An interactive blog, curated by composers and performers, tracing the ideas and process behind the music.

Filter blog posts by:

or

June 30, 2014

ICElab Confidential: Dehaan’s Sensory Illusions Permeate Constellation

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

[Ed: ICEfans Arlene and Larry Dunn’s journey following composer Daniel Dehaan through his ICElab experience has reached its destination.]

ICE closed out the 2013-14 concert season in stellar fashion with a tequila toast at Constellation Chicago on June 15, 2014. Tequila shots notwithstanding, the most intoxicating grog of the evening was the Chicago premiere of ICElab composer Dan Dehaan’s Trompe l’Corps. If Roulette in Brooklyn was an apt venue for the December world premiere of Dan’s piece, owing to its connotations of the chance nature of the cosmic forces Dan is reckoning with, Constellation was equally relevant for its evocation of astronomical phenomena.

It’s not often we hear an ICE premiere a second time. But following Daniel through ICELab as he composed Trompe l’Corps collaboratively with ICE musicians, we had the pleasure to hear both the Roulette and the Constellation renderings. While we lost the element of surprise (something we usually delight in) for the second hearing, it was fascinating to hear numerous ways in which the piece had subtly morphed.

Of course the acoustic character of the spaces are different, creating significant challenges for Dan and ICE sound engineer Levy Lorenzo to reshape the sound of the piece to fit Constellation. In addition, all of the players were different except bassoonist Rebekah Heller. Katinka Kelijn took the cellist's bench (which she had occupied during development of the piece). The other instrumentalists were violist Maiya Papach and percussionist Ross Karre.

The most striking change in roster was soprano Alice Teyssier replacing Tony Arnold for this second performance. The timbres of their voices are quite different and their stylistic choices emphasized different aspects of the score and this critical role in it. Alice’s treatment was brighter and conveyed a sense of amazed wonderment, where Tony’s approach felt earthier and expressed a more knowing acceptance of the cosmic mysteries Trompe l’Corps assays. Despite these difference, each of them compelled our rapt attention.

Another revelation we had from the ongoing evolution of the piece was Dan’s further refinement of the realization of the electronic elements of the performance. In both cases we were overwhelmed by the sonic evocation of Jean Baudrillard’s “unbearable incandescence.” But at Constellation, Dan (in partnership with Levy) achieved a much more clearly delineated sense of individual components as we experienced aural stimuli coming at as from every direction until the multiple layers collapsed to a point of frightening chaos.

The Constellation performance brought the ICElab process for Dan and Trompe l’Corps to a close. Still unrealized is Dan’s full-scale vision for the piece in a multi-day, multi-room sound installation version. We’re hoping we’ll get to experience that sometime very soon. 

June 12, 2014

Program Notes: #ICElab 2013’s Daniel R. Dehaan


Daniel R. Dehaan

from the composer

Trompe l’Corps has been developed in close collaboration with members of ICE as part of ICElab 2013. It was first premiered by ICE in December of 2013 at Roulette in New York. The guiding inspiration for the project came from the book The Perfect Crime by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007). In the first chapter of the book Baudrillard makes a comparison of reality to a perfect crime, in that you cannot prove nor disprove its existence. Uniquely, Baudrillard phrases this as a statement of thankfulness.

“Fortunately, the objects which appear to us have always-already disappeared. Fortunately, nothing appears to us in real time, any more than do the stars in the night sky. If the speed of light were infinite, all the stars would be there simultaneously and the celestial vault would be an unbearable incandescence. Fortunately, nothing takes place in real time. Otherwise, we would be subjected, where information is concerned, to the light of all events, and the present would be an unbearable incandescence. Fortunately, we live on the basis of a vital illusion, on the basis of an absence, an unreality, a non-immediacy of things. Fortunately, reality does not take place. Fortunately, the crime is never perfect.”

Trompe l’Corps comes from within this place. It attempts to make present what has always-already disappeared, exposing both a potential violence and a potential beauty. I imagine time as a car hurtling down a dirt road, and we existing caught in the debris swirling about behind it, always crashing forward, but ever entangled in the refuse of the past and present.

 

Daniel Dehaan: ICElab @ Roulette (December 2013) from ICE on Vimeo.

The work is oriented around a chamber ensemble comprised of a soprano (Alice Teyssier), a bassoon (Rebekah Heller), a viola (Maiya Papach), a cello (Katinka Kleijn), & percussion (Ross Karre). Their sounds get expanded, collapsed, or placed in dialogue with live electronic manipulation/accompaniment (Levy Lorenzo & myself) and lighting design(Nick Houfek). No one element of the concert is limited to a single role, but rather they all work contemporaneously with one another as a tangled mass which moves around the audience.

THe audience’s position within the soundscape plays an important part in the piece’s formal structure that shifts from different locations of the interior and the exterior. While the acoustic materials explore these concepts in their own way, the spacial aspects are more readily understood through the changes in the electronics, amplification, and lighting. I am really looking forward to sharing this work with Chicago at Constellation. We will be embracing the venue as much as possible to expand the concert into the space and around the audience. 

After over a year of development through ICElab, I am extremely pleased with what we have created. What will be presented at Constellation is the concert version of Trompe l’Corps and I hope to continue to work with ICE towards a future version that further blurs the boundaries between concert and installation to even further explore Baudrillard’s concepts through the lens of music.

A special thanks to Larry & Arlene Dunn, whose support, conversations and enthusiasm contributed greatly to the development of Trompe l’Corps.

Trompe l'Corps makes its Chicago debut on Sunday, June 15 at 8:30 pm.

As part of the #OpenICE initiative, this performance will be presented completely FREE. 
Get more information and RSVP on Facebook.

April 11, 2014

Touching Sound: Levy Lorenzo on Lucier at the MCA Chicago


photo: Joshua Rubin

by Levy Lorenzo

I had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with American experimental music visionary and pioneer - Alvin Lucier.  I engineered and realized 11 of 15 works by Mr. Lucier spread out over ICE’s 3 night residency at the Chicago MCA, as well as served as the Project Lead for the ICE organization.

I was struck by Mr. Lucier’s commitment to sound as a physical entity.  Mr. Lucier mentions in his book CHAMBERS (p35) that rather than conceptualize pure sine tones in terms of high and low frequencies, he thinks of them as measurable wavelengths.  Sound waves exist as a physical distance.  

In other words, given the nominal speed of sound at 343 m/s and using the formula...

Speed = Frequency x Wavelength

...we can find that the wavelength of a 440Hz (A4) tone is 0.78 meters (2 feet, 6 inches).  Similarly, a low note of 100Hz will have a larger wavelength 3.43 meters (11 feet, 3 inches).  If my body fits exactly into a 218Hz sine wave, I’ll let you readers figure out how tall I am.

Given the specific dimensions of the 4th floor space at the MCA, I used such calculations to create the realization of the piece Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas.  Mr. Lucier’s first instruction is to create standing waves in the room.  Just to explain a bit, a standing wave occurs in a room when a sine tone’s wavelength has an integer multiple relationship with a linear dimension of the particular room.  Thus, when that wave bounces off the wall, both the incident and reflected waves reinforce each other.  The result is a wave with exaggerated crests (high points) and troughs (low points) of sound energy that does not move in space - i.e. the wave  is standing.  Further, when this sine tone is played through 2 speakers, the respective standing waves create additional interference patterns.  This results a “sound geography”, as Mr. Lucier puts it, where there are particular places in the room where sound is very loud (crests) and others that are extremely quiet (troughs).  The main instruction of the piece is to have the performers slowly move through the space along the path of the troughs, using only their ears to guide them.  

 


source

The performers would theoretically walk along the blue paths.  In reality, the difference in sound volume is striking.  During the actual performance Mr. Lucier, led both ICE and audience members in a haunting procession guided by a 140Hz sine tone.  As an extension, I think this would be an amazing application to guide the movement of visually impaired individuals through public spaces.

One of the most interesting pieces that I had the pleasure of working on was Directions of Sounds from the Bridge.  In this piece, Mr. Lucier wants to show that sounds of different frequencies radiate in different directions from the body of a violin.

source

As per the score, I attached a sound transducer to the bridge of a violin.  Any surface that a transducer is attached to receives the transducer’s vibrations.


photo: Levy Lorenzo

I then attached this to an amplifier and a sine tone generator that I designed.  This system essentially transforms the violin into a loud speaker that plays pure sine waves.  The second part of the score calls for a system of sound sensitive lights to be placed symmetrically, surrounding the violin.  The brightness of each light directly responds to volume of sound.  The audience can then visualize the actual spatial sound movement of the among the lights.



video: Levy Lorenzo

I built this using 8 microphones, 8 lights, custom mapping software (on a 2nd computer) and a DMX interface.  The performance was a mesmerizing, organic fading of lights as sound emanated in different directions through the space from the violin.  After working with this piece, I then thought it would be interesting to have a transducer on a violin that was also being played live by a violinist.  The performer could interact with sounds from the transducer in a sort of instrumental/electronic duet where all sounds radiated from the same resonating body.

Finally, the third piece I’d like to highlight is Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums.  Four ping-pong balls were suspended from the ceiling using fishing line such that each ball was just touching the heads of four large concert bass drums.  Each drum had a speaker behind it.  Using his personal sine tone generator, Mr. Lucier played very low frequencies to excite the heads of the drums, causing the ping-pong balls to be launched forward, to then return and bounce again.  Different frequencies caused different degrees of response in different drums to create various pendulum rhythms.  Its as if the drums were playing ping-pong rudiments.


photo:  Levy Lorenzo

This project has been one of my most rewarding and musical-mind-altering experiences.  I feel so lucky to be in a position to thoroughly combine my skills as an engineer and a musician as a member of world-class contemporary ensemble and working with the inspiring, Alvin Lucier.  He has reminded me that music is not only something we can hear, but also something that we can see and touch.

April 2, 2014

Sitting in a Room with Alvin Lucier


photo: Larry Dunn

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

Three straight evenings of ICE assaying 45 years of Alvin Lucier’s music, with Alvin present and performing, was like diving in crystalline Caribbean waters with the kaleidoscope of colors and textures a feast of sound for the ears, rather than a rainbow riot of fish and coral reef to delight the eyes. This total immersion into Lucier’s sound sea overwhelmed our senses in the fourth floor gallery and atrium at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on March 21, 22, and 23, 2014.



photo collage: Sitting in a Room with Alvin, by Larry Dunn


Fittingly, the festival opened with Alvin performing his iconic masterwork I am sitting in a room (1969). With his book Chambers in hand, he entered the room, sat crossed-legged revealing his trademark red socks, opened the book, and read the 105-word text. Through a dozen iterations of recording and re-recording, his spoken words gradually dissolved into pure rhythmic sounds expressing the acoustic qualities of the space. The final iteration sounded like muffled metallic percussion strikes reverberating through water. 


Cellist Katinka Kleijn dazzled with Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases (1992). Seated among an array of vases of varying size, chosen, placed and mic’ed by sound engineer extraordinaire Levy Lorenzo, Katinka unleashed a continuous stream of tones that excited the vases to vibrate, sending out sonic waves picked up by their mics. The vases’ unique shapes – tall, narrow, short, squat – reacted differently, creating a eerie, quiet cacophony of sound. Katinka initially appeared to be in charge, but as the vases came alive and competed for attention, they seemed to be calling the tune. Katinka’s performance was a tour de force of focused concentration. She never lifted her bow off the cello as she steadfastly elevated the tone, so slowly that her left hand moved down the fingerboard almost imperceptibly.



photo: Larry Dunn


It was aurally arresting to hear Codex (2013), both more ephemeral and more striking, in a vastly different space than when we heard the world premiere in an opulent turn-of-the-20th-century salon at the Americas Society in New York. Seated in front of the resonant four-story atrium, soprano Tony Arnold, violinist David Bowlin, oboist Nick Masterson, guitarist Dan Lippel, clarinetist Josh Rubin, and Katinka unearthed sounds from ancient Peruvian tombs. Tony’s wordless vocalizations were like mourning lamentations over the ancient echoes of a lost, stolen, obliterated culture.



photo: Larry Dunn


Carbon Copies (1989) makes use of happenstance and improvisation to produce a unique outcome in every performance. Saxophonist Ryan Muncy, pianist Phyllis Chen, and percussionist Ross Karre each made their own field recordings, per the instructions in the score. These environmental recordings were mixed and played back in the performance space as the first section of the work. The players, spread around the room, gradually entered with sparse phrases of improvised sounds, emulating elements of the recorded sound – Ross crumpling and ripping paper, then muffled striking on wood blocks; Ryan spurting toneless blurts mixed with pops, squeals, and percussive key taps; Phyllis chaotically tinkling upper-register keys, plucking and slapping strings inside the piano. Soon, we were enveloped in a complex sound tapestry in which it was hard to discern the recorded from the instantaneous. Then the recordings faded out, leaving only phantom memories, as the improvisers strived to sustain the sound complex on their own.


To bring the festivities to a close, we took one final ride on a Silver Street Car for the Orchestra (1988). Percussionist Nathan Davis gamely took the role of streetcar conductor, armed only with an orchestral triangle and a metal striker. Starting with a tone and rhythm that might have come straight from a San Francisco cable car, Nathan laid down an eight-minute nonstop barrage. He varied the striking spot, placement and extent of left-hand damping, and speed and volume of his strokes, displaying the vast diversity of sound a triangle can make. Our ears are still ringing.

March 18, 2014

Program Notes: Alvin Lucier at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago


photo: Amanda Lucier

Presenting a three day portrait of Alvin Lucier's music in the galleries of the Museum of Contemporary Art (with Lucier's presence and support!!) is a dream project, even when compared to all of the dream projects that I get to work on everyday with ICE.  Alvin's music is packed with an infectious imagination. Many of Lucier's scores are text descriptions of a simple musical process. That these descriptions leap to life as engaging music is an orchestrational feat, akin to a composer writing a rich orchestral score at the piano.

In picking music for three days of concerts, naturally we wanted to include pieces that are favorites of the ICE players, pieces that were written for ICE by Lucier, and music that works together to give a picture of the huge range of styles and sensibilities we want people to hear and enjoy the span of his works.

I think the pieces on these programs work constructively in a musical conversation to highlight three major facets of Lucier's work. Naturally, we had to start with the piece that has become one of the defining landmarks on the path of American experimental music, I am sitting in a room, where a recording of Lucier's reciting a phrase is continually played back and re-recorded until the sounds begin to take on the acoustical properties of the room itself, rather than the human voice.

He is a master of sound and space, and his purely instrumental pieces, such as Codex and Miniature for Clarinet and Cello, convey a deep connection with the rich musical and expressive capabilities of these instruments. Lucier's instrumental works expand the concept of "chamber music"—they are not written simply to be heard in a room, but they interact meaningfully with the room, and the people and things within it.

The interaction of people with objects is a common theme of Lucier's music.  A pianist plays the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever," records it, and plays it back in a resonant teapot in Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever), creating a haunting effect that highlights the sonic properties of both the teapot and the piano. In Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases, the pure tones of the cello sets vases of various sizes vibrating and producing their own sounds. 

Rather than focusing on the limited expressive abilities of electronics, Lucier finds novel ways for musicians to interact with electronics. Spira Mirabilis and Directions of Sounds from the Bridge use light controllers to highlight the very physical connection between light and sound. In Memoriam Jon Higgins and Charles Curtis are two of many in a series of pieces that explore the interactions of expressive human musicians with electronic tone generators. In Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra (1988), a percussionist plays a single metal triangle which becomes a complex world of sound when amplified. Levy Lorenzo has worked closely with Lucier to construct and resurrect some of the electronics, light and sound objects that are featured in these programs. His voice as a musician and engineer are heard throughout many of the pieces on these concerts.

Lucier's music is entrancing and engrossing. Hearing Lucier's music live is an experience that calls special and surprising attention to the sounds around us. But they are not random sounds culled from the environment—they are organized and prepared sounds that are crafted by a composer with an acute understanding of what happens to music between the moment it leaves a sound-producing instrument and reaches our ears.

Lucier chooses to notate his music in different ways—conventional music notation, spacial scores, and text descriptions.  They ordinarily describe a simple process that reveals a novel and often ingenious musical environment.  In that spirit, here are some simple descriptions of the pieces on our programs. Like descriptions of an artwork at a museum, they are not essential for the experiential enjoyment of the music; we've included them as roadmaps for our shows, for a closer understanding of what may be seen, heard and felt in these pieces.

--Joshua Rubin, Clarinet & Program Director


ICE members and Alvin Lucier at The Americas Society in April 2013.

I am sitting in a room, Alvin Lucier and electronics (1969), 20"

Alvin Lucier sits in a room and records a passage of text into a tape machine. He then plays the recording back from the tape machine into the room. He records that playback with a microphone on the tape machine. He continues to play and record the results of successive recordings until the reverberant qualities of the room become so saturated that speech is indecipherable. As the degradation of the original progresses, beautiful results emerge from the noise.

Music for Snare Drum, Pure Wave Oscillator, and One or More Reflective Surfaces (1990), 15"

Sound travels through space in precise directions. It bounces, overlaps, reinforces, and destroys itself. In the piece, sound is aimed at a smooth reflective surface. Like aiming a light beam at a mirror, the sound echoes from the surface toward a snare drum which vibrates sympathetically.  Like much of Alvin Lucier’s music, the piece exhibits a physical behavior while also yielding a satisfying musical phenomenon.

Miniature for Clarinet and Cello (2009), 2"

Miniature was premiered by the New York Miniaturist Ensemble, a group dedicated to commissioning and performing music containing one hundred notes or less. Lucier, skilled at making more from less, rises to this challenge. The clarinet and cello travel on a slow musical trajectory, first towards each other, then away.  The texture is punctuated by silences that track the proportional distance of the two instruments.

Music for Piano with One or More Snare Drums (1992), 10"

A pianist varies and permutes a series of austere—even nostalgic—piano melodies that excite snare drums placed strategically throughout the space. The piece draws attention to the physical action of invisible sounds travelling from the source of a vibrating string to the ear; every location in the room gets a unique sonic experience.

Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases (1992), 13"

Vases sit on the floor as a nearby cello produces tones that cause the columns of air inside the vases to vibrate in different ways. Vases, with their varied and curved anatomy, have sonic properties that are more complex than other vessels. Microphones make the vibrations through the vases audible. Some vases have many nodes of vibration that correspond with notes on the cello, some just have one.

Spira Mirabilis, for bass sustaining instrument and electric light (1994), 8"

Most light bulbs pulsate at a frequency that represents a B-natural when converted into sound. Bassoonist Rebekah Heller explores the endurance of her breath and steadiness of her tone by pitting it against the relentless and incessant tone of a fluorescent tube.

Codex, soprano, violin, oboe, guitar, cello, clarinet in Bb (2013), 10"

Codex is a reference to the Codex Trujillo del Perú, a collection of manuscripts that are oldest known pieces of written music from the American continents. Lucier uses the first six notes of one of the pieces, Lanchas para baylar, as a starting point for his piece. In doing so, he breaks a simple melody into component parts, extending them acoustically with voice, breath and strings. Codex was commissioned by the Americas Society through Meet the Composer's Commissioning Music/USA program, and premiered by ICE.

In Memoriam Jon Higgins, for clarinet and pure wave oscillator (1984), 20"

A clarinet plays pure tones while an even purer, electrically-generated tone rises to meet it. The result are rhythmic interferences that seem to spin around the room, bouncing off of walls and ears. Jon Higgins (1939-1984) was a musicologist and scholar of Carnatic music, and a colleague of Mr. Lucier at Wesleyan University.

Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas (1973-1974, rev. 2013), 15"

A small ensemble of soloists explores the acoustic phenomena of gliding their own instrumental sounds against steady, pure sine tones.  The physical phenomenon of the sound waves bouncing in space are highlighted by lights, carried throughout the room, activated at sound "nodes"—intersections of conflicting sound waves.  The result highlights the beautiful, yet simple mathematical relationships of sounds from the  precisely controlled imperfection of the human performer against the perfect electronic signal.

Directions of Sounds from the Bridge, sound installation and performance for stringed instrument, audio oscillator and sound-sensitive lights (1978), 11"

The body of the violin becomes a speaker and a resonator as a transducer is attached directly to the instrument’s bridge.  The directionality of different frequencies emanating at drastically different angles from the instrument is reflected visually using a custom installation of sound sensitive lights.  What is seen is the representation of sound moving in different directions around the room.

Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums (1980), 10"

Four large orchestral bass drums are placed on a table. Hanging millimeters in front of each large drumhead is a ping pong ball on a long pendulum of fishing line from the ceiling. When carefully positioned, loudspeakers activate the drums heads, the ping pong balls bounce from the drum head, swing, and strike the bass drums to create unpredictable rumbles and rhythms that are entrancing to see and hear.

Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever), for piano, amplified teapot, tape recorder and miniature sound system (1990), 9"

A familiar tune is played, humbly, by a pianist. The same tune is transformed in a second iteration, exploiting the rich resonance of the piano's many strings.

Charles Curtis, for cello with slow sweep pure wave oscillators (2002), 14"

Long, double-stop tones on the cello react with pure wave oscillators to create dynamic, rhythmic textures of constructive and destructive interference between acoustic and electronic realms. Curtis, for whom the piece is named, is a contemporary cellist who has worked closely with Mr. Lucier.

Still Lives, for piano and sine waves (1995), 10"

Dedicated to acclaimed contemporary pianist Joseph Kubera, this piece explores the sound of piano gestures against multiple moving sine tones in eight short movements.

Carbon Copies, for saxophone, piano, percussion, and environmental recordings (1989), 20"

Three musicians gather field recordings from an exterior environment. These recordings are played through loudspeakers to the audience and through headphones to the musicians: a percussionist, a saxophonist, and a pianist. Slowly, the loudspeakers fade out while the sound in the headphones maintains. The performers attempt to emulate the natural sounds from the field recordings in real-time; the I is that the field recordings fade imperceptibly into their  instrumental simulacra.

Silver Street Car for the Orchestra, for amplified solo triangle (1988), 8"

Though often the subject of jokes, an orchestral triangle is a rich and sonorous instrument. When performed by a disciplined and virtuosic percussionist, the number of sounds it yields are surprising. Lucier’s Silver Street Car for the Orchestra explores the entire scope of the triangle’s offerings with the assistance of a precisely aimed microphone. Tones shimmer and dance throughout the space, and what seem like innocent repetitions become a complex web harmonies and melodies.

RSVP to Lucier @ MCA on Facebook

February 25, 2014

Postcards from Japan: Inspiration in Soma City


The inspiring student composers of Friends of El Sistema, Japan.

After an incredible run of Japanese debut performances in beautiful Nagoya, we jumped on the train for our next destination- the beautiful rural village of Soma City!

Once there, the band joined forces with Friends of El Sistema Japan for a workshop alongside some of the most inspiring young musicians we've been privileged to encounter. An offshoot organization of the same El Sistema that has changed the educational and cultural landscape of Venezuela (and in turn, the world,) the Japanese program targets talented young musicians facing serious adversity through artistic engagement.


Percussionist Nathan Davis introduces students to the prepared hammered dulcimer.

These students, in particular, have a story we won't soon forget. Soma City, you see, is located in an area of Japan most at risk for nuclear radiation resulting from the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake catastrophe- a good part of the surrounding area is deemed potentially unsafe for prolonged exposure. As a result, these kids spend relatively little time outside; their need for creative stimulation to offset the surplus of indoor time, not to mention the traumatic stress of these tragedies, is what compelled the founders of the program to focus on Soma City in the first place.


Oboist Nick Masterson performs a work in progress by Tokuma-chan, an El Sistema Composition student.

The result is a program focused on engaging students artistically while also nurturing peer-to-peer interaction and friendship as their community reconstructs itself both physically and emotionally. Life is different for these students, certainly; but the silver lining is the enormous creative output these students are creating through their focused curriculum. It's nothing short of awe-inspiring.


The band performs for the young composers (via Instagram)

Our goal in Soma was to expand students' understanding of instrumental capabilities further than they already knew. Using demonstrations of extended technique and alternate notation adapted from The Listening Room, the ensemble's stateside educational program, Claire, Rebekah, Josh, Nathan and Nick demonstrated a spectrum of timbres, sounds, and experimental possibilities that the young composers took in stride! From a melancholic oboe line played directly into a piano lid, generating eerie overtones, to a short tone poem for mbira, these kids truly floored us with their adventurous spirit and remarkable prowess for their young age. It was an experience we won't soon forget, to say the least.


Composer Dai Fujikura works with two of Soma City's young composers.


Our thanks to Soma City and Friends of El Sistema Japan for this incredible opportunity to inspire, empower, and create music. Next stop- Shibuya, for our Tokyo premiere at Hakuju Hall!

February 20, 2014

Postcards from Japan: Welcome to Nagoya!


おはようございます !

What an incredible few days we've had at the outset of our very first Japanese tour. In the last few days, we've braved a 15 hour flight (the landing of which was replete with cacophonous barf sounds, awesome,) checked out Nagoya, perhaps the cleanest city we've ever seen, and had a fantastic few days of rehearsals with the musicians of the Nagoya Philharmonic, conductor Martyn Brabbins, and longtime ICE collaborator Dai Fujikura.


Downtown Nagoya (via Instagram)

Upon touching down in Nagoya (after an exciting {just kidding} layover in Tokyo,) we were whisked off to our gorgeous hotel in the heart of the city's bustling downtown. Known for its underground shopping plaza, the tower from Godzilla and Mothra, and excellent fried chicken (seriously, it's delicious), Nagoya is also notable, to us, for it's oxymoronic lack of both trash and trash cans, surprising lack of public wifi, and really excellent sake.


Dai Fujikura surveys a score during our first rehearsal with the Nagoya Philharmonic.

The next day we met the talented musicians of the Nagoya Philharmonic for our first rehearsal with the orchestra- these players can really play! It's a joy to hear Dai's music in all its grandiosity, and a pleasure to be collaborating with such a driven group of artists. Moreover, their rehearsal space is hangar-sized and indisputably gorgeous!

This evening (where we are, it's the morning of February 21,) marks our first public performance with the orchestra, in a program featuring Fujikura's epic Mina, a piece written specifically for ICE to commemorate the birth of Dai's first child. We can hardly contain our excitement!

There's so much more in store for this tour- in a few short days, we head to Soma City for workshops with the talented youngster musicians of Friends of El Sistema Japan, more performances with the Nagoya Phil, and an inaugural performance at Hakuju Hall- keep checking the blog for updates, and follow all our updates on Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram!

February 11, 2014

Notes from Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta on ICElab 2014

from the composers

Our first album was made exclusively using 1960s and 1970s analog synthesizers - the Buchla 100/200 and the Serge Modular. Our time working with these beautiful machines had a profound influence on our future work. Jeff has been creating hardware instruments, one of which is a modular synthesizer in the tradition of Don Buchla and Serge Tcherepnin. Sam has been creating a modular software interface for live manipulation of instruments.

For our upcoming ICELab project, we want to explore this idea of modularity in a compositional sense. Our goal is to write a piece where different compositional ideas can overlap and intersect in different ways, where we can compose small segments of music for one set of performers to play while others are improvising, and where we can rearrange the modules from the composition in each performance to bring out new possibilities from the material.

score sample

This concept is nothing new. You can find it in compositions like Stimmung by Karlheinz Stockhausen or in Anthony Braxton's epic Ghost Trance series. Like those pieces, this work is focused on the talents of the performers involved. Everyone performing in this ensemble has an outstanding resume of working in both composed and improvised settings. The goal for the project is to tap exclusiveOr's and ICE's improvising talents, combining this with strictly notated scores, to create a concert-length barrage of notes, sounds, and noises. We want to create a work that is both a solid piece of composed music and a solid piece of improvisation, where these two opposing methodologies seamlessly intersect, complement each other, and imitate one another to create a unified whole.