New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: horizontal music

The Jack Quartet Play the Darkest Show of the Year

What was it like to hear the Jack Quartet play Georg Friedrich Haas’ In Iij. Noct.at the Austrian Cultural Forum in midtown last night in more-or-less total darkness, as the composer intended? On the most prosaic level, the ensemble performed it in stereo, mirroring how the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony incorporated the audience into their stage plot for their performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony earlier this year. In this case, cello and viola (Kevin McFarland and John Pickford Richards) were behind the audience, violins (Christopher Otto and Ari Streisfeld) onstage, with only the occasional twinkle from a tiny overhead light (a CO2 alarm, maybe) and a couple of orange neon fire door lights, muted and obscured from much of the sold-out crowd. In any case, it was impossible to see the performers. Were they able to make out a shadow or two in the audience? That depends on how sharp their eyesight might be.

The performance was playful, and fun, and gripping, and full of surprises, and harrowing in places. The quartet, who’ve played it a couple of dozen times, at least, have it more or less in their fingers, although the score is mostly improvised, based on a series of riffs and a brief quote from Gesualdo which surfaced about three-quarters of the way in. What was most stunning was how meticulously the group made the slow slide downward, then upward, from basic major to minor triadic harmony and then back again during one long sequence. There were flickering, irresistibly fun hide-and-seek interludes, lots of austere, acidic atmospherics that required extended technique to sustain challenging overtones and harmonics, and a couple of chillingly insistent codas that reminded of Julia Wolfe.

One might think that hearing it in such relative sensory deprivation would be a solitary experience, but that turned out to be 180 degrees the opposite. Being in the dark enhanced the sense of everybody being in the same boat. Basic questions of urban diplomacy quickly posed themselves. Why didn’t that narcissist with her paroxysms and grossness just stay home instead of sharing her sickness? Does an oniony lunchtime falafel carry through the air like the homey scent of hand sanitizer coming in on the left? If anything, an experience like this reinforces how much a little compassion, or just plain common courtesy, really make a difference at a public event.

As far as hearing the music in near pitch-blackness, we’ve all done that, at least those of us whose windows face a shaftway rather than the street. If you’ve ever drifted off to sleep with something wafting from the boombox or the turntable rather than from the glow of a phone or a laptop, with, say, a cat or a girlfriend nestled in your arms, this was somewhat more impersonal but required no less attention to the consequences of disturbing the peace.

The Austrian Cultural Forum puts on a lot of adventurous shows like this. There’s another tomorrow night, February 26 at 7:30 PM at the Czech Center 4th floor ballroom at 321 E 73rd St. featuring works by Haas performed by members of the Talea Ensemble, including the world premiere of a piece for solo trumpet, dedicated to the memory of Eric Garner, to be played by Gareth Flowers.

ThingNY Debuts a Blackly Amusing, Sonically Rich Reflection on Hurricane Sandy

ThingNY‘s provocative, often hilarious performance piece This Takes Place Close By debuted last night, making maximum use of the spacious, sonically rich Knockdown Center in Maspeth, a former doorframe factory recast as adventurous performance venue. Through the eyes of various witnesses to Hurricane Sandy, the multimedia work explores apathy, anomie and alienation in the wake of disaster. It raises more questions than it answers – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Is this limousine liberal self-flagellation, a vain attempt to demonstrate eleventh-hour empathy? A simpering, self-congratulatory meme for gentrifiers hell-bent on their fifteen minutes on Instagram? A welcome dose of perspective on where the hurricane falls, historically speaking, in terms of disastrous consequences? A caustic and often poignant critique of narcissism raising its ugly head at the least opportune moment? You can find out for yourself when the piece repeats, tonight, September 25 through Sunday the 27th at 8 PM; general admission is $20.

Ostensibly an opera, this is more of an avant garde theatre piece with music. The six-piece ensemble lead the audience from one set to another, creating a surround-sound atmosphere, voices and instruments leaping unexpectedly from the shadows. The live electroacoustic score – a pulsing, rather horizontal, minimalistic theme and variations – is gripping and often reaches a white-knuckle intensity, and the distance between the performers has no effect on how tightly they play it. The narratives vary from more-or-less straight-up theatre vignettes, to phone calls, harrowing personal recollections and surrealist spoken-word interludes. Other than Gelsey Bell – whose pure, translucent chorister’s soprano is the icing on the sonic cake – the rest of the ensemble do not appear to be trained singers. Yet they gamely hold themselves together through some challenging, distantly gospel-inspired four-part harmonies. Violinist Jeffrey Young‘s shivery cadenzas and the occasional creepy glissando enhance the suspense, while Bell’s keyboards and Dave Ruder’s clarinet supply more resonantly ominous ambience. Percusssionist Paul Pinto wryly doubles as roadie and emcee of sorts with his trusty penlight. Bassist Andrew Livingston distinguishes himself by playing creepy tritones while sprawled flat on his back in the rubble; meanwhile, Bell projects with undiminished power despite the presence of Livingston’s bass on top of her diaphragm.

Intentionally or not, the star of this show is multi-saxophonist Erin Rogers, whose vaudevillian portrayal of a 911 operator slowly losing it under pressure – in between bursts of hardbop soprano sax – is as chilling as it is funny. Happily, she later gets to return to give the poor, bedraggled, unappreciated woman some dignity. And playing alto, she teams with Livingston for a feast of brooding foghorn atmospherics during a portrait of a philosophical old bodega owner for whom the storm is “been there, done that.”

The characters run the gamut from enigmatic or gnomic to extremely vivid. Young gets to relish chewing the scenery as he channels a wet-behind-the-ears, clueless gentrifier kid who’s just self-aware enough to know that he ought to cover his ass while expunging any possible guilt for gettting away with his comfortable life intact. Livingston’s shoreline survivor, horror-stricken over the possible loss of his girlfriend, really drives the storm’s toll home. Bell’s baroque-tinged ghost is more nebulous, as is Pinto’s mashup of tummler and historian at the end – in a set piece that seems tacked on, as if the group had to scramble to tie things together just to get the show up and running in time. Yet even that part is grounded in history – which, if this group is to be believed, does not portend well for how we will react when the waters rise again. And they will.

A November 21 Triplebill to Get Lost In, Staged by @Tignortronics

Violinist/composer Christopher Tignor plays music that transcends pigeonholing. His slow tempos underscore the thoughtfulness and consideration that goes into his vividly evocative, often achingly angst-fueled sonic narratives. The former leader of popular indie classical/postrock ensemble Slow Six is also an impresario, working under the Twitter handle @Tignortronics. His latest show at 8 PM on November 21 at Littlefield is a real killer one, for those who like lush, richly enveloping sounds. Former Rasputina cellist and loopmusic maven Julia Kent opens the night, followed by Tignor and then cinematic, atmospheric guitarist/composer Sarah Lipstate a.k.a. Noveller. Tignor took some time away from his studio production and engineering, among other things, to answer a few pointed questions about what he’s up to:

New York Music Daily: We have a situation – which the Village Voice, of all places, touched on in an article last week – where rehearsals for performances of new, serious composed music, are becoming more and more burdensome. Moneywise, spacewise, timewise, the works. Obviously, when an ensemble is presenting a new piece of music, it’s vastly more enjoyable for everybody, not just the musicians, if the group has some familiarity with it rather than struggling through a reading, more or less cold. How does @Tignortronics offer a solution to that problem?

Christopher Tignor: Probably a few ways. I’m booking artists that deliver a cohesive voice they’ve developed over many years. To a large degree, credit needs to go to these artists who’ve already had to figure this out in order to create at the high level that they do. These aren’t classical concerts where the players live with these works for a few rehearsals. These performers have typically toured this music far and wide.

But I know from personal experience that this doesn’t scale well. The practical demands of what it takes to put together this kind of music takes a toll. To this end, I make my full rehearsal studio in Bed-Stuy freely available to artists preparing for one of my bills. Makes sense really – if they sound good, we all sound good.

But probably the most important thing I can do is make these gigs worth it for the artists. I try to fight for good deals and real soundcheck time at a venue that sounds great and that people love going to on weekends. Costs aside, artists first and foremost want to be heard and a solid gig that’s well put together can be hard to find at this end of the musical spectrum.

NYMD: You’re staging on your third consecutive bill of cutting-edge new work, this time around on November 21 at 8 PM at Littlefield. It’s a great lineup. Julia Kent, the former Rasputina cellist and a first-rate composer in her own right, then yourself, then Sarah Lipstate, a.k.a Noveller, whose music is cinematic to the nth degree. Other than the fact that there’s a lot of tunefulness, and a hypnotic, sometimes electroacoustic aspect, with loops and effects, etcetera, is there a theme to the night – other than just plain good music? Slow tempos but high energy, maybe?

Christopher Tignor: I think we all share a uniquely compatible aesthetic on this bill. It seems like we’re all bowing here. For Julia on cello and me on violin, literally, and with the sounds Noveller evokes from her guitar, sonically. Rich long tones. Aesthetic cohesion is definitely something important to these shows. Most instrumental or experimental concerts feel a like a total grab bag to me which I find annoying.

NYMD: Is this a theme that you’re going to continue, or do you have others in mind for future performances?

Christopher Tignor: I build each bill around the artists. The more experimental an aesthetic experience is, the more aesthetically focused it needs to be to work. If I encounter artists I think fit the vibe then I reach out to them and look for ways to build a show they’ll be psyched about.

NYMD: Your previous lineup, at the Silent Barn a few weeks ago, featured Sontag Shogun and their kitchen-sink assembly of instruments and loops and epic swells and fades, then Hubble, a.k.a. Ben Greenberg and his roaring guitar vortex, along with yourself. And it was on a weeknight in the middle of Bushwick and you managed to fill the room. Clearly there’s an audience for this kind of music out there among young people. Do you have a game plan for building this kind of a scene, that stays pretty much DYI and doesn’t rely on foundation funding like, say, Roulette?

Christopher Tignor: In my opinion, all today’s most interesting art comes from one of the various DIY scenes. The moneyed culture at large is generally fucked and if you’re not pushing back against it, i.e. acting counter-culturally, you’re just not getting it. Note in 2014, this does not mean starting a noisy punk band to scream lyrics about your girlfriend over chords through some hip new distortion pedal. Have fun doing that, but make no mistake that that sound is but the expected background noise of youth made right before going back to school for a “real” degree and flipping on Sex and the City. If you want to really fuck with people in a way that counts, then stop and actually think it through. Make something thoughtful before emptying your heart into it. As for growing the scene, all I can do is put this philosophy into practice and play Kevin Costner, seeing if indeed they will come.

NYMD: Why Littlefield? I happen to like the place a lot, the sonics there are fantastic and it’s actually pretty easy to get to: you just walk downhill from the Atlantic Avenue subway a few blocks and you’re right there…

Christopher Tignor: Littlefield sounds really good and looks great. It’s a fun place to actually go and really hear music with friends. That’s a prerequisite for my shows. If the shows aren’t going to feel amazing, it’s not worth my time, and certainly not yours. However, if the shows are worth my time, it turns out they are also in fact worth yours because I know what you’ve got going and it’s cool, but really this is much, much cooler.

A Brian Eno Classic Live in Concert

Recording a live album of ambient Brian Eno compositions is a potential minefield. First and foremost is the issue of audience noise – never mind how to arrange or orchestrate the music. Yet at the 2010 Brighton International Festival in the UK, James Poke’s ensemble Icebreaker bravely tackled the 1983 Brian Eno/Roger Eno/Daniel Lanois collaboration Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, and pulled it off, quietly but mightily. A lush, mesmerizing piece of music, this newly released concert album – just out on Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe Music label – doesn’t have the spontaneous vibrancy of a live recording. While it sounds like a studio effort, Icebreaker’s new arrangement enhances the hypnotic, enveloping, raptly warm ambience of the original, giving it a more organic feel. Here, the young pedal steel player on the studio recording, Lanois, is absent – in his place, the brilliant BJ Cole, who cites Eno and Apollo in particular as major influences on his own paradigm-shifting work.

To the twelve-piece ensemble’s credit, it’s impossible to keep track of who’s playing what, as the minimalist melody gently shifts from one voice, or combination of voices, to another. The group’s lineup is acoustic-electric, with Dominic Saunders and Andrew Zolinsky on keyboards, Pete Wilson on bass, and James Woodrow doing a chillingly accurate David Gilmour impersonation on guitar over the hypnotic sweep of woodwinds, strings and accordion. The piece’s slow tectonic shifts drift between instruments, practically imperceptibly as subtle shifts in the melody float in and then out of the mix, the ringing, bell-like tones of the electric piano evoking Angelo Badalementi at his dreamiest. As the variations go on, the music takes on a more ominous, Lynchian atmosphere: what becomes obvious is how many artists, from 17 Pygmies to Bill Frisell, have felt the influence of this work (and how much Eno was influenced by Pink Floyd). Woodrow’s jarring, apprehensive, Gilmour-esque riffs juxtapose against quietly anxious, shifting voices, highs slowly ceding centerstage to lows as the clouds loom in with a distant menace.

The album then takes a turn away from minimalism and horizontality. Cole’s purist country phrasing lights up what’s essentially a swaying folk anthem, stripped to the bone, followed by what could be Another Brick in the Wall, Part 4, then a soul guitar theme, and an imaginatively spiced countrypolitan steel guitar ballad. The album ends with a gorgeous, hazily bittersweet series of circular motifs, and a lullaby of sorts. Who is the audience for this? For one, the next generation of kids who’re just now discovering Floyd and the rest of the art-rock pantheon, along with anybody who was there for that stuff the first time around and who might have missed this – and for that matter, anyone looking for hypnotic, gently atmospheric music to get completely and absolutely lost in.

Unclassifiable Music Is Always the Most Interesting

What if someone said to you, “listening to this album is like watching clouds.” You’d figure that they were bored, or high, right? Still, that’s a fair approximation of what Alexander Berne’srecent all-instrumental, double-cd magnum opus, Flickers of Mime/Death of Memes, evokes – and it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s like flying at low altitude at very low speed on an overcast day as dusk approaches. Shifting banks of sound come at you slowly, in waves: low drones, white noise, washes with endlessly changing, minute shifts in timbre or pitch, and tantalizing snatches of melody. It would be overly reductionistic to say that it’s a struggle between rhythm and stillness, between change and stasis, but that’s a big part of it. More apparent is the tug-of-war between balmy contentment and unease – and guess which one wins most of the time! Rock fans will call this ambient music; a musicologist would probably call it horizontal music; you could also file it under indie classical or avant-garde and nobody would complain. But more than anything else, this is an album of nocturnes.

Berne plays all the instruments: his background is jazz sax improvisation, and he has pyrotechnic chops, although the result is just the opposite here. Although the sounds are heavily processed via a pitch pedal and what seems to be an endless series of loops, many of the instruments are clearly recognizable: sax, piano, various percussion instruments (most of them on the low, boomy end of the register). Sometimes Berne is a one-man wind ensemble, occasionally reaching for regal, epic heights. Other times it’s impossible to figure out what the instrumentation is: organ? Ebow guitar? Bagpipes? A string section? A lonesome train whistle? Fluttering, bubbling, rippling, echoing or sirening, texture after texture enters the mix and then fades out or simply disappears. Occasionally, there are glacial conversational exchanges between them, or an unexpected, dramatic percussion cadenza (among them a wry Also Sprach Zarathustra quote that opens the second disc). Unexpectedly upbeat flashes of melody, including a tensely meandering handful of piano passages appear and then fade away into the nebulous, opaque backdrop. The most cohesive moments here are a couple of trip-hop interludes that, when you upload the album, work best at the end: by themselves, they’re not bad, but as they’re sequenced on the album, the segues they create are on the jarring side. But maybe that’s intentional. While each cd is divided up into discrete parts, it’s best enjoyed taken as a whole.

Those who require a catchy melody and a snappy beat will probably find this interminable (although there’s actually more melody here than you usually find in, say, Brian Eno). But at high volume, it’s absolutely intoxicating; at low volume, it’s a great album to send you off to dreamland on a whispery, surreal note. It came out on Innova last fall. That it’s taken this long to figure out what it’s about, between now and when it first came over the transom here, testifies to its hypnotic, mysterious power.

Unselfconscious, Serene Beauty from Jody Redhage

This past week has been a great one for concerts. In terms of unselfconscious beauty, not to mention accessibility, cellist Jody Redhage’s album release show at Drom last night tops the list. The new record, Of Minutiae and Memory, just on New Amsterdam Records is a hypnotically gorgeous, thematic collection of electroacoustic works. Redhage played all but one of them, singing on several, with ample use of effects and backing tracks supplied by a laptop. Wil Smith’s Static Line, which appeared about midway through the set, was perfectly representative, cleverly setting a couple of drones just enough of a microtone apart to create an apprehensive effect, Redhage then sliding slowly up, then lower, then back up over it to raise the suspense factor.

Like the album, the rest of the show went deeper into dreamy, warmly lush atmospherics, although a close listen revealed innumerable layers of subtle shades that helped establish each piece’s individual personality: they transcend being pigeonholed as horizontal or minimalist. In places, some of the material reminded of Enya, or Sigur Ros, but any similarity ended when Redhage raised her voice. She sings with the round, bell-like clarity of a chorister, a voice that’s just as strong at the very top end as it is three or maybe even four octaves lower. She only went up that high a couple of times, but made those gently soaring ascents count. The album’s title track, by Paula Matthusen, set stately vocals atop gently shifting layers of electronics and processed cello, almost imperceptibly shifting to more intense textures from the cello as it wound up.

Joshua Penman’s aptly titled I Dreamed I Was Floating was next, Redhage’s brightly sustained lines an anchor amidst swirling, shimmering ambience. Missy Mazzoli’s warily mysterious A Thousand Tongues played shifting segments off rhythmically echoey, piano-like accents and another warmly hypnotic vocal passage. The Light by Which She May Have Ascended, by Ryan Brown, a slowly expanding and increasingly pensive round, had the most hypnotic quality of all the songs. Redhage closed the show with Derek Muro’s Did You See Me Walking, setting a Frank O’Hara poem to a tersely accented, wistful theme. What did it feel like to experience about an hour of all this? Absolutely relaxed and at peace, like after a full-body massage – or like taking a vicodin, but without the fuzziness. In a week of harrowing, intense, anguished sounds, this was a welcome respite.