AMN Reviews: Phill Niblock – NuDaf [Xi Records XI 145/AKOH 145]; Tom Chiu – The Live One [Xi 144]

NuDaf an hour-long, electroacoustic drone work, is the newest release from composer Phill Niblock. Composed in 2020, the piece is constructed out of a series of recordings bassoonist Dafne Vicente-Sandoval made in Cologne in 2015, some of which were used in Niblock’s shorter, 2016 composition Praised Fan. For NuDaf, Niblock layered Vicente-Sandoval’s long tones rather sparingly, creating unisons, near-unisons separated by microtones, and slowly-changing, sometimes startling harmonies. Because Niblock avoids building massive blocks of sound, the piece is dense yet always harmonically legible.

Violinist/composer Tom Chiu also offers a layered electroacoustic work on The Live One, a two-CD set that features Chiu in solo, duo, trio, and quartet settings, most of which were captured live. It is a fine portrait of a versatile artist. The piece is Into the Forest (2011), whose basic material is a set of brief violin passages processed and assembled (by Terence Pender) into a moving work by turns melodic and abstract. RETROCON (2015) for string quartet, is a relentlessly dynamic, dramatic piece performed by the Flux Quartet (Chiu and Conrad Harris on violins; Max Mandel on viola; and Felix Fan on cello) the recurring theme to which is an undulating swarm of arpeggiated chords seemingly threatening to tip over into an abyss of emotional chaos. Chiu’s Duo Improvisation 16741 with modular synthetist Michael Schumacher, recorded live in 2017, likewise takes as its starting point a rapidly bowed arpeggio, but it very quickly develops into a broad exploration of pure sound and extended technique. Extended technique is also very much on display in BABIP, a live solo recording from 2008. The wryly titled deKonstrukt (2013) is another live solo performance, but here Chiu in fine postmodern form appropriates quotations from classical music’s past which he juxtaposes and loops with original material as well. The Live One also includes a 2020 beat-driven trio improvisation with Dan Joseph on hammer dulcimer and Jason Candy on modular synthesizer and beats.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Michael Hersch/The FLUX Quartet – Images from a Closed Ward [New Focus FCR 199]

By design, Images from a Closed Ward, Michael Hersch’s cycle of thirteen movements for string quartet, is not easy listening. Hersch’s inspiration was a set of etchings and prints artist Michael Mazur created of people institutionalized in a mental asylum in Rhode Island in the 1960s. The music is accordingly disturbing—jarring, discordant, harsh and unyielding. Hersch leverages blocks of sound, deliberately out-of-tune harmonies and extended string techniques to convey a world unmoored and unstable, haunted by an emptiness and fundamental self-alienation. One can only imagine what those people experienced or how their surroundings impinged on them; Hersch’s composition provides sixty-five minutes of empathetic conjecture, which the FLUX Quartet realizes with a relentless power.

Daniel Barbiero

Interpretations Fall Season at Roulette

From New York’s Interpretations:

September 17 – Adam Rudolph / Yusef Lateef: 3 World Premieres
A presentation of the longstanding collaboration between percussionist Adam Rudolph and saxophonist/composer Yusef Lateef (presented a few short days prior to Lateef’s 89th birthday). Featuring premiers of Lateef’s Concerto For Percussion (written for Adam Rudolph, with the S.E.M Ensemble conducted by Petr Kotik) and A Syllogism (for baritone and piano, featuring Thomas Buckner), Rudolph’s Nightsky (for baritone and percussion, featuring Thomas Buckner), and readings of original poetry by Yusef Lateef, with musical accompaniment.

October 15 – Daan Vandewalle: Piano Works of Gordon Mumma & Contemporary Belgian Composers
Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle performs selections from his recent recording of piano works by pioneering composer Gordon Mumma dating from 1960-2001, as well as leading postwar Belgian composer Karel Goeyvaerts (1923-1993), emerging Flemish composer Thomas Smetryns, the extremely prolific and unusual composer Boudewijn Buckinx, and American composer Alvin Curran.

November 12 – Earl Howard / Edmund Campion
Saxophonist, composer and electronic sound constructionist Earl Howard presents Strasser 60 for synthesizer solo, 2455 for saxophone solo, and Crupper, an electroacoustic duet w/ Koto player Miya Masaoka. Mixing formal composition, improvisation and interactive instrument design, Edmund Campion’s music focuses on real-time interactive computer/instrument environments. Invited guests include saxophonist Susan Fancher.

December 10 – FLUX Quartet performs David First / Dom Minasi String Quartet
Eclectic composer and punk-era innovator David First premieres new music for string quartet, performed by the FLUX Quartet, and guitarist/composer Dom Minasi presents works from his recent CD Dissonance Makes The Heart Grow Fonder, featuring Dom Minasi on nylon string guitar, with violinist Jason Hwang, cellist Tomas Ulrich, and bassist Ken Filiano.

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Flux Quartet in New York Reviewed


BargeMusic, Old Fulton Street, Brooklyn 07/17/2009

Here and Now: American Contemporary Music Series:
Don Byron: Thoughts on Marvin Gaye
Iván Naranjo: Vibrating Soundless Hum (World Premiere)
David Lang: Wed
Alvin Lucier: Group Tapper (New York Premiere)
Katherine Young: Inside UFO 53-32 (World Premiere)
Giacinto Scelsi: String Quartet No. 2 (for String Quartet and Metallic Mutes)

Flux Quartet: Tom Chiu (Violin), Conrad Harris (Violin), Max Mandel (Viola), Felix Fan (Cello)

On a muggy, rain-sodden evening in Brooklyn, the Flux Quartet provided a program that seemed to be made for lazy reviewers. The titles, in fact, said it allWhat more do we need to know about Vibrating Soundless Hum. Or Alvin Lucier’s Group Tapper? That’s easy. Some musicians sit around and tap. Even the iconic composer Giacinto Scelsi made things graphic, his string quartet written for four players and “metallic mutes”. If they’re mute, why bother to even listen? When it came to David Lang’s Wed, it would obviously be cancelled, since the concert was on Fri.

But this isn’t the way the dynamic young Flux Quartet operates. The four players not only play, they compose, , they work with stars like Yo-yo Ma and Ornette Coleman, DJ Spooky, Meryl Streep and Tiny Tim, they improvise over radio scripts/ And this afternoon (Saturday), they will be playing music based on drawings submitted by an audience.

In other words, the Flux Quartet is the face of avant-garde music. And their program last night for a full house at BargeMusic was evidence of their fans.

Also, see the review in today’s New York Times.

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S.E.M. Ensemble in May

New York’s S.E.M. Ensemble has announced a show:

The Orchestra of the S.E.M Ensemble, FLUX Quartet and Ostravská banda join forces at Alice Tully Hall, May 6 at 8pm

Premieres by Christian Wolff, Salvatore Sciarrino and Petr Kotik

Works by Elliott Carter and György Ligeti

Featuring Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle and Czech violinist Hana Kotková in their Alice Tully Hall debuts
New York, NY, March 24, 2009 – The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, founded and directed by Petr Kotik, joins forces with the FLUX Quartet and the international chamber orchestra Ostravská banda for an evening of adventurous music at the newly re-opened Alice Tully Hall, Wednesday, May 6th, 2009. Featured works include three new pieces by self-taught composers: the premiere of Christian Wolff’s Trio for Robert Ashley (2009), performed by members of the Flux Quartet; the American premiere of Sicilian-born composer Salvatore Sciarrino’s Vento D’ombra (2005), performed by The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble; and the premiere of Petr Kotik’s String Quartet No. 1, Erinnerungen an Jan (2007-09), performed by the Flux Quartet. The program also features renowned Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle in Elliott Carter’s Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra (2003), and award-winning Czech violinist Hana Kotková in György Ligeti’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1990-92) – both making their debuts at Alice Tully Hall. Petr Kotik conducts The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble as well as Ostravská banda.

The second half of the program will highlight Ostravská banda (OB) in its second NY appearance. A unique international chamber orchestra comprised of some of the best young musicians from Europe and the United States, OB was founded in 2005 as the orchestra-in-residence of the acclaimed new music institute and festival, Ostrava Days (www., in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Pianist, Vandewalle, who garnered an international reputation for his remarkable interpretation of contemporary American piano repertoire – “putting many American classical musicians to shame” (American Record Guide) – will be the soloist in Elliott Carter’s Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra.

The concert will culminate with György Ligeti’s highly innovative and incredibly virtuosic Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, performed by Kotková. A frequent soloist with major European orchestras and a former member of the Smetana Trio, Kotková has been hailed by critics as continuing the great Czech violin tradition. Described as “folksong for the homeless” (Paul Griffiths), Ligeti’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra contains a wealth of melodies from Carpathian and the South Eastern part of Europe, Ligeti’s ancestral home. Raised in this part of the world and having played folk music with her family since the age of four, Kotková is a uniquely apt interpreter of Ligeti’s Concerto.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 8:00pm

WHERE: Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, 1941 Broadway at 65th Street, New York

WHO: The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble
FLUX Quartet
Ostravská banda
Hana Kotková Violin
Daan Vandewalle, Piano
Petr Kotik, Conductor

Christian Wolff: Trio for Robert Ashley (premiere)
Salvatore Sciarrino: Vento D’ombra (American premiere)
Petr Kotik: String Quartet No.1 Erinnerungen an Jan (premiere)
Elliott Carter: Dialogues for Piano and Orchestra
György Ligeti: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

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