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Live performance

I saw an interesting show over the summer at Exapno New Music Community Center, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit founded and run by Lainie Fefferman. Guitarist James Moore and violinist Andie Springer, both extremely sought-after players in the indie-avant guard scene, paired up and played some music by current composers. I caught a couple clips in the video above, one from Larry Polansky‘s “10 Strings (9 Events)” and another from Paula Matthusen‘s “in absentia”. Larry’s piece was rhythmic and raw, like esoteric fiddle playing, while Paula’s eerie piece featured a singing wine glass, which took me an embarrassingly long time to realize was being played right behind me by Jascha Narveson.

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Originally posted on April 7, 2011

Blarvuster played Matthew Welch’s Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2 at le poisson rouge last month, the group’s first time performing at the West Village venue (watch clips from Blarvuster’s set above).

Led by composer/bagpiper Matthew Welch, Blarvuster is part experimental chamber ensemble, part experimental indie-rock band, simultaneously capturing the rigor of composed music (note the sheet music in the video) with the spontaneity of rock music.  Infused into this mix is both a distinct Balinese gamelan feel—particularly in the way that each of the instrument’s lines interlock with one another—and of course the rousing Gaelic tone from the bagpipes.  What’s surprising is how very “New York City” the music sounds, with its continuous motion, created by considerable individual effort—individuals at times rhythmically unified and at others appearing to work independently of each other—and in which solo or duo lines can occasionally be heard singing through the multitude.

Welch describes his inspiration for Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2:

“A few years ago, the MOMA had an exhibition of large Richard Serra sculptures. They were gigantic, curvilinear, ribbon-like sculptures’ whose overwhelming size prevented one from really being able to absorb an entire work in one moment…This experience re-sparked my interest in the large-scale monolithic music composition (typical of early Glass/Reich and late Feldman) where the listener can become disoriented and lose one’s perception of the overall proportions of the structure. At that point I started writing long multi-modular pieces for Blarvuster, emphasizing an ecstatic web of gnarled contrapuntal lines and modal/noise improvisation. Blind Piper’s Obstinacy # 2 is one in this series bringing together dense and dark polyphonic arabesques in Balinese modes and the abstract, haunting lyricism of early Scottish Highland Bagpipe Piobaireachd.”

Originally posted on March 27, 2011

Say hello to Oliphant, the art/rock trio who manage that wonderful balance between complexity and directness.  The side project of three formally-trained “new music” (also variously called contemporary, experimental, and/or avant-garde music) musicians, Oliphant use their training to create songs that groove, via the employment of complicated techniques that often require the use of sheet music.  Sign up to their mailing list to be updated on future shows, as Oliphant can only sporadically be seen out in its natural habitat.

Originally posted on February 3, 2011

Two of Julia Wolfe’s orchestral strings works were performed at Miller Theater on Thursday, by the young and dynamic string players from Signal.

Cruel Sister opens with a pulsating low drone that repeatedly builds upwards and then falls back, each peak intensifying the drama as the tension builds between the two sisters over a shared lover.  As the music falls back once more, a sustained, stratospheric melody begins to call out amidst the pulsations, as if the sister preferred by the lover is pleading with her “cruel sister” for understanding, maybe forgiveness.  To no avail, though, as the intensity builds again, before abruptly dropping out completely, leaving the high, chilling melody floating alone, like, as Wolfe explained, the drowned body of the murdered sister.  This eerie death song, which lasts nearly four minutes, is more emotionally harrowing than the loudest peak of Cruel Sister.  The melody is joined by the rest of the ensemble to create a sound like the bellows of Death’s accordion being slowly filled with air.  Gradually this sound is replaced with plucking as the dead sister’s breastbone is fashioned into a harp whose purpose it is to torture the cruel sister at her wedding reception.  Plucking is joined by strumming as the violinists hold their instruments like ukuleles, until the entire ensemble plucks in a seemingly arhythmic unison (an impressive feat for such a large ensemble), and a single violin plays fragments of a melody, this time lower in range.  The piece ends with a slow crescendo, as if the horror of the cruel sister’s action is swelling within.

Wolfe exploits the full, visceral potential of the string in Cruel Sister: the threads of the bow being dragged against the strings of the instruments, the latter being plucked by the fingers of several players in unison.  Signal rose to the challenge with such virtuosity and abandon that less than 10 minutes into the performance bows were already fraying.

Fuel, the second work on the program, also tells a story, albeit the more abstract one of oil drills and loading docks.  Written in conjunction with the creation of a film by Bill Morrison, both audio and visual elements of the performance were seamlessly knitted together and depicted, as Wolfe puts it, “the whir of incessant mechanisms…the sweat of human energy, and the power source of the sun.”  Accordingly, this athletic piece was spun out in front of time-lapse shots of industrial landscapes that sometimes featured the NYC skyline in the background.  Fast-paced rhythmic patterns and scratch tones created a sort of cold beauty that highlighted the graceful movements and bright colors depicted in the film.

Originally posted on January 18, 2011

Extra Life returned to the stage last Saturday night, playing to a packed room at The Silent Barn.  (Hear clips from the seven-song set in the video above.)  Commingling with the often-chilling lyrics is music that at times exhibits all the delicacy of medieval chanson, at others the aggressive drive of metal.  The unconventional metric patterns and detailed orchestration choices—listen to the first song with headphones to catch the high, metallic-sounding electric guitar line accompanying the acoustic intro—bear the marks of a songwriter accustomed to experimenting with sound.  Not surprisingly, the band’s creator and songwriter, singer/guitarist/keyboardist Charlie Looker has a history of mixing “pop” (using the word in the broadest sense possible here) forms with experimental techniques.

Highlights from the set include an exuberant looping synth pattern overlaying bass, guitar and drums in the fifth song (about 4:19 in the video): one can almost see multicolored splashes of light emanating from the group.  In the last song (6:32) the voice of the jeering parent portrayed in the lyrics is echoed in the weighty,  lugubrious movements from the band.

Originally posted on December 30, 2010

Dither played Abrons Art Center earlier this month, performing new and “incubating” works written or arranged for the electric guitar quartet, who performed with their usual virtuosic ease.  See clips from the concert in the video above.

First on the set was Eve Beglarian’s Garden of Cyrus, which was originally written in 1985 for electronics in the twelve tone technique of composition.  Newly arranged for Dither, this engrossing piece gives the impression of bright strands of sound alternately aligning and going out of synch with each other.

Next came Ted Hearne’s Aberrations, a work in progress that will eventually be about an hour long and separated into movements.  Intricately fashioned, prominent in this movement is the creation of a single line whose individual notes are played in succession by each of the four guitarists.  Devilishly tricky to play (though Dither rose to the occasion with aplomb), splitting up the line in this way gives it an intriguing three-dimensional quality.

Nick Didkovsky’s expansive, expressive Vox Requiem followed.  The full title is Vox Requiem in Memoriam Ronny James Dio, and was inspired by the singer’s unique vocal quality.  Written in the style of minimalist-concert-piece-meets-heavy-metal-epic, the piece’s sweeping melodies were clearly reminiscent of the vehement passion of Dio’s singing style.

Last on the set was a workshop version of Tristan Perich’s Interference Logic for electric guitar quartet and one-bit multichannel system.  The six speakers of the multichannel system acted as a sort of second group, with Dither at times not playing at all while the one-bit group played “solo.”  The rhythmic, repetitive nature of the music and the interplay between Dither and the one-bit sounds reaped an  intense, vivid sound.

Originally posted on December 14, 2010

Christy & Emily played their “one and only NYC duo show for a long, long while,” at Union Pool last weekend—the duo usually perform with bassist and drummer nowadays—before heading back into the recording studio.  It was a frigid Sunday night, but inside the Wurlitzer/electric guitar duo’s energy got the blood running again.  Some favorites, like “Firefly” and “Little World” were on the setlist, as well as some new material.  Check out the penultimate song on the video above for a clip of a hauntingly rich tune, with sensuous Wurlitzer bass-line and intimately intertwining vocal melodies.