Issue Project Room

Time of the Season

Giving can be hard, exhausting, maybe it’s best to leave it to the holiday seasons, then, when the culture as a whole concentrates on giving. If are thinking about what to give, and to whom, think about ISSUE Project Room. Your support would be most welcome this year, because not only will they be incurring the costs of traveling productions while the Boerum Place venue undergoes 18 months of renovations starting in February, but the Robert D. Bielecki Foundationn will match $15,000 in grants in ISSUE raise $10,000 by the end of the year. That’s not a lot to give, and you can donate or become a member and go to great parties like the one I was at last week, where the brewers Grimm poured their beers and Battle Trance played an incredible, mind-altering set-buy their record, by the way. Besides, like at the kind of thing ISSUE Project gives to Brooklyn and New York City.

 

In the News

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ISSUE Project Room has announced their new publishing imprint, Distributed Objects, which will be producing recordings and “written documents” covering the types of experimental music and performance that is their forte. The primary focus will be work that comes out of ISSUE’s Artist-in-Residence program, but there will also be historical materials.

The first release, set for October of this year, is a set of double LPs from Sabisha Friedberg—The Hant Variance, electronic music configured for a specific space—and Sergei Tcherepnin—Quasar – Lanterns, an eight-channel installation piece. ISSUE will offer a discounted pre-sale ordering opportunity via Kickstarter, beginning Thursday, July 17 (I’ll have word when this goes up).

Forgotten New York

New York City is not what it used to be. That in itself is the enduring feature of the place, which is constantly being made then remade then remade. The city doesn’t have the ancient past of a place like Rome, so, although there is a preservation movement, there is far less challenge in trying to juxtapose the present with the long forgotten past, because the past was not that long ago, and never completely forgotten.

New York is also the most American of all places. Along with the Enlightenment desire for personal liberty and freedom of conscience, the country stands on a foundation of commercial enterprise, and we live in the center of that universe, here in the big city. This is all to explain why the transformation of Times Square from its late 1970s – early 1980s squalor (gritty is too kind a word) to its current state as the true crossroads of the world, in terms of the origins of the people who flock there, doesn’t give me a twinge of sentimental loss. The Times Square of head shops, porno theaters, hookers and live sex shows was a commercial enterprise just as much as the current one is. Calling it a playground for adults only damns the adults who found constructive playfulness there. Personally, I can put it best by admitting that I saw “The Terminator” and “C.H.U.D.” in theaters there, and also “Caligula,” with Spanish subtitles and some things with Vanessa Del Rio in them. No, I don’t miss the place.

Other parts of New York have been transformed since then, with more mixed results. It’s a good thing that the Bowery is safer than it used to be, but when a fancy hotel prices the Downtown Music Gallery out of the neighborhood, something very strange is going on. And then there’s the East Village. And Tompkins Square Park. The Pyramid Club is still there, but does anything happen there anymore that matters? The park itself is lovely and livable, as a park should be – they are public resources meant for all citizens, and no group, no matter how worthy or sympathetic, should have a monopoly on the place. Parks are for kids, and lovers, and napping and strolling. The trouble is that the park may now have a gentle monopoly that has shoved some of those citizens out of its gates.

It was the Riot that did it, the Tompkins Part Riot in the summer of 1988. The context for the riot was a stew of social antagonisms; the East Village was already beginning to gentrify, putting young professionals on the same streets with young punks and squatters, junkies and street criminals. There were protests against gentrification, and complaints over loud music played in the park. At a protest on August 6, the police charged and attacked citizens and ended up beating on everyone in sight, just because they could. The immediate result united all sides in outrage for the moment, but for the people who lived in the East Village on little or no money, the people who came to the East Village for a sense of freedom, even anarchy, not available at home or even in Greenwich Village, those people had already lost the war before this battle was joined. The freaks, weirdos, outcasts, good and bad, the irreverent heart of this city and America, had to scatter to . . . Brooklyn, New Jersey, Astoria . . . where ever.

A certain focus in art was lost, especially in music. This was the high point of post-punk “downtown” music, an exciting, extroverted movement that had less of a goal than a method, which was to try shit and see how it worked. It was a general drift of sympathy that brought together the likes of John Zorn, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Arto Lindsay, Peter Blegvad, Tom Johnson, members of the Sun Ra Arkestra, and many, many others in a mix of jazz, punk, funk, Stockhausen, cartoon music, free improvisation and generally good natured, boundary evaporating anarchy. There was enough sense of disorganization, real or imagined, so that the music that was in the clubs, on tapes, available at the New Music Distribution Service or the old Lunch For Your Ears, had a surprise to it, the feeling that the cats just happened to turn the corner of Avenue C and hey, what’s going on, we got this gig, you want to play too? It was casual, but serious, because the musicians were serious about what they were doing, and either seriously skilled or, like Christian Marclay, seriously brilliant conceptualists and artists.

For the most part, it’s all gone. Yes, the music being made right now, music I hear and see and write about often, does destroy the boundaries between genres. It does so in different ways, though, with different qualities. The old downtown scene was not only rough-edged but didn’t so much synthesize different music as put them side by side to see what would come out of the conflict and abrasion. Today’s downtown scene is, literally, uptown, and the music has had time to steep in universities and conservatories, where musicians and composers have found ways to put the different parts together into well-made pieces. One is in no way better than the other, but it would be preferable to have them both.

One of the remnants of this scene is Elliott Sharp. He’s not a fossil nor a throwback, he’s simply been making music, prolifically, since the late 1970s, and he is celebrating his 60th birthday (which was March 1), this weekend at Issue Project Room. Sharp is a fabulous, serious musician, practiced, knowledgeable and committed. The musicians and ensembles he’ll be playing with attest to his astonishing range and, even more, a generous and sympathetic musical nature that comes through clearly in his playing. You can hear it on four new recordings that have come out in just the last year alone – there are more, I just haven’t got them yet!

Sharps ability to play the guitar is surpassed only by his imagination, intelligence and skill as an improviser. Improvising is more than just making something up, it is making something out of what you made up, and it’s a skill that demands excellent chops and a constant supply of interesting things to say – you have to be an interesting person. I’ve never spoken with Sharp, but I have heard countless interesting things from him. Take the fluid density of Octal, Book Two , the follow up to a 2008 CD. The liner notes discuss Lisa Randall’s book “Warped Passages,” the use of alternate tunings and the way his guitar is miked, and it’s all interesting and doesn’t really matter, because the playing is just astonishing. Sharp plucks the strings with his fingers, and that allows him to produce polyphonic music that is dense with activity and, because of his skill, always clear. While he doesn’t play at all like Cecil Taylor, he is very much like Taylor in the sheer mass and velocity of his ideas, flowing forth in a rapid, controlled stream, each one as defined as a diamond. The two Octal recordings are on the jazz Clean Feed label, but they’re not really jazz and he’s never been a jazz musician. There is a whole universe of improvisation beyond jazz, music that is as much a great art and dedicated calling, and Sharp is one of the very finest ever put on record. These CDs are essential recordings for anyone interested in him or improvised music, and he’ll be playing excerpts from the music at the Saturday concert. The term face-melting will truly apply.

He’s not a jazz player, but he’s a hell of a blues guitarist, and his band Terraplane makes great, heavy, modern blues, seriously real and fun. The music is so strong and real. While other musicians with roots in the downtown scene have gone on to build conglomerations based in glibness, increasingly self-referential, gestural and jejune, on Abstraction Distraction , Sharp has done, almost casually, what many others try and do with great effort and never quite succeed at; he’s made a record of truly abstract funk, all by himself, using electronics to support his impressive tenor and soprano sax playing. The opening “Quadrantids” starts off with a pleasantly analog rumble, the kind of thing you get by twisting a nob on a filter, and then heads into amazing territory, free-form but also controlled, based on patterns but full of surprises, truly danceable. He has a nice, strong, mellow sound on both horns, bits of qualities from great jazz players who have come before, but the electronics seem to recontextualize any bits of jazz history out of the picture, and the result is a music that is both truly strange and truly new. Some of Bill Laswell’s units have tried to reach a similar place, music that has the funk and intellectual freedom, but he always loses his way into ironic pop clichés. Sharp is one of the most cliché-free musicians there is, on par with Derek Bailey and Lee Konitz, and this gives the record an almost naïve freshness, like Sharp can only do things that have not been done before. I’ve never heard anything like Abstraction Distraction, which, now that I’ve heard how possible this music is, seems a deep shame. This disc is not for everyone, it will perturb any expectations of standard song forms, but it is not only a treat but a testament to Sharp’s enduring artistic vision. Currently in heavy rotation at the 8BC Lounge in Forgotten New York . . .

One of the landmarks of this forgotten New York was the Binibon, a 24 hour joint at 2nd and 5th, a scene hangout back in the late 70s-early 80s. It’s also the title and subject of Sharp’s opera, with a libretto by Jack Womack. The Binibon is where Jack Henry Abbott, back in the City due in no small part to Norman Mailer’s slumming, encountered waiter Richard Adan, and soon after stabbed him to death. Sharp and Womack’s Binibon is based around this tragedy, follows a narrative of personal memories and regrets through a handful of characters, including Abbott, culminating in the event that the piece represents as a symbol of the end of an era. The murder, and the closing of the Binibon, happened in 1981, well before the riot, but like I said, the struggle had been lost by 1988, perhaps the opera explains the beginning of the end.

This is an excellent piece. It features long, spoken narration, but straight forward, not in the manner of Robert Ashley. There is singing too, but it’s a real opera regardless of the balance between speaking and singing. Sharp’s music supports the text beautifully and tells the story in its own way. Womack’s libretto is tough-guy-romantic in style, a bit clichéd but saved by its sincerity. The band; guitar, saxophone, clarinet, bass, drums, percussion and electronics, is great, because it’s all Elliott Sharp – he makes and plays all the music, a rich melange of punk, jazz, rock, beautifully heavy early hip-hop beats. It’s forceful, expertly colored and judged, always interesting. This is a truly impressive work on CD, involving, fascinating, emotionally powerful, one of the most accomplished new, non-standard operas I’ve heard in a long time.

Why stop with that? There’s a film score out too, for “Spectropia,” a science fiction movie involving time travel. This gives Sharp the reason/excuse, to write music for different ensembles in different styles. The range on this CD is like that on one of Zorn’s collections of his own film music, but in this case the range is focussed on one subject. There are sludgy guitar chords, bouncing digital bleeps, shuffling jazz, string quartet music, and the strongest singing I’ve heard from Debbie Harry. Along with Sharp, the musicians include the Sirius String Quartet and the ‘31 Band, featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Swell and Anthony Coleman. This is not as deep or powerful an artistic statement as the other recordings discussed here, the variety of sound without the film comes off as fragmented at times, but it’s full of invention and is an admirable bookend to the music that Sharp has given us so far.

Go see this great musician, it will be memorable. Friday, the event is at the 110 Livingston Street future home of IPR, and is a benefit for the venue, with tickets that include an after-party and special VIP events for tax-deductible, VIP prices. Saturday is in the cozy confines at 3rd and 3rd, a place where even strangers are joined in the friendship of music. That day starts with an open rehearsal at five, and goes late into the evening. It will be great.

UPDATE: fixed video links

UPDATE 2: put in the classic photo to help fill out new theme

Bop Till You Drop

At the end of these short days in December, there are nights full of great music. Try and get out and catch some of this stuff (none of it holiday music!):

Read this great little piece about Steven Blier then go see him at the New York Festival of Song program Manning the Canon . . . at Issue Project Room you can hear the Darmstadt Essential Repertoire festival – Sequenzas, Knee Plays, Gesang der Jünglinge, et. al. – it’s an amazing program of 20th century experimental masterpieces . . . the ACO has a concert and the Chiara Quartet is returning . . . Matt Marks is working on an opera about a cannibal . . . the Yale Percussion Group will be at Zankel . . . an amazing Interpretations event for Muhal Richard Abrams . . . Ken Thompson is at Music at First . . . Miller Theater hosts a portrait of Pierre Boulez, with the man in attendance . . . the second concert in the Pacifica Quartet’s Shostakovich cycle . . . more CONTACT! . . . The Dither Quartet has a workshop project with new electric guitar music . . . Catch the excellent Ideal Bread playing the music of Steve Lacy at the Cornelia Street Cafe . . . there’s Baroque music in Brooklyn . . . Film Forum and Carnegie Hall are both honoring Toru Takemitsu . . .

And of course there’s a holiday event, both free and encouraging participation, Unsilent Night. I’ll see you at that one, I’m sure.

UPDATED: additional listings

Go See: Brooklyn 2010-11 And More

A lot of what I see and recommend is in Manhattan because that’s where some great performing organizations and venues are. But too much of Manhattan is stuck permanently in the 1980s, with cock-of-the-walk financial and real estate types running things, and running them into the ground. Brooklyn is great on its own, and by default doesn’t yet suffer from the same plague. Although there is the Atlantic Yards project.

Brooklyn is increasingly becoming a great places to hear great music of all kinds, from the Baroque era through the experimental nexus of classical, rock, jazz and electronics. Most of the venues are small and have packed schedules, too much detail to run down completely without the eyes glazing over. So here is an annotated list of selected places and things:

  • Issue Project Room: Simply the best place in all of New York City for experimental and avant-garde music of all varieties. They have something almost every night of the week, and the fall highlight is the three day Vital Vox festival which features Jen Shyu, Corey Dargel, Joan La Barbara and the unclassifiable Chris Mann.
  • Bargemusic: Chamber music from the Baroque to the present, on the water and looking out over lower Manhattan.
  • Music at First: I’ve recommended this series before, but I want to point it out again. It’s modest in scope but ambitious in terms of musical interest and accomplishment.
  • Roulette: included here because they will be moving to Brooklyn. A wide range of jazz and new music, make sure to check out Thomas Buckner‘s Interpretations series, which consistently offers the most unique, interesting and challenging programs around.
  • Neighborhood Classics Series: directed by Simone Dinnerstein and this year featuring great musicians like Maya Beiser, Pablo Ziegler, Richard Stoltzman and Dinnerstein herself.

And, although I can’t recommend BAM in general, there are the occasional worthwhile things on the program. Try and see Evan Ziporyn‘s opera A House In Bali , going up this week. Ziporyn is rapidly becoming one of the finest American composers writing for, and about, the gamelan, and I’m anticipating that this work, about the composer Colin McPhee who brought gamelan music into Western Classical, will be quite involving. And if you like it, you can hear more of Ziporyn’s music at Zankel Hall on October 30.

Most of this stuff is off the beaten path, and in the same cultural nooks and crannies, so make note of the concerts at the Metropolitan Museum, where TIll Fellner finishes his refreshing and wonderful Beethoven Piano Sonata cyle this Friday and the Pacifica Quartet begins their Shostakovich Quartet cycle on the 22nd. There’s also the North River Music’s 25th Anniversary Season, with concerts at Greenwhich House featuring La Barbara (obviously going through a nice purple patch), the great electronic music composer Morton Subotnick, Ne(x)tworks and the fabulous and exciting Respect Sextet. Also going up at the end of the month Ear To The Earth 2010, a festival of music and the environment. This year’s theme is water, the appearing will be R. Murray Schafer, a composer who has also written the most important (and beautiful) book about sound, and music and works from Phill Niblock, Miguel Frasconi and Annea Lockwood. Go.

The Radical Simplicity Of The Avant-Garde

Landmarks tell us where we are, they help us get to where we’re going. They appear differently to us depending on our distance and angle, and it is that relation which orients us. No matter how concrete and specifically defined they are as objects, their meaning and function are mainly subjective and relative.

In Brooklyn, the main landmark is the Williamsburg Bank tower, which tells us how close or far we are from two central hubs, the meeting place of the Long Island Railroad and the New York City Subway system, and the complex of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Both of those can tells us our distance and direction to an enormous expanse of places and ideas, but the latter is also a mirage. Like a false oasis in the desert, it fools people into thinking they can see how near the avant-garde is, but there is no avant-garde there. Because unlike a point in space or on a spectrum of style, the avant-garde is far less an idea (or in fashionably ‘concrete’ terms a construct), but a practice; the practice of radical simplicity.

If you’re in Brooklyn, though, and heading in a particular direction, the bank tower can help you easily find your way to a place where that practice of radical simplicity happens almost every night, the Issue Project Room, slightly west and due south from BAM. It seems like an appropriate relationship, in relative terms, and it’s even more appropriate that the future home of Issue Project is almost due west (or left) of the complex. It’s at Issue Project Room where you can see and hear, not things like the simplistic pop philosophy of a Laurie Anderson (who appears avant-garde only in relation to a range limited to the span from Talking Heads to Beck), but music in its most basic, unselfconscious state, sounds as the result of practice, sounds made possible through questions, not results circumscribed by easy answers.

In June the Darmstadt Institute 2010 was in residence at IPR, and the programs I saw were extraordinary, leaving powerful, lasting impressions that mock the concept of taste; of good and bad, of like and dislike. The series title is a multifold homage, both honoring and teasing the annual Darmstadt symposiums on Serious Music. Those have long been both a resource and a bane, a place to offer creative possibilities in music and also to ossify them into aesthetic dogma. Well, as Robert Greenburg liked to say in my graduate school seminars, dogma eats dogma. In contrast, the Darmstadt Institute at IPR could not be less dogmatic. Under the gentle and social auspices of Nick Hallett and Zach Layton, it presented programs with the idea of offering interesting music, and worthwhile areas of exploration, while agnostically declining to tell anyone how great or important it might be.

It’s a subtle and important distinction, and allows IPR to present important context to the programs without coming off as lecturing or dictating ‘proper’ responses. The result is a way into listening to music that may be so unfamiliar as to baffle, and the genuine pleasure of learning and incorporating a new idea or aesthetic view. A real triumph of this approach was the June 18th evening dedicated to Luc Ferrari that, with his widow Brunhild in attendance, was also a gracious and unofficial public tribute to one of the quietly monumental artist of the previous century. The structure of the program turned out to be, itself, musical, with the second half offering a musical response to the musical presentation of the first half, in a creative spiral built around Ferrari’s electro-acoustic work “Tautologos III.” To start, IPR screened a documentary, “Luc Ferrari: Facing His Tautology,” made shortly before his death, in which he supervises a recording session for the work. In the second half, Ensemble Pamplemousse and David Grubbs played the piece, and another work, in a living and ongoing dialogue with the composer, who, having just appeared in front of us, was as alive as everyone else in the space.

“Tautologos III” uses structured improvisation against an electronic audio track, the musicians creating their own material then following rules about repetition and entrances. The performances, as heard in the film and live, were completely different in sound (with very different instrumentation) and style, the common identifying thread being the audio. That track, as chaotic and random as it may sound, is the regimented part, the sonic events taking place in the same order and at the same times. In the film, the musicians created their material with an ear towards almost pop music riffs (Ferrari remarks to one of them, smiling, how horrible a phrase is), while Pamplemousse was more abstract and understated, more radically simple, carefully placing sounds in time and listening to each other. That is, after all, the fundamental practice of making music, with notation, tunings, harmonies and forms comprising the wonderful artifice of a developed, abstract art. The quiet, focussed, transparent and contemplative performance was a dialogue with the composer that came to a superb stopping point but which can never, thankfully, actually end. Pamplemousse and Grubbs finished the evening off with “Et tournent les sons dans la garrigue,” an instructions-based piece for an improvising ensemble. It was some of the finest group improvising I’ve heard. A punishing drum stroke began a ritual of listening and playing, call and response; beautiful, sustained sonorities in the strings, augmented with flute and then following by a quiet, repeated guitar note and the lovely tone of a bowed piano string. It was the sound of how civilizations began, ten thousand years ago, via the simplest dialogue and consensus. An improvising ensemble tosses ideas amongst its members, who ideally find a musical consensus and from it build a group expression. Pamplemousse’s consensus was in creating a group sonority, maintaining a constant, luminous sound while slowly adjusting the pitch material to move the music from one point in time to the next. As the audience listened and watched, they sculpted the air between, the musicians developing a varied palette of attacks, the piece expressing the paradox of taking on more coherent information while the sound itself began to disintegrate, a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics that only music can accomplish. The activity receded into a beautiful, sonorous end built around the return to the consensus of sustained pitches, colored by arpeggiations. Then, in a way that only the radical simplicity of improvisation allows, pianist David Broome broke with the consensus as the other instruments dropped out, and played a coda, a pocket ballad touching on standard ideas of melody and harmony, something simple, touching, attractive, transporting the piece from one place into another, completely different, brand new and absolutely fitting. The expressive beauty of the moment left the audience in awe.

Ferrari’s work is in part about how music makes civilization, and two nights later Darmstadt followed it up with how music works on the body, with an evening of discussion and performance titled “Biomusic.” It was mysterious, unnerving and stimulating, like a a vivid, provocative dream. In three parts, it was lecture, music and film (actually more of an exercise in extreme audio and visual stimulation). Branden Joseph, Frank Gallipoli Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, spoke about contrasting ideas of the simplest music of all, pure sound, as embodied in the most generously civilized idea of Max Neuhaus‘ public sound out (his famous Times Square installation is a prime example), and the materialistic dystopia of Manfred Eaton, who’s concept of “Bio-Music” shows what thoughts are possible when everything is a commodity, and every idea about governing is based on who controls whom. Eaton, an inventor more professionally known for his work on brakes for train engines and cars, developed a speculative but detailed system for creating sound and music via a direct connection between brain waves and sound producing apparatus, and sought to implement the idea as a means to control the consciousness of others. The combination of the creative possibilities and the malevolent intent was fascinating and disorienting to hear in discussion, like watching Donnie Darko and trying to figure out if there actually is a copy of The Philosophy of Time Travel in print. Joseph was an expert guide into these ideas; clear, logical, giving just enough detail and context for the oddness at their cores but trusting the audience to capably follow him along.

He was followed by composer David Dunn, playing two pieces each based on a biological premise. The first used ultrasonic sound, lowered down to the level of general human perception, to explore the idea of what bats might perceive sonically if they flew through his New Mexico backyard (or, really, what we might ‘see’ if we were bats). The second was described by Dunn as offering an answer to the question, what if viruses have ears? After thinking of the questions, Dunn removed himself as much as possible from the process of producing the sounds that made up the pieces, at least in terms of what it means to be a composer. For the first piece, he used a binaural ultrasonic mic and recorded the sonic landscape of his backyard, a landscape we would never hear under normal circumstances, but one that we can hear in the concert setting. The second piece was realized through two oscillators Dunn built, designed to work with and against each other via feedback, a bit of creative destruction applied to Eaton’s fundamental concept. Where Eaton was concerned with the idea of control taken to the extremes of social organization, Dunn is interested in autopoiesis, the function of the means of making a piece working to produce, and destroy, the piece’s form, and vice versa. A simple, extraordinarily elegant idea that can propagate itself as much as a compose produces it, and creates complex sounds. Some have a tactile quality, especially in the depiction of what a bat might see, which can seem startling at first but is essential to sound – touch at a distance. While composers use their art to organize sound to touch us in certain, frequently manipulative ways – they want us to feel something – Dunn has us observe sound being created in front of us, seemingly without any emphasis, as if it were a creature seen in the wild. His bats fly according to their own thoughts and needs, his oscillators work with and react to each other. The feeling that observable order was on the verge of coalescing in the second piece was riveting; after burning seemingly randomly through extremely fast pulse rates and frequencies, they would meet on a single pitch for brie moments, charged with the tension that their equilibrium was too unstable to hold. It was another effective demonstration of how simple ideas can create complex results, and how an increase in coherent information and ideas in a piece of music can seem like chaos when it is anything but.

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Not a dirty projector

Biomusic came to an end with the singular work of Bruce McClure. He works with film, but he doesn’t make movies, and he works with sound, but he’s not a composer. His piece, Ventriloquent Agitators, accessorized with amiably eccentric hand-written program notes and a set of ear plugs with a noise reduction rating of 33dBA, was performed by means of four film projectors, threaded with simple patterns of light and dark frames, alternating as four sections of a square on the projection surface. As the film moves through projectors, the images are also produced as optical sound signals and processed through a series of guitar effects and then sent out through the PA system. The result is rapidly shifting/switching patterns of light and dark, on and off, binary images along with deeply thrumming, complex monotone sound, the image and sound closely coordinated. McClure is playing with, and exploring, the simplest biological reactions to input in our senses. The inexactness of the analog projection slowly, hypnotically transforms the heavy, hard sound into an irresistible rhythm, relaxing in spite of the sonic force, while the stimulation of the lights creates a powerful and vaguely pleasing sense of disorientation in the brain. The experience was unique, the power almost overwhelming but McClure’s complete guilelessness and his open-minded questioning of possibilities and curiosity about what might happen are communal, and so the feeling of having someone run their fingers through your mind was an appropriately dreamlike experience for an evening that beyond with a trip into the rabbit hole, and left us with the dazed refreshment of waking from a profoundly deep and much needed sleep.

Dunn stuck around for a couple days for an evening dedicated to the late composer Kenneth Gaburo, a difficult figure in very real ways. Gaburo is obscure, even in the world of contemporary music, for the singular quality of his work, which seems untethered from centuries of tradition, and his clearly irascible personality. He created an impressive and influential body of work, while exploring some of the most radically simple, and avant-garde, ideas and processes in music. He used standard instrumentation and forms for a period, even had a piece performed by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos. He also made some fine, important tape and electronic compositions, like “Lemon Drops” from 1964-65. Why he was being remembered, and the evening was as much remembrance as performance, with Dunn, Larry Polansky and Chris Mann present, discussing Gaburo as the man and composer they knew, with Warren Burt joining via projection from Australia, was for his creation of an unclassifiable art that combine linguistic raw materials, musical structure and theatrical performance, an idea he called Compositional Linguistics.

We need artists like Gaburo to think these thoughts and do this work for us. Language is at the core of the human species, and music is not only a language but arguably the very first human language. Language makes society, and thus civilization. The language of speech and writing and music has developed over thousand of years, especially that of music, which in the West has become an entirely abstract concept, a language without inherent meaning. In the context of our aesthetic culture, breaking down musical instruments to their common core – the human body that plays them – and breaking down music to it’s most fundamental component – the sound created by the human mouth – led Gaburo to a way of structuring spoken language as music. This is a necessarily simplistic description of things that not even a graduate seminar could treat with proper justice, but it gives some sense of what makes his most famous piece, “Maledetto,” what it is. A ‘Composition for seven virtuoso speakers,’ “Maledetto” is a forty-five minute opus that begins with a speaker describing and attempting to explain the origin of the screw. As he continues, other voice join in, working from a different but ubiquitous definition from screw, that is the verb, and exploring an impressively comprehensive set of slang riffs on the carnal act. The speaker is the straight-man, and by the time he mentions Archimedes’ endless screw, the effect is amazing and hilarious. His coda, where the screw becomes an object contracted by his brother-in-law for the government, and through which the government . . . well, you know what The Man does to us. The piece has a clearly made musical structure; a shape, sections, internal counterpoint, but although there are occasional sung tones the material is spoken. It’s music, it’s theater, it’s a lecture, it’s fascinating, indescribable, unsettling, prodding the listener to abandon every notion they previously held about the possibilities of music. It’s clearly loved and hated at the same time, and Mann described how it encouraged him to get on a plane and come argue with Gaburo, and argument that continues sympathetically after his death. Sitting on a stool, Mann offered his latest argument, which he called “The Art Of The Diff,” something newly completed but with elements of previous work like “a history of grammar” and the example below. While it’s not clear to me what he and Gaburo argue over, his use of language seems both sympathetic to and different from the composer. The wonderful combination of mutterings and gestures, the sense that we are watching someone in the process of thinking and trying to put those thoughts into language, seem in line with Gaburo’s work, and Mann uses much more specific material, that is words that we recognize and that have a real meaning. But he shifts the concept and context around him as he speaks, himself at the still center while we whip around trying to find or bearings. I do not know what to call it, but it has a magical effect, and is full of charm and human values.

“Maledetto” was not performed (you can listen to it here and read Gaburo’s notes), but there was a performance of his “Ave Maria,” Warren Burt played, via projection, a realization of a text piece he had recorded, and Issue Project screened an amazing and mesmerizing film, unfortunately not currently available, that Gaburo made of one of his text pieces in performance. The piece instructed the three performers to each take a children’s rhyme, “London Bridge” was one of them, and substitute a regular pattern of phonemes, vocal sounds and even body sounds like snapping and slapping, and perform them with the regular cadences of the originals. The work, and the film, alternated between the three performers in sepia-toned close-ups, revealing their physical humanity but cloaking their identities. This is very difficult to perform, and the results were virtuosic. Watching and listening was incredibly disorienting at first, like being spoken to by a space alien, but the repetition, and Gaburo’s true genius, worked on the language centers in the brain, so that the listener could gradually discern a structure and a purpose, and then began to look forward to hearing the next repetition as small revelations piled one upon the other. What Gaburo managed was to rewire the brain from the most basic materials, to return the brain to a fundamental state, free of the clutter of civilization and culture, to make music as if for the first time in history. An extraordinary concept and achievement, and radically simple.

UPDATED: Added photo of McClure’s projector set-up

UPDATED II: Ferrari piece now strictly identified as “Tautologos III,” as per David Grubbs via Nick Hallett

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Hotter Than July

Forgive the clever title, but after the ridiculous, oppressive heat of May and June, every cell in my body is telling me that it’s now October. Of course, it’s July, and that will be more than obvious next week when the predicted temperatures in New York City will be in the mid-90s. But it snowed last winter, so nothing to worry about…

So what’s good to do in July? Plenty, and plenty of it free:

July 1 (That’s tonight!) – “I Do Not Doubt I Am Limitless: Walt Whitman’s Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Bridge Park, 5PM – Midnight (Free). This is an evening of music and readings celebrating this great American and great Brooklynite, put together by the Brooklyn Heights Association and ISSUE Project Room. Ignore the description of the poet’s “psychedelic spirit” and go for the great variety of music, the beautiful outdoor setting and the words of the man himself.

July 1 – September 26Christian Marclay: Festival, Whitney Museum. You won’t have to rush off to this, but it does open today and is one of the highlights of the summer and a major event. It is more of a musical performance than anything else. There are physical exhibits of Marclay’s artifacts, both found and self-produced, and continuous screenings of video work, but what makes this different is that each day there will be performances as part of the exhibition featuring such artists as Elliot Sharp, Lee Ranaldo, Nicholas Collins, Ikue Mori and Sylvie Courvoisier. The structure of Marclay’s work means that if you go see this more than once, it will be different each time, and that’s a rare experience in a museum.

MonthlongSummerstage, Citywide. The schedule for music in the parks is dense this month, and if you have to suffer the heat, why not group together in a sweaty throng for a good time? The most exciting shows look to be: (in Manhattan) July 7, Central Park – Nortec Collective; July 12, Central Park – The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital; July 17, Central Park – Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Giant Steps; July 31, Central Park – Jovanotti, Los Amigos Invisibles and Natalia Lafourcade.

MonthlongCelebrate Brooklyn!, Prospect Park. The season continues with these highlights: July 8 – Armitage Gone! Dance; July 11 – OkayAfrica with The Roots and Talib Kweli; July 22 – Charlie Chaplin movies with live accompaniment of score by Carl Davis; July 31 – Sonic Youth, Grass Widow and Talk Normal.

July 8 – 17 The Little Death, Vol. 1 , St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. Matt Marks new recording, The Little Death Vol. 1, is excellent, and since it’s essentially a musical, the staged performances will be even better. I strongly recommend this, even though it’s not free.

July 13 – 19New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks (and indoors), various locations. Check their schedule for the different locations, but go out and hear the hometown orchestra, which is becoming much more a part of New York again under Alan Gilbert. The programs include appearances by Lang Lang and works of Ravel, Lyadov, Prokofiev and Bernstein. That’s good summer music.

July 11 (weekly thereafter) – Summergarden: New Music for New York. This is the annual free concert series held outdoors at the Museum of Modern Art. I’m personally nostalgic for this, as I’ve heard a lot of great music when I’ve been down and out, including a memorable evening of a Feldman’s Why Patterns amidst conversation, insect and traffic sounds and the ringing cash register.

July 7 – 25Lincoln Center Festival. There are always things you can pay for as well, and the festival consistently presents involving programming of music, dance and theater. The real problem is choosing, and if it’s any help at all I would highlight Emir Kusturica, the Varèse festival and La porta della legge . And keep an eye out for Lincoln Center Out of Doors, starting July 28, for great free performances.

That’s a packed schedule, so the list should end here. But again, if you’re going to stay home and want to hear something new, William Britelle’s Television Landscape drops on July 27, and it is absolutely great. Hear me now, believe me later, or wait for my review.

Next To Nothing


This Friday evening, in a small room in an appropriately still industrial part of New York City, Ensemble Pamplemousse and David Grubbs will present some of the unique and important music of Luc Ferrari. The modest $10 ticket returns two New York City premieres and a screening of a film on the composer, made with him less than a month before his death in late summer 2005.

Ferrari was an early and important member of the group of composers who pioneered musique concrète, but his career encompassed so much more, including music for acoustic instrumental ensembles and engrossing audio works assembled out of sound recordings of locations. Those works specifically, and his entire body of work, are travelogues of the mind and the imagination and once the ear is used to their method, which as the title of his seminal Presque Rien (“next to nothing”) indicates is to use the most ordinary and humble methods, they have a mysterious and powerful emotional and spiritual effect. Made with microphones, recording and editing equipment, they are full of humanity.

The draw is in the work and the musicians, especially Pamplemousse who were so impressive in their performance at the MATA festival. There’s a welcome abundance of excellent new music ensembles around, like ACME, ICE, the Argento Ensemble and The Knights, and Pamplemousse stands out for their ability to play the most abstract works with excitement, clarity and meaning. I anticipate a truly memorable event.

If you want to hear more of Ferrari’s work, immediately take advantage of something that may be a mistake; a 10 CD collection, generally $100 or so for the box (that’s if you can actually find it), is currently available for download from Amazon for the amazing price of $19.98. You may not love all 10 hours of sound and music, but it’s both a deeply involving collection and an unbelievable bargain. While the price seems to fulfill the promise of the digital economy of music, something tells me this is going to be ‘corrected’ eventually, so be quick.