Thursday, November 30, 2006

Consistency is Difficulting

I have a real grinder of a weekend/week/following weekend coming up, hence the not posting so much. Sorry about that.

Jeremy Denk finally admits it.

Will It Blend finally achieves its destiny.

I got nothing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Most Annoying Tournament: Round 2

Finally, an idea whose time has come. The bracket as it stands now.

Both battels surprised me, I expected the hamsters to dispatch Ms. Ray. Furthermore, "Magic Mountain" was one of the songs that inspired this whole mess and it just eeked victory over Steve Reich. One vote, seriously. Let's see if you keep surprising me.

James Tenney - For Ann (rising) v. John Cage - As Slow as Possible (hour one) (hour six) (hour nine)

There is nothing that I can tell you about For Ann (rising) that you won't know after hearing it. Perhaps you'll be interested in the Shepard tone. Cage's ASLSP is notorious for the performance current being undertaken in Germany with an estimated duration of 639 years, but these recordings are from the considerably more succinct nine-hour performance at ArtsAHA! this year. Them Omaha kids are hip.

That kid in the guitar store playing Stairway v. A Muzak rendition of your favorite song

This is perhaps the most esoteric matchup of the tournament. True, some songs are calculated for the intangibility of the hook. Some are engineered to invoke an investigation of some emotion. But do you, or even I, know how really bad that guy who hangs out in the amp room for hours on end will be just by seeing the glint in his eyes upon seeing the 12-string guitar. Or what destruction a smooth man dreaming of elevator can do upon your favorite song? I'll eventually update this with my own rendition of Zeppelin's masterpiece, but in the meantime you can just go to your nearest music store.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

BoCo New Music Festival 2006: Finale

I suppose it wasn't such a bad idea to let the all the concerts congeal a little bit before wrapping everything up. My initial underlying bitterness of a new music festival celebrating a composer who died 60 years ago as mellowed some. A festival celebrating a currently active composer, say Michael Gordon or even the birthday boy, wouldn't have as much interpretative freedom with the theme. With the space of time that Webern provided, his influence can be examined as much as his own work.

However, I still wish the the concentration had been on more contemporary music. I was also chagrined to find that the most enjoyable concert of the series was the faculty/student presented panorama of the Second Viennese School. This makes its own sense too. One of the necessary evils with a bleeding edge ensemble like the Argento Ensemble is that the chances are exceedingly slim of packing a whole program of home runs. By definition new music is new, it hasn't had the time necessary to see if it'll stick to the wall. The age old argument of enjoyable and important, perhaps another time.

I'm looking forward to the next one anyway, and I was able to bother a lot of composers about trying their hand at writing some guitar music. (Tossing off some Andrew York at an afterparty didn't hurt either.) Some complicated situations of faculty speaking to other grad students and myself as peers. Except clearly we aren't, they've got a good 30 years head start on this stuff. I don't want to leave parties feeling like I should go study. It's good in its own fantastical way.

Friday, November 24, 2006

BoCo New Music Festival 2006: Day 4

Sorry about the delay, you all knew it was going too well and that I was going to fall off the wagon eventually. Anyway the final night of the new music festival featured conductor Eric Hewitt and his White Rabbit ensemble. Just like the festival openers the Argento Ensemble, these are guys who are actually out there doing it. Nonetheless, after three days of serialesque I had come into this final concert with some preconceptions especially upon receipt of the program notes. I basically spent the whole pre-concert about how I don't like Babbitt very much and how there's no decent electronic music before '95. It sounds pretty stupid now.

This program was presents as the intersection of Webern's technique and American optimism. (In a different way than Ludovico's Cage-n-Feldman fest.) Perhaps fittingly for the end of the festival, the two Webern works acted as relaxations when placed next to the more extended lines of the American works. The first hit was Babbitt's All Set, a serialist piece for the jazz ensemble. I had been trash talking the man, but this drove like nothing else. It didn't sound like the kit was doing any beats, per se, but a pulse was sort of carried by various instruments as a sum. I wonder what sort of jazz Eric Hewitt listens to, his program notes cite Chet Baker and Lee Konitz? I'd say Coleman instead, Zappa more likely.

Like the Berg on Friday, Stravinsky's Three Songs from Shakespeare were a romantic take on tone rows that wasn't that far removed from his own Rake's Progress. The performance was good, except the soprano on the third song clearly had absolutely no idea what she was speaking of. Come on guys, don't sluff off just because it's in English.

The festival as a whole closed with Charles Wuorinen's New York Notes. The piece dates from 1981/2 but at least the festival ended with an active composer. (His Theologoumenon will premiere this season at the BSO.) It's a blistering virtuosic work that features a tape part. This is where things get a little sticky. A lot of electronically generated music gets cheesy way fast, or way boring. Reich famously struck out of his attempts all total electronic music, not mention it obscured the last five years of Zappa's composing. Tone is an issue. The tone on the tape for New York Notes is often buried by the other six parts, and tones Wuorinen used cut through enough. The trouble came with a lengthy "tape cadenza" at the end of the first movement, it played well with others but was extensively irritating by itself. I was concerned that another one would finish the piece and festival. It did end with a tape generated note, but not the Synclavier voice used throughout the rest of the piece. A square wave generated by God himself. Awexome.

After the concert I realized a dig like the piece Philomel, which kind of shot my tape piece and Babbitt prejudices to shit. Festival wrapup tomorrow (yes, a week late I know), which will put me on schedule to start round 2 of the tournament a week late as well. Nice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

BoCo New Music Festival 2006: Day 3

Last night was the Ludovico Ensemble, TBC's student-run new music group, chance to expound on the lasting tendrils of Webern's influence. The theme of "Brevity, Quietness, The Aphoristic" seemed even a little more tenuous than the Argento Ensemble's proposal. (Also, aphoristic? Aphoristic music? Apparently this is also the New Words Festival.) This program was built around the tag team of John Cage and Morton Feldman, presumably linked by their fateful meeting after Webern's Symphony. Both of these guys are certainly known for their daring use of silence, even if Cage's boldest maneuver as such as been commandeered by stuffy establishmentarians into comedy.

The Feldman concentrated mainly on his middle period of surrendering to the performer the duration of the notes while strictly dictating the other three traits of the note. However, ever for the new music nutcase such as myself this makes for a very trying concert. Almost more so because the various ensembles knew what they were doing. Unlike minimalism that slowly but constantly unfolds before us, with these pieces all of our time was spent in anticipation. It's a stressful and unfamiliar place to be.

The Cage pieces selected were a little unusual, given the theme. His song The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs is certainly brief and a high point of the concert. Did he write other songs using a closed piano? It's a fantastic sound world. The first half closed with selections from his crowd-pleaser Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. I'm not sure where Webern showed up here, but it's a pretty sweet sound world too.

The night closed with a more recent work, See, Even Night by Marti Epstein. This followed Feldman's school of gentle quite and looked forward towards the more prodigious lengths of his later works. It was only half an hour, not a million billion years. The programming seems a little confused but as with the festival thus far everyone brought their A-game. With a concert as such it's a fine line between obnoxious intrigue and being boring as shit. Big ups to blogginist Matthew Guerrieri for connecting the wisps of Feldman's Three Pieces for Piano into a beautiful, if taxing, performance. Sorry about my phone going off, this is seriously the only concert where vibrate mode isn't good enough.

The festival finishes with Harvard's White Rabbit ensemble, their ringmaster Eric Hewitt also happens to run the Wind Ensemble around these parts. Then I will finally post the next round of the tournament and get some sleep.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

BoCo New Music Festival 2006: Day 2

Yesterday was a grab bag of TBC students and faculty performing a similarly mixed selection of works from the Second Viennese School (also Henze). My knowledge of this school is pretty weak, but way better now after these concert. I'm not sure how often all three of these d00ds (Schoenberg, Webern, Berg) are put on the same program, but it's fascinating to see how they treated the same academic model completely differently.

I hadn't received much in the way of twelve-tone analysis until my ear training teacher made an almost off-hand comment quickly running through the various angles that the composers set up their tone rows. The second half consisted entirely of Webern and Berg, and Berg's Four Songs, Op. 2 definitely felt like a Romantic treat in the middle of the Webern sandwich. There clearly wasn't a tonal center, but the sweet consonances produced by the tone permutations were more remiscent of Debussy than the angular shapes produced by Webern's rows.

Even more daring on the program was an early tonal piece by Berg and Webern each. Schoenberg's tonal period is well known, (Verklarte Night) but Webern's string quartet Langsamer Satz was entirely unexpected. I need to hear it again, but Webern's search for a pure musical language is evident even if he didn't know how to do it yet. Nonetheless it's a very lush and melodic work and the quartet chose to emphasize this. I found myself wondering what it would sound like if a group were to approach as they would the rest of the Webern canon. (Soho the Dog appears to be having a similar dilemma concerning a Feldman piece he'll be playing tonight.)

One uniting factor was a total commitment by all the musicians. Of particular note was the quartet that performed Webern's Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9. A thoughtfulness and emotion exuded from the work that one rarely associates with serialist music. They were goddamn serious, and we were richly rewarded. I don't want to fall into hipsterati bullshit. I'm still not very good at this.

I must say big ups to Jim Dalton (who is also the aforementioned ear training teacher) with Hans Werner Henze's Drei tentos for solo guitar. Them's are hard music, and he came up with some frightfully clever uses of harp harmonics to get some of the famously impossible parts playable (and playable well!). His performance as well as my constant nagging may lead to some student compositions for solo guitar rolling out. Sweet.

Tonight is the Ludovico Ensemble, a student-run new ensemble. If nagging works with composers, perhaps it will work for ensemble directors too. (Not as likely.) Also, I'm too busy/tired to change the tournament polls, so it'll happen on Sunday again.

Friday, November 17, 2006

BoCo New Music Festival 2006: Day 1

I'm going to try and blog every day of the new music festival here. It's probably not going to work out, but that's okay. That's going to mean two posts tomorrow, one for the festival and one for the tournament. (One day left until the bodies are swept away! Vote early, vote often.)

The festival kicked off with a blistering set of recent music from New York's Argento Ensemble. The subtitle of the program caused a bit of pre-concert commotion, (is there such a thing as neo-compressionism?) but nonetheless the ten (!) works that followed illustrated that Webern's crystalline musical world is still visited by more recent composers. The concert opened with two solos and a duet. Of these composer/conductor/pianist's Michel Galante's Flicker was the highlight, perhaps of the entire evening. The demands of virtuosity on the modern player were very evident, a barely audible but insistent sextuplet was demanded of clarinetist Carol McGonnell for the entirety of the piece. Piano chords punctured this layer of sound, with a sum effect that reminded me of Fantômas's Delirium Cordia. I just got an image of someone on a stretcher, the piano acting as their separated thoughts. As the clarinet ostinato becomes more present, the dire situation is harder to ignore. Take that however you'd like.

The first two movements of Fabien Levy's Risâla fî-i-hob wa fî-ilm al-handasa were performed with apparently the premiere of the total work coming this Saturday. (But you're staying around for the rest of the festival, right?) This work dispensed with the brevity that marked the program thus far, also involving most of the ensemble. Much like my experience with Flicker, the pointillism used seemed to affect time itself. A fun thing to note is that the second movement of Risâla fî-i-hob is it use of the bass flute. Not so much that its capabilities for overtones and loud key clicks over its rich notes, but the delight that the audience took in its appearance. As the ensemble came out for the piece, more than one cry of "BASS FLUTE!" could be heard over the applause.

After intermission came Fred Lerdahl's Imbrications, a quick neo-minaturist (I think that one better than neo-compressionist) celebratory piece. A good time. However it in no way prepared us for what came next. Mega-virtuoso Stephanie Griffin stepped out solo for Arthur Kampela's Bridges. The composer refers to it as an exploration of "the continuum between noise and pitch", and I can't think of any other way of describing it. In addition to a metric fuckton of extended technique and wacky glissandi, there was a hissing part. Or maybe it was supposed to sound like static. It was like a tape piece gone wrong, or right. It actually was more reminiscent of early Michael Gordon or other Bang on a Can-ites than Webern. Maybe Webern is in them too.

The final two pieces, Morton Feldman's Viola in My Life I and Philippe Hurel's ...à mesure were intriguing in that more traditional formal statements made an attempt at a comeback. Unlike most of Feldman's pieces of the same time, Viola in My Life is notated traditionally. Nonetheless it's stil very evocative, just barely skirting the idea of a concerto. Supposedly all four Viola in My Life pieces have nearly identical material for the solo viola part. It would be interesting to see them places against each other. Or not, if there's a reason people don't do that.

...à mesure is sonata form, no hiding that. The fast opening is very interesting and again recalls Bang on A Can. (This will be a tangent.) I am admittedly one of an elite group of people who celebrates Toto's "Africa", and when one of this legion held power temporarily she demanded that people listen to it backwards. Try it, it sounds almost the same! Except you get to the good part first. ...à mesure is described as the "negative image" of an earlier piece, so I was worried that the fervent opening merely would lead to sitting through a length denouement. The slow "development" that followed, instead demanded attention to every note as the theme was slowly deconstructed to an almost rediculous level of pontillism. Yes, to the point where each instrument had a single note.

It was a great concert full of working composers, (other than Feldman, who is getting trotted out a little more recently) and I got to get a couple beer with the violist and the composition studio afterwards. Sweet. My apologizes to the Argento Ensemble and everyone reading this since I know I missed some pieces, but it was huge program of shrapnel and I'm not very good at this yet. Three more days of avant-garde pretention are coming, very Webern heavy. Hopefully I'll see some of yous guys at Seully Hall at 8.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bad at Concentration

A thought I had, what if everyone dedicated themselves to their craft the way that musicians have to? Do accountants go home and study financial law, learn new software, that sort of shit? On the flipside, I support there aren't really rockstar accountants.

Sound Effects (the Globe's music blog) mentioned a couple days ago that everyone's favorite metal bodybuilder Glenn Danzig is on the Classical Crossover top 10 with Black Aria II. I need to check this album out I guess. Someday the Guard will own this chart, and feel really bad about it.

Boston Conservatory is having a super-sweet new music festival starting Thursday through Sunday. The festivities are everynight at 8 in Seully Hall. I, alas, won't be in the proceedings but Harvard's White Rabbit ensemble is in residence and Soho the Dog will be guesting with our own Ludovico Ensemble. (I need to figure out more about those guys.) Most of the music is stuff like Webern, Feldman, Cage n' stuff. So, you know, not real new.

As far as the annoying song tournament goes, remember that there are two each week. The second poll is probably below the fold for most everybody.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Battel Go Now!

Ladies and gentelpeople, here's your first round.

Steve Reich's "Four Organs" v. Lightning Bolt's "Magic Mountain"

"Four Organs" represents a pivotal moment in Reich's evolution as a composer. Taking the lessons he learned from his failed Phase Shifting Pulse Gate he moves always from phasing and explores the possibilities of a single chord (tonic over dominant). This chord is insistent for up to fifteen minutes! "Magic Mountain" off of Lightning Bolt's new album Hypermagic Mountain, is just as insistent but with an ever upward theme. In a way.

Any song off of Rachael Ray album v. The Hamster Dance

Rachael Ray continues to prove that she has yet to make it past middle school by insisting we listen to this really cool mixtape she's made, man. OMG, it's totally about Halloween too! Her adversary is a more aged threat, dating back to the very beginnings of the World Wide Web. Clearly this is what Tim Berners-Lee dreamt of. If you've ever been in a computer lab with children who know of this terror, you have stared directly into the gaping maw of hell.

Your votes should be tallied to the immediate right. (Before the ads! Generous are I!) Sorry about getting this out a day late, it'll still only run until next Saturday. I suppose I could write the next three as drafts and publish them when their time hath come. How's that for a thought. Predictions for the eventually winner would be fun too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sixteen Songs Enter, One Man Leaves?

We're not beyond Thugnderdome yet. But here are your combatants.

Academic Annoyance
Steve Reich - Four Organs
Lightning Bolt - Magic Mountain
James Tenney - For Ann (rising)
John Cage - As Slow As Possible

Classics of Irritation
Los Del Rio/Bayside Boys - Macarena
Children in your neighborhood - The Song That Doesn't End
Mark Dinning - Teen Angel
Pachelbel - Canon in D

The New Wave of Obnoxious
Gwen Stefani - Hollaback Girl
Dashboard Confessional - Screaming Infidelities
Ludacris - Number One Spot
Vengaboys - We Like to Party

Dear God, Why
Some jackass at the guitar store - Stairway To Heaven
Muzak treatment of your favorite song
Any song off of Rachael Ray mixtapes
The Internets - Hamster Dance

Once the actual battels (starting Saturday) happen there will be sound files so you can make an informed decision. Now I want to see some predictions!

Also, I'm very disappointed in you, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Best Get The Fear In You

Apocalypse comes, little undergrads. Next semester, HD's a TA.

What do you mean I have to get up for 9 am class everyday?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Good Deed Get!

Not musicky related, but still a good cause nonetheless. Penny Arcade has started up their fourth iteration of Child's Play with a whole slew of new hospitals for the givin' to. They hope to beat last year's number of a million billion. If you were saving up for a PS3, just buy a 360 or a Wii and give the difference to Child's Play. You know that Sony has no launch lineup.

Also, I believe Ms. Hilton (making a return appearance) has a word for you.
And yes, I know that she didn't actually register to vote two years ago. The midterm doesn't get the blitz that a big national race does. I'm speaking to you, 18 to 24 year old. And I've already voted (absentee) so I'm one step ahead of you. While I'll avoid politics, since it's bad dinner conversation and simply that the fact that I moved to Massachusetts says enough about my political leanings, you should go vote even if to try and cancel out mine. Make it a date, or whatever.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Begging Works

So my traffic has boosted since my sappy greeting card to you all. It might have also been that I changed my RSS feed to full text so that all the krrrazy Facebook peoples get the full blunt of my aggression. I guess I better turn on my compy box on the weekend.

The BMOP concert was more than a surprise, it was an gorram religion. I, alas, must admit that I was expecting a true of passionate part-timers, but found a strong ensemble. One might even bestow upon them the award of Other Best Orchestra in Boston. (Take that, Boston Philharmonic!) My seat in Jordan Hall was an unusual one, I was at the end of a row so that my forward view was parallel to the edge of the stage. I had to tuck my feet in to keep from getting hit by the lights, but I was able to follow along with the first violin part.

My curiosity was rewarded with a concert of music that sounds fresh without sounding soundtracky. (Take that, David Maslanka!) Two works by BMOP's new composer-in-residence Lisa Bielawa were performed, I plan on doing a more in-depth write-up about her works. Neat stuff, if a little heavy on the portamentos.

Last note: The bracket is assembled. If you have any last minute appeals for the most annoying song ever you best get them in quick. The reveal happens on Wednesday, next weekend opens the first two battels.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Two Months In

I've been in Boston only 60 days or so, so now's is when shit's going to get happenin'! Right? In seriousness lots of cool stuff has happened already and I'm looking forward to the rest of what's going on. Even the blog is taking off, traffic doubled in October as compared to September. This is even according to my AdSense stats, which I assume are on the conservative side. (I could put up a counter, but that's tacky.) Speaking of AdSense, no protested to its addition and I've made almost three dollars! Thanks for those eight clicks.

Hopefully as my writing continues to gain coherence we'll continue to see more popularity. Thanks for putting up with this, and tell your friends and neighbors. Onto a wee bit of content before I head out for the BMOP concert:

I've got two spots still open for the Annoying Song tournament. I want to get this started soon so if I don't get anything the top two seeds are just going to get byes, or something.

Worst Thing Ever.
Best Thing Ever.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

You Could Only Hope to Live in Ivywild

I tend to spend my Thursdays at the BPL now. Whereas Monday through Wednesday keep me busy into the evenings and Friday is when my faux musicology is often due, Thursdays are free and allow me time to nerd it up hardcore.

It was actually at the much smaller library where I work that this story first crossed my path, and I regret to say that further research has come up with little support. As I was digging in the journal stacks for something else I discover that hey! We subscribe(d) to the Guitar Review, as far as I know this is one of the few guitar periodicals that even vaguely approaches scholarly. I randomly grab an issue and peruse through it. In a tasteful display of coincidence, a composition student asks for the score to Schoenberg's Serenade, brutal twelve-tone craziness for eight musicians, two of which are a guitarist and a mandolin player. Written in 1922, it was perhaps the last guitar part to squeak out before Segovia throughly banished modernism from the guitar. However this meant that no "classical" guitarist really had the tools to play Schoenberg. It wasn't even performed until 1949, and who played this epochal guitar part?

Johnny fucking Smith.
Yeah, like Johnny "Moonlight in goddamn Vermont" Smith.

Even in an interview given five years ago, Smith still points to his (brief) involvement in Serenade's premiere as one of the high points of his career. The premier was part of a celebration of the composer's works for his 75th birthday (proving that a birthday party is always popular) by über-conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, and the classical guitarist he had dragooned into the part couldn't hack it. With the performance in jeopardy, the violinist for the date, Louis Krasner, canvassed New York City to find a new guitarist. Introduced to our hero by his brother-in-law, he was concerned about needing a translator with a jazz musician.

They met Johnny outside the studio just as he was getting off at 10:00 pm. Felix Galimir dealt with the preliminaries, "Johnny, I want you to meet Louis Krasner."
"Louis Krasner, the great violinist?" asked Johnny Smith.
"Why, uh, yes," and Louis, stepping forward. "Do you know about me?"
"Of course!" said Johnny. "I have your recording of the Schönberg violin concerto and I've come to many of your concerts!"
"I see, and you like the music of Schönberg, Berg, and other contemporary comp..."
"I love their music! I go to performances whenever I can!"
Krasner leaned forward to whisper into Felix Galimir's ear, "I can handle it from here."
However, Smith did do a guitarist's duty.
This was a Friday evening, so I asked "When is the first rehearsal?" When Louis Krasner told me it was Monday morning–being the damn fool that I am–I replied, "I'll give it a shot!" Then I took my guitar to the hotel I was staying, left the music on my bed and went out. Since it was Friday night, I made the usual rounds of all my favorite bars and finally got to bed about 5 o' clock in the morning.
At 6 'o clock in the morning, one hour later, the phone rings and it's Mr. Krasner. Well, my gosh! I'm really bleary-eyed, to say the least! He says, "I'm sorry to have to call you, but the Maestro is very upset and he wants to have a rehearsal right away." I just about had a coronary! "Mr. Krasner, I haven't even opened the music. There's no way..." but he was very firm. [...]
All the musicians were seated and ready to go when I walked in and I said to myself "Oh God!" If it hadn't been the middle of winter, I would have opened the window and jumped! However, I took the guitar out and put the music on the stand. I couldn't even see the darned stuff, much less read it! But I opened it up and we started. [...]
Well, naturally I couldn't read the thing; I could hardly see the notes! But I'd had enough experience working under conductors to know that they give me a cue, I'd better hit something! Well, this rehearsal only lasted about ten minutes. Then Mitropoulos came over, shook my hand and said "I'll be eternally grateful to you for doing this."
This sort of crossover isn't totally unheard of, after all Electric Counterpoint was comissioned for and premiered by Pat Metheny. However, it seems it's becoming less common. Jazz musicians often study classically because it's what you're supposed to do rather than for the love of the game. Perhaps a disdain between the two disciplines is just a probably where I spent undergrad. Championship ensembles like the NBC Orchestra (of which Galimir and Smith were members and was often under Toscanini's stick) that expect to see every style of music possible just don't exist anymore. This leads to instrumentalists that try to obtain more that one set of skills (read: me) ending up master of nuns.

Smith would end up working with Mitropoulos again, for the American premiere of Berg's Wozzeck. This happened just a few short months before Smith abandoned the music industry to retreat to the sleepy Colorado town of Ivywild. He doesn't even play guitar anymore, his perfectionism makes trying to get his chops back irritating. Even if all he had done with "Moonlight In Vermont" he really wouldn't need to.

All of the quoted material comes from Larry Snitzler's article "Johnny Smith Plays Schönberg", Guitar Review n. 57 (Spring 1984).