The Missing September Music: New Cage on Wergo

john Cage Etudes Boreales

John Cage Etudes Boreales / Harmonies / 10’40.3″ (Wergo)

John Cage used star charts as a source of randomness most famously in Atlas Eclipcalis, Etudes Australes, the Freeman Etudes and Etudes Boreales. This is in my mind an interesting technique for achieving a goal of integrating nature into ones composition. Cage of course most famously used the I Ching as his source of randomness, which is effect but basically he was using it to pick the numbers 1-64. You generate each line on its own and there are four states: solid, open, solid changing to open or open changing to solid.  After you work out each line you generally end up with two hexagrams, the starting one and the one you end up with after you have calculated the changing lines.  From there if you are practicing the divination, or are simply looking for a randomly selected philosophical message you consult the text and the various commentaries. Now how you apply this to composition is up to the composer and Cage used many different methods to do so.  This really was Cage’s art and genius; he set up systems that could take a known range of randomness and produce highly successful results.

Excerpt from the piano part of Etudes Breales

Overlaying barlines onto star charts and using the stars as notes (with magnitude as duration of the note perhaps) is really far more random and cedes far more control from the composer.  There are a lot of stars and thus these pieces are a lot more dense.  When Cage composed these works (the 1970s) he began to tackle a number of areas of composition he’d previously avoided such as harmony and virtuosistic pieces (for non david Tudor musicians).  Etudes Boreales is an example of a virtuosistic that in this particular recording doesn’t necessarily sound so.  The piece is for ‘cello and/or piano and this disc contains both a solo ‘cello version and a version for solo ‘cello and piano.  The piano part is actually a percussion score and it is the ‘cello part has all all aspects of the sound making meticulously notated including pitch, duration, articulation, color and dynamics.

Etudes Boreales is played twice on this disc, once for a percissionist  using a piano and the second for ‘cello solo and piano solo. The first version is the percussion version and I have to say this is fantastic.  The sounds are mostly short events that come in and out of spaces of varyin lengths (though none of epic length).  The sounds come from all over: hitting of one to many keys, tapping, rubbing, hitting the body of the piano, striking, rubbing, etc the strings, using mallets on the metal frame and so on. There are sounds that are muted and sounds that overlap with other sounds, use of the pedal for sustain and decay, sounds so faint as to barely register and achingly resonant chords. The video above is the first two of the four parts of the piece performed by Mark Knoop who is the pianist on this recording, so that is very representative of the disc under discussion here and nice to see as well as hear it performed. Below is a video of Knoop playing parts three and four to allow for a complete performance to be viewed.

The second version is for two solist playing the piece simultnously: ‘cello and percussionist playing a piano.  All of the charms of the previously discussed version are present, though Knoop seems to be mixing up the gestures. The ‘cello is a perfect counterpoint to this; often played high and with skittering attacks it could be another percussionist. But the longer tones, the rich tonality of the lower register of ‘cello, when these come in, the short bursts from the piano sink into them and the interpenetrations give life to a unique soundworld that is equal parts the two instruments. The two versions of this piece on this disc are worth it alone, but it also contains four more pieces for ‘cello and piano.

He counted the number of notes in a given voice of the piece [four-part choral music by William Billings -ed.], and then used chance to select from these. Supposing there were fourteen notes in a line, chance operations might select notes one, seven, eleven, and fourteen. In such a case, Cage would take the first note from the original and extend it until the seventh note (removing all the intervening notes); all the notes from the seventh to the eleventh would be removed, leaving a silence. Then the eleventh note would be extended to the fourteenth, followed by another silence. Each of the four lines thus became a series of extended single tones and silences. This was the version that Cage settled upon:

“The cadences and everything disappeared; but the flavor remained. You can recognize it as eighteenth century music; but it’s suddenly brilliant in a new way. It is because each sound vibrates from itself, not from a theory. . . . The cadences which were the function of the theory, to make syntax and all, all of that is gone, so that you get the most marvelous overlappings.”

-James Pritchett, from his Introduction to the Music of John Cage

This disc also contains three of the 44 harmonies from Apartment House 1776 (XXVII, XXIV and XIII) which is one of Cage’s musicirucus pieces in which many different types of events can take place simultaneously: 44 Harmonies, 14 Tunes, 4 Marches and 2 Imitations. He also stipluated that you can play any fraction of these and in the case of this disc they play three of the harmonies  for  ‘cello and piano.  The entirety of  Apartment House 1776 utilizes chance operations in the form of the I Ching in contrast to the star charts of Etudes Boreales. The disc opens with XXVII and its is short beautiful piece whose spare lines come in and out, widely spaced with that rich haunting ‘cello tone in almost transparent harmony with soft piano chords. Littlle bits of almost melody come in and out and there are the occaisonal burst of activity and of course short silences. The longest of these is less soft and has these real start stop feel. As if a player begins to play a melody and part way through stops and thinks a bit and then starts up. Which considering how it was composed makes perfect sense. Again the piano is more background and they tone of the two instruments creates a nice interplay. The final of the harmonies played here, XIII (which is also the 13th track on the disc) is almost a middle ground between the two. Shorter again, with more space than either of the previous, it has the stop and start feel of the middle one but with longer space more akin to the initial tracks.  I’m not much of a fan of the full on Apartment House 1776, but I really like these harmonies played in in this gentle, spacious style.

Friedrich Gauwerky

This middle track on the disc is an excerpt of  26’1.1499′” for a String Player of which cellist Friedrich Gauwerky chose to play the first 640.3 seconds of, thus giving the piece the title of 10’40.3′ (this as per Cage’s instructions on ways one can play the piece). The earliest piece on this disc and its construction utilized a third and pre-I Ching method of randomness: imperfections in paper. This method is utilized to generate highly specific locations on the strings of the instrument which allows for the pitch to be sounded. There also seems to be instructions for noises to be made of which I haven’t found much by way of specifics for. But  Gauwerky here chooses, for at least some of them, vocalizations which frankly I find to be one of the most dated of modernist classical cliches. The little yelps and guttural exclamations always sound the same as if the intense concentration of realizing the music just doesn’t allow for enough attention to be placed on this other activity. No matter when I’ve seen or heard it done and it is a string quartet trope in particular I’ve never liked it. Thus this is I’d say the only dud track here but really it’s 10 minutes doesn’t detract from the rest of the disc at all.

Knoop and Gauwerky are both well known and respected players of a wide variety of new music, so their top notch performance here is no surprise. The recording quality is pretty amazing as well, super transparent and close miked enough to pick up even the faintest sound. I didn’t hear any sounds of performer movement or breath so it really is just the sounds of the instruments and it really fills a room nicely. I’d been looking for a version of Etudes Borealis for while and this disc coming out this year fits the bill perfectly.


Christian Wolff at NEC part 3

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 3: Keith Rowe 3

March 17th 2010
Christian Wolff festival day 3
New England Conservatory of Music, Boston MA

The final day of the the Christian Wolff festival at NEC was one of the days I was anticipating the most.  The afternoon concert was entirely dedicated to Burdocks (1970-71)  which is a fantastic score that I’ve heard a number of quality realizations of.  The score calls for one or more groupings of players and for this concert they had organized many groups, virtually everyone we had seen perform to date and more.  They tended to be in groups of about four and they had a whole program of how they’d come in and play, how they’d move around various “stations” in the hall and so on.  As you’d imagine the sounds were highly varied with virtually every instrumentation you’d imagine (though only a bit of electronics).  There was some bad actors (a particularly terrible bit from a professor on the piano springs to mind)  but in general there was so much going on that’d they couldn’t act as a spoiler.  I can’t deny that there was a couple of times where I had to resist the temptation to stand up and shout “This isn’t Christian Wolff” ala Morton Feldman at a Scratch Orchestra performance of this piece.  Toward the end of the piece there is a melodic section that is repeated a number of times. Given the amount of performers here and the length of the event this went on and on, coming first from one part of the room and later another part of the room. In the end there was just one group left, with a pianist, guitar and violin (IIRC) and they’d just play this melodic bit in various ways. Very charming.

Listen to the Scratch Orchestra perform Burdocks

After the show I checked out some of the pages of the score that’d had been scattered around and also found the set of directions for which group was supposed to be where at what time. I commented to Keith Rowe that the chaos had clearly been pretty well orchestrated. He quipped that back in the Scratch Orchestra days they never needed to coordinate their chaos.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 3: Stephen Drury playing Sticks
Festival Director Stephen Drury playing Sticks

Continuing in the list of great pieces performed on this day the selection from the Prose Collection performed in the Christian Wolff Performance Space, was one of my all time favorites, Sticks. This is another one which I’ve played with the Seattle Improv Meeting, which you can enjoy a recording of while you read along:

Seattle Improv Meeting play Christian Wolff’s Sticks


Make sounds with sticks of various kinds, one stick alone, several together, on other instruments, sustained as well as short. Don’t mutilate trees or shrubbery; don’t break anything other than the sticks; avoid outright fires unless they serve a practical purpose.

You can begin when you have not heard a sound from a stick for a while; two or three can begin together. You may end when your sticks or one of them are broken small enough that a handful of the pieces in your hands cupped over each other are not, if shaken and unamplified, audible beyond your immediate vicinity. Or hum continuously on a low note; having started proceed with other sounds simultaneously (but not necessarily continuously); when you can hum no longer, continue with other sounds, then stop. With several players either only one should do this or two or two pairs together (on different notes) and any number individually. (6)

You can also do without sticks but play the sounds and feelings you imagine a performance with sticks would have.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 3: Sticks 3There were little stashes of sticks all over the place and the students, as well as festival director Stephen Drury, moved around between the stairwell and the upper area playing these sticks. The sticks were pretty often tapped or rubbed against each other and hitting other things, instruments or objects was quite common as well.  While pretty good theater musically I felt this was the least successful of the Prose Pieces that was played as part of the festival. Too dispersed and not enough focus on the actual sticks in my opinion. I think they would have been better off sitting in a circle like they did for Fits & Starts around a pile of sticks and really tried to work with the materials. This is basically how I’ve done it when I’ve performed it and I really loved the results (check out the above recording for a sample of this.  In this performance it was much more percussive due to the focus on playing other objects and did not bring out the sounds of sticks nearly as well as one can.  Still it was fun to watch and good to see it performed and as with all performances of experimental music, lessons were learned.

Following the dinner break it was back to the concert hall where, as with every night, there was a tape piece playing as I walked into the hall. Tonight’s was For Magnetic Tape (1952) which was the piece that Wolff did while Cage created Williams Mix and Earle Brown his Octet for 8 Speakers as part of the Project for Music for Magnetic Tape.  I wasn’t able to concentrate too much on the piece but it was a fairly typical 50s tape piece with sounds rushing in and out, short little tones and squeaks.  You can however give this a listen yourself as an mp3 is hosted on the Dartmouth site:

Christian Wolff’s For Magnetic Tape

The program began with Duo for Violins (1950). This was the first Christian Wolff composition, at least the first one he lists on his websites list of works.  It features that highly restricted material of his earliest pieces, constructed out of longer lines, overlapping, intersecting and contrasting. A  really nice piece and I enjoyed this performance of it a lot. This was followed by Violinist and Percussionist (1996)  another nice little piece that began with plucked strings on the violin while the percussionist mostly tapped  his drum head, than proceeded into somewhat languorous bowing as the percussion became more active.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 3: Keith Rowe 2I’ve seen Keith Rowe solo on numerous occasions and while this one was of a piece with those others it was also rather unique. First off it was a bit shorter than normal at a bit less then fifteen minutes (he tends toward twenty-five or forty-five minute solos depending on the circumstance) but also there was the uniqueness of the room to consider. The room is a very important concept for Keith and it extends beyond the physical aspects of the room to contain the atmosphere, the audience and the general ambiance. All of these in this case are the conservatory and its most formal and impressive hall.  Keith’s performance began quite spiky with objects on the strings, short little attacks and quick events. Shortly thereafter he brought in the radio and other electronics: the  telephone pickup on his netbook and bluetooth interference from a mouse. The performance was compressed, but it had the contours of a Keith solo and it was a bit more harsh than I anticipated, which I think was a little bit of disruption to the formal atmosphere, bringing a bit of the experimentalist tradition to the concert hall. It was a hit among the (mostly) students in the audience and I can’t help but thinking that some few there would throw of the rigidity of the conservatory after this week.

After an intermission was the a large ensemble piece, The Exception and the Rule (2010) performed by the Callithumpian Consort under the direction of Stephen Drury. The piece they played was the musical portions of a a Bertolt Brecht play, that had been composed by Christian Wolff for the ensemble. This was for a fairly large ensemble with male and female vocalists singing the Brecht songs. This piece was performed more completely the next night so I’ll simply say that it was great musically and it really sounded good in this hall.  Rounding out the night was a performance of Edges, which is probably my favorite Wolff score (and one of the most challenging I’ve played) with Keith and Christian along with half a dozen students.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 3: Edges

One of the great treats of the year that I spent in London was to play with AMM. I still play whenever I can with them. That free improvisation just blew me away. I just loved that. It’s not something I can imagine doing exclusively by any means, but the experience is like no other. I made one piece called Edges which was basically for that kind of a situation. That’s the nearest I’ve come to making a really improvisational piece, where you can’t do it unless you know how to improvise. There is a score, there’s visual material, but the score is just these bits of information scattered over a page which might just indicate very loud or play dirty or play in the middle, that kind of rather generic indication. But the instructions are that you don’t necessarily play the notations but you play around them or in relationship to them. In other words”””very loud”””that’s the image. There you have your Platonic idea, but you circle it, and you have a conversation with “very loud” which might include playing it very softly or thinking about dynamics but in relation to that. It’s okay occasionally to play very loud, but that’s not the primary point of realizing that notation. (7)

They ensemble was widely spaced out on the stage with Christian (on piano) and Keith roughly centered.  They played in the darkness with only the lights on their music stands casting any light. The student ensemble included trumpet,  violin, clarinet, double bass and baritone horn. There was a lot of space and the sounds were mostly short events coming from the students. They were for the most part a bit tentative but Keith  brought in a bit more grit, growl and dynamics though his actions were quite spaced out. Christian also worked in a wider dynamic range playing inside and out of the piano with more compact but still fairly spaced out events. A number of times he responded to the score with big crashes on the piano, after which some of the students seemed to loosen up. I thought they all seemed to play to the score except for the baritone player who played a bit too much but thankfully  never grandstanding and or overly dramatic. Pretty good overall especially considering that they didn’t have a lot of time to practice. In my experience with this piece it took several attempts to begin to really find a way into it and I think much more practice to really become proficient at it.

Listen to Gentle Fire perform Christian Wolff’s Edges

March 18th 2010
Christian Wolff festival day 4
Gardner Gallery Boston MA

So the final night of the week of Christian Wolff in Boston was quite a different affair. It was the aforementioned Callithumpian Consort and they were performing four pieces from a variety of twentieth century composers. The starkest difference though was that it wasn’t at NEC but was at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Gallery a few blocks away from the school.  This museum was the mansion of a Boston socialite and art collector and has a fixed collection hung salon style.  The art, primarily Italian Renaissance art, is uniformly uninteresting to myself and the museum is incredibly uptight. But in order to expand their patronage they do a number of events trying to appeak to a younger crowd. So on the night of this performance there was in the first floor courtyard a Gardner After Hours event which featured a DJ, a bar and younger yuppie types engaged in socializing and an art based scavenger hunt. At the same time as they’d try to appeal to this crowd the uptight museum staff would constantly ostracize them in various ways, constantly subverting the “fun”.  In parallel with the After Hours program was the musical performance  that I’d come to see, which was part of their Avant Gardner series in an upper tapestry room, so occasionally the sounds of the “party” would drift up during the quieter parts of the show.

The Callithumpian Consort was founded by Stephen Drury in the mid-90s and, as they put it on their website,  “is dedicated to the proposition that music is an experience.” They seem to play quite often as part of the Avant Gardner series and bringing more mainstream modern composition into the public sphere seems to be their thing.  For tonight’s program they played four pieces including the “world premier” of Christian Wolff’s The Exception and the Rule (2010).

The first was 26 Simultaneous Mosaics by Henry Cowell.  I’d seen this piece performed in Seattle as part of the Drums Along the Pacific concert series which had also featured Stephen Drury on piano. This is what I wrote about it for that performance:

The next piece, 26 Simultaneous Mosaics, from 1963 is indeterminate in form, making one wonder if the bi-directional influence between Cage and Cowell continued beyond percussion (Cowell also composed for Cage style prepared piano) though an earlier Cowell piece also allowed for a changeable structure at the group level instead of this pieces more variable indeterminacy at the  individual level. This piece for piano, percussion, violin, “˜cello and clarinet made up of  the aforementioned 26 parts which the instrumentalists can play in the order of their choosing thus causing each performance to be unique. In this realization the piece was spacious and meandering with the various mosaics taking on many different characteristics.  A nice piece with hints of romanticism here and there.

This pretty much held for this performance though it opened with a big wild run from the piano which had also occurred in Seattle though I hadn’t noted it. I thought this performance wasn’t quite as strong in the other parts, not as wild. Not bad though, but this would prove to be par for the course with the Callithumpian Consort – almost always a bit staid (except for Drury).  This piece was followed by Trio for Violin, Violoncello and Piano by Charles Ives. I’ve stated earlier in these reports that I am not much of a fan of Ives and am far from knowledgeable enough to intelligently comment on his music. So in brief I felt that the first movement was pretty great, easily the most appealing Ives I’ve heard and I was really hoping this would finally be a composition of his I liked. But then came the second movement which spoiled it all. It was typical Ives Americana but particularly bombastic even for him.  It was a “scherzo” that was a medley of popular songs of the day and it was like a bad string trio performance of Souza marches. Soul crushing.

The centerpiece of the evening was Christian Wolff piece which, while still an edited down version of the whole piece, featured actors and narration between the songs. This filled in the story which was pretty typical Brecht (i.e.  it rather belabored it’s point)  which was about a capitalist trying to cross a desert for a business opportunity during which he abuses and eventually kills his porter. The piece culminates in a trial in which the judge rules for the merchant as he had the right to self defense even if the threat was imaginary. The music of course is the most interesting part, from the program notes:

The music for The Exception and the Rule is cored for a mixed ensemble of low, dark-sounding instruments (clarinet, trombone, viola, bass), and percussion, and includes both specifically notated music as well as aleatoric sections. The singers are asked to prioritize clarity of diction and to sing straight ahead, and to think of folk or early music singing styles. There are no dynamics in the score, suggesting a mezzo, flat sound. (9)

I enjoyed the music for this quite a bit and while I tend to not be too much into Lieder type singing pieces I thought this all worked well. The lack of inflection on the singing helped a lot for me. Ultimately I think I preferred the previous nights version as musically it sounded better in the hall and the play parts seem a bit superfluous.

So ends
The story of a journey
You have heard and you have seen.
You saw what is usual, what happens time and again.
But we ask of you:
What is not strange
Find it disturbing,
Strange making what is customary,
Find it inexplicable,
Find it inexplicable.
What is usual should astonish you
What is the rule recognize it as an abuse
And where you have recognized abuse
Create a remedy
Do something about it!
Create a remedy
Do something about it!(10)

The final piece was Page 45 from Cornelius Cardew’s Treatise performed by the Consort along with Keith Rowe.  This was easily the biggest disappointment of the entire week of music; they only played for about 8 minutes which is pretty short even for just one page. They didn’t have Keith run a workshop on performing the piece, the Callithumpian Consort apparently has been working on the piece for some time, supposedly they have even recorded the whole score at length. But their interpretation, at least of this page, was terrible bringing to mind all that Cardew had complained about classical performers attempts at this piece. They played the whole thing at a very quiet dynamic with near continuous playing. This really didn’t fit the material which was a page with several isolated events. Additionally they were far too inclined toward unison playing, too worried about playing together, which really isn’t an option with a group playing the score.  Keith of course kept to the score and provided some dynamic contrast but he played to the room and thus didn’t dramatically jump out.  It seems strange to me to have Keith there and not really use him, he is by far the most expert person playing Treatise today and you’d think they’d want to take advantage of it.

After the concert we all headed down to the gallery bar, which the uptight staff of course shut down before the concert goers could get a drink (including the musicians whom they gave drink tickets to). This didn’t go over too well, but we all went to this restaurant closer to NEC and had a final beer.  While this last night was a bit of an outlier, in the main this was a fantastic week and it was an incredible opportunity to get to see so much of Wolff’s music performed. I had a great time and it was an honor and a pleasure to be able to meet Christian Wolff and Stephen Drury. As always I had many great conversations with Keith whom it was great to see again. My thanks to all involved for the terrific program.

See all of my pictures from this festival in my Christian Wolff at NEC flickr group.

1) Christian Wolff, Cues: Writings & Conversations Edition MusikTexte, Köln 1999, ISBN 3-9803151-3-4
2) Christian Wolff, Dartmouth page
3) Christian Wolff, Wikipedia article
4) NEC’s Christian Wolff Residency site
5) Stephen Drury’s site
6) Christian Wolff, Prose Collection, Frog Peak Music
7) Christian Wolff Interview with Damon Krukowski, BOMB 59/Spring 1997
8) Callithumpian Consort website
9) Callithumpian Consort at the Gardner museum program notes
10) Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956

Christian Wolff at NEC part 2

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 2: Keith Rowe & Christian Wolff 4

Wolff’s music offers no eay answers. Instead, it poses difficult questions. Such as:

– Why is the music constantly being interrupted? Or, is the music interrupting something else? (8)

March 16th 2010
Christian Wolff festival day 2
New England Conservatory of Music, Boston MA

The second day of the Christian Wolff festival continued in the same fashion as the first day, with shows at five and eight with a selection from the Prose Collection in between. There was also earlier in the afternoon a short lecture from Christian Wolff and a masterclass from Keith Rowe. I tried to make it to Christian’s lecture which was to be on how looking back at ancient history can be of value to contemporary music making but I couldn’t find the building that it was in. Across the street from the rest of the NEC campus is a building that is mostly storefront on the ground level. Well it turns out that there is a door there, marked only with the building number that if you go in there there is another bit of NEC. Well I didn’t find this until well past the start time of the lecture, at which point I thought it’d be rude to enter. So I went to Symphony Sushi instead and had a very nice lunch. I also didn’t attend Keith’s masterclass since I have been to a similar type of workshop with him and I figured this was more for the Joan Miro Cloud and birds (1927)students. Keith later told me it was packed with around 50 people and it wasn’t really possible for the whole group to all play.  A very thorough report of the masterclass was posted by Joe Morris on his blog and is well worth reading. I instead went to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts this afternoon, which while not having too much to offer the aficionado of modern and contemporary art did have a number of pieces worth seeing and of course plenty of early works of note. The Miró, pictured to the right there was among the most interesting to me, in that the cloud portion is unlike any Miró I’ve seen and very striking I thought. The other thing of real interest to me at the MFA is that they have the only historical cláirseach in the United States, the Bunworth harp.

The 5pm concert began with I am a Dangerous Woman (1983) a solo piano piece that was inspired by Joan Cavanagh’s feminist anti-war poem of the same name. The piece reminded me somewhat of last years Long Piano (Peace March 11) released on New World (which I wrote a bit about earlier) in that it began with a more formally structured section that was not strictly a march but in that vein. As the piece progressed this initial structure changed character several times, overridden by shorter segments that seem disconnected but eventually create a new kind of form. The piece concludes on much less strident note with a much sweeter, melodic nature. A nice piece, well performed. This was followed by Charles Ives String Quartet No.1 “From the Salvation Army” which was  pretty much Ives, beginning with a round and the music sounding (as per its source) like classified Salvation Army Band times. I’m not a huge Ives fan and am far from expert so I’ll say no more. There was no information regarding a connection, real or perceived, between Ives and Wolff.  I think you could place Wolff in an American tradition that includes Ives and certainly the use of existing folk material is a shared aspect. The group that performed this piece, the Borromeo String Quartet, has been the  Quartet-in-Residence at NEC for seventeen years and are clearly a Boston institution.  They played in that very animated style as if they were “rocking out” that I blame the Kronos Quartet for. The final piece of the afternoon was Peace March (Exercise #26) (1988) which was written for solo snare and published in Stuart Smith’s The Noble Snare collection.  Here it was played as a duo with Christian Wolff on melodica and a Trent Leasure on the snare. This was a short, charming piece with the snare mostly in a muted mode and gently played with the hands. Wolff’s melodica was as far as I can recall just tones that came in and out amongst the sounds of the snare. A nice way to end the afternoon.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 2: Play 1

The afternoons piece from the Prose Collection was Play, which I have performed myself in several different groups some of which are archived here (scroll down to the Christian Wolff section) and one of which you can listen to as you read along:

Seattle Improv Meeting performs Christian Wolff’s Play.


Play, make sounds, in short bursts, clear in outline for the most part; quiet; two or three times move towards as loud as possible, but as soon as you cannot hear yourself or another player stop directly. Allow various spaces between playing (2, 5 seconds, indefinite); sometimes overlap events.  One, two, three, four or five times play a long sound or complex or sequence of sounds. Sometimes play independently, sometimes by coordinating; with other players (when they start or stop or while they play or when they move) or a player should play (start or, with long sounds, start and stop or just stop) at a signal (or within 2 or 5 seconds of a signal) over which he has no control (does not know when it will come). At some point or throughout use electricity.  (6, p. 8)

This performance was down in the stairwell below the statue of Beethoven and was a pretty diverse group of players including some electronics, a baritone sax, percussion, guitar, violin, bassoon and so on.  I thought this performance was pretty good, lots of bursts of activity, pretty playful and evocative of the score. Of the three pieces performed from the Prose Collection during this festival I think this one was the most successful: it was engaging music and it really captures the essence of the score. When I looked at my notes that made I had noted several things that directly corresponded to the score (the bursts of activity for instance) and that says a lot to me. This is one of my favorite of the Prose Collection, one of those pieces where the instructions are simple but the ideas are profound. There is also a variant of this piece, the “Color Version” which pushes the complexity and interaction between the players and interestingly for a score includes a number of questions:

Are musical sounds to other sounds as black and white is to color? (6, p. 9)

Christian Wolff at NEC-6As per usual the evening began with an electronic piece, this evenings was Snowdrop (electronic version) (1970).  I’m quite familiar with the solo piano version of this piece, and this electronic realization was made up of intriguingly layered tones;  quite different from the piano version. I’d like to hear this again to directly compare the two and figure out how exactly they relate. The program began with Vanessa Wheeler playing acoustic guitar and singing Dark as a Dungeon (Merle Travis)  which is a miners song. This folk tune was used as a source for a piece of the same name by Christian Wolff for solo clarinet of which, though pretty far removed from the source,  some elements came through. This I think is another good example of social concerns working their way into Wolff’s music but without pushing it in your face. Having a trad performance of the folk tune beforehand was a nice touch and a little more direct than whatever was implied with the earlier (and forthcoming) Ives piece. Three Pieces: Rock About,  Instrument, Starving to Death on the Government Dime (1979-80) for violin and viola followed and I have to say that these really sounded great in the hall. All three were  in that uncertain melodic vein so prevalent in Wolff’s compositions and the reverberation of the hall seemed to both reinforce that aspect and yet sustain them. The three pieces all kind of blend together in my mind but my favorite moment was a solo viola section in one of the pieces that really brought out the best of the room, sounding as if it was enveloping you in its rich yet hesitant sound. Another Possibility (2004), a recent solo electric guitar piece, was which was spare, angular and oddly jazzy at times. Overall it had this effect of almost making the player seem like he was hesitantly picking out the piece, like ones first read of a score, but he clearly was really solid and experienced with the piece. He’d pause at times and turn on distortion and continue playing, giving the piece some nice pauses and placing these sections in time.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 2: Keith Rowe & Christian Wolff 1

More guitar followed this,  a duo improvisation from Keith Rowe and Christian Wolff. There was some setup, a table  was brought out with two guitars, Keith’s electronics and in between the two guitars Keith’s collection of manipulators. In front of  Christian’s guitar was his melodica and on either side of the performers, matching Fender amps. They sat side by side at this table sharing the tools, but as only Keith had his electrics there was a nice divergence in sound. Wolff’s playing reminded me at times of the 60s AMM recordings where Keith used less and more primitive electronics, but even then had his own unique texture. He played Stones at one point, working with a pair of them that Keith had on the table, bringing out the sounds of stones as directed in that Prose Piece. Toward the end of their all too short performance he played a bit of melodica  while Keith worked the fan and various electronics creating digital roar that the thin, sustained lines of the melodica snaked in and out of. Keith’s playing was of course compressed into the shorter time allotted for this piece but remained unhurried and rich all the same. He matched Christian in the beginning using various manipulators and tools on the guitar but began to add more abstract sounds from the electronics as the set progressed. As Christian played Stones, Keith’s sounds became more raw, using contact mics perhaps and bringing up the radio.  By the time of the aforementioned melodica section he had the blurry wash of radio, effects, the roar of the fan all providing this striking contrast to Christian’s playing. Only about 12 minutes all told, but really engaging and a nice contrast to the other pieces we’d seen tonight.

Christian Wolff at NEC-19

After an intermission the largest group we’d seen yet, including a conductor, came out and performed the US premier of  Quodlibet (2007).  This piece was for a chamber group of rather diverse instrumentation including a percussionist placed a little ways away from the group.  It began with just a few people playing and it tended to shift around the ensemble with lots of moving events mostly in little subsets. At times though quite a few members would be playing but while active it was never overly dense.  I don’t really recall too much more beyond this about this piece, but there was something about it I found a bit unsatisfying, perhaps the larger group lost some of that fragility that I find so endearing in Wolff’s music.  The following piece, Tuba Song (1992), though, was among my favorites of the entire festival.  The piece was for two tubas, one slightly larger than the other (though I don’t know whether these are distinct instruments or not), widely spaced on the stage. A massive duet of rumbles, rattles and overlapping low tones. It brought to mind a ritual mating song of two alien whale-like creatures. The piece was in three movements, of which I found the first the most interesting in it’s use of the really low and abstract sounds. The other movements were also great, with a bit of that elusive Wolff melody working their way in. A truly great piece, it made me think of  those Alvin Lucier pieces made up of duo sine waves but at the opposite end of the tonal spectrum.  A beautiful way to end another really great day of music.

More pictures in my Christian Wolff at NEC flickr group.

1) Christian Wolff, Cues: Writings & Conversations Edition MusikTexte, Köln 1999, ISBN 3-9803151-3-4
2) Christian Wolff, Dartmouth page
3) Christian Wolff, Wikipedia article
4) NEC’s Christian Wolff Residency site
5) Stephen Drury’s site
6) Christian Wolff, Prose Collection, Frog Peak Music
7) Christian Wolff Interview with Damon Krukowski, BOMB 59/Spring 1997
8) Stephen Drury, festival director’s notes

Christian Wolff at NEC part 1

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 2: Keith Rowe & Christian Wolff 2

“And a more general thought, the movement of the music (and, I think, just about all the music I have worked on) is towards melody in its largest sense (as well as, sometimes, its familiar sense of the singable line). This may not be always obvious, but then the times are not conducive to easy optimism.” (1, p. 492)

Christian Wolff spent March 2010 as the composer in residence at the New England Conservatory in Boston and they concluded this with a week of concerts.  I personally love all of the New York School of composers and while they have certainly received more recognition in recent times, it is still a rarity to see a lot of their pieces performed.  I got wind of the residency performances as they were bringing Keith Rowe over to participate in the concert series and he was setting up a few other performance opportunities.  Wolff’s music has appeared on an increasing number of recordings in recent years but so much of his compositions are basically unavailable, I thought back to how revelatory seeing so many Cage piece performed at the Vancouver New Music Silence: John Cage festival a few years back and decided I’d make the trip to Boston to experience these pieces performed.

“Your first encounter with the music of Christian Wolff leaves you with the impression [that] you’ve just heard (or played, or read) something totally strange, unlike anything else you know. [“¦] Weird little tunes, sounding as if they had been beamed at some remote point in the universe and then bounced back again as a kind of intergalactic mutant music; recognizable melodic and rhythmic patterns, somehow sewn together in monstrous pairings, sometimes reminiscent of the demons of Hieronymus Bosch, composites of animals, fish, flowers, and common household objects: there is order, but also constant interruption, intrusions of disorderly reality upon regularity and lawfulness, combing to create an effect of both familiarity and strangeness: Shklovsky’s ostranenie. […] You can’t really say what it’s like (although John Cage came close when he said, after a performance of the Exercises in New York, that it was like the classical music of an unknown civilization).” -Frederic Rzewski (1, p. 10)

I’ve written before that I’ve found Christian Wolff’s music difficult to write about, that there is a level of expertise required to really do the pieces justice. Even with my level of understanding of modern composition, the large amount I’ve read on the New York School and Wolff’s own writings, I still don’t feel adequate to the challenge. Additionally  in the case of this festival, these were students at a variety of levels playing these pieces and in my mind it wouldn’t necessarily be fair to “review” the performances as the primary purpose behind these were educational. I don’t want to give the wrong impression here, all of these students are, of course, already highly trained musicians and  many of them will be playing professionally in a few months or years.  Overall I found the performances nearly always top notch and even the rockier performances were still interesting in considering the challenges of these piece. There are a few cases though where the performance lends some insight into pieces that I do know well and it is inescapable to ignore that aspect.  But I want to emphasize the difference there is in a poor performance at a professional concert versus in  a student context:  it is in the later case part of the education process. It is also worth noting that it’s not just my relative lack of expertise that renders these pieces difficult to write about; time and time again over the week I’d hear students, faculty and professional performers discussing how difficult this music is. It is not difficult in terms of high complexity, but in their fragility, the way they are constructed can make it easy for them to sound bad even if decently performed.  It is this aspect, where a certain touch, or willingness to commit oneself completely to the ideas in the piece makes all the difference in the piece working or not.

March 15th 2010
Christian Wolff festival day 1
New England Conservatory of Music, Boston MA

I arrived in Boston on March 14th after a red eye flight from Seattle and saw that night an  improv set featuring Keith Rowe and Jason Lescalleet outside of the Christian Wolff festival (Brian Olewnick wrote a good review of this show). Weather in Boston these first few days was crazy with 50-70mph winds, driving rain and a chill, that while above freezing, was not deterred by the heavy winter clothing I had brought with me. This weather continued into the next day and for the beginning of the festival I’d be damp at all the concerts.  There were concerts at 5 and 8 pm Monday through Wednesday at NEC with a final night at the Gardner Museum near the conservatory. Additionally each day at NEC also included a performance from the Prose Collection at the halls entrance  in between the concert halls. This of course was a large amount of music much of it unfamiliar, or even unperformed. Thus any sort of writeup beyond a piece by piece analysis is going to be a bit of a gloss I’m afraid.  This post will be in that later category but as I have performed several of his pieces myself  (I wrote about my experience of performing a number of his pieces in this post), and I’d have a chance to see several of those very pieces performed here, I’ll also try to examine those pieces in that context.

The next day was the first day of the Christian Wolff concerts, the 5pm show being the only show in Williams Hall. The pieces that were played were: Duo for 2 FlutesTilbury, Tilbury 2, and Tilbury 4, Exercise #7, For One, Two or Three People and Berlin Exercises. I arrived a bit before 5pm and spent some time reading the very nice prepared materials they had made for the series. This was a book outlining the performances for each night (minus of course the inevitable last minute changes ) a printed handout that included descriptions of a number of pieces (mostly from Christian’s collected writings Cues: Writings & Conversations) and a document that included the text of some songs that were performed.  The first piece, Duo for 2 Flutes is one of Wolff’s earliest pieces, which I had not heard before. Wolff in his earliest pieces restricted himself to using just a few tones and this piece was in that vein. The two flutes would play these few tones in short or longer durations, with overlappings between the two instrument adding layers of interaction beyond the limits of the material. A short, charming, engaging work and a nice way to begin the festival. The next few pieces are these beautiful piano works that Wolff wrote with John Tilbury in mind (though not specifically for John Tilbury) of which I have several recordings (Sabine Liebner’s on Neos being my favorite). The early Tilbury Pieces are quite spare with notes  coming in and lingering and well seperated in time. The later pieces include several other instruments along with the piano. These are pieces that I’m quite familiar with and I didn’t recognize them at all when performed here, not quite spacious enough and the notes seemed to lack that floating feel. The following piece, Exercise #7 was somewhat stiff, but I felt the afternoon’s concert really snapped into focus with a performance of For One, Two or Three People.

“This music is drawn from the interaction of the people playing it. It requires for its performance independent self-discipline (unpoliced by a score defining fixed relationships and timings) and a capacity and special alertness for responding to what one’s fellow performers are doing, the sounds they are making or changing and their silences.” (1, p. 492)

In the sixties Wolff became quite interested in the social aspects of music making and the relationship of the composer to the performer. While he had since the fifties ceded control over of a number of aspects of the music to the performer (indeterminacy of performance) quite a bit of his music from this period places trust in the performers over the very structure of the piece.  While I haven’t had a chance to examine this score I have heard several versions of this piece including this incredible solo version by David Tudor on a baroque pipe organ.

Christian Wolff For 1, 2 or 3 Players, performed by David Tudor

In this performance three players set up on the floor in front of the stage with percussion, double bass and bass clarinet. This performance was lively, sounds coming in and out with clear interaction between the players. This trio seemed comfortable with performing and with tackling this piece. The sounds were engaging the percussionist expelling bursts of explosive percussion along with rattly, clattering sounds, the scrapes, plucks and dry sounds of extended techniques on the bass and whistles, breaths and low rumbles from the clarinet. The percussionist had a string in a drum that when bowed made this alien roar that was in stark contrast to the much more uptight sounds we’d been hearing earlier.  The piece that followed this performance seemed to relax into it as well, with Berlin Exercises , which featured spoken and sung texts in German (Vergnuegungen by Bertold Brecht). This was enjoyable I thought with the various sounds of the ensemble (which included recorders, vibraphone, piano, cello, etc) coming in and out as per the other exercises, contrasted against the spoken and sung text.

Christian Wolff at NEC Day 1: Fits & Starts 1

In between the afternoon and evening concerts there was to be a performance from the Prose Collection in what they were calling the “Christian Wolff Performance Space” which was the hallway in between concert halls featuring a statue of Beethoven. The Prose pieces are as the name implies scores that are written as a text instructions and that were created for musicians and non-musicians alike. Fits and Starts score is more of a list of instructions than some:

Fits and Starts

Four or five of the following sequences represented to start with.

Any number of players; any one player playing one or more of the sequences; any number of players playing the same sequence.

Each player follows her own pulse, generally within the limits of one beat per 5/6 of a second to one beat per 1 1/3. Generally, though without straining to, avoid another’s pulse.

The duration of a sound, unless some further articulation of it (which may include its stopping) is used to mark a rhythm, should not exceed about 2 1/2 seconds (and may be any shorter length).

1. 1 sound or articulation of a sound underway: every 21 beats, omitted every 6th time the 21st beat comes round.
2. 1 sound or articulation: at the 11th beat, then at the 12th, then 13th,, etc., always adding one.
3. 1 sound or articulation: at the 10th beat, the 29th, 60th, then 10th, 29th, 60th, etc., always repeating.
4. 1 sound or articulation: at the 120th beat; 2 sounds or articulations at the next 100th; 1 at next 90th; 2 at next 80th; 1 at next 70th; 2 at next 60th; 1 at next 50th; 1 at next 40th; 2 at next 30th; 1 at next 20th; 2 at next 10th; then 1 at next 20th; 2 at next 10th; then 1 at next 20th; 2 at next 30th; 1 at next 40th; 1 at next 50th; 2 at next 60th, etc., back to 1 at next 120th, then forward again, and back, etc.
5. 1 sound or articulation: 15 beats after 4 sounds or articulations heard; then 4 beats after 4 sounds or articulations heard; then 15 beats after 4 sounds, etc., heard, then 4 beats after 4, etc., always alternating; or (freely changing back and forth): 2 sounds or articulations: 21 beats, then 3 beats, then 50, then 21, 3, 50 always repeating, after 3 sounds or articulations.
6. 1 sound or articulation every 42 beats; or (alternating freely) 2 sounds or articulations every 29th or 58th beat.

Players may shift from one sequence to another at any point within a sequence.

When a player has a sense of the music of his rhythm(s) he may proceed simply on the basis of that sense, and hence to her own rhythms. (6, p. 12)

The Prose Pieces which included performers that I’d not see in the other pieces (perhaps some improvisation students?) were  uniformly enjoyable. A wide variety of sounds, as there is no restriction on instrumentation, that come and go as per the above instructions with lots of silences and interesting interactions.  Being in the middle of the hall there was a wide variety of ambient sounds, from the driving rain out the nearby door, to repeated fragments of music from students in practice rooms, to the suddenly hushed conversations as students rounded the corner to find a performance in progress.   This piece is timed by ones pulse which one tended to figure out as you’d watch the students make a sound and then test their pulse at their neck or wrist for a time before making another. Really an enjoyable event and in accordance with my performances from the prose pieces (though I haven’t played this particular one). These pieces I find highly musical and really love how that people who want to make music can take this simple instructions and produce highly engaging music.

There was a bit of a break for dinner after this, which I took with Keith and ended up also being with Christian and festival director Stephen Drury. This was unexpected and really nice, a chance to meet Christian as well as Stephen whom I’ve seen perform on a number of occasions. Of course those involved in the festival had a limited amount of time so soon enough it was back to the concert hall for the evenings program.  Before each nights performance there would be some pre-recorded music: tape pieces, electronic realizations and the like.  On this night it was Mayday Materials (1989) which Wolff had written for a dance and was his first tape piece since 1952.  He sampled various instruments and produced a number of pieces out of the samples and these would be selected from based on the needs at hand.  It had that sound of digitally constructed college of these instruments, with sounds fading in and out and rushing about. Additionally there seemed to be samples of  street sounds, groups of people and so on.

The main feature of this evenings concert was that it was all pieces for, or realized on, multiple pianos (the order of these pieces changed from the program, and I’m no longer certain if I have this entirely correct. Please leave a comment if you know that I’m wrong here).  Five pianos surrounded the audience with one at each of rooms four corners and the fifth in the center of the stage.  They played pieces by all four members of the New York School beginning with Christian Wolff’s, Sonata (1957). This was a piano trio and was played on the three front facing pianos. It is a piece for four pianists at three pianos and also involves some preparation. I didn’t go look at the preparations but Wolff’s always seem to be fairly lightly prepared, so closer to earlier Cage pieces.  This piece wasn’t too long and I don’t recall too much about it beyond the what seemed to be interlocking phrases across the multiple pianos and the occasional sound of the preparations.  Said preparations were then removed and were followed by  Earle Brown’s Twenty-Five Pages (1953) of which they played a subset (each pianist with five pages perhaps?). This was an active piece with the five piano’s material overlapping and forming connections by chance. Alas the next couple of pieces really drove the first two from my memory and I don’t recall too much about this piece beyond that it was fairly active and I enjoyed it at the time. The five piano version of John Cage’s Winter Music that followed was quite memorable and I thought really worked well in this configuration.

The work consists of twenty pages of music that can be used by anywhere from one to twenty pianists. Varying numbers of events are scattered on the twenty pages, but all the events have an identical profile: single chords. The number of notes per chord and their specific locations on the staff were determined by chance procedures. The notation can be ambiguous with regards to pitch, and Cage provides precise rules on how to interpret these situations. But he is absolutely clear that each event should be played as a single attack. There is to be no breaking up of the chord in any way. If the notes are too widely-spaced for the pianist’s hands to reach, then a technique involving sympathetic vibrations is used to compensate.

The method of Winter music explains its severe quality. Other pieces of this same period in Cage’s work may incorporate a wide range of possibilities, but Winter music limits itself to one. The same simple event — the single attack — occurs over and over again with no contrast, no development, no change. And because every event in the piece is an ictus — a downbeat — there is no sense of motion here at all. Events do not lead to one another. Events do not have the inner motion of a phrase or even an arpeggiation. […]

Considered in this way, the title of Winter music begins to make sense. This is a music in which time no longer exists, or in which it is frozen. The sparse and isolated chords of Winter music have more in common with points in space than with events in time. They stand out in the silence, totally separated from one another, the way that twigs, stones, and trees appear against the blank whiteness of the snow. – James Pritchett (8)

I’ve mostly heard Winter Music played along with Atlas Eclipticalis until the release of David Tudor Music for Piano on Edition RZ includes a solo performance of the piece by Tudor.  As Pritchett describes above the piece is these isolated chords, coming out of silence at varying dynamics. With the pianos in the round as at this performance the sense of stasis is even greater. It is as if you are on a frozen in a lake, surrounded completely by the chill of winter. Really great to hear this piece performed and with five pianos – something you could only hear in a music school.  In contrast to the sudden attacks and occasional loud chords was the final five piano piece, Morton Feldman’s Five Pianos (1972)

Pianos and Voices began by finding myself humming tones while improvising on the piano. The vocal or humming sounds were quite short, and as the piano sounds lingered, I began to hear other pianos, other humming. Two, three, four pianos were too transparent – the fifth piano became like the pedal blur needed to complete the overall sound I was after. – Morton Feldman (9)

This piece was just fantastic, definitely my favorite of the evening (though so much was so good on this night). The piece is made up of arpeggios, which in this setup just surround you, almost seeming like thye began in one part of the room, and continued in another part of the room. The front center piano played sustained single chords which the surrounding arpeggios seemed to just ripple off of. Lovely.

A break followed after this piece and then the final performance of the night, Christian Wolff’s Changing the System (1973/4).This piece was performed by four groups of four students in the round, mostly brass players but a variety of instruments. They played short melodic fragments, with hand signals and such to pass them along interspersed with chordal playing. Half way though the piece the system is changed (so to speak): two groups switch to percussion, the others to a fragmented text reading. The text they read from was from a speech by Tom Hayden five during the 1968-69 student upheavals in the US about the need for systemic social change(1, p.500). The text reading was like the melodic playing in that the performers would pass a sentence along, sometimes one performer starting a word and another finishing it. At other times they’d all say a word together, akin to the earlier chords.  This piece was really great, easily my favorite one that contained textual material. The way the text was broken up and repeated reminded me of Cage’s Living Room Music in a way and the performance in the round really worked well to the pieces advantage.

Thus ended the first night of the Christian Wolff festival at NEC. As this has gotten pretty long I think I’ll break this up into several posts. Stay tuned for the rest of the report. In the meantime you can check out all of my pictures from this festival in my Christian Wolff at NEC flickr group.

1) Christian Wolff,  Cues: Writings & Conversations Edition MusikTexte, Köln 1999, ISBN 3-9803151-3-4
2) Christian Wolff, Dartmouth page
3) Christian Wolff, Wikipedia article
4) NEC’s Christian Wolff Residency site
5) Stephen Drury’s site
6) Christian Wolff, Prose Collection, Frog Peak Music
7) Christian Wolff Interview with Damon Krukowski, BOMB 59/Spring 1997
8) James Pritchett, Notes on John Cage’s Winter music/Atlas Eclipticalis and 103
9) Morton Feldman, A note on “Five Pianos

March Music

David Tudor performing Bandoneon !

Bandoneon ! uses no composing means; when activated it composes itself out of its own composite instrumental nature.” – David Tudor, from the program notes (5)

There are a number of David Tudor compositions that are unavailable to hear, but arguably the most important historically is  Bandoneon ! (A combine) . Created and performed as part of the 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering this has now been made available for the first time as part of the E.A.T. – 9 Evenings:  Theatre and Engineering DVD series (which can be purchased via Microcinema). I’ve written about 9 Evenings before in context of the first two DVDs released in this series and my overview of the series stands. It is probably worth quoting from the introduction to the primary 9 Evenings archive at the Daniel Langlois Foundation as a reintroduction to the series before examining this specific release:

In 1965, with the help of Robert Rauschenberg, Billy Klüver sought the expertise of some 30 engineers at Bell Laboratories (Murray Hills, N.J., U.S.), requesting that they participate in an interdisciplinary project blending avant-garde theatre, dance and new technologies. For the project, artists John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor and Robert Whitman each created an original performance. The artists were paired with the engineers, and together they produced the technical components used on stage by the participants (dancers, actors, musicians). The event was originally intended to be presented as part of the Stockholm Festival of Art and Technology in 1966. But when the festival’s American program was cancelled, Billy Klüver moved the event to the 69th Regiment Armory (New York, N.Y., U.S.), where it ran as 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering from October 13 to 23, 1966.

Bandoneon ! (A Combine)As per the two earlier releases in the series the DVD is comprised of four sections:  The standard introduction designed by Robert Rasuchenberg, the performance of the piece, a documentary and concluding credits and acknowledgments.  The performance is of course of primary interest to me and I have to say it is quite spectacular.  The video begins with Tudor and several engineers coming on to the stage and hooking things up and getting things ready.  After a couple of minutes of this Tudor begins to play and I have to say based on all of the Tudor I have heard previously I wasn’t expecting this.  Washes of sounding, stuttering out as he squeezes the bellows, layer upon layer of these as the Armory’s 5 -6 second reverberation throws the sound back and forth.  The piece keeps building from this initial assault, each components lashed onto the howling structure previously built. After a bit of this four remote controlled sculptures each with its own loudspeaker begins wheeling around, throwing yet more sound all around the space. Meanwhile a video projection system, designed by Lowell Cross,  is tracing out abstract shapes, lines and patterns that are being generated in direct response to the music. There are portions of the performance where the density is lower than others but primarily it is a hurricane roar of sound. Even so it is not a featureless wash of sound by any means, it is wholly alien, created not from the expected building blocks of synthesis, but of the bandoneon’s natural sound, feedback, amplification, echo, and tortured electronics. It is fractal like, always revealing more detail and fascinating detail at that, the closer you examine it.  But then after just over eight minutes of actual playing it fades away and ends. I personally have a hard time believing that Tudor played for less then ten minutes after all of the effort of setting this up (though I suppose its possible).  The  Bandoneon ! page for this piece at the Daniel Langlois Foundation concludes with this ambiguous statement:  “The length of the performances is not mentioned in the documents that were consulted during the writing of these notes” and as far as my research has gone I can’t determine how long the piece lasted. I had hoped that as they had done on the Variations VII disc they would include the entire piece as a separate audio track, given that they weren’t able to film the entirety of most performances but it is not to be found on this disc. So I don’t know if they have more or not, or how long the performance was or really any more then what we have here.  Of course it is hard to not think that just a few years after this performance Tudor is known to have said ““It’s hard to do a piece any more that lasts for less than an hour.”(5)

Bandoneon ! Generalized Diagram (detail)
Bandoneon ! Generalized Diagram (detail)

The documentary portion of this disc is fantastic, the best yet of the three discs released so far.  In it it describes how Tudor, always technical, realized that few of the artists were really taking advantage of the Bell Labs engineers and equipment and that he resolved to use everything. The video weaves  interviews with engineers, collaborators such as Larry Austin, David Behrman, Gordon Mumma and Lowell Cross describing how Tudor worked up the setup that he used for this performance. Further information on Tudor and his practices and methodologies were gleaned from Merce Cunningham, Matt Rogalsky and many other close collaborators. Gordon Mumma outlines Tudor’s history with the Bandoneon, beginning Tudor seeing Mauricio Kagel perform his piece Pandora’s Box which sparked his interest. He of course learned the instrument and then commissioned friends such as Pauline Oliveros and Gordon Mumma to compose pieces for him. Mumma would later make electronics for Tudor, which Tudor would rework, reverse engineer and reuse for his own systems. All of this, combined with video, with the remote controlled carts and layers of additional electronics, culminated in Bandoneon ! (a combine). The Bandoneon had contact mics on it as well as normal microphones and this were sent to a wide variety of electronic devices. But all highly analog, for instance a device called a Vochrome which was a harmonium in which the sound from the Bandoneon was played which would vibrate the metal tines of each each which would then be used to activate an electronic circuit. So basically a physical device used for spectrum analysis. The documentary fully describes how Lowell Cross worked out his video oscillator out of an old TV set and how Tudor convinced him to make a projection version of it that was used for the performance. The notion of the Combine, a term utilized by Robert Rauschenberg to describe his sculpture/painting hybrids, is absolutely apropos for this piece as it had so many components  in both the music but also in the visual aspects. The documentary I think makes pretty clear that Tudor, more so then any other of the artists, really fully realized the goals of the combination of theater and engineering.

Another piece to the Tudor puzzle and another great DVD from the E.A.T. people. While the most interesting performances from the 9 Evenings have now been released, I’ve become so intrigued by the entire project that I am certainly looking forward to the rest of the DVD’s in the series. Hopefully they will continue to come out apace.


1) David Tudor pages at EMF
2) 9 Evenings at the Daniel Langlois Foundation
3) E.A.T. – 9 Evenings pages
4) Bandoneon ! at Microcinema
5) Rembering David Tudor: a 75th Anniversary memoir by Lowell Cross from his  website

9 Evenings Poster

February Music

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.

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


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

Kronos Quartet in Kirkland

Kronos Quartet in Kirkland

Last night I saw the Kronos Quartet perform at the Kirkland Performance Center in my hometown. I can’t really stress how important to my musical development the Kronos Quartet have been nor how far I’ve really moved away from what they do.  I’ve always listened to classical music; in elementary school I used to scour the Anacortes Public library for their classical music LPs and when I “graduated” from elementary school among the list of predictions from my fellow classmates was “classical music snob”.  While I did of course eventually add rock and then jazz to my listening I always maintained an interest in classical music and I’d argue my love for long form symphonic works informed what I liked in those other musics.  I mostly listened to the canonical composers with only the “radio friendly” 20th century composers (Shostokovich, Stravinsky, Sibelius, etc) making an appearance. In college I gradually became interested in modern composition the most important event in this was a friend lending me a CD of string quartets by Lutoslawski, Cage, Pendericki and Mayuzumi. I think he lent me this as it was the only Cage he had which I was becoming interested in, but while I liked all of the quartets  it was the Lutoslawski that really grabbed me at that point. Wanting my own copy of this piece I took my meager college budget to Rainy Day Records and scoured their meager classical section. They didn’t have a lot of 20th century composition but they did have a number of discs by the Kronos Quartet include an EP of them playing the Lutoslawski.  I picked this up and the rest, as they say, was history.

Kronos Quartet play Lutoslawski's string quartetSo much music that became very important to me was introduced to me by picking up various Kronos discs: Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Zorn, Tan Dun, John Lurie, George Crumb, Arvo Part Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, John Oswald, Henryk Gorecki, Elliot Sharp as well as those I knew but being just a kid had few recordings of like Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Demitri Shostokovich and Thomas Tallis. Of course many of these composers I’d prefer versions by other ensembles and most of them I’ve more or less since moved on, but they all led me to where I am now. Of course no other discovery brought to me by the Kronos Quartet was more important to my current listening then their recording of Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet.  At the time I was buying their releases as they’d show up and I must have bought this one pretty much as it was released in 1993 (my prime period of Kronos collecting was 1992-1997). I recall finding this one immediately beautiful and hypnotic, it fit in with the ambient music I was also exploring at this time.  But the low volume of the recording was always a bit of a hindrance for me, I felt it wasn’t as well recorded as some of their other pieces. It got shelved for a while but would be returned to as my interest in the experimental composers arose a few years later.

Morton Feldman Piano and String QuartetMorton Feldman and the Kronos Quartet have a quite interesting history, something worth thinking about for those who tend to dismiss the ensemble.  Feldman worked directly with them and scored his epic String Quartet (II) for them though they “only” ever performed a 5 hour version of the piece. These days the Ives Ensemble and the Flux Quartet have performed the entire piece in its 6 hour glory. I recently came across a recording off the radio of Feldman’s first String Quartet performed by the Kronos Quartet that I’ve found to be extremely informative. It is the third recording of the piece I’ve gotten and by far the longest, clocking in at 20 minutes longer the version of it I have by the Ives Ensemble.  But most interesting is difference in the sound of the violins. Feldman specifies a lack of vibrato and his strings often sound dry and grating with the occasional changes in this for effect. Kronos does this as well but there is a resonance to their playing that the Ives players don’t quite seem to use. Perhaps it is a very light vibrato or other bowing technique that is like the string equivalent of half depressed sustain pedal that Cardew felt was the key to Feldman’s piano works. After getting this recording and listening to it on my high end stereo I revisited the Piano and String Quartet which I had not played since getting a copy of the Ives take. Played on this stereo, where its low dynamic range wasn’t nearly an issue, it revealed the same thing as that String Quartet recording, a level of dynamic to the play, that while very subtle and soft really brings out a lot more in the music. Very soon I’ll have a fourth version of this piece with my favorite interpreter, John Tilbury, on the keys and if the Smith Quartet is as good as Kronos on the strings that should be the definitive version of this piece.

While Feldman is the most important composer that Kronos led me too, it is hard to deny the importance of Terry Riley and John Zorn for years of my life. Riley led me to other minimalists and the whole modern ecstatic drone, freak folk and the like which was a big part of my listening from the late ninety’s to about the mid aughts. I’m still on the Aquarius Mailing list from that period as they were best purveyors of such material. John Zorn led me to so much music, though in all honesty I never actually bought a ton of his music. First the ex-pat Downtowners, Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell, both now living in Seattle who introduced me to the post-downtown scene that was thriving here from say 1996-2006. This was my primary interest in music for years and I can’t even begin to say how many concerts I saw in Seattle of this ever widening sphere of music. Somehow it got wired into the Jam Band scene and became completely uninteresting, but there was a period where I thought it was some of the most creative music I’d seen. Most importantly though I got onto the Zorn Email list in its prime and from there I got introduced the most modern of improvised music that really captured my interest for all of the aughts. From there I spiraled back to the experimental composers, found other modern composers such as Lachenmann, Nono, Xenakis, Scelsi et al and that brings me about to where I am now. Obviously a highly compressed history there but trying to sort of stay on topic here.

Kronos Quartet Sun Rings performance

I first saw Kronos Quartet perform in Meany Hall at the University of Washington in maybe 2000? I saw them again there a couple of years later, premiering Terry Riley’s  Sun Rings so it must have been 2000-2001.  By this point I had mostly lost interest in them, they had moved away from the music that interested me.  They became increasingly interested in various world composers and while I think there is much great music to be found exploring the dusty corners of the world I just haven’t been all that taken with the compositions they’d commissioned. Additionally I was tending toward preferring other ensembles for many of my favorite pieces of theirs. But finally being gainfully employed and living in the Seattle area I couldn’t miss the chance to see an old favorite. I remember quite liking that show though I can’t find a record of it online and don’t recall what they played. I was pretty into Riley and Zorn at that point and the odds are they played some of both. It was definitely my interest in Riley that brought me to see Sun Rings which had interesting moments but made me realize that I really like early Riley and just wasn’t that taken by his Requiem for a Dreamcurrent output. Since that show (2003) the only Kronos I’ve paid any attention to was their soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream which I quite liked and Fountain which I liked a bit less. I pretty much had stopped paying attention to them and was thus surprised to see them working with Trimpin in that great documentary I saw last year.  I would definitely have gone to see that performance.

At some point last year I discovered that the Kronos Quartet were going to play at the Kirkland Performance Center which I should say is about a mile from where I live.  I’ve lived in Kirkland for three years now and within five miles of it for the last decade and have never visited the Performance Center. Mainly its because they tend to cater to that older demographic with the safe material that it seems to demand.  An opportunity to finally visit the center seeing a group that used to love and figure would still be at least enjoyable was not one to pass up.  I almost forgot about it though, but luckily Christopher DeLaurenti wrote it up in his The Score column in the Stranger reminding me just in time. I bought tickets online which I was able to just print out and leaving work slightly early (7:30 show? – just try to tell me they aren’t catering to an older demographic) I went home and then walked to the venue.  The Kirkland performance center has a 400 seat auditorium and I have to say it is very nice. The acoustics were great, the seating had a steep rise off the stage providing great sight lines from my back of the hall seating (the online chart was confusing, I thought I was buying a front row seat, turned out to be the back row. Worked out okay though, it sounded fantastic there). There was some brief announcements and a bit of history of the group (started in Seattle BTW) and the show began.

Kirkland Performance Center

Kronos Quartet: Tailor Made
Kirkland Performance Center
Kirkland WA USA

Set I:
Bryce Dressner
Aheym (homeward)
Missy Mazzoli
Harp and Altar
Terry Riley
Good Medicene Minimal Americana nit my fav Riley
Alkesandra Vrebalov
…hold me, neighbor, in this storm…

Honestly I don’t really want to write all that much about the music. None of it really appealed to me, it is pretty much exactly as I said above. This program was “Tailor Made” for the Kirkland Performance center and I don’t know if was targeting this demographic or if its just how they are but the program was pretty toothless. There was a lot (a lot) of pieces with tape accompaniment, Harp and Altar, and …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… from the first set and Cafe Tacuba from the second and this almost always were in such a way as to extend the ensemble as opposed to how historical tape accompaniment is used. In Harp and Altar there was vocalizations throughout which initially almost sounded like string effects and blended nicely but then became really pronounced and chopped and just sounded like bad pretentious pop. For …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… there was field recording type of material but also Muslim-ish singing and other vocal aspects. The Riley piece, from his epic Salome Dances for Peace, is one of those later Riley pieces I’m not so taken with. It was like Americana with repeated motifs so Minimalist Americana. It was one of the better pieces all told, but pretty bland. The first piece Aheym (homeward) was probably my favorite from this set. It had a very propulsive sound all of the strings playing in unison. After some time of this various instruments would break off and add various contrasting sounds. It was somewhat cinematic with distinct episodes but it was pretty engaging throughout.

Set II:
John Zorn
Selections from The Dead Man
Hamza El Din
(realized by Tohru Ueda)  Escalay (water wheel)
(arr. Jacob Garchik) Smyrneiko Minore
Café Tacuba (arr. Osvaldo Golijov) 12/12

E1: Tusen Tarkon (sp?) Swedish
E2: Egyptian tango

There was a short break in which I took the opportunity to check out the rest of the performance center. It doesn’t have much of a lobby and it was pretty packed with people getting away from their seats for a bit.  There wasn’t much to do so I fairly quickly returned to my seat. The break wasn’t too long and then the second set began.  The Zorn piece it opened with, God help me, was probably the most interesting that they played sonically. Zorn used a lot of extended techniques, especially those favored by Lachenmann. So scritchy bowing brunched against the strings, bowing the back of the instrument, whipping the bows in the air and so on.  It was typical Zorn though, with lots of short quick segments, short little quotations and a cartooney feel.  Zorns compositions rarely do much for me and it was the sounds that I enjoyed the most here. Oddly the piece was played for laughs and as the ensemble would dramatically turn the page of the score after a minute of intense noise making the audience laughed everytime. It ended with whipping the bows in the air, generating clouds of resin which slayed the audience. The following piece, Escalay, was another rather cinematic piece with a pretty droney characteristic. I honestly don’t remember much about it beyond that but it was okay if unmemorable.  Smyrneiko Minore is an old Greek song that Harrington had encountered on an old recording. So musically it was pretty straightforward Greek folk music with the violins alternating on playing the vocal parts.  Short and to me not that interesting.  The last piece was made for Kronos by Café Tacuba a Mexican band that plays Latin Dancey pop music and it more or less had a tape of a full band playing, plus some field recording type of material that they played with. Pretty lame overall, but not my kind of music in general.  They played two encores, one a Swedish song that I’m just guessing on the spelling, that was simple and melancholy and an Egyptian Tango that was, well an Egyptian tango arranged for string quartet. After this there was a short Q&A with questions from the audience. Not much of interest was asked though.

So that was the Kronos Quartet in Kirkland. I’d say that’s about it for Kronos performances for me unless they do something unexpectedly interesting. They really seem to have become toothless as they have gotten older, using the world music, backing tapes and arranging pop tunes for greater accessibility. I certainly respect what they are doing, slipping the occasional interesting and challenging piece over on the audience but it doesn’t seem to be the driving passion for them. There is an issue that I recall being raised in an artist chat I saw with the Ives Ensemble last year about commissions and world premiers:

This led to several questions about compositions written especially for them and John told us that they rarely get unsolicited compositions mainly because they are very picky on what they choose to play. He then brought up that when playing festivals the programmers really want “World Premiers” and that this leads to an issue where a piece is often only played that one time, as after that performance they need the next world premier.  He said that for them they have found that many pieces benefit from repeat performance: “Returning to a piece you find that it has become a part of you – comfortable.” One of the other members then chimed in to say that playing a piece many times is “Honest to the piece” and that it matures and you discover more.

The Kronos have played over 600 pieces many of which were written for them and I wonder if they are susceptible to this issue. They are always trying to play new material and world premiers and things written just for them that a lot of it seems to go by the wayside.  But worse to me is that so much of their material is just slight and seems calculated for popularity. Bollywood pieces? Arranged pop albums? World music? this is all a pretty far cry from Feldman, Crumb, Gorecki, Lutoslawski et al. I’ll always appreciate them for their introduction to so much great music and that really was the point of this post, but they are clearly playing for someone else now.

Seattle Percussion Collective at the Chapel

On Friday January 15th I managed to catch the Seattle Percussion Collective in performance at Seattle’s Chapel Performance space. I was drawn to this concert for a rare chance to see some Christian Wolff performed but reveled in the opportunity to see other older and newer works. It turned out to be a great concert, of course some pieces appealed to me more then others.

The program was:

Set 1:

Christian Wolff Metal and Percussion , movement 1A
Toru Talemitsu Cross Hatch
Christian Wolff Metal and Percussion , movement 3B
James Ronig A slightly Evil Machine:
Christian Wolff Metal and Percussion , movement 1B
Jeff Aaron Bryant The Raccoon King of Plastic and Tin

Set 2:

Stuart Saunders Smith Mornings
Christian Wolff Metal and Percussion , movement 2A
James Ronig Sonnet IV
Christian Wolff Metal and Percussion , movement ‘s 3A and 2B
Greg Campbell The Light in Amsterdam
Milton Babbitt All Set
Christian Wolff Metal and Percussion , movement 4 and coda

Seattle Percussion Collective members are
Rebecca Baggenstoss, Greg Campbell, Dale Speicher, Bonnie Whiting Smith and Denali Williams
For All Set they were joined by Brian Cobb, Harumi Flesher, Stuart MacDonald, Greg Sinibaldi, Chris Stover, and Matthew Swihart, conducted by Jonathan Pasternack

The Christian Wolff piece (from 2007) did not disappoint. It was made up of multiple parts most with several sections. These involved a change of instrumentation and sometimes number of musicians for each part so they broke it up, playing a section between each of the other pieces. In the first set the opening portion of this piece was played with half a dozen triangle players all surrounding the audience. They played slowly at first letting the chiming sounds die out before playing the next, but slowly sped up until it was an invocation of ringing sounds. This was followed by Crosshatch Toru Takemitsu’s piece from 1982, which was another I was really looking forward to as he didn’t write a lot of percussion music. It was a pretty short piece with all of the players on tuned percussion (marimbas and related) and had a rather jaunty interlocking feel. The next part of the Wolff was four players all using rather disposable “wind” instruments: bottles, a top of a plastic recorder, party buzzers and the like. It had that indefinable Wolff structure to it with a bit of a comic element from the instrumentation. I often am not so into these kind of sounds but I think Wolffs composition really kept it interesting. The next piece was a solo marimba (I think) piece by James Ronig called A Slightly Evil Machine (2006). I’d seen another one of his pieces with this title and like that one, it just isn’t my thing. His pieces seem to be made up of these clusters of sounds that are played with little space with dynamic bursts rising out of the continuous sound. In the kind of plinky marimba soundworld, with its forced melodic tones this just doesn’t do much for me. The final bit of the Wolff was my favorite a trio of musicians playing various pieces of metal, from what looked like car parts to metal boxes and various other detritus. The combination of the intriguing sounds these parts create along with Wolff’s structures made this so compelling. The sounds are giving room to breathe and the overlap and interact in unpredictable way. Fantastic. The final piece of the first set was Jeff Aaron Bryant’s The Raccoon King of Plastic and Tin (2009, World Premier) which was played on metal interspersed with sections where they’d shake plastic bags. This piece was okay but overly busy and I thought wore out its welcome well before it ended.

Stuart Saunders Smith’s Mornings (2007, World Premier) for marimba and 3 cymbals opened the second set. The composer was in the hall and he introduced the piece telling us that it was an attempt to capture his mornings (in which he regularly composed). A soft spoken, gentle man the music gave a clear impression of a slow, contemplative and serene entry into the day. The soft details of sun, fog perhaps some rain came through. The marimba kept it melodically rooted and did with the sedate nature of the piece remind my a bit of the tiring soft piano that Mister Rogers would use to end his show. A nice enough piece that I think did what it set out to do. The first part of the second section of the Wolff followed this part utilized various bits of struck metal, blown things and some vocalizations. Another nice bit with a nice contrasting amount of sounds. At this point I really began to want to hear this whole piece contiguously, though I completely understood why they presented it this way. It worked well weaving through the evenings music, but it clearly would be rewarding to hear the parts one after the other to catch the structural relationships. Hopefully the SPC will record it at some point. Greg Campbell’s The Light in Amsterdam (2002) was next, which was a quintet for gongs and cymbals. Mostly roled sounds in the begining with some light brushes on one cymbal. It was pretty dense with these sounds and it would increase in density from this base line for quite dramatic bits. After one crescendo it backed down from this and became more spare utilizing more struck sounds and becoming increasingly softer and softer as it came to a conclusion. I really enjoyed this piece with it’s washes of sounds and dramatic elements. This was followed by two parts of the Wolff which utilized the previous instrumentation of blown objects and struck metal. The breath section was a bit longer then the previous with each of the five performers equpped with 2 or 3 objects amongst which they’d often quickly switch, almost overlapping their own sounds. Again there was also some vocalization almost always of an abstract restrained nature. The next part was a duo for the metal objects and was again constructed out of small spacious sometimes very quiet sounds. This last metal section was my favorite part of the whole evening. Next was another solo marimba piece again by Romig whom I think I can say with some certainty is not really my cup of tea. Just too busy and solo marimba is just not rich enough to do much for me. People did seem to dig it though, so clearly YMMV. After this was Babbit’s All Set in which they added bass, piano, alto sax, tenor sax, trombone, trumpet to two of the percussionist one on marimba the other on a sort of simple trap kit, plus a conductor. It pretty much was white, big band serial swing. Amusing and sort of fun, but square and sort of tedius. Luckily it wasn’t too long so it remained mostly a fun novelty. The show concluded with the entire expanded ensemble playing the final movement and coda to the Wolff piece. Structurally it clearly was the same but with some many players it had a completely different density. Not being familiar with the score it seems that perhaps there is an amount of sounds or events the players each need to do as there were a couple of players who really stretched it out so it became increasingly less busy and dense. The code again featured all the players through perhaps with fewer events to play. A strong ending I thought but not the best of the sections. Most likely with fewer musicians more in tune to the piece (some of the expanded “band” seemed on the edge of bad acting) it would be a great culmination. Like I said earlier I’d love to hear a recording from the SPC of the piece.

So all in all a great evening with some great music and nothing gratingly bad, if not always to my taste. Great to see new music and some rarely played music performed here. With Cornish here its not surprising that there is such strong percussion here in the city and I can’t say how glad I am that they are here.

End of Year: Releases of Note 2009 part 2

Below are the ten releases the struck me the most in 2009. Most of these received many plays, all of these pieces revealing greater depth the more you listen.  Several of these pieces deserve an essay in and of themselves and that perhaps is the greatest tragedy of the lack of criticism in this area. For the most recognition these albums will get in our time is perhaps a short review, little more then a gilded thumbs up/thumbs down.  Perhaps in the future there will be scholars who will examine some of these pieces as they deserve (and honestly the classical pieces are quite likely to receive such attention sooner rather then later) but for now placement on a “best-of” list and perhaps a few words will have to do.

Releases of Note 2009 (part 2/2)

Morton Feldman/Howard Skempton Triadic Memories – Notti Stellate a Vagli performed by John Tilbury (Atopos)

John Tilbury’s set of Morton Feldman piano pieces All Piano, released on the LondonHALL label has been in my opinion the definitive recordings of the later piano pieces.  Since recording these pieces in the late 1990s Tilbury has been called on to perform these pieces on numerous occasions culminating with this release of Triadic Memories from October 2008.  Freed from the constraints of recording for compact disc and masterfully fitting this music to the space at hand this recording is a leisurely 103 minutes. This allows the notes to float in the space, their natural decay seeming to linger for longer than possible. Tilbury’s unrivaled touch at the piano, played with the sustain pedal partially depressed (a trick he learned from Cornelius Cardrew), gives the individual notes and chords an almost buttery feel with the occasional dissonances seeming to almost resolve themselves in the lingering overtones. Absolutely sublime music and nothing else released this year received more spins in my player.

Along with this definitive version of Triadic Memories is the sublime Howard Skempton piece Notti Stellate a Vagli in which the mostly single notes are perfectly placed among pools of silence.  After the Feldman piece it almost feels hurried, but it’s a spare piece in which the sounds are allowed plenty room to to breathe. The icing on the cake, this is a beautiful compliment to the epic Triadic Memories.

Cornelius Cardew Treatise performed by Keith Rowe and Oren Ambarchi (Planam)

I don’t buy a lot of LPs but recordings of Treatise by Keith Rowe was definitely cause for me to pre-order this one and dust off the table. Treatise, Cornelius Cardew’s epic graphic score has of course been a favorite piece of mine for half a decade now and Keith Rowe is easily the most significant interpreter of the piece. He had worked with the piece as Cardew was working on it, sometimes playing from the hand drawn pages. He was involved in the first performance of the piece in the UK and in AMM who performed the piece with Cardew many times. Since those days it has remained a constant companion and it is doubtful there is anyone who has worked through the score as thoroughly or as rigorously.  Oren Ambarchi has been a stalwart of the experimental music scene for the last decade and has been involved in what I think are two of the most successful recordings of Treatise to date. The first being the fantastic Seven Guitars performances released as part of the Amplify 2002 boxed set on the Erstwhile label which again also involved Rowe.  The other is of course this release. Each side of the record includes two pages of Treatise from what seems to be a contiguous performance of pages 53, 58, 168 & 169 on February 8th 2009 in Amsterdam (of which you can watch ten minutes of here).

Oren Ambarchi leans toward the drone, though a rich one made up of fractal like elements that reward close attention more then as a background sound.  If one takes him to be playing the lifeline and the divergent parallel lines it is an excellent interpretation of the pages played.  Page 53 can be seen in the little picture above and you can see how the lifeline runs through it with an line angling off of that which fits very well with Ambarchi’s drone that seems to open up as that secondary line does. Rowe in contrast plays in a spikier style, working each of the distinct elements on the score with a long defined set of actions. While these have been worked out over a long time as Rowe has constantly updated his setup and aspects of his approach his renditions of Treatise, while usually quite recognizable, have always remained fresh and vital. The first side of the record is page 53 and 58 over the course of about 14 minutes recognizable treating each element with care and consideration.  On the flip side of the platter are pages 168 and 169 which are the final pages in the score. These pages contain just the lifeline (and IIRC a gap in the line on the beginning of page 168) as a sort of dénouement of the piece. Ambarchi’s drone rustles in all buzzes rising and falling with dead silence for the gap. Rowe’s sound is equally subdued but instead of just working with continuous sound he works with small events, scrapes, little wirrs and rubbing on the pickups. These pages to me have a much slower feel then those on the other side and it is no surprise to me that they spend more time on them.  It is a beautiful rendition of the final pages of the score and the conclusion of what is in my opinion the best available performance of a section of Treatise (at least until Keith Rowe’s A Response to Treatise which hopefully is coming soon from the Cathnor label) .

Toshimaru Nakamura/Ami Yoshida Soba to Bara (Erstwhile Records)
No other album of improvised music was more surprising, challenging and ultimately rewarding then this first recording between Toshimaru Nakamura and Ami Yoshida. I’ve been writing an essay in which this disc features and it is something that I’d still like to finish but for now I’ve extracted from it just this short review of this album with a bit of additional framing, which will have to suffice for now. The existing “reviews” of Soba to Bara apart from limiting themselves primarily to the superficial were sure to include as an aside that this album is constructed from two performances recorded separately then layered together by Nakamura. These reviews (if positive) were sure to mention that the album worked despite this whereas the thrust of my essay is that the album works because of this (I should  note that Dan Warburton in his Paris Transatlantic “review” seems to take a similar stance). I came to this realization from playing music with the Seattle Improv Meeting when I found that the more I concentrated on playing the music at hand (we mostly played graphic scores) and the less I “listened” directly to my compatriots the more successful my participation was.  Listening has an exalted status in improvisation and to musicians of that stripe it means more then the word implies. It’s kind of like “swing” or “porn” in that it is indescribable but a musician knows it when he hears it. Now of course this doesn’t at all preclude listening to the gestalt, the room, as Keith Rowe would put it. The room contains the sounds that the other musicians are generating, as well as the audience, ambient sounds and its own ineffable character.

Soba to Bara in contrast with some of the earlier expressions of the use of independent recordings does not set out to directly express these experimental notions. Jon Abbey, the man behind Erstwhile Records, greatest talent is his ability to put improvisers together in new units that push each other in such a way to yield unexpected results. This really is a talent and one which seems to be severely lacking in so many people that attempt to do this.  On finding out that Ami Yoshida and Toshimaru Nakamura (two Erstwhile mainstays) had not performed as a duo he immediately set out to bring these two together.  In the course of preparing for performing and/or recording the two decided to record separately a track that Toshi would then layer together so as to get a feel for the duo.  Clearly they would try to record with their partner in mind creating a Sight like collaboration of memory. But it seems that the two participants remembered parts of their compatriots performances that the other chose not to focus so much upon. Ami’s vocal performance on this disc is harrowing, painful strangulations, gasps for breaths, a disturbing heavy breathing section, wrung out utterances and the like.  Toshi seems to have determined that he’d work more in accompaniment mode here and perhaps thinking of Cosmos, Ami’s duo with Sachiko M where Sachiko’s sinewaves are like a line drawn through Ami’s scattered pointillisms, his sounds form an uneasy background, one where he seems he is trying to allow space for what can be Ami’s very soft sounds. The nature of his instrument, its barely controlled feedback makes this a difficult task and in contrast with Ami’s strangulated sounds it has a straining effect, that falls back into little reprieves of jittering static. The combination of all these elements is as if something absolutely unknown and perhaps monstrous is being given birth. This is just the beginning as the piece develops Toshi’s wrestles his meandering static and juddering feedback into an uneasy background that Ami seems to try claw her way through. Perhaps considering how unsettling Cosmos can be at their most intense (2002’s Tears on the Erstwhile label for instance) Toshi’s contributions become increasingly fragmented, ripping the fabric of that background in increasingly dramatic bursts.  The way that one of these outbursts of feedback obliterate what can be a soft, or aggressive vocalization almost seems scored at times but never has that effect of following on, that “listening” in improv so often has.  I’m reminded of an example also involving Ami Yoshida, her 2006 collaboration with Christof Kurzmann (a s o, Erstwhile Records) where she does this odd little rising tone whose pattern Kurzmann immediately emulates with his software synthesizer. No single gesture has ever encapsulated the separation of old styles of improvisation and the new directions that are being explored.

Among EAI records in 2009 none I think captured its experimental basis as successfully as Soba to Bara and none challenged its listeners so directly. It was the most exciting album of the year, a year in which so much of the music had become incredibly predictable if of high quality. The cult of pure improvisation took some issue with it, but in the main minimized this aspect due to it’s incredible success. It is a testament to the musicians that they pushed themselves so far out in what was essentially a warm-up, a tool as a form of practice. Indeed when I saw them perform live in the fall of 2008 at the Amplify festival in Tokyo, it did not reach the heights of this album (which I hadn’t heard yet).  The direct situation allowed perhaps too much to be heard, or perhaps it was the demands of having to perform multiple times in a number of days, but for whatever reason it was a good solid performance but not the boundary stretching tour de force of this recording. It is also to the credit of Jon Abbey, who has publicly stated his dislike for projects of this nature, that he put this out. But the music is amazing and powerful and he certainly recognizes that transcends any such notions of construction and conceptualism.

Keith Rowe/Sachiko M Contact (Erstwhile Records)
When I said above that many of these releases deserve whole essays written about them I was thinking primarily of my unfinished essay that my Soba to Bara comments were taken from and this incredible, epic double album from Keith Rowe and Sachiko M. Keith and Sachiko have been involved in some of the most powerful, complicated and difficult music of the last decade and it is appropriate the decade end with their first recording as a duo. There is always something of the times in contemporary music and I think it is no coincidence that the aughts gave birth to what came to be known as EAI.
AMM had been applying experimental techniques to improvisation for decades, what was it about this decade that brought so many disparate elements together in quite this way? Alas exploring this is beyond the scope of this post, but I hope that someday someone takes up that challenge.

Oval, Track 2 on the first disc was from Keith and Sachiko’s initial meeting at the Amplify 2002 festival in Tokyo and thus is part of the documentation of those four shows. One of the best shows of the festival and one that surprised me at the tack that Keith and Sachiko chose, both working in a hyper-restrained pointillistic vein. Over the course of the two hours of this set, we get most of the rest of the possible combinations from these two, though Keith seems to have permanently moved on from the so called “drone” produced by his guitars pickups, electronics and amp.  The long first track sounds the most like one would expect, Sachiko using a single tone for the bulk of its duration. For the next couple she works with the twittery sine effect as well as the dirtier electronic sound of the switches on her devices. The final track has her utilizing her contact mics, a tool she has used in the past but has begun re-exploring (to mixed effect) in recent years. All of the music on this set is incredible, easily the greatest bit of collaborative improv done this year.  It is interesting to contrast this a little with Soba to Bara, which personally I found a bit more exciting, most likely due to having seen this duo live last year (plus the initial long track here, but more on that in a bit).  Toshi and Ami were less interesting in the live show then on that disc which as I alluded to above was perhaps due to the unavoidability of listening.  Keith on the other hand I think can focus directly on what he is doing while only paying attention to the room. This I think is a real skill that he has cultivated over the years and that arose from serious thought and decades of experience.  Sachiko in contrast is simply unyielding which in one with such a refined touch leads to a similar effect.

Oval and Rectangle (d1t2 and d2t1 respectively) are the two most amazing tracks on this disc and the real achievements here. What is particularly amazing about Oval as I mentioned above is that it was their first time meeting. The opening track, Square, is much more like what someone who was familiar with the two musicians would expect. It is great music, epic in scope and rich in detail and yet it starts out safe, as if the two are feeling each other out, which is strange on the face of it, as their first meeting was days before. Thus this track feels a bit regressive, included only for completeness sake. In a way I feel that this set captures the entire range of Sachiko M – all of the ways she uses her sinewaves lie within. Keith on the other hand works with merely a subset of his toolkit and in the main sticks with this subset for all four tracks. Sachiko’s incredible taste and touch are her real strengths and why her minimal toolkit suffices. At her best she works as a colorist in these pieces as if she and Keith are collaborating on a painting made up of dots in which each has a shared set of paints that she applies with a fine knife while Keith uses several little brushes. The space and silences, especially in Rectangle are far more effective then most of the heavy handed conceptual uses of late using that space to complete a whole. The final track where Sachiko uses contact mics and Keith responds in kind is a beautiful exploration of texture an excellent way to complete the album.

So much more needs to be said about this album, I have touched on so little of its depths here and probably in a most incoherent way. It’ll have to do though for now, like I said this album requires an essay and all the research that that entitles. It is a fitting close to the decade though, one of the most powerful statements of EAI to date and incredibly fitting at this point of time when things are ossifying.

Long Piano Christian Wolff Long Piano (Peace March 11) performed by Thomas Schultz (New World)

As I’ve intimated in the past I find it difficult to write convincingly about Christian Wolff’s music. There really is little more embarrassing then uniformed writing about classical music and rather then add too much to that unfortunate tradition I tend to demure. Wolff is difficult to write about because there is so much that has gone into the music, to make it what it is, that to ignore or gloss over that really does the music a disservice. Fortunately for you dear reader, New World has made the liner notes for this wonderful new disc available online so you can read John Tilbury’s insightful notes on Wolff’s music and this piece in specific. Along with that it contains a bit from Wolff himself explaining about the piece’s composition and Thomas Schultz writing about playing the piece.

“[Long Piano] seems to me like a kind of geological agglomeration. My hope is that it forms a possible landscape on one extended canvas. At first I just started writing and kept going. My tendency is to work in smaller patches. After the piece was finished I saw Jennifer Bartlett’s wonderfully engaging and cheerful work Rhapsody, first shown in 1976. It’s a 154-foot sequence of an arrangement of 988 one-foot-square silk-screened and painted enamel plates running around at least three walls of a gallery space. An extreme instance of what I’ve got in mind.” – Christian Wolff from the Liner notes

The prelude to the piece is the titular peace march which once again works in Wolffs deep commitment to humanity and social justice. TIlbury elegantly outlines this history in his essay in the liner notes and makes the essential point that Wolff, unlike his friend Cornelius Cardew, never gave up his commitment to the music in pursuit of these notions. Of course this works out better in some pieces then in others and in this piece, Wolff’s political statements are pretty oblique, fully at the service of the music it seems to me. Quoting again from the liner notes:

Long Piano begins unequivocally with a political “statement,” and yet in response to the question about the peace march from Long Piano, Wolff was equivocal. He simply replied, inscrutably, that “maybe it’s just to remind oneself. In my more recent work that content a number of times relates to a political mood, assertive, resistant, commemorative, celebrative, for instance. The connection may be fairly tenuous or subterranean; it is often discontinuous. “

It is a shame really that Wolff’s music is so unknown as much of it really is so appealing and not just to new music fans. Wolff worked a lot with interesting rhythmic devices, indeterminacy of composition and performance, empowering of the performer, but he never eschewed melody and his pieces are often quite charming as well as fully engaging on multiple levels. It is this dual aspect that again makes reviews that focus on the surface elements so useless as in many cases the magic lies beneath. And yet, Wolff always made those surface elements so compelling that the music can appeal to all really. As he wrote:

“But my notion is that music can function better socially if it is more clearly identified with what most people recognize as music, which is not a question of liking or disliking, but of social identity. By function better socially I mean help to focus social energies that are collective not individualistic, and that may therefore be revolutionary politically.”

The music herein may not appeal to many of those who read this site, but they are well worth a listen. The dissonance of some of the chords, the spaces between the sounds, the occasionally driving melodies, the odd rhythmic patterns all mixed together may seem inexplicable, maybe even a mess, but it all hangs together. The initial Peace March is perhaps the most incongruous, the “patches” that make up the primary piece contain all that I’ve ever loved in Wolff’s piano music and more, showing that his program is endlessly developing and always changing. At times beautiful in a way that evokes Feldman, yet owns nothing to him at other times beautiful in a way that brings Cage’s Number Pieces to mind and still at other times almost having that rigorously random sensation that Webern can inspire, while still others makes me think of Cecil Taylor! It evokes these, but never seems derivative of them always sounding to me like Wolff. Finally the performance of the piece by Thomas Schultz, who commissioned it is really quite a nice, a pianist I was previously unfamiliar with, but one I will keep my ears open for.

Finally Wolff’s music is a perfect example of the notion that I’ve long espoused that music based on ideas is richer because of it. Wolff puts this in the liner notes more succinctly then I ever have, so let me close this piece with another quote from him:

“Every piece, I think, has, in addition to the abstract arrangement of its sounds . . . what I would call a content, something that it suggests, which is not the same as its sounds, though such a content may deeply affect those sounds, how they are arranged and how they appear to us.” – Christian Wolff, quoted in the liner notes

Andrea Neumann Pappelallee 5 (Absinth)
It’s been a long time since Andrea Numann put out a solo release (Innenklavier in 2002, plus a self-released cd-r in 2007, Wohkrad, that I never heard) and really even her collaborations have never been that frequent.  Perhaps this has contributed somewhat to her mystique, there is none of that tendency for over documentation you sometimes see. Whatever the case may be, she remains my favorite of the Berlin improvisers and one whose new releases I am always anticipating. Of course there is a bit of a connection between Andrea’s music and my own; I play the wire strung harp, and the guts of a piano are referred to as the “harp” for good reason and are likewise strung with metal (though at far greater tension and with a lot more strings) not to mention the use of contact mics and the like. This was a bit of a shock for me the first time I saw her perform, at which point I immediately acquired what solo material I could find. As I listened more to her, I found a lot more differences then similarities and in the process she became a favorite. In addition her collaborative works, ATØN with Toshimaru Nakamura, In Case Of Fire Take The Stairs with Kaffe Matthew and Sachiko M and Lidingö with Burkhard Beins are among the strongest releases of the last decade.

This gem of an album was recording in this apartment building that she shares with a number of other musicians and the sounds of this environment permeate the album. It also features several artificial gaps between the various segments, which in themselves were not necessarily recorded in the order herein. This construction creates an image of a place, of a musician at work, of restless creativity and as a whole is a remarkable piece of music.  Listening on headphones you can hear some of the neighbors at play, practicing instruments or in day to day living. The silences allow the same categories of sounds from your own domicile to contribute likewise. An application of Cage’s work in silence that I find more sophisticated and successful then many, not only acknowledging such sounds as equal participants but working with them in a multitude of ways as the very fabric of the piece. The sounds that Neumann makes directly from her inside piano instrument aren’t too far from what those who have heard from her before would expect. But there does seem to be iteration in her overall sound, perhaps due to additional tools, or specific preparations but most of all from their collaboration with the space. Lots of sounds of strings: objects rubbed up against them, whirrs of rotating objects against them, brushes or steel wool interacting with string and pickup, objects vibrating against them, wonderful sounds, perfectly placed as always. A favorite section has a very distant conventionally played piano from one of her neighbors far in the background as Neumann works with these various techniques creating quite mechanical sounds in the foreground.

There was another album from Andrea this year ,a duo with Ivan Palacky playing amplified knitting machine (!) that was quite well reviewed in the couple I read. However I never saw it turn up for sale anywhere and thus never got a copy.  But great to see strong new statements from this most elusive of the Berlin musicians.

Various Relay: Archive 2007-2008 (The Manual)

“The first RELAY meeting was on 18 March 2005. We had two things in out mind; aesthetically speaking, we wanted a monthly improvisation concert more concentrated on making music (I still call it music) out of non-musical sound/noise, or even interaction with something extra-aural, the visual; regarding our artistic lives, RELAY’s main goal was to build a sustaining network among improvisers and experimental musicians domestic and abroad.” -Hong Chulki, from the liner notes

As I stated in the previous post of all of the various “scenes” in contemporary improv none seem as vital and bursting with creativity as the small group of musicians clustered around Seoul in South Korea.  This compilation documenting two years of this scene gives a compelling little glimpse into it for those of us far away. The RELAY series ran for four years and this double set documents the final years of the series when they had the funds from government grants to bring in a diverse array of guests musicians. RELAY seems to have been fully hooked into and facilitated by the internet and the documentation of the series can be found on the Manual site covering all of the events including listing the participants, scans of the flyer’s, pictures of various shows and mp3’s of a bunch of the sets.  My kind of series. This set documents the concert series warts and all: Mats Gustafsson not fitting in at all with Choi Joonyong and Jin Sangtae (I’d like to hear the story behind this rather unlikely collaboration), Taku Sugimoto’s self-indulgent composition performed by an all star tentet at Nabi, as well meetings that feel like long established working groups: Toshimaru Nakamura with Park Seungjun, Choi Joonyong/ dieb13/Joe Foster as well as local groupings such as Choi Joonyong/Joe Foster/Hong Chulki/Jin Sangtae/Ryu Hankil. Plus a delicious slice of English adding another piece to their small discography. Really all of the pieces are worth hearing barring the Mats track, though of course some work better then others.

2009 perhaps might have led to a slight over-documentation of aspects of the vital Seoul scene, all of the releases featuring Ryu Hankil rather spring to mind. Most of these have been good, but oversaturation can breed discontentment. This set came out in February 2009 and was like a breath of fresh air, something different from what we’d been hearing so far and infectious in its riot of energy and commitment to exploration. Being a compilation it would require a track by track writeup to really go into the music contained, so this will have to suffice.  I’ve kept up pretty well with the Seoul scene (though not exhaustively) and based on the recorded material (definitely not to be confused with being there) this is a fine overview, but even more importantly it contains some great music. Their idea of fostering a network of musicians appeals to me greatly as I think it does to all who live in an out of the way corner with only a small number of fellow travelers. This music is truly international and all of the vital regions have embraced that. Tokyo, London, Berlin and now Seoul, this aspect has kept things pushing ahead all the time. I look forward to hearing the further developments from Seoul and where ever else the music breeds.

Radu Malfatti/Klaus Filip imaoto (Erstwhile Records)
I’ve found Malfatti’s work over the last decade to be pretty mixed from fantastic early improvisations with Phil Durrant and Thomas Lehn, to astringent compositions that seem to lack, well a lot. It is with this album though that I made the realization that all of his compositions, his inflexibility and extremism have bascailly honed him into being able to make this kind of music.  Performing a composition that requires you to sit there doing nothing (while your collaborators – if any – may or may not do nothing as well) is perfect training to be able to do nothing in a live improvisation where seconds of inactivity can seem like minutes. It also forces one to really focus on the sounds used, a lesson that I myself learned in some pieces that I worked on that used some long spaces.  That really was my complaint on many of Malfatti’s compositions, the sounds seemed to be ignored and the structure wasn’t so interesting to sustain that.  Any ideas that may have been there were never elucidate clearly enough leaving it up to the listeners to draw their own. Those ideas definitely didn’t sustain the paucity of the structures or the disinterest in the sounds. But it seems that along the way Malfatti honed his sounds and in a studio context his dry hisses, simple taps and echoy exhalations have become rich and resonant.

I’ve never felt that Malfatti really works with silence in a Cagean fashion, that it’s not about ceding the music to the surroundings for him. Instead it always seemed more like an exercise perhaps related to the questions of memory somewhat poised by the quotations included on some of his albums, perhaps though simply as a parameter that can be pushed as some would push volume. This year I had a realization that if the silence in music is simply a space to allow other music to breathe then one can capture an aspect of this musically. To illustrate this consider Malfatti playing one of his spare compositions next to a babbling brook. His few sounds will come and go as the brook merrily babbles on the whole time. Now what if a recording of this brook was brought into the studio and allowed to play throughout the session? It is only one more step then to imagine a musician playing music in the manner of this babbling brook giving you a piece that captures the same essence of Malfatti playing with big “silences”.  This revelation turned around my thinking on a lot of things and I began working on a series of pieces exploring this notion (The Grey Sequence, so far unreleased).

When Imaoto was released in autumn 2009 it immediately struck me as an instance of this notion, intentional or not.  Klaus Filip’s sinewaves, always shifting and yet always present are just like that babbling brook.  Malfatti’s playing, as I mentioned in the first ‘graph, is meticulous here, etherial and perfectly honed.  The week I received this album I also bought Jonathan Lethem’s new novel Chronic Town and I incesently played this album each night for several hours as I’d read. I didn’t want to listen to anything else, the floating nature of this album somehow fit this book so well, creating the eternal fog that NYC lies under in the book or the haze of that other chronic that is burned so frequently within its pages. Pausing to contemplate what I’d read the music would always be there, rewarding close attention, with gentle tapping or an astringent hiss against the endlessly shifting tones.  It fills a space like that babbling brook does when you walk next to it in the woods, a snap of a twig or a rustle in the underbrush substituting for Malfatti’s ‘bone. I always listen to this softly and never on headphones, even when I’m not reading and it is like an open window.  This is easily Malfatti’s best album since dach and if it required all that unrewarding hard work to arrive at this, it was well worth it.

Kevin Parks/Joe Foster Prince Rupert Drops (homophoni)
There pretty much is just too damn much music out there and now that we have endless amounts of music freely available to download well there is just that much more. One of the most reliable curators of downloadable music is David Kirby’s homophoni label and this piece from Kevin Parks and Joe Foster was the highlight of his few releases this year (full disclosure, I’ve put out a piece on Kirby’s label, but don’t let that dissuade you from his otherwise impeccable taste). Kevin and Joe put out a disc a couple of years ago Ipsi Sibi Somnia Fingunt that while filled with many great moments had not ever quite done it for me, but this piece transcends all of the issues I had with that disc. This was another release from early in the year (Jan 31st) that I listened to countless times throughout the year and it constantly engaged me.

It begins with shifting tones that come in and fade out, a sample from Parks? Foster’s trumpet through some effects? Hard to say, but in a way it almost feels like the sax from Ground-Zero‘s Consume Red, though it comes and goes it only plays for a few repeats when does and at a totally different level of intensity. The rest of the sounds seem more like they come from Foster’s damaged pedals and Park’s computer. A rumble that gives one’s low end a good work-out persists for a while, crackles and little metallic bits add color here and there, squeeks and hiss that could be electronic, could be acoustic drift around.  The use of such disparate materials really works in this piece, keeping your attention and never feeling superfluous. Toward the end of the piece there is this haunting tone, heavily effected that comes in, as this hesitant series of taps on a drum gently contrasts with it. It is as if the consume red-ish bit has come back mutated into a different beast.  Things pick up a bit from here, bringing a feeling of finality to close out the piece, not in any sort of cliched way, but just right for all that has come before.

This is genuinely great music and shows that the download is not in any way a second class citizen. Kevin is back in Korea and at least occaisonally playing with Joe, let’s hope for many more fruitful collaborations between these ex-pats. Anyway give it a listen, it is freely available after all.

Radu Malfatti/Taku Unami Goat Vs Donkey (Taumaturgia)
This release finds Malfatti and Unami in high conceptual mode and while I’ve been known to express my contempt for that at times, in this instance it works (I tend to almost always go along if it works. It just doesn’t most of the time). There were actually two Radu Malfatti, Taku Unami releases this year (the other being Kushikushism on Slub) and fans were rather divided on the relative merits between the two. For me there was no contest, the noisey atmosphere of the venue was the unheralded third performer on this disc and the gauzy nature of this room recording really gave life to this space.  Malfatti brings his hisses and a nice rather rattly tone at times, as usual coming and going with long gaps. The sound of the room, Taku clapping, moving around it, evening playing some sounds occasionally pluse the audience and room noise, these all fill the gaps. Three Backgrounds, my favorite of Malfatti’s B-Boim releases, works in the same way, the sounds of the background filling in the spaces and making the whole affair decidedly more interesting then the sounds the musicians choose to use. I really like musicians improvising within a space, letting whatever sounds that are there add to the precedings, I always have. I recorded a series myself, Out of Doors, where I would deliberately play outside recording open air. Never quite worked out how I wanted but its the same impetus.  The flow in this piece works as well, shifting in densities, though always quite soft and finally ending in mostly empty space with just the tapping on Malfatti’s trombone and what sounds like the shifting of objects continuing for a while and then just stopping.

This recording has been on my list pretty much since it came out but re-listening to it as I write it up, perhaps I’d shift it lower down on the list. The much later released Imaoto covers much of this ground in a way (as I write above) and far more successfully.  Still this album stuck with me all year and received many a play. Well worth hearing and probably the most interesting of the Unami projects released this year.

So that’s it, 2009 in music. Well at least the music that I really liked. Yeah there was a bunch more things worth hearing this year, some of which just didn’t grab me quite enough, some of which I just have yet to hear and yeah there was a bunch of things I was highly anticipating that let me down.  So mentally place whatever you feel is missing on either of those lists and call it good. All of my rambling at the end of this year can be read by clicking here.  This also is it for this type of posts on this blog, or anywhere else from me. In the main I’ve enjoyed it, its been a lot of work but it makes me think more about the things I listen to and that is always a good thing. Thanks for reading along now and in the past. I’ve always done this for you and hope it has served at least some purpose. Happy New Year all and remember to keep looking up.

End of Year: Catching Up

Variations VII2009 of course wasn’t only about new releases, I spent plenty of time listening to music released earlier, sometimes much earlier. Of course I also caught up on some releases I missed from the previous year, several of which should have made my list that year.  Most egregiously missing was this amazing DVD of John Cage’s Variations VII from the 9 Evenings: Theatre & Enginnering program. This disc was released mid 2008 and I had been eagerly awaiting it’s release for weeks. I wrote an entry on this as well as the other 9 Evenings release to date Robert Rauschenberg’s Open Score in this post. As of this disc coming out, this seminal performance of this Cage piece had never been released and had remained unheard since the performance. The DVD contains a documentary made up of the color and black and white film that they shot (alas not the entire performance) as well as a audio only track of one of the two performances.  The music is raucous, filled with the noises of the city from numerous open phones, plus tables filled with Tudor and Cage’s electronics as well as contact mic’d everyday objects (such as blenders) triggered by movement, optical sensors and the like.  For around eighty minutes layers of sound, cacophonous at times, haunting at others fully occupies the soundworld. It is one of those rare historical moments that is not just significant but is excellent music. The video is fascinating, a chance to see the tables of equipment and Cage and Tudor working them along with other assistants and musicians.  The tangles of wires, the Bell Labs engineers striving to keep the lines open and the experimental electronics working and way behind the lights a packed house to see this radical music. The series will eventually contain all of the pieces that were performed at the seminal 9 Evenings with David Tudor’s Bandoneon ! up next. This one of very few unavailable Tudor compositions (and an early important one), were I to do a list next year, would be sure to feature on it, if not top it.

Music for PianoI’d been aware of the Neos label for awhile, but it wasn’t until the first part of 2009 that I actually picked up a couple of their releases that had been on my “to buy” list for a long time. These were two albums of works by American experimental composers with Munich based Sabine Liebner playing piano. I’d heard a few pieces previously by Liebner and have been long impressed with her touch at the piano. Her recording of John Cage’s Music for Piano 1-84 is easily the album I listened to the most this year. I am of course quite familiar with numerous of these pieces from David Tudor’s excellent recordings (beautifully collected on the essential Edition RZ release David Tudor: Music for Piano) but there doesn’t seem to be a complete recording of the entire set of Music for Piano by Tudor. Additionally Liebner performs these pieces in a dramatically different way then Tudor: many of these pieces allow for the tempo and dynamics to be left to the performer and Liebner choses a soft, spacious, almost Feldman like approach. The notes were worked out with systems utilizing the imperfections in paper and there are various other instructions (especially in the later pieces) that allow for longer silences, overlapping pieces and use of extended techniques and preparations. This makes this album for me one of those perfect ones to listen to in various contexts: intently on my primary stereo, as background while reading or, and this most often, put on as I’d go to sleep. It rewards close attention with its pauses, variety of sounds, controlled randomness and presence, but also can meld with the background allowing one to engage in other tasks or drift off to sleep.  One of the things that makes Cage’s compositions so wonderful is that they provide and endless amount of variety inside an always recognizably Cagean framework. This recording of these pieces complements the Tudor’s versions perfectly and aptly demonstrates the veracity of this statement.

Piano PiecesThe second of the Sabine Liebner Neos albums I acquired was Christian Wolff Piano Pieces which was originally released May of 2008.  I have long loved Wolff’s music, especially his piano pieces, but I’d heard few recordings of these beyond a few early pieces recorded by Tudor (again see the Edition RZ David Tudor: Music for Piano), the fantastic John Tilbury recording, Christian Wolff Early piano music 1951-1961 on Matchless and a Mode recording of the Tilbury Pieces. Wolff’s music does not lend itself to glib assessments and I’ve often resisted writing much about it for this very reason. The pieces on this disc are a series of pieces that Wolff had dedicated to John Tilbury and are appropriately enough titled Tilbury 1-III along with Snowdrop and 15 very short pieces under the heading Keyboard Miscellany. Now I was familiar with Tilbury I-III and Snowdrop from the very fine Mode recording of the Tilbury Pieces (complete) (which contains two additional Tilbury pieces, Tilbury IV and V that aren’t solo piano and thus not on this recording) and again this performance is a beautiful compliment to that recording. The Tilbury Pieces and Snowdrop are composed using chance techniques but there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) indeterminacy of performance beyond that found in performance of all composed music: differences from the instruments, the room, the recording techniques and of course the performer. These are wonderful pieces that seem to capture Tilbury’s unrivaled patience and touch at the piano, distilled into gentle yet powerful music.  The Keyboard Miscellany are quite interesting with greater diversity of dynamics, tempos and sounds then the Tilbury Pieces. They seem to be little sketches, ideas that Wolff was playing with that  he felt were interesting enough to jot down, if not expand into an entire piece.  But buried amongst the miscellany is the sublime Variations on Morton Feldman’s Piano Piece 1952 a ten minute piece that takes Feldman’s composition to place that only Wolff would have. A wonderful little congruence of these two composers and friends of the New York School.

There were of course many more albums I caught up on in 2009 but these three, considering how much plays they got and how much I love them I felt deserved to be highlighted. If they slipped beneath your radar as well, consider it well worth rectifying.