Another YouTube dump: musical toys. First, from Japan, the Yellow Mouse Orchestra. The same designer, slightly more disturbing: Attention composers! Looking for a challenge? Write something for Furby Gurdy! This guy will build you one. Ffwd a minute to get to the actual music; ffwd to 1:50 to see things get really interesting. Or you can just do this.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
1) I finally made the (essential) "Reading Room" feed over at Sidney Chen's The Standing Room! Somehow I always knew this day would arrive. I just imagined it catch me in a... slightly more dignified position... ...but whom was I fooling? 2) This blog entry from everyone's OTHER favorite violin-playing one-man-band, Andrew Bird, is excruciating. It seriously reads like an Onion article. Like,
Op-Ed: Our New Album Fucking Rocks by Lars Ulrich.
People, don't do this. Andrew, honey, I love your records too. I am pointing this out for your benefit.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
But of course the Bang on a Can Marathon isn't just about music, it's also about hobnobbing with your favorite new-music celebrities! Ha ha, just kidding. There is no such thing as a new-music celebrity. But I weirdly enjoyed my last foray into gossip columnism (where is the Perez Hilton of the new music scene?) and so I'm going to dump a bunch more names now. I saw Judd Greenstein and Missy Mazzoli again, and she totally busted my chops about last year's awkwardness. "Hey, Dan, it's me! Missy! You might not recognize me, because I am in a different building, wearing slightly different clothes from the last time." Sighhh... Point, set, match. Martin Bresnick said hi! He is always very nice. More Awkward: During one set, I cut rapidly through the listening crowd near the base of the stage, looking for a friend I'd bumped into, then (not finding said friend) stopped without warning and turned around 180°. At which point I literally bumped into Michael Gordon, long one of my favorite composers. Um, sorry. Yeah, I didn't introduce myself. (Digression: Have I come to expect too much from Michael Gordon? He has these pieces like Decasia and Industry and last year's Marathon miracle Gotham that leave me breathless and tearful, but this only happens 50% of the time. Van Gogh and Trance and Weather have their moments, but they are not sublime, and he's spoiled me for sublime. This year's Michael Gordon entry was All the Stops on the F Train, a musical setting of the names of all the stops on the F Train that left me undazzled and unmoved and wondering if it was my fault. Really I wished that instead of a youth chorus the performers had been a one-on-a-part jazz choir, to go with the pleasing Sesame Street vibe of Bill Morrison's excellent-as-always video accompaniment. Also, there needs to be a moratorium on the setting of preciously inappropriate texts. Whatever, I want to hear it again.) Yet More Awkward: during the first of that evening's many trips to the restroom of the World Financial Center, I overheard a conversation between composer David Lang and a disabled patron he'd graciously escorted to the lav as they waited for the handicapped stall to open up. Gradually I realized that I was in the only handicapped stall, and that they were waiting for me to finish. I tried to hurry it up, but some things physically cannot be rushed, and so I basically made David Lang and a man in a wheelchair wait for me to finish using the toilet. When I was finally done he said—again, graciously—"Thank you!" David Lang thanked me for getting done with my poop. The only way this could have been a more awkward way to meet David Lang is if I could have somehow combined all the awkwardnesses of previous Bang on a Can encounters, for instance by physically ramming into David Lang and then saying aloud, "Say, that man looks just like David Lang." (Digression: I'm really warming up to David Lang, basically thanks to vigorous lobbying on the part of Nico Muhly. I think Nico did the same thing to Ben Frost, who keeps mentioning David Lang in interviews. Is Nico on the Lang payroll, under the table, somehow? Whatever, it worked, I'm a fan. Everybody needs to go get a recording of Are You Experienced? It is hilarious and brilliant.) And finally, I got to meet Owen Pallett, Arcade Fire violinist and Final Fantasy (not the game) mastermind, whose most recent album He Poos Clouds is a must-hear. Nico: "Danny meet Owen! He sings and plays violin." Danny: "Of course! I love your records." Owen Pallett: "Did you just say you love my haircut?" No! But I did love it! He was completely hot. This much I already knew—I'd seen him in pictures and in YouTube videos such as this one and was also aware that he was a terrific songwriter and arranger, but what I was pleased to discover hearing him perform live was that he is also a better singer and violinist than he would have to be to pull off his project. Really, he could be a good bit sketchier on the fiddle (he gets a nice sound!), and his vocals could reside totally in that heady, muffled place (he keeps a bright high end in reserve!), and he would totally get away with it. He admitted he was nervous, backstage and then between songs, and honestly he was right to be. He's a great songwriter and arranger: a popular songwriter draws big, bold signs in satisfying configurations; an arranger lends those glyphs depth and color. But a successful piece of concert music requires a third, distinct skill, which is... I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's the subordination of those signs to the larger structure, a structure designed to stimulate more than satisfy. Or maybe what I just said is totally meaningless. Anyway, expectations were high, he was not playing to his well-known strengths, and sure enough, the prevailing opinion among my little coven of composer friends was that the piece was not a success. I disagree. Maybe that's because my expectations were lower (for the reasons outlined above) than those of most of the people I was talking to, or maybe my taste is just not as refined, but I thought the piece had a pleasing shape (described in a bizarre prefatory speech that was not so much a program note as a Flatland-inspired science fiction story allegorizing(?) the form of the piece we were about to hear) and I thought the particulars were nicely realized. I loved the electronic spinning out of the solo violin part into a quasi-impressionist string texture, and I loved the long, ghostly diminuendo with which the piece disappeared into a halo of reverb. And I suspect the acoustic (which tended to turn counterpoint into mush and disappear everything into a pale halo of reverb) did not do the piece any favors. That's the oldest excuse in any composer's book—"It's such a bad hall!"—but the Winter Garden is so obviously a "bad" hall that I'm really going to put that one out there. Anyways, that's all. See you at the Bang on a Can Marathon, 2009!!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Attention composers! I got a Very Special call for scores in my inbox from R. Timothy Brady, composer, activist, and founder of Soulbird, an organization promoting social justice and the arts. Brady's off to Iraq in a few days (making a film!) and wants to take your music with him.
I am trying to either organize a new music festival while I'm there this summer or for the future - perhaps the scores will jump start some interest. Most of the youth we will be working with (Ages 12-26) only get to see maybe 2 pieces a year to practice, and this includes students at the conservatories. Resources are very, very limited...The war has destroyed many libraries and archives. Specifically, I'd be looking for solo pieces, and chamber ensembles pieces... If they're interested, please have them send scores THIS WEEK to: Soulbird c/o R. Timothy Brady PO Box 230142 New York, NY 10023 Please also have the composers include their contact into directly on the score somewhere. Also, if anyone is interested in donating a metronome, that would be amazing as well. We're looking for about 8 for the Academy.
Got it? Iraq needs metronomes, very badly, and new music. Please send (postmark) by Wed. June 18.
Monday, June 9, 2008
If only I'd seen that Darcy James Argue wasn't going to be liveblogging the Bang on a Can Marathon this year, I would have attempted to pick up the slack! Of course my laptop charger was all screwed up and so I would have been able to liveblog about the first five minutes or so, and I only showed up at the thing more than an hour into it, but I could at least have fired off something like lisa moore stellar as usual altho gosfields piece is a bit shapele— before ol' Lappy fizzled out. (That also explains why I didn't get a chance to shmooze with DJA this time around; I wanted to say hi but I was looking for somebody hunched over a glowing computer screen and he was, apparently, sitting in the audience like a normal person.) Anyway, I didn't really sit through the whole thing, but wandered in and out as the spirit moved me. Stupid spirit! You made me miss Bora Yoon, which everybody said was awesome. Things I managed to see, which were breath-takingly perfect: So Percussion doing David Lang's so-called laws of nature (can you believe I never saw them play it in person before? They must do it every time they're in town and every time I miss it). Witty piece, hypnotically precise performance, oh yeah and it was that rare set that wasn't completely swallowed by the cathedral/food-court acoustics. Also perfect for the space: Donnacha Dennehy's Grá agus Bás, which Argue has described better than I could. Just when you thought traditional Celtic music had been irredeemably schlocktified by pop co-option, Dennehy and the Crash Ensemble managed to transmute it back into something beautiful and pure. They walked through a minefield of cliché and sentimentality and emerged nearly unscathed. Oh hey look, you can download an excerpt here, or even, check it out— Hooray for Internet! Julia Wolfe's piece for bass ensemble was also a dazzler, reminding me one minute of Shaker Loops by John Adams and of Industry by hubby Michael Gordon the next—two pieces that, really, everything should resemble a little bit more. (The acoustics did murdalize this one, though.) The capstone of the night was definitely Toby Twining Music's rendition of Stimmung by Karlheinz Stockhausen. I'm not going to take even one step back from my assertion that Stockhausen was a horrible poet, but I have to say that I enjoyed the piece vastly more in person, at dawn, half-conscious, than I ever did on disc (and I liked the piece on disc). Part of this was the simple circumstance of a live performance—I found myself listening so closely that when the lights came on by accident in the middle of the piece, the sound of the lights was an unbearable intrusion. But it was also the brilliance of Twining's ensemble. How did they make sound so easy? The overtones were warbled. Warbled. How in the hell do you warble that shit? A lot more opinions. But... not now. I'm late for work. Also check out Nico's contrarian take, here.
Posted by Dan Johnson at 12:36 PM