RIP C.W. Vrtacek

Reports are coming in that C.W. Vrtacek (real name Charles O’Meara) has passed away. He was a member of Forever Einstein and a collaborator of Biota.


AMN Reviews: Milton Babbitt – “Philomel” [ATD4], Juliet Fraser – Soprano, & Luigi Nono – “La Fabbrica Illuminata” [ATD5], Loré Lixenberg – Mezzo-soprano

All that dust is a new independent label based in the UK that is dedicated to producing high quality releases of contemporary music. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign they have recently released five recordings. In this initial batch of recordings two of the five are high quality binaural recordings. Binaural recording is a recording technique that aims to create a 3-D stereo sound field that represents the listening experience of actually being in the room during the performance. It is best experienced with headphones or ear buds. Binaural recording is a very effective way of capturing the experience of a performance where there is a live performer(s) with multichannel tape/electronic accompaniment.


ATD4 is “Philomel” a serial composition from 1964 by Milton Babbitt that utilizes recorded synthesizer with both live and recorded soprano voice. The piece is one of the earliest works to use the synthesizer and is considered to be Babbitt’s best-known work. Its text is taken from a poem by John Hollander and its three sections are based on Ovid’s myth of Philomela. A tale of a women who is the sister in-law of a king whom rapes her. The king has her tongue cut out so that she cannot talk and then imprisons her. Her sister discovers the truth and helps Philomel escape. As they are pursued by the king the gods intervene and transform her sister Procne into a swallow, the king into a hoopoe and Philomel into a nightingale. The piece is a dramatic representation of Philomel’s transformation.

Babbitt used synthesizer and voices in a four-channel tape accompaniment to try and make the listener feel trapped in the music, as a way of conveying Philomela’s inability to escape her fate. The four channels act as a moving sound ensemble. The music is both very rhythmic and colorful with a great range of synthesized timbres and with a very demanding virtuoso part for soprano voice. The pieces mood is tentative and shattered but despite the stories horror the music is never sentimental in its anger or sorrow. As the piece progresses the mood shifts more to bewilderment at the transformation that is taking place.

On this recording “Philomel” is beautifully performed by soprano Juliet Fraser.  Her voice is very expressive, with great tone and incredible control. She is not simply singing to a recording but is actively interacting with a four-channel ensemble. Fraser is able to make this performance feel as if she is driving this ensemble while bringing this piece to life. Juliet Fraser is an accomplished performer of early music and new music. She has performed with many ensembles and has recorded for Hat Hut, Neos, Kairos and many other labels. Fraser is also one of the principles of All that dust.


ATD5 is “La Fabbrica Illuminata” it is a powerful work for voice(mezzo-soprano) and four-channel tape from 1964 by Luigi Nono. This binaural recording captures a fantastic performance by mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg. Lixenberg is an accomplished voice in contemporary and experimental music giving more than a thousand performances around the globe. Her voice has a beautiful tone that is rich with both power and subtlety. Lixenberg has performed with many of the world’s leading ensembles including the Ensemble InterContemporain, BBC Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic and the Tokyo Philharmonic.

“La Fabbrica Illuminata” came out of Nono’s work on a large-scale musical theater project depicting the conditions of factory workers. It utilizes texts by Guilaino Scabia and a fragment of Cesare Pavese’s poem “Due poesie a T.”  The mezzo-soprano voice sings a commentary on situations that are represented by the tape as it illuminates the conditions of factory work. The tape’s sound scenes are meant to represent the injustice and unfairness of capitalism to the working classes. While this description may make it sound like this piece is just some 60’s agitprop, it is not. It is much more than that. “La Fabbrica Illuminata” is a highly original piece that surrounds the listener with sonic scenes that can be dramatic, poignant and hopeful.  Even if you do not understand the language of the voices or appreciate the sentiment of the texts, the drama and intensity of the piece is clear.

“La Fabbrica Illuminata” is structured in three sections. The first section slowly builds from fragments and chants with the soloist appearing and disappearing while singing fragments of the texts. The section slowly builds up to an industrial crescendo. The second section is more reflective, often mysterious or dream like. The live voice sings while surrounded primarily by electronically processed voices occasionally punctuated by echoes of the illuminated factory. In the final section the tape is silent and the solo voice sings and intones verses taken from Pavese’s poem. Leaving us with a little bit of hope for the future as she sings “ … it will not be so  always  you will find something “.

In “La Fabbrica Illuminata” the listener is surrounded by sonic scenes that move into and out of one another. At times it can be dramatic or mysterious or even surreal. The four-channel tape makes use of electronic sounds, concrete sounds of factory noises as well as voices that go through multiple transformations.  Sounds move around the space to create distance and depth. As sound masses move into and out of one another it is as if we hearing sonic thoughts enter, unfold, transform and dissipate as another group appears. Nono wanted the listener to feel as if they were inside the sounds and to confuse them so that they are unsure of where the sounds are coming from. The experience of listening to this binaural recording on headphones achieves that. There is a wide dynamic range on this recording so don’t crank the volume up to much the first time you listen to it.

Binaural recordings are a unique way to present multi-channel works. In this time where so much music is listened to in the personal space of ear buds, binaural recordings provide the listener with a unique 3-D listening experience. For those of you that are afraid of Babbitt’s reputation as a serial composer of extreme mathematically based music, or Nono’s much maligned reputation as a composer of leftist agitprop, check your assumptions at the door and put on your ear buds and enjoy two of the twentieth century’s most spectacular sonic dramas.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara


Analysis of Experimental Music Venues in New York City

Source: CityLab.

The report’s approach is serious, even wonkish, in presenting an audit of New York’s music venues—a category that includes nightclubs, live music, and music bars—and in assessing the cultural offerings they provide. Among the important points that emerge is the assertion that music venues with more experimental, non-commercial programming play a special role in improving community cohesion and resilience. Additionally, the successes and failures of the music scene are bound up with the overall pattern of demographic and economic changes in the city.

Julia Wolfe and Jack Quartet Win Musical America 2019 Awards 

Source: MusicalAmerica.

Composer of the Year Julia Wolfe was an important American composer, long before women composers were in vogue. She was finally recognized when her hour-long oratorio Anthracite Fields, received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Music and, the following year, she was named a MacArthur Fellow, receiving the highly prestigious $250,000 “genius” grant. Cofounder of the pioneering new-music consortium Bang on a Can, back in 1987, on the faculty of New York University, Wolf’s current commissions include Fire in My Mouth, which the New York Philharmonic will premiere in January and an as-yet untitled co-commission by Carnegie Hall and the New World Symphony, which the latter will premiere in May under Michael Tilson Thomas. She is also composer-in-residence at the Dallas Symphony.

Of Ensemble of the Year the JACK Quartet, Allan Kozinn writes, “This group’s fresh, energetic, and stylistically omnivorous approach to the contemporary repertoire makes it a worthy heir to the tradition of new music quartets that goes back to the Composers Quartet in the 1960s and rivals the Kronos and Arditti Quartets of today.” He calls the size and range of JACK’s repertoire “truly astonishing” and, notes that, in addition to a breakneck touring and recording (34 and counting) schedule, its four members—two of them new since 2016—are also teachers, with regular residencies at the University of Iowa, the Boston University Center for New Music, and, through 2019, Duke University.

RIP Takehisa Kosugi

Source: Pitchfork.

Japanese avant-garde composer and violinst Takehisa Kosugi has died, according to the Merce Cunningham Trust. He was 80 years old. Associated with the Fluxus movement, Takehisa Kosugi was best known for the experimental music he made in the ’60s and ’70s. He began his career as part of the seminal Tokyo-based Group Ongaku, which was one of the first ensembles in Japan to explore collective group improvisation and multi-media performances. He later made a name for himself as a solo artist and member of Taj Mahal Travelers.

An Alternate History of Canadian Electronic Music (1956 – 1981)

Source: send+receive.

An Alternate History of Canadian Electronic Music (1956–1981)

October 4 – November 3, 2018
Poolside Gallery, Video Pool Media Arts Centre, 221-100 Arthur Street, 2nd Floor
FREE | Wednesday–Saturday, 12:00–5:00 PM

Broadcasts on CKUW 95.9 FM Wednesdays & Sundays, October 14 – 31

As special programming for our 20th edition this year (2018) we invited American artist and archivist Keith Fullerton Whitman to curate a program of obscure Canadian electronic music. Digging through crates, libraries and more Whitman sourced original vinyl copies of all of the works that were brought together for this incredible 3-hour playlist, which is presented in a lovely listening lounge at Poolside Gallery in the Exchange District. Accompanying this special program is the entire poster archive of the past 20 years of send + receive!

We present this wonderful adventure through Canadian music history in partnership with Poolside Gallery / Video Pool Media Arts Centre and with a generous furniture sponsorship from EQ3 – until November 3.


Beginning this weekend the playlist will also be presented as a three-part series on CKUW 95.9 FM. The radio feature runs twice weekly – Wednesdays & Sundays – and begins this weekend:

Part 1: October 14, 5-6pm and October 17, 9-10pm
Part 2: October 21, 5-6pm and October 24, 9-10pm
Part 3: October 28, 5-6pm and October 31, 9-10pm

House Once Owned by John and Alice Coltrane Named National Treasure 

Source: The New York Times.

In 1964, John Coltrane ascended to an upstairs room of a two-story house in Huntington, N.Y., and made compositions that would turn into one of the most revered albums in jazz: “A Love Supreme.” Later that decade, Alice Coltrane recorded her solo debut record, “A Monastic Trio,” in a studio in the basement.

The Coltrane Home, where John Coltrane lived between 1964 and his death in 1967 and Alice Coltrane, his wife, lived until the early ’70s, has been named a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The organization will assist with renovation and preservation efforts at the home, which is in disrepair.