. Its an interesting one though, different from much of Tudor’s other live electronics and intriguing.
The world of Merce Cunningham’s ”Shards,” performed by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on Friday at the City Center, seems timeless and immutable until the surprise of its final moments. The eight dancers, clad in simple, dull green and black leotards and tights, might almost be fish hovering in still waters made dim by William Anastasi’s lighting and his earth-colored, scrawled backdrop. David Tudor’s contemplative electronic score brings an extra sense of privacy to this hushed and quiet world. – Jennifer Dunning, NYTimes, March 26th, 1992
Interestingly enough in the 1990s Tudor’s music, while certainly a lot less chaotic than the 70s material but still pretty far out for dance music, doesn’t elicit complaints from reviewers who now spend a lot more time describing the choreography, the dancers, the costumes and sets.
5) Michael Pugliese (1956-1997) Peace Talks (1989) [excerpt] 11:44
Dance: August Pace (1989)
Takehisa Kosugi, sitar, percussion; Michael Pugliese, percussion
Recorded November 13, 1990, Bangalore, India
“Movement material is, of course, what ”August Pace” is really about. More than some other Cunningham pieces, it has the dancers striking up a clearly outlined position and then holding it. The emphasis is on the hold.
Yet the sound of the piece is anything but tranquil. Michael Pugliese’s score ”Peace Talks” is mainly percussion. The vivid drumming, especially when it escalates, permeates the entire theater. Whether the audience will hear the same sound every time in ”August Pace” is debatable in the Cunningham canon, and whether the percussion is electronically produced or live makes no difference as it sounds electronic by the time it comes out of the amplifiers”. – NY Times review by Anna Kisselgoff, March 15th, 1990
Sitar, tabla, rainsticks and performed in India – I gotta say I find it all a bit campy. Even for 1989 it seems a bit new age, world music stereotyped. Really not much to say about this piece – not one I care for much and as I say, totally cheesy.