Why New Music Louisville: The Evolution of NuMuLu (part 1.5) – New Solo Cello Repertoire and Extended Techniques

So much music, so little time...
So much music, so little time…

As I was looking for scores for my students who performed at the ISSMA Solo and Ensemble Contest this past Saturday, I came across a number of my collection of sheet music for new solo cello works. I’ve not looked through them until lately as I’ve started up my two lastest new music projects (The Mothership Ensemble and Camera Lucida). The photo above barely scratches the surface of what I’d collected in that last half of the 90s before transitioning into more Performance Art and Experimental Noise Music.

I know that I said I was going to go directly into part 2, but I think this short detour through 1.5 is warranted as I’ve been slowly coming back into doing this repertoire again.

During my senior year at the DePauw Music School, I actually performed my senior recital in the first semester.  The repertoire was pretty traditional–though I did include a number of early 20th century works on it (Webern’s Three Short Pieces for Cello and Piano, Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Cello, and the sublime movement from Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus”) in addition to the Beethoven and Schubert works I performed.

My plan was to do a “second senior recital” which would be a lecture/performance and I would focus on new music. That never happened as I was quickly getting burned out on the whole conservatory and traditional music scene. By then I was already exploring the more experimental side and often performing/premiering new pieces by student composers.  Also, my cello professor, Eric Edberg, was starting to get his cello students into improvisation which is an essential skill for any well rounded musician doing new music. I would often just spend a couple of hours improvising alone or with friends and we occasionally recorded those sessions.

Eric also started getting into looping and we’d sometimes go over to his house for cello studio parties and just play with the Jamman Looper he had. I seemed to take to it intuitively enough as this first attempt with any looper shows:

I would later spend a summer house-sitting for him and record dozens of hours worth of improvisations with the looper such as this one in which I explored microtones (yeah, I was heavily into Harry Partch at the time).

During this that early Chello Shed period, I performed a number of these solo cello works.  Sometimes this was within the context of presentations or lectures, such as Xenakis’ Nomos Alpha.

"Xenakis: The Structure of His Nomos Alpha" Lecture/Performance based on the Thomas DeLio's published analyses of the work.
“Xenakis: The Structure of His Nomos Alpha” Lecture/Performance based on the Thomas DeLio’s published analyses of the work.

Other times, these would simply be “recitals” where I’d often also include many of my own experimental compositions. In that two year period of Chello Shed events I probably performed a couple dozen pieces for solo cello, cello and electronics, or experimental cello pieces–including a good half dozen of my own.

Since I’ve come back to new music for solo cello in the past couple of years, I’d already spent nearly the past decade exploring a variety of other techniques and genres which incorporate the cello.  I’ve recently become very interested in repertoire that focuses on the cello and voice (and there are a fair number of works like this) since I’ve spent nearly all my time back at the cello regularly singing while playing the cello.  Repeat performances of “Wormhole:Caesura” (string trio and baritone) by Rachel Short (the other director of the Mothership Ensemble) had me singing the Baritone line while playing the cello due to vocalist issues after the premiere performance. I’ve also recently performed Joan LaBarbara’s “a trail of indeterminate light” which requires the cellist to sing while performing during one section.

A piece I’m looking forward to performing in the near future, as this year will mark the 75th birthday of Louis Andriessen, is “In Voce.”

I’ve been surprised (and pleased) at how quickly some of these skills have come back to me–and I remember how quickly it was to pick up and learn new repertoire–especially as you get immersed in it. And with my two current (and yet to be announced upcoming) new music projects I imagine I’ll be all over the map with new repertoire and tricks in the near future. It’s good to be back in this scene on my own terms and without the constraints of academia bogging me down.

Next post in this series will definitely be about the Indianapolis activities and the INDYtron festival and resource website and how that is the intermediary link to NuMuLu–I promise!

Why New Music Louisville: The Evolution of NuMuLu (part 1)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve started a new organization that focuses on featuring and promoting new and experimental music in the Kentuckiana region. In that post I mentioned the Chello Shed which was a similar kind of initiative I started in late 1996  after I finished my degree in cello performance in Greencastle, Indiana. In my post about DePauw University School of Music’s 21st Century Music program I spent blogged in some detail about it.  As I said, it was

a brainchild of mine that was a concert/lecture series and alternative venue that I created in 1996. It’s been revived at various locations since many of the events took place in the various places I lived in Greencastle.  Sometimes other music students requested I do an event in their dorm room and often events would be “site-specific”–taking place around Greencastle or on DePauw’s campus.

Some of the presentations were more formal while others, like “The Packing Tree” (1997), was essentially a Flash Mob performance with audience participation. While I can’t claim to have done this several years before Bill Wassik’s first official flash mobs in Manhattan (and really, performance artists have been doing things like this for decades) it and some of the other impromptu performances I did or organized had a similar vibe.

One of the reasons I created the Chello Shed was educational–as much for me as for anyone who attended the events. I’d started it not long after the internet was becoming available in educational institutions primarily because I’d spent so much time reading (in traditional print media) about all the experimental activity that had been happening since the beginning of the twentieth century.

The net at the time didn’t have these resources as readily available (no ubuweb.com, for example) at the time and I’d also created some websites (via free hosting services like angelfire and geocities) dedicated to specific topics.  for example, my “Green Music Box, Even” was a site that was dedicated specifically to the music of Marcel Duchamp (such as his Erratum Musical from 1913) Here’s a mirror of the old geocities site main page. There had been several recordings released of Duchamp’s music, and I’d slowly accumulated articles and other written pieces about his music and I felt the world wide web would be a great way to disseminate info about it. Now, these works have become something of a repertoire pieces performed in various interpretations, such as this piano version by Stephane Ginsburgh:

I was just as interested in performing all these works I had learned about (as well as composing my own) so the Chello Shed served that purpose.  The first performance I did was actually in the woods behind Blackstock Stadium on October 5, 1996.

Program for the first Chell Shed event in 1996 October 5
Program for the first Chello Shed event in 1996 October 5

The program included Raoul Hausmann‘s short phonetic poem “fmsbvtzu pgff kwie” (1919); La Monte Young‘s “X for Hentry Flint” (1960) which I performed on the frying pan; La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #5 (1960); Emmet Williams‘ “Voice Piece for La Monte Young” (1962); and two movements from Kurt Schwitter‘s epic 40 minute long phonetic poem, the “Ursonate” (1922-1932)–which was originally based on the Hausmann poem above.

Here’s an excerpt from the first movement of the Ursonate (below) and here’s the score with streaming audio excerpts to all four movements.

The second performance (October 26) after I attended a four day Symposium “Performance Art, Culture and Pedagogy” at Penn State (read a report about it by my late friend, Lisa Wolford, at the Theatre Topics Journal).  By that point I would be performing my first experimental performance art pieces (“Something or Other” and “Five Aphorisms of an imagined wise man”) in the vein of the early Dada, Futurists, and later Fluxus artists.

The third Chello Shed event was a reading of John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” followed by a discussion.  I would eventually read several of Cage’s “Lectures” as well as perform several of his works at the Chello Shed.

Occasionally I did delve into non-arts related presentations but for the most part during that one and a half year period from 1996-1997 the Chello Shed had presented well over a hundred performances, presentations, and discussions. I had the opportunity to perform several dozens of my own and others’ experimental works which spanned genres like the Fluxus Event Scores, Phonetic Poetry, Text-Sound-Art, Performance Art, Experimental Theater, Electro-acoustic and acoustic compositions.

I’m in the process if finding the old programs and flyers from those activities and have started listing them in a note at the Chello Shed facebook page here. As you can see, the NuMuLu thing is really just a continuation of something I’d been doing nearly 20 years ago (I still can’t believe it’s been that long) and now that I’ve settled back into the Kentuckiana region, I might as well do it here.  In part II of this, I’ll talk about the Indianapolis activities and the INDYtron festival and resource website and how that is the intermediary link to NuMuLu.

Live Music for Film

Two of the most turbulent times for musicians happened due to the film industry.  Or rather, I should say that the film industry disrupted live performing music culture twice.  The first was when Cinemas started to replace the thousands of Opera Houses in the US as entertainment destinations for the population.  The second was with the advent of sound in cinema which forced an estimated 22,000-26,000 musicians out of work in just a few short years in the late 20s.

Maya Beiser performing Michael Harrison's "Just Ancient Loops" with film by Bill Morrison
Maya Beiser performing Michael Harrison’s “Just Ancient Loops” with film by Bill Morrison

So it’s with a little bit of irony that live music for film is making something of a comeback.  Most of us are familiar with Philip Glass’ 1994 “La Belle et la Bête” – and opera for his ensemble and film.

Less familiar is the Filmharmonia Duo which began as a musical project to recreate the music for the 1920 Russian Scifi silent film, “Aelita, Princess of Mars,” back in 1990.  The project has since recreated other scores to other works with Filmharmonia Ensembles that have toured around the world.

Aelita, Queen of Mars with live music by the Filmharmonia Duo at the IU Auditorium 26 October 2013
“Aelita, Queen of Mars” with live music by the Filmharmonia Duo at the IU Auditorium 26 October 2013

I discovered the Filmharmonia Duo (in an IU Auditorium brochure) just last week when my partner in Camera Lucida (an interactive video/cello project) while attending a performance at the 2013 Orphans Midwest Film Symposium at IU given by filmaker, Bill Morrison, and the ever awesome cello goddess, Maya Beiser.  It was the world premiere of All Vows with music by Michael Gordon and the program included “Light is Calling” (music again by Michael Gordon), “Cello Counterpoint” (music by Steve Reich) and “Just Ancient Loops” (music by Michael Harrison) all accompanied by film by Bill Morrison.

Cello Goddess, Maya Beiser, with Camera Lucida (Roxell Karr - video and electronics, l; Jon Silpayamanant - cello and electronics, r)
Cello Goddess, Maya Beiser, with Camera Lucida (Roxell Karr – video and electronics, l; Jon Silpayamanant – cello and electronics, r)

I’d first seen the Reich piece and video on a recent TEDtalks presentation given by Maya Beiser.  The presentation also featured  David Lang’s “World to Come” with video by Irit Batsry.

Roxell and I spoke to Maya for a bit about my video and cello project (the previously mentioned Camera Lucida).  Some of that was explaining the program, Isadora (named after dancer, Isadora Duncan), designed by programmer Mark Coniglio for Troika Ranch specifically for real time manipulation of media.  In our case, video. Here’s an excerpt of our first performance in Madison, Wisconsin last year with dancer, Christine Olson.

As the software was designed specifically with dancers and movement artists in mind it allows the movement captured by dancers to be manipulated in real time, creating effects that are all too familiar to those of us who use effects in music (delay, feedback, distortion)–but with video!  Probably one of the most interesting pieces (using a similar program designed by Friede Weiss) seamlessly in live performance can be seen in Australian based Chunky Move’s “Mortal Engine.”

So Camera Lucida is designed specifically to work with dancers and movement artist though two of our upcoming projects will be more along the traditional lines of live music for film as we develop a documentary focusing on the local Steamboat Culture in this area and as I score music for the silent film Phantom of the Opera which will also feature my new music group, the Mothership Ensemble.

Given how quickly technology is moving, it shouldn’t be surprising to see this relatively new genre of live music for film or video projection to start moving in directions many folks couldn’t have foreseen.  The documentary project and Phantom of the Opera film won’t simply be “static” projections.  Roxell will be manipulation them in real time while leaving a portion of the total projection area for non-manipulated images.  New technology has allowed the videographer or filmaker to be an active real-time collaborative partner in ways that simply being the content producer.  There are a number of groups doing work like this in addition to us, Troika Ranch, and Chunky Move.  Some with large companies that include live music and aerialists in addition to dancers and projection such as Quixotic Fusion in Kansas City to the “dance-imation” duo of ARTheism from Austin.  Here’s their TEDtalks presentation, “Dancing with Lights.”

There are still some of the more traditional performances too.  For example, a local film series happening here (sponsored by the Louisville Film Society) in Louisville had showings of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films back-to-back but with a different ensemble for each performance. A local big band did the first performance and Bourbon Baroque (a Baroque Orchestra I often play with) did the second and a Hip-Hop artist did the third.

Poster for the series of Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin films with live musical accompaniment at the Dreamland Film Center
Poster for the series of Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin films with live musical accompaniment at the Dreamland Film Center

Large ensembles are also getting into the act.  Greg Sandow mentioned the recent “Art of the Score: film week at the Philharmonic projects” by the New York Philharmonic which had screenings of Hitchcock films and “2001: A Space Odyssey” with live scores performed by the orchestra (September 17 – 21, 2013).  The 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, a full orchestra/choir that regularly performs live concerts of scores during live projection of films, From what I understand, have featured the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek movies and a number of the Pixar films to sold out audiences throughout Europe.

I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring!

Camera Lucida: Interactive Video/Music and Dance

Dancer/Performance Artist, Jamie Lynn Smith testing out her costume with the video projections at a Camera Lucida rehearsal.  December, 2012.
Dancer/Performance Artist, Jamie Lynn Smith testing out her costume with the video projections at a Camera Lucida rehearsal. December, 2012.

In a previous post I talked about one of my latest projects, a Community New Music group called the Mothership Ensemble.  This post is about another new project I also co-founded with Roxell Karr.  We call ourselves Camera Lucida, and it’s an artistic collaboration incorporating live interactive video and music for dancers and movement artists.  One of the big inspirations motivating us in doing this is by an Australian Modern/Experimental Dance troupe, Chunky Move–especially a piece they do with interactive video, called Mortal Engine.

While we haven’t gotten to the level of sophistication of what Chunky Move do, we are having a blast exploring the genre and live performance software (mainly Isadora) and hardware.  While I don’t deal specifically with the video side, both Roxell and I constantly talk about ideas and experiment with them as he gets new equipment.  Since we work with dancers and movement artists we also do alot of brainstroming with them before events (or after, as the case may be).

Continue reading “Camera Lucida: Interactive Video/Music and Dance”

on playing music from Central Asia…

Jessica and Taletha of Raks Makam dancing a Persian Dance at WorldFest in Louisville with the Crescent Moon Dancers (September 5, 2009). photo by Jon Silpayamanant

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a meeting with my partner, Jessica, for Raks Makam.  This comes on the tail end of me performing a fully fleshed out version of Kor Arab (otherwise known as Kor Ərəbin Mahnısı).  I had performed an excerpt of this within the context of a longer collage piece with one of my other dance/music duets, Secondhand, but had only worked out a version for solo cello and voice for Friday’s Terrabeat Cultural Showcase.

I’ve done a number of tunes from Central Asia with il Troubadore and Ahel El Nagam, but in those cases the tunes were either as an extension of Middle Eastern tunes for bellydancers, or Persian Pop (e.g. Googoosh).  Since Raks Makam is a project that focuses specifically on music and dance from Central Asia and the Silk Road, the material will be focusing more specifically on traditional and art music from those regions. 

Kor Arab fits in very nicely for a number of reasons.  First, it is a song written by Fikret Amirov, an Azerbaijani composer who was trained in the Soviet tradition as well as in the indigenous tradition of Mugham.  Second, the tune is, for all intents and purposes, a Mugham song.  The most recent recording of it (and the first I had the chance to hear several years ago) was by Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project.  It was sung by Alim Qasimov who is a master within the Mugham tradition in Azerbaijan.  The liner notes for the CD, “Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon,” says:

For the Silk Road Ensemble musicians, hearing the ethereal voice of Azerbaijani mugham singer Alim Qasimov put their years of conservatory training into serious question.  As they delved into the mugham, they each wondered, “If this is how music should be played what have I been doing all these years?”

Really, that’s a question I ask of myself when I hear music from anywhere!

The obvious difficulty with working up solo versions of this music is distilling the music into two voices (voice/melody or voice/drum) rather than having at least three (voice/melody/drum).  One of the reasons for meeting with Jessica was to talk about our options.

Continue reading “on playing music from Central Asia…”