Last week’s performance by Glenn Branca and his ensemble which closed the Bang On A Can Marathon was a spectacular musical event that has been continuing to resonate with me for the past week. Titled Ascension 3, the work performed was an American premiere played by 5 guitarists and a drummer, conducted by the composer. There were five movements, each distinctly different harmonically and rhythmically. “German Expressionism” was atonal and rather delicate for Branca, with a pointillistic counterpoint that developed gradually. “The Smoke” featured a virtuoso solo part played by Arad Evans, who also performed in my group in the early 1990’s and appears on my 1992 Torchtower CD. “Cold Thing” was comprised of ascending melodic lines played in tremolo style, a very characteristic sound in both Branca and Rhys Chatham’s music. In the closing “Twisting in Space” Branca elicited massive swelling crescendos from the ensemble that literally felt like they were shaking the foundations of the building. Throughout the piece drummer Owen Weaver played pounding, visceral 4/4 beats with creative fills and variations. Branca’s conducting style used to be more animated and reminiscent of punk rock dancing; in this performance he staggered at first, seemingly about to fall off of the stage, but then settled down to a vocabulary that ranged from punching and stabbing the air to more expressive gestures. Branca reinvents the role of the conductor from that of a formalist monarch ruling the orchestra like a stately king to a wild, shamanistic leader of a Dionysian ritual who incites the participants to intense ecstatic states.
It’s been a few years since I’ve heard Branca’s ensemble live, I believe the last time was at the Brooklyn Anchorage in 2000. That show was also an amazing musical event that I never forgot. In a world flooded with musical content and ideas that makes it very difficult for anything to distinguish itself, Branca’s music reaches out and grabs you physically, and then proceeds to make connections with wide ranging musical ideas. The oversized romanticism of Berlioz and Wagner is in effect here along with a contemporary atonal harmonic vocabulary and a strong dose of La Monte Young-style minimalism. However, the viscerality of this music is what makes it feel so absolutely contemporary. It was in stark contrast to the other works I heard at the BOAC Marathon in that regard.
I have known Glenn Branca for over 20 years, his studio used to be a half a block away from my SoHo loft and we occasionally talked on the street or at the bar of The Cooler back in the 1990’s. I presented his ensemble for 5 nights at The Kitchen in 1994 when I was Music Curator there. When I first arrived in New York in the early 1980’s I met Rhys Chatham through my mentor Jon Hassell and began playing in his guitar and brass ensembles. I was aware of Branca’s work as well, but didn’t get a chance to hear it until a few years later. Chatham and Branca were both exploring the intersection of punk rock energy with contemporary classical ideas at that time, and I followed a similar path in my own work using a slightly different set of materials. It seemed to me inevitable that this would be the future of what we knew as contemporary classical music, “downtown” music, or “new music”. However, it seems as though the breakdown of high and low musical forms did not take place as quickly as I might have thought it would 30 years ago. It turns out the old divisions of genre and style die hard, particularly in institutions with long histories invested in traditional modes of expression and presentation.
I remember thinking when I heard Branca’s group in the Anchorage 15 years ago that if this could be called classical music, it was the only thing I’d heard in years that made that term come alive and be meaningful. That sentiment hit me again last week, and it added to the impact of Branca’s performance. The merging of the viscerality of popular music with more intellectually focused art musical ideas can be found in plenty of popular culture genres and venues, but in classical music it is still something that is not widely accepted. If classical music is to have any kind of meaningful future I think it needs to start with Glenn Branca. Bravo to Bang On A Can for programming him, but understandably as the closing act of the day long marathon concert. He’s a tough act to follow…
Posthorn is a live performance piece that I developed for the mutantrumpet/interactive computer system in the 2000s. The work is titled after and based on the “Posthorn solo”, a section of the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, originally composed in 1898. The Posthorn solo in the symphony is a pastorale trumpet call meant to sound from afar, played from offstage. The melody from the Mahler piece is used as an outline, but is varied greatly through timbral variations and live sampling. The time scales of the original theme are extended in both directions using ratiometric overtone structures which are implemented in real time through digital software. The dialogue between the acoustic instrument and interactive system guides the work into unforeseen areas each time it is performed. The recording is a live performance with no editing, done in one take.
This structure resembles the process that is used in my new work MANITOGA; a mobile structure based on the relationships of overtones along with the theme of brass in nature. MANITOGA will explore the techniques developed in Posthorn with an ensemble of brass players, something I have been interested in pursuing for many years.
The world premiere of “The Demo” will be part of Stanford Live’s 2014-15 season. (Photo: Valerie Oliveiro)
Stanford Live announces 2014-15 season
The upcoming Stanford Live season promises an eclectic lineup of more than 60 events. The offerings include the world premiere of “The Demo,” commissions for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, a campus-wide examination of Haydn and a global exploration of water.
BY ROBERT CABLE
Stanford Live will broaden its performing arts offerings next season with a diverse array of music, dance and multimedia events The centerpiece of the 2014-15 lineup, announced Tuesday, April 22, will be a collaborative Arts and Ideas series around three key projects: the world premiere of The Demo, a visually immersive music-theater work based on Douglas Engelbart’s historic 1968 demonstration of early computer technology; The Nile Project, which explores water and sustainability; and Haydn – Patronage & Enlightenment, about culture and the arts in the late 18thcentury. Running from Sept. 21 to June 6, most performances will take place in Bing Concert Hall, with some in Memorial Auditorium and Memorial Church.
“Stanford Live’s 2014-15 season, our third in the glorious Bing Concert Hall, embraces multiple visions and celebrates imagination and daring,” said Stanford Live’s Executive Director Wiley Hausam. “We will be launching a live performance and learning program that is eclectic, enriched and evolved, and with over 60 main stage events, it is noticeably expanded as well.”
Hausam noted that while classical music remains the core of the program – with such familiar artists as Chanticleer, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Emerson String Quartet – Stanford Live is committed to presenting the full range of music with an increased emphasis on contemporary programming.
“You will find global music with rising stars DakhaBrakha, jazz legends such as Dianne Reeves, performances of the American songbook, spoken word, puppetry, more dance and programs for families,” Hausam said.
Other highlights include a trio of commissions from composer John Adams and Stanford faculty members Jonathan Berger and Jarek Kapuscinski to celebrate the St. Lawrence String Quartet’s 25thanniversary; a season-opening concert by Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer; solo appearances by piano virtuoso Lang Lang, singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham; dance programs by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company and Compagnie Käfig; performances by the San Francisco Symphony, early music legend Jordi Savall, Brad Mehldau’s jazz trio; Dan Zane and Friends; and the puppetry theater group Blind Summit.
Hausam also noted Stanford Live will offer a new series of talks, panels and seminars to more fully explore key themes: “We believe Stanford’s unique intellectual life and the ideas embedded in the art can weave an even richer, unifying tapestry for the season. To that end we’ve conceived our new Arts and Ideas program.”
The series begins with Haydn – Patronage & Enlightenment, which will include three concerts Feb. 13-15, 2015, that offer a broad selection of Haydn’s music performed by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Stanford Chamber Strings, the Stanford Philharmonia Orchestra and Chamber Chorale. The series, a collaboration of Stanford Live, Music at Stanford and the Stanford Arts Institute, will include, classes, symposia and exhibitions. The Stanford Humanities Center will organize a program on patronage in the modern era.
In The Nile Project, scheduled for Feb. 18, musicians representing Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia will bring musically diverse styles to Bing for a global conversation about water, conflicting interests, collaboration and sustainability. A pan-African percussion section will play ancient and modern instruments, joined by the voice of Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero.
The world premiere of The Demo, scheduled for April 1 and 2, 2015, reflects on a pivotal moment in Silicon Valley’s history. Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 demonstration of the fundamental features of personal computing in San Francisco was a watershed moment in the world of technology. The music-theater work, created by composer Mikel Rouse, performer Ben Neill and director Bob McGrath, reimagines his demonstration as a technologically infused music and media event that will showcase Bing Concert Hall’s capacity for immersive video. Hausam added, “What could be more Stanford or more Silicon Valley?”
Subscriptions for the 2014-15 season will go on sale to renewing subscribers beginning June 1, following a pre-sale period for Stanford Live donors and Bing Members. Stanford faculty, staff and students will have the opportunity to purchase new subscriptions on June 11. Subscriptions will go on sale to the general public on June 23. All subscriptions are “choose your own” and are available as a full (six or more performances) or a mini package (three to five performances). Visitlive.stanford.edu for more information.
Robert Cable is the communications manager for Stanford Live.
This week the website of my company Green Beet Productions was relaunched. We recently produced the music for two new Cadillac TV spots that are currently running on national television. Green Beet was founded in 2000 around the time I began creating music and other content for Volkswagen through Lance Jensen and Arnold Worldwide. Green Beet has remained active as a multi-faceted creative enterprise. Over the years Green Beet has produced music for many leading brands including Volkswagen, Hummer, Philips, Citizens Bank, and Travel Channel. The creative team of Green Beet is a talented group of composers and producers in New York City and the Hudson Valley region. All of the writers have careers as independent artists in a variety of musical genres in addition to their work as designers.
At Green Beet the philosophy is that innovative original music can work with branding and advertising to create unique emotional experiences. In 2002 my Automotive CD broke new ground by being the first full length album of music originally produced for a series of Volkswagen TV and internet commercials. The recording demonstrated a new model of partnership between an artist, brand, ad agency and record label and was awarded the American Association of Independent Music Best Electronica album in 2003. According to Timothy Taylor in his book The Sounds of Capitalism, since the Automotive project the relationship between popular music and brands has become ever closer. Green Beet Productions is dedicated to developing new ways that music and branding can work together and enhance each other through creative partnerships.more
One of the most satisfying feelings for any artist is having their work contextualized with other creators that they respect. I am very excited to see my 2009 album Night Science included in this list along with many of my favorite artists of the past decade.
David Rothenberg’s recent book Bug Music is a compelling mix of scientific rigor, musical analysis and philosophical inquiry written in an accessible, personal style. One in a series of Rothenberg’s books devoted to investigating the relationship between nature and music, Bug Music is the most compelling of the group for me. While his explorations of bird song and whale song both were fascinating, the sounds and rhythms of insects have had a strong impact on me from early childhood and therefore this book resonates more strongly with my experience. Sounds like these recordings of Tibicen winnemanna cicadas (not the 17 year ones) intrigued me for as long as I can remember while growing up in North Carolina. In particular the rhythmic organization of insect choruses has inspired me in my work with interactive computer music composition and performance. The phenomenon of repetition of regular rhythmic patterns in loose rhythmic canon or counterpoint is thoroughly analyzed by Rothenberg through a wealth of research that he presents, stretching back for hundreds of years. It turns out that insects listen to each other and try to match each other’s rhythmic patterns, creating the wonderfully unpredictable polyphony that we hear in crickets, cicadas and katydids and see in fireflies.
Rothenberg then goes on to make strong connections with musical structures in African drumming, emergent musical orders where complex structure emerges from layers of repetition, and electronic dance music. The book also includes many examples of poetry from disparate cultures that describes the phenomena of cicadas and other insect singers. The 17 year cicada’s periodic reappearance is investigated in great detail and Rothenberg’s musings on its mysterious emergence from darkness to sing and have sex are amazingly insightful. I am extremely happy to be performing with David in my current musical project.
Horizonal is a new set by composer/performer Ben Neill for his self-designed mutantrumpet with live interactive digital music and video. The imagery is taken from paintings by Los Angeles based artist Andy Moses, whose work is a futuristic hybrid of abstraction and landscape that suggests the theme of a horizon through the use of smooth horizontal lines. Moses’ work is painted on concave and convex surfaces which evoke a sense of movement in time and space, recalling the vistas of Pacific Ocean sunrises and sunsets; these qualities of his paintings inform the repurposed images that make up the dynamic visual component of Horizonal.
In Horizonal, the sounds and controllers of Neill’s hybrid electro-acoustic instrument animate the still images, creating a synthesis of audio and visual media that is made possible through multiple software applications. Over the course of the work the sound impacts the visual elements in gradually more radical ways. The music in the piece relies primarily on the live sampling of Neill’s instrument; the tones, timbres and modulations are all mapped across the audio and visual parameters. Minimal electronic beats and sub bass lines are introduced periodically to support Neill’s sonic and visual explorations. The work has an overall shape but the details of each performance are improvised, and therefore unique.
Both Moses and Neill use high-tech materials and techniques in their works to mimic patterns in nature. This approach is reflected in the fluid, open-ended character of Horizonal, which is created to be an immersive ambient experience. Neill has been making interactive music and video works for the past 15 years and in this piece chose to work with still images in order to challenge the idea of cinematic sound which functions as an accompaniment to the moving image. Horizonal can be described as an example of Visual Music that utilizes Audio-Visual Objects. These techniques along with the use of video as a light source give the work its futuristic yet natural quality.more