An interactive blog, curated by composers and performers, tracing the ideas and process behind the music.
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May 3, 2013
Ready to lose your mind at A Mad Feast: ICE's Spring Gala?
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April 22, 2013
Impressions from Row G
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
Codex, a four-year-long project focused on a three-centuries-old manuscript, was brought to fruition by ICE at the Americas Society in New York on Sunday, April 7, 2013. The project, commissioned by Music of the Americas and curated by Sebastian Zubieta, Music Director of the Americas Society, challenged four contemporary composers to write new works inspired by the Codex Martinez Compañón (c. 1782-85), which documents the musical and cultural life in Peru at the time of Spanish colonization. The international and intergenerational composers – Paulo Rios Filho (Brazil, b. 1985), Du Yun, (China, U.S., b. 1977), Aurelio Tello (Peru, Mexico, b. 1951), and Alvin Lucier (U.S., b. 1931) – were all in attendance. They presented an equally diverse array of music that was tantalizingly played by Tony Arnold (soprano), James Austin Smith (oboe), Campbell MacDonald (clarinets), Nuiko Wadden (harp), Dan Lippel (guitar), Jennifer Curtis (violin), and Ross Karre (percussion).
The most dramatic and stirring work was Filho’s TransColonização. Filho sees in the Codex the violence of colonization upon indigenous peoples’ language, religion and liberties. His piece follows the geography of Peru from its Amazon jungles into its hills and down to the coast. Skittering oboe and bass clarinet led the way, then joined by Ross on a complex array of drums, gongs, marimba, wind-tube, and wood blocks – all suggesting forces wildly at odds. Tony began “making rain” by crumpling cellophane. Others joined in rain-making as Tony sang a dramatic passage that segued into quiet recitation, then wordless humming. Throughout, Tony portrayed the colonizer in both her singing and her theatrics. Her voice was often loud and demanding, drowning out the other players, the indigenous peoples. She carried a bird cage at key moments and confiscated items from the other musicians – first, their rain-making cellophane, then stones they had ritually knocked against each other, and finally seashells they held to their ears – placing them all in the cage. She finished, singing “It was just a dream,” then whistled as she walked off the stage.
The program opened with Du Yun’s Your eyes are not your eyes for harp, oboe, voice, guitar and violin. Du Yun explained that in her studies of traditional music around the world she has found remarkably similar sounds at the root. The piece began with field recordings Jennifer made of birds and other nature sounds during visits to Peru, accompanied by faint violin sounds as Jennifer entered the room from off stage. The other musicians joined, playing a lovely melody led by guitar and harp, with wordless murmuring from Tony. The tempo and volume increased as the piece took on an Asian-inflected tone. The piece closed in a surprising fashion as Du Yun, singing from her seat in the audience, joined Tony is a sublime duet.
The other two works were equally effective in their own right. Tello offered three selections from the Codex that he re-interpreted for modern instrumentation, exemplifying the mix of Baroque and Amerindian music with dancing as a central feature. Lucier’s Codex was the most abstract work and reminiscent of his style, taking a brief sound patter and exploring the many ways it can be manipulated and played against itself. He chose the first six pitches of Lanchas para baylar from the Codex and invented ways for six musicians (no percussion) to play these six tones in various orders, combinations, and sequences. Tony sat throughout this piece, indicating that her voice was one of six equal instruments. The overall effect of the piece was serenely naturalistic, despite its abstractness, perhaps revealing that Lucier had found the “code” hidden in the Codex.
April 18, 2013
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
[Ed: ICEfans Arlene and Larry Dunn are following composer Daniel Dehaan through his ICElab experience and reporting on the process as it unfolds.]
We immersed ourselves in the cauldron of ICElab for Dan Dehaan’s workshop at ICEhaus Brooklyn on April 3-5, 2013, the second part of his two-stage residency. In January, Dan met with his ICE collaborators — Nathan Davis (percussion), Tony Arnold (soprano), Rebekah Heller (bassoon), Kyle Armbrust (viola), and Katinka Kleijn (cello) — to explore his compositional concepts and the timbral, dynamic, and performative possibilities of each of their instruments. Dan’s second phase objective was to begin forming these sounds and ideas into the musical substance of the project. It was exhilarating and instructive to see the art and craft of music-making up close.
The first two days, we observed Dan interacting with the musicians in various groupings as they worked through a preliminary score. We were fascinated to see how ICE performances we observe as so flawless and assured are built from many agonizing moments of experimentation, uncertainty, and even frustration at limits and obstacles that make perfect expression elusive.
Dan worked with Nathan on various percussion instruments, testing dynamic ranges (“How loud can we make it?” Dan asked) and distortion methods to decide how to best use electronic sampling, processing, and sound distribution to an array of speakers and a newly acquired mega-subwoofer. The spatialization of the piece is highly dependent on the sound design – the number and placement of speakers and the ability for the audience to move around and experience the music from different perspectives. When Dan met with Katinka, Rebekah, and Kyle, their focus was on the pacing of an intricate melodic passage to be accompanied by Tony singing. They solved part of the dilemma by having Dan add fermatas to the score, and eventually determined that Kyle would function as conductor. When all five players gathered, the focus turned to coordinating the percussion they would play in another section sung by Tony. They decided to manage a gradual increase in volume using a series of hand signals from 1 (very soft) to 5 (loud as possible).
Dan’s workshop concluded with a public performance of the work-in-process, which drew eclectic crowd of curious ICEfans. Dan described the project as both empowering and terrifying. “ICE is enabling me to make the music that I dream of,” he said, “but . . . now I have to do it!” His explained his inspiration is French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s “The Perfect Crime,” which examines the improvability of reality. In particular, Dan is struck by the phrase “ incredible incandescence,” which Baudrillard uses in praise of the the speed of light — without it, we would be overwhelmed by the continuous bombardment of light.
Then came the music, the portions of the score we had observed the group honing. Segment #1, with Nathan on percussion and Dan on processing, was the Big Bang! They achieved all the volume they could hope for. Nathan started with a burst on a huge bass drum, then subsided, then built up to a huge distorted crescendo, evoking that unbearable sensory bombardment. In Segment #2, Kyle, Katinka, and Rebekah began very quietly, straining to be heard. Then the volume grew and the texture became more complex, led by the viola. Tony came in singing “It’s always moving” and repeated that phrase as the music swirled and orbited around the room. This section was slow, serene, seductive, then just faded away.
They closed with Segment #3, for all five players, plus Dan on processing. Rebekah, Katinka and Kyle moved to the upper level to play gongs and triangles. Nathan started, striking prayer bowls in a complex pattern, manipulated by Dan in repeats. Tony began to whisper as the bowls quieted, then Dan added repeats of her whispering and the bowls in an intricate swirl. The volume of the bowls and whispering increased and just as we began to understand the text, the gongs entered from the upper level, creating the feel of a larger space and being surrounded by music. Nathan moved to his large gong and Tony started her sequence of hand signals. Slowly building from 1 to 5, a final surge into the unbearable for only a moment, and then quiet triangle strikes to a peaceful conclusion.
April 4, 2013
from the composer
Consider welcoming in your heart the image of a native shepherd, crouched while giving birth; the child that falls on the grass; the flock, which in turn grazes the same grass without any particular shock right behind her.
Try to keep your faith in the impetus of the Bishop, who decides not only to visit his new bishopric in these colonial lands, but also to take notes of his visit, creating an illustrated (proto)ethnography of the types, the habits, the picturesque scenes, of the festivities and music of the people from northern Peru in the eighteenth century.
Take into consideration the Quechua language which resists, whose death is a source of concern at the same time that it explodes in ever-growing content on the Googles of the world.
Think about opening yourself to the fruit of a mind that was dominated for months by the violent, growing idea of sounds that interlaced, loved each other, and conflicted with one another; by confusing stories of desires beautiful and ahead of their time, by sentences in foreign languages, by remote tales and by the very violence behind it all.
I cannot think that there is not a single political trace in my music making if I send you, from Brazil, this sound-letter that seems to try to colonize your ears (and your imagination) for a few minutes. This very same sound-letter has been colonizing me for several months now – me, who considered myself its intrepid conqueror!
Before the sounds themselves, there were the images from the Codex; Peru and its music. My head populated by a world of objects that had never entered my horizon of possible subjects...
TransColonização is a great harmonic progression built from the analysis of recordings of two speeches, one in Quechua and one in Spanish.
In Quechua: a Peruvian friend (not a speaker of the mother-tongue of Andes) stumbling through a didactic text from a children’s book, and Google Translator’s Spanish voice’s (almost) perfect pronunciation of sentences taken from comments on YouTube videos.
In Spanish: I, who don't speak Spanish at all, reading the end of an allegorical Peruvian story about the Spanish invasion.
It is also an allusion to the geography of Peru (jungle, mountains, and coast), as well as the result of my own fascination with the story of the Codex. In a more fantastic level, it is an essay about violated languages, rituals and liberties. Posthumously, it is the allegory of the positive violence of expansion of multivalent ideas under the form of the cohabitation of multiple micro-colonizations experienced in non-traumatic ways, within the mind and creative capacity of each of the participants of tonight’s event: composer, performer, audience, and sound.
-Paolo Rios Filho
April 2, 2013
photo: film still, Gossamer (2010) Shahzia Sikander/ Du Yun
from the composer
When oral tradition music is transcribed, re-intereprated, everything gets very murky. A representation, even an attempt of evoking such representation wrestles with inherent mayhem, chaos, and struggle.
Your eyes are not your eyes. Your eyes are never your own eyes. Everything we see is with a soft-focused lens, even the most conflicted one, is altered and manipulated to the creator's will. The thing we see is almost Instagrammed.
I think I am interested in just some simple mantras. Something going back to the bare thread. The pilgrimage starts with a field recording that our violinist Jennifer collected on her many trips to Peru. We will have her lead us to this landscape.
The piece then migrated to other styles influenced me at the time of creating --- a Malinese N'goni, a Sufism Shehnai, a Mongolian heart sutra. All of them have one thing in common: because I resonate with them ineffably. It possibly is a subversive thing to say in today's culture, that the artist does not have a clear reason, that she does it just because so.
Perhaps I do think, and wish to believe, most music was created in such way at the very beginning, without any taint of politics, colonialisms, post-colonialisms, pre-colonialisms ... and many other ideologies...
Massive thanks to Jennifer Kelso Curtis for her inspiration. Thank you to Sebi for opening the door for me.
The title is a phrase abridged from Rumi's poem, You are not your eyes.
March 12, 2013
photo: Jimmy Katz
From the composer and filmmaker
Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi
Holi is known around the world as a joyful, chaotic and colorful celebration of springtime in India. To respond to Stravinsky’s own famously chaotic work about spring, we were intrigued by the possible connection with Holi. This festival allows us to reconsider some of the aspects of ritual and transformation represented in Le Sacré du Printemps.
We were particularly interested in the lived and felt reality of individuals on the brink of change: the transformative role of myth in earthly life. Our attention turned to the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, India, the mythical home of Krishna, the Hindu deity whose youthful flirtations with his beloved Radha (or fondly Radhe) and her friends form one of the origins for the holiday. According to one story, the young, dark-skinned god, annoyed that Radha was so fair, sneaks up on her and her friends, surprising the girls with showers of colored powder, perhaps evening the score.
This impulsive, sexualized (and possibly racialized) act now forms the central ritual of Holi. On that holiday, marking spring’s arrival, everyone becomes Krishna and Radha; all participants throw color and get color thrown at them. A pulsing desire to unite with the goddess sends people into a feverish state of spinning and yearning. Revelers enter a state of uninhibited, ecstatic freedom, one that remains hidden for the rest of the year.
In March 2012, Prashant and his film crew traveled to the Braj region, where Holi celebrations last not one day and night, but eight. The cameras captured members of a community in the throes of transformation, turning the seasons of their own lives. Temples fill with devotees, dancing without inhibition, pushing and shoving to receive blessings. Gangs of teenagers loiter on corners with buckets of colorful liquid and powder waiting to douse those who pass by. Purging fires, expressions of devoutness, and feats of austerity offer a nighttime counterpoint to the daytime celebrations.
During Holi in the Braj region, a single phrase is used to say hello or goodbye, to scream in jubilation, to apologize, to praise god, to get someone’s attention, to hail someone, to pay respect: Radhe Radhe. The goddess’s presence is evoked in nearly every human interaction.
As the world has come to hear about a prevailing atmosphere of routine sexualized aggression against women in Indian cities, the episode that ends our work offers a cathartic response. Men, high on intoxicating spirits, make a pilgrimage to Radha’s village dressed in vibrant garb from the region of Krishna’s playground and equipped with ceremonial shields; as the men boisterously taunt with sexually provocative chants, women await armed with large wooden staffs, which they then use to beat the men ferociously.
Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi is a journey of devotion for the goddess Radha. Loosely following the episodic template of Le Sacré du Printemps, our Radhe, Radhe is also a ballet of sorts: a performative encounter between live music and film, between lived experience and myth, the self and the transformed self, winter and spring.
We thank Carolina Performing Arts for this opportunity to create this work, and International Contemporary Ensemble for their brilliance and dedication.
Vijay Iyer & Prashant Bhargava
March 8, 2013
Impressions from Row G
ICE at MCA: Carla’s Kaleidoscope of Dreams
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
ICE performed Carla Kihlstedt’s spellbinding kaleidoscope At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed By Fire on Saturday, February 16, 2013, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. This 2012 ICElab commission was part of a double-bill that began with ICE-member Phyllis Chen’s 2011 ICElab works. Carla, on vocals and violin, joined ICE members Claire Chase, Joshua Rubin, Rebekah Heller, Dan Lippel, Erik Carlson, Jennifer Curtis, Nathan Davis, Jacob Greenberg, and Bridget Kibbey in playing her nine-part song cycle on the subject of dreams.
Carla introduced her piece during an intermission conversation with Peter Taub, Director of Performance Programs at MCA. She explained that, despite her classical training as a violinist, she has long bristled at the hidebound paradigms of classical music. She felt stifled by the isolation of composers composing in their ivory towers and musicians fanatically practicing until the piece is perfected for performance. Instead she has forged her own path with avant garde projects like her rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and her improvisation trio Causing a Tiger. Carla was thrilled to undertake the ICElab commission with its collaborative model. But it challenged her to compose for instruments she had never written for and to develop a piece that is fully notated. At Night... evolved from a long fascination with dreams, using raw material from her own dreams plus those collected from ICE musicians and from the public through a Facebook page.
From the eerie “Heller-Copter” opening by Rebekah on her bassoon, we were enveloped in an intimate dreamscape with all its twisted logic, implausibilities, and self-contradictions. The music ranged from charming to frightening, from soaring fantasies of flight to intricate personal dioramas. There were quirky episodes of musicians detuning others’ instruments, fanciful moments when we could imagine Claire flying, and onerous passages when ghosts, or were they guests, appeared.
Emblematic of the whole experience was The Surrender, based on a dream of Rebekah’s, best described by a line she spoke, “...everything around you is a figure or landmark from the past.” Rebekah stood at a microphone as if talking in her sleep, luring us into her dream. Erik led a plaintive melody on violin, echoed by Jennifer on mandolin, supported by a recurring, flowing figure from Dan’s guitar. As Rebekah cried out “If I don’t stay lucid who will save you?” Claire began to detune the guitar and Josh detuned the mandolin. Slowly, the foundation under the melody was disintegrating, taking lucidity with it. As destruction loomed, Carla sang out wordless, nearly silent screams, enacting the dreamer who tries to act to save the day, but finds she has no capability.
All in all, this evening was an exhilarating trip into the parallel universe of dreams, with Carla as the perfect tour guide.
Watch DigitICE videos of Carla Kihlstedt’s At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed By Fire from the world premiere performance at The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York.
March 1, 2013
Phyllis Chen plays at Chicago's Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery.
Impressions from Row G
ICE in Chicago: Phyllis Chen - It’s All In the Hands
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
“From the time I started with piano as a child, it’s been all about the tactile experience for me; the auditory element of the music is really secondary.” So said ICE member Phyllis Chen at a “talk back” session at Museum of Contemporary Art during the second of two Chicago concerts celebrating her composing and performing artistry. Staying with the childhood theme, we say “Phyllis plays extremely well . . . alone, and with others.”
Phyllis first charmed us with her playful approach to music-making in a solo toy piano performance at Corbett v. Dempsey art gallery on Friday, February 15, 2013, amidst the architecture- and couture-inspired sculpture of Diane Simpson.
Phyllis played three of her compositions plus one by David Lang and one by Fabian Svensson, 2009 winner of Phyllis’ Uncaged Toy Piano Composition Competition which encourages composers to write for the toy piano and other unconventional instruments. She opened with her own works Colure and Double Helix for toy piano with her right hand while striking kitchen bowls with her left. Colure began with the piano echoing sounds from strikes on the bowls and gradually to the toy piano carrying the melody with the bowls acting as jazz rhythm accompaniment.
Phyllis turned the bowls over for Double Helix, a much faster piece with complex toy piano runs, a stunning feat with only 30 keys to work with. The final piece with bowls was David Lang’s Miracle Ear, about his father’s hearing aids. Although they can be very helpful, they also present challenges by expanding the sounds one hears. The bowls represent those extraneous sounds, often grating and high-pitched.
As a special bonus, ICE flutist Eric Lamb played Beneath A Trace of Vapor, a piece written for him by Phyllis, for solo flute and electronics. Phyllis produced the electronic stream from recordings Eric made creating various sounds with his flute. Eric began with sweet melodic tones while the tape provided whistling high notes. The piece built in intensity, then climaxed in a cat fight between Eric live and Eric on the tape, slowed down, and galumphed to a close like an elephant slogging through mud.
ICE flutist Eric Lamb explains the fine points of Phyllis Chen's score to Arlene Dunn
At Saturday’s ICElab duo concert, also featuring the music of Carla Kihlstedt, Phyllis presented three works for small ensembles – Glass Clouds We Have Known, Hush and Chimers, and Mobius. The most amazing of these was Mobius, a performance-process piece for two music boxes, a blank punch tape roll, scissors, hole punch, and live electronics. Nathan Davis and Eric Lamb each held one music box as Phyllis fed the blank roll through one box, then the other, and created a Mobius strip by twisting it and taping the ends together. She then punched holes in the paper as they continuously cranked the music boxes until she was satisfied with the result. They cranked another minute or so, then Phyllis cut the tape and when the roll was cranked through the final box, the piece was finished.￼
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼In these two nights of concerts Phyllis demonstrated that playing with toys and other noise makers can produce stunningly original music, resulting in a playful evening for the musicians and audience alike.
Watch a DigitICE video of the world premiere of Chimers at the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival.