Entries tagged with “Sebastian Lexer”.


Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings volume 1 (Matchless Recordings)
The Smith Quartet
with John Tilbury
Live at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music, 2006

Ian Humphries (violin); Darragh Morgan (violin); Nic Pendlebury (viola) ; Deirdre Cooper (cello); John Tilbury (piano)

1. For John Cage [1982] (1:31:14)
2. Piano and String Quartet [1985] (1:29:30)

Almost all Feldman’s music is slow and soft. Only at first sight is this a limitation. I see it rather as a narrow door, to whose dimensions one has to adapt oneself (as in Alice in Wonderland) before one can pass through it into the state of being that is expressed in Feldman’s music. Only when one has become accustomed to the dimness of light can one begin to perceive the richness and variety of colour which is the material of the music. When one has passed through the narrow door and got accustomed to the dim light, one realises the range of his imagination and the significant differences that distinguish one piece from another …

Feldman sees the sounds as reverberating endlessly, never getting lost, changing their resonances as they die away, or rather do not die away, but recede from our ears, and soft because softness is compelling, because an insidious invasion of our senses is more effective than a frontal attack. Because our ears must strain to catch the music, they must become more sensitive before they perceive the world of sound in which Feldman’s music takes place.  – Cornelius Cardew(1)

I’ve mentioned many times here and elsewhere that John Tilbury is my favorite interpreter of Morton Feldman’s piano music and the piano music is my favorite of Feldman’s work. The solo piano pieces, especially his last few pieces, are masterpieces but I’d also accord such plaudits to a number of Feldman’s chamber pieces.  The Music for Piano and Strings series on Matchless features a number of such pieces and the first volume begins the series incredibly strong with two of his best as well as personal favorite pieces.  Feldman often used the piano in his chamber pieces, sometimes in a similar way as to the solo piano pieces, but at other times in rather different ways, using a wider variety of techniques and trading off foreground and background roles with the other instruments. To understand what I mean by this one has to consider how strings are used in these pieces.

When many of these pieces were first performed, Feldman requested that the string players use “˜leather mutes’. However we now have very light and excellent plastic practice mutes available to the same effect, more reliable and easier to use. Another score marking employed by Feldman is an instruction to have the hair on the bows as loose as possible, the aim being that, since the majority of his work is incredibly quiet this is the easiest way to create this dynamic. Ironically, with the resurgence of period performance and easy access to baroque bows, we have performed and recorded this repertoire with these bows. The benefits are multiple and, most importantly for us, the lightness of these bows helps both physically in playing music that can routinely be 80 minutes in length, and musically as their arc-like shape lends well to the wonderful melodic and harmonic contours of Feldman’s string writing. – Darragh Morgan(2)

Darragh Morgan (as well as Cardew above) describe the overall features of softness and sound orientation. For strings as we read above they play with mutes, bowes with loose hair (or Baroque bows as the Smith Quartet rather brilliantly uses) but also “For us, in performing and recording these pieces, we felt that a “˜vibrato free’ style of playing created a type of musical purity akin to Feldman’s own intentions. Of course this also complements John Tilbury’s delicate pianistic touch.(2) These restrictions seem to be standard among all (or at least the bulk) of  Feldman’s pieces for strings.  Beyond this, there is how he uses the pitches from the string players, that is the harmony that he chooses to employ.  It would take a far greater expert than myself to really breakdown the use of harmony in Feldman’s music but there are some interesting features that reveal themselves from purely listening to the music. When there are multiple string players Feldman utilizes them in multiple ways but one of the most common is to have all the players play as one, each generating a pitch that may form into a chord across the instruments, or they may all play the same note.  Some of what he seems to be going for is microtonal, but I suspect not deliberately, more just on the slight imperfection in playing.  At other times it will be as if all of the members are playing separately, each doing their own thing with sounds in various pitches coming in and out of the soundfield. In the liner notes for the recent release of Feldman’s Trio on Mode (which I wrote about here) they quote Feldman as saying over the course of a long piece you more or less go through your whole bag of tricks, you try it all and you can hear this in these pieces:

“In writing a long piece, I would make curious moves, but only for the moment. Decisions that I would never think of, say, in composing a twenty-minute composition. You want a piece to be logical? Well, you’re not going to sit down and have a ten-course meal of logic; you’re satisfied with just an hors d’oeuvre, a little logical hors d’oeuvre served to you by a famous waiter! You want a piece to be beautiful? OK, give them a moment of beauty — how much more do you need? So what happens in a long piece is that soner or later you go through the whole parameter of possiblities, and everybody’s going to get something out of it, I’m sure. The form of the piece is more like a novel — there’s plenty of time for everything.” – Morton Feldman (4)

But Feldman doesn’t go through all of the available tricks from musical history, no he goes through all of his tricks. And at times, even in a long piece he’ll severely restrict himself: in Piano and String Quartet the piano only plays arpeggios, for an hour and a half in this recording. Feldman varies the arpeggios throughout the piece, their pacing, the weight of the individual notes the space between the figures, but he’s only using one technique. Of course there is also the strings which sustain this, though they also don’t explore the entire range of his techniques for strings as he does in his String Quartet peices, no it is the interplay of these five instruments in this piece that allows for just restricted material. This for me is what really distinguishes Feldman’s chamber pieces: it is the sound of the instruments playing together, the way that he approaches that seems completely unique.

Feldman’s use of extended string techniques can blur the timbral separation between cello and violin, creating unified sonic events exploring the qualities and possibilities of the combination of instruments – for example, utilizing the resonance of the piano and the sustaining qualities and dynamic control of the strings. – Mode Records Trio page

The above quote from Mode puts so well something I’ve been struggling to describe here and as I said is really to me the essence of Feldman’s chamber work. In the pieces on this disc. The way that a note on the piano dies away and then the dry bowed violin resonates with that decaying sound. The almost organ like tones of a chord built up from all four players of the string quartet playing with that gasping sound of vibrato-less bowing, combined with soft tinkling piano notes slowly revealing themselves as the chord fades away. The Smith Quartet, whom I was not at all familiar with prior to this recording, handle these pieces incredibly well. There is the right softness, dryness of tone and commitment to Feldman’s intentions. The use of the baroque bows to elegantly solve one of Feldman’s conditions to me shows innovation and flexibility and the sonic results prove that this isn’t just for their own benefit, but is the best solution to the problem. I look forward to spending more time with this quartet, first in the rest of the Music for Piano and Strings and then exploring more of their work.

From ancient China there is a description of a vibrato technique: Remarkable is the ting-yin, where the vacillating movement of the finger should be so subtle as to be hardly noticeable. Some handbooks say that one should not move the finger at all, but let the timbre be influenced by the pulsation of the blood in the fingertips pressing the string down on the board a little more heavily than usual.

Such extreme sensitivity of touch is of the essence in a performance of Feldman’s music. In the piano pieces the depressed key is gently eased back to position to minimise the obtrusive sound of the key mechanism, time is allowed for the minutest of harmonics to resound, and at the end of the phrases fingers steal away from the keys noiselessly. – John Tilbury(1)

What more is there to say John Tilbury’s performance of Feldman? Tilbury gives his highest accolades to Cornelius Cardew and David Tudor for their performances of Feldman(1) and I certainly can’t disagree with his assessments of their performances of Feldman’s early pieces. But it is not just for the lack of them having played Feldman’s later pieces that Tilbury is the one I want to hear on these pieces. His touch, his light foot on the sustain pedal (a technique he got from Cardew(3)) his extreme sensitivity to the sound and most of all his deep commitment to these pieces are I think unrivaled.  For a long time I’ve wanted to hear the chamber pieces with Tilbury tinkling the ivories and I can’t say how excited and grateful I am that Matchless is putting this set of recordings out. I recall being in Vancouver participating in a workshop with John Tilbury on Cardew’s Treatise (read about this here) and while we were sharing an elevator he was telling an anecdote about playing various Feldman chamber pieces in California. I completely forget what the point of his anecdote was but it involved the playing of For Philip Guston and my one thought at the time was “Why wasn’t this recorded, I want to hear For Philip Guston with John on the piano!”.  While the Music for Piano and Strings sets won’t include all of Feldman’s chamber pieces with piano, it certainly contains a large subset of them and among these my absolute favorites.

For John Cage [1982] (1:31:14)

One senses a connection to jazz in Feldman’s subtly emotive chords. And beyond that, in the music’s “touch” and “swing”. The touch is in the minimising of attack (Baroque bows are used on this recording). The swing is in the rhythmic dislocation, a feature from the beginning but pursued most exhaustively in the long works of the last years, For John Cage being a prime example.
– Howard Skempton(5)

This is the third recording of For John Cage that I’ve heard and while I’ve only listen it a few times so far it has quickly become my favorite.  For John Cage is scored for piano and violin and thus the piano is of utmost importance. This also is the longest version I’ve heard by far and while this never a priori means it is better in this case I think it is important.   I’ve always felt that there was a sense of urgency to the piece (especially in the almost frantic seeming violin in the opening notes) from the other recordings that I have and I always assumed that was an aspect of this composition that was a bit different from much other later Feldman. But with almost twenty-five more minutes to the piece then my previous favorite version of the piece that sense of urgency becomes a lot less frantic. In fact it becomes more typical of the tensions that you find at various times in Feldman’s pieces (amongst all of his tricks as I quoted earlier). There is a variance to the dynamics in Darragh Morgan’s violin that is more superb then anyone else I’ve heard on this material. He’s always at Feldman’s famous ppp but within that dynamic seems to subtly shift the volume all of the time even within a bow stroke. It could be that this is what creates that shimmering quality to the strings that I noted earlier. Tilbury’s piano is at its most bell like here, perhaps just the smallest amount of extra pressure on the sustain adding just a bit more of a ringing character to it. The interplay between the piano and violin is fantastic in this piece, there is a section near the beginning where the piano plays two notes and the violin responds with its own pair of notes in a call and response that comes across more as two timbres of a bird call. In a later section after focusing almost completing in the far upper register of the piano and violin a single low piano key is struck and repeated and those low tone reminds us of the entire range of sound and dynamic and as played here it is so warm and fat that it is like finding a perfect garden in an arid wasteland. These moments are Feldman’s brilliance in composition and the way the sound is thanks to the incredible touch of Tilbury and Morgan not to mention the excellent recording from Sebastian Lexer.

Speaking of which Richard Pinnell (of The Watchful Ear fame) posted this on IHM a few years back:

Last year at a performance of Morton Feldman’s For John Cage piece in a church in Huddersfield a car crashed in the road immediately outside the venue entrance. The loud bang was followed by a multitude of sirens and other noise. It seemed to me that at that point the slow, gradually shifting music sped up, the momentary interruption shifting the fine balance of the musicians. For John Cage indeed…

Which of course is about this very performance!  He mentioned this again to me in a recent email which sent me looking for this quote to share here.  In my reply to his email I said I’d have been tempted to leave those sounds in it being For John Cage after all (which you see Richard echo a bit here) and in his reply he mentioned that Sebastian Lexer had digitally erased all evidence of this from the recording. This is certainly the case and the recording sounds amazing.  I can’t say I’ve noticed the slight speed up that Richard mentions, but I did notice at one point that the space suddenly seemed flat, that is to say the natural sound of the instruments reverberating in this space seemed different then it had before.  I honestly wasn’t even listening for this when I first noticed it, in fact I was reading a book and my attention suddenly shifted back to the music as it had clearly changed. Not an incredible difference and depending on people sound environment and stereo may not be too noticeable at all but I’m sure this aspect was a bit altered by scrubbing those other ambient sounds. But it is a tremendous job and I’m quite thankful that the effort was made giving us this pristine and incredible version of this piece.

Piano and String Quartet [1985] (1:29:30)

Piano and String Quartet is like breathing; and like dying. The matter is of life and death.
– Howard Skempton(5)

Piano and String Quartet begins with this series of slow arpeggios from the piano, played mostly alone and in between them various short stretches of bowing from the strings, sometimes alone other times in concert. There is more time given to this piece than the other two versions I have (Kronos at ~80′ Ives somewhat short at ~72min) though not dramatically so. But that the extra ten minutes over the Kronos version does slow things down just enough more to really emphasize aspects of the piece – these arpeggios are so spacious and the time allowed for them to decay before the strings come in really lets you hear the resonance of the piano. The piano part is entirely these sustained arpeggios at various tempos, sometimes so slow as to sound like a meandering scale or even isolated single notes. The task of the pianist is to bring these to life, to capture the way that Feldman uses repetition: clearly playing the same thing but with subtle variation so that the structure remains hidden. Mark Swed in his liner notes for the Kronos Quartet/Aki Takahashi recording of this piece puts it perfectly:

Feldman also liked to compare his long pieces to Asian rugs, for which he had a passion. Finding that the most interesting were irregular in their symmetries, he kept his patterns of chords, notes, motives or sounds carefully arrenged so that their repetitions would be reconizable as repetitions, their patterns not discernible, the memory disoriented.” (6)

There seems to almost always be a shimmering sound of this resonance interacting with the beautiful bowing. In a recent post about the Kronos Quartet I mentioned how their sound had a bit more dynamic nature to it then the version of the piece from the Ives Ensemble and I have to say the Smith Quartet also has that ethereal quality to the strings. It clearly isn’t a vibrato technique (unless it is that which is transmitted by the blood itself that Tilbury describes in the quote above) but is clearly some quality of their performance. Perhaps it comes from playing super softly at a level below with the Ives Ensemble does (which is still plenty soft) or perhaps it is subtly shift the volume in the course of a bow stroke, the slight change in pressure reverberating slightly. The strings so often play as one in this piece, the bows slowly arc out in a soft chord, then pausing briefly and then returning over the strings somehow even softer. As the sustain pedal is always pressed on the piano these gentle movements, like breathing really, always begins over this residue of the previously played arpeggio and this interaction is beautiful and endlessly fascinating.

As I reported in the aforementioned Kronos post this was the first Feldman piece I ever heard and I can’t deny that its one of my favorites. Pretty much for the reasons I’ve given above: the piano and the way its used contrasting with the way Feldman uses strings, is just so compelling to me. It’ll take a lot of listens before this approaches the amount I’ve given to the Kronos and Ives versions but the piano is so glorious and the strings are as good as any I’ve heard. This easily catapults right to the top of my favorite recordings of this piece, though the Kronos/Takahashi version is right up there (Feldman more or less wrote the piece with them in mind, it certainly can be thought of as the reference version). This recording I think will reveal how wonderful this piece is to those who may not have previously been as taken with it as it aptly demonstrates this as one of Feldman’s major compositions.

This DVD is a real bounty, it would be akin to two double CD sets of music. While initially I was somewhat resistant to getting music on DVD I have to say I really love hearing the pieces uninterrupted.  On this disc the pieces were recorded at DAT quality (48kz/24bit) and while they sound really good, they do not quite approach the amazing sound of the recently reviewed Mode Trio disc which was recorded at DVD-Audio quality (96khz/24bit) as well as in surround.  No complaints really from me, these sound superb and I for one am not setup for surround sound anyway. The downside of DVD releases for me is that I like to put Feldman on as I go to sleep and I am not equipped to play Feldman in my bedroom. Maybe when I get a Blu-Ray player for the living room I’ll put my old DVD player in the bedroom.  Anyway this release is essential for all aficionados of Morton Feldman, John Tilbury, the Smith Quartet or just stunningly wonderful music.  My highest recommendation.

Sources
1) On Playing Feldman, by John Tilbury from the For Bunita Marcus liner notes. LondonHALL, 1993
2) Feldman for Strings by Darragh Morgan, from the Music for Piano and Strings liner notes. Matchless Recordings 2010
3) Cornelius Cardew – A Life Unfinished by John Tilbury. Copula, 2008
4) Trio liner notes by Sabine Feisst. Mode Records 2010
5) Liner notes by Howard Skempton, from the Music for Piano and Strings liner notes. Matchless Recordings 2010
6) Morton Feldman Piano and String Quartet performed by the Kronos Quartet with Aki Takehashi, Liner notes by Marc Swed 1993

Forthcoming

More great new music in this area coming out over the next couple of months. Most exciting of course are the next two volumes in the Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings from Matchless.  The next one is particularly exciting for me as it contains Patterns In A Chromatic Field and Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello. I’ve mentioned earlier how much Feldman’s piano music means to me, but I also adore how he uses the cello and love it in the pieces where it stands out. So you’d think that Patterns, being cello and piano would be an all time favorite and I do like it a lot, but I’ve never been satisfied with any of the recordings I’ve heard. So I have a high hopes for this one (though I have to say I’d really like a Rohan de Saram/John Tilbury recording of the piece). Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello is, I think, my favorite Feldman chamber piece. The hatART version of the piece is one of the Ives Ensembles absolute best, but alas its out of print and I’ve only had a lossless rip of it (this is on Hat’s re-release schedule and I definitely will purchase it when it comes out). Anyway can’t wait to hear the take on this piece from this really excellent group of musicians. Volume 3 features a number of the short pieces but also another version of Trio.  As reported earlier I have been quite taken by the recently released DVD of this piece on Mode so I will certainly enjoy hearing another take on it.

Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings volume 2 (Matchless Recordings)
John Tilbury, Smith String Quartet

Patterns In A Chromatic Field; Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello

Morton Feldman Music for Piano and Strings volume 3 (Matchless Recordings)
John Tilbury, Smith String Quartet

Piece for Violin and Piano; Extensions 1; Projection IV; Durations II; Vertical Thoughts II; he Viola In My Life; Four Instruments; Spring of Chosroes; Trio

Additionally there are two  releases  coming out on April 16th (probably coming sooner then the above) I recently found out about that have me interested. Discs of James Tenney and John Cage from Zeitkratzer Productions. The “Old School” series will also  include releases by Alvin Lucier and Morton Feldman coming later in the year. I’m not very familiar with this ensemble and how their take on these pieces will be but there are certainly some very good performers in the group that I am famalair with: Frank Gratkowski, Hayden Chisholm,Franz Hautzinger ,Reinhold Friedl, Maurice de Martin,  Burkhard Schlothauer,  Anton Lukoszevieze,  Uli Phillipp, Ralf Meinz, Matt Davis, Hilary Jeffery directed by Reinhold Friedl.

Zeitkratzer [Old School] James Tenney (Zeitkratzer Productions)

Critical Band; Harmonium #2; Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion

Zeitkratzer [Old School] John Cage (Zeitkratzer Productions)

Four6; Five; Hymnkus

As I’ve intimated elsewhere the music that is really exciting me these day is modern composition, particularly that of the experimental composers. While I had listened to some of the experimental composers prior to my interest in contemporary improvisation it was really circling back to them from that perspective that really captivated me. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the improv I was particularly enjoying was that which was exploring the ideas of the experimentalists in improvisation. Of course a lot of so called “eai” wasn’t doing this, which I think partially explains why there are large segments of that music that don’t appeal to me. Anyway of late I’ve found that going back to the source has been a lot more rewarding for me and one thing I’ve quite enjoyed has been people that are involved in both worlds. Last years recording of four pages of Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise (Planam) by Keith Rowe and Oren Ambarchi is a good example as would be John Cage’s Four6 by Tom Chant, Angharad Davies, Benedict Drew, John Edwards on the otherwise unremarkable Decentered (Another Timbre). Of course last year was strong with new takes by established classical performers of pieces from the experimentalists, John Tilbury’s beautiful rendition of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories leading the pack. Historically interesting recordings such as the Treatise from the Quax Ensemble on Mode and new recordings of very recent pieces from Christian Wolff and James Tenney on New World made for a solid year of music for those who share my interests.

Morton Feldman Trio (Mode)Though still in the first month of 2010 this year is already shaping up to be another banner year for this music that is capturing my interests.  A couple of weeks back I got a copy of the new recording of Morton Feldman‘s 1980 composition Trio released on DVD by Mode.  I’ve watched this DVD several times since then and left it running with the TV off several other times.  This performance by Aki Takahashi (piano), Rohan de Saram (cello) and Marc Sabat (violin) is sublime and the quality of the recording is amazing. It’s recorded in the 24/96 standard which is much higher than what CD’s are recorded at and also I believe in surround sound. I only have a stereo so I can’t take full advantage of the surround but the stereo spatialization is very nice. Anyway its the sound of the instruments that really matters to me and they are remarkable in this piece. The piano is so rich and reverberant, audible throughout the entirety of its decay, more so then I’ve ever heard on any recording. The violin and cello, sometimes played as one in a dry wheezing chord, at other times contrasting in their separate registers are equally well presented. I don’t think I’ve heard a recording that sounds more like I was actually there than this one.

The performance of the piece is equally stunning, with Rohan de Saram gently “conducting” with his head as the play through this piece over a very leisurely 1’45” which again thanks to the format you can enjoy uninterrupted. All the sounds are given their full weight and time, perfectly placed in the space.  I have a copy of Trio that was released on the HatART label performed by members of the Ives Ensemble and I always thought of it as a rather minor work. This version, about thirty minutes longer, brings out so much more in the piece and I really prefer how it is played. Piano is the key to Feldman for me, his compositions, solo or ensemble, with piano are my favorites and just seem the most representative of the essence of his compositions.  The pianist is thus supremely important and while I love the Ives Ensemble I’ve never quite liked John Snijders piano as much as some of the other Feldman interpreters. I mean his playing is very, very good and all the recordings I have of him playing Feldman are completely acceptable. But for me I think that the piano player needs to be almost transcendental to really get to that essence of Feldman’s work. Tilbury of course is my favorite, but Aki Takahashi is I think one of the top tier, especially for the chamber pieces. There is no other cellist that I’d like to hear playing  Feldman more than Rohan de Saram and his performance here is exquisite. Perfectly played as he marks the time keeping the ensemble in order.  The cello can be such a rich, reverberant instrument and Feldman works with that, as well as the dry, flat sounds he so often evokes from string instruments. Finally Marc Sabat is fairly new to me, though I know he has been involved in several of the Mode Feldman edition releases now. In this piece the violin seems mainly in line with the cello, though there are certainly parts where all of the instruments seem to be in opposition to each other.  Sabat’s playing seems really fine to me here and I’m definitely interested in hearing more of his work.

For various reasons I’ve somewhat avoided the Mode Feldman releases but on hearing this piece completely open up for me I’m definitely going to check out a bit more of their Feldman Edition.

Lost DaylightEarlier this week I got the four new releases in the “piano series” put out by the Another Timbre label (read a review of all four here). While I am of course interested in listening to the entire series, the long awaited John Tilbury release has gotten almost all of my attention so far.  Announced almost at the beginning of the label’s history (it’s AT 10, the most recent is AT 25) it contains recordings of solo piano pieces by the minimalist Terry Jennings plus an innovative working of John Cage’s Electric Music for Piano.  The Terry Jenning’s pieces are sublime, delicate piano miniatures from 1958-66 that anticipate Feldman’s late piano pieces in their soft, deliberate nature if not their length. Jennings is woefully underrepresented in performance and recordings, I can only think of a few other pieces of his that I’ve heard. Thus it is a wonderful gift to hear some of his piano pieces so perfectly played by Tilbury on this recording. There is sound and silence and a sense of waiting in these pieces;  patient and without any anxiety.

It is music of simplicity and great mystery. There are bar lines, but nothing feels counted: things happen in moments and not measures. There is always time for the resonance of the piano. (Is there any player better at feeling this resonance than John Tilbury?) The sounds drift, suspended in a dense medium of some kind. The shape of a piece emerges gradually, like the hills appearing as the marine layer burns off. Each piece feels like a small even extended in time” – Micheal Pisaro from the liner notes to the Jennings pieces.

The bulk of the album is a near forty minute realization of John Cage’s Electric Music for Piano, which was written for David Tudor in 1964 as a set of loose instructions for combing several disparate elements. These elements are instructions for use of parts of Cage’s Music for Piano 4-84, realized using electronic equipment (the score mentions microphones, amplifiers and oscilloscope) and constellations from an astronomical chart. John Tilbury performs this piece as a duo with Sebastian Lexer handling the electronics (you can hear an earlier take on this piece by them here (scroll to the bottom)). Lexer has developed this system he refers to as Piano+ which is basically the piano captured by microphones and manipulated by MAX/MSP patches of his own devising. Of course MAX/MSP manipulation of the piano is an academic trope done enough so that even the most varied of patches share a certain amount of familiarity. Lexer’s solo release Dazwischen on the Matchless label aptly displays these tropes and the kind of digital excess that MSP can lead to. But in the case of this piece, in I think attempting to capture aspect of Tudor’s electronics, which often used cascading amplification, feedback, phase shifting and other simple and frankly abused electronics, these excesses are mostly avoided. Which isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional bit of cheesily delayed tones, autopanning or video game type of sounds, just never to any sort of excess. Most of the time the sounds seem to be more faint crackles, distorted piano tones, restrained feedback and the like.  The piece is remarkable in its spaciousness and subtlety with the most dramatic parts coming from the piano: crashes of the lid or bangs on the body or strings.  The setup of the electronics itself as well as the excerpts from Music for Piano and finally the editing of the piece all used overlaid astronomical charts to arrange their construction. This adds additional layers of indeterminacy to the  piece and fully succeeds in Lexer’s stated desire to “… go beyond a realisation that comprised of simply adding electronic effects to the piano”.  With a piece like this one is always going to be in the shadow of Tudor and I think that Tilbury and Lexer succeeded admirably in creating a realization that is fully their own but acknowledges this influence. Tilbury’s pianism is markedly different from Tudor’s though I’d say they share many a common goal. As an example of how they are different but akin Tudor’s realizations of Feldman’s indeterminate pieces are I think far superior to Tilbury’s but I would definitely rather hear Tilbury handle the late Feldman. The two pianists strengths I think lie in different areas even if their sympathies are closely aligned. Likewise the electronics that Lexer employs, digital simulations of analog effects, are a far cry from the wild, on the edge, virtuoso electronics of Tudor. And he makes no attempt here to cavort in that territory. It is far more restrained and safe then Tudor and yet it nods toward it, acknowledges the sounds if not the application. This makes the piece theirs and it is a remarkable bit of music, something that is simultaneously new and old a piece of music that could really be read as an application of new technology and ideas to older music that is open to such experiments.

The beautiful Jennings pieces and the thoroughly engaging Cage realization make for a varied and fantastic CD. One of the best releases yet on Another Timbre and absolutely well worth picking up.

For fans of the music under discussion here 2010 will clearly be another solid year. The above two releases are an incredible start, recordings that I’m sure will remain favorites throughout the year. There is a lot more to look forward to this year though, as there are two releases forthcoming that are sure to be among the years best:

Bandoneon !David Tudor Bandoneon !  (a combine)  (E.A.T./ArtPix/Microcinema)
Another DVD from the 9 Evenings of Theatre & Engineering concerts, this one featuring an early David Tudor composition that has never been released.  In this piece Tudor plays a bandoneon (a sort of accordion) manipulated with electronics and controlling some sort of visual projection system. This is one of the essential steps that Tudor took toward becoming a composer and his focus on live electronics. The combination of acoustic instruments and electronics is an area I’m fascinated by and something I’ve worked with a lot with my Prepared Wire Strung Harp. Tudor with pieces such as this one, his realization of Cage’s
Variations II and the like really pioneered this whole area and getting a chance to hear and see this seminal piece is something I’m looking forward to more then anything else this year.

The other essential forthcoming release is the first of a series of DVD-Audio discs of John Tilbury playing Feldman pieces with the Smith Quartet. I’ve long wanted to hear some of Feldman’s Piano and … pieces with Tilbury and I can’t say how excited I am to finally get the chance. For John Cage and Piano and String Quartet are two of my favorites in this category making this DVD even more exciting. The only wildcard here is the Smith Quartet of whom I’m completely ignorant but the seem to have a good history and a sold pedigree.

Morton Feldman Music For Piano And Strings Volume 1 DVD-AUDIO (Matchless)
The Smith Quartet (Ian Humphries, violin; Darragh Morgan, violin; Nic Pendlebury, viola; Deirdre Cooper, cello) with John Tilbury (piano) live at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music, 2006.

Tracklist:
01. For John Cage, 1982 (1:31:14) (Darragh Morgan and John Tilbury)
02. Piano and String Quartet, 1985 (1:29:30)