Apr. 5th, 2007 01:05 pm
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
Since I began writing for voices (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wavyarms), I've found that I very much prefer to set unconventional texts. The idea of setting poetry has little appeal to me[1]; when left to my own devices, I've chosen:

- silly cat haiku
- spam
- a molotov cocktail recipe
- a list of names

For my current project for chorus, string quartet, and electric guitar (due in December, to be premiered in March!), I'll be setting an amalgam of excerpts from:

- Executive Order 9066
- Relocation instructions
- A Supreme Court decision
- A loyalty questionnaire
- Postcards and letters from interned Americans[2]

And it recently dawned on me that in part, I choose the texts I do because I'm not interested in expressing myself directly, but in expressing myself by expressing others[3]. This was made more clear to me during the Abbie Hoffman Estate incident. I feel now (though I'm not sure I consciously realized it then) that, as a composer, it's more powerful to speak through somebody else's words than your own, and having to use (however disguised) my own voice diminished the impact of Cocktail[4].

But setting somebody else's poetry is speaking through them, right? Somehow, I feel it isn't, and I can't exactly put my finger on why. I think it might be because when setting poetry, to a large extent I'm speaking as the poet, taking the poet's voice as my own (or vice versa), and so I'm basically still expressing myself.

Another issue might be that poetry is intended as art, art that I'm subsuming and substituting with another media, whereas the texts I find compelling to set are not intended as art, and so there isn't a weird sense of refraction and imposition in using somebody else's creations.

(1) Though I once had ideas for a couple of song cycles on E. E. Cummings and Jane Kenyon, but nothing ever really came of them.

(2) Though I actively try not to follow any role models in terms of musical material, development, and technique, I do follow Steve Reich's lead in terms of what kinds of texts to set.

(3) One of the pieces I'm proudest of is a setting of a love poem by E. E. Cummings; and I think I was able to do it because it was written to express [livejournal.com profile] dietrich and [livejournal.com profile] imlad.

(4) Certainly for me, anyway, since nobody got to hear the original version except the performers.
This past Saturday, Singing City gave the premiere of my piece love is the every only god. Because the piece was originally written for a group of eight singers, I was somewhat concerned about how a chorus of 100+ members would do with it -- like most of my music, it's very rhythmically tricky, and (obviously) the more members in an ensemble the less agile it is -- but they performed it beautifully (though not perfectly). Jeffrey Brillhart, their conductor, had an excellent feel for the piece -- which is not to say I didn't have suggestions to offer during the dress rehearsal -- and I was particularly pleased with his choice of singers for the small solos, as he picked young singers with clear, light voices, rather than people whose voices were more...uh...buttery.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] lauramd and [livejournal.com profile] cybersattva to hosting me and [livejournal.com profile] sigerson, and to [livejournal.com profile] tenwaxmen, [livejournal.com profile] ltlbird, [livejournal.com profile] haak0n, [livejournal.com profile] nadyezhda, and [livejournal.com profile] 2h2o for making the trip from various locales. After the concert, we hung out at Pod for drinks and a very late dinner. I'm not usually one to enjoy hanging out at bars, but I really liked the Tron-like ambiance -- though my opinion may have been altered by the fact that I offered to drink, without question or hesitation, whatever spirits people were willing to buy for me.

Dinner itself happened in a "pod", a partially-enclosed booth, and every course was delicious -- in particular the fried pork tenderloins, perhaps the best pure pork dish I've had. And I also came to the realization that liquid caramel, correctly applied, puts me into a whole new state of mind.

If you navigate Pod's page deftly enough, you can actually see a picture of one such pod, and might note the large colored buttons on the wall, which we discovered changed the lighting in the booth dramatically. Unfortunately for all (including himself), [livejournal.com profile] tenwaxmen was in optimal position to manipulate said buttons.

All told, an excellent weekend.
sen_no_ongaku: (Rant)
This past Saturday, we drove down to NYC to see Steve Reich and Beryl Korot's video opera The Cave with [livejournal.com profile] tenwaxmen.

About The Cave... )
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)
I don't know what it's like for other people to listen to music -- and any description of a personal experience of a sensation is fundamentally inadequate and incorrect -- but when I'm carried away by a piece of music, it's as if the music and I become the same thing. As if the music is expressing a part of who I am -- and as if a part of who I am becomes the music.

This may not have any meaning to you.
sen_no_ongaku: (mike)
...is pretty fucking amazing. Most of the songs he played were from He Poos Clouds, along with a couple of the best tracks from ...Has a Good Home. Although his recordings are generally very lushly and intricately arranged, his live set is solo. Pallett takes the stage with a violin with a contact pickup, a small keyboard, and a pedal board that controls an array of loops that he records live; that is to say, he "opens" a loop, plays something which is recorded by his equipment, and then "activates" the loop -- and can add to it later if he so chooses. cut it off at will, fade it out, etc. He plays the living shit out of his violin; in addition to normal playing techniques, he smacks his violin, shouts into it, hits the strings with the wood of his bow, scrapes the strings with his fingers...everything short of smashing it against the floor or setting it on fire.

There were about 50-60 people in the room who all seemed mesmerized, even reverent -- something I've only seen at my first Tori Amos concert (which had many more people, of course). The acoustics weren't great, so the density of his loops sometimes made the sound muddy and his singing hard to hear, but it was an incredible experience anyhow, and I loved hearing his music in a new arrangement. And, oddly yet entertaingly, he closed with a heartfelt cover of what I later learned is Mariah Carey's "Fantasy", managing to make it sound shockingly like a cheesy R&B song with his limited resources.

There are some live performances on YouTube, though the sound is crappy and poorly synced.

I was lucky enough to find out at around 8pm that he was playing in Somerville at 9:30pm (which, with two opening acts, really turned out to be 11:30pm). If I had known about it beforehand, I would have tried to get as many folks to go as I could. Ah, well.
sen_no_ongaku: (mike)
Two days ago, Final Fantasy's album He Poos Clouds arrived, which I mentioned previously.

For two days, I've literally listened to nothing but.

When I was at NEC, there were a couple of composers who failed to do the pop-music-with-classical-instruments-thing. Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett) is the man they wish they were.

The album is scored for string quartet, percussion, trombone, and accordion, in various combinations on each track, with Pallett on lead vocals and keyboards. It's like no pop I've heard before -- though the term 'chamber pop', which I recently encountered, seems pretty accurate. FF (I have to admit hating to refer to him has Final Fantasy) has an exquisite sense of line and counterpoint...and...Dude. Can. Orchestrate.

While the premise of the CD -- an eight-song cycle based on the schools of magic in D&D -- sounds (potentially off-puttingly) self-consciously silly, the execution is much more elegant and creative; I think the cycle is about people who are trapped in roles they no longer want to play.

He doesn't always manage to avoid the pitfalls of what he's trying to do -- it's occasionally pretentious, sometimes more interesting than good, or wanders into '70s-TV-Theme-Song-Land or Show-Tunes-Land. But there are some beautiful songs on it; my favorites are "The Arctic Circle" (based, I think, on Illusion) and "This Lamb Sells Condos" (Conjuration is my guess). And "Song Song Song" features ingenious use of his string quartet as a percussion ensemble (using col legno battuto -- smacking the strings with the wooden part of the bow[!]) and some other badass string effects. Advanced Techniques in pop music are cool.

Again, it's not perfect. But it's pretty damn good, and I don't think there's anybody else doing what he's doing. Or, at least, the people I remember from school who were trying to do what he's doing should probably just give up.


Jun. 3rd, 2006 11:42 pm
sen_no_ongaku: (calabiyau)
Be warned; this may have no meaning to you at all.

Keith Fullerton Whitman's piece opened with electronic percussion -- think the beeps and boops in Kraftwerk's Pocket Calculator, or the computer solo in Four Tet's As Serious as Your Life. Underneath, a low drone started to build, the room's ambient noise amplified and looped back on itself. The percussion and drone were slowly replaced by high, clear, shimmering tones, loosely modal. Listening to them was like being made of water that was suddenly ripped through with electrified noise, or maybe like giant pillars of fire rising out of the sea. The electric noises eventually coalesced into a field of pitch that felt like a lazy, hot summer day, complete with insectile sounds, some of which crystallized into notes. The heat began to grow more oppressive, the insects more aggressive, and what sounded like...audible holes...began to take over, eventually fragmenting into quantum foam, which became more and more chaotic until I felt very small indeed. The foam receded suddenly (perhaps the most striking moment), and was gradually overtaken by white noise, growing and growing until it cut off, ending the piece.

I was sad when it went away.

Unfortunately, Oren Ambarchi's piece was less good. First I was bored by guitar drones, then trapped inside a dentist's drill, then a jackhammer. It was ugly as hell, and painful to boot. The only interesting part was the end, as he started turning off his equipment, and the pops and clicks it was producing were picked up by his boxes and mixers and processed back out through the speakers.

I guess one out of two ain't bad when you attend a concert with no idea of what to expect.
sen_no_ongaku: (valar morghulis)

Transmigration was premiered by [livejournal.com profile] thomascantor on Monday night.

The good:

    Transmigration is probably the most beautiful thing I've written, though Kae comes close.

    I recieved some of the better compliments one composer can give another; one friend said that she was a little jealous, another simply said, "You bastard. I hate you."

    [livejournal.com profile] thomascantor's teacher wants to play it at Cornell in Februrary. I'm not going to stop him.

    Someone who was in the audience wants to play a recording of it for a class of 400 at Northeastern. Apparently, she likes to start every class session by playing music about death.

The (mildly) bad:

    [livejournal.com profile] wavyarms and [livejournal.com profile] ethicsgradient, while they enjoyed it, confirmed some minor doubts I had about the piece. The middle section has been cut by about 30 seconds.

    No recording can truly do it justice.

Random musings:

    Of my oeuvre, Transmigration comes closest to elegy for john cage. It has many debts to pay, most notably to Pauline Oliveros, Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, reuber's ruhig blut b, and the ambient electronica of Brian Eno and greg davis.



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