Entries tagged with “Vancouver New Music”.


Ives Ensemble

5 March 2009| 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie Street
Tickets $20/$15
Artist Chat 7pm

Press Release:

Founded in 1986 by the Dutch pianist John Snijders, the internationally acclaimed Ives Ensemble consists of a steady pool of seven to fourteen musicians. The ensemble is well known for its performances of non-conducted 20th century chamber music, and in this rare Vancouver appearance will perform a program of works by Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, Gerald Barry, Christopher Fox and Canadian composer Allison Cameron.

This is one of my most anticipated concerts of the year, I never really thought I’d get a chance to see the Ives Ensemble live.  Their performances of Feldman and Cage that have been released primarily on the HatART label have been my favorite versions of many of the pieces. Especially with Feldman their touch and interpretation has been impeccable.  The program for night (found here on their website) has them performing Feldman’s Four Instruments and The Viola in my Life 2 along with Xenakis’ Plektó and three pieces from composers whose work I’m not familiar with.  Of course I’d have loved an all Feldman programme, but any chance to see his music performed live, especially by such a fantastic ensemble is not to be missed. Feldman is rarely performed in the Pacific NW, but there has been more played in the last year then in the 10 before it.  Last year I was able to see Dale Speicher perform The King of Denmark as part of a percussion recitial, a “Morton Feldman Marathon” at the Seattle Art Museum and Stephan Drury performing Palais de Mari along with an Rzewski piece. I can’t say how pleased I am to see the trend continue.  Xenakis is rarely performed here as well so that is also a welcome addition to their programme.

As for the three composers I’m not familiar with, well one always hopes for a new discovery.  Gerald Barry, reading his Wikipedia entry, is from Ireland was a student of Stockhausen and Kagel and is praised for the “thematic development in his music”. Hard to glean much from that, perhaps the heavy thematic componants indicated he’s part of the neo-classicists, his relatively mainstream acceptance he seems to have could be further evidence of that. Christopher Fox who is perhaps more well known for his writing on music; I’ve read a few things of his but can’t recall hearing any of his music, seems equally hard to pin down.  In his case its more that he dabbles in many areas so it depends on the piece played.  Finally Canadian Allison Cameron, who also appears to work in a variety of formats and has been played quite a bit.  On this site I was able to listen to some samples and while they were all too short to make much of an impression were intriguing.  It should be interesting to hear works live from three composers new to me and I certainly am looking forward to the whole evening.

Since this concert was on a Thursday, a three hour drive from here I decided to take a couple of days off from work and spend some time in Vancouver.  Vancouver is probably my favorite city on the West Coast and I love to spend time there  As I usually do I’m going to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery which has two exhibitions that look intriguing: How Soon is Now and Enacting Abstraction. The Vancouver Art Gallery is pretty unique in that it typically devotes each of its three floors to a single exhibition and there isn’t permanent galleries devoted to their collection. The exhibitions they put on are often made up from their collection along with borrowed works to allow you to really get a broader perspective on the topic. They do seem to do exhibitions such as Enacting Abstraction that are topically vague and allow them to leverage their collection. I’m always curious about current activities in art, so How Soon is Now with its focus on British Columbia artists is definitely intriguing.

Along with these planned activities I’ll probably wander around some of Vancouver’s funky neighborhoods checking out the interesting bookstores, record shops and art galleries.  If any readers know of any activities going on Friday or Saturday night that are must see let me know.

(archived from this ihm thread)

Part I:

What I wanted to add to this thread was how to judge an interpretation of the score.  This is an incredibly complex issue but there are I think several basic rules of thumb that can be applied. First off, to get the most common objection out of the way, if you like a particular recording as a piece of music then that is great, no-one is denying you that.  On this issue I think there is no discussion to be had.  The question is though, is a particular recording an actual realization of the score, or more influenced by the score?

The key to interpreting the score is that you build up a consistent vocabulary for the symbols of the score. This vocabulary needs to be flexible as the symbols rarely stand on their own: they are constant intersected, amended, interrupted or overlaid with other symbols. This is an important issue that I think leads to failures in many interpretations, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.  The consistency issue is equally important, if you do not consistently interpret the symbols then you aren’t really playing this as a score. Let me give an example; if you created a version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that played all the notes, used the exact orchestration, followed all of the rules of the score, except that you played it at a tempo such that it lasted nine hours, this would no longer be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  It would be at best “inspired by” or a gloss on it. Why? Because Beethoven gave explicit directions on the tempo for the score. Now there is a lot of debate on that and realizations of the score can vary in times by 15 or more minutes.  But these I think are all valid, they fall within the parameters of the score.

So am I saying that doing a short version of Treatise is a priori invalid? No, but to do a short version of the score requires a huge amount of work. Cardew’s composition Volo Solo is apparently a transcribed version of the entire scored to be performed by a piano virtuoso which can be done in about 10 minutes. But this is meticulously scored (and it is rather difficult to see exactly how it is transcribed from the score. Tilbury (for whom it was composed) goes into this in Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished) and contains thousands of notes.  So this is one solution to the issue of consistency and flexibility: rigorous transcription. In essence you are compressing the score into a smaller more compact version, a translation of all of this syntactic content into another system.

Beyond that level of transcription what else do we find in interpretations of the score? When you are not converting the symbols directly into traditional notation you tend to utilize varying degree of abstraction. That is you associate techniques, events, or sounds to the symbols. You then need to take into account the various permutations of the symbols, the spaces between them, the center line and the numbers. When sight reading from the score this is pretty challenging and the pages themselves contain varying degrees of density. In these sort of interpretations it takes much longer to work though each page, some pages have a lot of content to work through others have very little. Though the relationship between density and tempo is not precise, so pages with very little syntactic content can feel very slow while others dense with information feel fast.  When sight reading the score, the amount of time it would take is certainly highly variable, but I think that on average you’d be pretty hard pressed to fully interpret a page in less then five minutes.  Maybe a few pages would be less but many many more would require more time.  Even if you did spend one minute per page, which would really be a gloss over most of the symbols, you would end up with a three hour+ performance.  So when you are presented with a short performance there are basically five options:

  1. It is fully transcribed to traditional notation and is played at a very high tempo with a high density of notes
  2. The score is being broken up among the players such that for each page each player is playing only a small subset of the information there.
  3. The score is being played layered: that is you each divide the score up among each player so that each player is only doing about 20 pages)
  4. A subset of the score is being performed
  5. It is a gloss of the score

Now lets specifically consider the Hat[now]ART version of the piece. I think its fair to rule out option (1) – it is too sedate, too ambient to be like a 120 minute Volo Solo. (2) and (3) are possible though of course this is impossible to know.  Ideally any performance of the score should include information on the pages played and some description of the strategy adopted. I would guess that it isn’t a layered version of the score – it again doesn’t feel dense enough. (2) is certainly possible and I think would be the most obvious to someone who reads up on the available resources on the score:

“Performance advice. Divide the musicians into those involved in dot events (percussionists and pianists?) and those involved in line events. Dot events to be exclusively soft.” -Cornelius Cardew,Treatise Handbook(1)

However in this fashion to really treat it as a score, you’d basically have long rests between a lot of the events that you are playing. So it’d still come down to spending less then a minute a page, which even if you were only making a few amount of sounds would still come out to all the symbols in the score being played within this time.  Again this take just isn’t that information rich, or quick in tempo. Thus it seems fair to say that this performance is a gloss, a “take” on the score. And there is nothing wrong with that, except that they say this is the “World premier complete performance” on the set (which rules out (4) of course). You can still like the music here, enjoy it for what it is, but it isn’t Treatise anymore then a nine hour version of the Ninth Symphony isn’t Beethoven

This post has gone on long enough, but I think it establishes a set of criteria for examining realizations of the score and demonstrates how to apply it. If there is further interest, I’ll add examinations of a couple of other versions here over the next couple of days.

Part II:

The most successful (and common) strategy of interpretation of Treatise is to play a subset of the score.  This allows you to devote the time that each page requires.  When playing as a group without any sort of strategy of synchronization these types of interpretations necessarily become layered versions of the score. I for one am a fan of that type of layering and this was something well embraced by the 60s Experimental Composers (c.f.  all of the simultaneous Cage performances) including Cardew. The entire score could be played through in the fashion, playing a page or series of pages in a number of sessions. We began this process in the Seattle Improv Meeting and played through 44 pages in this fashion (these can be downloaded here). This attempt  to play through the whole score in sequence was stopped at that point as the interpretation was suffering in other ways.  This is a good example of one of the other failures in interpretation: using the score for structured improvisation.

“The score must govern the music. It must have authority, and not merely be an arbitrary jumping-off point for improvisation.” -Cornelius Cardew,Treatise Handbook(1)

Use of the score for structured improvisation again becomes a gloss of the score; one is not interpreting the symbols of the score consistently or rigorously. Again you can make good music this way and it is not an invaluable exercise. In fact I quite like structured improvisation, I think that it often adds depth to improv, just enough structure applied to give form and to curtail certain impulses.  However it is not following a score and as is quite clear with Cardew’s own intentions (“It must have authority”) this is not a rigorous realization.  I should point out that in the case of the SIM this was just how the group developed. In our three years of working with the score, we evolved from a tentative learning process, to a rigorous consistent approach and then it kind of slackened off into this more loose approach. See some of the recordings from the second half of 2005 to the first couple of months of 2006 for some of the more consistent realizations (my personal favorite from this period is Pages 146-148)

Other versions that most likely fall into the gloss of Structured Improvisation would include Formanex Treatise- Cornelius Cardew(Fibrr).  While they don’t explicitly say which pages they are playing on this recording (as opposed to their other recording) overall the music here is too overtly ambient to fit much of the score. However it is possible that this is the last three pages of the score in which this sort of interpretation would be valid. Again this is a case where it is frustrating that they don’t tell you the page(s) that are played. If you contrast this though with the other Formanex recording, Treatise-Live at Extrapool (also on Fibrr) it is markedly different, that one has the spaciousness and spikiness that more strict realizations tend to feature. I would also guess that the performance of pages 21 & 22 On the hat[now]ART release Material also leans this way. At least by some of the members (which is worth noting, there can certainly be degrees of rigor in any group performance of it) especially the vocalist who seems to be free riffing well past any material available from the score. This sort of free improvisation on the score I think is particularly egregious as this is adding semantic content which is not contained within the score.

Part III:

Quax Ensemble plays Treatise

Cornelus Cardew Treatise (Prague version 1967) (Mode)

The most recent Treatise recording out there came out just a couple of weeks ago on Mode.  This release is certainly of much historical interest, the QUaX Ensemble being one of the earlier groups to work with the piece. During the course of the development of the piece a number of musicians worked with it (including the members of AMM, in various combinations and of course AMM itself) and one of these was Petr Kotik. He was pretty young at the time, (early-mid twenties) and had was still in conservatory when he met Cardew and developed a relationship with him. He was able to get a number of pages (alas and annoyingly the liner notes do not specify these) prior to the scores publication in 1967 and put together the QUaX Ensemble to play it among other scores.  They played from these pages frequent but and eventually put together a 2 hour version of the pages they had which they performed once on October 15th 1967. That of course is this recording. He quite clearly states in the liner notes that he received a copy of the complete score in Buffalo NY in 1969, two years after this performance. So this two hour version is clearly a subset of the score, thus eliminating the issues that are rife with short complete versions.

“There is much to admire in this 1967 version of Treatise by the QUaX Ensemble from Prague: the feeling of spontaneity, its uninhibitedness, the rough-hewn sounds, the accidental, the half-intended, the blurred.” -John Tilbury(3)

The liner notes include a page from John Tilbury which tellingly is half devoted to quotes from the Treatise Handbook. The above quote from him, which is rather amusingly used in the Mode PR, I think sums it up perfectly: There is much to admire yes, but there is also much that is not so admirable.

First off they clearly did spend the time developing a consistent take on the pages they had. The liner notes includes reproductions of two of Kotik’s pages which have numerous annotations on them. These include notes on what to play for certain symbols but are actually mostly devoted to timings. Most interestingly the notes mostly resolve around who is to play for a given symbol.  For instance on the back cover there is an except of a page where the same symbol (black filled circles) are notated “Kotik”. Other notes seem to be either instruments or perhaps performance techniques that I can’t decipher (anyone who can, do let me know). These notes are pretty revealing in their take on the score, which to me seems like a fairly typical case of classical musicians trying to improvise.  It in fact reminds me a lot of the workshop and performance I did with Vancouver New Music (that Joda references (in the ihm thread) and which I wrote up at length here: VNM Treatise report) where I’d say most of the ensemble never really managed to work with the score in and of itself, they always were using it as a springboard.

In the case of this version, they seem to have a concern that I’ve encountered among virtually everyone I’ve seen play the score: playing together. It seems for classical and jazz musicians that the concept of everyone working through it at their own pace is a difficult concept.  This was constantly raised in the VNM group and also something that plagued the first half dozen or so sessions with the Seattle Improv Meeting (at least among certain people in both groups). Even a more recent performance that I did with a dedicated graphic score group (EyeMusic) under the aegis of Keith Rowe this issue was also raised. In this case since they seemed also to be working with the score in parts (that is assigning symbols to various performers) this seems a much more traditional approach.  Of course Cardew definitely worked with the score in this way especially before AMM and I wouldn’t be surprised if he recommended this approach to Kotik.

Based on the annotated pages that we have in the liner notes it appears that their working out of the score is more an assignment of who plays what, not much of an indication of what they play. In other words this approach is structured improvisation. Listening to this before I closely examined those score excerpts there were a number of passages I found troubling that are explained somewhat by this approach. These passages involve overtly melodic material from the saxophone (Pavel Kondelik) and kind of piano jazz breakdown complete with vocals (Vaclav Zahradnik). Now one might think that one could assign melodic content to the symbols as long as one is consistent and in theory you could. But as I pointed out in my earlier post, any symbolic association must take into account the various fragments, interjects, incomplete symbols, overlapping symbols and so in. With very few exceptions no consistent melodic line would survive that for long. Thus the multiple long melodic sax passages seem to me outside of a strict reading of the score, but would make sense if you just were using the symbols as sigils for when a particular musician was going to perform.

Apart from this melodic content there are a lot of great sounds in this recording and lots of space. Apart from the center line, there are many pages with long gaps between symbols and thus any performance should have these gaps (unless someone is focusing on the center line, but even in this case the other musicians should respect the spaces). There is even a nice background radio grab for a bit, giving it a bit of a Cage or AMM feel.  Much of the sounds are generated on traditional instruments with extreme extended techniques, using many of the sounds associated with avant-garde composition (ala Lachenmann) or post EFI improvisation. Additionally there are various ambient sounds, passing traffic, shifting chairs and the like that places this within a space and I think add a lot to the overall environment. Long stretches of this performance is fantastic in my opinion, though there often is something coming in that one may not like.  For me it really is the melodic content and even worse the semantic content from the singing that mar the performance.

Cardew on a number of occasions expressed his dissatisfaction with classical musicians performance of this piece. Too hard for them to break out of their routines and notions of performance. Impossible for them to capture the right balance between the spontaneous and the structured. This recording I think is somewhat exemplary of that. The fact that the performers were young and still students probably gives this the life and drama that it does have. It still I think would have somewhat dissatisfied Cardew in that it doesn’t go all the way to where he wanted to go w/r/t performer involvement but probably wouldn’t be the total disappoint of some of the performances by highly trained and rigid musicians. As Tilbury says there is much to like here, but this is not I think a wholly successful interpretation of the score. It is definitely recommended though, it is an important piece in the history of the score a history that is quite lacking in the early performances.

Part IV:

Getting back to analysis of performances of the score there is two important notions that I have thus far neglected to mention. This was deliberate as I wanted to approach these recordings in terms of their consistency and rigor. These notions basically subvert that to some degree but in general they can’t be used to excuse those primary notions.  These issues are numbers in the score and the notion of a perverse reading of the score.  The numbers are inescapable in the the score so lets take a look at those first.

As with everything else in the score there isn’t any instructions on how to handle the numbers. However in the Treatise Handbook he says thus:

“The numbers are included at the pauses for the reason that: any act or facet of the conception or composition of the score may have relevance for interpretation.[…] It is the fact that there were 34 blank spaces before the first sign put in an appearance” – Cornelius Cardew, Treatise Handbook (2, p. 251)

This singular note on the numbers from Cardew doesn’t really give much info on how to interpret them.  However it has come to be interpreted as a repetition of an event for the number of times of the numeric value. As there isn’t a specific symbol tied to the event the event is treated as outside of the score, that is it is independent of your consistent interpretation. So theoretically a performer could say play a chord 34 time, or make 34 sounds or what have you.  So does the potential arbitrariness of the numbers make possible the overtly melodic sax in the QUaX version discussed earlier? Probably not. In general the numbers aren’t too large after the initial 34 and there are multiple long sax segments in that version. So I think my previous read of it still stands, but it is worth taking the numbers into account when you listen to a version where something may seem out of place (for those interested Tilbury includes a breakdown of the number distribution in the footnotes to the Treatise chapter in his Cardew bio, on page 278 No. 16).

The notion of Perverse Readings of the score is a lot more problematic and there isn’t a lot of information to go on. From Tilbury’s bio:

“…John White’s precedent for ‘perverse readings’ by reading ascending lines as descending intervals” – John Tilbury (2, p. 251)

The first time I encountered this notion though was for the AMM+Formanex performance of Treatise at the Musique Action Festival, Nancy, France in June 2002. At this performance AMM performed several pages of Treatise with  John White who once again did his trademark Perverse Reading in this case interjecting banal samples into the performance. (Interestingly enough while looking for data on this, I found this tiny bit of video from this event here).

“AMM were extremely spartan (wonderfully so) while White, on some kind of sampling device, intruded with all manner of awful-sounding blurts, cheezy synth tones, sheep baa-ing, etc. It was very annoying and I found myself vainly attempting to mentally tune him out.” -Brian Olewnick

Now considering that Perverse Readings were par for the course, occurring from the very beginning of the scores history, can any out of the ordinary performance be considered “perverse”?  I tend to think not, I think that the perverse readings are still consistent and rigorous, but in such a way that may be contrary, controversial and against expectations.  Brian later asked Keith Rowe about that aspect of the performance and he went on to say:

“He felt that ‘Treatise’ performances had a tendency to get overly somber and reverential and wanted to inject a “low” element that he thought of as the sonic equivalent to US rags like Weekly World News, to introduce “transgressive” sounds that “simply aren’t done” at these types of events.” -Brian Olewnick

And this to me I think is the essence of the perverse read, not falling into a free for all, do as you wish sort of situation but subverting received notions. But I do find it a troublesome notion and this would certainly be an interesting point to have clarified.

References

1) Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) A Reader (Copula, 2008)
2) Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished, John Tilbury (Copula, 2008)
3) Liner notes from Cornelus Cardew Treatise (Prague version 1967) (Mode)

Silence: John Cage

Prepared Wire Strung harp


18 – 21 October 2006

Vancouver New Music Festival 2006

ScotiaBank Dance Centre


Atlas Eclipticalis Workshop
This was the day of the performance so our workshop was technical setup and a full dress rehearsal of the piece. We brought down all of our gear from the seventh floor dance studio where we had been working up to this point and setup around the main floor. Marina had us setup throughout the floor and the tables and chair of the audience were mingled throughout. There was a larger core downstage but the ensemble was genuinely mingled amongst the audience.  I was setup on the right hand side with a small table with my electronics and various tools. We ran through one page of the score before we had been wired up and I have to say that it was much more effective with us all spread around this much larger space compared to being packed in the practice room. It was much quieter, spare more like individual starts twinkling out a little burst of sound. We then move on to setting up of microphones and Marina’s turntable controlled computer setup. There was a lot of setup to get audio feeds from various musicians and to get Marina’s turntable and computer control setup running as she intended. This is an interesting setup as she has a record with MIDI time codes that she has a Max patch setup to allow here to move the audio feed around in the 8-channel surround sound system. After this point the had to setup the other performers and run through their rehearsal so I was off for four hours. The rehearsal was mainly practice for how we would enter the room and then we ran through the nights program. Marina and Giorgio had decided that we would play three segments of two pages of the score with the other pieces overlapping with each other. So it was to be a continuous night of performances with a single intermission. Marina setup a smaller subset of the ensemble to play initially, mostly electronics including myself. We played a couple of segments and then we were off till the performance.

Artist Chat: Marina Rosenfeld
Considering the continuous nature of the nights performance the evening began with the artist chat. Marina first began discussing her previous projects where should would work with groups of untrained people to make music. Her basic approach is to engage with people first and musicians afterwards with an interest in disrupting the socio-economic musician/audience dichotomy. Asked about tonights piece she said that she found Atlas Eclipticalis to be a slippery object, the score itself reigns in musical techniques. It is a translation from one system, a star map, to human music making. Transformation and translation were essential concepts in thinking about the score for her especially as musicians typically think in time and not space. So it is the task of the interpreter to try to subvert their typical behavior, both with the use of their stereotyped techniques and in the form that music traditionally takes.

Set I:
Atlas Eclipticalis pages 3 and 4 (Marina conducting, reduced ensemble, ),
Two4 (
Allen Stiles, Piano and Rebecca Whitling Violin),
Atlas Eclipticalis
, pages 1 and 2 (Giorgio conducting, full ensemble),
Two3
#5 (Randy Raine-Reusch, shō and Giorgio Magnanensi, Conch Shell)

After Giorgio’s introduction we filed in from back stage and took our places amongst the audience. The reduced ensemble began half way into the score on page three. As a participant it is pretty impossible to really describe the entire effect of the performance as I had to be focused on the score, my instruments and the conductor. But overall I think this was pretty good, the small group included several electric guitars, laptop and myself with my prepared wire-strung harp, radio and iPod which was filled with samples of my own playing. Our sounds in general seemed to slip into the space and hover there creating the effect that I think Cage had called for. In the center of the room was a piano and as we came to the last half page Allen and Rebecca began playing Two4. Their playing was so restrained and quiet that they blending really well with us in a nice extended natural cross fade. As we dropped out their beautiful sounds took over. They really displayed how to take Cage at his instructions of playing as quiet as possible and without excessive technique. Almost no vibrato in Rebecca’s bowing and when it was used it was a dramatic effect. Allen’s restrained notes and chords would come out of nowhere and be fully suspended in the space, with long spaces between them. There were times where I’d see him press down on a key and hear nothing. This was absolutely stunning, one of my top three performances from the entire festival. As the end of their piece approached Giorgio stood up and our full ensemble started to play the beginning of the score.

The full ensemble added a number of horns, reeds, percussion and voice to the mix. It was necessarily more dense at times, but how spread out we were in the room helped with that a bit. The audience had been encouraged to move around during the performance and occasionally people would move to the chairs to the right and left of my setup. Several people had moved to see the previous piece better and now they moved to different spots to see our ensemble in a different place.  As we concluded the piece Randy, moved into his position in the audience toward the front of the room and began to place the beautiful haunting shō. Giorgio joined him with a conch shell filled with water that would add the occasional gurgle and glurp. The shō is a Japanese bamboo mouth organ, so it can do multiple notes ala a harmonica but its sound is more akin to the shakuhaci. A beautiful instrument and really well treated with Cage’s music. Like the earlier number piece this works with longer tones suspended in space. Interestingly contrasted when the conch shell would erupt with a burble, which of course was indeterminate. This piece was really nice and a quiet meditation to end the set.

Set II:

Etudes Boreales I-IV (Peggy Lee, cello),
Pools
(Giorgio Magnanensi, Conch Shell),
One9
#8 (Randy Raine-Reusch, shō),
Atlas Eclipticalis
pages 3 and 4 (Marina conducting, full ensemble) ,
Two6
(Allen Stiles, Piano and Rebecca Whitling Violin),
Two6
remix  (Marina Rosenfeld, Turntables/Laptop)

The second set began with a solo cello piece. This piece was interesting in that like Atlas Eclipticalis Cage used the star-charts of the Atlas Borealis for composing this work and for the cello part pitch, duration, articulation, color and dynamics are notated precisely for every sound. Very well executed this piece was, with a lot more intersecting sounds and rapid parts then most of what we were hearing that night. After this was a short solo Conch piece that again relied on water sloshing in the shell. So similar sounds as to its use earlier – the microphone picking up the gentle swells of the water moving around and the the occasional blurp or gurgle as the water enters and exits various chambers. This was follow up by a solo shō that was spare and haunting. This was just a section of the piece that can be two hours long and from its concluding strains we began the final section of Atlas Eclipticalis. This section I think was the poorest performance from our ensemble, too dense and too loud. It even got loud enough at one point that Marina motioned to us to tone down the volume. It wasn’t too bad, but after the other performances where you really had the sense of quiet, sparse sounds in space it was definitely a bit much.

The second piece from Allen and Rebecca was the final piece of music that John Cage wrote. Very much akin to the earlier piece they had played this one was equally wonderful. It seem to have a bit more denser sections a few more chords and parts where the violin and piano could overlap.  The number pieces are made up of time brackets within which the performers can choose when to play so there are subtle timing differences between every performances and periods where these overlaps can only occur if simultaneous choices are made. Of course between the notes is a lot of space, space to contemplate the notes and to hear that music that occurs when no-one is playing. Again they played with incredible restraint, and a wonderful lightness of touch. A few minutes before the conclusion Marina stood up and began to use her turntables and laptops in an interpretation of the same piece.  This really didn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the piece that we had just heard, what with rumbles, static and samples being the material that she used. There was some sample piano that I wonder if it was from a recording of this piece or just in acknowledgment of the appropriate instrumentation. Overall this came across to me as more of an structure improvisation of an electro-acoustic nature. It may have owed a lot to this composition by Cage, but came across more as an acknowledgment of his ideas – using the detritus of our culture as sounds, emulation of random radio dial spins, perhaps some indeterminate elements. It did miss out completely on the spaciousness of this piece and the silence that is so essential in Cage’s work and was clearly present in this piece. Still an energetic and lively conclusion to an amazing four days of music.

Silence: John Cage

18 – 21 October 2006
Vancouver New Music Festival 2006

ScotiaBank Dance Centre



Day 3 October 20th 2006

Atlas Eclipicalis Workshop

Marina had had airline troubles and was running a bit late, so Giorgio had us run through a page of the score whilst we waited. Marina came in during this and watched as we completed the page. Giorgio introduced her to us and she regaled us with some of her thoughts on the score. Since she had been asked to run this ensemble she had spent several months examining and thinking about the score. Trying to deal with it in terms of space – both outer space and in a musical sense. The circular aspect as well – with the clock’s and positioning the score in that frame of reference was another issue, on that she decided to work with by moving our sound around in the space. This she was to do with a specially formulated record that had MIDI time codes on it and a Max patch that would take those signals and use them for audio routing. So she would be adding additional circles – that of the turntable and the sound field.

As for our interpretation so far she felt that we could be even slower, that we should avoid “extraordinary sounds” (as per the instructions) and to try to play as inexpressive as possible. Simple quiet sounds with as short a duration as possible unless indicated otherwise. She was very interested in the intersecting sounds and felt that we should do these as much as possible. Melody she said should be on the edge of possibility, never deliberate but create by chance from the simple events that were performed. She then went around the room and worked with every one individually for 10 minutes or so testing their approach and offering advice.

Set I:

Variations VIII / Variations V (Mark Brady, Sara Gold, Lee Hutzulak, Matthew , O’Donnel, Michael Red, Jean Routhier, Igor Santizo, Jesse Scott, Ben Wilson, Phil Thomson)

These Variations were originally done with the Merce Cunningham dance company whose very movements would interfere with various electronic devices. For this performance they followed this and had four dancers moving about the central space. There was a lot of mvideo setup for this one from a TV on the left hand side with a live camera positioned above it to the central projection video of a previously recorded film of these same dancers. The sounds used were a lot of radio, who were interfered by the dancers, and also other electronics that I believe they had various other triggers, including the aforementioned camera/TV setup. These electronics were in the synthesized low tone range a lot of the times in emulation of the Theremin type machines that were used in the original. The dancers however were most definitely not the Merce Cunnigham dancer company and most of their prancing and moving around the space was an embarrassment to watch.. They would run around, and “play” with each other and a giant white ball, grapple with each other and often run in front of the video camera. The projected video was pretty cheesy – two of the dancers rolling around on each other primarily, with cross-faded close-ups and the like. This was the weakest of the Variations in my opinion and I think it was solely because of the dancers, as the sounds were interesting but their shape was dependent on these dancers.

Artist Chat: Margaret Leng Tan

Margaret arrived late to her chat, just as Gordon Mumma was being drafted to fill in. Margeret began by explaining that the program that she was to play had been chosen so as to cover the entire range of Cage’s piano work – traditional piano, to the prepared piano, to the toy piano. Gordon asked her about the Chess pieces, which were to receive their Canadian premier tonight, and she explained that this was a score where there were notes on each square of the chessboard. This chessboard had long been in a private collection and on finding Cage’s notes about it, it was sought out and she reconstructed the piece from it. Asked about the Black Mountain College days of Cage, she pointed out that this was the period just before Cage had moved into the chance operations. While he had thought up the concept for the so called “silent piece” several years prior it was his exposure to Rauschenberg’s “white paintings” at this time that gave him the “courage” to compose it. She also explained that she had plained to end the program with “Water Music” which apparently has a lot of radio work in it, but that she couldn’t tune anything but static in, down in the main room (a bit odd considering how much radio we’ve already heard, though perhaps the score called for shortwave which I personally had no success in tuning in during the Treatise performance). This led her to an amusing anecdote about the microphones on her piano picking up an Emmylou Harrison soundcheck during a performance of the Sonata’s and Interludes.

Set II:

Lecture on the Weather (Bruce Freedman, Mas Funo, Avron Hoffman, Jay Hirabayashi, Mandido, Steve Miller, Marv Newland, Clyde Reed, Henri Robideau, Stefan Smulovitz, Albert St. Albert, Laurence Svirchev, Jerry Wasserman.)

This piece by Cage was commission for the American Bicentennial and was very controversial in its premiere. In homage to this VNM decided to have it performed by Canadian citizens who were formerly Americans. The piece is twelve people simultaneously reading from excerpts from the writings of Henry David Thoreau. The twelve men, some of them clearly of draft dodger vintage, were arrayed at podiums in front of the audience and each read from their texts in wildly different styles. At several points each of them would take out a small instrument and plonk away at it, in various degrees of musicality. The volumes of their mic’s were being adjusted as well, as per the score I assume. Samples of weather sounds; rain, thunder, wind were played a various times during the readings and toward the end there were various simple geometric shapes projected on the big screen..

I personally found this piece wonderful and very charming, the voices overlapping often incomprehensible and at other times one voice dominating and coming through clearly. Plus I am a huge fan of Thoreau and I delighted in hearing his writings brought to life in a way that I think would have made him chuckle for days to come. Not so the other people at my table who walked out after 30 minutes or so, leaving their companion who relied on crutches behind. At the end of the show she asked me how I felt about it, and somewhat surprised about this question I said it had made me happy (though delight would have been a better term). She informed me that it had made her sad and then hobbled away.

Fontana Net (Rogalsky Brothers)

“Fontana Mix consists of a total of 20 pages of graphic materials: ten pages covered with six curved lines each, and ten sheets of transparent film covered with randomly-placed points. In accordance with a specific system, and using the intersecting points of a raster screen, two of the pages produce connecting lines and measurements that can be freely assigned to musical occurrences such as volume, tone color, and pitch. The interpreter no longer finds a score in the customary sense, but rather a treatment manual for the notation of a composition.” – from here.

Matt Rogalsky created this piece for a performance of different interpretations of the Cage piece, Fontana Mix. For his version there are a number of computers networked together and a pool of samples that make up the piece. They use chance operations to setup up guidelines for the performance of the samples and there is a bit of control from the performers as to how they are played, including where in the sound space they were placed.
The performers were three brothers with Powerbooks on a single table in front of the stage with some abstract visualization made up of parts of the score behind them on the big screen. The sounds utilized included quiet scraping sounds, to almost bird like twittering sounds, to the sounds of a rubbed cartridge or contact mic to various pops, clicks and hisses. There was some super sparse sections, some genuine silences and some really busy parts that would sometimes whip around you as they moved the samples around the sound field.

Artist Chat: Rogalsky Brothers

The information about the piece that I mentioned above was all gleaned from this chat. They passed around the room the transparencies and the pages of squiggles and dots that were used to generate the scores for each of the performers. The end result of this procedure is a series of events in time. The software utilized was Supercollider and Matt Rogalsky had generated the scores and developed the software setup. He had created this for a festival in Berlin that had eight different musicians each doing a different take on this piece. He said that each of the musicians/composers would take this piece and still end up sounding like themselves, Christian and James Tenney being two of the other composers that he mentioned participating (This seems to be the festival program though it is in German only).

The performers of this networked version had a specific duration of twenty-five minutes, utilized a shared score and a pool of the samples – they could trigger a sample that was already in use for instance. The software gave each of the sounds movement in space using a drunkards walk, but they as performers had control over their speed.

Set III:

Bacchanale, Suite for Toy Piano, Dream, The Seasons, Chess Pieces, 4’33″, Etudes Australes, In the Name of the Holocaust (Margaret Leng Tan)

The final performance of this night was Margaret Leng Tan on piano, prepared piano and toy piano. She played the above pieces sequentially from the date of compositions. She with Bacchanale which used the prepared piano and was real vigorous and fully worked the percussive nature of this instrument. Next was the Suite for Toy Piano which was very plinky and you could really hear the sound of the toy piano’s action. This piece was mostly single notes, little runs and short spaces. DreamSeasons was next, and while I give Cage full credit for evoking each season quite clearly I find the piece pretty boring overall. It is mostly made up of short repeated phrases that were sparser and spikier in fall, more dissonant and quiet in winter, sprightly in spring and sedate in the summer. Well crafted but not something I’d want to hear often. Chess Pieces included the score unfolding on the video display square by square as she played the piece and also Gordon Mumma onstage to turn pages. The music was pretty dense with a fairly rapid tempo. Each row of the chessboard was treated as a musical phrase with a short pause at the end. Margaret chose to perform 4’33″ on the toy piano which was an excellent choice. The audience was treated to the sound of new music fans trying desperately to be quiet and even though Margaret had announced at the beginning that we could turn cell phones back on, alas none went off. She went directly from this piece to Etudes Australes which is a piece in the same series as the Atlas Eclipicalis that I was involved with. This also had the score projected and was a sparse, pointillistic affair. The notes seemed be primarily in the upper ranges of the piano and would be in short clusters punctuated by silences. Not really to dissimilar to a way one could play Atlas Eclipicalis. The final piece In the Name of the Holocaust is a powerful moving piece that closed this evening on a fairly somber note. The insides of the piano were played in a fairly continuous fashion for some time and then she moved to deep chords and then both chords and inside work. An almost koto like feeling was evoked creating a deliberate and clear contrast – Japanese music and bombing chords. The sustain held on, dense layers of sound build up which are then punctuated by sharp plucking, followed with pounding and rattley sounds that become sparser and sparser and then it ends by a huge smashed chord.

While I certainly prefer John Tilbury for my New Music Piano, Margaret Leng Tan is a consummate performer who worked closely with Cage and has performed it extensively. I loved seeing her perform and enjoyed the wide range of pieces she worked through. While a lot of the earlier Cage is not to my liking it was valuable to get a chance to hear it performed.