AMN Reviews: Mariel Roberts – Cartography [New Focus fcr185]

Cartography, the second solo album from cellist Mariel Roberts, follows up and extends the work she did on her debut solo recording, 2012’s Nonextraneous Sounds. There, she presented five pieces for solo cello or cello in tandem with electronics, all of which she had commissioned from composers under the age of 40. Her new CD also presents new work, all of them composed last year. Two are for solo cello and one each are for cello accompanied by piano and live electronics. And in contrast to the earlier CD, the work of at least one veteran composer, George Lewis, is represented.

Roberts is known as a cellist working with the sometimes radical techniques and forms of contemporary composed music. Although all four of the works on Cartography are technically challenging, the technical resources they demand are simply a means toward expressive ends; the inspirations behind the compositions, far from consisting in the investigation of technique for its own sake, all derive from extra-musical ideas. Interestingly, these ideas largely have to do with time: Time as manifested in historical cycles, time as the measure of the finite lifespans of individuals and groups, and time as a perpetually unfinished sequence of moments and events.

Eric Wubbels’ gretchen am spinnrade, for cello and piano, turns on repetition. The composer, who also performs on piano, describes it as a “manic, hounded piece”—an accurate summary of its more or less relentless hammering away at repeated notes, phrases and rhythms. There are occasional, short-lived interludes of calm, but the piece is notably harrowing experience—an effect not only of the constantly tolling piano but of the dazzlingly virtuosic unison passages of rapidly changing time signatures and displaced accents.

Lewis’s Spinner was inspired by the Greek myth of the Fates, the three goddesses presiding over the finitude and fortunes of human life. The work calls for a wide variety of contemporary performance techniques—broad glissandi, discordant double stops, abrupt punctuation with plucked notes and harmonics, unusual bow articulations. Rather than sounding abstract, this mixture of techniques lends the piece a very human quality—much of it conveyed by the cello’s capacity for capturing vocal inflections, which Roberts’s performance brings out.

The Cartography of Time, by composer Davið Brynjar Franzson is, like Spinner, a work for unaccompanied cello. Franzson’s map is drawn with long, sustained tones gradually multiplied through layering. There is no real melodic movement, just a slow thickening of texture into standing, nearly immobile harmonies. The image of time that emerges is as a kind of dessicated, immaterial plain stretching ahead to an endpoint always receding beyond the horizon.

Cenk Ergün’s Aman, a word that in Arabic means “security” but in Turkish is a warning, is the one piece that doesn’t engage time directly. A work for cello and live electronics, Aman unfolds through discontinuities of texture and register, initially treating the cello almost as a percussion instrument. The electronics, supplied by the composer, take the piece farther away from a “natural” acoustic sound by introducing an element of distortion and colored noise, and eventually transforming the cello into a dispenser of backward-surging tones.

The four pieces differ significantly from each other and place different sets of demands on the performer; Roberts’s performances are consistently exciting and never allow technique to overshadow expression.

Daniel Barbiero

This Week in New York


New York record label Infrequent Seams partners with S.E.M. Ensemble and Anagram Ensemble to present Infrequent Seams Festival 2017: a series of concerts that will celebrate the long history of musical experimentation in New York and beyond. With over 30 performances the festival promises to bring an expansive array of musical stylings in an informal setting. Some highlights include the S.E.M. Ensemble playing music by Petr Kotik and Philip Glass –– a series of solo sets by the members of Anagram Ensemble –– and performances by multuple artists on the Infrequent Seams roster. Furthermore, Providence Research Ensemble, James Ilgenfritz and Ben Richter will all celebrate the release of their new albums.
Monday, June 19 to June 22 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $15
Willow Place Auditorium, 26 Willow Place, Brooklyn, NY

Composer Brendon Randall-Myers continues his artist residency at Roulette with Dynamics of Vanishing Bodies. Bookended with solo and duo sets by Randall-Myers and vocalist Doug Moore, Dynamics of Vanishing Bodies will premiere two large pieces by Randall-Myers written from opposing angles — first, a set of microtonal electro-folk songs for soprano Eliza Bagg, and second an electric guitar quartet for DITHER. At play are psychoacoustic effects (timbral fusion and phantom rhythms) created by overtone interaction, interlaced with gradual decay in cycles at a nearly-imperceptible scale.
Tuesday, June 20 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $15-$20
Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

Petr Kotik celebrates 75 years with special guests Philip Glass, George Lewis and Alex Mincek in conversations and performances in a retrospective program of his most iconic works. In addition to these guests, also performing will be members of the S.E.M. Ensemble, oboist Jacqueline LeClair and the Momenta Quartet.
Wednesday, June 21 at 6:30 PM
Tickets $20-$25
Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, New York, NY

Gemma Peacocke presents Waves + Lines, a multimedia song cycle for soprano, electronics and chamber ensemble, adapted from Eliza Griswold‘s book, I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan.
Thursday, June 22 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $15-$20
Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

This show features more than a dozen works from Medieval tunes to modern trances, woven into an elaborate narrative. Works include Steve Reich’s NY Counterpoint, Henryk Górecki’s Harpsichord Concerto, David Lang’s Cheating, Lying, Stealing, John Adam’s John’s Book of Alleged Dances, Robert Honstein’s Why are you not answering?, with ancient droning songs, Schubert’s Erlkönig and Gretchen am Spinnrade, Biber’s Battaglia, and Bartok dances.
Friday, June 23 & Saturday, June 24 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $25
HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, New York, NY

With future folk, NS Group-in-Residence wild Up creates a communal concert of sound/noise/experience that celebrates old-world ways of living in the modern era.
Saturday, June 24 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $29
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

In 2003 Steve Reich wrote Cello Counterpoint for cello soloist and seven pre-recorded celli. In this concert, Ashley Bathgate is premiering her own recording of Cello Counterpoint as well as new works for the same instrumentation by Kettle Corn New Music composers Emily Cooley and Alex Weiser – new works written to be paired with the iconic Reich work in concert, and for an upcoming studio album. A recent work by Icelandic Canadian composer Fjóla Evans rounds out the program.
Sunday, June 25 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $29
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

Olivia Block Interview

Source: sound expanse.

Olivia Block and I began a conversation by phone on May 8th, and then continued by email with the more standard questions I’ve been asking. I think it would be a mistake to just share only the more formal interview, because there’s a lot that’s revealed in this first conversation, both about her piece, Dissolution, and about some of her most consistent artistic concerns. It wasn’t originally intended to be included here, so there’s no formal starting point, but I’ll just drop you in and I’m sure you can find your way.