AMN Reviews: Mikel Kuehn – Object/Shadow [New Focus Recordings fcr160]

The results of the musical revolution that Modernism midwived during the last century are still with us. At one time a matter of novelty, the possibilities Modernism opened up—regarding pitch relationships, the role of timbre, and musical syntax—have grown into a kind of alternative common practice whose strategies are always already available to contemporary composers.

For composer Mikel Kuehn (b. 1967), the common practice of Modernism is a notable presence animating his work. Kuehn, who is Professor of Composition at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, began as a percussionist while in his teens in the Los Angeles area. Like many composers of his generation, his background includes jazz and other musics outside of the Western classical tradition. Some of these eclectic influences can be felt in his compositions as, for example, in their instrumentation. But on Object/Shadow, the first full release dedicated to his music, Modernism, with its expansive pitch and timbral vocabularies and especially its divisionist syntax, is the central point of reference.

On the ensemble pieces Undercurrents (2013), Color Fields (2006/2008) and Between the Lynes (1994), Kuehn employs Modernist-derived strategies for handling textures and phrasing. On all three pieces, he treats the surfaces as complex, colorful mosaics made up of small, irregularly-shaped tiles, foregrounding different instruments or instrumental combinations as brief, constantly changing events. The tensions created by these fragmentary textures are complemented by unresolved dissonances and phrase endings left dangling like open and unanswered questions. Those are general observations; each of the pieces has attractions of its own. Color Fields, for example, written for and performed here by the Flexible Music quartet of tenor saxophone (Timothy Ruedeman), vibes (Haruka Fujii), guitar (Daniel Lippel) and piano (Eric Huebner), like Milton Babbitt’s All Set takes a jazz ensemble and turns it to abstract uses. Whereas All Set broke the ensemble down into constantly changing subgroups, Color Fields is notable for combining instruments into a single line of composite timbre. The contrast of staccato and sustaining voices sounding in parallel gives the piece a restless push, as do the generally long, propulsive phrases running through it. Between the Lynes for flute, cello, and piano, the oldest work represented, is also the closest in sound to a mid-20th Century, broken-surfaced serial composition. It’s a gratifying excursion into audio painting: Like pieces falling in a turning kaleidoscope, the three voices—Ensemble Dal Niente’s Emma Hospelhorn, Chris Wild, and Winston Choi–combine and divide into quick, short-lived alliances and oppositions.

Unfoldings (2004), a solo guitar work written for and played by Lippel, treats color nuances within the more restricted palette of a single instrument. The composition consists in a subdued drama built on the different timbral characteristics of open and stopped strings, harmonics, varied chord voicings, and the placement of the right hand relative to the bridge. Lippel’s sensitive and unhurried performance brings out the fine-grained shadings this subtle work calls for. Chiaroscuro (2007) also focuses on the timbres of a single instrument, but the sounds here are enhanced and multiplied by virtue of having the solo instrument—a cello—augmented by its own pre-recorded and manipulated sounds. As a result, Chiaroscuro is as bold as Unfoldings is temperate; Craig Hutgren’s robust realization foregrounds percussive strikes, microtonal clashes, and deliberately harsh bowing.

A fine and stimulating collection of music.

Daniel Barbiero

Borbetomagus Documentary Reviewed

Source: burning ambulance.

I’ve known the members of Borbetomagus for over 20 years. I first heard their music in 1988 or 1989. I read about them in Byron Coley‘s “Underground” column in Spin magazine, and bought their Live in Allentown cassette at Bleecker Bob’s Records in New York. In 1996, when I had just begun writing about music for money, I interviewed them for the Aquarian Weekly. By then I’d heard more of their work, including the amazing (and currently out of print) Buncha Hair That Long CD. A year or two after that, I finally saw them live—first at the Cooler, co-billed with Charles Gayle, then at Tonic, co-billed with Merzbow. In 2005 or so, I wrote an essay about Live in Allentown for The Wire‘s “Epiphanies” column; when the band decided to reissue the cassette on CD, with a previously unreleased second set appended, they used the piece as liner notes. In 2010, I wrote a cover story about them for Signal to Noise. And I’ve written about them for Burning Ambulance several times.

Consequently, it’s impossible for me to approach a documentary about them with any objectivity. I love their music, and I like them all as people. So I was extremely excited when I heard about Jef Mertens‘ A Pollock of Sound (get it from Amazon), a history and portrait of the group made with their full cooperation and filmed over the course of a half dozen years or so. (The 2009 live performance that inspired Mertens to make the movie is included on the DVD as a bonus feature.)

This Week in New York 

English: Ornette Coleman at Enjoy Jazz Festiva...

Source: I Care If You Listen.

The New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival is the largest celebration of electroacoustic music in the world. Music is performed by acoustic musical instruments, laptops, and custom electronic devices, as well as works involving digital video, and sound installations.
Friday, July 14 to Sunday, July 16 at various times
Tickets $20, $60 festival pass
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

Enter the world of the gods, spirits, and shamans of ancient Chinese myths and poetry in this evening-length work co-composed by Lao Luo and Bang on a Can Co-Artistic Directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe.
Friday, July 14 & Saturday, July 15 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $25-$55
Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, 524 West 59th Street, New York, NY

Even as he was pushing the boundaries of improvisation, Ornette Coleman was also focused on capturing what he heard in his head in through-composed works. His orchestral piece Skies of America, performed at Lincoln Center Festival in 1997, and numerous chamber works earned him accolades from many classical music innovators, including Virgil Thomson and Leonard Bernstein, who often invited Ornette to performances and rehearsals at Lincoln Center. Join members of Ensemble Signal as they illuminate this intriguing corner of Coleman’s artistry.
Sunday, July 16 at 2:00 PM
Tickets $40
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center, New York, NY