Saturday, November 28, 2009


So John Hollenbeck turned up on my radar just recently, when the New Sounds podcast featured his piece The Cloud. I had mixed feelings! But you people know I have Jazz Issues, which I am still trying to rationalize and articulate. For now they remain the sort of Issues that would be better rehearsed on a therapist's couch than on a blog, but insofar as I can gripe intelligently at all about things like jazz fusion and jazz for large ensemble, I guess something strikes me as uncanny about the meticulous performance style—it seems too cautious, somehow. What I love about the jazz I love is how well hidden the precision often is. (CLASSICAL COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS, YOU COULD LEARN SO MUCH FROM THIS.) But on the other hand, that's clearly not what Hollenbeck's trying to achieve with this stuff, so I guess it is not him, it's me. See also Argue, Darcy James.

But the point is that, like Argue, John Hollenbeck clearly deserves to be on yall's new-music radar as well. Of the two discs his publicist sent me, the one that excites me most isn't the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, whose latest release (Eternal Interlude) is excerpted in the above podcast, but last year's Rainbow Jimmies, which consists mostly of chamber works Hollenbeck has written for his own Claudia Quintet and for other small groups even further away from any kind of conventional jazz configuration.

His writing for violinist Todd Reynolds is brilliant, maybe because he's thinking about the violin as a percussion instrument, employing both hands to pluck the strings

and even, later on, detuning the G string like it was a kettledrum. (That's Hollenbeck on drumset, on that track.)

Here's my favorite piece off the album, Ziggurat (Interior); it's the companion to the slightly silly Ziggurat (Exterior), a big jagged pyramid of Latin-style percussion; this one's performed by the Ethos Percussion Quartet:

See, that's just good writing!

Anyway, on MONDAY, at the Le Poisson Rouge, John Hollenbeck is doing a release party for the Large Ensemble record, but it's also going to be him and Theo Bleckmann and their band covering Meredith Monk (see Hollenbeck and Bleckmann jamming here), and Todd Reynolds is gonna be there too, to play the stuff from Rainbow Jimmies. So it's kind of a big deal! 8 pm, $15, info here.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Now C Here

Just in case you needed something else to be thankful for (BECAUSE TOMORROW IS THANKSGIVING, GET IT?), here is a streaming mp3 of the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble playing Terry Riley's In C at their LPR release party! Via them.

I'm not totally loving the alapana (I am guessing that is Michael Lowenstern? somebody who was there correct me) that kicks it off—"the delicacy of taking liberties with scores that already offer a great deal of leeway to the performer" etc etc—but Dennis DeSantis's electronic contributions are sensitive and credible, and this offers a tantalizing glimpse of the full-length performance I wish GVSUNME had released in the first place. More like this, please, everyone!


Thursday, November 19, 2009


The good news is, I finally got around to interviewing New Haven new-music mainstay Jack Vees, apropos of tonight's performance of his Party Talk. The bad news is, Party Talk is canceled! The WORSE news is, I think it's because Timo Andres has swine flu!

Dammit. Ah, well: the Cerrone, Knight, Kuspa, and Wang performances are still scheduled to go on. Everybody drink lots of hot soup and get plenty of rest and let's Party Talk soon.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Your Daily Mindfuck

First, via Timo Andres, Pitchfork follows up on this craziness (Fiery Furnaces guy mixes up Harry Partch, microtonal composer, with Harry Patch, the WWI vet the Radiohead song is about) with the even more bizarre announcement,
Friedberger tried to cover his fuck up with a statement that said: "Matt has not heard the Radiohead song about Harry Patch, but if he did, he is sure he wouldn't like it. No doubt Radiohead and their fans can ignore his opinion of this matter and continue with their triumphant artistic interventions. Matt would have much preferred to insult Beck but he is too afraid of Scientologists."

Now, Beck actually seems to be responding. He's putting up a new song called "Harry Partch" on later today. According to a post on the site, the track "employs Partch's 43 tone scale, which expands conventional tonality into a broader variation of frequencies and resonances." It isn't clear yet if the song is directly related to Friedberger's remarks, or just one hell of a coincidence.
I have no idea whether this is even true, or Beck is just screwing with us now. Andres: "My head a splode."

UPDATE: It is true. The song is up on Beck's website.

CODA. I scrolled down that Pitchfork page, and there was a video of Renee Fleming singing "Perfect Day" with Lou Reed on Czech TV, as if to remind us, lest we forget, that Sting does not have a monopoly on Tragicomic Crossover Nightmares. A perfect day, indeed.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Have You Heard These Things?

New Corey Dargel, everybody. He and violinist Cornelius Dufallo are premiering a new song-cycle at the Stone Nov. 29, and here's a taste—fiddle loops, brutal lyrics, 7/8 time. Highly recommended. It's like Owen Pallett meets Stephin Merritt meets rhythmic complexity? Yikes, okay, the previous sentence just embarrassed us all. Let's move on.

I haven't written much about our New Amsterdam friends lately, which is totally a mistake. They've been continuing this monthly ARCHIPELAGO concert series at the Galapagos Art Space, and I kicked myself when I realized I'd forgotten to tell y'all to check out the show by Roomful of Teeth, a new-music chamber choir, which based totally on YouTube clips, I'm pretty sure is going to become the new thing. Like Toby Twining and the Toby Twining Singers! Or Meredith Monk and the Funky Bunch! Look here they are singing Judd Greenstein: And here they are singing Caroline Shaw: Seriously, isn't this going to be a big deal?

Anyway. The next Archipelago concert, on Nov. 20 (there will also be a Dargel one in the spring), is all about Victoire, whom—as we have established—you totally love, and special guests Arturo en el Barco. Arturo en el Barco is one Angélica Negrón and her band, and you'd really better check it out, here. Eerie, sample-driven ambient, very good. It makes me want to wear gloves. And eyeliner. Actually, after listening to a little Arturo and a little Victoire just now, I think I am going to try to bring hats back, so this is a dangerous combination. You're warned. You're welcome.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

fuori dall'abitato di Malbork

Okay this was kind of crazy. But the really crazy thing about this thing HERE

is how not-bad it is. Sting's affected and overwrought Classical Voice was a colossal drag on his Dowland album, Songs from the Labyrinth—Dowland's songs are already overwrought with (well) a labyrinth of lines, and demand a clear, simple vocal style. (Shouldn't a pop singer be capable of a clear, simple style?) Das Leiermann, on the other hand, which Sting has recorded on his new If on a Winter's Night..., is a clear and simple tune already, and it actually benefits a little from his ridiculous stage whisper, if you've a high tolerance for camp. Plus that's DANIEL HOPE playing that violin. Plus Sting's translation is LOL.

Apparently he also covers Bach, Prætorius, and Purcell up on this record? Gee, I hope he sings them all in this sickly baritone range!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Importance of Being Kernis

I really, really, really wanted to use that as the headline for my review of Aaron Jay Kernis's deeply earnest Third Symphony.


Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger Disses Radiohead, Is Dumb

Or maybe he just mis-heard the interviewer? Anyway, here's the quote:
When told that Radiohead's Thom Yorke sent out a mass e-mail describing the group's tribute song to the UK's last veteran of World War I, 'Harry Patch (In Memory Of),' Friedberger adds the British rock star to his fraud alert list. "'Oh, please listen to our new song about Harry Patch,'" Friedberger says mockingly. "F--- you! You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool. That is bogus. That's a put-on. That's a branding technique and Radiohead have their brand that they're popular and intelligent. So they have a song about Harry Patch.

"How's the song?" Friedberger asks. "Is it 48 notes to the octave? What does it have to do with Harry Patch? Oh, my wife says I am being very rude. She doesn't like me insulting Radiohead. She's afraid they will send their lackeys through the computer to sabotage us. But they needn't worry -- we are a band that sabotages ourselves."
Ha ha ha.  Psst!  Hey dude!  You might wanna...

via Stereogum.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

In C Remixed: Too Much Remixed, Not Enough In C

That is the short version of my review. Glib, yeah, but it's true! The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble's interpretation of Terry Riley's masterpiece (I hate people who throw around "masterpiece" but, look, it just is, let's move on) leaves me wanting more, more, more. I hope you've heard of GVSUNME before; their performance of Music for 18 Musicians got a lot of press, partly because they work that piece, and partly because GVSUNME's backstory is a reporter's dream—did you know they have avant-garde music in places that aren't New York?? in STATE schools???—but that's a little condescending, and not entirely relevant to the enjoyment of their music.

Okay, this part is relevant: they're young, which gives them at least two advantages. One is that for classical musicians born after 1980 or so, the aesthetic code of minimalism is a first language. Not that they grew up humming Violin Phase, but they are too young to have known a world in which, say, Koyaanisqatsi had not inspired a whole world of imitators.

The other advantage is that young musicians don't take shit for granted. An ace professional ensemble could sleepwalk through a score like In C, and I'm sure many of them do. But every note counts on this recording; there are no throwaway gestures. Check out those string players! Their Bartok pizzicati, their sixteenth notes bowed heavily and close to the bridge, tell us that they are in this for keeps. (When the clarinets go for the same grit, wailin' in their high registers, it seems a little more affected, but I can deal with that.) They sound excited to dig into even the most superficially unglamorous phrase.

But it's over too soon! This is a speedy performance, just twenty minutes or so, which would make sense if they were trying to fit it on one side of a record; as part of a two disc set, it just seems ungenerous. I could listen to these guys play this for eighty minutes, easy. Why not make this a set with one disc of In C and one disc of remixes, instead of hurrying along from section to section quite so zippily?

If I thought there were two discs of absolutely essential remixes here, I'd be more forgiving, but really, two discs of remixes would be too many remixes of any one tune. Maybe I am getting all old and bitter? I used to LOVE the remix album, as a thing. Now I feel as if we can be finickier, when there's the possibility of releasing a track "download only," because while I can happily wander through the architecture of Terry Riley's funky cathedral for an hour and a half, one hour spent listening to five-minute chunks of In C with breakbeats under them is not an experience I will want to repeat very often. Crank the last track on your stereo, then feed the rest to your iPod to shuffle through at your leisure.

But I've skipped over the big question hanging over In C Remixed. Should In C even be remixed? I've kvetched in this space before about the delicacy of taking liberties with scores that already offer a great deal of leeway to the performer. In some ways, a piece with this added dimension of Conceptual beauty is that much more fragile; a bad-faith performance of John Cage is going to be yet far more unsatisfying than bad-faith Beethoven. On the other hand, one of the great things about screwing around with an open-instrumentation, open-form piece like In C is that every performance is, in a sense, a remix: you've got a page of stems, you loop them to make a groove. It's a short step from "open instrumentation" and "open form" to "open source." Was Terry Riley the first IDM artist??

No. Well, okay, maybe. Actually, one of the things that's so exciting about In C is that you can't really say what it is. I mean, yes, it's a piece of "Western concert music" in terms of context and construction, but on the other hand the cycling form and limited pitch materials push it, and so much minimalist music, into an in-between territory that could be something out of the vernacular. On a superficial level, anyway, it has a lot more in common with a rock jam than anything out of the European concert-hall tradition, and so it doesn't really come down as one thing or the other; it's content just to float there.

Which makes some of the remixes on this disc seem a little unimaginative by comparison. Yes, you could just tag a drum track onto In C, lay a bassline & synths under it, and it would become a piece of tonal pop music. But that would be pinning the butterfly down. Something is lost. Granted, something is lost in any interpretation of any piece of music, but with many of these remixes not much is added, either.

Herewith, a lumpy review of each and every remix, not quite in order.

Track 1: Jack "Meat Beat Manifesto" Dangers' "Semi-Detached" mix; I'm a fan of Jack Dangers, and this mix would be a credit to any chillout compilation, but it's hard not to suspect that he could've made essentially the same piece of music out of any source material. (Ditto, to a lesser extent, bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern's "Bints" (Track 4) and "Foster Grant" mixes (Disc 2, Track 3), and Dangers' own "Extension" mix on track 1 of disc 2. Dennis DeSantis makes an appearance here as well (Track 10), as the world's most in-demand remixer of new music into undistinguished dance music.)

But the other 90s electronica star here, DJ Spooky, fares far worse. What's going on here? Track 8 sounds, without exaggeration, exactly like what I've described above: tag on a drum track, lay down a bassline & synths, and call it a day. Isn't this just a lazy run-through of pop clichés, slapped onto In C? And this is critical darling DJ Spooky we're talking about, here! Shouldn't he, of all people, know that the unexamined breakbeat is not worth banging?

Track 2: Mason Bates. Not an unconventional piece of electronica, but quite charming to the ear, and springing naturally from the source material. I especially like those moments of tension and release ("PONGGG!" goes the sampled chorus) that derive out of a certain self-conciousness this project could have used more of. But even better in this vain is the collage-like, sample-heavy Jad Abumrad remix (track 6), which I was poised to dislike (he's the RadioLab guy! They can be so freaking smug and simplistic) but actually it's awesome, one of the highlights of the set, for that same reason, self-consciousness generating musical drama.

Track 3: Glenn Kotche. Glenn Kotche, you are great! Why did I file you under "indie rocker with high-art pretensions"? This is formally surprising, dramatic and intense, with real rhythmic sophistication. Class, Glenn Kotche gets the gold star. Be more like Glenn Kotche.

Track 5: Zoë Keating, cellist, kicks off the performer-driven remixes on the disc, which are largely mediocre. Actually, violinist Todd Reynolds brings his remix to a nice climax (Disc 2, Track 5), but fellow fiddler DBR cannot help but drape those signature hair-metal violin stylings all over the mix on his own track (Track 11) and that's just embarrassing.

Track 7: Nico Muhly. Okay you know I'm IN THE TANK for homeboy so if you want objectivity skip to the next paragraph. I like this remix because it makes me genuinely uncomfortable—does that oboe REALLY have to do that? Why does this all sound so naked?—and then warms up so subtly.

Track 9: Phil Kline. Another one for the win column—seems simple without seeming lazy, a high-concept tribute to a high-concept piece.

Disc 2, Track 2: Mikael Karlsson and Rob Stephenson actually rock this. Glitchily delicious; disorienting and gnarly.

Disc 2, Track 4: "Is In C in F?" is the title of R Luke DuBois's remix; the short answer is "No." A pleasant sheen over it, but not much to hold onto here.

Disc 2, Track 6: Kleerup. I have no intellectual or theoretical justification for enjoying this track so immensely, I'm just a sucker for a stiff electro beat and that giddy backbeat clarinet.

Disc 2, Track 7: Leave it to David Lang to whip up a remix—of the world's shaggiest, warmest piece of new music—that is VINEGAR TO THE EAR. Fortunately, I love vinegar, I pour it on everything, and so this dissonant scraping is a treat for me. If my ear had lips, it would be licking them. It sounds a little like software, if you know what I mean, but it's so much more daring than every other remix on this compilation, and digs so close to the heart of the source material, that it stands out in a crowded field.

In conclusion: Should you buy this? If you're an audiophile, or if you collect recordings of In C you should probably pick up the disc. If you consume electronic music in large quantities, you should probably download the album. The download isn't even a bad buy even if you don't like most of the remixes, although it's frustrating that iTunes and Amazon won't let you grab the excellent title track on its own, then cherry-pick the most interesting cuts from the rest of the set.

If you prefer to insert some live music into your ears, here's going to be some kind of crazy In C Remixed party at Le Poisson Rouge tonight at 6:30; Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble will be there, as well as DeSantis, DuBois, Reynolds, Lowenstern, and most exciting of all, Jad "MC Jad" Abumrad will be MC-ing. It's $15 to get in which isn't bad and since it's LPR you can get fully drunk on Rolling Rock and ask MC Jad to sign his podcast for you. Hooray!

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Not to Be Outdone

So one of the big highlights, for me, of John Adams' talk in New Haven, was when he discussed the criticism his unorthodox Doctor Atomic libretto had received in the press. "Opera is bloodsport," he said, and began to quote one of his detractors—whose words I instantly recognized as Mark Adamo's! Well, Mark Adamo's blogging again, and he is again too much. I cannot wait for the day that Adamo and Adams and Marshall and Muhly all sit on a panel together at some festival and then all go home and blog about it.