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andrewcsmith on 06/14/2011 at 09:00AM

Immediacy in a reverberant space

Photo by Brad Buehring

This past week, ISSUE held a reception and short concert by our Artists-in-Residence Nate Wooley & James Ilgenfritz [Artist-in-Residence Nate Wooley with MIVOS Quartet + Peter Evans: Saturday, 6/18, FREE | RSVP] at our future home at 110 Livingston in Downtown Brooklyn. This space, which has previously hosted more than a few string quartets, William Basinski, Ellen Fullman, and a solo acoustic (amplified) performance by Elliott Sharp, had still barely touched the performance style that makes up a healthy portion of our programming: free improvisation. Both Nate and James seem to approach improvisation as an act of listening. They leave ample space for silence, and even when playing solo don't merely rattle off licks learned in middle school. The immediacy of their playing and their mental and emotional presence in the room is always felt.

This performance at 110 Livingston (their first public performance as a duo) seemed to amplify the artists' awareness of their own sound. This highly reverberant space has not yet been acoustically treated, and when there are few other people and no furniture it's difficult to even have a conversation in the room; any word spoken just bounces around the room for 7-8 seconds. So a duo performance by these two virtuoso listeners cannot help but include the room in the equation. The sounds are held, or blasted into the room. But they always step back to listen to the full sound. It's always about the result, and about the aggregate of sounds heard, not only spoken; it's not about the player.

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andrewcsmith on 03/14/2011 at 10:25AM

James Ilgenfritz, solo bass

Photo by Ruben Radding

Bassist, composer and podcaster James Ilgenfritz plays a free show this coming Saturday as an ISSUE Artist-in-Residence (RSVP), playing the solo bass music of Anthony Braxton as well as premiering new work for a mixed chamber septet and playing in the jazz and African-influenced ensemble Billy Fox's Blackbirds and Bullets. 

Trio Caveat (Ilgenfritz, saxophonist Jonathan Moritz & guitarist Chris Welcome) is a vehicle for semi-structured improvisation, where the members are closely attuned to one another. They function mostly on a single line, only occasionally breaking into polyphony. In this recording (live, from Ventura, California, in 2008) the trio seems to move from one timbral and textural area to another, and listen to each others' silence as much as to the notes they play.

Ilgenfritz's solo performances, a couple of which are included here, have a relationship to improvisation in a moment-to-moment sense, even if they end up with forms that eventually become apparent. This is an interesting effect, one that gets away from just "reading" a score (as if reading something out loud, from a textbook) and moves closer to storytelling—that is, moving along a structured and clear outline while filling in all the little details in such a way that keeps it interesting. 

One of these, Binary Experiment for James Tenney by composer Jeff Treviño, takes a series of circular "mobiles" that the performer moves through, switching sections at strict time points (governed by a stopwatch). Originally for four contrabasses, Ilgenfritz plays it here in a later arrangement for overdubbed basses (in a live performance it includes prerecorded multitracking).

It's this range of work that seems so effortlessly interconnected that makes up much of Ilgenfritz's output. Next time—before his next Artist-in-Residence performance—we'll have a collection of his music for improvising small jazz ensembles in July.

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james ilgenfritz, bass
andrewcsmith on 03/08/2011 at 11:00AM

Nate Wooley: really raw, and loud, and uncomfortable, and personal

ISSUE Artist-in-Residence Nate Wooley, performing this Friday at ISSUE (FREE | RSVP), sat down with bassist, composer, and Artist-in-Residence James Ilgenfritz for an extended interview and some improvised takes as part of James's series Ten Thousand Hours.

Nate details what it is that makes him uncomfortable—which he sees as success. His residency at ISSUE, he says, is a chance for him to "rewrite my whole vocabulary in a way," and go beyond his solo acoustic and his amplified trumpet work to make something "really raw, and loud, and uncomfortable and personal." Interspersed throughout are excerpts from his and James's improvisations, which are also separate tracks on the album made for re-listening.

Also make sure to check out a video of Nate in his studio, talking about his upcoming piece Seven Storey Mountain, which he'll be performing as part of his ISSUE residency.

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andrewcsmith on 02/28/2011 at 09:30AM

Ten Thousand Hours: Elliott Sharp

In the run-up to ISSUE's first benefit this coming Friday, we're featuring podcasts of music and interviews with composer and guitarist Elliott Sharp (whose 60th birthday party is happening at 110 Livingston in Brooklyn on March 4).

Elliott Sharp's output spans a whole bunch of genres of current experimental music, and so one podcast just didn't seem quite enough. Luckily, James Ilgenfritz's series Ten Thousand Hours takes a close look at Elliott's improvisational output, on what it means to be an improviser and still associate with "classical" genres, or to be an musician using amplification, sampling, and electronics and still associate with the jazz (or even classical) worlds. Sharp doesn't seem to think too much of the distinction, but he and James dig deeper; they talk about his teenage years reading Xenakis and Cage, his days releasing string quartets on the punk label SST, the challenges of being a freelance composer, and his ongoing hope for the open-mindedness of today's younger musicians and music enthusiasts. Check out James's podcast below, and we'll be featuring a number of these interviews with creative improvisors throughout March and onward.

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