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Sat 2 May 2009
April 30th 2009
Chapel Performance Space, Seattle WA
Its been one of those weeks – I’m in a busy phase at work, there’s a backlog of chores piling up around the house and to top things off my glasses broke on Tuesday. My old backup pair was now quite old (from 1998 it turned out) and my last prescription was over two years out of date. So along with all the other stuff that needed doing I sorted out the insurance, got my eyes checked and then desperate for a pair of glasses that wouldn’t causes headaches went to one of those “glasses in an hour” places and got a new pair. All of these latter activities happened on the day of this show and what with trying to get some work done and bad traffic I made it to the show about 5 minutes after the advertised start time. Luckily they hadn’t begun yet and I found a seat way to the right in the back. Glancing around the room I noticed the four speaker setup and knew I’d regret this position, so I moved up to an empty seat on the aisle of the center section. It still turned out to be somewhat dominated by one speaker, but definitely a lot better then my previous seat.
As I became increasingly interested in electronic music I of course checked out Morton Subotnick. The college I went to happened to have several Buchla Synthesizers and they were the first of that kind I was ever able to play with. Subotnick is as associated with the Buchla as Carlos is with the Moog, so this was my first reason to seek out Silver Apples of the Moon. His mastery of the Buchla was clear, but honestly I wasn’t particularly taken with his compositions. He does I think deserve his pioneer status as a real new music composer for pure electronics in that he avoided the two most common traps you found in electronic musics of the era: reinterpreting popular classics on new instruments and the gee whiz factor. The first of these of course would be what made Wendy Carlos famous (though to her credit she went on to do a lot more, particularly excellent work in the soundtrack area) but it has a long history. Arguably the first electronic instrument the Theramin was heavily promoted as fitting in with the orchestra and its greatest practitioner Clara Rockmore devoted her immense skill to basically trying to replace the principle violin parts in classic pieces. Far more common though was the “gee whiz wouldja listen to this” factor where electronic instruments would crank out wacky sounds and there was little or no effort placed on composition. This too has a long history from the absolute beginnings of electronic music: so many of the musique concrete and tape music pieces are absolutely without compositional merit and are simply novelties.
Subotnick composed real music for electronics it just happens that I’m rarely 100% behind his compositions. They almost all have strong segments but then there is always some form of excess that spoils them a bit for me. It wasn’t until the excellent Avant Garde Project that I finally heard Subnotnik’s “Ghost Electronics” and a number of pieces that I really loved especially on The Double life of Amphibians (though one track is not so hot, maybe the one with the soprano?). A later AGP volume feature more “Ghost Electronics” which while not as strong as The Double life of Amphibians is still worth the download. Ghost Electronics for those not familiar was a term that Subnotki coined for applying electronic processing to acoustically sourced sounds. He had a system of parameters that he’d manipulate and the electronic score for the (conventionally notated) instrumental pieces would consist of the application of these parameters. More information on the Ghost Electronics process can be found in the technical section of Subotnick’s website.
I wasn’t sure at all though what sort of music Subotnick had been doing since the 70s and figuring this was a rare chance to see him perform his works I did all the necessary rushing around to get to the show. A few minutes after I got my seat the director for the Washington Composers Forum Transport series, who had brought him out, introduced the show. They hadn’t printed very comprehensive program notes so Subotnick came out and introduced the pieces. It turns out that he still is working with ghost electronics though in a much more sophisticated way thanks to modern digital electronics. The program would consist of two of these later ghost electronics pieces and his last pure electronics piece composed in 1978.
1) The Other Piano (2007)
Subotnick described this as a “four dimensional painting of the piano piece” which was traditionally notated piano piece. The piece was dedicated to Morton Feldman and is titled from an amusing episodes that the two Morties had experienced. Apparently shortly after Subnotnik had gotten married Feldman was congratulated on his recent marriage, to which he replied, “thanks, but that was the other Morty”. So this piece is “The Other Piano” which is presumably the electronic image that Subotnick painted of the acoustic piano piece. Interesting he also described his processing of the piece as improvisatory making me thing he is no longer scoring at least all of the aspects of the processing.
The piece open with just the piano, playing faster and louder then one would expect for a piece dedicated to Morton Feldman. Then the electronics switched on with that audible thunk you hear when you turn on an amplifier when a source is already on. At this point the piano settled down and while it clearly wasn’t aping Feldman it definitely was more in his territory. It was more sweetly tonal then Feldman and notes didn’t linger nearly as long so it didn’t have that effortless floating effect of his piano pieces. But it used a lot of space, short little runs, single notes and soft chords. Clearly the space was there to give the electronics room to play out and often I felt this was actually to its detriment. The electronics was quite often delayed afterimages of the piano’s lingering tones and some of this I felt was rather stereotyped and even a bit cheesy. For example on fairly lengthy segment consisted of a single note or chord that would be echoed three times (at least audibly) with a certain amount of processing one each echo. The processing was of a spectral nature, taking the tone and smearing it out across its partials creating a wash of harmonics that had a fuzzy gentle dissonance to them. Much more effective to my ears were sections where the processing overlapped with the piano playing which gave the piano an alien sound as if it was playing glass strings or was actually made of electricity.
In general I quite liked the piano piece and probably about a third of the electronics and for a long piece (20-30 minutes I’d say) I was pretty engaged most of the time. The aforementionedd echo-y bits and later section the came across as almost new-agey string washes from the electronics were the only parts where my interest waned. You read more about this piece and actually watch a few video clips at The Other Piano page at Subotnick’s site.
2) A Sky of Cloudless Silver (1978)
This piece was Subotnick’s final electronic piece after which he focused primarily on combining electronics with acoustics. Apparently from 1961-1978 he worked only with electronics which, especially in the early days, involved a lot of technical work and he was instrumental in the development of some of the early instruments and techniques. He said it wasn’t until this piece that he was able to really work without limitations and after he did this piece he was able to move on.
Subotnick was seated a large-ish mixing console in roughly the center of the audience and for the other pieces the other musicians were up front on stage. Subotnick remained in the back with his laptop playing this piece which definitely used the four channel system. This piece was not super removed from his other electronic compositions of the Silver Apples of the Moon era and while it didn’t seem to be a big break with any of those techniques it could be read as a summing up of that era of his music. In general I found this as I have all of his early electronics – interesting, occasionally fascinating, but the composition didn’t do to much for me. At first I thought it was going to be the best of his pure electronics yet as it began with a much more deliberate introduction that even included several gaps in it. But as his pieces always seem to do, it evolved into a firestorm of activity which while still made up of pretty interesting sounds (and avoiding a lot of the traditionally cheesy sounds you’d hear such as arpeggios, ring modulation abuse, campy filter sweeps and the like). The final movement was highly rhythmic and was clearly using African polyrhythms with this hollow almost drum like sound. This was actually pretty different and neat for electronics if not exactly my kind of thing. In the final analysis this piece probably was the best pure electronics Subotnick I’ve heard but still wasn’t a piece I could totally get behind.
After the piece he came to the front to receive applause and told us that he is going to embark on a world tour next year where he’d perform this piece and all of Silver Apples on the original Buchla! He’s said he’d try to book a Seattle date for that tour, which drew a cheer. I know I’d go.
3) Then and Now and Forever (2008)
This piece was not dedicated to a specific person but was loosely dedicated to a series of people who had died recently. It was scored for Piano, Clarinet and Violin again with electronics.
This was probably my favorite piece of the evening though it did seem to display a little lack of restraint in the middle section. The beginning was quite sparse with just the piano picking out notes in the beginning as the electronics, violin and clarinet seamlessly fused into an otherworldly texture. In a way it reminded me a bit of Lucier’s works for oscillator and ‘cello though not quite as piecing as those pieces. But it had that effect where it seemed like the electronics and acoustic instruments were working in a narrow range and twisting around each other’s tones to creating beating effects at times and at other times it seemed like there were impossible overtones from these instruments. The piano would poke through this with spikier little interjections, usually little runs and chords. This was broken for the more energetic section but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Mainly the piano and electronics were a little loud, losing the other instruments and the electronics was more in synth wash territory for a bit.
Overall a nice piece if not 100% to my liking. It’s one of those slippery pieces were a lot of the events and details slip from memory though it was constantly varied. The parts that evoked the Lucier piece but with piano was definitely the most memorable. Overall this was quite an interesting evening of music and it was good to see the Chapel so packed with people to see this kind of music. I wasn’t sure what to expect and while I wasn’t blown away by anything I enjoyed myself quite a bit and would see Subotnick again.
Fri 10 Apr 2009
Gallery 1412 before Jason Kahn and Gust Burns duo set
Wednesday April 8th
Jason Kahn , Gust Burns, Christopher DeLaurenti, Mara Sedlins and Wilson Shook
Gallery 1412, Seattle WA
Jason Kahn, an American expat living in Zurich Switzerland was in Seattle this week for a couple of shows. On Wednesday he played in Gallery1412 in duo with Gust Burns and in a quartet with Gust Burns, Mara Sedlins and Wilson Shook. In between Christopher DeLaurenti did a solo set of electro-acoustic music utilizing a homemade cardboard turntable. The following night Jason Kahn and Gust Burns did a duo set at Dissonant Plane which alas I was not able to attend. Mid-week shows are always tough to make but happily I was able to leave work at nearly a normal time last Wednesday and make it into the city in time for this show. In fact I even had enough time to walk down to Madison Market at pick up a cup of green tea before the show. When I had first reached the gallery there was only one audient there and setup was still in place. On returning from the store it had filled up and in fact the music started only five or ten minutes upon my return.
I’d seen Jason Kahn perform a few times before as part of 2008’s SIMF, one of the highlights which was his duo with Gust Burns. So I was eagerly anticipating seeing this reunion but also the quartet with Sedlins and Shook whose music I have really been enjoying for the last couple of years. A turntable set from Christopher DeLaurenti in between these sets I felt would nicely break things up and I was also curious how his cardboard turntable would transform the otherwise banal Bolero. I’m happy to say that despite being pretty beat down from what was already a stressful week that this turned out to be probably the single most successful night of improvisation I’ve seen this year.
The first set, the duo of Jason Kahn and Gust Burns, had Burns playing his home made electro-acoustic piano guts instrument. On the previous occasion that I’d seen this duo he was using the Chapels grand piano to great effect so this was inherently going to be a bit different. Kahn was playing the same setup I’d seen before: miced bass drum and analog synthesizer. Over the course of 20 maybe 25 minutes he used these tools in a similar manner as I had seen him do previously generating prickly static, washes of sound from rubbing the drums head and sides, tapped and rubbed cymbals on the drumhead and feedback manipulated by using cymbals in-between the mic and drums surface . Burns at first added long extended tones from doweling his instrument, these much more extended then I’m used to seeing him do. He moved them around a bit sometimes not on strings created rough prickly sounds from interaction with the wood at other times he’d mute the strings with other dowells and then evoke much more dry and guttural tones from the strings. The most interesting technique that used this evening, that I hadn’t seen before was running pure tones (from an iPod – a trick I’ve done myself!) through contact mics which he both let play as overlapping tones and generated metallic buzzes and zings by exciting the strings with then. This section got pretty loud and dense and Kahn worked washes of feedback during this building up a thick, rich and prickly wash. They brought things down and continued on with swarms of sound in varying densities until after slowly bringing it down for a bit they simultaneously ceased. A really great set with lots of challenging and engaging sounds with an evolving structure that never felt totally familiar.
Almost directly following the duo set Chris DeLaurenti got up and moved to a set of three chairs in the center of the Gallery floor. He had a mixer on one, taking the output of a tie clip mic that was on a wedge of cardboard taped onto an old laptop. The wedge of cardboard had (for this piece) a cactus needle on the bottom which was used to read the records. The first piece he played was Ravel’s Bolero from old 78s which took up four album sides. He’d manually spin the records via an offset hole in the center part of the record utilizing a bic pen. The tune was nor at all recognizable on side 1 during the part where it is low volume and density. As the piece picked up a rhythmic section here or a fragment of melody there would occasionally reveal itself buried under static, pops and variable speed basic warps. Overall this was by far the best version I’ve heard of this piece, which in general I’m not a fan of. He followed this up with Stravinsky’s’ Piano-rag which was clearly more up tempo and created an almost buzzing, warble as he spun through the record. A fun, and challenging break between the two sets of improvised music.
While I’d expected the Burns/Kahn set to be great this set was the one I was the most curious about. I’ve seen Burns, Shook and Sedlins in quite a few combination’s over the last few years and adding in Kahn (or say replacing Collins in the Gust Burns Quartet with Kahn) seemed like it’d work well. In fact as much as I love the GBQ I occasionally feel that they all work in a similar sound world which when they really align their sounds seems a bit less rich then it should. Adding in someone who works with percussion and electronics could be just the contrast that’d kick a really solid group into even great things. So it was with a sinking feeling that they started off with all of them playing dry whispery sounds all about in the same sonic range. This went on for a couple of minutes: Burns created dry rustling sounds from his dowels, Sedlins slow affectless bowing generating low scraps, Shook a thin background whisper from breaking through his sax and Kahn just rubbing the side of his base drum basically creating about the same sounds. This went on for a couple of minutes and then most of them broke away from these sounds and everything opened up: Sedlins doing more Lachenmann-esque scrunchy sounds, plucked strings, tapping the back of the bow against the strings and body of her viola and later in the set actual tonal bowing, sometimes with a warble slow vibrato. Kahn switched his focus more toward his synth generating an array of sounds from synthy bleeps and bloops but also pure tones, crackly electronic sounds and static washes. This was a good choice as they really played against the dominant aesthetic even as they others mixed it up. Additionally he used the harder sounds of his percussion, the cymbals, microphone feedback and the like further contrasting with the others. Shook continued with the breathy sounds at first but then mixed it up with rattly, static and spittly sounds at one point leaning back and emitting soft buzzing sounds that complemented and contrasted excellently with the group sound. Burns doweled a lot, again utilizing much longer tones then he often does, but additionally had a short section of the pure tone stuff in the middle which gelled well with Kahns low rumbles at the time. The piece was never silent but densities constantly shifted and while there were many moments when they all played there were many times when several of them would lay out. The ending was really pretty amazing with the density getting lower and lower over a decently long interval and then first Shook and the then Sedlins dropped out shortly followed by Kahn and Burns in a nicely synced conclusion.
This was a great evening of music, varied, intense, engaging and filled with many interesting sounds and collisions of sounds. It was a restless music, often built from sustained parts and avoiding many of the clichés of this music. It was often soft enough that sounds from outside would interact in complementary ways but it never fell into total silence (which itself is perhaps becoming a cliché in contemporary improvisation. Perhaps more on that later). I’ve come to quite enjoy Jason Kahn live even if I only really like a couple of his recordings. There is a rumor he was doing some recording while he was up here, I would be very interested to hear recordings of any of the combinations that performed tonight.
Wed 11 Mar 2009
On Thursday March 5th 2009 I took the day off from work and drove north to Canada to see the Ives Ensemble. They’d been brought into Canada by Contiuum Contemporary Music for their SHIFT Festival of Canadian and Dutch music. Having a largish group flown in from the Netherlands for a festival seems a bit extravagant so working with various Canadian arts organizations they scheduled a few more dates across Canada. Vancouver New Music was one of these organizations and they managed to bring them to Vancouver as part of their Sonic Tonic series for the final date of their tour.
VNM almost always has an “artist chat” an hour before their concerts and tonight was no exception. I managed to make it to the ScotiaBank Dance Centre just a few minutes after 7pm and about 5 minutes before the chat began. The entire ensemble was in a semi-circle of chairs in the front of a dance studio complete with an entire mirrored wall. VNM director Giorgio Magnanensi, who is now sporting a great and wild beard, began by asking them the details of their tour. Most of the questions were fielded by John Snijders, the founder of the ensemble, but at various times several of the members would chime in. They spoke of the SHIFT Festival and how it commissioned new works from Canadian and Dutch composers and about the concerts and workshops they did in Toronto. This sounded like a very interesting cultural exchange and I think a very positive type of event for new music, especially in the commissioning and performing of new works. The Canadian composer they chose for the commission was Allison Cameron and Giorgio told us an anecdote about him getting flack from the CBC for programming her music in a festival back when she was a lot less well known. There was also a series of questions from the audience about female composers and their level of representation. On the question of female representation John gave what I think is the most sensible answer: it all comes down to the quality of the composition, there is no issue w/r/t the sex of the composer. This led to several questions about compositions written especially for them and John told us that they rarely get unsolicited compositions mainly because they are very picky on what they choose to play. He then brought up that when playing festivals the programmers really want “World Premiers” and that this leads to an issue where a piece is often only played that one time, as after that performance they need the next world premier. He said that for them they have found that many pieces benefit from repeat performance:
“Returning to a piece you find that it has become a part of you – comfortable.”
One of the other members then chimed in to say that playing a piece many times is “Honest to the piece” and that it matures and you discover more. This sparked a question from the audience about which pieces tonight were particularly “well played” pieces and they answered that the Viola in my Life was but not the other Feldman, the Xenakis was a newer piece for them and obviously the the Cameron was being a commission. But the rest of them they had played many times, greater then ten times each. All in all a very interesting chat, very interesting to hear about the various experiences that working in an ensemble like this engenders.
About a half an hour after the chat ended the concert began just a little but after 7pm. I had scored a seat front row center and the acoustics at this distance was pretty incredible, I could hear all the nuences of the instruments loud and clear. The first set began with Straight Lines in Broken Times composed by Christopher Fox. This piece is I believe what they call “post-minimalism”, in that it is made up of fragments of many different styles and was scored for piano, clarinet and violin. While segments of it were made up of almost Glass-like short repeated phrases others evoked classicism and still others evoked various folk traditions with one bit having a distinctly Klezmer-ish sound. The most interesting part of this piece was a section where the clarinet dropped out, then a couple of minutes later the violin leaving just solo piano for a few measures before they came back in. Not really my kind of thing, but it aptly demonstrated the skill and touch of the ensemble. They left the stage and then these three, plus a cellist came back out to play the first of four Postcards by Allison Cameron. This composition, Four Postcards, was designed to be played in as part of a program and each of them was stylistically diverse and only a couple of minutes long. I came to wonder if they were actually written for this specific program as they seemed stylistic informed by the other pieces. Like the Fox the first Postcard was rapid little fragments from the quartet, each of them working little independent rhythmic structures. There was very short violin solo in which it played longer tones in contrast to the rest of the piece. I wasn’t very taken by this piece either and I was becoming a bit depressed. Fortunately the Feldman piece that followed restored my spirits, though at around 8 minutes left me wanting. Four Instruments (1975) is scored for the same quartet as Feldmans final piece, Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello and has much of the same feel as that piece. It was amazing to watch the ensemble settle down, almost visible changing gears as shifted into Feldman mode. The vibrato was gone, the bow strokes flat and affectless, piano notes suspended. Really fantastic and when it ended so soon I felt a sense of loss. How I wish this set had been just a performance of Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello. This was followed by the second Postcard, which was very similar to the first, made of short little energetic fragments from the same line up of instruments. This time though there was a short piano solo as opposed to the violin, but like that it was less frenetic then the rest of the piece. The final piece of this set was Gerald Barry’s Piano Quartet nr. 1 scored for piano, violin, viola and ‘cello. This piece was incredibly frenetic, the only piece that had to have a page turner for the violist (primarily, also turned a page or two for the ‘cellist) and also the longest of this set. Frankly I didn’t enjoy it at all, it just seemed like an exercise in excess. Fast repeated, short sounds broken up by various, equally fast solo sections. There were a number of folk reference; an almost ragtime piano and the piece concluded with a very direct nod to Irish reels and jigs (though the ensemble didn’t really nail the trad ornamentation). The musicians didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves much as they played the piece, but this is one of the pieces they often play.
There was followed by intermission, in which I had a cup of red wine and took a look at the CDs the ensemble had brought with them. Alas they didn’t have any of the hat[Now]ART CDs that are OOP, all the ones they had were readily available and were quite expensive. Shortly thereafter I was back in my seat for the second half of the concert which opened with the third Postcard. This was my favorite of the Postcards and the one were I began to suspect that these were tied to this specific program (or perhaps for the Ives Ensembles typical repertoire). It was for the same instruments with bass clarinet replacing the standard clarinet. It began with long mournful ‘cello lines that was then joined with longer tones from the bass clarinet. This piece had a much more Feldman-esque feel then the frantic insect-like nature of her earlier postcards. It wasn’t all long slow lines though, the piano added a nice bit of spiky counterpoint to these as did the ‘cellist at one point by plucking his strings. The Viola in My Life 2 followed and was by far the highlight of the evening. Once again the ensemble shifted into slow gear and once again displayed their incredible touch for this music. The violist was of course front and center, standing up for this piece, and was joined by the violin, clarinet, flute, percussionist and the pianist on celesta. It was fascinating to watch this piece, which I’m quite familiar with, unfold, the percussionist gentle shaking stuff in his hands at first then later gentle tapping a snare with his hands and occasionally bring out a few notes on the vibraphone. The celesta was rarely used, almost like another percussion instrument, adding a single ringing chord every so often to sublime effect. The viola of course was front and center with its mournful melodic phrase brought in again and again in various permutations. Really wonderful, again I longed for a whole evening of Feldman from this ensemble. This piece brought the greatest audience reaction including a spontaneous “Bravo!” from one of the members. The violist got an extra, well deserved, round of applause. The group returned for the final Postcard with the same lineup as the last but this time there were two additional performers carrying books and candles. They lit their candles and sat on the floor on either side of the musicians. After initial longer tones (the solo as it were) from the bass clarinet the group played short little fragments, but they were soft and sedate sort of in-between the styles of the first and third. These little segments were clearly to be played and repeated as long as the readers kept reading. They blew out their candles, first the reader on the right and then a minute or two later the reader on the left, as they finished whatever prescribed bit of reading they had to do and then the piece ended. This was my second favorite of the Postcards a really nice sounding piece with a clever bit of indeterminacy. The final piece was Plektó composed by Iannis Xenakis for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin and ‘cello. I’ve heard a decent amount of Xenakis’s chamber works but this piece was new to me. Like a lot of his pieces it was pretty aggressive and bombastic. The percussion was a big floor tom, a huge bass drum and little tom-toms and these were heavily worked. The piano was also literally pounded and at one point there was a near call and response between the piano and drums. The other instruments created this swirling miasma of long tones often creating dissonance and almost beating tones between them. The piece was right on the edge I felt, a lot of the drum work was almost cheesy but the dissonances and the contrasts between the various elements kept my attention. It was definitely an exciting specticle to see live. This concluded the set and they ensemble left to much applause.
Eventually waving away the appluse, John Snijders introduced the encore, Langzame Verjaardag (slow birthday) which was a piece written by Louis Andriessen for the groups 20th Anniversery. This piece featured all of the ensemble but Snijders who stood off to one side. He descibred the piece as a “canon in unison where each member can enter at will”. This piece was really nice, slow long tones, unfolding and overlapping and eventually fading away as each member finished their part. Eventually it was just the flautist who played three or four phrases before he to was done. A really nice ending to a great evening of music.
Wed 19 Nov 2008
This week I found on an mp3 blog the original recording of Morton Feldman’s Durations I-IV. Originally released on a, now long out of print, Time Records split LP with Earle Brown. Durations I-IV was written in 1960/61 and the record was put out shortly thereafter in 1962. Each of the Durations is its own piece but they flow incredibly well together and make for a beautiful 28 minute piece listened to in their entirety. They are each scored for different instruments but there is always continuity between them:
Durations I: Violin-Cello-Alto-Flute-Piano
Durations II: Cello-Piano
Durations III: Violin-Tuba-Piano
Durations IV: Violin-Cello-Vibraphone
So from the quintet of Durations I, the ‘cello and piano carry on into Durations II, the thread maintained by the piano into Durations III and the violin carries us into Durations IV where the ‘cello makes a return. So there is a continuity between them and it sounds like a single piece with different movements.
What really struck me on listening to this recording is that it demonstrates that what many think of the late Feldman sound – that is the very slow, meditative pace with sounds created and allowed to fade away before the next. This recording has all of that and yet compositionally it falls more in line with his earlier indeterminate pieces. It really only lacks the length to distinguish it from the canonical late pieces and of course plenty of those are about the length of this when all four pieces are played together like this (there also is a Durations V, composed after this recording that would obviously increase the overall duration of this suite). To focus on length to the degree of excluding the other fundamental aspects of Feldman’s compositional style would of course miss the essence of the work.
“It has often been noted now, that listeners are more willing to be generous to a long piece than to a short one, and to more easily assume that the long piece is more profound.” (4)
The point being that while Feldman’s work is hardly monolithic (there are massive stylistic changes from decade to decade after all) the essence of this so called late style was in place by 1960. In fact it was with the Durations that you find a lot of the key elements that gave those pieces such a timeless feel. Namely it was the indeterminacy in the tempo and the duration of the notes. Feldman left this up to the performers: “The duration of each sound is chosen by the performer.” (2) and while in the later pieces he wasn’t always quite so free, he often would indicate that the next sound not be generated ’til the previous one had died away, which of course is at the discretion of the performer. It is this aspect that I conjecture really gives us the etherial, sounds placed in time
An additional feature of this particular version of these pieces is that there is an additional and ever present layer of record player noise. Not overly loud, never foregrounded it is just an additional set of sounds, more indeterminate but very pleasing to the ear. It is as if there was the most subtlest electronist performing the most sedate and and discrete version of Cartridge Music along with the pieces. The combination of these shifting and floating sounds of flute, tuba, piano, violin and cello with this additional layer is one that has kept me coming back to this recording over and over again this week. Download it yourself and give it a listen.
The performers on this, as well as the Earle Brown on the flip-side (which is also well worth hearing) are: Don Hammond (alto flute), Don Butterfield (tuba), David Tudor (piano), Philip Kraus (vibraphone), Matthew Raimondi (violin) and David Soyer (‘cello). This is probably the closest we are going to get to hearing what David Tudor would have sounded like performing the great late Feldman piano works and it does make the fact that he didn’t record those a shame indeed.
1) Morton Feldman / Earle Brown – split LP (1962) [Time Records]
2) Feldman’s “Durations I”: a discussion, Frank Sani
3) Morton Feldman at Wikipedia
4) In Dispraise of Efficiency: Feldman, Kyle Gann