February 13, 2017

How do we love OpenICE? Let us count the ways

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

We haven’t been in the pages of the ICEblog much recently, though we've had no shortage of ICE events to feed upon. We are swooping back in at this juncture because we are committed to immersing ourselves more deeply into OpenICE as it moves into its second season. What we love most about OpenICE is, well, its openness. By design, it is open with respect to venue, genre, instrumentation, audience, community, etc. But most exciting, OpenICE is open to the unknown.

OpenICE workshop in Chicago with composer Wojtek Blecharz (photo by Larry Dunn)

We had the opportunity to meet with OpenICE co-directors Alice Teyssier and Ryan Muncy in Chicago last December to learn more about where OpenICE is headed. This season they will start working with four composers — Wojtek Blecharz, Morgan Krauss, Monte Webber, and Sabrina Schroeder — to collaboratively develop new evening-length works over the next two years. The parameters around these projects are, you guessed it, open! The composers were selected based on proposals they submitted that only outlined the driving concept for the piece. The process is beginning with workshops with each composer (open to anyone who would like to attend) where they are starting with a blank slate. Everything is on the table to be developed in the workshops —- instrumentation, size, style, length, venue, lighting, theatrics, movement, electronics, you name it. The objective is to unleash ideas and generate work that could never be done without this sort of radically open collaboration.

This latest concept was inspired, in part, by a workshop Levy Lorenzo led in November to teach 10 participants to build a new electronic instrument, compose pieces for those instruments, and then play the pieces, all in one three-hour session. It opened a whole new platform for creating new collaborative compositions. The session fulfilled so many ICE purposes – sharing skills, education, collaboration – that OpenICE wanted to build off this idea. OpenICE is providing agency for ICE members to take their own area of expertise, try something new with it and expand the community in the process. It’s a very ICE-y way of working – making music together and expanding the circle. As this evolves, it could even be adapted to include untrained musicians and the public in ways beyond just listening, to become deeper participants, certainly in the discussion and development process, and perhaps even as performers. The possibilities are virtually limitless. We were able to participate in the first of these new OpenICE workshops with composer Wojtek Blecharz in December and it was exhilarating to be there at the inception of a new work of art. Is it any wonder we came away committed to get more involved?

ICE member Levy Lorenzo leading OpenICE — Electronic Etudes No. 1 Workshop

So now we are about to head out on the road for a long weekend of OpenICE activity, starting Thursday with the inaugural OpenICE performance in Fort Wayne, Indiana, ICE clarinetist Campbell MacDonald’s hometown. Then it’s on to Chicago, where there will be the added excitement of starting a new ICE working relationship with the Rebuild Foundation, which was founded and is led by visionary artist and activist Theaster Gates. Most events during this four-day Chicago session of OpenICE will be held in Rebuild Foundation venues Stony Island Arts Bank and Dorchester Arts and Housing Collaborative. Included in this week’s events are composer workshops with Morgan Krauss, an improvisation session with Glass Lantern and  resident artists Train and Maggie Brown, and a Sunday afternoon concert at Chicago Cultural Center.

This Chicago session of OpenICE will conclude with the Midwest premiere of Tyshawn Sorey’s Perle Noire: Meditations on Joséphine, which explores the music, artistry, and inner life of Josephine Baker. This work features soprano Julia Bullock embodying Josephine, with Alice Teyssier (flute), Ryan Muncy (saxophone), Rebekah Heller (bassoon), Jennifer Curtis (violin) Dan Lippel (guitar), and the composer on drums and piano. We were fortunate to be the world premiere in Ojai last summer and it was one of the most moving musical experiences we’ve had. We can’t wait to hear it again in its latest iteration. All OpenICE events are free, However, Perle Noire requires advance reservations, available here.

January 24, 2017

George Lewis: The Will to Adorn

ICE is delighted to release our fifth disc on the Tundra label: George Lewis's The Will to Adorn.  Comprising mostly live recordings from 2011-2016, this recording shows the extent to which George's performance practice has influenced ICE's aesthetic.  He writes, "...as with all improvisations, including our everyday-life human efforts, the performance becomes an emergent phenomenon, achieved through negotiation; success will be less a matter of individual freedom than of personal responsibility." The CD also includes a solo trombone performance by the composer of T.J. Anderson's In Memoriam Albert Lee Murray (2013).

Here are a few excerpts from the CD liner notes, with George's own descriptions of the included works that were commissioned by ICE.

The Will to Adorn (2011)

Zora Neale Hurston’s 1934 essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” cites “the will to adorn” as a crucial characteristic of black expressivity, by way of this example:

     I saw in Mobile a room in which there was an over-stuffed mohair living-room suite, an imitation mahogany bed
     and chifferobe, a console victrola. The walls were gaily papered with Sunday supplements of the Mobile Register.
     There were seven calendars and three wall pockets. One of them was decorated with a lace doily. The mantel-shelf
     was covered with a scarf of deep home-made lace, looped up with a huge bow of pink crepe paper. Over the door
     was a huge lithograph showing the Treaty of Versailles beingsigned with a Waterman fountain pen.

What I'm interested in is adornment as a compositional attitude or method – for example, Hurston’s notion of “decorating a decoration,” which is a recursive move. One can imagine the music as a response to the complexity of the scene that greeted Hurston in her fieldwork. The work was composed for ICE.

Born Obbligato (2013)

This work, commissioned by ICE, is conceived in dialogue with Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20 (1800). Beethoven scholar Nicholas Mathew, to whom the work is dedicated, pointed out to me that the Septet’s convivial affect deviates markedly from the standard image of Beethovenian fist-shaking.  As the story goes, in his later years the composer found the work’s popularity a source of chagrin, reportedly responding to a compliment by growling, “Mozart wrote that.”

Both the title and musical intent of Born Obbligato derive from a remark Beethoven made in an 1800 letter to his Leipzig publisher, in which he announced “a septet per il violino, viola, violoncello, contrabass, clarinett, corno, fagotto – tutti obligati”– adding parenthetically, “I cannot write anything that is not obbligato, for I was already born with an obbligato accompaniment.” Or at least, that is what a common English translation tells us. The German is a bit more ambiguous: “Ich kann gar nichts unobligates schreiben, weil ich schon mit einem obligaten Akkompagnement auf die Welt gekommen bin.” The translation of the seldom-used word “unobligates” (i.e., not required) as referring to style refers to the Septet’s texture, but Beethoven’s use of the expression “obligates Akkompagnement” to describe the circumstances of his birth invokes the sign of enigma.

Born Obbligato borrows from the Septet’s structure and texture, if not its conviviality.  The addition of percussion and digital transformation and spatialization in the fourth movement (“Tema con Variazioni”) pays homage to the conductor Steven Schick, who performs here in his other capacity as world-class percussionist. 

December 12, 2016

Camila Agosto, an ICEcommons Entry, and an OpenICE Premiere

Composer Camila Agosto has been one of the nicest surprises to come to ICE in a long while.  When ICE chose her to be represented on a November OpenICE concert at the Abrons Arts Center, we had no idea she was only twenty-one!  Camila describes her experience here, and video of the concert will follow soon on DigitICE.  Based in Baltimore, Camila brought family, co-workers, and fans to the November 12 concert, many of whom were having their first experience with new music.

- - - - - - -

I first found out about ICEcommons when I participated in an open forum hosted by ICE in late October of this year. The forum was a presentation and large group discussion about ICE’s archive metafields.org. It’s a free archive for performers and composers to use to find and share new works. After the forum, I had the chance to speak one-on-one with both Ryan Muncy and Alice Teyssier about this new initiative and my own works, and they suggested that I post some of work on the archive. I chose to post a trio I recently composed, Listen to me as one listens to the rain, a piece that explores the process a person goes through as they slowly lose their ability to communicate with the world around them. This piece is near to my heart and was inspired by someone close to me; I chose to post it because I felt that it represented a different aspect of myself and my work that I hadn’t yet explored. It is written for flute, soprano saxophone, and a percussion instrument I designed, and I thought that since I met Ryan, Alice, and Ross, this would be a good piece to post. A few weeks later, I received an email from Ryan expressing his interest in my work, as well as a possible performance of this piece in their OpenICE season. I was floored when I read this email. I had no expectations when I posted my work, so getting a response from members of ICE was absolutely incredible. 

Working with Ross, Alice, and Ryan has been amazing! They all took such great care to keep me informed of the logistical details for this concert, and to capture all of the nuances within this piece. When I sat in the audience during the dress rehearsal/sound check, it was an unbelievable experience to hear this piece come to life in a new way. Being able to use an archive like Metafields, and having such a positive experience come out of one post is incredible. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to continue to share my music with others, and I hope that more people will take advantage of this archive and get to know the ICEcommons initiative!

November 17, 2016

Marcos Balter on Tundra

by Jacob Greenberg, ICE Director of Recordings and Digital Outreach

Tundra, ICE's in-house recording label and an imprint of New Focus Recordings, has been busy lately.  Ryan Muncy's brilliant second solo album ism appeared in September, and just two months later, we're holding in our hands Aesopica, a retrospective of ICE's long collaboration with composer Marcos Balter.  Aesopica collects five pieces written for the members of ICE over seven years; one was developed in the ICElab program (Aesopica), one written for the occasion of a retrospective of György Ligeti in Los Angeles (ligare), and three others for small groups of ICE soloists.  Below are some remarks from ICE members, reprinted from the CD booklet, about our productive partnership with Marcos.

Ryan Muncy, saxophone

Wicker Park was my very first collaboration with Marcos Balter.  Recalling the energy and vitality of the famous Chicago neighborhood from the turn of the millennium, the work marks Marcos's first time writing for saxophone, and has quickly become one of his most-played pieces.  Wicker Park embraces the soprano saxophone's idiosyncrasies, using mechanical sounds and breathiness as expressive features.

Nadia Sirota, viola

To celebrate his fortieth birthday, Marcos wrote a joyous suite of miniatures that shows off four of his closest collaborators.  Codex Seraphinianus is inspired by the Luigi Serafini work of the same name, a 127-page illustrated volume that is a kind of alien encyclopedia.  The pages lay out indexes of different items: natural, man-made, and uncanny hybrids.  This book is written in an invented, perhaps untranslatable language, yet to a curious reader, it has a strange internal logic.  Inspired by its numerological patterns, Marcos fashioned eleven movements that play with the edge of understanding.

Claire Chase, flute

When the Art Institute of Chicago asked me to invite a composer to write a new work for solo flute inspired by the museum's permanent collection, Marcos Balter immediately leapt to mind.  There was one piece in the Modern Wing, Cy Twombly's Return from Parnassus, by which I'd spent countless hours losing time, dreaming, meandering in colors, shapes, numbers, textures.  And so Descent from Parnassus was born.  The flutist recites (by turns whispering, screaming, singing, and scatting) a text from Book One of Dante's Canto Paradiso.  The work pushes the limits of the instrument and the body, just as Twombly's brush strokes seem to skyrocket off the edges of the canvas and into a celestial space.  Tragically, Twombly died just before the premiere of the work.

Jacob Greenberg, piano

ligare paints a placid yet eerie landscape.  György Ligeti is recalled by the slow-moving microtones, passed among the six instruments, but the effect of the ensemble's whistling is entirely new, a signature device of the composer.  A listener asks: where do these disembodied sounds come from, and why do they create such unease?

Rebekah Heller, bassoon

Aesopica was Marcos's first large ensemble piece for ICE.  This whimsical yet intricate suite of vignettes, drawn from the larger semistaged work, adapts texts from Aesop's Fables.  My favorite, "The Boastful Lamp," is a duet between the tenor Peter Tantsits and myself on a deconstructed bassoon (the wing joint, the part of the bassoon that looks like a mini-saxophone) that we dubbed an "oon."  Each of the movements in this suite transports the listener to tiny universes of sound, unique and fully realized.

Marcos Balter, composer

My collaborations with ICE are the fruit of artistic kinship as much as they are of close friendships.  Like may of my compositional heroes from the past, I prefer writing for people I know well and whom I know will understand and enhance my vision.  As luck would have it, my dear friends from ICE are among the most skilled and sensitive performers a composer could dream of.  The challenge, then, is to continue to push the envelope, mine and theirs, never settling for anything less than complete artistic truth.  My music for ICE is very much like a diary of my own trajectory as a composer.

Stay tuned for more releases coming soon on Tundra!  The fifth title on the label, music of another wonderful collaborator, George Lewis, will drop in January!  

November 11, 2016

On the Life of a Piece

By Ross Karre, Co-Artistic Director and Director of DigitICE.org

At ICE, we talk a lot about pieces of music. Pieces are the building blocks of our events. They define the story that is told through our concert season. But looking deeper, a piece of music is also a hub of communication. It’s a sonic expression of a composer’s vision. It’s an act of translation on the part of the ICE musicians. And it’s an art of interpretation and discovery for our audience members. Creating new pieces and new interpretations is central to our day-to-day activity. It’s the reason that we do what we do.

Recently, we have begun to consider the entire life of a piece from a holistic point of view. Is a piece of music only its performance on stage? We think not. The reality is that most people don’t experience these new pieces in live performance. The majority of new music experiences happen via reading, viewing photos, watching videos, or listening to recordings online. While a premiere of a new work may have 40 people in its audience, thousands of people experience the piece online in faraway places.

Ashley Fure: The Force of Things - Darmstadt Summer Courses

We often “measure” music by metrics related to its immediacy: seating attendance, video views, record sales.The larger impact to the community comes from the small ripple effects of the other components of a piece’s life: the sketches leading to a new composition, the email threads between composer and performer, the rehearsal photos spread via social media, and the relationships built in the process. After the premiere, a piece has a legacy of transformation. It becomes a palimpsest as rehearsal notes and marginalia are added, erased, and scribbled on the printed sheet music. Second performances, studio recordings, critical reviews, anniversary concerts, and musicological study also contribute to the life of a piece.

Over the past five years, ICE has built a number of initiatives to make visible these larger aspects of the piece's life cycle, in the hope of enriching the audience experience and deepening a listener's investment in the new music community.  One of the most important parts of the life cycle is ICE’s process of discovery. In the past, composers sent large packages of beautiful scores to our ICEhaus rehearsal space in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Our paper library of scores by composers from all over the globe occupies dozens of shelves. More recently, composers have sent these scores via email in PDF form. We welcomed this change with open arms, and it led to the creation of ICEcommons.

The ICEcommons.org library is a hybrid of a traditional call-for-scores and a crowdsourced reference system of new works. Composers are encouraged to add information regarding their works list to ICEcommons. When ICE (and any other ensemble or performance org) wants to find a new work with a non-traditional instrumentation, we look to ICEcommons first. As we get to know the piece, we use our LUIGI musical database software to catalog information about the work: rehearsal schedules, personnel lists, performance dates, and all of the minutiae related to the performance of a new work. Finally, our live performance videos are collected and distributed on our free library: Digitice.org. Pieces come into ICE’s ecosystem via ICEcommons and they are delivered to the world via Digitice.org. These libraries allow us to bring new audiences to this music and advocate for emerging and underrepresented composers. Our hope is that this three-phase summary of the life of a piece - DISCOVER, COLLECT, ADVOCATE - can become a consistent and holistic part of our daily practice, and we can use these new tools to make a piece available to the widest possible global audience.

As an example, let’s look to the piece of music ICE created with Ashley Fure from early 2015 until Summer of 2016 in Darmstadt for its premiere. The work, The Force of Things, was a collaborative, intermedia hybrid from the get-go. From the initial meetings and development rehearsals of the piece, we committed to capturing the process in video, still, and written form. The piece developed in several places and times throughout the season. The University of Michigan Liberty Annex at the Taubman School of Architecture played host to the material tests for this object opera while Miller Theatre at Columbia University presented a premiere of a segment of the work. Abrons Arts Center was a second home for the piece’s continuation as we prepared to present a second excerpt at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn.

Photo: Ashley Fure with The Force of Things team: Ross Karre, Levy Lorenzo, Rebekah Heller, Alice Teyssier, Lucy Dhegrae, Ryan Muncy, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, Nick Houfek. Abrons Arts Center

Finally, at the official premiere in Darmstadt, Germany, we continued revising the work until the downbeat. The process of creation was meticulously documented and layered in a beautiful trailer created by the Digitice.org media team (Ross Karre, Merve Kayan, Monica Duncan, Bradley Rosen, and Caley Monahon-Ward).

The Force of Things’s life enters new stages with upcoming presentations at the University of Michigan, PEAK Performances in Montclair New Jersey, and additional possibilities around the world. The Force of Things also has led to three smaller works which will have their own lives: Shiver Lung for seven players, Etudes from the Anthropocene for septet and large silicone structure, and Shiver Lung 2 for percussion and electronics. The origin of the idea, which started as a conversation in a bar in Darmstadt 2014 between Ashley Fure and Ryan Muncy, became its own world of creation, spawning new projects with a linked consciousness; and every detail of the work's gestation became an essential element in its forward motion. ICE believes that its documentation of this process is inextricable from the way The Force of Things took shape.

Photo: Ross Karre testing the new monocord system with custom styrofoam bridges. 

ICEcommons has also spurred the lives of several pieces which are new to ICE but were created by other composer-performer pairings. Monte Weber, Mauricio Pauly, Seth Cluett, Ann Cleare, David Coll, Camila Agosto, and many more have had their works discovered via their contributions to ICEcommons. Each will have outlets on Digitice.org, social media, photos, text, and audience conversations at concert after-parties and open rehearsals.

Photo: ICEcommons selection Objects in Stillness by Seth Cluett. Abrons Arts Center Playhouse. Also viewable on Digitice.org. 

ICE makes the communal nature of musical creation into a public endeavor--connecting performers, composers, and audiences via open libraries and forums. We know that a piece isn't confined to its rehearsals and performances; it needs and deserves more. And the musical community thrives when we communicate creatively across many platforms. Stay tuned to iceorg.org as we continue to DISCOVER, COLLECT, and ADVOCATE.

October 16, 2016

From Claire Chase

Dear Friends,

I have some exciting news to share with you. The New York Times announced that after 15 years, I am proudly passing the Artistic Director torch to my beloved colleagues Joshua Rubin and Ross Karre. Together with Vanessa Rose, our Executive Director, they will lead ICE through another electrifying evolution.

Today we are celebrating at ICE. This is an occasion of rebirth, metamorphosis, and, in many senses, formation. When I formed ICE with my classmates at Oberlin a decade and a half ago, we had big, bold, audacious dreams: we wanted to create an artist collective in the tradition of radical trailblazers like the AACM; we wanted to form an American ensemble that played the music of our time with the precision and distinction of European groups like EIC; and we wanted to forge a new kind of non-profit organization, one with a hybrid and adaptive identity as a producer, advocate, educator, and transformative force for cultural change.

We wanted to create an institution dedicated fiercely and uncompromisingly to new work – dedicated, importantly, to the work of our generation of artists, vital work by underrepresented composers, improvisers and music-makers toiling gutsily in the margins. This organization would be as indispensable to the life of a city as its symphony orchestras, opera, and theater companies. I said this very thing to the New York Times back in 2007, when Steve Smith wrote a profile on ICE’s work as we were setting up shop in the Brooklyn loft affectionately known as ICEHaus.

With your support – you, our treasured community of listeners and friends, fellow artists and advocates – ICE has accomplished all this and more. A quick scan of our 2015-16 season showed that rather than rain, snow, or a meteorological catastrophe, there was a 42% chance of an ICE concert on any given day. Last year alone, the group played 151 shows, gave 91 premieres, and performed 10 new operas. We also had an outpouring of new programming through OpenICE that was free and open to the public – something that has been central to ICE’s mission since our very first free public concerts in Chicago in 2002.

Each of these programs, each of these pieces, and each of the unforgettable musical moments that fuel them is a formation – a new beginning, the restless and sensuous act of creating, making, changing– a practice that this group of artists does more fearlessly and faithfully than any group of people I have ever known. Making something beautiful out of whatever we have is the daily, hourly, and lifelong work of this organization.

On January 6, 2002, the original ICE formation was a ragtag concert at The Three Arts Club in Chicago. We produced it with $603, which was what I had in my bank account at the time – amassed from my holiday catering tips. Investing what I had in the dream of ICE was the best financial and artistic decision of my life. I am as proud of that decision as I am of my decision to invest my MacArthur award in ICE’s programs and in nonprofit causes in the new music field. Thousands of people have joined me in contributing to the ICE cause and to our community’s shared cause over the years.      

And so today, as I lovingly hand the reins of ICE’s direction to my brilliant band mates and executive staff, I am proud to unveil ICE Formation, a new initiative that will seed ever more audacious formations by ICE’s artists and collaborators. I logged into LUIGI, ICE’s database (named, of course, after Luigi Nono, for his collaborative ideals) to see what I had made in concert fees playing with ICE last season. LUIGI told me it was $25,650, an amount that in 2002 I never, in a million years, would have believed I’d make playing the music that I love most with the people I love most.

I am donating that amount - $25,650 - to ICE Formation today with the same spirit of adventure and big dreams as when I gave $603 to ICE. With this donation, I am thrilled to smash the champagne bottle on the launch of a new era, to celebrate the infinitely regenerative act of formation, and the process of crystallization that is the liquid shore of ICE.

I won’t be straying far from the ICE nest. I will stay deeply involved in the organization’s work as a band member, staff member and cheerleader of the ICE artists’ metamorphic vision for the field.

I am delighted to share with you that as of this afternoon, we have already had several donors match my contribution, making the ICE Formation $115,000 on its first day out of the box. Will you join me with a contribution? Let’s make something beautiful with whatever we have.

To the future!

Yours adventurously,

Claire Chase

ICE Formation artwork by Maryam Khosrovani    

September 22, 2016

OpenICE Launch Weekend in Pictures!

The opening weekend of 16-17 OpenICE at the Abrons Arts Center was a resounding success!  Between concerts, information sessions, and education workshops, ICE opened its arms to the public with free admission all around!

Friday evening opened with a Gallery concert of works from the spare, intense tradition of Wandelweiser composers.  Erik Carlson returned to ICE from San Diego to share his expertise, and Alice Teyssier alternated as vocalist and flutist with incredible focus.  

The main event on Friday in the Playhouse involved the participation of the incredible students of the University of South Carolina--some of them non-music majors--for an epically dramatic performance of Michael Pisaro's Ricefall(2), for rice falling on varied amplified objects.  The USC students bravely came up to New York by bus for the concert!

After a happy detour to an elementary school class at the Henry Street Settlement...

...the celebration of Michael Pisaro's music continued on Saturday in the Gallery, with four hour-long presentations of the 4 Messages, with Erik Carlson joined this time by Dan Lippel on guitar.  Back in the Playhouse later on, ICE gave the local premiere of Seth Cluett's Objects in Stillness, selected from the ICEcommons open call for scores.  Works by Elliott Carter, Christopher Bailey, and Wojtek Blecharz (for reed box!) completed the program.  

To explain the evolution of ICEcommons and ICE's new collaboration with New York Public Library and Nordic Music Days, Ross Karre led a Public Archiving Forum with a rapt audience.  

The Playhouse events finished on Sunday with two dramatic concerts.  First was a portrait concert of Anna Thorvaldsdottir, which included the world premiere or her Sequences for quartet of low winds, as well as multimedia solo works.

The grand finale was a no-holds-barred improv jam session with the best in the field: Peter Evans on trumpet, Cory Smythe on piano, hornist David Byrd-Marrow, Dan Lippel on guitar, and guest vocalist Sofia Jernberg.  ICE is grateful for the wonderful audiences who reveled with us all weekend!  There was a shared creative energy with everyone who attended and participated!

August 20, 2016

Mostly Mozart 50 Interviews: David T. Little, Seven Responses Project

A conversation between Martine Thomas (ICE intern) and David T. Little (composer) about his new work, "dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet". A response to Dietrich Buxtehude's cantata, Membra Jesu Nostri, this work and six other responses will be presented alongside the original cantata in two performances by ICE, Quicksilver, and The Crossing at Lincoln Center on August 21 for the Mostly Mozart Festival.

MT: In your program notes, you mention "the troubling historic use of crucifixion nails as magic or medicinal amulets." Could you elaborate on this history and how it informs the piece?

DTL: In my research for this piece I discovered that the nails used in crucifixions were often collected afterwards to be re-purposed as healing or magic amulets. I found myself imagining what it would mean for Christ, on the cross, to have known this; to know that after he was dead, the nails piercing his body would be taken for this superstitious use. His response, I imagined, would be something like a reinterpretation of "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) except directed at the people, rather than to God. That's the idea behind the work.

MT: How would you describe the relationship between Buxtehude's cantata and your piece? Was the cantata more of a launching point or a source of direct musical interaction?

DTL: At first, I had grand plans for a five movement work, emulating the form of the Buxtehude, etc. But as my response progressed--as is often the case for me--the original plan was cast aside. So the resulting piece is more about my own meditation on both Buxtehude's music in general, and on the ideas he explored in particular. Only a few small musical details crept in referencing the original Ad pedes.

MT: What vocabulary or imagery would you describe the soundscape of this piece? How would you describe the emotional center of this piece?

DTL: I was very interested in the idea of opposing forces: of a figure being held upright, suspended by nails in the hands and feet, while at the same time being pulled downward by gravity. The feet upon the suppedaneum became the tense nexus of these forces and a specific location of great pain. This tension informed the sound world significantly--which itself dictated instrumentation--and really serves as the emotional center of the piece. As the text says, "magic pain."

MT: From your perspective as composer, how does this piece interact with your larger body of work?

DTL: This is the only piece I've written that could even loosely be considered "sacred" in the traditional Judeo-Christian sense. (The only other work that comes close is Sunday Morning Trepanation from 2002, which equates going to church to getting holes drilled into your head. Definitely not sacred). That said, my work over the last few years has increasingly dealt with mystical, mythical, spiritual, and existential questions, and all of my work is on some level concerned with drama. This piece--and the way I approached the response in general--is definitely in line with all of this.


Learn more about the Seven Responses event here: 



Photo by Merri Cyr

August 20, 2016

Mostly Mozart 50 Interviews: Anthony Cheung

A conversation between Martine Thomas (ICE intern) and Anthony Cheung (composer) about his new Viola Concerto, written for ICE's Maiya Papach. ICE will premiere this concerto and four others at Lincoln Center on August 23 for the Mostly Mozart Festival. 












MT: Which qualities of the viola are integral to your conceptualization of this piece? How did you intend for the piece to play to the instrument's strengths or to challenge its possibilities?

AC: I think the viola’s expressive range is wider than composers and listeners typically expect of it. I’m attracted to both the autumnal, dark-hued lyricism that we traditionally associate with the instrument, as well as the hyper-kinetic virtuosic elements that often go overlooked, but can be really gratifying in the hands of a great player. There is an abundance of both worlds in the piece. The last thing I wanted to do was to approach the instrument with trepidation or to simply think of a comfortable “middle-range” sonority, so yes, extremities of range and speed are pushed.

MT: In your bio, you mention that syntax and rhetoric often influence your music. What sort of syntax and/or rhetoric do you envision behind the many heaving moments (via dynamic swells, glissandos, dramatic intervals) versus the more clearly spoken moments?

AC: That’s a good observation, and is indicative of the macro- and micro- level interest in syntax at work in this piece, and most of my other work. The more declamatory moments reflect a kind of instrumentalized rhetoric of speech, especially in the many call-and-response phrases between the soloist and the ensemble. And then there are stretches where one might perceive a drawn-out process, which has very little to do with speech, dialogue, or argument, but rather a more physiological transformation, steady and gradual, moving between states. I’m interested in representing both, and believe there are syntactical ways of making both kinds of rhetoric heard effectively.

MT: Regarding the title, what are the roles that are assumed in this piece? Who assumes them?

AC: How instruments behave, what we are led to believe they are supposed to do, where sound sources come from and why, these are all expectations that I like to question and play with in many of my works. I’ll often have shadow or complementary lines that purposely make something more ambiguous, more dimensional, less easily defined. That’s the starting point with this piece too. Yes, the soloist is front and center, but from the very opening, her lines are picked up, redistributed, commented upon. Is a concerto soloist necessarily a leader, or can she be a follower as well? Must she fit the grand heroic prototype of struggle and redemption, or can we have a little fun with subverting those expectations? When other instruments begin to encroach on the soloist’s ownership of the material, eventually usurping and indeed assuming it, how have our own assumptions been diverted?

MT: What imagery would you describe the soundscape of this piece? How do your instrumentation choices fulfill these intentions?

AC: I didn’t have specific imagery in mind for this piece. Since it is not programmatic in nature, I only wish that listeners come up with their own ways of seeing through the sounds. Sometimes I made mental notes describing the kind of intended effect a passage had in my own head; one such example was “multiple loops at different rates in orbit with one another.” At other points, the character of the sound could be derived from the function of certain instruments, like ones capable of sustaining resonance allowing for subtle harmonic blending and shifts in the final section, which also contributed to the floating, ethereal quality of the music.

MT: How would you describe the emotional center of this piece?

AC: I don’t know if there’s a single center because it is constantly in flux. One might perceive elements of impatience, franticness, over-enthusiasm, euphoria, skepticism, etc. The last section is very different in character from the rest. I couldn’t let the opportunity of a viola concerto go by without trying something unabashedly melancholic and lyrical.

MT: From your perspective as composer, how does this piece interact with your larger body of work?

AC: I’ve only written one other concerto, and that was an atypical piece for horn and orchestra that is heavily programmatic and suggestive of specific sounds and images. This piece is very different in temperament, and in its absolute nature it more closely fits the mold of a traditional concerto. At the same time, I’m wary of slash-and-burn virtuosity for its own sake, so it doesn’t go too far in that direction, and formally the piece is quite peculiar. But I’ve definitely caught the concerto bug now. And I’ve somehow avoided writing for the guitar before this piece, so there’s a first time for everything!


Learn more about the Five Premiere Concertos event here: 


August 20, 2016

Mostly Mozart 50 Interviews: Dai Fujikura

A conversation between Martine Thomas (ICE intern) and Dai Fujikura (composer) about his new Cello Concerto and Flute Concerto, written for ICE's Katinka Kleijn and Claire Chase. ICE will premiere these concertos and three others at Lincoln Center on August 23 for the Mostly Mozart Festival. 

MT: Could you talk a bit about your compositional process? How did each piece germinate? What ideas, abstract or concrete, inspired or influenced each piece?

DF: Like all my music, these pieces were created by working together with artists. These pieces especially came from close encounters, with soloists Claire Chase for the Flute Concerto and Katinka Kleijn for the Cello Concerto.

For the Flute Concerto, I knew I wanted the solo flute to be doing some of the percussive playing that Claire does so well, in a way it is her signature playing, so I had to think of two things. The first: how to notate. My job as a composer is not to control the musician, but to make a world in which the musician can play with their best sound, their most beautiful sonority (whatever type of beautiful that may be). I wanted to come up with the most practical solution. Knowing what kind of sound I wanted, I discussed a lot with Claire, and came up with a slightly untraditional notation: all pitches and techniques are written but she can choose the combinations. The second: what kind of orchestra sound could match this solo line. I somehow thought of pizzicato-tremolo with some sea-shell chimes, which I remembered seeing in hotel gift shops.

The Cello Concerto was a slightly different story. It is based on my solo cello work, "osm", which was composed shortly before the Cello Concerto. Even though someone else premiered it, Katinka kindly helped me through composing "osm". Even while composing it, I was thinking how great it could be if I made this solo piece into a cello concerto. At the same time, Andreas Waldburg, our friend who supported this commission, told me he would like to commission me to write for my own 40th birthday. How amazing! I told him I would be happy with just a cake! I suggested writing a cello concerto from the material in "osm" with Katinka as a soloist, since she had already helped me. Thinking of who the orchestra should be wasn't hard because the best ensemble, ICE, was in front of our eyes! They loved the idea, but told me they didn't want to wait until 2017 for me to turn 40, so could we do it instead while I am still 39? I would do anything for ICE, so I shifted the composing schedule and started working on the Cello Concerto to be performed this year!

Since "osm" was already a stand-alone solo work, in making it into a concerto, I had to ask myself, how can I create ANOTHER dimension by adding the accompaniment of the ensemble? This was a really heavy task. As you can imagine, since I am a composer, it is most natural for me to make music from scratch. That's what I do, that's what being a composer means. Now I have to give already existing material (even though it was created by myself) "wings" or unexpected dimensions... without bothering its integrity.

Now to talk more about what it means to collaborate with musicians, such as Claire and Katinka. I compose music every day. I write by hand and then immediately put the music into the computer, since I always lose my sketches (or my family members throw them into the recycle bin, "accidentally", so they say). Then, almost every day, I email the musicians screenshots or PDFs of the score I have composed so far. The musicians - wherever they may be, whatever they might be doing, even at a holiday time (often I end up writing music for ICE around Thanksgiving, a tradition I don't know apart from what I have seen in US sitcoms) - will immediately play the materials into their phone and email the recording to me.

Of course I can imagine the sound, but it makes such a difference when real musicians, even sight reading, play it for me to hear. The energy of the playing fires up my inspiration greatly to get on to the next part of the composition the next day.

Sometimes I also skype with the musicians, and record a video. The musician often offers what the instrument can do, or what they have always wanted to do but never had a chance to. I always add suggestions, as I have ideas while listening to their wishes (I am like Santa at Christmas). I have counter ideas, and so on. They try things on camera, which often make us say "hey, that's great!". Then we both know that element will be in the piece somewhere. From those inspirations from the soloists, I know what kind of material I want to include, which makes me think of what kind of orchestration would match that playing.

These are the reasons I love writing concertos. I have quite a lot of concertos, including concertos for unusual instruments!

MT: Quite a bit of your music focuses on elements of the natural world. With all the connections that flute has to birds and wind, does the Flute Concerto have a natural element to it?

DF: I don't think this Flute Concerto has a specific nature theme. Although underneath and in specific areas, there is the impression of a bird gliding (I imagine Claire gliding) and flying into places. Maybe the orchestra is like a forest where the trees move the same way that a bird flies, sometimes with the bird bouncing and ricocheting in the trees.

The last section of the concerto is very seductive, I find. The bass flute (a very sexy instrument) is playing as if in between ice that started to melt. Maybe the surface is wet, dripping, though still cold and with the shape of ice... slowly the bass flute moves across this surface.

MT: The cello is often described as having a sound that's very close to the sound of the human voice. In writing the Cello Concerto, were you thinking of a human voice or a more inhuman voice?

DF: I didn't think of that! As I explained above, I was looking at the existing solo work, "osm", then thinking of what dimension to add, what would be the most non-obvious way to enhance the aura of this piece... that was the challenge. I wanted it to be like knowing someone, then spending intensive time together and finally seeing some very unexpected dimensions in their personality. That sort of thing.

I also wanted to write a cello concerto that was lyrical and, at the same time, unlike a cello concerto, rhythmic but not bombastic. Those were new things for me to work with. After hearing the first rehearsal, I thought those places worked particularly well. I was extremely happy because I was quite worried about it!

MT: How would you describe the emotional center of each piece?

DF: You know, composing music is very much like having a relationship with the piece while you are writing it. The emotional center is often guided and led by the piece. Some pieces I write are quite tricky, as they don't show me where I should go. At a certain point, I am surprised by the piece: wow, you knew you would be like this the whole time but you didn't tell me? Then I have the whole piece in front of me. All the sketches the piece leads me to write suddenly all fit. Some pieces, like the Flute Concerto, are very straightforward (unlike the Cello Concerto). The Flute Concerto led my way like she was holding my hand and pulling me all the way until the end.

This is similar to when I am listening to rehearsals of the pieces. In some phrases, the music tells us, "C'mon, please let me stretch a little!" or "You should play this way!", and so on. We, as composer and musicians, sometimes just do what the music tells us to. The important thing is having a sympathetic situation, like the way ICE rehearses, with care. Then "she", as I often call the piece, feels safe to guide us the way we should go. Strange, isn't it?

MT: In previous interviews, you've mentioned the difficulties of combatting assumptions about your music based on Japanese stereotypes. Was that challenge on your mind as you wrote these pieces in any specific ways?

DF: That is true, especially when dealing with flute! In this piece, I didn't really fight not to sound like or be categorized as "Japanese music". I gave the contrabass flute riffs like a rock guitar and treated the bass flute more like a sensual being. But with those long melodies, I was careful.

I want to write music. Music is one of the rare things in life where we don't need language, and it is universal. What I want to create in music is the dream-like utopia I would like to live in. In my utopia, we don't have immigration officers!


Learn more about the Five Premiere Concertos event here: 


Photo by Ai Ueda

August 20, 2016

Mostly Mozart 50 Interviews: Marcos Balter

A conversation between Martine Thomas (ICE intern) and Marcos Balter (composer) about his new Violin Concerto, written for ICE's David Bowlin. ICE will premiere this concerto and four others at Lincoln Center on August 23 for the Mostly Mozart Festival. 

MT: How did the process of featuring violin in a concerto setting differ from writing for violin in other capacities (i.e. string quartet)?

MB: I think many composers - myself included - tend to go for negation when asked to write for a genre with strong traditional expectations, like a string quartet or, well, a violin concerto. The temptation is to write a non-concerto, to do something that negates the genre's identity. And, then something funny happens: negation becomes the new tradition, and these negational maneuvers actually become the expectation.
So, I decided to "negate negation" and dive headfirst into the idea of writing a violin concerto that actually pays a very palpable homage to the genre's history. My self-imposed challenge, then, was to use as many traditional expectations as possible, like a fast-slow-fast multi-movement formal design, and somehow come up with something that sounded unequivocally contemporary.

MT: How do you imagine the dialogue between movements?

MB: Even though one might miss it at a first listen, the three movements are extremely interconnected in every possible way: harmonically, rhythmically, formally, thematically, etc. That was yet another self-imposed constraint that clearly acknowledges the genre’s history. And, it doesn't even stop there. If you look at the first and third movements, there's a "ghost" of sonata form in them, with primary and secondary themes introduced, developed, and reintroduced. If I were going to comment on the tradition, I wanted to REALLY go there.

MT: How do your instrumentation choices fulfill these intentions?

MB: Instrumentation was actually an area in which I moved away from traditional expectations. The work uses a quite quirky ensemble that, when examined from a more traditional perspective, seems to create lots of balance and blending issues. I love these "problems."
They force me to think of new colors, new ways of making these instruments work with and for each other. I can spend hours, days, or even months plotting things like "how can I make this soprano saxophone sound like we are still hearing the acoustic guitar from the measure before?" Even more fun is to try to do it "lo-fi," with few or no extended techniques, which makes these challenges even harder. I fear I might be starting to sound like a masochist...

MT: From your perspective as composer, how does this piece interact with your larger body of work?

MB: I don't think about these things. That's for others to do, if they wish. To me, style is a consequence rather than a cause. I'm sure the simple fact I wrote it generates many connections to other things I've written before. But, why would I spend time thinking about that? It seems like an unproductive exercise on artistic vanity. I think carefully at what I'm doing at any given moment, and I am aware that what I think and do is linked to what I've thought and done. That suffices to me.


Learn more about the Five Premiere Concertos event here: 


August 19, 2016

Mostly Mozart 50 Interviews: Santa Ratniece, Seven Responses Project

A conversation between Martine Thomas (ICE intern) and Santa Ratniece (composer) about her new work, "My soul will sink within me". A response to Dietrich Buxtehude's cantata, Membra Jesu Nostri, this work and six other responses will be presented alongside the original cantata in two performances by ICE, Quicksilver, and The Crossing at Lincoln Center on August 21 for the Mostly Mozart Festival. 

MT: From your perspective as composer, how does this piece interact with your larger body of work?

SN: I have written a number of vocal works - a capella, with a large orchestra, even an opera for 12 singers (WAR SUM UP. Music. Manga. Machines) - probably because of my close relationship with Latvian Radio Choir, which is an excellent choir. In every new composition, starting from "Saline"  in 2006, we have slowly and carefully explored new sound worlds. However, I have never composed a piece for a larger ensemble like ICE and choir, so I was so grateful to write a new piece for them. In the beginning, the possibilities of choir and ensemble were almost frightening but pleasant at the same time.

MT: How would you describe the emotional center of this piece? How do the instrumentation choices fulfill these intentions?

SN: There are a few emotional centers in the piece and those, sung with a text, are very noticeable. But my intention was to create other peculiar centers which are sometimes hidden deeply in instrumental parts. The silent peaks coming from instruments are essential for those particular emotions. Without words, without direct meaning, they touch listeners' hearts in unusual ways.

All sounds and textures are immersive in this piece. Choir voices submerge into strings and a new violin melody is born out of nowhere, without associations. Towards the end especially, violin becomes more meaningful, reaching heights no human voices can approach. Cello and english horn duo or clarinet solo distantly illuminate the main melodies before they are exposed by the choir. Harp is extremely important here, as it reflects everything like a mirror with its sharp and crystal clear sound, at unexpected moments apart from the others. These invisible connections were so exciting during the compositional process.

MT: How would you describe the relationship between Buxtehude's cantata and your piece?

SN: The whole idea of seven contemporary composers responding to Buxtehude's cantata was a great inspiration source. Even though I had never met the involved composers in real life before the rehearsals and premiere in Philadelphia, for me it was a wonderful feeling to be all connected somehow in the working process - listening to the same music, studying the same texts and contemplating these big questions of life. I was listening to a lot of different interpretations of "Membra Jesu Nostri", and feeling such an aesthetic synergy.

MT: What was your experience with the contrast between the human presence of the chorus and the divine, almost inhuman, material that influences the music?

SN: This project was surrealistic. From the moment I entered the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral for rehearsals, it was immediately like being in another, unreal, universe. The church acoustic, the dimensions of light design, the text and visuals directly on the ceiling fresco, the murmur of flowing water, all created a sublime space. The sound of Quicksilver playing Buxtehude and the responses of ICE's contemporary voice were in absolute balance. I was thinking about how close actually these two worlds are. Baroque period and today. Human and divine. And human voices probably bring these two worlds together. The voices of "The Crossing" singers are close to heaven.

MTHow did you encounter the letters of St. Clare of Assisi that you use in the text of this work? Why did these letters in particular speak to you in this context?

SNThe history is very long. We all know the great works based on the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi, like Olivier Messiaen's opera "St.Francis of Assisi" and Sofia Gubaidulina's "The Canticle of the Sun of St. Francis of Assisi". There is also the movie "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" by Franco Zeffirelli, which I loved so much and still watch from time to time... I was once very inspired by the texts of St. Francis, which I used in my choral piece "Fuoco Celeste". Writing that piece, I was trying to look behind the text and give a chance to the cello to sing the inner voice of Francis, as he was in the beginning when he was so alone.  

Clare was the only one who felt how precious he Francis was as a creature of God and said: "People say you are mad. When you went off to war they said you were fine, intelligent - and now you are mad, because you sing like the birds, you chase after butterflies and you look at flowers. I think you were mad before, not now". Because of this, I was waiting for the right moment to dedicate a piece to St. Clare.

When I begun to study Buxtehude's "Membra Jesu Nostri", the connection with the era of St. Francis and St. Clare (the Middle Ages) was so exciting- Buxtehude used poems from Medieval Cistercian monk Arnulf of Leuven for his cantata. I discovered another connection to the Middle Ages when, improbably, I came across a verse in the letters of St. Clare of Assisi to St. Agnes of Prague that was taken from the text, "Song of Songs" (Canticum Canticorum). Although it was different excerpts, the text was also used by Buxtehude in his fourth and sixth cantatas. Besides these connections, I thought the letters could be interesting in this project, since most contemporary composers are collaborating with poets and writers of today or writing scripts themselves.


Learn more about the Seven Responses event here: 


June 6, 2016


by Jacob Greenberg, Director of Recordings and Digital Outreach

A group of eleven musicians from ICE sat cross-legged in the Abrons Underground Theatre, as Pauline Oliveros guided us through a warm-up for a meditation.  Our leader helped us to awaken our senses, instructing us to vigorously rub our faces, our throats, our ears.  And then we sat, becoming intensely aware of our environment, its unique energy, and our place in it.

This was a rare session with the master herself, the composer of so many staples of ICE’s concert repertoire, to prepare for two "Morning Meditation" sessions this week at the Ojai Festival in California, structured around Pauline’s music.  Founder and Director of the Deep Listening Institute, Pauline’s work has informed ICE’s programming and the group dynamic of ICE’s entire history.  Pauline couldn't join us for the trip out west, but we are all here now in Ojai, soaking up this magically scented town, and becoming aware of its energy as we did last Saturday at the Abrons Underground. 

Back to that meditation at Abrons: as we all sat there, each of us heard the building’s quiet ventilation system, but each of us, it became clear later, heard something different in it; as I listened closely, I was aware of a central pitch, but also a spectrum of pitches around it.  This in turn was in dialogue with a soft hum of overhead lights, and shifts and creaks from the participants.  Listening for a character in every sound I perceived, I was truly able to hear a subtle interaction between the objects in our environment. 

The first piece that we practiced built on this experience: called Environmental Dialogue, we used our instruments and voices to pick up on sounds that we heard, and to continue those sounds, approximating their pitch and general affect.  This achieved what Pauline had in mind, namely a subtle amplification of our atmosphere, using our powers of listening and musicianship to magnify everything sounding around us. 

Next was The Well and the Gentle, another classic Oliveros piece, which was featured in our very first concerts at the Abrons Arts Center.  Each performer draws from a “well” of concentration for inspiration to action.  Using a fixed set of available pitches, the players choose from gestures that one associates with any kind of performance—accompanying, merging, soaring above, matching sound, supporting an idea or texture—with the option also of just listening.  It was wonderful to have to the opportunity to ask Pauline about this piece, after many ICE performances and teaching workshops with student groups, to learn how we can perform the work most sensitively.  Many times, she told us, “Don’t be timid!”  While we were all aware of the overall atmosphere that we were creating, no one wanted to rock the boat, and Pauline gave us license to be daring and use the maximum dynamic range. “It’s okay to add some drone notes,” she also said of the second part of the piece, which is more rhythmic; we worked to find just the right tempo so that one could perceive waves of rhythmic counterpoint moving across the group.

One thing that is especially difficult to explain to students about Pauline’s pieces, and pieces that involve improvisation generally, is how they end.  How do we know when the piece is over?  The answer, always, is that one just knows—by intuitively feeling the closure of a piece’s structure, and knowing when everyone has contributed something essential.  Remarkably, ICE never has a problem with this—but each performance setting is necessarily different, and we can’t force an ending on a piece that wants to keep spinning out.

More complicated pieces were discussed, in detail: Out of the Dark, a process piece centering around one pitch—a concert D.  The players slide to specified pitches above and below the D, explore its overtone spectrum, and time their gestures to a partner positioned across the performing circle.  It’s a challenging one, and Carla Kihlstedt, another amazing improviser and composer, had many questions about when to move from one part of the piece to the next.  Pauline not only knew her own piece intimately but was able to discern when we performed it exactly when one part of the group moved between sections—no small feat of listening.  A key moment in the rehearsal was when the players practiced making single sounds with our instruments, separated by silences, that were completely unlike each other in every way.  It took a couple of tries, but we got better; it was a real challenge to not imitate our colleagues, and to contribute best, by actually acting against our instincts as chamber musicians.  

In The Witness, another complicated piece in multiple stages, each player moves from an egocentric focus to a more empathic performing mode: first playing original gestures, ignoring the group; then continuing a sound heard around us; and then merging with the gestures we heard, dissolving the sense of self.  This third state, called The Witness, Pauline explained, was “a special state of consciousness,” empowering one to listen and contribute in equal measure, feeling oneness with the whole of the group.  The question arose in this challenging work: within any “rules” of performance and any restrictions, how can one add to to the experience most fully, and most originally, by listening deeply and therefore giving the best of oneself?  In the space of a few hours, Pauline started to show us how.  All of us felt how lucky we were to give witness to the spiritual teaching of our trusted musical guardian and closest of friends.

April 5, 2016

Francesca Verunelli: Invoking Kafka’s Sirens

Francesca Verunelli opens up about the origin of her premiere piece for ICE on April 21's Miller Theatre Composer Portrait, Five Songs: Kafka's Sirens.

On her inspiration:

"There are many elements that converge into a piece and I couldn't say one thing as being the inspiration of a piece.  There are problems that interest me for a long time before becoming more or less concrete for the writing of a specific piece.  The parenthetical part of the title is an allusion – though there is no question of a literal reference – to Franz Kafka’s story 'The Silence of the Sirens.'  This story of Kafka’s is not so much an alternative narrative (in which the sirens do not sing) as a hint at a paradox, opening a perspective of doubt.  It is to this, to the possibility of a paradoxical perspective, that the title alludes.  The piece is articulated in five instrumental “songs.” What remains of song, and of the substance and expression of the human voice, when nobody is singing?  There is something of this in the paradox explored here.  On the formal plane, I am continuing my work on articulation in moments that are not exactly 'movements'--thus, an elliptical but unified form that engages memory and expectation to create permanence
despite discontinuity."

On the instrumentation:

"The instrumentation of the piece (bass clarinet, trumpet, sax, accordion, percussion, guitar, mandoline, harp, cello, double-bass) is quite atypical and generates a very specific sound-world, and unfortunately I couldn't work with ICE while writing it...but I wrote the piece considering that an ensemble of virtuosos would play it."

On her extended instrumental techniques and electronics:

"There are several extended instrumental techniques, and I'm eager to work on them with ICE musicians during these few days in NYC.  In the flute piece I wrote for Claire [The Famous Box Trick]; I did work previously with her on all extended techniques... The use of the electronics for this program is focused on amplification and over-amplification effects, the fact that the mic is not a neutral tool, and the specificities of the 'electrified' ensemble.  The relationships between the instrumental sound and the underworld of microscopic or collateral sounds that are somehow overwhelmed in the acoustic rendition are subverted. This contributes to still another 'paradoxical perspective.'"

ICE's Composer Portrait of Francesca Verunelli at Miller Theatre is on Thursday, April 21, at 8:00 PM.  Buy tickets here.  

January 29, 2016

Ashley Fure in Word and Action

by Jacob Greenberg

On a residency visit last October to Dartmouth College, three ICE players attended a course for undergraduates called “Introduction to Sonic Arts,” led by new professor Ashley Fure.  The class began with a student-led meditation, after which the students were invited to speak about what they heard.  Though early in the semester, Ashley’s teaching fingerprint was all over the class; these students had their ears to unusual definitions of music, and they were eager to be amazed by what they discovered.  As ICE taught the class a favorite piece by Pauline Oliveros, the students picked it up with startling speed; they were clearly conditioned to immediately grasp the performative energy of a new piece, and embrace their role as participants.

JG: What are some things that you usually find yourself saying to performers of your music, especially chamber groups?  Do you think that knowing the performers of ICE will influence your "directorial" choices?

Ashley Fure: The techniques I ask of players often demand a certain abandon to produce - a wildness in terms of limb movement or breath control, for example.  Getting folks to break away from the static, notated symbol and invite just the right type of chaos into their sounds is often the biggest challenge in rehearsal.

* * * *

Later in the Dartmouth residency, the morning after an amazing evening meal cooked by Ashley, ICE played some student works.  Ashley sat in on the session, and was patient and sparing with her comments about the compositions.  As we played the works, ICE spoke mostly about the practicalities of some extended instrumental techniques.  Though an expert in this area, which has shaped her aesthetic and defined her exploratory method of work, she wanted to hear every piece of advice ICE gave to the students.

ICE percussionist Ross Karre has known Ashley since high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy.  They collaborate again for this week’s Miller Composer Portrait, building toward a larger piece for the Darmstadt Summer Courses.  Their sessions, which also include collaboration from Ashley’s brother, architect Adam Fure, are labor-intensive, actually spent creating the percussion and string instruments that will be used in the performance.  But the time is also open-ended, as they investigate these new instruments’ fields of resonance. 

JG: What is the idea in grouping these particular pieces together on a program?  Is there a sequence from the earliest-composed pieces to the world premiere, Etudes from the Anthropocene?

AF: The work I've made over the past 8 years ranges from purely instrumental to purely electronic, from music with dancers to immersive, interactive installations. I'm excited to say in this portrait concert we've found a way to adapt that diverse range to the proscenium constraints of Miller Theater.  Albatross explores physical movement in the same spirit as Ply, an electroacoustic ballet I made with choreographer Yuval Pick. Though purely instrumental, Something to Hunt and Soma treat many of the same kinetic ideas that undergird installations like Tripwire and Veer.  Etudes from the Anthropocene offers a window into the charged, saturated intermedia work I have been making. I hope people will leave this concert with a rich sense of who I am and what I care about as an artist.

* * * *

Join Ashley and ICE for her Miller Theatre Portrait Concert on Thursday, February 4 at 8 PM.  It’s a highlight of ICE's season, and is not to be missed.

December 18, 2015

Suzanne Farrin: Humanist Attractions and La Dolce Morte

Visitors to ICEhaus this week will have seen composer Suzanne Farrin working intensely with six ICE musicians--strings, harp, and winds--and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.  The work being rehearsed, La Dolce Morte, was seen partly in an early version at Mostly Mozart in 2012, at the Park Avenue Armory, and will have its premiere with ICE in April at the Metropolitan Museum's Spanish Courtyard.  Anthony's otherworldly voice intones love poems by Michelangelo while surrounded by delicate, visceral instrumental timbres.  Jacob Greenberg spoke with Suzanne before the rehearsals began about the work's inspirations, what she hoped to accomplish in this workshop period, and what audiences can expect from the piece.

Jacob Greenberg:  What was the primary inspiration for the piece?  

Suzanne Farrin:  It started to form around the discovery of the texts.  I found a book of Michelangelo's poems wandering around the Strand Bookstore, and what I felt when reading them was this very operatic sensibility, even though they were written before the advent of what we consider to be opera.  Other people tell me that visual artists look to the future better than we do as a musicians, so it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine Michelangelo in a sound world beyond his actual years.   

JG:  What about instrumentation?  

SF:  I thought a lot about how to create a sensibility of the Baroque moment, of this early operatic moment, so I looked for instruments that I thought could capture that, but not period instruments, obviously.  

JG:  Did your extended instrumental techniques follow from that?

SF:  I wonder!  The energy definitely does, and the text setting is a primary part of this whole motivation, so I would think so.

JG:  Any moments we should listen for in the text, or any musical moments we should listen for specifically?

SF:  I feel like each of the poems draws on a very independent world, so each of the ones I'm setting takes us to different part of a humanist experience--Michangelo being such a wonderful example of humanist thinking.  They're all through the lens of a visual artist, and it's a very corporeal language--I can't imagine all visual artists would have the same corporeal way of speaking about human experience--and of course they're love poems, but it's love as a vehicle for all kinds of other things.  It's love as a lens for living, for theology--he has a large world that he sees through his physical attraction to another person.  Some of the poems are a little creepy--there's one where he writes about wanting to be the skin around his lover, or wanting to be the boots that he wears.  If we received a poem like that, it might give us pause!  [Laughs.]  It's fascinating and wonderful that it's so sincere.  And some of the poems show beautifully the transcendental experience of being in love, bringing it into the world of making art with your hands.  He tries to understand what the human experience brings him as an artist.  And there's one poem which is very painful, one where he actually regrets the vulnerability of being in love, and he says that he wants his tears back, he wants his footsteps back.  There will be moments when you hear love's sadness.    

JG:  You've chosen a voice type which is great at expressing fragility.  When did Anthony come in to the project?

SF:  I don't know when it happened that I imagined including a countertenor--there are so many people writing for countertenor now that it's having a renaissance.  I must have been part of that collective consciousness.  But I think it speaks to us on a lot of levels.  There's a certain strength, especially with Anthony, who has an incredibly soaring quality to his voice, with many colors, so there isn't one trick--there are a lot of gestures, and a lot of ways even of coloring a vowel.  Also the genderless quality of the voice--a familiar unfamiliarity.  You know it, but you can't quite place it--it's an amazing sound, and you wonder, who can do that?

JG:  Anything you'd like to say about the spatialization of the work at the Met?

SF:  It's a challenging and exciting space to write for!  I decided to go in with some engineers to get a scientific perspective.  I got a chance to learn what frequencies are excited in that space, and also try out some things in the space with James Austin Smith, the oboist, to find out how the oboe would react to different surfaces.  That was really interesting because things I thought would be really powerful actually had no timbral effect at all.  The space is so live and present that you can be everywhere and still feel that you're very close to the sound.  The challenge will be to gauge how the sounds of the instruments travel at such different rates to the ear, and to try to keep the amount of sound information at a level that we can appreciate...I think the visuals will really help because they'll help the listener focus in different ways.  Seeing the musician move with the instrument is really important in such a reverberant space--it's like electronics you can never turn off!  You need to see bows move and people breathe. 

*  *  *

Suzanne Farrin's La Dolce Morte has had an unusually fruitful and eventful gestation with the players of ICE.  It will have its Metropolitan Museum premiere on April 1 and 2.  Seating is limited!  Buy your tickets soon.

November 16, 2015

Inventing New Dialogues

ICE co-artistic directors Claire Chase and Joshua Rubin offer these musings, adapted from the Boulez at 90 book for our four programs this week at National Sawdust.  ICE is thrilled to present these programs, in turn retrospective, celebratory, and ground-breaking, which reflect on the legacy of ICE’s most respected antecedents, role models, and inspirations.


When ICE was just an embryo at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1999 - not yet hatched and not yet named - we often mused on what it would be like to create an American improvisation on Ensemble InterContemporain, our musical heroes, whose rigorous and inspired performances of the works of Pierre Boulez and other mid-20th century masters we studied with fascination and a healthy dose of the kind of fear that is born of pure awe and admiration. How might the music of our time metamorphose if such an ensemble were formed to pioneer works of our generation of composers from all over the world, with a particular emphasis on artists from the Americas? And what would happen if such an organization made a commitment, like Boulez had, not just to the artistic excellence of performances of this new repertory, but a commitment to organizational sustainability – to the audacious notion that a group dedicated to experimental music could somehow, someday, make a living doing this?

Six years later, when ICE was a burgeoning collective based in Chicago and operating on a shoestring budget, we were invited to play at our first international festival in the beautiful city of Morelia, Mexico (significantly, the butterfly capital of the world). On our first night there, following a 12-hour journey, we attended an astounding solo concert of Pascal Gallois which included Luciano Berio's Sequenza XII--a piece written for Pascal and inspired by his limitless technique and imagination. We had never seen a wind soloist play with this butterfly-like combination of bravery and fragility, command and nuance, poetry and ferocity. Too shy to speak with him after the performance, we let that opportunity slip by us, and we simply admired him and his work from a distance for the next six years.

You can imagine our surprise when Pascal popped up on ICE’s Facebook page a few years ago, commenting on ICE performances he’d seen on DigitICE, our streaming video archive, offering encouraging remarks before concerts, expressing his heartfelt enthusiasm for the group’s efforts to advocate for new music on and off the stage. You can imagine our sheer delight when he suggested a few years later that we work together on a project centering on the work of Boulez during his 90th birthday year, and on the concept of the “dialogues” between cultures, generations and aesthetic viewpoints that have emerged from this iconic, at times incendiary, but inarguably visionary figure in music history.

We have taken this opportunity, first in France and now in New York at National Sawdust - our proud new Brooklyn home for contemporary music - to craft programs that capture the power and beauty of Boulez's music through a series of New Dialogues. Using Boulez's playful masterpiece with electronics, Dialogue de l'ombre double, as a springboard, these programs introduce new works by Olga Neuwirth, George Lewis, Sabrina Schroeder, and Franck Bedrossian that inflect the impossibly vibrant landscape of voices in the golden era of new music today that Boulez set in motion a half-century ago. And in the closing concert of the week, we put Boulez “en dialogue” with his closest musical compatriots from both sides of the Atlantic (Luigi Nono, Elliott Carter, and Karlheinz Stockhausen) at the height of their creative powers.

None of the preposterous dreams we indulged as adolescents at Oberlin would have even entered our collective consciousness without the intrepidity and the audacity of Pierre Boulez. Was it a coincidence that ICE is an anagram of EIC? In the words of Mr. Boulez himself, “Music is a labyrinth with no beginning and no end, full of new paths to discover, where mystery remains eternal.”

We are grateful to JazzBank, the French-American Cultural Exchange, The National Sawdust Factory, and most of all to Pascal for bringing this pulsating dialogue to life.

--Claire Chase and Joshua Rubin

November 13, 2015

Pascal Gallois speaks with Rebekah Heller about ICE, Boulez, and new works for National Sawdust

Rebekah Heller: Pascal, we are SO excited to have you joining us for our first concerts at National Sawdust (NS) this month! I can't wait to play Olga Neuwirth's bassoon duo with you on the first 3 concerts! (11/17, 11/18, 11/19)

Pascal Gallois: I am very happy and proud to share these first concerts at National Sawdust with you and the entire ICE team. Doubly happy to do this in homage to Pierre Boulez. You are so committed to the contemporary bassoon repertoire, working with composers and sharing it with the audience in the US - I find your work remarkable.

RH: Throughout your career, you have commissioned an enormous amount of solo repertoire for the bassoon, and have been a huge inspiration to me and to other young wind players to go out and do the same. How does a new piece come about for you? In what ways have these collaborations with composers influenced your playing and music-making? Have you noticed a development in your interactions with composers over the years?

PG: A new piece is the story of a three-way encounter: the composer, the instrumentalist and the audience. I have always approached composers after having studied their other works: their solo pieces for other instruments as well as for the bassoon and also their chamber and orchestral music. Above all, I needed to be able to imagine what such and such composer could bring to the bassoon. Exchanges and conversations are very important between the performer and the composer. Luciano Berio summed it up very well: “You have to explain to bassoonists that a piece doesn’t get ‘ordered’ from a composer the way a Saint-Saëns Sonata does from a music store!” This also influences my interpretations of the works, since I strive to recreate for the audience that miraculous moment - that spark - when the idea of a piece appears in the composer’s mind… Often, it’s not until after many long conversations that the flash materializes in their eyes. The bassoon and the bassoonist are a source of inspiration. This has always existed, but many times the instrument’s technical aspects have thwarted collaborations. It’s up to us to rationalize technique on the bassoon, to “simplify” it in some ways, to help the composer transcend it. Over the years, composers have opened new horizons for the bassoon, as fears of receiving poor performances from bassoonists have dissipated. And you count for a lot in that regard, Rebekah, since it’s important that composers feel understood by bassoonists on all continents. In short, it is essential to collectively share and feed into new repertoire!

RH: Besides commissioning, you are also active in transcribing music for the bassoon - we will hear you play Boulez's 'Dialogue de l'ombre double' - originally for clarinet - at NS. The Neuwirth duo we will play together is originally for cello and bassoon. What is it in a piece that makes you want to transcribe it? What is your process? Were there extreme challenges in these two pieces in making them sound authentic, and also idiomatic for the bassoon?

PG: With regard to transcription, I want to underline that I think it’s important to have the composer’s agreement, and if possible, his/her involvement. The idea of transcribing ‘Dialogue de l’ombre double’ for the bassoon came to Pierre Boulez and me simultaneously after a concert at the Festival in Avignon, where Boulez had just heard me play Stockhausen’s ‘In Freundschaft’, which is also a piece originally written for the clarinet.

Historically, this has often happened: Mozart transcribed his oboe concerto for the flute, Weber transcribed his own ‘Hungarian Andante and Rondo’ for the bassoon, though it was originally composed for the viola. When this happens in the composer’s lifetime - and with him/her - the piece then becomes a new original work. Furthermore, the clarinet and the bassoon both have a large range and the piece remains in the same tessitura.

Luciano Berio knew of my work with Boulez, and followed it closely. When we were working together on the bassoon ‘Sequenza’ [written for Gallois], he liked to remind me that ‘Dialogue’ was a gift Boulez had composed for him, on the occasion of his 60th birthday in 1985. ‘Dialogue’ contains elements and winks to Stockhausen and Berio… While I retain the original tempo, there are certain particularities of ‘Dialogue’ that distinguish the bassoon version from the clarinet one: for example, Boulez and I worked to develop flexibility and diversity of timbres on the bassoon, while the clarinet version plays more on the dynamic range. In this piece the “live” instrumentalist plays, or dialogues, with his/her “shadow”, which is a recording of the same musician played through a number of speakers surrounding the audience.

RH:  It is such an honor for ICE to work with you - we have all grown up with the Ensemble InterContemporain (EIC)'s seminal recordings and your trend-setting work. This inter-generational and inter-continental collaboration feels energizing and generative - we are sharing "our" repertoire with "yours" with the hope that it might inspire even younger musicians to look outside of their immediate vicinities for new relationships and influences. I am curious to hear your thoughts about our work together and how you imagine this going forward - what brought you to ICE? What has been different about working with us from your work with the EIC? What words of wisdom do you have for us, and for the younger generation?

PG: The Ensemble Intercontemporain (EIC) was born from the “Domaine Musical” ensemble that Pierre Boulez formed in 1954 in Paris. Without Boulez, the EIC would never have been. I had the unique good fortune of having been hired by Boulez at age 22, and I learned contemporary music, like my colleagues, under his supervision. Boulez was committed to training his team of soloists himself. In 1981, when I joined the EIC, Boulez invited all the great composers I have since worked closely with on their approach to writing for the bassoon: Messiaen, Stockhausen, Berio, Xenakis, Ligeti, Kurtag etc… and also Elliott Carter who was a close friend of Boulez’s! Carter was the composer of friendship and Franco-American exchange! Berio was also well connected to the US. We have the responsibility of taking this torch, this time between instrumentalists on both sides of the Atlantic. With the advent of technologies, your generation has limitless possibilities; and NYC is, more than ever, the capital of artistic encounters. The difference between the EIC and ICE is that you are a collective of musicians and you formed on your own, while the EIC is the brainchild of Boulez. Working with you, I feel deeply your exceptional curiosity and enthusiasm!

To answer your first question, Rebekah, ICE gives me so much of its energy and responds whole-heartedly to the necessity of rethinking musical creation and presentation in the 21st century. The ICE initiatives online [digitice.org] should be an example to all contemporary music ensembles. I learn a lot from you all, since, if one is truly interested in the creation of new things, the younger generation should be explored! I don’t feel in a position to give you any wisdom… In order to create, true wisdom would probably be not to have any. In the words of the philosopher Socrates: “Wisdom begins in wonder."

November 2, 2015

Hagoromo Tableaus

by Jacob Greenberg, ICE pianist, Director of Education

A fisherman dances a surreal pas de deux with a golden cape.  The cape is an angel’s garment, separated from the heavenly body which would give it shape.  The fisherman’s dance is full of wonder, as his imagination races—to whom does this luxurious fabric belong?  How is it that I can dance with it as with a real person?  The intimate scene is in complete silence, which signals a shocking loss, a detachment.  Planes of heavenly and earthly emotion cannot reconcile, and musical harmony cannot prosper.  The fisherman, bounding about with childlike energy, underscores the cruel, noiseless absurdity of the angel’s fractured spirit.

* * * *

A storm unfolds with the brutal inevitability of ritual.  A rope, whose end has a heavy knot, pounds and echoes against a stone.  The song of a bassoon embodies the reckless spirit of nature’s destruction: it wails, dances, and grunts, as its sound is broken, shattered and scattered.  Brittle percussion rattles and jolts.  Disembodied voices of girls trace the same rising scale again and again, building to delirium; they lament the waves’ ruthless thrashing, but also celebrate their epic force.

* * * *

The luminous angel confronts the earthbound fisherman and asks for her garment.  He stubbornly refuses.  They dance warily around each other, each searching for the key that will unlock the other.  This is Gagaku, stately Japanese court music; patient waves of sustained sounds are added and subtracted with measured precision from the taut musical fabric.  It is marked at the same time by a steady, seething pulse—sometimes from a plucked harmonic on guitar, an exclamation from a woodblock, or a chanted beating phrase in the chorus. 

* * * *

Phantasmal tones of a contrabass flute—shadowy sounds which exist between worlds, from a tall and imposing angled instrument—seek to bridge the earth with the beyond.  Amplified sounds of outward and ingressive breathing expand and contract a sense of psychological space.  A kaleidoscope of musical colors follows: dulcimer, gongs, multiphonic chords on bassoon.  A tremolo on electric guitar, and a high trill in the violin.  The dancers that tell the Hagoromo story respond to this music of constantly shifting perspective: it passes between exotic realities as they do, and it tries to find a place where souls can connect.


Hagoromo is presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music this week as part of the 2015 Next Wave Festival, at the BAM Harvey Theatre, in association with American Opera Projects.  Five members of ICE play Nathan Davis's transfixing music with the talented Brooklyn Youth Chorus.  ICE's amazing collaborators include dancers Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, and director and visual wizard David Michalek.

August 17, 2015

Launching ICEcommons

ICE is launching a new call for scores via our new emerging composer index: www.ICEcommons.org. Fill in the submission form for each piece that you’d like us to consider performing in the coming season! Submission is free. Selected composers will be contacted for permission to program their work on the 15-16 season on or before December 1, 2016. We look forward to fostering many new collaborations with emerging composers from around the globe via this new, searchable library.

ICEcommons is a crowdsourced index of newly composed music. It is designed to be a searchable repository of the catalogues and works of emerging, established, published, and unpublished composers. By collecting the metadata (instrumentation, duration, composer name, title) of living composers’ works, coupled with the means of acquiring sheet music (links to score downloads, rental, and purchase sites), ICEcommons will aggregate and organize new scores into one place—an open, public library hosted by metafields.org through which performers, scholars, composers, and listeners can discover and obtain new works. With the help of musicians and composers like you, ICEcommons will grow to become a vital programming resource for ensembles around the world.

ICEcommons launched its pilot season on August 15, 2015, at which point the submission process became open to any composer interested in adding their worklist or score information. On December 1, ICE will announce the selection of ten ICEcommons works which will be featured on OpenICE concerts during the 2015-16 season. ICE will contact each composer to secure the necessary rights to perform the piece. Performances will be documented through HD video and audio and made available through ICE’s online library, DigitICE (after review by the composer and performers). Through partnering with ensembles and organizations in future seasons, we will vastly expand the size and reach of ICEcommons, allowing ICE to continue being an advocate for emerging and lesser-known composers, as well as unheard works from deep within their catalogues. ICEcommons represents our continued commitment to performances of rare and underrepresented works by living composers.

August 13, 2015

Announcing Vanessa Rose as ICE’s New Executive Director

The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) announced today that Vanessa Rose has been named its new Executive Director. ICE founder Claire Chase will remain ICE’s Co-Artistic Director and flutist. Rose comes to ICE from the Lark Play Development Center where she served as Director of Development from 2013-2015. She was selected by ICE’s Board of Directors on August 3 and will assume the directorship on September 1, 2015, alongside Chase and Co-Artistic Director and clarinetist Joshua Rubin.

ICE Board President, Claude Arpels, stated that “Vanessa shares ICE’s commitment to creating exciting new music through an artist-led organization. She brings the right mix of experience, sensitivity, and management skills to help ICE continue to succeed.”

Claire Chase adds, “Of all the trails that this mighty group of artists has blazed over the last decade and a half—from our seedlings as students at Oberlin in 2000, to our very first public concert in 2002 produced on $603 amassed from my holiday catering tips, to the group’s performances this coming Sunday at Alice Tully Hall—this moment of welcoming new leadership in Vanessa Rose stands in my mind as one of the bravest and most remarkable. I am so proud of the entire team at ICE for taking the enormous leap from being a founder-driven organization to being an organization that can stand boldly on its own feet. I have deep faith in Vanessa to lead ICE into the next era, and to do it with the passionate collaborative artistic spirit that has fueled everything this group has accomplished to date.”

Rose brings a range of experiences working in the arts and a passion for the innovative musical experiences synonymous with ICE. Her previous positions include Director of Development at the Lark Play Development Center, where she helped to lead the theater organization's expanded fundraising programs and strategic branding, and Managing Director of The Knights, a New York-based orchestra collective. While at The Knights, Rose developed a board of directors, created a fundraising program, and oversaw an international tour, WQXR radio residency and several recording projects. In addition, Rose has served as Associate Director of Patron Program and Membership at the Metropolitan Opera, cultivating and soliciting hundreds of donors and supporting key Board members in their own fundraising. In 2006, Rose completed the League of American Orchestras' prestigious Orchestra Management Fellowship Program, which included residencies with the Dallas Symphony, Elgin Symphony, Aspen Music Festival and School and the San Francisco Symphony.

"I am thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with the creative and inspiring artists, supporters and partners in the ICE community. A longtime ICE fan, I am very excited to help the group expand its groundbreaking programs and exceptional music-making,” said Rose.

Rose is a violinist and has performed with, among others, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Harrisburg Symphony, and Spoleto Festivals (Italy and USA). She comes from a musical family and attended the Eastman School of Music, Mannes College of Music and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, The Netherlands. Rose lives in Riverdale, NY with her musician husband, Patrick Pridemore, and their two children.

The search for ICE’s new Executive Director began approximately 18 months ago. The Board of Directors conducted an international search and consulted with the executive recruiting firm Occam Global to support its efforts.

July 15, 2015

Mario Diaz de Leon in Conversation with Alice Teyssier

Denovali releases Mario Diaz de Leon's latest record, The Soul is the Arena, featuring ICE on July 17. The album compiles two previously released works featuring Claire Chase and Joshua Rubin as soloists, along with the world premiere recording of Portals Before Dawn for ensemble. ICE flutist Alice Teyssier talks with Diaz de Leon about his decade-long relationship with ICE, the role of metal, mythology, mysticism in his music, as well as upcoming projects.

Alice Teyssier: We are so psyched that you are continuing your work with ICE! Can you talk a little bit about how your writing for Claire and Josh and the rest of the group has evolved since our first collaboration? (Was that in 2011?)

Mario Diaz de Leon: I’m amazed and beyond grateful that its been continuing for so long now.  It actually started with a pre-ICELab program called “Young Composers Project” back in 2006.  We did a premiere of mine in October of that year, with a piece called “Trembling Time” for 5 strings and flute. I was really excited about it because I had wanted to work with ICE for years, and the 2 shows we did went really well.  I got to work with Dave Bowlin, Wendy Richman, Maya Papach, Eric Lamb - it was just great.  But there were no plans beyond that one piece.  Then in the summer of 2007, Claire got in touch and said that we should continue working together the following season, and asked if I had anything in mind.  Her timing was amazing, because I had just signed a deal for an album with Tzadik.  There was more music to write for the album when I signed, and older pieces to record, and we eventually spent the next two years finishing the album together.  That was when we really started to collaborate closely – I wrote “The Flesh Needs Fire” and “Mansion” especially for Claire, Josh, Eric, and Nathan.  The Tzadik album was finished and released in 2009, and Claire asked me to do the first round of ICELab about a year later.  Which was amazing timing, again, because I was already going to ask them if they would do something similar, without knowing that they were starting this big program.  We really wanted to present an evening length set of my works for the group.  That’s when I wrote the music for this album, between 2010 and 2011.  So the foundation was solid at that point, we had a history to build on, and there was certainly a lot of momentum leading up to it. 

AT: It is clear through your performer persona and through your use of electronic music in particular that your background in hardcore punk and metal music still pervades your creative output. How do these different musical worlds reconcile themselves in your life? What are some techniques you use in your compositions that blend the genres?

MDdL: I think that living in NYC, and the amazing communities here, reconcile the differences and make it possible for me to do this.  The scenes are really strong.  In March, I performed at Saint Vitus two days before I had a string orchestra premiere at Roulette.  A few weeks ago I finished a new Oneirogen EP and then I went straight into a new piano and electronics piece for Stephen Gosling.  I’m debuting a new metal band this year at Martyrdoom Festival, I’ll probably be in the middle of writing a new piece for TAK when that happens. This has been my life, in one way or another, for many years, and I can say from experience that I need metal, electronic music, classical music, and free improvisation in my life, its part of survival for me.  If one is missing I lose my sense of balance over time.  And I’m beyond grateful to the people who make it possible for to do this.  I’m also glad that Denovali is releasing the new ICE record, I’ve been working with them as Oneirogen since 2012, and if that makes it easier for people to experience these different sides of my work, that’s a good thing.  I would say that the themes stay the same, regardless of style. All of the music, titles, lyrics, and imagery deal with personal spiritual experience, mythology, mysticism, etc.  It’s an endless subject, and writing music for me is part of a spiritual practice.  Sonically speaking, the electronic music is definitely a bridge.  There are certain sounds and approaches that I use in all the projects….sub bass, “shimmering” sounds that fluctuate continuously, certain types of distortion, and formal structures that can suggest an abstract narrative over time, which for me relates to personal transformation, mythological themes of death and rebirth, etc.  When I hear music, it’s a synesthetic experience, its both visual and physical, and I am drawn to sounds that I feel are charged with an inner life.  Tone color, harmony, melody, rhythm, all the elements serve this in my music.  I love this quote by Iancu Dumitrescu: “You could say that the use of distortion in the sound comes from the attempt to reveal the god that is living in every piece of base matter.”  When first I read that, it changed the way I thought about metal and noise.

AT: The hardcore community spirit is so strong - do you find yourself gravitating towards other composers with similar backgrounds? Who are they?

MDdL: Yeah, for sure!  There is a “core” of people I’m involved with whose work overlaps with metal, avant rock, electronic music and classical composition.  But more important than background is attitude – intensity, urgency, imagination.  MV Carbon, Doron Sadja, Toby Driver, Jeremiah Cymerman, Charlie Looker, Andrew Hock, Nick Podgurski, Mick Barr, Mahir Cetiz, Sam Pluta, Steve Lehman, Jay King, Nate Young, and John Zorn are some people in my community who inspire me a lot.

AT: What other pieces or composers do you hope to be programmed alongside? If you were to (hypothetically) curate an ICE concert which included Luciform, what would it look like?

MDdL: If it was for an ICE concert, it would be something like “Paths of Resistance” by Jason Eckardt, “Acmed” by Mick Barr, “Landscape of Fear” by Marcos Balter, “Machine Language” by Sam Pluta, “Okanagon” by Scelsi, and “Paradies” by Stockhausen.  

AT: What's your next project? Any dream projects with ICE (let's publish them online so they have to happen!)?

MDdL: I’ll have a week of concerts at The Stone from August 11th – 16th, which is a retrospective of my work from 1999 to the present.  Part of that is the album release show for the new album with ICE, on August 11th, with Kivie, Josh, and Claire.  Then finishing up the first EP of Luminous Vault, which is a metal band I started with Andrew Hock.  Oneirogen releases a new EP in September and then tours Europe in the first two weeks of October.  The first Luminous Vault show is at Martyrdoom Festival in early November, here in Brooklyn at Saint Vitus.  I’m also writing a new work for TAK Ensemble, my first with soprano voice.

There’s been some talk about recording a third album with ICE sometime next year, we still have pieces which are unreleased.  Beyond that I would love to write a new large ensemble work for the group at some point, a few solo + electronic pieces for oboe and harp, and it would be great to travel and do some sets of this music at European festivals.

May 15, 2015

Jason Eckardt in Conversation with Alice Teyssier


On Tuesday, May 19 at Roulette, ICE and the JACK Quartet with soloists Tony Arnold (soprano), Jay Campbell (cello), and Jordan Dodson (guitar) perform works from Jason Eckardt’s new CD “Subject” (Tzadik Records) as well as "Necronomicon" and the world premiere of "Autumn Rhythm" by Tzadik founder John Zorn. "Subject" releases on 26 May and can be preordered here. In a conversation with ICE flutist Alice Teyssier, Eckardt speaks about "Tongues" (featured on "Subject"), his writing process, recorded vs. live performance, and more.​


Alice Teyssier: I am very interested in your use of the voice, and your interest in the voice, so maybe we can start there - with your general motivations for writing the piece… I noticed you had written some vocal pieces earlier on, in the late 90s, and not so many after ‘Tongues’ (2001). Care to talk about your use of the voice here, and in general?

Jason Eckardt: ‘Tongues’ is really the first vocal piece that I wrote that I considered anything substantial. The idea for the piece more or less came out of the idea that I wanted to do so something at some point with solo voice. Pieces like the Berio ‘Sequenza’ were really influential in that decision, and when the opportunity came along to write the piece with the ensemble, I knew that I wanted at least one part of that piece to be a solo vocal part. So then I started to think about what that would mean in terms of the voice, and how I would use it. I had to think about what I wanted to do with text, and I started thinking about all kinds of different texts, ranging from archaic French medieval poetry to really contemporary experimental poetry and language poetry, and I just never really felt that there was anything that fit in that initial vision that I had for the piece. So then I started to think about using the voice in a somewhat nontraditional way; rather than thinking of it as a song cycle, I started to think about it as a concerto for voice, and then I thought about that solo part as being the cadenza. I knew I wanted to have different movements, because I wanted contrasting types of ensembles, textures and sets of constraints and so on. So I started to think about using this voice very instrumentally as opposed to vocally, so at that point it became obvious to me that maybe text wasn’t really going to be a part of this piece at all. Luckily, the International Phonetic Alphabet is something that singers know because of training and diction and so on, so this seemed to be a natural fit for what I wanted to do with the voice. I started thinking about the voice the same way that I would think about a flute or a cello or something like that - stratify different kinds of sounds, from pitched sounds to non-pitched sounds, from different types of vocalizations that were traditional, in terms of phonemes, or more non-traditional, like tongue clicks and coughing and so on. I began to think about having different kinds of profiles for the voice for each one of these movements; some of these movements would be really led by the voice and that the instrumental counterpart to the voice would be following or mimicking the voice, and then other times I wanted it to be the opposite, whereby the voice was really trying to blend in to the ensemble as opposed to being a soloist. With that, I began to compose each of these individual movements and thinking about the different kinds of contrasts; one movement is for just voice and guitar, and in that movement I don’t use any pitched phonemes, it’s completely unpitched, so theoretically that movement could be sung by any vocal range. In other movements I wanted to have a more traditional, lyrical, melismatic type of voice, and other times I wanted it to be mixed together. The cadenza is a sort of summary of everything that comes before in a hyper-compressed type of way.

AT: Your idea of wanting to write for the voice as an instrument is so interesting to me, because actually, I have found your instrumental writing to be particularly vocal in a lot of ways: many lyrical lines, many speech-like kinds of sounds. Is this just a natural approach to writing music for you?

JE: Well, after writing ‘Tongues’ and subsequently after writing ‘16’, those things to me do tend to go together. In fact, ‘16’ got its genesis from an idea while I was writing ‘Tongues,’ because I wanted to have one movement that was just for voice and flute, where the roles of the instrument and the voice would actually be exchanged: the flute would be doing much more vocalization than the singer would, and vice versa. I had sketched some of that out [for ‘Tongues’], but in the end it didn’t really fit into the structure of the whole piece very well. So, I tucked that one into my desk, waited a few years until it was ready to go for a different opportunity!

Thinking about the voice and singing and that kind of ‘singerly’ line is something that isn’t entirely new. I mean Chopin was trying to write a melismatic bel canto line for the piano, which in itself is a really interesting project. But especially with instruments that are dependent on breath for sound production, I do tend to think very vocally about those things… But I don’t think I ever formalized that thought until you just asked me that question! [laughs] That was very perceptive!

AT: Well, it is something I tend to think a lot about because my life ties both aspects of music-making together, and I sometimes have the opportunity to play pieces that wed the two, wherein the sounds can blend together in amazingly lyrical ways, but also through the percussive elements of speech and vocalizations that can be transposed and even amplified by an instrument like the flute. So clearly this kind of thinking is of interest to me, particularly!

JE: Yeah, well you can basically use the flute as a resonating body through which the voice is projecting, but there are so many gradations within what one would associate with a prototypical flute tone and something like a very percussive type of speaking that could be the result of either regular types of phonetic sounds or other types of vocal extended techniques. With the construction of the flute itself and its open embouchure, it’s no mystery to me that writing for the solo flute in the last 20 or 30 years has just really exploded!

AT: Definitely! We’re still waiting for our recession! [laughs] So, in writing for the voice within this ensemble, how did you end up choosing when to use which vowels, consonants, syllables… Is this something you looked at timbrally - different colors that could be generated - or do they have some sort of semiotic link?

Definitely timbre was a huge component of it, especially for the unpitched phonemes and extended techniques, but also writing for the voice, thinking about which vowels would work in which ranges and so forth was another tried-and-true constraint that I had to adhere to. Mainly it was out of a desire to have different types of phonetic profiles for each one of those movements; for example in the first movement, you get a mix of a lot of different phonemes - it’s sort of a preview of the different types of writing that will come. The second movement in the most melismatic and probably the most traditional type of vocal writing, whereas the third movement has no pitched phonemes at all, and I was going for a very percussive type of effect. The fifth movement is again a type of summary as the cadenza, and the sixth movement passes the vocalization off to the ensemble in the end. Ironically perhaps, the singer doesn’t sing the last vocalization in the piece - that’s done by someone in the ensemble, where they have an unpitched phonetic canon between the vocalist and two of the performers. So there was a desire to figure out which kind of profile and character I wanted for each of the different movements.

As far as how I would pick things moment to moment, it boiled to me just having lists of possibilities, combing through them, or just imagining these gestures in my mind and transcribing these things using IPA symbols. This led to the concept of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. This was an attempt to capture the sense of possession - of being outside oneself - that one is reported to have in ecstatic moments (most notably in contemporary Pentecostal practice), whereby the supernatural is said to use a human subject as a vessel. Aside from the surface resemblance to a nonexistent language, I also think the concept is an extension of the performance practice that is suggested - perhaps demanded - by my music. Specifically, that one has to let go, at least in part, of their conscious self, and let the flow of precisely articulated physical gestures take hold.

AT: This is perhaps a good transition into my personal experience recording this piece with you, with the movements having such distinct characteristics and profiles, and I feel like that - beyond the practical considerations of endurance and what we had time for  - that also played into the choices of which movements we were going to focus on, the kind of energy and feeling that each movement needed.

JE: In the recording session, obviously, you’re trying to work as quickly and efficiently as possible, and as you say, there are stamina issues which you need to really carefully manage in a piece like that. It was essential that we did it over two days because of those demands; there was no way we could get it into a single day, either practically or in terms of the voice being able to sustain that kind of repetitive activity for so long.

The other concern was about how these contrasting emotional characters would play out in the recording session, trying to - in not so many words - communicate what those emotional characters are but also to try to organize the session so that same kinds of emotional characters would be covered in one period of time. As practically as was possible, like sections would be connected together, so that people would hopefully understand that there was a shared quality from one take to the next, even if those sections were not actually adjacent in the music.


Photo credit: Tina Psoinos


AT: I am also curious, since I have not yet performed this piece live (and you have heard this piece live numerous times), what the difference is, in your perspective, between the rehearsal process for a live performance and experiencing it live, and this experience recording the piece with ICE in the studio.

JE: They are really different kinds of experiences, and there are obviously different ways in which one prepares for them. In preparing for a recording session, you’re usually dealing with much smaller chunks, and really drilling down on detailed surface-level things, and then putting them together later, when the session in done. With a live performance, clearly, there is the stamina issue that we discussed, but also the sense of the larger arc coming together and being able to successively put all these pieces together to make a convincing architecture. In the recording studio, the performers want to be as accurate as possible, so there is a lot of attention paid to the detailed types of gestures that might be particularly difficult that in a performance, it’s sort of understood that you’re just going to go for it.  That is also kind of written into the score, and how I think about performance practice anyway in my music. So it boils down to a different kind of energy. In a live performance you have to gauge where you are in this piece, which is half an hour long - knowing what’s coming, knowing how to save your lips, your vocal cords, your breath, your concentration, for those moments when you’re really going to be called upon to use them. And that’s a lot different, of course, than a recording studio situation, where the level of concentration is highly elevated for everything, but you are able to stop and start, take breaks and relax mentally and physically if you begin to get tired. Live performance doesn’t offer that option!

AT: As exhausting as that recording session was, we all felt, as soon as it was over, the great desire to go perform the piece [laughter]! After so much stop and go, I really wanted to finally be able to let the dramatic arc actually BE a dramatic arc, to feel the long lyrical lines, and to experience the energies push and pull through the piece, so I am pretty excited to finally be able to perform this piece!

JE: Yeah! And after having done all of that very fine detail work, that all translates into the live performance very immediately. But obviously performing live is going to require a different approach, physically and mentally, to get to the end in good shape!

AT: Maybe just to wrap up, if you’d like to give us a few words about the rest of this CD, the idea for it, and what it represents for you in more global terms.

JE: Well, the idea for the CD was actually John Zorn’s, the proprietor of the Tzadik label, among many other things. He had for years been saying that he wanted to do a record; originally, I had approached him about doing the "Undersong" record, and he had his reservations about the vocal writing in particular, actually, and passed on the project, so when this CD project came along, I actually had to twist his arm quite a bit to get ‘Tongues’ on the record (believe it or not!). When I was putting together the record, I wanted to have ‘Tongues’ as the major work - it is by far the longest piece on the CD - and I also wanted to have a mix of different kinds of pieces on the CD. My CD "Undersong" was actually conceived as one single super-composition using four smaller compositions connecting together seamlessly; but for this I wanted to have different kinds of contrasts and also choose pieces that were from different parts of my compositional life. The earliest piece on the CD, ‘Flux’, is from 1995 and the newest piece is from 2011, and there are other pieces in between. I was also interested in the contrast between instrumentations, solo and duo and then larger ensemble pieces, like ‘Tongues’ and then of course ‘Trespass’, which you performed and recorded in 2006 [with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble] and now it’s finally coming out! [laughs]

AT: Yeah! I find that exciting - being able to connect different points of our “being”, where we were at what times, and what we were doing, and the kinds of people we were around and the influences we had. I feel like this CD is such a cool way of kaleidoscopically seeing all the different kinds of things you’ve done over the last 20 years.

And it’s really interesting to me, with the recordings of ‘Trespass’ and ‘Tongues’ being on the same disc despite a decade separating them, that things have actually come full circle in a strange but, I think, profound way in terms of when we first met, back in 2005, and here we are in 2015. There’s something of a special resonance with me about that, because it was sort of taken from a particular point in our lives and being able to reflect on that from where we are now, and I’m pretty proud of both of us actually! [laughs]

AT: Definitely! I think it also underlines the real relationships that this kind of music creates a space for and the fact that we are there for each other our entire lives, and we can grow together and help each other and influence each other - and you certainly have done so for me and for many people close to me.

JE: I appreciate you saying that. And actually, I can’t say it surprises me that much that we’re working together in this completely different context and geography; the trajectory between Oberlin CME and the present situation with ICE isn’t very unusual at all.

AT: These are pretty natural and organic progressions.

JE: So if you had told me ten years ago, you’re going to be in New York and work with Alice again and make a record, I would have totally bought that! [laughs]

April 23, 2015

Anna Thorvaldsdottir in Conversation with Doyle Armbrust


On Saturday, April 25, ICE returns to the MCA Stage with a concert of evocative music by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. In an interview with Chicago-based violist and writer Doyle Armbrust, Thorvaldsdottir speaks about the creation of the concert’s primary piece, her atmospheric trilogy In the Light of Air, as well as Tactility, an installation soundscape for percussion and harp, and Transitions, a piece for solo cello and electronics.


­Doyle Armbrust: You just wrapped up performing at the Tectonics Festival, right? What were you playing there?

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Yes, that's true - I was asked to do a solo performance at the festival. I'm usually not performing myself, but decided to just go for it this time. The festival is presented by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (curated by Ilan Volkov) and, when I was thinking about what I should do for my performance, I landed on the idea of 'placing an orchestra inside a grand piano', in a sense. I did some electronic collage, a "remix" of sorts, using material from one of my orchestral works, and placed three contact/vibration speakers inside the grand piano, turning the instrument into a grand-loud-speaker so that the sound board and the strings were singing along with the electronics. I also performed on the strings inside the piano, with bows, fingers and screws for texture and to enhance the sounds.


DA: Is it safe to assume you're doing a lot of traveling these days?

AT: Yes, I have been traveling quite a lot for music in the U.S. and Europe. I am very lucky to be able to be present for some of my major performances and events.


DA: I know a lot of Chicago musicians who are very eager to hear your portrait concert at MCA on the 25th. What is an element of experiencing these pieces that you feel is best captured in a live setting, versus, say, on your album?

AT: I have always been fascinated with creating atmospheres for concerts, to create a world that the audience enters into and becomes a part of. So my hope is that we will all be able to become a part of an atmospheric setting that is set by the music and enhanced by subtle visual elements and lighting. Also, these particular pieces really benefit from the intimacy that comes with a live performance setting.


DA: You've described yourself as quite private, even hermetical, during your compositional process. In the Light of Air was an ICElab commission. How did developing a piece with ongoing input from the performers change your writing process? Was it challenging to open up the door, so to speak, in this way?

AT: The process of writing the music for In the Light of Air was actually not different from writing other pieces. It was great, however, to be able to meet with the specific performers during the writing of the piece, and I really wanted to get to know each of them well so I could write specifically for them; this was really very precious. That was the musical input in this case. However, one of my initial ideas for In the Light of Air was to have a light installation as one of the "instruments" in the work. I wanted to have the lights be cued by the performers' breaths and instrumental performance, to have the lights "perform". It was great to be able to work on this technical aspect of the work with ICE since we had to find ways to get the audio to "speak" to the lights for cues. This was something that I couldn't have worked on alone since I don't have the technical know-how, so this was the collaborative aspect in the process of writing the work, which was a fantastic experience.


DA: You recently recorded In the Light of Air and other works with ICE for the Sono Luminus label. I'm curious about what it feels like as a composer to commit a piece to a fixed medium like an album. Do you have a specific approach to the way the recording is mixed in order to capture the live experience, or is it a different beast altogether?

AT: I absolutely don't have an issue with the fixed medium. I really like recordings for what they are and represent. That is, to capture a performance of a piece and keep it alive in the version it is recorded in. And also, in a recording it is, of course, possible to fine-tune every aspect according to the score. It is always a very different process from a live concert where every performance is unique and has its own magic, where the “here and now,” the concert space, the audience in the room and the atmosphere plays a very important role in the experience. So the two are very different, and I like both very much for different reasons.


DA: Can you tell me about how Transitions came to be commissioned? So much of your music you describe as inspired by nature, and here we have a piece with the theme of “man versus machine.” Is this new territory for you?

AT: ICE cellist Michael Nicholas commissioned me for a solo piece. His theme was man versus machine, and I found that very interesting. For me, this didn't restrict me in any way in how I approached the compositional process, but rather gave me an inspirational point to work from and think about. The approach I ended up with was to have the performer transition between being a man and a machine in the setting of the music material. Although nature is often a big inspiration in my music, it is not really a controlling factor, per se, but more of an overall inspirational element that I frequently visit in my creation process. I definitely like to explore a variety of perspectives and approaches.


DA: Tell me about the Klakabönd [which is featured on the April 25 concert at the MCA]. Is this typically used as an instrument in Iceland? If so, what role does it play in your music? Simply a sonic one?

AT: The Klakabönd is actually a small metal decoration recently designed and made by Icelandic artist Svana Jósepsdóttir. I got one as a gift a few years ago and thought it sounded really good, so I asked her to make me a few really large ones for In the Light of Air so that I could assemble them into an installation-like instrument, and they serve as both in the work.


DA: If your music wasn't being performed in a concert hall, where would be the ideal (if only imagined) setting?

AT: Hmm, in a resonating cave, I think.


DA: If you had one piece of advice for a student composer, what would it be?

AT: Work really hard and follow your passion.


DA: Finally, who are some young Icelandic composers we should keep an ear out for?

AT: There are many talented young composers, and some names that come to mind are, for example, Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir, Halldór Smárason and Úlfur Hansson. All are very different from each other.

January 1, 2015

Education Update #2: YOLA and Far-flung Correspondents

by Jacob Greenberg, pianist and Education ICE Artist Partner

Meanwhile, on the left coast of America, in between exciting performances and recordings, ICE started to establish a teaching presence. In the second week of December, the group began a major education initiative at Youth Orchestra Los Angeleswhich is the El Sistema teaching program of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On one of the three YOLA campuses, in the central L.A. Rampart district, eight intrepid ICE artists worked with forty-three middle school wind, brass, and percussion players on activities familiar to us but totally new to the students, involving improvisation skills, a classic American "process piece," and other mind-stretching activities. Over three days of work, we all got along famously.

Improvisation is always the hardest kind of activity to start, especially in a group. How and when does one begin to play?  How can one spontaneously generate material that is not practiced or familiar, and distant from traditional ideas of harmony and rhythm?  How does one engage a colleague in a “conversation"? Though hesitant at first, the students really latched onto the extended playing techniques that ICE introduced during our sessions, and these were a good point of entry. Sometimes it is easier to start with sounds not associated with one’s own playing, at least as one knows it. The students overcame their self-consciousness, and beautiful things emerged.

Josh and Rebekah led a choir of clarinets, bassoons, and oboes to create a forest of subtones, shadowy notes activated by special fingerings and light breathing. Claire and Alice worked with the flutes to make a structured improvisation with a storyline, using different techniques to convey each scene: key clicks, tongue rams, and whistle tones, among others. And Peter Evans and David Byrd made a game of rapid-fire directives, using a number system to start and stop each type of playing within their brass group.

ICE also focused on American composers that we’ve known and worked with: George Lewis’s Artificial Life was a point of departure for improvising, and tested the students’ knowledge of musical concepts. Christian Wolff’s Microexercises, an ICE commission, encouraged the young players to adapt musical material for different instruments. ICE also showed off one of our own composers: in addition to teaching in the residency, Levy Lorenzo brought his invented joystick instruments to a lucky group of four percussionists. Four video game joysticks controlled a wide range of sounds and dynamics, and the players learned Levy’s score, a evocative system of graphic symbols. Levy rehearsed and brilliantly conducted the group.

A final presentation for the students’ families and the community included all these activities, and one more: Frederic Rzewski’s Les Moutons de Panurge, a favorite of our friends in eighth blackbird. This process piece has players construct an additive melody note by note, played continuously but always going back to note one in the sequence. ICE finished the piece with each student instrumental section taking a virtuoso solo turn.

And that’s not all! Happily, ICE has brought education programming on each of its recent tours, including an elementary school group in Morelia, Mexico, during El Festival de Música de Morelia. This was a session of The Listening Room, where the students got to know each of the ICE players and composed colorful graphic scores for us to play together. At the end of our time together, they gave us a cheer! And after David Bowlin and Jen Curtis’s amazing Chicago OpenICE performance, both players had memorable sessions with second graders at the Lycée Français and with students at the Chicago High School for the Performing Arts. Improvisation was the common link; the young students accompanied the violinists with handheld percussion, and Jen had the high schoolers play freely over a chord sequence from Vivaldi.

ICE education knows no limits! In the spring, we’re looking forward to more activities in New York public schools, and a continuing collaboration with CSIC, Composers and Schools in Concert, involving many of our ICElab composers. Stay tuned!

YOLA brass with maestro David Byrd-Marrow.

YOLA flute sextet with Claire Chase and Alice Teyssier.

ChiArts quintet with David Bowlin and Jennifer Curtis.

December 1, 2014

Education Update:  Graphic Music at the Lycée

by Jacob Greenberg, pianist and Education ICE Artist Partner

ICE education has been literally all over the map this fall!  In a few days, I’ll post about our workshops in Morelia, Mexico during our appearance at that city’s music festival over Thanksgiving.  And this weekend, ICE starts our inaugural residency with Youth Orchestra L.A., the education arm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In October, ICE began a special year-long residency at the Lycée Français de Chicago, a distinguished international K-12 school in the North Lakeview neighborhood.  Our first events were two all-school assemblies, introducing the students to myself, Claire, and Rebekah, and featuring lots of extended playing techniques, wild repertoire, and crowdsourced improvising.  

ICE’s project at the Lycée is inspired by the great French-American composer Edgard Varèse, whose complete works ICE presented at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2010, with Sō Percussion and Steven Schick.  Varèse’s pathbreaking piece Poème Électronique, written for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, was one of the first pieces written purely for tape, and, originally, one of the first multimedia presentations with music; it was housed in a structure designed by the great architectural firm of Le Corbusier, and supervised by the architect and composer Iannis Xenakis (another ICE favorite).  During the six months of the fair, millions of people heard the piece as they walked through the structure, and were simultaneously treated to a light show with projections depicting the history of civilization.

The Poème Électronique was notable for another reason: it was notated by Varèse in a purely graphic style.  (ICE presented some realizations of Varèse’s graphic scores at the Kitchen in New York a few years ago.) ICE is no stranger to teaching graphic scores; it’s the basis of our Listening Room program.  The combination of electronics and non-traditional notation will influence the Lycée’s piece, which will take the form of a large-scale three-dimensional graphic score that listeners can walk through.  It will use many art media, and varied performing forces: four ICE players, student players, electronic processing and spatialization effects by Levy Lorenzo, and a special programmatic theme: the Lycée’s engagement with its Chicago communities.

The workshop sessions will involve diverse ICE players over the school year.  In November, Ryan Muncy joined me at the school for some improvising sessions with saxophone techniques.  In two weeks, ICE violinists David Bowlin and Jen Curtis will play part of their Hideout OpenICE show for a second-grade audience, and will lead a game with voices and percussion.  The classes so far have involved nearly every grade at the school, and the entire faculty has taken part, including art and music teachers.  Sessions have ranged from a discussion of piano acoustics, for twelfth-grade physics classes; an introduction to ideas in contemporary music theory, for a sixth-grade math class; and guiding a middle-school literature class through the Poème, where the students created a narrative of their own for the piece.  All students have learned about Varèse, who found his modern compositional voice when he left his European nest and became an adopted citizen of New York City.

The students have been great.  I’ll never forget when a fourth-grader perfectly described and imitated a theremin.  And a first-grader brilliantly encapsulated the Poème with this description: “It’s like a lot of different ideas all put together to make one piece of music.”  A third-grader compared the score of the Varèse piece to a cardiogram.  And an upper-school class had a philosophical discussion about musical notation, in which we explored how notation compares historically to other written forms of communication.  

And this exchange, with a second-grader who remembered me from the school assemblies:  

Student:  “Are you ICE?”
Jacob: “I am ICE!”

October 26, 2014

density haiku: meditations on breath

Impressions from Row G
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

[Ed: ICEfans Arlene and Larry Dunn’s poetic take on Claire Chase's sold-out run at The Kitchen in NYC, October 2nd and 3rd, 2014.]

density haiku: meditations on breath

coiled wire muscles flex
daggers of platinum light
young girl breathe your voice

paroxysms of wind
swallowing herself in sound
deep drone of silence

chimera reflects
swirling gossamer echoes
she breathes whom she seeks

cheeping creatures scurry
she dances with many selves
recreating breath

stuttering message
her spiraling gymnastics
breathe an unknown code

a new moon rises
railing at breathless spirits
where is eurydice


Claire Chase: density 2036: part ii

The Kitchen, New York City, October 2-3, 2014

I. Density 21.5 for solo flute (Edgard Varèse, 1936); II. Meditation and Calligraphy for solo bass flute (Felipe Lara, 2014); III. Parábolas na Caverna for solo amplified flute (Felipe Lara, 2014); IV. Emergent for solo flute and electronics (George E. Lewis, 2014); V. Beyond (a system of passing) for solo flute (Matthias Pintscher, 2013); VI. an empty garlic for solo bass flute and electronics (Du Yun, 2014)

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.  



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.


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.

January 28, 2014

“Hit, Pluck, and Strum” at Roulette!

ICE’s residency at Roulette in December was not just about the launch of OpenICE! Education Director Jacob Greenberg and Production Director Ross Karre teamed up with video artist and ICElab collaborator Monica Duncan to expand ICE’s signature education program, The Listening Room, for a piano-centric event.  Called “Hit, Pluck, and Strum,” the hour-long show for four-to-eight-year-olds explored the inside of the piano and how wacky musical notation can bring the sounds of the piano’s inner organs to life.

As the piano interior was projected by live video feed, Jacob began with a classic piece, Henry Cowell’s Aeolian Harp, which features beautiful strumming of piano strings.  A more elaborate demonstration was George Crumb’s Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusic (A Little Midnight Music), which has the pianist activate piano harmonics, play with mallets on the metal beams, and pluck individual strings.  Ross came over to show how much can be done (gently!) with percussion mallets inside the piano.  Then, the students all tried their own hands inside the instrument, with each technique: hit, pluck, and strum!

After the two Icicles improvised to accompany a Charlie Chaplin short film, students started to write their graphic compositions on paper inside the outline of a piano.  This was then superimposed on the live feed of the piano, so Jacob and Ross could play literally in the areas of the instrument where the students wrote their shapes and symbols.  As always, some interpretation was involved, but it was great to translate the student pieces so directly into a performance! 

The kids were all great, and we hope to be back at Roulette soon to move The Listening Room in still more directions!

January 21, 2014

Notes from Juan Camilo Hernández Sánchez on ICElab 2014

from the composer

Songs beyond the margin is a musical transcription of a series of poems written during the great depression, a musical depiction of texts written by Herman Spector. His poetry makes a very deep depiction of the marginal and urban life style with powerful sense of rhythm.

The main idea of the project is to develop a dramatic relationship between all of the characters that are on stage: tenor singer, saxophonist, trumpeter, pianist, percussionist and double-bassist. The players would set up differently for each song, each of them would have different role depending on the text's metaphors. Some controlled musical and acting improvisation would take place in order to permit a real mise en scene of the piece.

The aim is to reveal through sound the deepest meanings of the texts. Spector's texts tell us about urban life, poverty and indignation. It's the kind of text that must be taken out of the bookshelf, they must happen on the stage.

Electronic media will be used in order to enhance some aspects of the sound, to give the musicians the control of sound parameters and to diffuse recordings of urban landscapes and situations that can be related to the text."

Juan Camilo Hernández Sánchez workshops with ICE February 5-7th; check back for more updates!

January 15, 2014

Notes from Zosha di Castri and David Adamczyk on ICElab 2014

What does it mean to freeze a moment in time? A dreamlike tapestry of mediums converges in a collaborative instrumental opera about the invention of the camera and the phonograph…

Our project, “Phonobellow”, is a sixty minute new music theatre work for five musicians, electronics, performative installation, and video projection. We would like to write for clarinet (doubling on bass), trumpet, piano, percussion, and accordion (either from ICE or elsewhere). Our conceptual starting point is the year 1877, when Muybridge perfected the high speed camera and Edison invented the phonograph, two revolutionary technologies that had a fundamental impact on human perception. Via a heterogeneous assemblage of music, images, recorded texts/sounds, electronics, movement, sculpture, and lighting, we wish to create an abstract artistic reflection that captures how deeply these technologies reverberated with people at the time, and to this day. While our composition will form a cohesive whole, the abundance and variety of materials will allow audiences to construct their own meanings (like Goebbels’ “Stifters Dinge”, Cardiff & Miller’s “Opera for a Small Room”, or Wilson & Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach”).

The visual centerpiece will be a large scale custom made installation that the musicians will
interact with. This sculpture’s shape will evoke both the bellows of a camera (or accordion) and the horn of a phonograph, and will take up most of the stage. The musicians will play, but will also move and transform the sculpture (whose bellows will expand and collapse). They may play “into” the sculpture or even “play” the sculpture itself (which becomes an instrument using contact mics, sensors, and loudspeakers). The exterior of the sculpture doubles as a projection surface, and, depending on its transparency, light could be emitted from within the structure. Its polyvalent nature allows the symbolism of the installation to constantly evolve.

The music will be a hybrid of gestural new music, and an imaginary folkloric music (see Di Castri’s Phonotopographie as an example). We hope to collaborate closely with ICE throughout the creative process. We will bring in initial materials and mockups, then go through a series of collective brainstorming, blocking, and experimentation sessions which will be recorded. From these we will compose out the work. The end product will be a mix of composed music and guided improvisation.

Zosha di Castri and David Adamcyk's ICElab 2014 workshop takes place on January 16, 2014 at 6pm.

December 30, 2013

ICElab Confidential: Reality as Sensory Illusion at Roulette

Impressions from Row G

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.]

“Fortunately we live on the basis of vital illusion, on the basis of an absence, an unreality, a non-immediacy of things.” With that thought from Jean Baudrillard’s The Perfect Crime in mind, ICE gave the world concert premiere of Dan Dehaan’s Trompe l’Corps at an OpenICE event at Roulette in Brooklyn on December 17, 2013. Dan’s work was paired in this concert with the equally impressive ICElab compositions of Felipe Lara.

Playing off the term trompe l’oeil or “optical illusion” from the visual arts, the title Trompe l’Corps is best understood as a more expansive “sensory illusion,” encompassing all human perceptive powers. The music is an adventurous investigation of our human perceptions of the fundamental forces of the universe. Seeking to build something substantial from limited materials, Dan employs a simple four-note motif as his building block. The music was presented in eight Moments, constructed by four forces: Dan’s electronic soundscape, built from threads captured in rehearsals, plus live processing;  Nathan Davis’ percussion, modeling astrophysical phenomena; an instrumental trio of Rebekah Heller on bassoon, Kyle Armbrust on viola, and Kivie Cahn-Lipman on cello, providing the textural fabric, and soprano Tony Arnold manifesting the awe with which we humans perceive the energy forces of the universe as they whiz by. Added to these musical elements were a spatializing eight-channel sound matrix designed by Levy Lorenzo and lighting effects by Nicholas Houfek, resulting in a thrilling intergalactic joyride of sounds from barely audible whispering to physically startling explosions, at times ravishingly beautiful, and then disturbingly harsh.

Moment I, an electronics-only prelude, had already begun as the patrons arrived and took their seats in a circular array surrounding the players in the center of the floor. Overpowering suspense gripped the crowd as the soft buzzing hum gained weight and volume. The house lights went down and were replaced by slowly strobing orbs suspended behind screens around the room. As the energy forces coalesced, the steady hum percolated with increasingly frequent bursts of energy, the rumbling thunder of celestial bodies colliding. Suddenly, Nathan struck a sonic boom on a huge bass drum, accompanied by dramatic string plucking gestures from Kyle and Kivie. Tony’s whispering and breathy exclamations began Moment II.

As the music unfolded, the chief protagonists were Tony and Nathan. Tony embodied the central human spirit of the piece, effortlessly shifting between richly rhapsodic singing and expressive whispering and recitation. She is unparalleled in her ability to animate even the most confounding text, articulating music and meaning. Nathan’s percussion was essential, both in his intermittent sonic bombardments and his delicate touch on vibes.

Moment VI brought forth the most rapturous beauty as Tony’s lyrical singing was awash in lush lines. Nathan led the melodic line in the vibes, with Rebekah’s bassoon adding a deep warm texture while Kyle and Kivie traded a figure tinged with melancholy. Dan’s live processing propagated selected sounds throughout the room, as the instantaneous “is” escaped our perceptual grasp and became the “was” perpetually expanding out into limitless ether.

For Moment VIII the instrumentalists left the nucleus and moved to positions surrounding the audience on stage and in the balcony. Nathan led the way, striking and rimming a selection of prayer bowls. Tony began with a whisper that morphed into ecstatic singing of a long rambling text. The surrounding players all began striking gongs quite softly, slowly increasing the force and volume, until the composite sound was overwhelming. After that explosion, the sounds subsided as every musician slowly stuck a triangle and chanted “Fortunately” over and over, ever more softly until they faded into silence.

Trompe l’Corps is yet to have its full realization. It is designed as an immersive sound installation, plus performance, for a mobile audience in a multi-room environment with further spatialization of the sounds and more elaborate lighting effects. That is scheduled to happen in Chicago, sometime in June. We can hardly wait.


Note: All photos courtesy of Susan Griggs (Dan’s mother)

ICElab Presents Daniel Dehaan

ICElab Confidential: Sounds Coalescing into Music

ICElab Confidential: Daniel Dehaan in the Crucible of Composition

November 11, 2013

ICE Celebrates Peripatetic Genius John Zorn at MCA Chicago

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

ICE came to Chicago to present a “John Zorn Retrospective” that might better have been titled “A 21st Century Portrait.” The concert Saturday, October 26, 2013, at MCA Chicago featured all recent work, save Zorn’s Canon for Stravinsky in memoriam, a work of less than a minute in length, written in 1972. ICE musicians Claire Chase, Joshua Rubin, Rebekah Heller, Erik Carlson, Kyle Armbrust, Michael Nicolas, Cory Smythe, Dan Lippel, and Tyshawn Sorey, in various combinations, attacked six Zorn compositions with joyous vigor, heightened by the presence of the man himself. The program showcased John’a hyperkinetic style in works constructed of brief concentrated episodes crackling with energy. John eschews stasis. He pounces on a musical concept, rapidly distills and fully exhausts it, then moves on to the next. 

The highlight of the evening was the world premiere of Baudelaires, inspired by three of the poet’s works: Paris Spleen, Flowers of Evil, and Artificial Paradises. While the stage was being set, John spoke tellingly about his realization that composing, for him, is really about people. He puts notes on paper to give the musicians a platform form which to craft a musical performance. Baudelaires, for a mini-orchestra of wind section (flutes, bass clarinet, bassoon), string section (violin, viola and cello) and “percussion” (harpsichord and guitar), was conducted by David Fulmer. Zorn’s foundation in avant-garde jazz was evident in the structure, providing stand-out moments for each section and the individual players. The winds—Claire on bass flute, Josh on bass clarinet, Rebekah on bassoon—laid down a low, rumbling thread in Paris Spleen that was picked up by the strings, then whipped into a frenetic crescendo by the harpsichord and guitar. Flowers of Evil at first restored calm, then destabilized as Dan’s skittish guitar harmonics jumped to Claire’s flute, shifted into a wild winds-strings sextet, then returned the lead to guitar licks echoed in harpsichord. In Artificial Paradises, a lush flourish in the strings suddenly erupted and all hell broke loose in the full ensemble, as the center couldn’t hold.

John wrote the tempest, a masque (for flute, clarinet and percussion), an interpretation of Shakespeare’s final play, for ICE in 2012. In a sequence of manic high-speed scene changes, Claire on flute as Ariel, Miranda and the spirits is pitted against Josh on bass clarinet as Prospero, Caliban, and the Duke, and on clarinet as Stefano, Trinculo, and Ferdinand. Tyshawn employed two enormous bass drums and a drummer’s trap set to evoke the title storm and other dramatic settings for the confrontations. John’s terse, taut retelling left us wondering why the bard was so loquacious.

The balance of the program provided an apt character study of John's recent music. Steppenwolf (for madmen only! price of  admission: your mind) from 2012 is a solo tour-de-force for clarinet. Josh played now melodically, now dissonantly, repeating a fugal figure up and down the register with fierce aplomb. Occam’s Razor, canons, interludes and fantasies (2013) for cello and piano, was a Jeckyll-and-Hyde of 13 short canons. Cory and Michael deftly navigated from sections dense with notes at breakneck speed to spare movements at a snail’s pace. Walpurgisnacht, A Witches’ Sabbath in three movements for string trio quickly accelerated into a cockeyed, dissonant melody full of jerky gestures and spooky sounds. With mutes on for the final section, the sound became soft and ghostly, but the playing was no less furious.

Following a sustained standing ovation, John bounded back to the stage brandishing his alto  saxophone, Tyshawn at his side. “We’re gonna play a little east coast shit,” John said, “Newark meets Queens.” In one more brilliant distillation, they launched into a wild free-jazz jaunt that traded tart, tongue slapping riffs on the sax with explosive runs on the drum set, stopping just short of bringing the walls crashing down around them.

November 5, 2013

ICE and CSIC Seek Score Submissions for Composer Workshops in San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Application Deadline: December 2, 2013 5:00 PM PST

The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and Composers and Schools in Concert (CSIC) announce an opportunity for U.S. composers who excel at lively presentations for high school audiences.  Resident composers will join members of ICE in a workshop called The Listening Room.

In the spring of 2014, ICE will collaborate with CSIC to present educational workshops to high school students in the cities of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. Students will hear ICE perform an original work by a resident composer, observe the working process of composer and performer, and engage in composing their own graphic notation piece.

Submission Details
ICE and CSIC seek score submissions for the Washington DC and San Francisco workshops. The composer does not need to reside in these cities, but does need to be able to travel to the location for the workshop and rehearsal.

The workshops will take place in the first half of 2014. Each composer will receive a composer appearance award of $200. Composer members of Composers and Schools in Concert are eligible to apply.

The new composition will be for variable instrumentation: equally playable by any four orchestral instruments, regardless of range. The new composition should not exceed five minutes, and will be notated on a single page large format score, in a creative graphic style with colors coded to the instrumental players. Limited rehearsal time is available for the new piece, so the score should represent the composer’s style as fully as possible while also aiming to engage a young audience of high school students with skill level ranging from beginner through advanced. The project will require a rehearsal with ICE in the resident workshop city, plus a one and a half hour appearance at the workshop.

The dates for the two school visits are as follows:
San Francisco: April 25, 2014 and Washington, D.C.: May 30, 2014

To Apply
Become a member of CSIC (if you haven’t already). Apply here.
Send an email to education@iceorg.org by December 2, 2013 at 5:00 PM PST, which includes the following:
Subject Line: “CSIC-ICE-2013-14-Application-FirstNameLastName”
Indicate which city you’re interested in: San Francisco or Washington D.C.
A brief biography (max 100 words) or a link to your biography on your website
Links to two sound files of your work on an easy-access streaming service like SoundCloud, Vimeo, YouTube or your website.
A PDF score sample of your planned piece, or the piece in its entirety (both will be equally considered)
A two-paragraph summary describing your interest in working with high school students.

*For questions contact education@iceorg.org. The selected composers will be announced in late December 2013.

October 25, 2013

David Bowlin Spinning Gossamer Webs of Sound in Fairchild Chapel

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

For many years after Oberlin College was founded in 1833, students were required to attend chapel services. Flash forward to October 16, 2013, and chapel attendance was mandatory for a very different reason. ICE violinist (and Oberlin professor) David Bowlin spun quietly compelling webs of sound in Fairchild Chapel with his exquisite performance of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Six Caprices for solo violin.

Sciarrino, an Italian composer born in 1947, is largely self-taught and has taken great pride in forging his own personal forms of musical expression. The Six Caprices, completed in 1976, stand as an iconic achievement. Sciarrino’s solo violin pieces were inspired by Nicolai Paganini’s 24 Caprices from 1819. But where Paganini’s work calls for bravura strutting, Sciarrino’s is full of hushed restraint, employing his unique tonal palette built entirely of string harmonics. In David’s hands, each of Sciarrino’s Caprices wafted in mysterious sonic worlds.

In “I. Vivace” David gently rocked the bow, his left hand jut barely caressing the strings along the fingerboard and all the way down adjacent to the bow, giving hints and suggestions that we were hearing this music through or under water. Long, slow draws of the bow characterized “II. Andante” as David produced tremolo harmonics with an incredibly light left hand. The lush, sensually faint high melody conjured the breathing of a sleeping loved-one on a silvery moonlit night with a breeze blowing in the trees. Muffled brazen shrieks rustled the air in “III. Assai agitato,” as David swirled the bow in wild elliptical dancing gestures across the surface of the strings. The visually arresting technique was matched by a hypnotic circular melody full of hairpin turns, running up, down, and around.

The sounds in “IV. Voluble” alternated between the slightest hush and muffled roars with David displaying the intense effort needed to refrain from standard playing. Long sweeping squalls of sound filled the resonant chapel holding the audience in rapt attention. With the fundamental tones subtracted, only the shadings of color remained. “V. Presto” was very melodic in a ghostly manner. Some thick membrane obscured full hearing of the narrative journey the music had to tell. In “VI. Con brio,” David’s left hand flitted lightly along the strings above the fingerboard, tapping out a barely perceptible melody. Standard left hand pizzicato would sound like an elephant stampede in comparison. The finale is the longest of the Six Caprices and revisits all of the techniques employed in the first five. David left its icy crystalline music hanging in frozen air for all to contemplate. 

The Sciarrino Caprices are an extraordinary test of a violinist's endurance and focus. We’ve never seen a musician working so intently at being subdued and delicate as David was this night. It was breathtaking beauty to behold.

October 11, 2013

Claire Chase: Ravaged Breathless Joy DENSITY

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

[with admiration and apologies to Laura Mullen and thereby to Octavio Paz]

Two-thousand-thirteen twenty-nine September's twenty-six shiny metal tubes relentless Chase Claire shining Constellation star. Seventy-five undaunted quest minutes tornado of notes blown from deep inside on brain on paper on tape. Hundreds awe in silent stunned anticipate bottomless air dance sinewy muscles never touch down.

Vermont opposes Vermont eleven flutes wide Reich forest flitting birds of many feathers. Winding piccolo wrapping flute overlapping alto textured sound fabric rhythmic dancing air puzzle until heavy breathing noteless flute.

Plaintive Pessoa Balter fullthroated bass flutes six times deep breathy beckoning over impossible chasm. Foreboding ears’ eerie airy aerie ghosts as high as bass may go echo swirling layers on tape, tapping out “Where are you?”

Pure sound Lucier waves oscillate fourteen-hundred-forty nearly New Yorkian seconds full family five flutes synchronize sine waves up down roller coaster mesmerizing deep drone bone shaking ear-piercing peal intoxication.

Square dance Glass double flutes inside outside once around paper trail. Nonstop no stops overlapping journey fugue destination unknown.

Diabolic Diaz de León swirls manic machine flute fancy flights over synthetic textures trudging heavy-footed monsters. Robotic motion solo slides organic duet every human muscle investment in epic future battle flute vanquishes machines.

Heavy Varèse Density twenty-one-point-five grams dazzle channeling Doriot Anthony Dwyer mournful modal cry and crackle Barrrère’s spirit. Chaos lip-popping challenge freedom surge yields. Soaring sweeps swoon ensuing wild abandon. Density final reward platinum exhausted air.

[Images courtesy of Marc Perlish Photography]

July 15, 2013

Rebekah Heller’s CD Launch: ICE Sizzles on the TUNDRA

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

Just ten days after moving to Oberlin, we retraced the steps of Claire Chase’s momentous origin-of-ICE journey to Chicago to attend the launch event for Rebekah Heller’s new CD 100 Names on June 30, 2013. Resplendent in a stunning white frock festooned with ostrich plume shoulders, Rebekah took the stage of Constellation Chicago after Claire’s rousing introduction in which she claimed “the only proper genre label for Rebekah’s work on this CD is musical badassery.”

Rebekah opened with the unpronounceable ∞¿? (for bassoon and tape) by Edgar Guzman, filling the room with strange, provocative sounds. It began with deep low blasts followed by sputtering higher staccato notes while the low drone repeated, then morphed into an almost free-jazz style riff reminiscent of Sam Rivers or Albert Ayler. The piece had an assertive dominatrix edge to it. If she’d had time to change outfits for each work, ∞¿? begged for black leather and studs.

Marcelo Toledo’s Qualia II (for bassoon and tape 3) was inspired by sounds of the Argentine jungle. Initially Rebekah told Marcelo that it was impossible to play, but she persisted and found a way. She began with shrieks through a handmade “reed organ” and whispered exclamations. Percussive key tapping alternated with expressive breath sounds and thin melodic threads. The jungle came alive with sound of birds, animals scurrying in the underbrush, and the gurgling of a flowing river.

Rebekah described Dai Fujikura’s Calling, for solo bassoon (2011) as symbolic of ancient horns used for communications between villages using ancient microtonal melodies and multiphonics. Exploiting the bassoon's raw, raspy timbre, Calling had a distinct messaging cadence and played out in call-and-response fashion, beautiful and tender with long-held notes.

It was a treat for us to hear Marcos Balter’s …and also a fountain (for bassoon and percussion with spoken text by Gertrude Stein) again after hearing it six months earlier at Corbett vs. Dempsey. We were impressed with the command Rebekah has achieved through repeated playings in balancing the three elements of this compelling work.

Rebekah closed with her CD’s title cut, On speaking a hundred names (for bassoon and live processing) by ICE percussionist Nathan Davis. The title symbolically links the cultural phenomenon of multiple names for certain things in many languages, such as many words for snow in cold climates, with the fact that there is no single fingering to produce any note on the bassoon. From the elegiac beginning, this was the most tonality-centric piece on the program, with the electronics repeating and transforming the bassoon sounds. A wild middle section, sounding like an organ on acid, gave way to a quiet contemplative mood, followed by a slow building crescendo to the finish.

In her program introduction, Rebekah declared that this CD documents her ambition to see that the repertoire for solo bassoon would suck a lot less. No doubt about it, 100 Names definitely does not suck!

June 12, 2013

ICE at MCA: psssssst!

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

psssst. psssst. did you know that david lang, yeah that david lang, composed a work that is so quiet, so intimate, so personal, that the audience needs to be right there among the musicians to hear it? it’s called the whisper opera, and it was one of the most poignant afternoons of music  we have ever experienced.

Five members of ICE and David Lang took us on this otherworldly musical trip on Sunday afternoon, June 2, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Production designer and director Jim Findlay crafted a minimalist set of four raised white square stages connected to each other by narrow bridges and bordered with ceiling to floor translucent white flowing curtains. Audience members sat on the inside edges of each stage-square, at floor level, so that our heads and shoulders were at stage level. The inside edge positioning also insured that our view would be restricted primarily to the square we were facing. We had to rely on our peripheral senses to capture the rest of what was going on around us. Each stage-square had a  single large suspended cymbal quite close to the floor and a large bass drum hanging from the girders over one of the inside seating channels. Other instruments — flutes, clarinets, and glockenspiel, and other percussion — were placed where the musicians would play them.

After we were all directed to our seats, and exchanged some good-natured banter about our unusual circumstances, the lights suddenly darkened. Ross Karre, Joshua Rubin, Kivie Cahn-Lipman, and Claire Chase ascended the stage at back left and noiselessly promenaded on stockinged feet to their assigned stage-squares. Each crouched near a cymbal and began running their fingers along the top so quietly we could hardly hear it. They began whisper-chanting, as if some sort of mantra, barely audible. Soon we could hear soprano Tony Arnold lightly humming from off-stage. As she entered from back left, the other musicians took up their instruments and began to play sequences of simple melodic fragments that gradually passed from player to player around the stage.

Tony gracefully ambled from square to square whispering the near-nonsense phrases David had collected from web queries on fragments such as “when I am alone I always...” and “they said I was crazy but I...” and “when I think of you I think of...” Intermittently the other four would stop playing and join Tony in the whispered recitations, but each of them were slightly out of phase with the others so that there was a disconcerting jumble effect. They also each shifted their gaze from time to time, engaging individual audience members at their feet with intimate eye contact. The program unfurled for about an hour, ever so slowly gaining in volume and understandability of the words, until Tony sang the final segment “it’s not my fault that I am so...” from off-stage, with more persistent instrumentation.

the whisper opera was unlike any musical event we’ve ever experienced. We were immersed in a cocoon of extremely quiet sounds and it felt like we were in a dream or voyeurs watching someone else’s dream. Some of the repeated phrases were like those songs you can’t get out of your head and you keep hearing in that semi-conscious state just before you slip into sleep.

David wrote in the program notes “. . . the score to the whisper opera states clearly that it can never be recorded, or filmed, or amplified. The only way this piece can be received is if you are there, listening very, very closely.” Only those of us who were there can truly appreciate that. We are unsure who but ICE would take on such a risky, intimate, groundbreaking project where the musicians play, but also move, act, whisper, and sing. One where the object is to appreciate the vulnerability of nearly inaudible sounds.


ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) David Lang: the whisper opera from MCA Chicago on Vimeo.

May 3, 2013

A Mad Feast: ICE’s Spring Gala Preview

Ready to lose your mind at A Mad Feast: ICE's Spring Gala?

Mad Feast from ICE on Vimeo.

Tickets are still available- get yours now!

April 22, 2013

ICE at Americas Society: Reflections in an Ancient Mirror

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

ICElab Confidential: Sounds Coalescing into Music

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

Notes from Paulo Rios Filho on TransColonização

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

Notes from Du Yun on Your Eyes Are Not Your Eyes

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.

-Du Yun

March 12, 2013

Notes from Vijay Iyer and Prashant Bhargava

photo: Jimmy Katz

From the composer and filmmaker

Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi

"Our desire for you dear Radha spins us round, sends the blood through our veins, forever draws us to your soft embrace, our Radha."

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.

"Oh Radha, you are voluptuous, pure and always forgiving, the source of life itself, our beloved, alluring as a blossoming lotus."

Vijay Iyer & Prashant Bhargava

March 8, 2013

ICE at MCA: Carla’s Kaleidoscope of Dreams

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.

Listening/Watching Tips:
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

ICE in Chicago: Phyllis Chen - It’s All In the Hands

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.

Listening/Watching Tips:

Watch a DigitICE video of the world premiere of Chimers at the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival.

February 5, 2013

ICE Talk: Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen

[ICE percussionist and composer Nathan Davis sits down with toy pianist Phyllis Chen to talk concept, process and influence in anticipation of February 16th's MCA program, also featuring ICElab composer Carla Kihlstedt.]

N: It seems to me that until recently, most composers played piano as their primary instrument, and many consider the piano to be a blank slate from which to begin composing for any instrument.  What led you not only to play the toy piano but to also champion it and build its repertoire?  and how does this point of departure effect the way you approach writing for other instruments?

C: Finding the toy piano as a pianist was like discovering a brand-new instrument that I could instantly play. It really was love at first sound. I've spent all of my life playing traditional repertoire on piano, so the idea of composing for it seem rather intimidating and not so interesting. Composing for the toy piano was just a natural way for me to get to know the instrument. With that said, I compose at the keyboard...and that means mostly the toy piano.

Your use of toys and other ordinary objects, repurposed for your pieces but carrying layered meanings, reminds me of the work of Joseph Cornell.  How do you select them - by sound, extra-musical associations, etc.?  And which comes first - the discovery and exploration of the object-instrument, or a concept that necessitates the search for the right object?

I'd say most of my process is about discovery; I believe that this translates into the general concept/arc of my pieces when they are finished. Sometimes I have an object in my head that seems to fit the concept of a piece, but when finally realized in sound, it doesn't quite work. I think objects definitely carry extra-musical meanings/associations, but when exploring object-instrument,  sometimes I intuit a kind of 'story' behind the sound; Certain sounds seem like they want to move in certain ways. This is usually where the seed of a piece comes for me-- I find a piece when l I find a sound that ignites my imagination.

And do you feel a kinship with Cornell or any other visual artists?

Most definitely. In fact I 'm currently writing a piece based on Cornell's assemblages! I am particularly drawn to collage artists because they have a fundamental instinct to work with found objects/junk. It definitely reflects the intrigue that people have towards the "Wunderkammer" or the Cabinet of Curiosity, which dates all the way back to the Renaissance. Somehow we want to hold on to something (but what?) with a miniature object that is placed in a box to be observed. The objects themselves seem to mean very little, but they often carry symbolic power or gives the person a sense of ownership over something that couldn't be owned (i.e. seashell.)

The work of Janice Lowry is particularly beautiful to me and some of Yoko's installation works earlier in her career. I am also (obviously) attracted to miniatures and the darker connoctations in childhood objects, so the work of the Quay Brothers and Jan Svankmajer are most definitely influential to me.

What guides your use of electronics?

Good question. I'm still figuring that one out. I think there's two uses for me: The first is as a very convenient sketch pad to get some sounds recorded and manipulated. The other is simply to augment a very small sound that I'm working with, giving me a chance to see what else it has the potential to do.

How many toy pianos do you own?

20 at last count....give or take a few.

We're together working on music for Sylvia Milo's play "The Other Mozart".  What else can I look forward to hearing - what are you writing, now or next?

I'm working on a collection of prepared music box pieces that will be more of an installation than a performance work.They are re-configured old kid's music box/jewelry boxes...like the ones with the twirling ballerinas (but only they will now become strange monsters instead.) Also a new solo album! This time, none of the works will be performable, but a studio recording of some new pieces made from my collection of objects and field recordings.

That sounds fantastic!  Thanks so much for taking the time for this conversation.


February 5, 2013

ICE Talk: Rebekah Heller and Carla Kihlstedt

ICE had the immense pleasure of collaborating with superstar, genre-defying songstress, composer, and violinist Carla Kihlstedt for the past several months.  We presented her new song cycle, written for ICE, at Merkin Hall on January 26 as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.  I’m thrilled to be playing it again in Chicago on the MCA stage on February 16th.

I’ve had some time to reflect on this experience and what made it so thrilling for me as a performer and collaborator.  Here are some musings Carla and I shared about the process and the performance.

R: Carla! I’m still on a high from this performance and am trying to pin down what made it feel so particularly special.  For me, a big part of it was feeling like I was in a band. Like a real, honest-to-goodness, rock n’ roll band.  As an orchestra geek from an early age, I’ve always harbored secret (or not-so-secret) rock star aspirations.  Last Saturday felt like a true Rockstar moment and it was awesome!

As someone who’s been playing and touring with myriad bands for the past decade, did you feel that ICE was your band?

C: Firstly, Ms. Heller, you are a total rock star. If the rest of the world doesn't know it yet, it's my job to tell them. Soon we'll see little girls all across the world emulating you and rocking the bassoon. I know I would! Maybe my daughter Tallulah will be the first.

Secondly, I know I probably shouldn't correct you on this point, lest it makes me sound.... gulp... old. But i've actually been hitting the road pretty hard with my various bands (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Tin Hat, 2 Foot Yard, Rabbit Rabbit, Causing a Tiger and occasionally Fred Frith's Cosa Brava) for almost 2 decades now. Oy!

And thirdly, I totally felt like we were a band last Saturday! The whole ICElab model of commissioning really allows for that. Being a band is a mindset, and not a specific instrumentation. This is a total dream band: awesome musicians who like each others’ ideas, are opinionated and open-minded, and love to rehearse really hard and party equally hard. And there's a bassoonist who is the greatest bass player i could ever want!

Ha! My bass moment is truly a favorite. This piece also felt so personal for all of us.  As a cycle about dreaming, most of us had dreams or parts of dreams woven into the narrative of the piece. We were also challenged to perform in ways in which we’re not necessarily super comfortable, like narration, singing, making pretty little chorales on our ridiculous sounding mouthpieces (you must come to the show if only to see/ hear this part!)

Lest I remind you that a lot of those ideas were offered up by you guys! We had these great remedial sessions early on where I got to ask all my silly questions about what you each can do on your respective instruments. You offered up the Heller Copter (an amazing and subtle sound of percussive air moving through the bassoon that starts the whole piece) and the reed idea, which sparked Claire and Josh to dismantle their instruments and thus the somber, sweet and ridiculous trio was born! And it was also you renegade wind players who came up to me after a workshop rehearsal saying, "we want to sing!"

Nathan and Bridget were also was super generous in sharing their ideas and knowledge about the worlds of percussion and harp, respectively. And when Jennifer sent me a link to a beautiful song of hers, I knew I had to sing with her somewhere in the piece!

How did this piece challenge you?

The hardest part of any big unruly project like this is patience and faith. I start with these little strands of ideas, and wisps of material. I can only hope that they will weave themselves together and find an organic logic that makes a compelling journey, but there are a lot of months before that happens when the piece looks like a room full of tiny mosaic tiles that you have to somehow make a mural out of. That's also the fun part of course, ... watching bits of ideas find each other and connect one at a time!

What were your favorite aspects?

I love that there is a little bit of everyone sewn into the fabric of the piece; even the people who don't directly have dreams that are represented. Dan, for example, gave me an amazing dream early on. I didn't use it directly, but the idea of being on stage and not being able to play, gave us the idea of detuning his guitar as he played. Everyone, whether they contributed a dream image or not, really helped define the character of the music and the band. Phyllis has such a great arsenal of playful and evocative instruments... the music boxes that we use are hers. People engaged with the idea in whatever way they were compelled to, which made it all come together really organically.

What was it like collaborating with ICE?

Awesome. Life-changing. An affirmation of everything I love about being alive and playing music.

What are you looking forward to about repeat performances of this cycle?

Oh, I'm so glad we get to do it again! I imagine that it will shift and expand in ways that only come from familiarity. I was actually stunned by how comfortable it felt on the first time out, so I'm even more excited to see how we settle in to it!

January 30, 2013

Notes from Phyllis Chen on Chimers

From the composer

Program Notes for Music of Carla Kihlstedt and Phyllis Chen | ICElab on the MCA Stage

Glass Clouds We Have Known is an electro-acoustic audio/visual piece for bass clarinet, flute, nineteen mixing bowls, toy piano, electronics and video. The piece hopes to capture a dream-like, meditative state that explores  curious timbres and images through found objects.

Hush was written for miniature toy piano, three small mixing bowls, music box and prepared piano. Though the work uses a full-sized piano, it only employs the upper four octaves of the instrument, a range similar to the toy piano. The keyboard preparations involve music box bolts, rods and parts between the strings to manipulate the sonorities.  A tiny toy piano, bowls and music box are all played inside the piano, allowing the pedal of the acoustic piano to augment these timbres.

Mobius is a performance process-piece for two music boxes, a blank punch tape roll, scissors, hole puncher and live-electronics. As a toy pianist, it is natural that I would fall in love with music boxes—both instruments are made of metal tines and rely on a resonating chamber to sound. To create sound on a music box, I punch tiny holes in a paper tape roll that is then hand-cranked through a music box mechanism similar to a player-piano roll.   Each exposed hole allows one of the music box tines to sound. In this piece, the process of creating the piece becomes the piece itself. One performer punches holes in realtime while two other players are cranking the strip through the mechanism simultaneously. The strip is taped together in a Mobius fashion so that one music box plays the notes upside-down. The sounds are then looped in irregular fragments from the separate music boxes and manipulated through octave displacements and reverse. Through time, the piece becomes a rich collage of music box timbres similar to the ringing of bells.

Chimers was written for the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival.  ICE asked me to write a new work inspired by Mozart’s famous opera Die Zauberflote. Aside from the flute, chimes are also used in the opera as a magical instrument that protects Papageno and Tamino during their journey. The orchestration for the chimes in the original score is written for three "keyed" glockenspiels. I found this to be a  great entry point to use my toy piano. In this work, I used a toy piano along with another set of toy piano rods that are attached to the instrument, standing upright on top of the toy piano. These exposed rods are played by all five performers in the piece with tuning forks as mallets. The tuning forks  are made of a heavy metal, very similar to the rods of the toy piano, creating a metallic and electric rattling sound effect.  As the piece progresses, the forks are then played in their more "conventional" approach in a homophonic texture, singing/resonating on the body of the toy piano.

Watch Phyllis Chen and ICE perform Chimers on DigitICE.

January 25, 2013

ICE Solo(4): Confrontation and Introspection

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

ICE bassoonist Rebekah Heller wowed a crowd of over 100 patrons at Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery for ICE Solo(4) on Friday, January 18, 2013. She played an inspired pairing of works by two related composers, current ICElab participant Daniel R. Dehaan and his mentor Marcos Balter, an ICElab 2011 fellow. Rebekah herself described it best, speaking after the concert, “It was such a startling combination; Marcos’ piece was ‘I’m all in your face and I demand you hear this’ and Dan’s piece was all inward looking and entrancing. It was thrilling to play them in succession.” 

The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain. (from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein)

Like Stein’s prose, a combination of words chosen strictly for their sounds when strung together, Marcos’ . . . and also a fountain too operates on a non-rational level. The piece is a trio for bassoon, percussion, and speaker, but played by all one person. Amplification with substantial reverb also played a significant role in enabling overlapping sounds. With famed Chicago artist Richard Koppe’s Luminous as a backdrop, Rebekah began by sharply striking a wood block with a steel rod, and then intoning some of Stein’s Tender Buttons text, all with a “you will listen to me” attitude. When she turned to her bassoon, it was as often to percussively tap the keys as it was to blow thorough it. In addition to the wood block, she also struck a triangle and shook a small rattle. The heavy reverb ensured that previously played sounds sustained, providing a mesmerizing background to the music being actively played, then carrying the overlaid sounds into the future. Rebekah recited the text quietly, in a mystery-shrouded whisper.

As the piece progressed, the sounds built in strength, evoking a herd of animals running through the woods, then picked up further intensity as it neared the end. A cascade of swift hard hits on the block, screeching sounds from the bassoon, whistling and triangle played off each other. The reverb kept the final whistling audible, long after Rebekah had stopped.

Dan’s Violence for Isolation for bassoon and field-recorded sounds, though a radically different conception, also operates on a strictly non-rational plane. It opened with just the bassoon, evoking the sounds of the wind. Rebekah moved her instrument to and from the microphone to make the sound fade and increase, suggesting changes in the wind. When the recorded sounds entered, we were immersed in the natural environment. The first sounds were fairly quiet, like insects scampering on the forest floor. Rebekah’s playing and the recorded sounds steadily  increased in volume, reaching a crescendo that sounded like a raging glacial sluice of icy gravel-filled water cascading down the side of a mountain. As the volume reached its peak intensity, Rebekah stopped playing and let it wash over us all, then subside.

A second section ensued, as Rebekah played a wandering, almost sweet melody on the bassoon. Softer nature sounds of leaf rustling and sand blowing joined in. Reverb increased and Rebekah seemed to be accompanying herself on bassoon. Then Rebekah’s bassoon sounded quite like a foghorn and the reverb worked beautifully, overlaying the foghorn on itself. Appropriately, the background sounds shifted to seabirds and the lapping of waves. In the end, the bassoon slowly became quieter and quieter as the background sounds increased in volume. And everything faded to silence.

Listening/Watching Tips:

Watch a “rough cut” video of Rebekah Heller playing Daniel R. Dehaan’s Violence for Isolation (excerpt)

January 23, 2013

Notes from Carla Kihlstedt on At Night We Walk in Circles and Are Consumed By Fire

From the composer

Program Notes for Carla Kihlstedt | ICElab Premiere at Ecstatic Music Festival and Music of Carla Kihlstedt and Phyllis Chen | ICElab on the MCA Stage

I’ve always been struck by the dissonance between our waking and sleeping lives. We spend such significant time in each reality, but we have to leave one to enter the other, bringing with us only the faintest residue, image, or inarticulable sensation.

The title of the piece is a translation of a Latin palindrome: In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni. Each of these songs is inspired by a dream told to me either by one of the performers or by the public via a public dream blog page that we set up on facebook. Talking about a dream is kind of like sending a poem through translation software to every know language and then back again into its original tongue. And then, of course, the music and lyrics create a logic of their own that reorders it all and spins it into song.

We began conceiving this piece more than 18 months ago, and it’s been a wonderful experience to let it unfold and evolve over such a long time. Thanks so much to ICE and their openness and generosity, both musically and personally. And thanks to all of the people who fed the fires by submitting dreams to the blog. Although most of them do not appear in the piece, reading each and every one of them was a constant source of creative inspiration along the way.

January 16, 2013

ICE at Preston Bradley Hall—Two Centuries, Two Composers, Eight Musicians

The Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass dome in Preston Bradley Hall at Chicago Cultural Center

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

ICE breathed fresh new life into Franz Schubert’s Octet in F major, D. 803a, a revered warhorse of classical chamber music, by infusing it with the paroxysmal music of George Lewis. ICE used this unique program to kick off its Chicago new year in a free concert under the Louis Comfort Tiffany dome in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center on Sunday, January 6, 2013. Adding special excitement to the concert, ICE CEO and Artistic Director Claire Chase told the crowd we were fortunate to have one of the composers in the house. “No, its not Franz Schubert,” she said, deadpanning that Franz “for some reason is not returning my calls. But we are honored to have Chicago music legend George Lewis here today with several members of his family.”

George introduced the program, saying he was intrigued when he first heard the idea of intermixing two of his highly improvisational compositions with the Schubert Octet, though not at all sure it would work. “But after hearing the combination in rehearsals,” he said, “I think that it all works marvelously well together.”

Composer George Lewis introducing the ICE program of his works combined with the Schubert Octet at Chicago Cultural Center

The Schubert Octet is grand chamber music of symphonic breadth and weight. It is too seldomly played, perhaps because its unusual orchestration does not fit any typical chamber group makeup, or maybe because of its length -- six movements lasting nearly an hour. George’s pieces Artificial Life and Shadowgraph 5 are as distant in conception from the Schubert as the nearly 200 years between their creations would indicate. But the flexibility in George’s scores makes the works highly malleable to the musicians’ intentions.

ICE musicians Rebekah Heller (bassoon), David Byrd-Marrow (horn), Josh Rubin (clarinet), Randy Zigler (bass), Maiya Papich (viola), Katinka Kleijn (cello), and David Bowlin and Erik Carlson (violins) used the same instruments called for in the Schubert to employ George’s works as a lens through which to examine the inner workings of the Octet. Beginning with Artificial Life (part I), the players dispersed to eight stations spread throughout the audience. This was our third hearing of the work, each radically different. This time, it featured far more melodic content, no doubt from being juxtaposed with the Schubert.

The octet then arrayed themselves in a circle at center stage, directly under the glittering Tiffany dome, to play the first two movements of the Schubert. Both the

contrasts and the connections were readily apparent, as if Artificial Life had showcased the raw materials which were then smelted into Schubert’s masterwork.

The ensemble then alternated segments of Shadowgraph 5 with two movements of Schubert, culminating in the Andante molto/Allegro. This stirring finale summed up the range of emotions assayed in the piece. Danger walked in via tremolo strings; the lighter allegro ensued, saying things might not be so grim after all. But wait, is danger still lurking? No, it’s OK...nothing we can’t handle. To close, the players returned to Artificial Life (part II), deconstructing all that had come before it into the bare elements of brass and wooden tubes with valves, hollow wooden boxes with stretched steel strings and horsehair bows.

Listening/Watching Tips:

•Watch members of ICE with guests Steve Lehman, Tyshawn Sorey, and Nicole Mitchell play George Lewis’ Artificial Life at Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on February 5, 2012.


January 14, 2013

Oberlin CME, the Wellspring of ICE

[Ed. note from Arlene and Larry Dunn: Members of ICE will perform as special guests with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble at DiMenna Center in New York on Friday, January 18. We asked our friend Will Roane, social media maven at Oberlin Conservatory, to write us a preview.]

Let’s talk about ICE and its history with CME, Oberlin Conservatory’s Contemporary Music Ensemble.

Oh, wait. There’s way too much to say for one blog post. Good point.

So let’s talk about ICE’s upcoming performance at the DiMenna Center with the CME. That’s more doable. This concert marks a special occasion for the two ensembles. ICE, now mature and strong, grew out of the nurturing, yet rigorous, environment of the CME. But because ICE has done so well in its ten years of existence, it’s not difficult to see that the ensemble now has a chance to give back to the members of the CME.


Why, through the invaluable chance for Oberlin Conservatory students to share the stage with professional musicians of ICE (many of whom are OC alumni) who are making a meaningful mark on the contemporary music scene through innovation in all areas - including programming, performance, and their organizational model. But, of course, both ensembles most look forward to bringing music that they love to everyone who can squeeze into the sold-out DiMenna Center.

The concerts will feature John Zorn’s The Tempest, featuring ICE founder Claire Chase (OC '01) on flute, Joshua Rubin, (OC '99 on clarinet, and Nathan Davis on percussion. Claire Chase will also perform in Alter of Two Serpents by Mario Diaz De Leon (OC '04).  ICE member and OC Professor of Violin David Bowlin (OC ’00) will be the featured violin soloist for Luciano Berio’s Corale. Additionally, the DiMenna Center will fill with the sounds of Lament for Réjà Vu by Tom Lopez (OC '88), OC visiting Professor of Composition Eric Wubbles’s Alphabeta (featuring ICE's Ross Karre, '05, on percussion, and Jacob Greenberg, '96, on piano) OC Composer-in-Residence David Lang’s Sweet Air, and Compline, by Christopher Rouse (OC ’71).

The CME + ICE performances are just one of four concerts by Oberlin ensembles in New York next week. There’s more information at www.oberlin.edu/nyc2013tour. See you in New York!

[Update: the 8:00pm concert has sold out! You can still reserve tickets for the 10pm program by emailing public.programs@oberlin.edu.]

January 10, 2013

Daniel R. Dehaan on Violence for Isolation | Rebekah Heller ICEsolo(4) at Corbett vs. Dempsey

From the composer

Program Notes for ICEsolo(4) at Corbett vs. Dempsey | Rebekah Heller, bassoon

From its inception, to its completion Violence for Isolation has seen a bit of the world. The creation process began with an email from Rebekah Heller while she was in Köln Germany with ICE this past May. In it she described her vision as being “something glacial and epic and strange and beautiful and raw all at once.” Around the same time as Rebekah and I began planning our project, my father and I were planning a motorcycle trip from San Francisco to Alaska and back. Immediately after reading Rebekah’s email I thought there was nothing more glacial, or epic, or strange, or beautiful, or raw, and all of these things at once, than Alaska. Rebekah and I both agreed that the first thing to be done was for me to pack up some recording equipment, catch a plane to California, get on a motorcycle, and head north.

The trip took just under a month and covered nearly three-thousand miles. Starting in San Francisco we headed north through the state of Washington, across the border to the Canadian Rockies, turning northwest in Jasper National Park, and catching the beginning of the Alaskan Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. From there we continued north over the Top of the World Highway to Fairbanks, Alaska. Turning for the first time south, we road through Denali National Park, stopping for my morning coffee at a road side diner that looked up the southeastern face of Mount McKinley. After pausing to fix a flat tire we wound our way down to a small fishing port and boarded a ferry that would take us through the inland passage known as the Alaskan Marine Highway. The final stretch of the trip took us from Seattle to San Francisco via the picturesque Highway 1, camping for our final night on the sea cliffs just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Over the course of the trip I made countless hours of field recordings. I focused on the spaces and sounds that captivated my attention, and became particularly fascinated with listening to things that my eyes took great pleasure in, an endless view, the midnight sun stretching through a northern forest, or the stillness of the Pacific Ocean in an early morning fog. 

Although Rebekah couldn’t join me on the trip, we did our best to stay in contact, sharing pictures, emails, text messages, a post card, and later the recordings that were captured on the trip. When I returned to Chicago, Rebekah and I had multiple Skype meetings, starting with just simply talking about the trip and the project in general, and later experimenting with the sounds and techniques of the bassoon. What I wanted to investigate through the use of the recordings and the bassoon was the experience I had in capturing and then retrospectively listening to these moments that will forever be ingrained in my memory, comparing and contrasting what my eyes remember and what the microphones captured. It wasn’t until we were both in Berlin this past November that Violence for Isolation really came to life.

I had the privilege of joining ICE for a seventy-two hour residency and concert at Krome Gallery in Berlin. The concept of the residency was to put on display the entire process of planning, preparing, and performing a concert. Over the course of the seventy-two hours, Rebekah and I had a few late night jam sessions, an afternoon workshop, and concluded with an evening performance, all of which were open to the public. It was a unique experience to be able to share not only the finished product but also the process of creating it, to show how important collaboration is between performer and composer, how it allows for a tangible approach to musical creation. Having this time to work with Rebekah allowed me to really hear how the sounds of the bassoon interacted with the field recordings, what the pacing of the music felt like in the natural reverberence of a room, and if the spaces I was seeking to create really enveloped around the listener the way that I hoped they would. 

On January 18th Rebekah and I are excited to share the results of this adventure at  the Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery in Chicago, along with the piece ...and also a fountain (2012) by my friend and mentor Marcos Balter. I look forward to seeing you all there!

-- Daniel R. Dehaan

December 29, 2012

Ross Karre: digitICE 2012 year in review

I've had a somewhat unique vantage from which to view ICE's 2012 year of concerts and tours. I'm a percussionist in the group along with Nathan Davis but I also capture, edit, and manage all of ICE's documentation efforts. Much of this material ends up on our media library, “digitICE”. DigitICE has amassed an incredible number of pieces within its short history. It's not surprising, ICE documents nearly every show it presents. With over 70 concerts last year, we've been able to post a staggering number of pieces to this free online resource. From behind the camera to in front of the computer editing software, I get a chance to view and review ICE's performances. It's a pretty sweet job.

It seems every radio station, news outlet, and blog uses the final days of a given year as a time to take stock and list a top ten of this or that category. I would like to start an annual tradition of recapping ICE's dense performance calendars with a “best of digitICE” blog entry. Ranking them is too difficult so instead I'm going to list them chronologically. It's more like a highlight reel.

George Lewis: Artificial Life at MCA Chicago with an all star cast:

ICElab workshops with Lisa R. Coons and Carla Kihlstedt

George Aperghis's brand new work with Tony Arnold as soloist at MCA Chicago:

Marcos Balter's new piece for Claire:

Our incredible tour of Brazil:

Mostly Mozart at Lincoln Center:

Our tribute to John Cage:

ICElab premieres at the Roulette in Brooklyn:

The new territory explored in Berlin at the Krome Gallery:

ICE also performed numerous incredible concerts in venues in which we weren't allowed to video and audio record. Fond memories of our Aperghis, Boulez, and Neuwirth shows will have to remain in the concert hall along with my absolute favorite concert of the year: Susanna Mälkki conducting Messiaen, Jukka Tiensuu, Harvey, and Francesconi at the Rose Theater for the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.

December 12, 2012

Notes from Patricia Alessandrini and Juan Pablo Carreño

From the composer

Program Notes for Self-Fictions | ICElab Premieres at BAC: Patricia Alessandrini and Juan Pablo Carreño

Gurre-Klänge is a half-hour performance involving one voice, a singing flutist and twelve other instrumentalists, resonating surfaces, and video projection by Ross Karre. This staged work will be the culmination of my ICELab residency. I had originally proposed another theatrical work, but changed my plans entirely when a new idea arose from discussions with the members of ICE. This happened in our very first meeting in Brooklyn. It began with a discussion of the particular way in which I compose: I choose a work from the existing repertoire, and perform what I consider to be an 'interpretation' of the work, by re-composing it. We talked about some of the repertoire which interests me, and when some of the less-performed works of Arnold Schoenberg came up, Claire, intrepid as ever, said she would love for ICE to play a transcription of his Gurre-Lieder, a turn-of-the-century work for multiple voices and large orchestra (about 400 musicians in all). The notion of taking on this mammoth work as an original composition rather than a transcription, performed by singers and musicians but also by multiple objects taking on a life of their own, immediately appealed to me. I thus decided to compose Gurre-Klänge, a collection of sounds and images from Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder.

Gurre-Lieder has particular resonances, as a late Romantic work which in a sense haunted Schoenberg when he was first experimenting with the freely atonal and twelve-tone systems which would later exercise an enormous influence on 20th Century music; Schoenberg's letters and diaries of this period attest to his ambivalence in regard to this grandiose work, which received a certain critical acclaim at the time, while his atonal works were often greeted with scorn, scandal, and even violent reactions from the public. In response to this context, Gurre-Klänge explores expressivity, chromaticism, dissonance, and traces of tonality in a microtonal context enhanced by the use of amplification and live electronics. Gurre-Klänge also includes a movement for string quartet, which is an interpretation of Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht, which shares stylistic characteristics of  Gurre-Lieder and is contemporaneous with it (although Gurre-Lieder spans a longer time period, as it was orchestrated approximately ten years after its initial composition). The text of Gurre-Klänge consists in part of 'homophonic translations' of J.P. Jacobsen’s Gurre-Sange (of which Schoenberg set a German translation) by poets Tony Alessandrini and Elena Tomorowitz: without reading a translation of the original Danish text, they found sonic equivalents for each word in English, thus constructing a new text out of the sound rather than the meaning of the original. Some of the text by Tony Alessandrini was derived 'homophonically', but by a different process: I took various recordings of Gurre-Lieder and combined and modified them - by time-stretching, transposing, or reversing them, for example - and then asked him to transcribe what he was hearing into English. The combined and modified recordings also provide the musical material for the work as a whole: I also attempt to 'transcribe' these sounds for the instruments and objects which will perform them.

-Patricia Alessandrini


In some of my music I feature an acoustical phenomenon caused by the clash of different planes of sound. It's what I call "disjunctive music". The disjunctive relationship is not exclusive to this clash of acoustical planes; I'm also fascinated by the idea of a performing musician confronting and discovering the hyper-amplified version of oneself.

In Self-Fictions these ideas play out in an acoustic space filled with organ and synthesized sounds: this self-discovery is forced into an environment where silence is not possible. In Self-Fiction I, the chromatic ascension of the clarinet and the obfuscation of the instrumental ensemble behind the electronic sounds are forms of escape that recall childhood musical memories: souvenirs of strange wind ensembles at public celebrations. In Self-Fiction II, the windows open and we hear fragmented verses by Porfirio Barba-Jacob presented as jackhammers that caress the ear: like waking up at a construction site intruding on La Villette in Paris, a bit like the unreal and suspended time of Rome as seen from the Pincio.

-Juan Pablo Carreño

December 7, 2012

Marcos Balter on Passará | ICE at MOCP

From the composer

Program Notes for Passará | ICE at MOCP

I came back from ICE’s Brazilian tour this past summer feeling more patriotic than ever. Rio’s once timid new music scene has grown into an ebullient and eclectic collective of amazingly creative artists and new music groups. São Paulo’s current new music scene is hard to absorb at once given its size; I’ve met at least ten different contemporary ensembles while there, and saw beautiful performances of works by many Brazilian composers that I didn’t know before. Manaus was truly a spiritual journey, and I was completely overwhelmed by the affection and enthusiasm of so many young musicians, all thirsty for more new music.

But, the true magic was to witness how ICE connected with all these different scenes as if they’d been working with them forever. Every master class ended up with people telling me how life-changing it was, every concert left audiences searching for words and asking for more (ICE ran out of CDs before even reaching Manaus), and every informal interaction among ICE members and Brazilian artists felt like a viable seed had just been planted and a true friendship had just been ignited. The ICE model was an absolute hit in Brazil.

ICE is bringing to Chicago a small sample of all the fun we had in the tour. I am honored to serve as the MC of this event, and to share the bill with three amazing colleagues, two from Rio (Daniel Puig and Arthur Kampela) and one from São Paulo (Alexandre Lunsqui). Their sensibilities couldn’t be more contrasting. Daniel’s expansive and freeing music is built at around his love for improvisation and his electronic music expertise. Alex’s music is a seductive and delicate etching of carefully imagined timbres. Arthur’s music is muscular, energetic, and absolutely theatrical. The fact the four of us are so different from one another is what makes me so proud of this new Brazilian scene. There’s no “Brazilian sound”: we are proud of our “aesthetic miscegenation,” our lack of stylistic agenda, and our collective love of individualism.

As said, this concert is just a taste of what is going on in Brazil right now. You should also listen to the beautiful music of Felipe Lara, Roberto Toscano, Jocy de Oliveira, Vicente Alexim, Marisa Rezende, Marcos Vieira Lucas, Sergio Kafejian, and so many other remarkable contemporary Brazilian composers. Luckily, as ICE’s Brazilian ties grow stronger, I’m confident you will very soon.

I hope to see you all this Saturday, e viva a música brasileira!

-Marcos Balter

November 27, 2012

ICE with Olga Neuwirth Preview

A video preview of ce qui arrive | ICE with Olga Neuwirth at Miller Theatre on December 6, 2012

November 14, 2012

Notes from Carlos Iturralde and Tyshawn Sorey

From the composer

Program Notes for Cupid's Deeds | Music of Tyshawn Sorey and Carlos Iturralde

Facing an old idea is like facing a shapeless monster, it deals with imprecise memories and projection. Cupid's Deeds is a concept that I thought of back in 2005; it is a piece about the pulse generated by combination of frequencies, about searching for specific tuning and timbre colorations by means of overlapping beatings at different speeds, and about recycling and deriving. In the piece, I'm pulling together features that I find quite special in the Jarocho Son tradition, and particularly in the song El Cupidito. My main motivation to write Cupid's Deeds is to extract the essence of what I hear in this music in order to re-contextualize it.

I always thought of Cupid’s Deeds as a piece divided in two contrasting, jointed movements (Outermost and Innermost), each focusing on different items of El Cupidito. Outermost forms a sort of armor or skin for Innermost, where the true core is revealed. I wanted Outermost to focus on attacks, resonance and plucked sounds, whereas Innermost is all about sustained tones. Seven years went by and I was only able to compose the second part until the opportunity came up to work with ICE. The first question that arises by this situation is: Why did I compose the second movement first? For Outmost, I composed with a clear idea in mind, I was given the terms and duration of the piece I was to write. The piece didn't feel whole, I had to postpone it. Innermost was conceived during a workshop. It was created through exploration, and I took that opportunity to finish the larger piece.

I tend to speculate a lot when composing, that is the part that I enjoy the most about creating. I pile up material—most of which I’ll dispose of—then, I like to strip the instruments to their most basic form and think of specific ways to exploit them in accordance with the rules that my piece sets forth.

In Outermost, very little is left from my original idea. This is partly because I was a different composer seven years ago, but also because some key parts of this piece are different: For example, on ICE's request, the piece was written to be conductor-less, an idea that I found very interesting, and one that forced me to rethink the very basic matters of the piece.

There will probably be many elements of an experiment present in the premiere. Regardless, I’m sure it will come ever closer to the complete piece that I've been envisioning all these years. I’d like to thank ICE members for their patience and enthusiasm, I’m very grateful to have the chance to get this piece performed by them.

-Carlos Iturralde


Upon my first collaborations with the ICE as a performer, I was immediately struck by the fact that their performances center on a diverse community of composers whose work draws inspiration from manifold musical perspectives. It became apparent to me that such a display of diversity fosters a healthy environment for the experience of the music of our time as not only an external means, but as a way of life in this world that we now live in.

Upon deciding to pursue music as my life’s work, I have been consistently pursuing models of collaboration (such as ICELab) that allow me to extend my compositional methodology with relevance to my interests as an artist. As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, I look to compositional models that express life experiences through sound, as manifested in the music of Duke Ellington, Anthony Braxton, Steve Coleman, John Zorn, and Charles Mingus, to name a few.

Following in this vein, my ICELab cycle, entitled Vignette, proposed a method for me to explore composition as a space in which intense preparation, formal development, and reflective analyses co-exist with spontaneous musical decision-making and real-time development. During my completion of Vignette, I began researching the music of Ethiopia as well as Jewish cantorial works while drawing further inspiration from performances by artists such as American saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) and Getachew Merkuria (1935 -) — two very important figures in the field of improvised music who developed similar approaches to modal improvisation during the late 1950’s. In addition, the solo piano music of Gust Burns, Anthony Braxton, Morton Feldman, and Art Tatum has had a profound influence on my work. I find that my performances as an multi-instrumentalist center on these differing approaches to improvisation in music, and because I believe that music is such that it deals in life experiences, I decided to consider these musical ideas as a principal generator for the development of these compositions.

The experience of working on these pieces with Professor George Lewis (Edwin H. Case professor of American Music at Columbia University) and with members of ICE proved to be highly valuable, in that the lively discussions and rehearsals that took place became instrumental for self-redefinition and served as an important model in reformulating my work. As exemplified in the works of Lewis, Braxton, Mingus, and others, I became inspired to work towards a synthesis of notated music and improvisation in a single sound world, a process that helped to intensify my inner passions as a composer/improviser. Coupled with my sessions with Lewis, developing this material with the musicians of ICE aided me in gaining a better understanding of incorporating these media in ways that I am only now beginning to realize.

I would like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to three very important individuals whom I could not have been more pleased to work with during this past year—George Lewis, Claire Chase, and Joshua Rubin. I will always remain grateful for their endless hours spent listening to my ideas, and challenging them. I sincerely thank these individuals for their insight, encouragement, and enthusiasm. I could not be more excited and grateful for the occasion to present my work in this format. Many thanks to ICE performers Peter Evans, Daniel Lippel, Eric Lamb, Dan Peck, Rebekah Heller, Cory Smythe, Ross Karre, David Byrd-Marrow, and Erik Carlson for their imagination and for their tireless efforts in realizing these work in the highest level possible. And finally, a very special thanks to Amanda L. Scherbenske for her support and inspiration.

-Tyshawn Sorey

November 1, 2012

Lisa Coons on “Mesh” and ICElab

From the composer

By Lisa R. Coons

I am a composer and sound artist with three primary objectives. First,
I aspire to evolve conceptually and aesthetically through constant
collaboration. By working closely with other artists, I want to push
beyond my own idiomatic language and feel creatively culpable at every
level of the process—I believe this results in an ever-growing
artistic vocabulary and more honest work. Second, I endeavor to treat
music as an embodied practice—always taking into account the physical
presence of the performer in creating sound. This ensures that the
music is a social practice and a shared art; a performance must be
seen for the music to be fully heard. Third, and perhaps most
important, I strive to ground each piece in emotional experience and
memory, rather than relying  purely on an aesthetic departure point.
My fundamental goal is to compose music I know to be thoughtful and
sincere. This ICELab project embodies those objectives more than
anything that I have done in the past.

Mesh is collaborative; it is shaped, composed, choreographed, designed
and revised by everyone involved and would not have been the same
piece with different musicians, or different dancers. This work is
about the visceral self as much as it is about sound or concept. All
who are performing—whether musician or dancer—are an important
physical entity in space as well as an individual who makes sound.
Mesh is a study of vulnerability and connection. The piece puts a
spotlight on sensation, on the fundamental aspects of shared
experience made rich and complex through layers of different
perspectives. Musicians and dancers at times act as a single entity,
while at others are divergent, pushing against one another; throughout
they are integral and interdependent.

October 30, 2012

ICElab Confidential: Daniel Dehaan in the Crucible of Composition

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

[Ed: ICE fans Arlene and Larry Dunn are following ICElab participant Daniel Dehaan as he works with his ICE collaborators over the next year to create a new evening length composition. They will be reporting on the process as it unfolds.]

ICElab composer Dan Dehaan works the Ableton Live mixing board for Sound Room prototyping.

ICElab 2013 participant Daniel Dehaan’s life is a bit of blur right now. He is teaching composition and electronic music technology at Columbia College Chicago. He just started the Doctoral program in music composition at Northwestern University, where he is also teaching Aural Skills. Many days he is on the NU shuttle racing between NU’s Evanston campus and Columbia in Chicago’s South Loop to meet this commitments. Through all this, Dan is developing multiple new compositions: a new work for Bassoon and Electronics for ICE member Rebekah Heller to be premiered in Berlin and Chicago, Intelligence in the Human-Machine for Brainwave Machine and solo Violoncello for ICE member Katinka Kleijn (part of an installation at Chicago Cultural Center in January). And of course he is hard at work on the early stages of his ICElab commission.

Dan envisions his new piece for ICE as a musical composition, sound installation, and immersive experience for the audience. Many details are yet to be worked out, including the venue, which ideally would be a multi-room postindustrial space. The sound design for the ICElab composition/installation is a crucial element of the overall piece. Thanks to a grant from High Concept Laboratories in Chicago, Dan is working right now on developing the sound spatialization ideas he will use in his ICElab piece in a project called Sound Room, in which he is collaborating with fellow composers and sound wizards Kyle Vegter and Ryan Ingebritsen.

ICElab composer Dan Dehaan on keyboard with his Sound Room collaborators.

The studio space at HCL presents fascinating sonic possibilities. The building is a former industrial space with exposed massive timbers, wood floors, and brick walls. On Sunday, October 20, 2012, Dan, Kyle, and Ryan convened at HCL to prototype their preliminary sound designs. They were ably assisted by multi-faceted artist Billie Howard on electric violin, composer-performer Katie Young on bassoon, and composer Harley Gingras on electronics. They manipulated live improvised music and effects through computer-based music mixing and distribution tools (Ableton Live and MAX/MSP) to 14 separate speakers channels they had wired throughout the building. It was fascinating to hear the music swirling around the room and throughout the building. There are no smooth, even surfaces, so the sound qualities were different almost any place we chose to sit or stand.

When we spoke with Dan afterwards, he explained that music composition has traditionally been conceived as manipulating sound and time. With his ICElab piece and other recent works, Dan is consciously manipulating the third element of space. The spatialization of his ICElab composition will depend in part on the chosen venue. But Dan will include details in the score itself that enable the piece to be adapted to any space by future performers. We can’t wait to hear how all this will sound in the end. In the near term, the sound-design prototyping Dan is doing for Sound Room will be presented in a public demonstration at HCL on November 3, 2012.

ICElab composer Dan Dehaan playing electronic keyboard for a Sound Room improvisation session

Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com)

Listening/Watching Links:
Exploratory Sound Room Improvisations.
Selection of Daniel Dehaan’s compositions.


October 25, 2012

Pictures from Seattle with the Seattle Symphony

A Photo Blog Entry

October 17, 2012

Dai Fujikura on his New Work, “Mina”

Photo by Jin Ohashi (© Jin Ohashi)

From the composer

Program Note from Dai Fujikura: Mina | ICE with the Seattle Symphony

By Dai Fujikura 

This is the first piece I composed after the birth of my first child. I started a month after she ("Mina") was born. When I completed the piece, she was a five-month-old baby!

I was truly inspired by attending the childbirth (not that I did anything there), especially by the sight of a newborn baby. I was amazed how one's life on earth starts so suddenly. This piece also begins as if it starts in the middle; the soloists play together at first, as if they were one instrument. I wanted to show how rapidly the mood of the music shifts from one mood to another, just as if you were looking at the baby's face, which displays four expressions in one second...

Also in the middle of the piece, the bass flute solo is accompanied by prepared dulcimer and bells and so on; I imagined it as a dreaming section. It is strange, looking at a one-month-old baby: you can tell clearly she is dreaming, but about what, I wonder. She has only been here for a month; what can she see, to make her smile or cry, so vivid is her dream. I found this experience both mysterious and peaceful, looking over the crib she is sleeping in.

Mina was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and co-commissioned by Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra. This piece was written for an orchestra with five soloists who are from ICE—a chamber ensemble with whom I have long-standing relationship and with whom I can work most intimately.  Despite the fact we have a vast ocean between us (I live in London, ICE is in New York), we communicated via Skype and email, recording samples on phones and computers and sending them back and forth; I felt as if they were in my room in London while I composed. I think that this is the best composer-player relationship you can ask for!

The orchestra's role is to surround the soloists, almost like parents do to their children; they react, sometimes initiate the reaction, sometimes there are five different concerti playing simultaneously with specific coupling between the solo instrument and orchestral instruments.

So obviously this piece was written in very special time of my life.

October 13, 2012

Chance Control or Controlled Chance? ICE Fuses Cage with Boulez at MCA Chicago

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

Detail from the score of Aria (1942) by John Cage

ICE presented a provocative program at MCA Chicago on Saturday, October 6, 2012, inspired by the centennial celebration of John Cage’s birth. ICE Artist-in-Residence Steve Schick and Artistic Director/CEO Claire Chase conjured up a magic brew. Well-documented correspondence between Cage and his younger colleague Pierre Boulez in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s provided the genesis of an idea to interleave and juxtapose some of their compositions.

Cage was making waves in the contemporary music world using chance operations in composing. Boulez was fascinated with the effects Cage’s new processes produced, but was troubled at the prospect of leaving matters entirely to chance. This tension prompted Claire and Steve to create a program that highlights both differences and similarities in the resulting works. The infrastructure for the program was Boulez’s 1953-4 chamber masterpiece Le Marteau sans maitre, scored for mezzo-soprano, flutes, viola, guitar, and percussion. Interspersed with the nine movements of Marteau were nine iconic Cage compositions which fit that instrumentation.

This heady admixture of sounds and silences held the sold-out audience in its thrall. From the opening notes of the first movement of Marteau, Avant “l’artisanant furieux” for viola, alto flute, guitar, and percussion, Steve and the ensemble drew us into an airy sound world of luminous shimmering surfaces, punctuated by frequent abrupt pauses. The companion piece, Music for two, for flute and viola, from Music For ______ (1984-87), revealed Cage working in a strikingly similar milieu, though it felt very free and open where the Boulez exuded a sense of precise control.

The pairing of Marteau “l’artisanant furieux”, for voice and alto flute with Cage’s Aria (1942) for voice and extraneous sounds provided the first stunning climax of the evening. This segment provided the entry for guest artist mezzo-soprano Jessica Azodi, and what a dazzling entry it was. In the Marteau, Eric Lamb’s flute was a swooping bird leading Jessica through a gorgeous melodic flight with sudden leaps and swoons on the scale. Then, Jessica launched into Aria with reckless abandon. The score requires the singer to choose ten distinctly different vocal timbres, represented as graphic forms colored in ten hues, and sing a jumble of nonsense syllables and words in five different languages. It was a cinematic pastiche. Jessica joyously careened through the scenes, now an opera diva, here a blues singer, there a crazed cartoon character, then a delirious alley cat. Throughout, her band mates accompanied her with a barrage of extraneous noises: foot stomping, coughing, paper crumpling, clapping. We were baffled, amazed, and amused.

Another pinnacle of the concert came at its center pivot point with Cage’s 4’33”. We had the magical experience of hearing it once before in the presence of John Cage at a concert celebrating Merce Cunningham’s 70th birthday. This experience was nearly as thrilling as our more naive selves found it 23 years ago. With the ensemble sitting in stoic inaction, we heard the music of humming ventilation, buzzing lights, shuffling feet, creaking bones, clearing throats, and the scratching of our own pens on paper.

With an ensemble of only seven players, we had wondered at first why we needed a conductor. We quickly understood that the precision required in Marteau, especially those sudden stops, would border on impossible without one. Then we learned a conductor was just as essential in Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis. With the players augmented by members of Ensemble Dal Niente arrayed across the front of the hall and up the stairways, Steve did a bravura turn that was part conductor and part Merce Cunningham imitation, as he meticulously led the musicians in every direction around him. 

The concert finale paired the last movement of Marteau with Cage’s Amores, Movement III. At the end of Marteau, with Jessica’s voice transformed to a coequal instrument in the ensemble, the Boulez piece sounded its most Cage-like. In Amores III, an airily quiet piece of precise strikes on wood blocks, we found Cage sounded his most like Boulez.

Considering this exhilarating concert in retrospect, we have concluded that Boulez harnessed chance operations in his unwavering quest to achieve his own definitive aesthetic of musical beauty. For Cage, on the other hand, chance was a core element of his aesthetic, enabling him to create musical beauty unforeseen by him until he found it. Vive la différence!

October 4, 2012

Steven Schick on the Correspondence Between Cage and Boulez

From the conductor

Notes from Correspondence: Cage and Boulez on the MCA Stage

By Artist In Residence Steven Schick

Legend has it that around 1950 the thirty-eight-year-old John Cage and the twenty-five-year-old Pierre Boulez became good friends. Each saw in the other a kindred spirit, and for several years they exchanged letters that testify to a close even intimate rapport. But as their friendship grew so did fundamental differences of opinion about music and the creative process. Boulez was developing complex and disciplined compositional strategies while Cage sought to release himself from dogma and structure. Eventually friction became greater than fluency and their relationship ground to a halt. Like other famous flawed friendships—Morton Feldman and Philip Guston, who quarreled over the value of the perfected object in art; John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who fought about whether music needed to reach beyond itself to embrace the real world—Cage and Boulez became another object lesson in aesthetic compatibility. Apparently opposites do not attract. It’s best to stick with a like-minded cohort.

That’s the legend. But I don’t buy it.

Mind you, I don’t have even the slightest actual insight into the Boulez-Cage friendship other than having read their famous correspondence.

But I do know their scores from this period, and the myth that Boulez was the serious defender of musical rigor while Cage was the all-inclusive Zen master doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Betty Freeman, the great doyenne of contemporary music, once told me that their friendship failed because Boulez couldn’t accept Cage’s assertion that eating mushroom was art. This may have been a symptom, but it couldn’t have been the cause.

The Boulez-Cage correspondence is a series of letters, written mostly in French, starting in the late 1940s and ending in 1954 about the time that Boulez was hard at work on Le marteau sans maître, the work that forms the spine of tonight’s concert.

They are at times generous and warm, often full of wonky composition talk, occasionally tending toward the banal. They tell us a lot about how different life was for young composers in the early 1950s (letters addressed to hotels along tours rather than as texts or e-mail), and they show some commonalties (how to get a new piece played for a receptive audience). They reinforce that Cage was by far the older and more experienced composer (see Boulez’s innocent question when Cage invited him to teach at Middleboro: “You will blush at my ignorance . . . where is Vermont?”)

But what the letters do not show is much serious disagreement about the fundamental musical issues facing them. Each articulated the need for a highly constructed compositional methodology that tied the surface of music to deep structures. Each was suspicious of the conventional expressive markers of emotion and intuition in musical composition and performance.

In fact looking at their letters in combination with their scores leads this writer to imagine that their friendship faltered not because their philosophies were so different but precisely because they were so similar.

They had remarkably similar goals, of formal and interpretative purity, but their strategies for realizing them differed substantially. Boulez endeavored to extend the rational project of Anton Webern and the rhythmic one of Olivier Messiaen—in essence rephrasing the past—whereas Cage, equally rigorously, had embarked on the search for new chance structures rooted in the ontology of the unknown and thereby to divorce himself from the past. One of them wanted to remember and the other to forget.

We seek to capture the flavor if not the particulars of their rapport by interposing short pieces by Cage between the movements of Le marteau.

We’ll hear the pulsating multi-cultural percussion writing in Boulez’s Commentaire I de “Bourreaux de solitude” followed by its prequel from 1943 in the Chinese tom-toms of Cage’s Amores. The angularity of Avant l’Artisanat Furieux is mirrored by its indeterminate twin Music For ________.

At the mid-point of our concert each composer deploys his most formidable weaponry. Featuring his first use of the full ensemble and full array of harmonic strategies, “Bourreaux de solitude” is Boulez’s essay on musical saturation, more indebted in terms of texture to Maurice Ravel than to Darmstadt. In the Cagian universe saturation is represented in its purest form by silence.

Directly preceding Bourreaux is 4’33”— possibly the purest (and perhaps most beautiful) musical statement of the twentieth century. To the extent that the narrative of

the Cage-Boulez friendship is embedded in this concert, the juxtaposition of these two pieces represents its most intimate apogee.

From here the gulf widens. Bourreaux is followed by the noise of an ensemble of radios; the second Commentaire by the star chart of Atlas Eclipticalis. Finally there is the “double” version of Bel édifice, a study in memory where the disparate threads of musical materials and René Char’s atomized verse are drawn together in symbiosis. In Le marteau the past has been remembered and reformulated; the voice has become an instrument; the apparent similarities between Le marteau sans maître and Pierrot Lunaire have been made evident. But the last word is given to the third movement of Amores. This is music nearly without precedent—as simple a statement of formal intent rendered with as simple a set of sounds as has been heard since Guillaume de Machaut.

Our aim is not to be didactic; we were simply curious. As products of a dichotomous musical education in which modernism and experimen- talism were often falsely pitted against one another, we wondered whether two of the most profiled representatives of those schools were really antithetical to one another. Might Cage and Boulez continue to correspond even today through their music? We’ll leave final observa- tions to you. But as we celebrate Cage’s hun- dredth birthday this year it’s worth returning to a letter Boulez wrote to Cage on his seventieth birthday, in 1982. “If you had not existed,” Boulez wrote, “history would have had to invent you. Fortunately for us, though, you had the genius to invent yourself.”

September 19, 2012

Dreaming in Technicolor: Nuiko Wadden, ICE Solo(3) at Corbett vs. Dempsey

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

ICE member Nuiko Wadden showcased her fierce harp artistry in ICE Solo(3) at Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery in Chicago on Friday, September 14, 2012. In his opening remarks, gallery co-owner John Corbett said he had requested harp music for its magical qualities, as a fitting match to the striking paintings of Robert Lostutter currently on exhibit. In his catalog essay for the show, John refers to the vibrant, jewel-like hues Lostutter achieves, “. . . a Technicolor mix and match, genetically programmed for tripping.” Whether intentional or serendipitous, Nuiko offered a program of stunning works for harp, featuring Angélica Negrón’s Technicolor as its centerpiece.

Nuiko began the program with a brief incantatory piece from John Luther Adams’ Five Yup’ik Dances, capturing everyone’s rapt attention. Negrón’s Technicolor, for solo harp and electronics, examines the past through the present’s prism. The magic John spoke of craving was evident from the first notes. Nuiko’s jagged opening glissandos echoed the eerie prerecorded sounds, luring us into a dreamscape every bit as colorful as Lostutter’s unsettling images. She prodded, poked, plucked and slapped the harp strings to unique sonic effects. She stroked strings with spoons and bent notes with in-the-instant retuning. A young girl’s voice amid the prerecorded sounds echoed percussive runs. As Nuiko wove her playing to its conclusion, we heard the young girl as if down a long hall, “I found something!”

Next Nuiko turned to Ernst Krenek’s Sonata for Harp, op. 150. Composed in 12-tone serial style, the overall effect of this piece is a paradox. It is complex and abstract while also conveying a lush beauty in many of its lines. This thorny work placed great demands on Nuiko, requiring her to be as fleet of foot as she was of finger, as constant pedaling was required to flat and sharp notes in the serial sequence. She attacked the swift first movement with fingers that never seemed to stop moving, laying out an edgy, dissonant melody. The slow second movement was a maze of dreamy, romantic melodic threads, never quite reaching resolution. The final movement began with a brisk descending figure, cut to quick jumps from register to register, and ended in a flurry of loud strumming.

Nuiko described her final piece, Suzanne Farrin’s Polvere et Hombe, as featuring the harp as an inanimate object brought to life by the player. The piece was a study in every manner of glissando imaginable. Nuiko played with manic abandon alternating from feather-light touch to power plucking and everything in between. The piece concluded with repeated open-palm gestures rubbing softly against each other on either side of the strings, sounding as if the harp were now breathing.

Thanks to Nuiko, we heard the harp in exciting new musical contexts. It definitely was no dainty harp accompaniment for afternoon tea in some stately old hotel lobby.

Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com)

Listening/Watching Links:
Angélica Negrón’s Technicolor and other music.
Ernest Kerenk’s Sonata for Harp.
Suzanne Farrin’s Polvere et Hombre.

August 12, 2012

Where Words Leave Off…

Written by Zoe Sorrell, a student of flute, English, and dance at the Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music.

The final installment of ICE's residency at the Mostly Mozart Festival, like the first, will feature world-renowned guest artists as well as the unusual overlapping of music and ornithology. The venue for this concert, the Park Avenue Armory, is known for inspiring artists to "draw upon its grand scale and distinctive character", and resultantly the evening's program is no coincidence. From world premieres commissioned by ICE to Messiaen favorites, these pieces were picked to fill the Armory's rooms.

One of the world premieres, Serenade by Suzanne Farrin, was actually composed specifically for the Armory. A Maine native and current theory and composition teacher at SUNY Purchase, Farrin has worked with an array of notable musicians, among them Tanya Bannister, David Schotzko, Mark Stewart, Antoine Tamestit, and Ira Weller. Her music has been heard in Carnegie Weill Hall, The Kennedy Center, and many other renowned venues. The Washington Post describes her music as a crossover between that of Frederic Rzewski and of Messiaen himself (read the article here). ICE is thrilled to be including her newest piece in the lineup.

Farrin's piece will feature another artist with whom ICE is excited to collaborate: countertenor, Anthony Roth Costanzo. Renaud Machart of Le Monde calls Costanzo "a perfect musician, focused voice, excellent projection, and capable of subtle nuances" (read more). Musical America quotes his singing as "the kind of high-voltage, high-register male singing that comes once in a generation" (read more). Cotanzo was a Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and most recently debuted at the Met as Unulfo in Rodelinda alongside Renee Fleming. Other accolades include a George London Award, a career grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation, and First Place in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCullom competition. His premiere performance of Farrin's piece is not something to be missed!

August 10, 2012

ICE in flight: Postmodern birdsong meets Franz Schubert

By Hannah Selin, Philadelphia-based violist/sound artist IN the post-graduate abyss

While scientists continue to debate the question of whether birds enjoy their own song, it’s widely known that we humans do - sometimes to the point of obsession. ICE’s concert this Saturday features birdsong-inspired works by Olivier Messiaen and Jonathan Harvey alongside Schubert’s classic Octet.

The concert opens with a performance of Messiaen’s Le merle noir (“The Blackbird,” 1952) by ICE founder and flute virtuoso Claire Chase and pianist Jacob Greenberg. This short chamber duo represents a turning point in Messiaen’s creative life, as it is one his first published works to integrate birdsong. Next, highly acclaimed young conductor Jayce Ogren leads world-renowned pianist Joanna MacGregor and an ensemble of ICE musicians in the U.S. premiere of Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong.

As Globe reporter Andrew Clements notes, “What we hear of any [bird]song is only a proportion of what it contains in terms of pitches and rhythmic structure.” In composing Bird Concerto with Pianosong, Harvey used slowed-down recordings of birdcalls to analyze rhythmic and tonal nuances of birdsong that normally escape human perception. The result is an intricate, beautiful and at times otherworldly interweaving of piano, ensemble and electronics.

Schubert’s six-movement Octet rounds out the evening with 19th century warmth and goodness. With its unusually diverse instrumentation (clarinet, bassoon, horn, string quartet and double bass), the Octet blends a near-symphonic palette with the suppleness and clarity of chamber music.

This Saturday’s performance promises to spin listeners through quite the gamut of musical emotions and styles—from carefully stylized individual birdsongs in Messiaen’s Le merle noir, to absolute avian cacophony in Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong, to the alternately playful and serious strains of Schubert’s great Octet. Don’t miss it!

Tomorrow night, August 11th at 7:30 pm in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.

August 3, 2012

Oceans, Islands, and Birds…


Written by Zoe Sorrell, a student of flute, English, and dance at the Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music.

The Mostly Mozart festival is fast approaching, and once again, ICE will be in residence--and performing some awesome music with some really cool guest artists! First up will be an August 5th performance at Rose Theatre, featuring guest conductor Susanna Malkki and pianist, Nicolas Hodges. They will be playing pieces that evoke various scenes from nature, including Francesconi's Islands, Tiensuu's nemo (based on Jules Vernes' 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), Murail's La Barque mystique (which paints a seascape), and two pieces by Messiaen.

Malkki has made her mark as a woman in what some have called a man's world. Born in Helsinki, Finland, she began her career on the other side of the podium as an orchestral cellist but was interested in "being in charge of the whole picture, and putting all the pieces together; There are so many details to find and colors to produce" (read more). She began her conducting studies at the Sibelius Academy, under the tutelage of Jorma Panula, Eri Klas, and Leif Segerstam. Since school, she has conducted some of the finest ensembles of our age. Notably, she led the London Sinfonietta at the BBC Proms in July of 2007, securing her status as a name to watch. When asked what it's like to be a female conductor, Malkki explains: "the orchestra is a microcosm of society--very hierarchical; it would have been unthinkable for a woman to conduct orchestras when women could not even play in them. It's more important to look forward than to think in the mud, in the past" (read more). I certainly look forward to her work with ICE!

Nicolas Hodges is a British pianist and composer specializing in avant-garde music. Tempo magazine quotes Hodges as a "refreshing artist [who] plays the classics as if they were written yesterday, and what was written yesterday as if it were already a classic" (read more). Many notable composers have written works for Hodges, including Elliott Carter, Salvatore Sciarrino, James Clarke, Michael Finnissy, and Konrad Boehmer. With ICE, Hodges will be featured on pieces by Francesconi and Messiaen.

ICE musicians are excited to be working on two of Messiaen's pieces, his Piece for Piano and String Quartet and Oiseaux exotiques. Messiaen was a French composer, organist, and ornithologist, as exemplified by Oiseaux exotiques, a kaleidoscope of bird calls (check out ICE musicians sharing various bird calls here). It should certainly be an exciting way to end this fantastic collaborative concert!


August 2, 2012

Claire Chase and the Blackbird

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to Claire Chase's below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

Any special reason why you chose the birdcall excerpt you picked to record?
The first few precious measures of Le Merle Noir make up some of the most inspired, ecstatic flute writing in the literature. I can't wait to play this piece with Jacob in Tully!

What do you want people to listen for when they come to the Mostly Mozart concerts?
The sounds around them, the sounds within them. City sounds, nature sounds. Crude sounds and wondrous sounds. The sound of a mack-truck, the sound of a heartbeat, the sound of a wave, the sound of a cell phone, the sound of the ocean hundreds of miles underwater, the sound of stars. It's all there. These are colorful, fanciful, provocative programs and I hope that people's imaginations catch fire during these concerts, that they leave hearing things they didn't know they could hear.

Which piece are you most excited about performing at Mostly Mozart this year?
Of all the marvelous pieces from the literature (spanning four centuries!) that we're playing at the festival this year, I must say that I am most excited about the unknowns - the three world premieres that we are honored to be birthing by three spectacular young voices: Suzanne Farrin, Patricia Alessandrini and Marcos Balter.

Messiaen thought that the Blackbird would sound good on flute.  If your instrument were an actual animal what would it be?  Imaginary animals count.
I think that the flute would be a Bakunawa dragon - a serpentine dragon in Filipino mythology that has two sets of wings, whiskers, a red tongue and a mouth the size of a lake.

Blackbird (via Flute) from ICE on Vimeo.


July 30, 2012

Nathan Davis and the Orchard Oriole

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to Nathan Davis' below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

Which piece are you most excited about performing at Mostly Mozart this year?
Messiaen - "Oiseaux Exotiques"

Messiaen thought that the Orchard Oriole would sound good on Xylophone.  If your instrument were an actual animal what would it be?  Imaginary animals count.
A hedgehog.

Orchard Oriole (via Xylophone) from ICE on Vimeo.



July 27, 2012

Joshua Rubin and the Baltimore Oriole

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to Joshua Rubin's below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

Any special reason why you chose the birdcall excerpt you picked to record?
In Oiseaux Exotiques, the clarinet gets be the oriole quite a bit.  I don't get to go to baseball games very often, but for some reason the only tickets my friends ever want to give up are when Baltimore is at Yankee Stadium. So I've seen those Orioles a lot.  Regular orioles, never.

Which piece are you most excited about performing at Mostly Mozart this year?
Jonathan Harvey is one of my musical idols. Few pieces have inspired me more than his Tombeau de Messiaen for piano and tape, which pianist Cory Smythe will be playing on ICE's concert at the Park Avenue Armory.  The piece is comprised of layers of prerecorded pianos that have been "de-tuned" from their conventional state.  The live, in-tune piano weaves within this fuzzy mix of out-of-tune sounds, creating an effect that is otherworldly.  The ground floor rooms at the Armory are a mishmash of hyper-ornamented design, piled up since the 19th century. I'm really looking forward to being pleasantly disoriented hearing this great music in such an unusual place.

Baltimore Oriole (via Clarinet) from ICE on Vimeo.


July 24, 2012

Eric Lamb and the Whip-poor-will

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to Eric Lamb's below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

Any special reason why you chose the birdcall excerpt you picked to record?
I chose the Engoulevent criard (Whip-poor-will) because I was curious to see if at could pop out those high B-flat's first thing in the morning.

Which piece are you most excited about performing at Mostly Mozart this year?
The program this year for Mostly Mozart is epic.  Apart from the Messiaen (Oiseaux exotiques), which I've wanted to tackle with ICE since I joined the group in '08, I'm super excited about the two world premiers. Marcos Balter and I have had a great working relationship for years and I'm always super excited to play his latest creations. Suzanne Farrin and I are new friends and have spent a lot time together already discovering sounds on the flutes that she will use.

What do you hope they will talk about on their way home from the Mostly Mozart concerts?
I want people to walk away wanting more! 

Whip-poor-will (via Piccolo) from ICE on Vimeo.



July 18, 2012

Jacob Greenberg and the Cardinal

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to Jacob Greenberg's below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

What do you want people to listen for when they come to the Mostly Mozart concerts?
I'm hoping an audience for Oiseaux Exotiques will be able to zero in on one instrument's birdcalls, and then be able to pan out to the whole landscape of birds, and back again to one.  It's a listening experience that invites so many perspectives.  The calls themselves are masterfully transcribed, but it's also about the total texture of the wind and percussion orchestra.

What do you hope they will talk about on their way home from the Mostly Mozart concerts?
"Birds!  I can't get the birds...out of my head!..."

Which piece are you most excited about performing at Mostly Mozart this year?
I can't wait for Tristan Murail's La Barque Mystique -- genius spectral composing, but also a magically evocative seascape.  It's unusual for a small-ensemble chamber piece to be conducted, but I know Susanna Mälkki will be like one of us, participating in the chamber music dynamic.

Cardinal (via Piano) from ICE on Vimeo.


July 15, 2012

David Byrd-Marrow and the Indian Myna

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to David Byrd-Marrow's below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

Any special reason why you chose the birdcall excerpt you picked to record?
Everyone plays during the Mainate Hindou (Indian Myna) call at the beginning, but the horn can really do the rip in a way that represents a wild animal!

What do you want people to listen for when they come to the Mostly Mozart concerts?
They should watch out for the way we react to each other and embrace the primal nature of each different call. 

What do you hope they will talk about on their way home from the Mostly Mozart concerts?
How wild and crazy it was.

Which piece are you most excited about performing at Mostly Mozart this year?
Oiseaux Exotiques, for sure. It's an amazing piece that gets better with every performance.

Indian Myna (via Horn) from ICE on Vimeo.



July 12, 2012

Ross Karre and the Red-billed Leiothrix

ICE will be in residence at the Mostly Mozart festival again this year with performances on August 5th at the Rose Theatre, August 8th at the Kaplan Penthouse, August 11th at Alice Tully, and August 12th at the Park Avenue Armory.  We’ve recorded some of the bird calls found in Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Le Merle Noir.  Listen to Ross Karre's below and add it as ringtone to your phone.

What do you want people to listen for when they come to the Mostly Mozart concerts?
The interesting thing about these bird calls is that they are not recognizable as specific birds because of the tempo adjustments that Messiaen makes. Most of the bird calls are much faster than we play them. Messiaen intentionally recomposes them so that they can make interesting musical counterpoint. The piece evokes an aviary but it doesn't try to represent it. In other works (like Sept Haikai), bird calls at tempo are more "accurately" represented. The interesting place for the listener to reside is in this middle ground between individual bird calls and an imagined aviary; all accompanied by fascinating rhythmic material from the wood block, snare, gongs, and temple blocks. Try to hone in on an instrument for a few seconds to hear their phrase and them zoom out to hear the whole sanctuary.

What do you hope they will talk about on their way home from the Mostly Mozart concerts?
ICE is the perfect group to realize that phenomenon: solo birds who love to play their solos in precise rhythmic hocket with other solo birds. 

Messiaen thought that the Red-billed Leiothrix would sound good on Glockenspiel.  If your instrument were an actual animal what would it be?  (Imaginary animals count.)
I'm not sure. It would have to fit two criteria that are also true for percussion: loud, and difficult to move from venue to venue. Pterodactyl? (Having seen one in real life, I can assure you they are very loud and do not like to be checked in luggage.)

Red-billed Leiothrix (via Glockenspiel) from ICE on Vimeo.


June 3, 2012

Souvenirs Musicaux de Paris—Georges Aperghis and the New Generation

Impressions from Row G

Souvenirs Musicaux de Paris -- Georges Aperghis and the New Generation
ICE at MCA and ICE Solo(2) at Corbett vs. Dempsey

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

We’re still pouting that ICE went to Paris earlier this month and we couldn’t tag along. But they cheered us up considerably by bringing back some exciting souvenirs.

Soprano Tony Arnold set the context for the weekend in her Friday afternoon solo turn at Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery. In Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III, she unleashed an onslaught of lovely gibberish, wordless gestures, laughs, and hand-horn yodels, frequently using her opened palm like a wah-wah pedal. It was a gorgeous frenzy, ending “. . . to sleep.” Tony explained that Berio launched a “new vocalism” that freed the voice for the future. She then demonstrated the fruit it has borne from composers like Aperghis with two selections from his Recitations for solo soprano. The Aperghis songs were wrapped around music from Fredrick Gifford’s work in process, 100 Not-Songs for John Cage, which he is writing for Tony in celebration of the Cage centennial. We are always astonished by Tony’s artistry, but her singing these demanding pieces a capella was an unimaginable high-wire act of grace and apparent ease.

On Saturday at MCA, ICE presented a roller-coaster ride of challenging works by Aperghis and promising young ICElab composers Juan Pablo Carreño and Patricia Alessandrini. Like Aperghis, Patricia and Juan Pablo are émigré residents of Paris, lending a City-of-Lights aura to the evening.

The first offering was a surprise amuse oreille, Aperghis’ The Illiad and The Odyssey. These sprightly miniatures were deftly play by violinist Erik Carlson and clarinetist Joshua Rubin (who are also members of the New York Miniaturist Ensemble). This was followed by Aperghis’ Signaux, the piece we found the most inscrutable of the evening. Erik returned with David Bowlin on violin and Wendy Richman and Maiya Papach on viola. A crazy fractured fugue, the players chase and never quite catch each other. Arlene thought it sounded like a Suzuki recital. Larry read it as four fellow alums stumbling through a funhouse hall of mirrors struggling to sing their Alma Mater.

Juan Pablo’s Golpe en el Diafagma brought 15 players and guest conductor Ludovic Morlot to the stage. This assertive piece featured relentless throbbing in a legion of bass register instruments, punctuated by upper register shrieks and calls from the piccolo, oboe, and violin. We were particularly impressed by the very aggressive bowing and plucking techniques required in the cellos and double bass. Changing moods, Patricia’s Omaggio a Berio lulled us with lovely calm serenity. Six musicians gathered ‘round the lidless piano, using it as a shared instrument and resonator box. They alternately played, hummed, and softly moan-sung Patricia’s haunting melody. The most striking sounds came from Nathan Davis using his mallets directly on the piano strings. It was thrilling to have both Patricia and Juan Pablo in attendance for these premieres.

The centerpiece of the concert was the Chicago premiere of Aperghis’ Shot in the Dark, an ICE commission for solo soprano and a 16-piece chamber orchestra, with Ludovic conducting. Tony led the way in a frantic whisper “. . . behind my head . . . upon midnight . . . helter skelter . . .” The orchestra followed in a long descending figure. Then the central focus swirled about in a manic dreamscape of multiple disconnected threads of anger, surprise, fear, bravado. Aperghis musically captured the nature of the universe: unstable, lacking any fixed reality, everything in overlapping cycles of growth and decay. Suddenly, the piece quietly culminated in a lovely rising solo melody on the piano.

Listening/Watching Tips:
• Tony Arnold sings Berio’s Sequenza III on the CD “Luciano Berio: Sequenzas I-XIV for Solo Instruments” on the Naxos label.

May 30, 2012

Patricia Alessandrini [post ICElab workshop]

Patricia Alessandrini is one of our six ICElab collaborators for this season.  She worked with us in New York back in March.  Today she shares with us what happened before, during, and after her workshop. 

This was the first time I had the luxury of working for a week with an ensemble so early in the development of a work, or rather two works: Gurre-Klänge for large ensemble with live electronics, resonating objects, and video projection, and Omaggio a Berio for amplified ensemble. There is always a certain tension between ideas - which begin for me as images and impressions rather than specific sounds - and their concretization as a score, and having this opportunity allowed me to linger in realm of ideas longer than usually possible, and the members of ICE to linger with me and thus contribute to this essential stage of the creative process. I arrived at ICElab with a mixture of strictly scored material for Gurre-Klänge, instructions for improvisations, and brut ideas/images. These images came principally from two sources: the works which ICE and I are “interpreting” over the course of my ICElab residency, Schoenberg's Gurre-Lieder and Berio’s Folk Songs; and various facets of the subjectivity of our interpretations. In reflecting upon how to approach these works on an intimate scale - given the possibility of magnifying any minute sound or gesture with amplification and/or video projection - the theme arose of trying to make some kind of specific expression emerge as traces from ruins.

Over the course of an intensive schedule of group rehearsals and some one-on-one meetings (the former at BAC, the latter at ICEhaus), this theme found its resonance in the various talents and obsessions of the ensemble members. Ross hunted down discarded television monitors, which he then piled up to construct minutely-planned composite images of live video feed. Inspired by Claire's fascination with the fabulous sounds she could make from the bits and pieces of a deconstructed flute (and equally, by her enthusiasm for smashing flutes), a scene was developed with Eric, which called into play the edginess and sheer physicality of their artistic temperaments. In December the scene will be piloted from the piano by Cory with the use of gesture detection, calling upon his talents as an improviser to intuitively and spontaneously shape the temporality of the musical and theatrical events. Tony masterly sculpted variously-colored breath sounds into something like shadows of musical phrases, while Josh explored similar techniques for the bass clarinet, starting not with a technical viewpoint but with the idea of imitating these vocal sounds as closely as possible. With Nick and Gareth, we explored ways of making sounds which were not just intimate and delicate, but which manifested the tension of their creation, in part by using techniques always on the verge of being out of control. As with Nathan and Dan, the first step was sometimes just to try to find a way of producing a sound - such as bowing the guitar, or finding various ways to make a crotale resonate - and stabilizing that sound, and then finding a way of destabilizing it again, to render it reproducible and reliable yet fragile. As in the scene featuring Claire and Eric, often the relationship between two or more performers was key to the experimentation. Pushing further and further to blend their respective timbres, Rebekah and Peter, both endless fonts of playful invention and subversion, came up with a unexpected solution with startling visual and sonic results.

The work with the quartet - Erik, Jen, Wendy, and Michael - was particularly revelatory for me, and once again relied on the communication between the performers, which is so very particular in the case of a string quartet. We spent some time on the strictly notated material, and made some changes in it based on their proposals, which was extremely useful, and we also spent some time developing new material together based purely on some sonic ideas and impressions, which was very exciting; but the most surprising results, which I still don't know entirely what to make of, came from the improvisations, based on different sections of the written score. This was only possible because these players were so adept at both integrating a complex score rapidly and improvising convincingly. More questions arose out of this experience than answers: what exactly made the written material ever so slightly, perceptively different than the improvisations? on the other hand, what did it mean, in terms of my precise and somewhat complex manner of writing for instruments, that the improvisations were often nonetheless quite similar to the written material, and were possibly indistinguishable for someone not having previously heard the written and improvised material? how did I feel about certain moments in the improvisations which were somewhat outside or on the boundaries of the rules or constraints of the written material but yet somehow seemed perfectly organic, even expected and necessary in the context of the improvisations?

For some possible answers, and some more serious play, rendez-vous at Mostly Mozart, and at the BAC in December…

May 26, 2012

[Preview] Composer Portrait: Georges Aperghis | Chicago

Maria Dubinets is a Chicago-based student, musician and ICE blogger.

Are you excited yet?  ICE has a fantastic concert in store for all of the Chicago-area fans tonight. Be prepared for a night of music by George Aperghis, Juan Pablo Carreño, and Patricia Alessandrini, all conducted by Ludovic Morlot.

Aperghis’ music is multimodal, expressive and without boundaries, often requiring musicians to go outside the realm of musical conventions. Aperghis is a Greek-born composer who is very well known around Europe, but whose music is underperformed in the US. ICE is on a mission to change that. Among the other pieces on the agenda for the concert, they will be performing a piece titled Shot in the Dark (2011) which the ensemble commissioned from Aperghis and features our own soprano, Tony Arnold. This will be the piece’s Chicago premier.

The guest conductor for this event, Ludovic Morlot, is the Music Director of the Seattle Symphony and is joining ICE for this collaborative adventure.

All in all, this is a spectacular program that features amazing musicians, and is definitely the perfect event to fill this Saturday night up with.

May 24, 2012

[Preview] Composer Portrait: Georges Aperghis | NYC

On May 24th (that's TONIGHT!), ICE will present the music of Greek-born composer Georges Aperghis at the Columbia's Miller Theatre in New York City. ICE will perform works ranging from an early theatrical masterpiece, Les Guetteurs de Son (1981), to a newly commissioned work, Shot in the Dark (2011). The program also features guest conductor Ludovic Morlot, the newly appointed Music Director of the Seattle Symphony, and ICE’s very own soprano, Tony Arnold.
Aperghis’ music is corporeal and theatrical. His work takes on many forms, from the guttural and bodily gesticulations of his solo vocal piece Recitations to the multimedia-laden, theater piece Machinations. ICE’s portrait of Aperghis takes the listener through these various facets of his artistic personality in several works spanning from the 1970s to the present day.
Although Georges Aperghis’ is one of Europe’s leading composers, his work is rarely performed in the USA. Do not miss this opportunity to hear Aperghis’ music performed by the ICE Ensemble.


May 23, 2012

Tony Arnold | Soprano

Tony Arnold is ICE's incredible soprano, this week she'll be performing in New York and Chicago (twice in Chicago!).  You can read Tony's more formal bio here, but today we thought you might like to know more than where she went to school.  It's not too late to get your tickets for her performances at Miller Theatre in New York, Corbett vs. Dempsey, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Have you ever been asked to doing something in performance that was really embarrassing or made you uncomfortable as a performer?
It hasn't happened yet, but never say never.  I only worry when I'm asked to do something silly, that I might break focus and laugh.  But generally, the performer's "suspension of disbelief" pact wins out -- when you're on the spot, you invest fully in the character and the moment, and the critical / self-conscious reflex recedes into the background for that time. 

What's the most challenging part of this Aperghis program for you?  Why? 
Fast moving quarter-tones.  Microtones themselves are not problematic.  But, there is a notational issue to be dealt with....  In quarter tone notation, there can be 7 discrete pitches that occupy a single line or space on the staff, as opposed to just 3 in the standard tonal system.  The passage work in "Shot In the Dark" moves so rapidly between adjacent microtones that it is often difficult to discern the contour of the line by relying on visual cues.  A lot of work goes into really getting the directional and gestural feel of each phrase.  And, there are very few verbatim repeated passages.... there's always a twist.  Gotta be on your toes.

Do you have a favorite Aperghis quote?
"Her Head He His Behind Had Her Behind His Head Had Hid Her Behind"

Best experience collaborating with a composer? 
György Kurtág

Worst experience collaborating with a composer?
György Kurtág

It was the best because he is one of the most unique and brilliant musical minds ever to have lived.  It was the worst because he is the most demanding coach I have ever encountered.  It was not that he was hard on us.  It was that he saw our potential, and wouldn't rest until we had begun to realize it.  Then the bar was set even higher for the next phrase!  Exhilarating and exhausting.  That said, working with Kurtág and on his music has been the most important experience of my adult musical life, hands down.

What drink do you order right after a performance?
Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.  (That's no joke!)

Do you love ICE as much as ICE loves you?
Oh, baby, let's get married!

May 21, 2012

Ludovic Morlot | Guest Conductor

We are super excited to be working with the new Music Director of the Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot, in New York and Chicago this week as we prepare for our Aperghis concerts.  It's not too late to get your tickets for our performances at Miller Theatre in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  One of our interns, Maria Dubinets, happens to know Ludovic through her connections to Seattle.  Here's a nice introduction to our latest artistic collaborator.

What do you miss most about recently moving from France to Seattle?
The family and friends for sure. Am actually lucky to be traveling so much that I don't actually have time to miss anything for too long.

When did you make your first connection to ICE?
Before I met with ICE I actually had a chance to meet with different individuals that play with ICE. I met some of them at the Tanglewood Music Festival when I was a fellow student there in 2001 but also throughout the world as I was guest conducting orchestras.  Most recently I reconnected with one of the ICE members in Saint Paul with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Do you have a favorite Aperghis quote?
I love the title of a piece of his I premiered in Paris not too long ago. "Happiness Daily"; I think that can count for a quote, no?

What do you hope people will talk about on their way home from the Aperghis show?
I hope they won't be able to articulate any words properly for a while...

What's on your iPod right now?
You name it! Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms etc.. but also Bjork, Radiohead, Eminem, Serge Gainsbourg and Art Tatum.

What are your summer holiday plans?
To let nobody know what they are.

May 16, 2012

[Preview] ICElab at Atlas Performing Arts

Anthony Vine is a Seattle-based composer, musician, and ICE blogger.

On May 17th, members of ICE will be performing an eclectic program at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C. ICE will perform recent and no-so-recent works by Phyllis Chen, Nathan Davis, Mario Diaz de Leon, Steve Reich, and John Cage.

The featured composer of the evening will be John Cage, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. ICE will be performing several of his works, including his groundbreaking piece Credo in US (1942). The work has a duel nature. On one hand it is very primitive, featuring thick heterophonic textures of percussion and melodic figures that recall Balinese music. But like most Cage works, this Eastern allusion collides with the West as bursts of sound fragments from radios and phonographs break through the surface, articulating the architecture of the piece. Each performance of Credo in US is unique because the phonograph recording and radio stations are left up to the performers. So, who knows, you might even hear a little Lady Gaga or Hall and Oates alongside John Cage on Thursday night.

As if Credo in US wasn’t enough reason to check out this concert, ICE will also be performing another classic contemporary work, Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint. Just imagine 11 Claire Chase’s playing simultaneously in a complex network of shifting loops… that’s Vermont Counterpoint. And don’t forget about works by the next generation of great composers: Phyllis Chen, Nathan Davis, and Mario Diaz de Leon.

May 14, 2012

Rebekah Heller | Bassoon [Part-2]

You can check out part-1 of Rebekah's interview here.  See her perform at Atlas Performing Arts Center on Thursday.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever performed, with or without ICE?
Hmmmmmm....drunkenly 'christmas caroling' with the haydn london trios in the lobby of an UES apt building? Lemme get back to you on this. I'm SURE I can come up with something even better.....

Do you have a favorite extended technique? If so, what is it?
The bassoon is one GIANT extended technique. Really, it's an ungainly, primitive 8 ft. tube that performers have been trying to tame for the last few centuries.  I find great joy in releasing its inner beast and discovering new sounds each day that are slowly making their way into the repertoire.  Hopefully, one day, these techniques and sounds (from the brutal to the sublime) will no longer be considered 'extended' but embraced as part of the myriad incredible sonic possibilities available to those brave enough to write for it.

Most esoteric direction you’ve ever gotten from a composer/conductor?
Hmmm, well Marcos Balter wrote a piece for me called and also a fountain.  It's incredibly theatrical. Not only do I be speak text (from Gertrude Stein's Tender Button's), I sing, whistle, play three percussion instruments, oh, and play the bassoon a bit too (while simultaneously playing percussion).  It sounds like a lot, and it IS, but it all comes together very elegantly and truly makes sense in the end. I loved performing it!

First CD you ever bought, and do you still listen to it? (Please be honest, no judgment here)  
Paul Abdul, “Forever Your Girl.” Age 11.  Made several top-notch dance routines in my living room. And sadly, haven't heard it in YEARS. It's somehow fallen out of rotation.

Most played on your iPod?
I lean towards indie, 'sad-bastard' music (think iron and wine, bon iver, cat power, the national...) on the subway.  Maybe that's why people think I look so serious all the time!

May 10, 2012

ICE(cubed)—Music of Kaija Saariaho at Calderwood Hall

Impressions from Row G

ICE(cubed) -- Music of Kaija Saariaho at Calderwood Hall, Gardner Museum Boston
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

[ICE members deciding how to arrange themselves in Calderwood Hall for Miranda's Lament]

A visually and aurally stunning new music space. The rapturous acoustic chamber music of Kaija Saariaho. Virtuoso players Claire Chase (flutes), Tony Arnold (soprano) Nuiko Wadden (harp), David Bowlin (violin), Kivie Cahn-Lipman (cello), Jacob Greenberg (piano), and Nathan Davis (percussion). These essential elements combined to deliver the perfect cube of ICE we anticipated in our preview.

We had a special treat of attending rehearsal in the afternoon to get a head start on learning how music sounds in the hall and to strategize where to sit. We even played a small part by providing feedback to the players from various positions as they assessed how to arrange themselves in each piece.

The program felt as if in two halves. The first half, Miranda’s Lament, Oi Kuvu, Changing Light, Tocar were all reflective, plangent, and shimmering. The second half, Serenatas and Terrestre, were more playful, lively, and joyous.

Miranda’s Lament for soprano, flute, harp, cello, and violin, was a savvy opening choice to show off the virtuosity of the ensemble and the unique features of Calderwood Hall. A song setting text from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Miranda mourns for sailors done in by the storm. The musicians arrayed themselves in a circle in the middle of the stage, affording every audience member a good view of their movements and interactions. The cubic dimensions of the hall provide a rare combination of intimacy and spaciousness. Tony’s singing rang pure and clear, while melding with the sonorous playing of her band mates. We could hear each individual instrument, yet none dominated.

Serenatas for piano, cello, and percussion profited immensely from Calderwood’s unique acoustics. Jacob’s lidless piano and Nathan’s vast battery of percussion instruments issued crystalline clarity of rising sounds without sounding dry or lifeless. Saariaho describes Serenatas as essentially emotional, as if the musicians are lovers playing serenades to each other. Speaking a mysterious non-verbal language, the piano and percussion doubled and mimicked each other, pivoting through Kivie’s cello with fugue-like overlapping lines. Inevitably, melancholy parting comes. The piece ended in spacious waves of farewell.

Terrestre is a chamber-scale reworking of Saariaho’s flute concerto “Aile du songe” for flute, violin, cello, harp, and percussion. The piece was inspired by and incorporates phrases from the Oiseaux (Birds) poems of Saint-John Perse. The flutist must recite these phrases while simultaneously playing. Claire made this complex task seem as child’s play. Indeed it is the childlike joy Claire and colleagues bring to this piece that made it soar. The opening section tells an Aboriginal tale of a charismatic bird who teaches a whole village to dance. Claire’s gymnastic vocalizations and flute playing sparked largely percussive gestures, not only from Nathan, but also from Nuiko, David, and Kivie, framing the terrestrial landscape. For the finale, in the words of Saint-John Perse, “the bird shows us its true nature: a tiny satellite orbiting our planet.” Claire led the ensemble up, up, and fading away into the stratosphere, a sensation greatly enhanced by our unique vantage point in the first balcony.

A small entourage of family and friends joined us for the concert. One of them remarked “it was marvelous to watch and hear this splendid music unfold as conversations between the players and between the instruments.” Calderwood Hall presented a unique setting, while ICE made it all come alive with Kaija Saariaho’s luminous music.

Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com)

Listening/Watching Tips:
Terrestre is the title cut on Claire Chase’s latest CD from New Focus Recordings.

May 9, 2012

[Preview] Music of Michel van der Aa at the Phillips Collection

By Hannah Selin, an Oberlin-based violist and comparative literature major on the edge of the [post-undergraduate] abyss.

This Thursday at 8pm, members of ICE will perform works by Michel van der Aa at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC. The concert marks ICE's first collaboration with the world-renowned Danish composer, whose work integrates acoustic instruments with recorded sound and video. ICE musicians Eric Lamb (flute), Erik Carlson (violin), Michael Nicholas (cello) and Cory Smythe (piano) will bring to life six pieces by Van der Aa, two of them US premieres. For anyone interested in learning first-hand about the music, the composer will be giving a talk about his musical theater works at the Phillips Collection on Wednesday at 6 pm.

After earning a degree in recording engineering from the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, Michel van der Aa went on to study composition with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen. He has since gained international recognition as one of the most innovative composers of his generation. Van der Aa is currently working on the film-opera Sunken Garden, a multi-media collaboration with librettist David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) that is scheduled to premiere next April in Scotland.

Van der Aa's music challenges the boundaries between traditional acoustic instruments and new technology. His scores often include gestural directions not directly related to the production of sound, which adds a theatrical dimension to their performance. Fundamental to much of Van der Aa's theatrical indications is a concern with the relationship between traditional instrumentalists and new music technology. This relationship is quite literally explored in “Memo” for violin and tape. "Oog" and "Rekindle" also feature solo performers in dialogue with recorded sounds, and "Transit" adds film (produced by Van der Aa himself) to the mix. Only two of the works on the program are fully acoustic: "Quadrivial" for flute, violin, cello and piano, and "Caprice" for solo violin.

Van der Aa's music has agency—it acts, it asks questions. I imagine that Thursday's concert will be one of those time-confounding miracles that absorbs listeners completely and then deposits them on the other side with a motley array of wrinkled brows and smiles, perplexity and elation.

May 6, 2012

Post ICE-Lab Workshop: Carla Kihlstedt


Written by Zoe Sorrell, a student of flute, English, and dance at the Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music.

Remember Carla Kihlstedt’s really cool song series based on dreams? Carla explains the evolutionary process this piece undertook while being workshopped with ICE…

Kihlstedt says that her work with ICE musicians helped her to better “articulate the territory” of the piece. The core of the piece became clearer and she left with more direction to the project. She realized that the piece will have two distinct types of movements: linear songs and melodies, and less linear, dream-like logic (or illogic in the best of ways). This second type of movement she explains as a sort of “imagistic counterpart” to the linear lyric songs.

The work was shaped largely by the specifics of the ICE musicians with which she worked. Carla says these music personalities play large roles in the piece. “Rebekah’s extended bassoon techniques, Phyllis’ hand-punched music boxes, Claire’s wonderfully vocal flute-isms, Joshua’s mournful bodiless clarinet (playing just the mouthpiece), Jen and Erik’s beautiful improvising, Nathan’s endlessly evocative world of percussive sound, Dan’s stunningly versatile guitar playing, Bridget’s veritable rainbow of harp colors”…. These are all things she cites as fundamentally influencing the development of the piece.

I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am to hear how this project turns out. You can hear the final product next winter in New York and Chicago!

Photo by Peter Gannushkin / DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET

May 3, 2012

Preview: ICE at EIGHT BRIDGES | Music for Cologne

Written by Zoe Sorrell, a student of flute, English, and dance at the Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music.

This weekend, ICE brings the music of American composers to Cologne, Germany for two spectacularly genre-breaking concerts. The first of these is a proud moment for New York as the music of Steve Reich and Elliot Carter is programmatically entwined with pieces from less familiar (although no less notable) New Yorkers, such as Phyllis Chen and Marcos Balter (the latter of whose piece, Æsopica, based on Æsop’s Fables, will be a feature).

Sunday night, music will be paired with silence, objects, and nature in a performance of the works of John Cage. For those of you who have never been privy to a performance of Cage’s music, it is undoubtedly a mind-opening experience to be confronted directly with one’s own acoustic environment. Audience members will have the opportunity to realize how loud—and musical—our world is.

This will be a weekend to see composer as performer, performer as sound agent, silence as music, and music as language. ICE is leaving genre behind this weekend so don’t miss out!

May 1, 2012

Preview: Changing Light

Maria Dubinets is a Chicago-based student, musician and ICE blogger.

Since the beginning of the International  Contemporary Ensemble’s existence, we have presented many concerts featuring the music of Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer. The concerts occurring Wednesday, May 2nd, and Thursday, May 3rd, are solely dedicated to a range of works by Saariaho and will be held first in Brooklyn, then in Boston. If you are interested in unique and stimulating contemporary chamber music, these upcoming concerts are definitely must-sees.

Kaija Saariaho was born in Helsinki and got her starting musical education there, but then later studied in Freiburg and Paris, as well. Critics site spectral music composers such as Gerard Grisey and Tristan Murail as Saariaho’s largest influcences. Her earlier works are easily differentiable through their emphasis on timbre and the use of electronics simultaneously with traditional instruments. Although she was influenced by post-serialism, she found it too restrictive: “You were not allowed to have pulse, or tonally oriented harmonies, or melodies. I don't want to write music through negations. Everything is permissible as long as it's done in good taste”. Towards the late 1990s, Saariaho began to expand beyond electronics in her music, often composing strictly acoustic pieces that were focused on melody.

Eric Lamb, a member of ICE, defines Saariaho’s work as “conventional, straight forward techniques” that are “exposed, exploited and abused”. He goes onto describe the way Saariaho inverts and exaggerates the various flute sounds.  “Lip bends, trills, multi-phonics, speaking etc. are very basic flute extended techniques. In this case however, they are used so quickly, with such a dynamic range and amplified with such clarity and nearness that they seem at times harsh, at times other-worldly. There is a constant weaving of textures, recorded voices, sound processing, spoken work and syllables…it’s one big waft of sound! Absolutely delicious, absolutely haunting!”

Our upcoming ICE concerts are going to be spectacular, do not miss it.

April 30, 2012

Nathan Davis | Percussion

Contributed by Vino Mazzei, media intern with ICE.  Vino is a non-practicing classical musician and a student of Integrated Marketing Communications in Chicago

Nathan Davis is one of ICE's three core percussionists.  Wednesday he'll be performing at Roulette in Brooklyn and Thursday at the Gardner Museum in Boston.  You can read Nathan's more formal bio here, but today we thought you might like to know more than where he went to school.

Nathan Davis sees music as a kinesthetic event. To him, music is not simply something to listen to, but something to intimately experience. All aspects of sound, its transformations and developments, are extremely relevant to his aesthetic. By creating “a setting in which sounds can reveal and explain themselves,” he effectively allows the listener to feel sounds the way he does.

Davis credits his upbringing in the Southeastern US for his interest in natural sound phenomena. This is something very familiar to me; having grown up in rural Missouri, I remember spending many hours sitting on my front porch quietly listening to the wealth of nature's sounds all around me. Davis' music, like nature, demands reverence to the often unpredictable unfolding of organic gestures.

In spite of his fondness for ecological sounds, Nathan stresses that he is not interested in merely mimicking nature in his music:

My interest in nature manifests itself in a way of working that follows the tendencies of the physical materials of instruments - the regular nodes of a string's vibration, the uneven overtones of a pipe - which will suggest to their own sonic materials, rhythms, harmonies, and techniques of producing them.  It is a sensibility informed by organic architecture, both vernacular and modern.  I often use electronics to elucidate this natural sound world, but not to synthesize it.

To Nathan, then, every object's sonic possibility is intrinsically artful, even sounds one might at a first  glance deem imperfections. Through his musical viewpoint, every nuance of a sound is worth our attention; once we understand that his music happens at every level of a sound, we are immersed in a beautiful and complex world that is at once inviting and uncompromising.

Percussion informs Nathan Davis' compositions in a multitude of ways. Found objects used with traditional percussion instruments create and illuminate unexpected sonic textures that the listener may not be privy to beforehand. Diving Bell, composed in 2002 for triangles and processing, is an excellent example of this phenomenon.

By striking the triangles at different points and with different materials, and by using a handheld microphone, I extract and re-sculpt single overtones that are present in the overall sound of the instruments, hidden sounds that are normally only apparent when one holds the triangle up to their ear, like a tuning fork. With the help of tape delay modeling software, I layer these rich overtones in a structured improvisation.

Listen to Diving Bell 

The Bright and Hollow Sky, composed in 2008 for quintet with ring modulators, uses percussion and guitar in a skeletal or timekeeping role, while the development of sound(s) is conveyed by the flute, clarinet and trumpet in particular.

Listen to The Bright and Hollow Sky 

Semantics also plays a crucial role in Nathan's music, especially related to form. But, once again, the composer sees it simply as a starting point in his creative process:

Metaphorically, I use organic structures to organize the sounds, often suggested in some way by the sounds themselves.  My forms are full of cycles, growth, and decay.  These structures are innately narrative.  Only rarely have I used an specific story to suggest the arc of a piece, but I often use aspects of storytelling - tropes, strophes, and some fundamental shift in character over the trajectory of the work.

Nathan recently completed a 20 minute epic for Yarn/Wire, a 2 pianist/2 percussionist quartet as part of their residency at Issue Project Room. Currently, he is writing music for Sylvia Milo's play Mozart's Sister, “using an array of inexpensive speakers to immerse the audience in her sound world.” Also, Nathan is beginning a piece for the Santa Fe New Music Festival. Another current project is creating new versions of his piece Bells, which he will adapt for an outdoor performance at the Reston Fine Arts Festival in Virginia. In addition to these compositional projects, Davis will be performing in dozens of concerts as a percussionist with ICE this spring. What an exciting time for this talented musician! I look forward to experiencing these projects firsthand.


April 29, 2012

Composer in Review: John Cage


Written by Zoe Sorrell, a student of flute, English, and dance at the Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music.

“The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences”  --John Cage

Next weekend, ICE will be in Cologne, Germany to perform the music of cornerstone composer, John Cage. But what is it about this man that makes his name resonate so strongly with music appreciators everywhere?

Every musician learns to appreciate at some point the rests between notes, the empty spaces between sounds. Cage takes this further; his pieces mold silence, which he believes is more than the absence of sound. In the late forties, Cage visited anechoic chambers (echo free chambers designed to stop reflections of sound waves) at Harvard and Cambridge. Through these experiences, he learned that silence is not acoustic but rather “a change of mind, a turning around”. He ascertained that silence is “the unintended operation of [the] nervous system and the circulation of [blood]”. The composition of his (perhaps most famous) piece, 4’33’’, was inspired by these experiences.

The son of an inventor, Cage is intensely interested in the influence of objects on our acoustic world. Everyday things, such as telephones, often play prominent roles in his compositions (ICE will be performing his piece, Telephones and Birds, for three performers with phones in Cologne). This interest stems largely from Cage’s fascination with Zen Buddhism. In early life, John Cage was disturbed by the proposition that the purpose of music was communication. He states: “I noticed that when I conscientiously wrote something sad, people and critics were often apt to laugh”. He eventually reached the conclusions that music’s purpose is to “sober and quiet the mind” and that the artist must “imitate nature in her manner of operation”.

Cage imitates nature by letting chance dictate his music. He is rumored to have composed an entire piece by dice rolls. He studied with Arnold Schoenberg (the father of the twelve tone row) and came up with the twenty-five tone row. He was asked to put on a show in a small venue with only an upright piano and the prepared piano was invented. It seems there is no end to what John Cage can do with sounds and with silence.

To learn more, visit John Cage’s official website.

April 26, 2012

Preview: A Perfect Cube of ICE at Gardner Museum, Boston

Impressions from Row G

Preview: A Perfect Cube of ICE at Gardner Museum, Boston
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

On May 3rd ICE will play the music of Kaija Saariaho in the perfect cube that is Calderwood Hall. The arts, architecture, and music worlds are all abuzz about this new music performance space at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. ICE plus Saariaho plus a chance to visit our Boston family was already enough to tempt us to add this concert to our agenda. An investigation into the venue put us over the top. 

Architect Renzo Piano designed a new wing for the museum and he enlisted the aid of acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota for the sound design of the new music space. They have created a unique cubic space -- 44 ft. wide, by 44 ft. long, by 44 ft. tall. The “stage” for the performers consists simply of the center of the floor. The audience sits on all four sides; two rows of seats on the main floor and one row of seats in each of three balconies, with a total capacity of 300. This arrangement provides an unusually intimate and communal experience for the players and the audience. And it also presents unfamiliar challenges and choices for the performers to determine how best to arrange themselves in the space. As Mr. Piano states in his “architect’s statement on the museum’s website:

The idea of the performance hall is like a wood harmonic chamber, in which people enjoy sound, but they also enjoy looking in the eyes of the man or the lady in front of them. It's a kind of participation where you enjoy music, together with other people enjoying the same music. This sense of belonging is great and beautiful. As soon as you get in that space, it's about music, but it's something magical as well.

The excellent online music journal The Boston Music Intelligencer has a fascinating, in-depth discussion of Calderwood Hall’s visual and acoustic features by David Griesinger, a physicist who works in the field of sound and music. They have also generously agreed to let us re-use their photos.

We are eager to see how ICE will decide to utilize this exciting new space, and even more eager to hear the results. Stay tuned for our follow-up report on the concert.

Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com)

Listening/Watching Tips:
A video of Renzo Piano discussing the design of Calderwood Hall


The amazing photos below of this new space are provided courtesy of Boston Musical Intelligencer.

April 25, 2012

Saariaho in Brooklyn and Boston

Anthony Vine is a Seattle-based composer, musician, and ICE blogger.

The music of Kaija Saariaho has become a staple of the International Contemporary Ensemble’s repertoire. Throughout the ensemble’s existence, ICE has presented a number of concerts solely dedicated to her music, and in 2010 gave the U.S. premiere of her opera Maa. What is it about Saariaho’s music that keeps ICE coming back again and again? Here are a few blurbs from some ICEicles on her work:

“…the moment that I began listening to her music, it immediately reminded me of something I had heard before. Not in a referential way, but in a way that is incredibly compositional, and full of real emotion.” - Gareth Flowers, ICE trumpeter

“I have been lucky to work with Ms. Saariaho twice in ensemble settings, and both times she was behind the dials of the electronics.  It was a wonder to watch her, listening intently and gradually adjusting the electronic ambience, the bright colors of the music slowly shifting.” - Jake Greenberg, ICE Pianist

“Maybe what defines the soundworld of [her music] more than anything else is the bold way she uses silence. There is so much space in this sound, and it creates a really meditative, spiritual atmosphere.” - Dan Lippel, ICE guitarist

The members of ICE will revisit Saariaho’s music in two upcoming concerts, which also feature soprano Tony Arnold. ICE will begin with a concert on May 2nd at the new Roulette space in downtown Brooklyn, featuring a wide range of recent and not-so-recent works by Saariaho. In addition, ICE will be performing this repertoire the following day, May 3rd at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.


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