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andrewcsmith on 06/10/2010 at 09:00AM

Double the reeds, double the fun

Michael Kenney's schematic of his sculpture machine

These low growls, short ecstatic bursts of energy, distant soft whispers are all something that seem like they shouldn't be within the limits of any single instrument. Katherine Young's bassoon, in harmonic counterpoint to itself, contains the whole spectrum of timbres and sounds, from the resonant open ones to the terse, dissonant multiphonics that are unstable even as single tones. This whole gamut is deployed in the service of this unmerciful instrumentation of a rock band, plus electric violin, and the orchestra expat is left to ably muscle its way through the crowd.

Not that Young is working in a cheap pastiche of rock + classical + free jazz; the ideas are all there, and it begins with the expansion and discovery of hearing the fiendish double reed sighing, shouting, whistling or humming, and almost go bel canto for a moment or two. She's content to cede the floor sometimes to her rhythm section, but when she comes back it's as another intrument, fed through reverb and distortion pedals in the top register. It's these moments of total immersion in the sound, dissociating associations and reconstructing new ones, that make the performance stand repeated listens.

Young received one of ISSUE's Emerging Artists Commission Grant for 2010, so tonight at 8:30 she'll be performing Releasing Bound Water in Green Material involving a quartet of wind and brass (Dan Peck, tuba; Nathaniel Morgan, saxophone; Jacob Wick and Brad Henkel, trumpets), trio of percussion (TimeTable: A. Lipowski, M. Gold, M. Ward), duo of synth (Jeff Snyder) and keyboard (Emily Manzo), visuals by Michael Kenney ("a sculpture that externalizes its insides, projecting memories of the objects it contains"), and, one can only assume, a bassoon. For now, though, check out the first piece from Young's performance at the Porter Records Showcase back in March, and her well acclaimed debut on that label, Further Secret Origins.

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andrewcsmith on 04/16/2010 at 12:11PM

More from the Porter Records Showcase

Matt Bauder (center) with his ensemble

Last week’s Nate Wooley post neglected to mention that his performance was part of a Porter Records showcase (I have an excuse: his performance had little to do with his fantastic Porter Records release, Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing, which includes electronics, cello, and bass).

Florida-based Porter Records, founded in 2005 by Luke Mosling as a way to reissue bits of his record collection that were no longer around, has since released recordings encompassing free jazz/improv, electronic, hip hop, international, and otherwise experimental music.

March 23 and 24 saw six sets of these performances at ISSUE, some of which were taken straight from Porter CDs and others that went in a different direction. Best of all, something close to the entire cast of musicians came to both nights, and almost all of them played in Matthew Welch’s Blarvuster Big Band. The two sets for today are somewhere between improvisation and composition, and it’s tough to tell when exactly they cross that line.

The first, from Matt Bauder’s May 18 release on Porter Records, is “Paper Gardens.” Bauder’s modular suite pivots between soft chords that seem to undulate without moving and moments where the saxes turn into other, more percussive instruments. Bauder plays with his woodwind group—the four wind players rotate through two tenor saxes, two clarinets, soprano sax, alto sax, and a bass clarinet, accompanied by an upright bassist—and he seems on a mission to detach the instrument from its jazz connotations.

The momentary cells in Bauder’s music repeat a few times, then arbitrarily stop. Beginning many of his sections with unisons allows Bauder to slowly branch out into clusters and sometimes even chords; he treats all motions as timbral rather than harmonic shifts. Many of the moments seem to break away from written material, like they are working with a theme or instruction rather than notation.

The second set for today, from Matthew Welch’s Celtic/funk/post-minimalist Blarvuster  Big Band, takes a little bit from a few different continents. The bagpipes figure heavily in Welch’s “Blind Piper’s Obstinacy #1,” where the seemingly-unending lines are transformed into time signature-unbound funk bass lines that meander without ever really finding a pocket to rest in. Under all this, a huge ensemble entwines lines in every direction before coming back to the occasional short unison riff. This recording features Welch’s regular-sized Blarvuster along with all five other artists from the two-night stint: Bauder, Wooley, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Jeremiah Cymerman, and Katherine Young.

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andrewcsmith on 04/09/2010 at 02:30PM

Improvisation: Exhaustion

Nate Wooley, sitting in an incredibly comfortable position

The trumpeter Nate Wooley recounted at the beginning of his set this interview he administered that day with the composer Tom Johnson in which Tom said a couple of things that Nate recounted for us: 1. improvisers are awful human beings 2. nothing new was happening in music period anywhere, but especially in the U.S.

“It’s kind of freeing to know that there’s nothing that I’ll do tonight that’s new,” which means that he can do whatever he wants. Which means that anything that happens that night is arbitrary, not necessarily confined to a historical period.  Still, anything improvised that night is inseparable from the current time because of its arbitrary and personal quality. It is not an attempt to progress through history—to look to the future—and it makes no claims. Whatever happens happens, as someone could say.

Nate’s playing is a constant expenditure of energy; there is never a moment when it seems like he is riding on his chops, or playing rehearsed licks. Or, if he is, he interrupts these licks as soon as they become standard, or sub-standard. Exhaustion is theme: maybe physical exhaustion as he circular-breathes for almost a half hour straight, or maybe emotional exhaustion, as the sounds oscillate between serenity and schizophrenia, multiple voices coming from all sides, or intellectual exhaustion, where it’s all been done before anyway so anything new is old, arbitrary, and re-hashed.

Arguing the dialectic of improvisation-versus-composition does not satisfy anything. There is no dialectic if there is nothing new; if improvisation is just re-hashing old ideas, and if composition is just re-hashing slightly different (but basically the same) ideas, then what’s the difference? This, which I’ll repeat as a mantra from somewhere else, is that all the important things have become as one and the differences have disappeared.

Nate never said whether he agrees or disagrees, and this is improvisation; it is taking statements not as conveying information but as commands and as fact: the fact of the statement and not the fact of what the statement might refer to. The statement is fact because someone thinks it, or because someone thought of it once.

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