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andrewcsmith on 04/29/2011 at 10:32AM

Table of the Elements: The Copernicium Festival

Image from Robert Longo's Pictures for Music (1979), which will be shown with a performance of Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio on May 13, 2011, at ISSUE Project Room.

The label Table of the Elements lives up to its name: nothing more than elemental, and nothing short of encyclopedic. They’ve released a 4-CD box set by Tony Conrad titled “Early Minimalism,” and they’ve kept available a number of truly foundational works by Rhys Chatham, among them “Two Gongs” and “Die Donnergotter.” The concept of cover art was reinvented in the early age of the CD; a 128 page book was included with the 7-disc Charley Patton revival collection “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues,” where used copies fetch around $200 on Amazon. The list goes on and on, with a dual focus on the avant-garde and on so-called primitive American musics: from John Fahey’s fingerpicking to Zeena Parkins’ electro-acoustic harp.

But the periodic table is only so large, and eighteen years later the label has reached the end of it. To celebrate this occasion, the label has assembled a three-night Copernicium Festival (May 12 – 14, $20 a night or $15 for ISSUE members) as a massive sendoff, with artists ranging from Stephen O’Malley, to Jonathan Kane’s February, to Tony Conrad, to Zeena Parkins, to a performance of Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio with a small guitar army. It’ll traverse minimalism, blues, death metal, free improvisation, film, and visual art (with projections of Robert Longo’s Pictures for Music from 1979).

I’ve uploaded tracks from Jonathan Kane’s February releases February and Jet Ear Party, as well as a recording of Zeena Parkins’ March 2010 duo with violinist Jon Rose. The mix also includes a track from Peg Simone’s performance at ISSUE which later appeared on her Table of the Elements release Secrets from the Storm, and a live performance by death-sludge-metal artists Sunn O))), whose Stephen O’Malley will headline the final night of the series. Check out the attached mix, and come by any or all of the three nights to celebrate the conclusion of a great label.

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andrewcsmith on 04/23/2010 at 12:00PM

Three-Stringed: Koto / Cello / Violin

Miya Masaoka

There’s that rare time when seeming strangers move together over the course of a half-hour. Back in March I posted something about Jon Rose’s fence-playing, and Jon himself brought the FMA his mind-bender “Fringe Benefits,” which takes the violin to its logical conclusion (hint: it usually involves more strings and sometimes embedded FM radios). The set below is a trio with Miya Masaoka on koto, Alex Waterman on cello, and Jon Rose on violin.

If the violin began as a model after the human voice it was way back when the voice was all bel canto, open vowels and delicate vibrato. Now, though, the violin, like the voice in classical music, has branched out. Rose gets consonants out of his instrument: stuttering plosives, and reflexive squeaks. This trio of stringed instruments becomes a chorus, speaking in faltering unison.

Throughout this fifteen-minute segment, Masaoka, Waterman, and Rose align themselves with one another’s timbre and purpose like they’re reading from the same text, albeit with different voices and at different tempi. All contraries become complementary; these improvisers prove themselves to be not players, but listeners.

There’s a beautiful moment around 5’20” when the bottom falls out of the chaos, Rose seems paralyzed on a single note, Waterman’s cello begins heaving, and finally Masaoka’s koto comes through as a pseudo-ground, freeing Rose for a solitary moment to find a melody—without suggestion of correct form, there would be no way to get sidetracked. This is itinerant music, where any rest is defeat, and although it doesn’t seem as if any one voice is pulling the group, the trio still drifts from one sonic area to the next.

The following is the first (and best) set from their performance as part of ISSUE’s Festival of Strings.

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andrewcsmith on 03/15/2010 at 05:02PM

Don't fence me in

Jon Rose playing the Dingo Fence at ISSUE Project Room

Jon Rose, Australian violinist and instrument builder, played last week in the most virtuosic display of fence-playing I've seen in at least six months. His instrument, which he reconstructed at ISSUE for his first U.S. performance in around ten years, is an excerpt of the 3,500-mile Dingo Fence in Australia, built to keep the wild dogs away from the sheep. It also happens to be the world's longest fence, and one of the longest man-made structures on the planet.

Through the weekend, Rose switched between this fence and his violin, during improvisations with Zeena Parkins, Alex Waterman, and Miya Masaoka, and it was clear that he explored the sound of the fence just as he pushed the sound of his violin. No kitchy effects were taken for granted, or exploited for cheap thrills, but the sound of the amplified wire comes through. Always verging on some kind of slack-stringed chaos, the wires rattle just until Rose grabs a node on the string and stops all but a single harmonic.

It's really a sound that you have to hear, or even see, to get the full idea, as any limitations you might expect from a fence-instrument are just blown out of the water. For this, check out Rose's site with some extracts from his book's DVD, and the recording of his ISSUE performance below.

Jon Rose - "Fences" (23:57)
Jon Rose - "Fences" (23:57)
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