Entries tagged with “Rainforest”.

Merce Cunningham Antic Meet

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) is coming to Seattle for two dates as part of the Legacy Tour later this week (Oct. 27th and 29th) and several local institutions have programmed some corresponding events, beginning with a lecture today at the Henry Art Gallery. This lecture, Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns, by Roger Copeland (Professor of Theater and Dance at Oberlin College) examines the relationship between Merce Cunningham and the artists that he worked with in his dance company. The thrust of the lecture seams to be an examination of how Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns all broke away from the dominate forces on their respective fields and that this rejection of the current paradigm is their “shared sensibility”:

Between 1953 and 1980, the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns frequently designed décor, costumes, and even lighting for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This lecture will examine the sensibility shared by all three artists. Merce Cunningham began his professional career in dance as a member of Martha Graham’s legendary company. But by l953, when he first formed his own company, Cunningham had eliminated virtually every vestige of Graham’s influence from his own dancing and choreography. Significantly, 1953 was also the year in which Robert Rauschenberg created his Erased DeKooning Drawing, a work which -both literally and figuratively – declared his independence from the ethos of abstract expressionism. This lecture will argue that Cunningham’s repudiation of Martha Graham’s approach to choreography is paralleled in precise ways by Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s repudiation of painters like DeKooning, Pollock and the other great abstract expressionists. Collectively, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns (along with John Cage), spearheaded one of the great paradigm shifts in 20th century art: a transition away from the “hot,” anguished, personal energies of abstract expressionism toward the cooler, brainer, more impersonal aesthetic that would eventually manifest itself in minimalism and conceptualism.

2005 dress rehearsal for Ocean, in New York's Rose Theater

On Wednesday the Northwest Film Forum will present the Seattle premier of the Charles Atlas film of the most epic performance of Ocean.

In September 2008 Merce Cunningham staged Ocean, one of the most ambitious works of his legendary 60-year career, within a massive Minnesota granite quarry. Renowned filmmaker and longtime Cunningham collaborator Charles Atlas was there, using five cameras to document this uniquely epic production.

The film was completed last year and has only been shown by dance companies, festivals and in special screenings like this one. While the performance in the Minnesota quarry was seen to be somewhat of a failure by the critics in attendance it was notable (at least to readers of this blog) for several reasons. The first being that it contains the last piece composed by David Tudor (Soundings: Ocean Diary) and John Cage (Ocean 1-96 completed by Andrew Culver). In 1994 it would have still be performed by David Tudor and presumably for the 2008 performance it used recordings or Kosugi’s realization of the piece.  Furthermore it is possible that the issues the critics had with an outdoor staging of a piece in the round may not be an issue with a filmed version.  The five cameras would allow 360 degree coverage and editing and such could make for a more coherent piece than one could experience live. Atlas was a long time Cunningham collaborator and would I think create a film that Cunningham would approve of.

Daniel Squire in RainForest (photo by Tony Dougherty)

Daniel Squire in RainForest (1968) from the Legacy Tour

The week concludes with the two performances of from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour (which almost didn’t make it to Seattle; see this Seattle Times article) , which I wrote up extensively in this blog post: Legacy Tour comes to Seattle. Lots to see and hear for those interested in Merce Cunningham, his dance company and the composers and artists he worked with.  I’m off to the lecture at the Henry and of course have tickets to both the MCDC performances. I hope to make the Ocean screening as well, any chance to hear some unheard Tudor is not to be missed and of course more Merce is welcome. Look for a post on all of these activities after Merce Week concludes.

Merce Week in Seattle Lineup

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011, 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns
Henry Auditorium, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington

Wednesday, Octerober 26th, 2011, 8:00 pm
Ocean a documentary by Charles Atlas
Northwest Film Forum, Seattle  WA

Thursday, October 27th 2011, 7:30 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour
The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA

Sunday, October 29th 2011, 8:00 pm
Merce Cunningham Dance Company Legacy Tour

The Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA




Tuder and Mumma cover David Tudor & Gordon Mumma
(New World Records)

David Tudor was the mid twentieth century avant garde’s favorite pianist, often called upon by such greats as Stockhausen, Boulez and Cage to perform works that demanded incredible skill. In his work with Cage, he was increasingly called upon to use the electronics of the day and he became a maestro at coaxing the most from these primitive circuits. Cartridges, amplifiers, contact microphones, simple oscillators and filters were the materials they had to work with and Tudor was a master at pushing these just to the point before they would harshly feedback, distort or otherwise produce sounds out of the range called for. Eventually he began to assemble his own circuits, combing the simple elements they had into novel and unique devices that he would often house in soap holders. As he became more of a collaborator then an interpreter he was asked to compose works for various people and in 1968 Merce Cunningham commissioned music for a dance based on Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People called Rainforest.


Circuit Diagram from Rainforest

On hearing the proposed title for this Cunningham dance, Tudor remarked, “Well I’ll be sure to use lots of raindrops”. Instead of any sort of practical technique or taped based method, he chose to use pure electronics for his recreation of the sounds of the rainforest. For the initial version of this piece (which Tudor would perform and expand throughout his career), his interest was in the sounds of amplifiers in and of themselves. “The basic notion, which is a technical one, was the idea that the loudspeaker should have a voice which was unique and not just an instrument of reproduction, but an instrument unto itself.” (1) He utilized small sounds amplified via phonograph cartridges (a technique that he had used on Cages Cartridge Music) then fed into a multi channel speaker array. These sounds were designed to emulate the sound of rain, of wind in the trees, the repetitive calls of birds and the screeches of unseen animals. “In the first version, I made objects which I could travel with. The objects were so small, however, that they didn’t have any sounding presence in the space, so I then amplified the outputs with the use of contact microphones. Then for the second version, I wanted to have a different kind of input”¦ because for the first I had used oscillators that made animal and bird-like sounds. “ (2) The first version of Rainforest was performed in South America during the 1968 Merce Cunningham dance company’s world tour. This new release from New World Records documents Rainforest from this first tour as well as a much longer version from concert in Ithaca New York. Nicely breaking up the two performances are several short piano works by Gordon Mumma also from around this same period.

The first track on the disc is a twenty-minute version of Rainforest from July 30th, 1968, performed in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. A low thrumming sound opens the piece with some audience noise audible in the background. Things then really take off with a distant rattle followed by a persistent clicking sound as of a disturbingly large insect somewhere deep in the forest. This is followed by an oscillating whine as that initial thrum fades away only to be replaced by a rather electrical sounding buzz. Tocks, irregularly repeated, a scratchy moan and feedback with oscillators creating these birdlike calls. Toward the conclusion, there is a persistent bit of feedback and then things wrap up with this cranking sound and then applause and shouts from the audience.

From this very first take on the piece, you can hear that Tudor’s intent was genuinely realized. It truly does capture the sounds of a rainforest as anyone who has heard field recordings from the Amazon or a seen a nature show that allows for some unmediated sound (or I’d image actually being in the Amazonian rainforest). The sounds don’t quite seem natural, their electronic nature obvious and yet played at a low volume or in another room you would swear that someone was playing “sounds of the rainforest”.


David Tudor and Gordon Mumma

This earliest version of Rainforest is followed by six pieces by Gordon Mumma for two pianos that range from fifteen seconds to six minutes in length. Mographs and Gestures are the pieces in question and there are four of the former and two of the later. Both of these works are for two pianists who, as with the rest of the music on this album, are Tudor and Mumma. The Mographs were “derived from seismographic recorded P-waves and S-waves of earthquakes and underground nuclear explosions”(3) and for the most part are quick little bursts at the piano. The sounds are of fragmented arpeggiations, quick chords, spaces and the occasional single note. Often small sections will be repeated the same or with minor variations which as anyone who has seen a seismograph recording can see how that would have developed. The Gestures were a more structurally complicated composition that used different techniques in each of the different numbered section. Section X was a game piece with a very limited range and Section 7 was through composed piece that spanned the range of both pianos. These short little pieces may seem at first listen to be slight little extravagances, but I found them to be a nice interlude between the two versions of Rainforest that additionally I found would hold my attention each time. Simple sounding but with interesting structures and an almost fractal nature in that they seem to be so self similar but are continuously varying.


Circuit Diagram from Rainforest 1968

Following the piano excursions is the second and much longer version of Rainforest. Definitely the centerpiece of the disc, this version takes the concepts and systems of the earlier performance to the limit. It begins with a skittering oscillation and an almost liquid rubbing sound that is shortly followed by a repeated chittering and a gentle wash of static. Out of this arises some bird like chirpings with an electronic edge and a low textural roaring sound that comes in and out, in and out but soon replaced by a low oscillation. A chirping begins, following a rising pattern, which repeats a number of times until transforming into a solid line. Added to this are an oscillating low tone and a very gentle quiet tweeting, soon disrupted by some relatively loud grating feedback. Nothing in the piece, as in the forest last long and this quickly fades out and we return to a more static sound field. Eventually a much louder grinding, stuttering sound comes in, as of a much larger bird closer by. And things continue in this way as this piece captures the effect of spending forty minutes in the rainforest with the variety of sounds that you would expect. Much more varied then the first version this one adds those pulsing, ticking and pounding sounds that one so often hears in rainforest recordings as well as more ambient sounds made up of the low rumble of feedback, warbly hums and bursts of static. Sounds that could have come from a woodpecker, the scream of a large cat, cicada like insect noises and those unidentifiable tocks, screeches and projector like sounds are all found here. It is a rich world of sound and nothing less then what one would expect from such an environment. That it was created with such simple elements ably demonstrates David Tudor’s creativity and how closely he must have listened to the sounds around him. For out of merely amplifying normal sounds and some simple electronics he has created a complete sound world.

The album concludes with a very short solo piano piece that Gordon Mumma created on hearing of the death of David Tudor. Song without Words is a melancholy, almost romantic meander across the keyboard made up of little spaces, single notes and simple chording. You can feel the emotion that just poured out of Mumma and onto the keys, formless as ones thoughts can be at these times and as he titled the piece, wordless.

Rainforest holds up well and can be performed as it always has been with or without the use of new technologies. This autumn I witnessed Gordon Mumma and Matt Rogalsky perform this piece at the Vancouver New Music Silence: John Cage festival (my review here). The performance was stunning and was what drove me to investigate this album. I cannot express how happy I am that I did, as this is one of those rare albums that hold both historical significance and fantastic music. So much of the early electronic music was merely evolutionary, composers playing with new toys and developing new techniques at the cost of the music. Tudor seemed far more interested in using the tools at hand to create the sounds in his head and in this case with complete success. This compact disc exists beyond the mere documentation of an important development in electronic music it is a musical sound world and one of the best listens I’ve had this year.

(1) from an interview by Teddy Hultberg in Dusseldorf May 17th and 18th 1988.
(2) from an interview by John Fullemann October 12th 1985.
(3) from the accompanying liner notes by Gordon Mumma, page 18.

Originally published at Bagatellan