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Originally posted on February 19, 2010

Music =, the NYC-based experimental music group, debuted their ensemble on February 19th.  The concert featured performances of pieces from the ’80s and ’90s by Peter Ablinger and Morton Feldman, as well as two new works by Music = co-founders Matthew Hough and Inhyun Kim.

Kim’s piece, Musicsquare, had the fullest sound of all the pieces, the continuous melodic motion from the ensemble giving the impression of tightly woven colorful patterns.  The patterns moved upwards, interlocking and repeating.  Three-quarters of the way through the motion slowed briefly, as the hitherto silent violin joined in and the pattern-motion dramatically returned to its original pace.  The intensity grew to an abrupt ending.

Hough’s piece, Middle Mediaval, combined two elements that have shown up in his music quite a bit as of late: text (spoken), and “ghost” notes (the performers play music, but little to no sound comes out).  These were combined with surging, quaking gestures from the instruments, playing outside their comfort zone to get the extremes of pitch and volume. Curious to know more about this intriguing piece, kleineKultur contacted Hough with some questions:

What was the inspiration for Middle Mediaval?
“I wrote the piece specifically for this concert, the first by the Music = Ensemble. It shares elements with some of my recent work–fragmented spoken text, unusual methods of playing the instruments, and harmonic material derived from pre-existing sources.”

Why did you decide to use spoken text in this piece?
“The text consists of poems by Ian Gallagher, who is a friend and longtime collaborator. These poems hold a great deal of meaning for me, and address some of the same things I am interested in as a composer.”

Tell us about the “ghost” notes.
“This material forms a sort of background in the piece, a ‘noise’ from which and against which the other sounds come and go. The instruments play in unusual ways to create this nebulous texture.”

Check out the next Music = performance Friday, May 21st, followed by a CD-release party dj’d by BORU, both at Cafe Orwell.

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Originally posted on November 6, 2009

Blindfolded and sitting onstage in total darkness, the composer of the last piece on the program started out the evening by playing a soprano saxophone (handed to him by an “anonymous helper”) for the first time in his life, in John Cage’s 1969 “Sound Anonymously Received.” Watching the performer blindly grope the instrument was suspenseful, almost painful, as he repeatedly heaved great breaths, blowing air through the instrument, which turned to discordant wailing sounds after a few seconds.  A few people in the audience laughed to see him struggling with the sax, while others waited tensely to see what he would produce from the instrument next.  His flush improvisation felt almost like a composed out piece, and served as a kind of foreshadowing for what was to be heard in his own composition later in the program.

Reiko Fueting‘s  2006 “red wall” for solo guitar followed.  Dan Lippel’s expressive performance captured well the cold but lively atmosphere of the piece, and its unpredictable gestures and phrases seemed to be telling a story: though the language the music was speaking sounded unfamiliar, a narrative could be clearly felt.

Carmel Raz took the stage next for Inhyun Kim‘s intense, perilous sounding “Seeds disperse in the air to come.”  A violin solo at breakneck speed, the piece had a fiddle feel (if the barn were on fire), and brief were the breath-catching moments when the rhythm screamed to a halt for double stopped chords, before the quick pace resumed.

The night finished with Matthew Hough‘s viscerally engaging “Irreverant Overtones,” for solo bassoon.  Wailing, then grinding overtones preceded silent ghost notes, air being blown into the bassoon and its keys being pressed without any tones coming out.  The piece was a variable alternation between volatile overtones and ghost music sections, all the while so severely sparse as to make the audience self-conscious of their own noise.  Particularly unnerving to watch were bassoonist Annie Lyle’s fingers moving rapidly through the toneless ghost sections, the clicking of her bassoon’s keys creating sounds like water droplets.  The longest piece on the program, “Irreverant Overtones” hit the audience with all the physical drama of the Cage piece, times ten.

for more info on Music Equals, visit them at musicequals.org.

Originally posted on September 25, 2009

Austrian composer Peter Ablinger (who currently resides in Berlin) came to Bushwick’s Cafe Orwell for a night featuring a selection of his works, followed by a short interview, presented by new music organization Music =.

The performance began with 6-18 (excerpted from 1-127): 13 short pieces for electric guitar and amplified sound, played in quick succession.  Each piece was characterized by: quiet simplicity, interrupted by highly complex loudness, with a return to simplicity at the end.  The loudness comprised amplified, pre-recorded samples of city noise and lightning fast guitar gestures; the loud sections, as well as the simpler solo guitar sections, differed slightly in length piece to piece.  Thus it was impossible to predict when or how long one’s ears were to be barraged with the loud sections; only that they would occur somewhere in the middle.  The guitarist’s performance was compelling, as he executed the abrupt virtuosic gestures with apparent ease.

Weiss/Weisslich (“White/White-ish”) 17c: A clock radio tuned to white noise, shut off at the entrance of an extended snare drum roll.

Ohne Titel (“Without Title”) 1-10: Performed by electric guitar and vibraphone (the instrumentation is up to the performers).  A sparse, quiet, rarely more than monophonic piece.  Here again there were many short pieces in quick succession, though this time creating a string of delicate gestures, performed with tender care by The Silent Book.  A particularly nice moment occurred when the guitar and vibes struck the same high note together, both instruments letting the note ring and fade.

[The following is paraphrased from my notes; I invite Mr. Ablinger to correct me in the comments section if I’ve misrepresented his answers in any way.]
Q and A session with the audience, hosted by Matthew Hough and Ian Antonio:
Q: What is the significance of noise in your music?
A: White noise is the acoustical version of everything, a totality of sounds like white light, like a blank page, to be tweaked perceptually, or not. Consider a monochrome painting—the closest equivalent in music is white noise.  The experience of white noise: we as listeners have no reference point within white noise, which is emptier than silence.
Q: Regarding 6-18 (1-127), were you thinking about the listener when you composed this piece?
A: Yes.  The perceptual problem with noise is that it creates anxiety about one’s inability to extract information; “our brains are damned” by this compulsion to extract information.  In [Ablinger’s] pieces for large ensembles, once you get over the “materiality” of the noise, you start to hear figures that aren’t in any one instrument, like “illusions” you see when staring for a prolonged time at a white wall.  Likewise, with 6-18 (1-127), behind each short piece and as they go by a new layer starts to emerge, which is the reason for the multiple repetitions of a similar gesture.
Q: Do you have an ideal listener in mind when you compose?
A: No.  It is impossible to perceive [Ablinger’s] pieces in only one way.  Your experience is part of the creation of the piece. “Like a dance between the composer and performer and listener.”  Depending on the piece, one or the other does more leading, or it may be equally divided sometimes.
Q: Why allow the performer to choose which succession of numbers to play in 1-127?
A: The performer should never play all 128 pieces in one performance; flexibility for the performer is part of the reason for letting each decide how many to play.

Originally posted on September 5, 2009

Tinged red and blue by colorful light-bulbs and sitting on the floor around the stage area, the audience at Music =‘s benefit party were taken unawares as the performance began unannounced, with a French love song for two voices by medieval composer Guillaume de Machaut.  Jumping forward approximately 500 years, this was followed by a nimble bassoon solo from 1969 by American composer Vincent Persichetti.

Moving ahead another 40 years, two works written this year were next on the program.

Matthew Hough made his listeners “uncomfortable, but in a cool way” (according to one audience member) with his candid work for spoken word and alto flute, entitled “You Should All Be Shot.”  The flutist, breathing into her instrument and clacking its keys, performed a silent piece while the composer read aloud five reminiscences culled from his time living in Harlem (the title of the piece was once shouted at him while walking along a street in the neighborhood).  The result was humorous, moving, and disturbing, the autobiographical element rendering the experience intensely personal.

Next up was a piece for violin and cello by David Utzinger. The two instruments’ graceful musical lines engaged in intimate conversation, creating finely hued music in three movements.
The performance ended with an improvisation for three electric guitars, bassoon, and alto flute, aptly titled “Madness.”

check out Music = New Sound at Cafe Orwell in Bushwick this Friday, Sept. 25th.

Originally posted on May 16, 2009

Music =’s latest concert, “Talking Tree, Silent Book,” drew a sizable and excitable crowd to Bushwick’s Cafe Orwell on Saturday night.

Ya-Jhu Yang’s Silent Yet Talking had three sopranos singing three undulating, floating lines, at times moving independently of each other and at others lining up to move together.  There were moments when all three voices swirled upwards into an extended climax of surprisingly loud volume, which were followed by quieter, semi-spoken sections.  The piece ended with exhalations followed by all three singing simultaneously to form a chord.

Two cellists took the stage for Inhyun Kim’s the eye between light and heart.  Glissandos work to a climax at the high end of the fingerboard, and one of the cellists begins to yelp unexpectedly.  As the cellists’ fingers are scraping and caressing their cellos, they make similar sounds with their voices, squeaking, screaming, sighing.  Pretty sounds pop out of the turbulence, making the occasional shriek all the more delightfully jarring.

Performed by voice and percussion duo The Silent Book, Matthew Hough’s Apologies combined spoken word with the metallic reverberations of crotales; the result was a mixture of dark humor and gravitas.  The words spoken are parsed and rearranged apologies (for offensive outbursts) made by five public figures, and the two performers take turns speaking lines of these apologies separately, in unison, or simultaneously on different texts.  The crotales interludes are appealing in their delicacy, the vibrations of the discs hypnotizing; the glittering calm of their music serves to underline the error of the apologies.  The crotales are also used to emphasize certain words (fear, hate), and at one point are played with violin bows, creating tremulous waves of sound.  An extended and dramatic moment when both performers repeatedly strike a single note while speaking different texts simultaneously occurs toward the end, followed by free floating, quivering crotale gestures, which dissipate into the silent air.

The Silent Book finished up the program with an arrangement by Matthew Hough of Morton Feldman’s Only.  The crotales begin with a stream of notes, amidst whose reverberations the vox enters, the warmth of his voice creating a nice contrast to the shimmery crotales.  The phrases of the original piece are separated by more shimmers from the metal discs, and occasionally a vox note is picked up and extended by a bowed crotale.  The effect is that of an earnest, lonely voice, intimate within a vast space of star-like reverberations.

The full program:
Carolyn Chen, Pears (2007)
Ya-Jhu Yang, Silent Yet Talking (2009)
Inhyun Kim, the eye between light and heart (2009)
Matthew Hough, Apologies (2009)
Morton Feldman, Only (1947), arr. for voice and percussion by Matthew Hough (2009)