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andrewcsmith on 12/08/2011 at 12:00AM

For 1, 2 or 3 People

Christian Wolff's "For 1, 2 or 3 People"

ISSUE Project Room's annual Darmstadt: Essential Repertoire festival often focuses on works that are influential far beyond the audience that has actually heard them. This year, Ensemble Sospeso will perform Morton Feldman's marathon late work "For Christian Wolff," a three-hour duet for piano and flute, and Joe Drew of Analog Arts will give the U.S. premiere of Stockhausen's "Cosmic Pulses," for 8-channel electronics

In 2010, the S.E.M. Ensemble was invited to perform at the festival, and one of the pieces played was the austere and yet unstable "For 1, 2 or 3 People," by Christian Wolff (Feldman's dedicatee). "For 1, 2 or 3 People" is, in some ways, the perfect piece to be played at Essential Rep. It's a piece that leaves a lot up to the performers, even things that would seem vital, such as how many performers should perform and what instruments they should play. But on another level, it demands so much interpretation and creativity from its constraints: commands to make "a sound in a middle place, in some respect, of the sounds around it," or "a sound involving stretched material." Christian Wolff has had a long history of collaboration with S.E.M., and the performers (Petr Kotik, Joseph Kubera, and Chris Nappi) take to the piece with the same familiarity as most musicians bring to someone like Mozart. Their interpretation of the piece, then, really becomes a sure, confident one, which is something required for music that has the potential for such sparseness. 

And at the same time, the piece requires focus and sensitivity to the other performers—each page constitutes a score, and players perform different sections of the score simultaneously. A large part of the piece requires coordination among players, with commands such as "play after a previous sound has begun, hold till it stops." For 2 or 3 players, this may mean some degree of coordination; for 1 player, this may mean reacting to environmental sounds. Have a listen to this piece, which imagines its own world, redrawing the roles for performers and audiences.

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andrewcsmith on 12/14/2009 at 10:30AM

Superimposition (Four Niblocks)

Phill Niblock (pictured) started out the concert by superimposing Four Arthurs on top of Two Octaves and a Fifth. In the spirit of Niblock, I’m superimposing the three sets of the concert (Niblock, saxophonist Jon Gibson, and the Meredith Monk group M6) into a single reading experience.

About a minute after the huge mind-crushing drone starts, the bassoonist and oboist begin pacing very slowly up and down the aisle, while Phill is on his laptop controlling the mind-crushing drones and strains of soprano saxophone meld with diphthongs and evocations of didgeridoos, and earth-goddess Ha-Yang Kim bows perfect fifths. Pentatonic saxophones and time stops as the chord held is not a chord, but instead a single harmonic object, turning as if in uneven light and unable to stand still but unable to hear anything else except some pseudo-primitive tribal language made up of mostly new vowels. The oboist and bassoonist have basically switched places now, with the bassoon in the back of the hall, and soprano saxophone now capable of either short or long notes but nothing in between, and Ha-Yang goes col lengo while sopranos take their cues from one another. Rhythm study for hands, feet and voice seems apt, replacing the soprano saxophone, and even at the age of sixty nine it looks scary up there all alone with no prop, clapping and stomping in ratios of 3:2 and all its extensions, while ratios of 3:2 continue spilling from speakers overhead and as the oboist walks slowly by the acoustic sound separates from the electronic sound–singers in ratios of 3:2, earth-goddess Ha-Yang holding perfect fifths again, while I’m wondering what “Dolmen Music” is supposed to mean, and think I should look it up when I get home although I never do. The sound ends and now it’s negative sound, the ear pushing back, wanting more.

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andrewcsmith on 12/04/2009 at 10:41AM

2009, evoking 1979

Connie Beckley performing Sound Split (1976)

To imagine the difficulty of imagining what a snapshot of the New Music New York series at the Kitchen in 1979 might be imagined as, begin by listening to these excerpts from last night's performance. But more than he sonic differences--flutes, trumpets, and voices or voice and tape recorder or solo piano--the differences were in the performances.

Connie Beckley, whose piece for voice and tape recorders is featured here, recorded these vocal loops while walking down the aisle, after which she placed the looping cassette players around the room and (eventually) turned them off one by one. "Blue" Gene Tyranny, who performed in many different contexts with everyone from the Once crew to pop to the Kitchen in 1979, presented both a duet for dancers with tape (featuring the voice of Harvey Milk, serving as a reminder to the New York Senate) and a solo piano performance. Peter Kotik's work with a text from Gertrude Stein began with relatively classical instruments and positions. In no time, though, the musical parts drifted apart--three of his compositions were being performed simultaneously--and floated back and forth among one another.

All of this is to illustrate that even after cutting out three different excerpts from a three-night concert series meant to represent the Kitchen in 1979, there isn't much of a stylistic thread to follow. But then again, the concerts weren't exactly specific in their implied content; New Music New York tells three things, none of which were disproven (well, aside from the "new" part this time around). 

Which is to say, if you really want the full experience--mobile tape recorders and all--your best bet is to show up at ISSUE Project Room tonight and tomorrow night, for the rest of the festival. Check issueprojectroom.org or darmstadtnewmusic.org for the full details.

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mwalker on 12/01/2009 at 02:00PM

Darmstadt Festival: Essential Repertoire

So, big week for the Downtown Music community. ISSUE Project Room hosts the second annual Darmstadt: Essential Repertoire Festival on the evenings of December 3, 4, and 5, curated by Zach Layton and Nick Hallet. In honor of the 30th Anniversary of the Rhys Chatham-curated concerts held at the Kitchen in 1979, this year's Essential Rep festival will be comprised exclusively of work from composers featured in the seminal Kitchen performances -- Meredith Monk, Peter Zummo, Phill Niblock, Jon Gibson, and many more living legends. Check the full line-up: here.

Things kicked off last night at Galapagos Art Space with an unbelievably huge (50+) ensemble of incredible musicians (Jon Gibson, David Grubbs, Alan Licht, Peter Zummo, Alex Waterman, etc, etc, etc) performing Terry Riley's classic In C, an annual Darmstadt staple. The fantastic performance came off as a veritable universe of joyfully dense sound, at every moment threatening to implode with blissful exuberance.

To get everyone pumped up, we're sharing a little mix featuring three performances from last year's festival as well as a performance from Phill Niblock, who performs on Friday for the 2009 festivities. Enjoy!

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