AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Nicolas Tourney & Phil Canals – American Composers [Bandcamp]

Although they’re several decades old at this point, the innovative graphic and other open-form scores of the postwar New York School composers continue to provide inspiration and stimulation for fresh interpretations from contemporary performers. Part of the reason for this could be the very openness and indeterminacy of the works; given so much latitude within their suggestive constraints, a performer is free to bring to bear his or her own musical background in choosing specific musical values for the variables the scores leave open. American Composers, a new recording from French musicians Nicolas Tourney and Phil Canals, which contains thoughtfully creative arrangements of a number of classic works by Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and James Tenney, shows just how alive these works remain.

Tourney, a guitarist and electronic musician, is credited here with electric guitar and objects; Canals is a multi-instrumentalist represented here on saxophone and stones. The two collaborated on 2019’s Looking North, an album that combined elements of electronic drone and freely melodic saxophone improvisations. On American Composers, they eschew the denser textures and more aggressive timbres of the Looking North in favor of a sound that respects the open musical spaces implicit in the scores they’ve chosen to realize.

The opening track, Wolff’s Looking North, is a verbal score from the collection Prose Pieces. Tourney begins with an elastic but discernible pulse laid out in harmonics and semi-muted tones; Canals contributes evenly-weighted lines on the saxophone. Both explicitly through sound and implicitly through silences Tourney and Canals’ interpretation maintains the rhythmic continuity the score calls for. Brown’s December 1952, arranged for solo guitar, is an unusual realization of the classic graphic composition. Tourney’s way of grouping individual notes and chords gives his version more linear continuity and less pointillistic intermittency than many other versions of this always provocative piece. Also unusual is the duo’s setting of Feldman’s grid-like graphic score Projection 1, originally composed for solo cello. The piece here is realized for both guitar and saxophone. Canals plays most of the score’s events; his largely staccato reading is punctuated on occasion by Tourney’s sparse interventions. Canals gives a solo performance on Cage’s early Sonata for Clarinet, a semi-serial piece Cage wrote in 1933 while studying composition with Richard Buhlig and which was composed before Cage really found his own voice. The other Cage piece Canals and Tourney interpret is 1950’s A Flower for voice and closed piano. Canals plays the part for voice, which is mostly confined to four notes, with a contrasting mixture of vibratoless and vibrato tones; Tourney supplies the piano part by drumming with his hands on an opaque surface.

The album also includes the roaring rush of Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion; Brown’s 4 Systems, a graphic score of variably-lengthed rectangles similar to December 1952 which Tourney and Canals realize with a predominance of overlapping long tones; and Wolff’s Stones, another verbal composition from Prose Pieces, which instructs its performers to make a variety of sounds using…stones.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Pulsinger/Fennesz – In Four Parts [col legno WWE 1CD 20410]

2_20410_pulsinger_coverRecorded live at the WIEN MODERN festival in Vienna in 2012—the centennial year of John Cage’s birth, as it happens—In Four Parts is Patrick Pulsinger and Christian Fennesz’s reimagining of Cage’s 1950 String Quartet in Four Parts.

Cage’s quartet is a generally understated work notable for its restrained dynamics, detached islands of coloristic, non-functional harmonies, and brief, fragmentary melodic motifs. The recurrence of its sets of fixed harmonies gives it a cyclical rather than a static feeling, which reflects Cage’s aesthetic interests at the time he wrote it.

The quartet was the product of a period in the late 1940s when Cage, influenced by the writings and lectures of philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy and his friendship with Gita Sarabhai, created works inspired by the codification and expression of emotion in Indian classical music. He was particularly influenced by the notion that art should reflect nature and its cyclical manner of operation—his first orchestral work was The Seasons of 1947, a ballet score for Lincoln Kirstein—and this notion is not only embodied in the quartet’s four-part structure, but forms its emotional core as well.

Given this background, it was Pulsinger and Fennesz’s inspiration to re-envision rather than recreate Cage’s work. They first reduced the quartet to a duo, with Pulsinger’s analogue modular synthesizer standing in for the viola and cello, and Fennesz’s electronically treated electric guitar replacing the two violins. Their In Four Parts retains the overall structure and trajectory of Cage’s quartet, which lays out a cycle of movement that runs from more to less activity and ends with a burst of unexpectedly energetic themes.

Fennesz’s guitar provides most of the harmonic/melodic material, while Pulsinger’s synthesizer frames it within a context of colors running from unpitched chirps to resonant, bell-like tones, to—in an oblique acknowledgement of the cello’s role as the quartet’s lowest voice—an occasional sub bass more felt than heard. Echoes of Cage’s harmonies occasionally arise, and like Cage’s harmonies these are configured as free standing events populating a texture of progressively thinner density. Until the fourth and final section, which like Cage’s features thicker, more quickly moving sound.

Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts is a beautiful, sublime work. Pulsinger and Fennesz’s In Four Parts is certainly worthy of it.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: San Francisco Tape Music Center – Music from the Tudorfest [New World Records 80762-2]

81QdpSvthxL._SX425_Over the course of six evenings in spring, 1964, the San Francisco studio of radio station KPFA was the site of an exciting presentation of experimental music and proto-performance art cosponsored by KPFA and the San Francisco Tape Music Center. Initiated by composer/musician Pauline Oliveros and curated by pianist David Tudor, the aptly titled Tudorfest featured new and recent work by John Cage, Oliveros, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Alvin Lucier and George Brecht. A selection of performances from those evenings has been brought together in this historically important three-CD set.

The Tape Music Center was the natural choice for undertaking an event like the Tudorfest. Established in 1961 as a studio and performance venue for Bay Area experimental composers and musicians, the center played a key role in fostering new music and intermedia and acted as a kind of bridge between the West Coast performing arts avant-garde and the nascent counterculture. The two groups shared a communal mentality manifesting itself in the spirit of spontaneous invention and an openness to the moment; the arrow of influence here may well have run in either direction. Thus the Tudorfest combined improvisation—embodied in Oliveros’ work for her accordion and Tudor’s newly adopted bandoneon, with vocal contributions from a sporadically gregarious mynah bird—with open form compositions by Cage and Ichiyanagi as well as conceptually-oriented work by Brecht and Lucier. (Because these latter were quasi-theatrical performance pieces relying on a visual element, they were not represented on the release.)

The Cage pieces included here were composed during a time when Cage was turning from chance-generated compositions to compositions employing indeterminacy as a structuring principle. Sometimes this entailed creating scores on transparencies that could be superimposed in varying combinations (Music Walk, Atlas Eclipticalis and Variations II); sometimes it meant scoring works as a series of pages to be chosen at the performer’s discretion (Concert for Piano and Orchestra); sometimes it involved allowing the performer to choose ways to prepare an instrument (34’46.776” for Two Pianos).

Perhaps the most notorious of these indeterminate works—notorious because of its legendary mishandling by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic just weeks before its realization at the Tudorfest—was Atlas Eclipticalis, performed at the Tudorfest in tandem with an electronic version of Winter Music by a sixteen piece ensemble notable for including Tudor on piano, Stuart Dempster on trombone, Oliveros on tuba, Loren Rush on double bass, Morton Subotnick on clarinet, and future Mother of Invention Ian Underwood on flute and piccolo. The need for the performers to realize the work as a kind of collaboration with the composer is encoded in the orchestration; Atlas Eclipticalis (1961-1962), like the Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957-1958), calls for each member of the ensemble to function as a soloist with a separate part. The resulting sound is a kaleidoscopic constellation of notes and noises entering and exiting individually, sometimes sounding alone and sometimes overlapping. The less conventionally scored chance work Music Walk (1957) for piano, radios and other sound makers, and Variations II (1961), for any kind of sound maker, share with Atlas an audio profile made up of discontinuous sound events spread out or clustered into an unpredictable overall texture.

Cage’s 1954 time-length composition 34’46.776” for prepared piano opens the set and is in many respects the most compelling work included. The chance-composed work was originally written for Tudor and premiered at Donaueschingen; it was accompanied by 31’57.9864,” another, simpler duration work for prepared piano that Cage wrote for himself to play while Tudor played 34’46.776.” The works’ pitches were specified but the matter of which preparations to use and how to place them during the course of the performance were left up to the performers. As interpreted by Tudor and Dwight Peltzer (the latter playing 31’57.9864”), the work is a tour de force of linear klangfarbenmelodie. Given the ways the pianos were prepared, some pitches are left with their natural colors, some are muted or made to buzz or rattle, some are simply rendered into pitchless sounds. The interaction between Tudor and Peltzer allows lines to develop with a marked clarity as phrasal continuity is maintained throughout constant changes of pitched and unpitched timbres passing back and forth between the two pianists.

The two Ichiyanagi compositions included in the set are two versions of Music for Piano No. 4 (1960), one electric and one acoustic. Ichiyanagi’s score consists of enigmatic verbal instructions which the performer must then translate into concrete actions. Tudor’s interpretation entailed taking objects and rubbing them against the outside of the piano. (The electronic version calls for putting contact microphones on the objects.) What Tudor elicits from the instrument is in some real sense the sound of a piano, albeit one whose strings are left untouched.

In the fifty years since the Tudorfest the idea that musical performances can encompass sounds and gestures outside of traditional conventions is, if not universally accepted, at the very least admissible. This wasn’t the case in 1964, and it’s therefore significant that the critical response to the Tudorfest—to judge from Alfred Frankenstein’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle—was, in contrast to the hostile response Cage’s work found in New York the February before, sympathetic. In fact, the Bay Area seems to have been unusually open to experimentation with and between art forms as well as to contacts between the art music avant-garde and musicians working in other genres. So much so that by the time of the Trips Festival in January 1966 the local center of cultural gravity was shifting from the avant-garde to the psychedelic bands, many of whose members had attended Tape Music Center events and had been inspired by what they saw and heard. This set is a valuable artifact documenting one moment from that time of great ferment.

Performances Reviews

American Contemporary Music Ensemble – Kindred Spirits in John Cage and Phil Kline, at Tank


Finding connections between John Cage and Phil Kline, experimental composers from different generations and backgrounds, is not very hard. Cage, the Zen master whose chance operations loosened the strictures of contemporary music, surely provided an early model for the random serendipities of Mr. Kline’s subsequent boombox compositions like “Unsilent Night,” a seasonal processional that wound through Greenwich Village streets just over a week ago.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Chance Aesthetics Concert in St. Louis

Next week features an avant concert in St. Louis:

The performance will begin with Music of Changes Book IV: New York, December 13, a piece for solo piano by experimental composer John Cage (1912 -1992). Written in 1951, Music of Changes was Cage’s second fully indeterminate work, with compositional decisions made in consultation with the I Ching, the classic Chinese text. Performer will be Peter Henderson, assistant professor of music at Maryville University.

Next on the program will be The Oracle, a new improvisatory work based on a mobile hanging from the ceiling of the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall. Performers will be guitarist William Lenihan, director of jazz performance; percussionist Henry Claude, teacher of applied music; and cellist Tracy Andreotti. In addition, the performance will feature three dancers: Mary-Jean Cowell, associate professor and coordinator of the Dance Program; David Marchant, senior lecturer in dance; and post-doctoral fellow Ting Ting Chang.

Following intermission, the program will conclude with In C, a classic 1964 work by Terry Riley (b. 1935). Often credited with launching the minimalist movement, In C consists of 53 short, simple musical phrases — lasting from one-half to 32 beats — each of which can be repeated an arbitrary number of times by any combination of musicians.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Squid’s Ear Reviews

From the Squid’s Ear:

Olivier Dumont:
Living in Holes and Disused Shafts

Leo Dumont/Matt Milton:
(Another Timbre Byways)

Abbott / Dumont / Kanngiesser:
Loiter Volcano
(Another Timbre)

Heiner Goebbels:
The Italian Concerto
(I Dischi di Angelica)

Xu Fengxia / Lucas Niggli:
Black Lotos

The Lonesome Echo

Kurt Gottschalk:

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Parriso U.F.O.:
Dark Side of the Black Moon / What Planet Are We On?
(Important Records)

John Cage:
Cage Performs Cage: Empty Words; Music for Piano; One?
(Mode Records)

Quatre Ttes:
(Creative Sources)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Performances Releases Reviews

DMG Newsletter September 18th, 2009

From DMG:

Zorn’s Arcana Book Vol 4! Rare John Cage Book! New London Jazz Composers Orchestra! Takase & Sclavis! Die Enttauschung, Vandermark’s Frame Qt! Fred Anderson 80th B-Day CD!

Gottschalk & Fengxia! Fonda/Stevens Group! Dennis Gonzalez/Frank Lowe Qt! Allan Holdsworth/John Stevens/Danny Thompson ..and Holdsworth ‘Tony Williams‘ Tribute! Laswell’s InnerRhythmic label!


Downtown Music Gallery FREE In-Store Performance Schedule Continues with:

Sunday, September 20th at 6pm:
Two Colossal Bass Clarinetists in a Rare Duet!

Sunday, September 27th Double Header!
A Fine New Drums/Trumpet/Cello Trio!
Wow! Powerful Trombone & Tenor/Soprano sax Duo!

Tuesday, September 29th at 6pm:
Amazing violin/bass/percussion Trio!
Slam Recording Artist Performs a Rare Tuesday Set at DMG!

Sundays, October 4th & 11th – No in-store sets
While the Evan Parker Festival at The Stone Continues!

Sunday, October 18th at 6pm:
Superb New bass clarinet & baritone guitar duo!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Modern Classical at the University of Arkansas

From the University of Arkansas:

The Fulbright College department of music will feature guest trombonist Dirk Amrein in concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 14, in the newly renovated Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. He will be accompanied on piano by Jürg Henneberger in a recital featuring works by John Cage, Merrill Clark, Jürg Wyttenbach, Heinz Holliger and Helena Winkelman.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Squid’s Ear Reviews

From The Squid’s Ear:

Nurse With Wound:
The Surveillance Lounge
(Dirter Promotions)

Oren Ambarchi:
(Black Truffle)

Polwechsel & John Tilbury:

Lawrence English:
A Colour for Autumn

Florian Hecker:
Acid in the Style of David Tudor
(Editions Mego)

Greg Davis:
Mutually Arising

Mary Oliver / Johanna Varner:

Urs Leimgruber & Thomas Lehn:

John Cage:

Lussier / Tetreault / Yoshihide:
Elektrik Toboggan

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Upcoming Seattle Shows

From Wayward Music:


FRI. 8/14, 8 PM – Seattle Percussion Collective – music by Keiko Abe, John Cage, Mauricio Kagel, and Stuart Saunders Smith

SAT. 8/15, 8 PM – Seattle Improvised Music presents Portland saxophonist Kelvin Pittman, in duos, quartets, and sextets with saxophonists Paul Hoskin, Tyler Wilcox, and Wilson Shook and bassists Mark Collins & John Teske


FRI. 8/20 – Seattle Improvised Music presents Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, and Chris Cogburn

SAT. 8/21 – Seattle Improvised Music presents Bonnie Jones, Vic Rawlings, Bryan Eubanks, and Chris Cogburn (night 2)

SAT. 8/22 – Rob Angus + Rich Mack, electro-acoustic – with Lesli Dalaba, Greg Powers, Dean Moore

SAT. 8/29 – AnyWhen + Wayne Horvitz, interesting chamber jazz group from Eugene, OR + solo piano by Horvitz

WED. 9/2 – Subtext Reading Series – Martin Corless-Smith + Brandon Shimoda

FRI. 9/4 – Seattle Composers’ Salon, artists TBA

SAT. 9/12 – Danse Perdue/Death Posture, butoh performance

FRI. 9/18 – David Haney Quintet, new jazz

SAT. 9/19 – Dean Moore, gongs & percussion

FRI. 9/25 – Gamelan Pacifica, music by Jessika Kenney & Lou Harrison

SAT. 9/26 – Steve Peters, 50th birthday concert w/ Gamelan Pacifica, Robin Holcomb, Stuart Dempster, & more

WED. 9/30 – ArtsLaunch, artists TBA

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]