April 11, 2014

Touching Sound: Levy Lorenzo on Lucier at the MCA Chicago


photo: Joshua Rubin

by Levy Lorenzo

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

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

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

Speed = Frequency x Wavelength

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

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

 


source

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

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

source

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


photo: Levy Lorenzo

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



video: Levy Lorenzo

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

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


photo:  Levy Lorenzo

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

April 2, 2014

Sitting in a Room with Alvin Lucier


photo: Larry Dunn

Impressions from Row G

by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

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



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


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


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



photo: Larry Dunn


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



photo: Larry Dunn


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


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

March 18, 2014

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


photo: Amanda Lucier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Joshua Rubin, Clarinet & Program Director


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

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

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

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

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

Miniature for Clarinet and Cello (2009), 2"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSVP to Lucier @ MCA on Facebook

February 25, 2014

Postcards from Japan: Inspiration in Soma City


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

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

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


Percussionist Nathan Davis introduces students to the prepared hammered dulcimer.

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


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

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


The band performs for the young composers (via Instagram)

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


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


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

February 20, 2014

Postcards from Japan: Welcome to Nagoya!


おはようございます !

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


Downtown Nagoya (via Instagram)

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


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

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

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

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

February 11, 2014

Notes from Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta on ICElab 2014

from the composers

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

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

score sample

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

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.

How?

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.

 

April 19, 2012

One Hundred Names [Preview]

If there’s one thing that sits at the epicenter of Rebekah Heller’s 4/20 concert at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, it’s “the oft-overlooked bassoon.” It’s hard to dispute, and unfortunate. It’s equally fair to say that it’s underappreciated – as with its bass counterparts in the other sections, the fact that it’s an orchestral caulk means that composers assign it to play the melodic foundation of a piece. There are obviously pieces that feature the bassoon, but not nearly as many as for higher-pitched instruments. From the audience that means that we don’t know what we’re hearing until we realize we’ve missed it all along.

It will be awfully tough to overlook, underappreciate, or otherwise underestimate the bassoon on 4/20. In Rebekah’s hands the bassoon will be a cudgel, a quill, a lark and a banshee (and, of course, a bassoon) as she realizes solo bassoon pieces written especially for her by Edgar Guzmàn, Marcelo Toledo, Dai Fujikura, Nathan Davis, and Marcos Balter. Each composer stretches traditional notions of What A Bassoon Should Do, and they’ll be on full display here. And in Rebekah’s hands, their and her ideas come to life and go several steps further. In 2008, ICE OG Claire Chase gushed: “Rebekah has this fierce curiosity and she’ll try anything with her bassoon,” and that her “fearlessness fits right in with ICE’s garage band mentality.”

April 18, 2012

Rebekah Heller | Bassoon

Rebekah Heller is ICE’s bassoonist, and she’s about to grace the stage of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography (4/20, 7pm). I asked her a few questions via e-mail about her upcoming concert at the MoCP (and some other stuff), and she was more than willing to humor me.

Most memorable audience reaction you’ve gotten either from a solo concert or an ICE concert? 
Playing for kids is the best. They come with no pre-conceived notions of what a bassoon might sound like, and their "oooohs and Ahhhss and WOWsss" are always my favorite.  A common reaction I get after performing solo pieces, from musicians and lay people alike, is "I had NO IDEA the bassoon could sound like that."  That's always nice to hear.

Why did you choose to title the program “On Speaking One Hundred Names?” 
On Speaking One Hundred Names is the title of the solo bassoon piece Nathan Davis wrote for me last year.  It is an incredibly beautiful and personal work and is the centerpiece not only of the Chicago concert, but of my forthcoming (debut!) solo album.

Is there a particular aspect/piece on the MoCP concert that you’re especially excited about?
As a performer, one of the most exciting parts of playing new music is being involved in the creation process. Collaborating closely with composers to make intensely personal work together is exhilarating and makes every performance feel special. Each piece on this program was written for me, by composers with whom I have close personal relationships, and in many cases, lifelong friendships.

When you bring your instrument onto the plane, what’s the worst guess someone had as to what it was?
It's pretty easy to fly with my bassoon. It lives in a little backpack case that easily fits in any overhead bin  (never ever ever would I stow it).  Most people guess it's a violin, sometimes a viola.  A few times, however, I've been stopped and asked where DID I get that interesting shaped backpack?

Brown liquor or clear?
Whisky in the winter, gin in the summer!

 

April 7, 2012

Juan Pablo Carreño [post ICElab workshop]

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

Juan Pablo Carreño took a few moments with us to reflect on his workshop experience with ICE back in February and what he is up to now.

While working with ICE, he was able to test and record fragments of his new piece for solo flute as well as his piece for solo clarinet, ensemble and electronics. Juan Pablo describes the opening gestures of the piece as “a condensation of energy in only three notes of the extreme registers of the flute.” These sounds were some of the results that he had researching the instrument with Eric Lamb during their time together at ICElab. In mid-March, Lamb premiered the solo flute piece in Rome at La Villa Medici.

Currently, Carreño is completing Self-fiction, his piece for clarinet, ensemble and electronics. The recordings made with ICE in New York were done with software used more often in popular music, and became the basis for the electronics portion of Self-fiction. He is currently “deconstructing the sound files, transforming the fragments, and reconstructing the whole as another musical action that I will place behind the principal one, which ends up being the genetic code of the whole electronic part of the piece.”

Juan Pablo describes his work with Eric Lamb and Joshua Rubin as essential in the conception and restructuring of these two pieces. Self-fiction will premiere in Paris this spring.

 

April 4, 2012

ICE Chicago Benefit: Musicians Gone Wild!

Impressions from Row G

ICE Chicago Benefit: Musicians Gone Wild!
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

The rollicking fun side of ICE was on full display Sunday, April 1 at the 2012 ICE Chicago Benefit. A sardine-packed crowd of young hipsters, lightly salted and peppered with enough gray-hairs to keep it well-seasoned, reveled in the festivities of music, food, and drink at Longman & Eagle in Logan Square. ICE Board member Scott Hunter and his working committee assembled a fascinating array of silent auction items and a program of non-stop amusement. The highlights of the day, of course, were the zany, madcap music performances by ICE stalwarts bassoonist Rebekah Heller, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, King-for-the-Day tenor Peter Tantsis, and the Queen-of-our-Hearts Claire Chase. 

Once everyone got a little Longman-libations-lubricated, Scott Hunter welcomed everyone to the event and yielded the floor to Rebekah Heller. She launched into a sassy bassoon reading of David Lang’s Press Release (originally written for bass clarinet). She noted that the title does not refer to something one’s publicist sends out, but rather to David’s somewhat inaccurate idea of when to “press” and when to “release” the instrument’s keys to play the score’s frantic low-register to high-register jump cuts. Well, it’s more complicated than that. But in any case, Rebekah’s playing raised the party mood to a fevered pitch.

Our next musical amusement was Rebekah’s duet with Peter Tantsis from the opening of György Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre. In this perfect atmosphere, Peter and Rebekah redefined the concept of “drinking song” playing the work’s absurdist humor to the hilt. After a brief respite, Peter, playing his violin, with Clare on her flute, began pied-pipering their way through the crowd whipping the atmosphere into a frenzy. Eventually they made their way to the front and launched into an all out wild beasts of the jungle face-off, trading hoops, hollers, and caws with flute and voice. Peter then introduced himself to us as the time-traveling King George III and launched into a crazed soliloquy from Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King.

Joshua Rubin then took the stage to play Mario Diaz Leon’s The Soul is the Arena. This is a manic tour-de-force for bass clarinet with control pedal for reverb, fuzztone, and other electronic effects. Throw in some cocktail-shaker percussion and low-register mumble chorus of crowd noise and we thought we had the deep-reed 2nd coming of Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop. We half-expected Joshua to light his ax on fire at the conclusion. And that clarinet might have been hot enough to spontaneously combust.

To bring the musical program to a close, suddenly mad King George was back, this time ranting and prancing on the bar with his violin. For the final crescendo, he smashed the recalcitrant viol into smithereens, to the delight of the euphoric crowd.

As this exhilarating ICE love-fest came to a close, we realized it was all about one thing for all in attendance . . . WE ♥ ICE and ICE ♥ US.

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

Listening/Watching Tips:
• A video excerpt of an ICE performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King can be found here.
• More of Peter Tantsis’ work in Le Grand Macabre can be seen in this antic performance as The White Minister from the 2010 semi-staged production by the New York Philharmonic.

April 1, 2012

Photos from the Scene: ICElab Workshop | Patricia Alessandrini, Carla Kihlstedt

We had a great time yesterday at the Baryshnikov Arts Center!  Many thanks to everyone who came out to support the making of contemporary music!

Click the image above to view a few more photos.

 

March 30, 2012

InFormation: Patricia Alessandrini and Carla Kihlstedt [Preview]

 

This Saturday at 3:00 pm, those of you in the New York area shouldn’t miss the chance to be privy to what are sure to be two of the most fascinating contemporary music collaborations of 2012! This free workshop at the Baryshnikov Arts Center will be a showcase of the new works being created with ICE by Patricia Alessandrini and Carla Kihlstedt.

Clock in for Alessandrini’s performance, which combines movement and music, recorded and live images, to create a performance that does not follow chronology but rather jumps forwards and backwards in time.

Viewers can dream big as Kihlstedt endeavors to turn people’s dreams into the inspiration for a song series and ultimately a full-fledged musical extravaganza (see more here)!

It’s bound to be an afternoon of inspiration and exploration, filled with truly magical moments. Don’t miss out!

March 27, 2012

ICELab Intro: Carla Kihlstedt

“When I'm in the process of writing a piece myself, I listen like a bird... looking for things to borrow or steal and put in my own nest. I say this with no shame, because it's never the actual music, but just an impulse that I'm looking for…”

This week, ICE begins its exciting collaboration with ICELab composer, Carla Kihlstedt. I spoke to Carla about her passion for collaboration, her musical projects, and her ideas for this latest collaboration:

She was introduced to music at a young age, claiming that her passion for collaboration began with “living room chamber music parties” with her grandparents and uncle when she was very little. This led to her spending every summer at various music festivals, where she says the process of working with other opinionated individuals taught her to be both “incredibly stubborn and incredibly flexible”.

Carla describes the way she composes as “messy”. She fills notebooks with ideas (she has one notebook for lyrics, one for concepts/lists, and one for actual notes), discovering which ideas evolve easily and letting those connect. The rest of the ideas she considers ”a mulch” that is not directly involved in the piece but “lies under the root system of the audible piece”.

Kihlstedt is a member and founder of the quintet, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (click here for a live performance by SGM); she is a past member of Tin Hat (see here); and she often performs duos with her husband, Matthias Bossi (with whom she has a two and a half year old daugher, Tallulah). Kihlstedt and Bossi have recently launched an online subscription series, Rabbit Rabbit Radio, on which they release a new song on the first of every month (paired with extramusical context of course!).

When asked what ICE fans should be on the lookout for, Kihlstedt didn’t give too much away. She has been collecting ideas from dreams (see this facebook page) and using those as the basis for a song series. She will use these songs to develop abstract miniatures with ICE. Kihlstedt says: “That’s all I know so far. The not knowing is half the fun. Of course, the other half is the knowing”.

March 23, 2012

2013 ICElab Collaborators Announced!

 

We have officially announced the new crew of ICElab collaborators for the 2013 season. Ranging from an Icelandic composer to a German-American duo, the group includes Sasha Siem, Felipe Lara, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Daniel Dehaan, Maria Stankova, and duo Martin Hiendl & Monica Duncan.

"We were incredibly moved and inspired by the quality and singularity of ICElab applicants this year, and we are hugely excited about the six groundbreaking projects that were chosen by the panel," says Executive Director, Claire Chase. "I can't wait to dive in with these phenomenal young artists and and get started on next year's masterpieces!"

These artists will participate in ICE’s unique commissioning project, developing new works through a series of residencies, focused on composer-performer collaboration. "ICE enthusiasts should prepare to hear experiments with the human voice, large ensemble work, and electronic soundscapes," says Program Director, Joshua Rubin.

With the recent addition of Steven Schick as artist-in-residence and these new ICElab collaborators, 2013 proves to be a very exciting year for us.

 

March 22, 2012

ICE Solo (I) at Corbett vs. Dempsey: Artist meets Artist

Impressions from Row G

ICE Solo (I) at Corbett vs. Dempsey: Artist meets Artist
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

Can you hear a painting? Can you see music? We certainly did on Saturday, March 17, thanks to a mashup of the flute pyrotechnics of ICE’s own Claire Chase and the omnifarious paintings of Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. The scene of this sight and sound wizardry was the Corbett vs. Demspey art gallery in Chicago at the first in a continuing series of ICE Solo events.

The event also marked the closing of Molly’s exhibition Negative Joy at the gallery. Adam Ritchie, on the Flavorpill Chicago website calls her work: “Supremely elegant while still appearing messy, [it] combines refined modernist tropes with an intensely visceral materiality where the media used often seems quite contingent on other artistic decisions already made.”

Without introductory remarks, Claire propelled the concert from a dead stop to 90 mph. Standing in front of Molly’s Anti-Expeditious (2011), her total shredding of Edgard Varèse’s modern flute masterpiece Density 21.5 made the painting’s turbulent surfaces come flying off the wall to dash around the room. Afterwards, Claire told the dumbstruck audience she discovered Density 21.5 at the tender age of 13 and hasn’t stopped playing it since. She spoke of it in anthemic terms, like a “Battle Cry of Freedom” for the flute itself and for her as a young artist. Though her parents and teachers kiboshed her idea to play it at her 8th grade graduation, you know she would have had the kids up dancing in the aisles. Molly told Arlene she had a deep emotional reaction to hearing the music combine with her painting, saying it perfectly evoked the way she herself felt at age 13.

Next up was Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint. Imagine 11 Claire Chases playing at once, when the universe can barely contain the energy of one. That’s the effect of this piece, which is scored for three alto flutes, three flutes, three piccolos and one solo part all pre-recorded, plus a live solo part. Claire accompanied her own recording with the live solo on flute, alto flute and piccolo. With Claire well centered among six speakers  spaced around the long, narrow gallery space, she produced a full surrounding sound. The opening notes presented an elegantly perfect counterpoint of 2 instruments in a soft, slow tempo. Over the next ten minutes, the number of flutes increased, as did the tempo and the volume, until suddenly the piece abruptly ends. The 11 overlapping, counterposed lines of Vermont Counterpoint made an apt metaphor for the many levels on which Molly’s paintings attack your sensibilities.

Claire closed the concert with the impossible-to-play Salavatore Sciarrino solo flute transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565). Claire was a peripatetic dynamo, swerving between the multiple overlapping lines of the score, spinning out enough notes of each line, as near simultaneously as possible, to convince the ears of the listeners we were hearing all the lines in their entirety. This auditory illusion was aided by the fact that the iconic melody is so familiar that the listener’s brain is able to fill in the missing pieces, if the flutist can just play enough of the notes. Claire made believers of us all; and we are not sure anyone else could have!


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

March 20, 2012

Ross Karre in Deep Space

Impressions from Row G

Ross Karre in Deep Space
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)

ICE member and percussion wizard Ross Karre joined Third Coast Percussion Ensemble and Greg Beyer (of the duo ensemble Due East) in a stunning performance of Gerard Grisey's all percussion masterpiece Le Noir de l'Etoile (The Darkness of the Star) at Adler Planetarium in Chicago on Wednesday, March 14.

Le Noir de l'Etoile was inspired by the deep space phenomenon of neutron star pulsars. These pulsars are super-novas which, having exhausted their fuel, have collapsed into super dense neutron cores that continue to spin in space and emit a highly regular pulse of energy as they spin. You can learn more about pulsars from NASA.

Grisey’s astounding music channeled this primordial energy of the universe and transported us to distant galaxies. Six percussionists positioned in a circle surrounding the audience were armed with hundreds of meticulously specified objects that they banged, stroked, and jangled, whipping sonic threads around the room. The Adler Planetarium was a wonderful venue with its perfectly round Grainer Sky Theater and night-sky show projections. A slight downside, the acoustics were so clean that this sound-explosion was probably not as overwhelming at it would be in a more resonant hall.

Ross is a dedicated champion of Le Noir de l'Etoile and has performed it numerous times including the American premiere in California, The Asian premier in Taiwan, and the Australian premiere in Tasmania. We recommend that anyone interested in contemporary percussion music and the mysteries of the universe jump at the chance to hear this piece live.

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

Listening Tips:
Le Noir de l'Etoile can be heard on a surround sound SACD by Les Percussions de Strasbourg on the import label Musicdisc.

March 18, 2012

Carlos Iturralde [post ICElab workshop]

 

A few weeks ago, Carlos Iturralde took the first step in his ICElab collaboration, workshopping his piece “Cupid’s Deeds” with members of ICE. According to Iturralde, “Cuipid's Deeds is the first part of a piece that [he] started composing in 2005. It is based on the song "Cupidito" which belongs to the "son jarocho" tradition from Veracrúz, México.” One of the primary aspects of the work is Carlos’ a unique tuning system that generates beating tones – the interference between two tones of slightly different frequencies. “I love the way beatings of clashing frequencies make me feel,” says Carlos “They really have a physical effect on my body. I also like the frailty of their effect since a tiny difference in the placement of our head can make them appear or disappear. This fact appeals very much to me since I can use it as a way to incorporate perception of sound, error and chance in the composition, which are constantly present in my work and my way of thinking.”

During the rehearsal process, Carlos was impressed with ICE’s youthful energy, and their enthusiasm to experiment. According to Carlos, his interaction with the ICE musicians --discovering the personalities and special abilities of the performers – has influenced many elements of “Cupid’s Deeds.” “In summary I have new ideas to explore regarding instrument usage, notation, placement,” said Carlos, “The meeting has definitely expanded the limits of my concept.”

Continue to follow the International Contemporary Ensemble’s blog for more development on Carlos Iturralde’s ICElab residency and their work on “Cupid’s Deeds.”

Photo credit: Gabriela Hernandez

March 17, 2012

Steven Schick: ICE’s first ever Artist in Residence

ICE is proud to announce that a new member will be joining our family: percussionist, educator and conductor Steven Schick. Although he has worked with ICE on many projects now, Mr. Schick has just been named ICE’s first ever Artist in Residence. The ensemble created this position specifically for Mr. Schick, and everyone is extremely excited to begin the collaboration.

“I love the musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble not only for their extraordinary level of performances—though they are terrific!—I love them for their dedication to young composers, and I love them for their deeply held commitment to a social model that is truly admirable. ICE is mind-blowingly superb in every way!" said Mr. Schick.

His tenure with the ensemble begins immediately and continues until the end of the 2014-2015 season. His upcoming collaborations with ICE include conducting and playing with the ensemble in Cologne, Germany, for the ACHT BRÜCKEN festival, as well as several projects at Miller Theatre of Columbia University and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago next season.

March 10, 2012

Photos from the Scene: ICElab at the CSUF New Music Festival

 

 
We had a great time last weekend at the CSUF New Music Festival!  Many thanks to the CSUF Department of Music and everyone who came out to support contemporary music!
 
Click the image above to view a few more photos.

March 8, 2012

Lisa Coons Update [post ICElab workshop]

 

2012 ICElab composer Lisa Coons recently emerged from a week of intense collaboration with ICE musicians and dancers from The Troupe, developing a piece that has been in the works for almost a year now. Coons describes the seven-movement work as an exploration of the individual’s struggle to distinguish herself from society, and the isolation that often results. As for the title: it’s still under wraps (and just might factor into my next blog post).
 
The residency allowed performers, choreographers and composer alike to turn traditional creative hierarchies on their heads. Dancers and musicians share space according to the demands of the piece, transforming the so-called barrier between movement and sound into a medium in its own right. Reflecting this fluidity, the current score-in-progress indicates what Coons calls “spaces of alignment” between dancers and musicians. Over the coming months, she and choreographers Zach Winokur and Michelle Mola will continue working together to develop a fully notated score that integrates both music and dance.
 
Says Coons from the other side of the collaborative whirlwind: “It was the most enjoyable, most inspiring rehearsal process that I’ve ever experienced. The piece is challenging, but everyone was completely engaged, mentally, musically and physically.” Reflecting on the week, dancers, musicians and choreographers shared her sentiments. As the project enters a new stage in its development, I have a feeling I’m not alone in sensing that something great is afoot . . .

March 6, 2012

ICE at the ACF | Music of Klaus Lang [Preview]

Tonight at the Austrian Cultural Forum, ICE performs the music of composer, organist, and improviser Klaus Lang. Lang's music invites us to an expansive and meditative sonic world influenced by American Experimentalism, most prominently Cage, Feldman, and Alvin Lucier. Lang's six short praeludium for solo piano will be performed by ICElab 2011 composer Phyllis Chen. Interspersed throughout praeludium are recent chamber works by the young Austrian composer, including the New York premiere of origami, for flute, cello and accordion, with a special appearance by accordion virtuoso William Schimmel.

Want a little warm-up for tonight?  Check out The Sea of Despair

 

March 1, 2012

ICELab at the CSUF New Music Festival [Preview]

Heads up, West coasters! ICE comes to California State University Fullerton this Friday and Saturday with an impressive line-up of groundbreaking composers. The March 2nd performance (for which ICE will be paired with the CSUF New Music Ensemble) will include pieces by 2011 ICELab collaborator, Steve Lehman, and guest composer, Pauline Oliveros. The March 3rd performance will also feature Lehman and Oliveros, alongside another 2011 ICELab composer, Nathan Davis, as well as the works of Elliot Carter, George Lewis, and Cory Smythe.

 
The stars of Friday night—Lehman and Oliveros—have both proven themselves innovators in the field of electro-acoustic and extra-classical music. Lehman’s ICELab commission, Lenwood and Other Saints Who Roam The Earth (see the post about his inspiration for this piece here) will be among the acoustic treats of the evening, as will Oliveros’ Thirteen Changes. Someone who isn’t already excited enough about hearing from the founding mother of “Deep Listening” (learn more) only need hear that Oliveros’ piece includes the headings “Rollicking monkeys landing on mars” and “Tiny mites circling one hair in the coat of a polar bear”.
 
[Guest composer-in-residence Pauline Oliveros is not only one of the first females to break into the world of experimental music, she is also a talented accordionist]
 
ICE percussionist, Nathan Davis, will open Saturday night with his piece, Bells, originally premiered by ICE as the opening piece of Lincoln Center’s Tully Scope Festival in 2011.
 
Joining the lineup next is a piece by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Elliott Carter (now over 100 years old). ICE will be performing his Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux for flute and clarinet.
 
Next up will be George Lewis’ Artificial Life 2007, an improvisational piece. Lewis is well known for his computer program, Voyager, which has pushed the boundaries of electro-acoustic music by actually hearing and reacting to live performances!
 
Next will be Cory Smythe, ICE pianist. His pluripotent for solo piano is an experimental piece in 13 parts that is sure to please any patron of jazz.
 
The concert will close with additional pieces by Steve Lehman and Pauline Oliveros. The two-day event is sure to be a learning experience and auditory delicacy for everyone, from the casual music appreciator to the most trained listener.
 

February 25, 2012

Juan Pablo Carreño [post ICElab workshop]

 

Colombian born composer Juan Pablo Carreño has been working with ICE for the past few weeks as an ICElab composer in residence.  He was recently appointed a residency at the Acadèmie de France in Rome (Villa Medici) where he is based as he also works with ICE in New York. Juan Pablo took a moment to speak with us about his reason for joining ICElab, his experiences so far with the group and where he plans to go from here.
 
Carreño sums up his early attraction to ICE as being drawn to their energy. He describes ICE as, “a group of musicians sensitive to the idea of creation, and ready to create landmarks in today's artistic world.” The force of this energy and dynamism resonates with him deeply and are hallmarks in his music. Being a Colombian composer who splits his time between Paris and Rome, he “belongs to a generation that does not close its ears to the culture of its time.”
 
When asked about what it was like to work with ICE, Juan Pablo could only express excitement and enthusiasm. He was able to workshop some fragments he had composed for clarinet and ensemble and was excited to hear them performed by musicians who “know everything about today's music, giving that music to me as a reflex of who I am, for me to go back to Rome with that experience to continue in the construction of an artistic identity.”  Carreño sees eye to eye with ICE regarding the fact that there is not a singular type of contemporary music and embraces the large world of sound we are experiencing today.
 
Going forward,  Carreño feels empowered by his experiences with Joshua Rubin and the rest of the ensemble. He will finish his piece Self-fiction which will premiere in Paris with Le Balcon in May, followed by a performance by ICE in Chicago. He describes the new work elegantly:
 
I have a more clear idea about what I'm looking for in that piece, that idea of a disjunctive music, a disjunctive relation between different sonorous planes. Two different musical actions, placed in parallel, where one serves as a catalyst for the other one to take to the trance. The amplified clarinet, in the middle of the acoustic space filled by the organ, the electric guitar and the electronics, a musical action inside a box of circuits: the clarinet unfolded by the amplification in a sort of self discovery, inside a world that cries.
 
What an exciting project! We look forward to hearing the Chicago premiere of Self-fiction by Juan Pablo Carreño for clarinet and ensemble next season.
 

February 20, 2012

ICE at MCA: Composers, Composers, and More Composers

 

Impressions from Row G
 
ICE at MCA: Composers, Composers, and More Composers
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
 
There is a special buzz in the air at the premiere performance of a musical work. The excitement vibrates even stronger if the composer is in the house. Imagine the tingling rush we felt at MCA on February 5 when ICE with “George Lewis and Friends” presented two World Premiers and three Chicago Premiers. All four composers were present, and three of them played as well. How could we push the excitement even higher? With the help of Chicago-based composer Marcos Balter, we parlayed some extra tickets into our own “young composers forum” with his current students Riley Hughes and Danny Hinds and former student Christiaan Dageforde.
 
The program opened and closed with works by George, with pieces in between by his proteges Steve Lehman, Nicole Mitchell, and Tyshawn Sorey. The mix epitomized contemporary music-making, at turns raucous (George’s The Will to Adorn) and ethereal (Nicole’s Cave of Self-Indulgence), uncertain (George's Artificial Life 2007) and precise (Tyshawn’s Ode to Gust Burns and Steve’s Impossible Flow).
 
Artificial Life 2007 is uniquely designed for pure improvisation with a score containing no musical notes, only a graphical set of improvising strategies for the players. It was a highlight for all of us. Christiaan, who attended last year’s ICE InFormation workshop with George (as did we) was eagerly anticipating hearing it unfold. Danny and Riley heard it with no preconceptions. We had just heard ICE play it in Oberlin, and were amazed at how radically different it could be while following the same “score.” The MCA performance included more groupings of more musicians, including Nicole on flute, Tyshawn on trombone, and Steve on alto sax. We were treated to a menagerie of sounds -- angry birds darting in from the flutes, small animals scurrying on the forest floor from the percussion, a rumble in the jungle from the bass register horns.
 
The closing work was The Will to Adorn, inspired by the 1934 Zora Neale Hurston essay “Characteristics of Negro Expression.” As George and conductor Steve Schick noted in a setup discussion from the stage, the piece was boisterous, loud (George said maybe not yet loud enough), and full of “jump cuts” in tempo, texture, and color. It was loud, but we’d say it could get louder still. It was a fitting musical evocation of Hurston’s observation of the stylistic bent towards heaping embellishment upon embellishment.
 
Cave of Self-Indulgence was our favorite of the other pieces. The flutes, played by Eric Lamb and Claire Chase, tossed nascent ideas back and forth, sparks bouncing off the walls. Ross Karre further conjured the cave milieu with rumblings on the bass drum and tom-toms and tingling of bells and cymbal as water dripping from stalactites.
 
Each of these works on the program incited spirited discussion in our “composers forum” following the concert. Larry struggled to find a handle on Ode to Gust Burns, but it was Danny’s overall favorite. Arlene got lost somewhere in Impossible Flow, while Larry loved it’s M. C. Escher-like inconceivabilites. Though hardly of one consistent opinion, we did all enthusiastically agree on one thing -- we want to hear every one of these pieces again.
 
Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com) 
 
Listening Tips: 
George Lewis: Les Exercices Spirituels on Tzadick Records
Tyshawn Sorey: “oblique-I” on Pi Recordings
Steve Lehman with his octet, including Tyshwan on drums: “Travail, Transformation, and Flow” on Pi Recordings
Nicole Mitchell with her Black Earth Ensemble: “Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler” on Firehouse 12 Records 
 
 

February 19, 2012

Photos from the Scene: ICElab Workshop with Lisa Coons and the Troupe

 

We had a great time collaborating with Lisa Coons and The Troupe last week at the Baryshnikov Arts Center! Many thanks to everyone who came out.
 
Click the image above to view a few more photos.

February 18, 2012

Today: Lisa Coons, The Troupe, BAC, 3pm

Today (Feb 18th) at 3 pm, at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, ICE will be showing off the progress we've made this week collaborating with 2012 ICElab composer Lisa Coons and The Troupe (Zack Winokour and Michelle Mola).  Did we mention that the workshop is free?! 

 

Here's a video of Dither performing the first movement of her piece called "Cross Sections."  

February 16, 2012

ICElab Intro: Lisa Coons

 

“. . . that level of trying new things and feeling like the only failure would be to not take advantage and take chances. . . it's thrilling!”
 
ICE is looking forward to working with composer and sound artist Lisa Coons this month as she embarks on her ICElab residency. I spoke with her about her childhood, the upcoming collaboration, and the one disorder so many musicians wish they did have...
 
Coons grew up in rural Missouri, surrounded by the sounds of farm tools and machinery. Her fascination with sound led her into metalworking, which led into sculpting and composing. Not exactly the realization of her childhood dream of becoming a rockstar, but not too far off the mark, either!
 
Coons describes herself as one of those listeners who “wants to get lost in it.” As a composer, she strives for music that will envelop listeners as completely as possible. Her sculptures, whimsical compilations of salvaged metal and found objects, “encourage aural and tactile exploration above learned virtuosity.” Above all, it's the listener's ‒ and the performer's ‒ experience that matters.
 
On a whim, I asked Coons for her thoughts on synaesthesia. It turned out she's even more obsessed than I am. Not a synaesthete herself, she'll never quite be able to hear the color orange (her favorite); but that hasn’t stopped her from trying. In a recent artistic phase, she attempted to make light audible by “transposing” light waves down into the audio range: meta- pitch shifting!
 
So what about ICElab? Coons can't wait for this opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty of collaboration, to “build from the ground up.” When I asked what she's most excited for, I got a glimpse of what's in store: collaboration not only with ICE, but also with dancers from The Troupe, directed by Michelle Mola and Zack Winokur. Coons plans to write a dance part into the score, something she's never had the opportunity to do before.
 
Stay tuned: Lisa Coons' ICElab begins in just a few days! In the meantime, follow the composer's advice and give yourself a chance to play around with sound.

February 15, 2012

Eric Lamb | Flute

 

Eric Lamb is a flutist in the ICE who is making a name for himself as a chamber musician, soloist, recitalist and lecturer. I asked him a few questions about himself, and here’s what he had to say:
 
 
What has been your favorite event or concert that you have done with ICE and why? 
 
I've been around ICE since the very start, although I only began playing as a regular member in 2008. I've gathered a lot of great memories, but probably the most important for me was the night of ICE's genesis concert. I was a hot mess! Claire had won a big prize and commissioned a group of pieces for the millennium. It was, in typical Chase style, fantastic and moving. That was the evening that it all started. And I knew it then, somehow, ‘cause I couldn't stop crying for joy. 12 years later, here we all are. It's my favorite thing to think about.
 
How long have you been playing the flute, and what was the instance or occurrence that made you decide to pursue it as a career?
 
I began the flute lessons at around 7. My father was a big fan of the flute... He was literally in love with, much to my mother’s annoyance, the famous jazz flutist Bobbi Humphrey. She is an African American, afro wearing, force of nature, who is famous for her '73 album 'Black and Blues'. The song 'Harlem River Drive' flooded our house constantly. For my dad, it was clear, I was to be a flutist. An older cousin started lessons and I was totally fascinated by the thing. Why is it in three parts and not one? Why can't I play it? One day, I did. I marched my sassy six year old self up to my cousin’s room... Put it clumsily together and literally made my first sounds. My mother’s dramatic telling of the story is much more fabulous than I'm sure it really was, but I do know that I began private lessons exactly one year later, after destroying several church hymnals with my creative color coded notation translation scheme.
 
I heard you spent a while in Germany and are fluent in German, which happens to also be the case for me. What are your favorite Germany city, favorite German bar and favorite German food? Why? Do any of those favorites have any specific significance?
 
Yes, Germany. Another important thing that happened to me without a doubt. I love the German language, the culture, the ease of travel and the high standard of living. I still spend a lot of time in the country. I love Frankfurt am Main, I'd consider it to be my second home. Köln is also wonderful, but I prefer the wine in Frankfurt. As a strict vegetarian, let's say that I have some issues with the German kitchen... "umm.. Sir, this soup has bacon in it..." apparently bacon isn't considered meat in Germany!
 
Where do you get your inspiration to play?
 
Inspirations. I'm super lucky to have brilliant colleagues both here in the US and in Europe. They inspire me to keep doing what I'm doing.. The sheer joy of community, of making beautiful music with beautiful people. That's what I'm into most. 
 
If you won the lottery, which three things would you first spend your money on?
 
If I won the lottery, I'd buy a Louis Lot flute. I'd pay for niece and nephew's college education, in fifteen years they will thank me....Then I'd buy industrial ear plugs for Josh Rubin and Erik Carlson. I'm the loudest piccolo player this side of the Mississippi.
 

 

February 13, 2012

Don’t forget which ensemble loves you the most!

A little "sugar" from Rebekah, Claire, and Eric....

February 12, 2012

Photos from the Scene: ICElab Workshop with Juan Pablo Carreño and Carlos Iturralde

 

We had a great time collaborating with Carlos and Juan Pablo last week at the Baryshnikov Arts Center! Many thanks to everyone who came out.
 
Click the image above to view a few more photos.

February 7, 2012

ICE at Oberlin | Music of Xenakis and Lang [Review]

 

Impressions from Row G -  ICE in Oberlin, Part 1: “if you wake up you will be free”
 
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
 
Our digitICE enterprise sprang from Oberlin Conservatory’s inaugural Rubin Institute for Music Criticism. An invigorating and exhausting week reached its climax when the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Obie-laden new music juggernaut, blew into town on an appropriately ICEy evening. They played a stirring program of works by Oberlin composer-in-residence David Lang, Greek architect/composer Iannis Xenakis, and American jazz and electronica pioneer George E. Lewis. In Part 1 of our report, we focus on the music of David Lang. 
 
ICE’s performance of works by Oberlin prof and Bang on Can co-founder David Lang had extra buzz with his presence in the audience and a world premiere offering. Guest conductor and percussion soloist Steve Schick began with a muscular performance of Lang’s innovative Anvil Chorus, composed in 1991 at Steve’s behest. Working with an array of resonant and non-resonant junkyard instruments of his own choosing, Steve started with the insistent 8-beat melody pulse hammered on a set of brake drums, invoking the rhythmic flow of blacksmith and railroad spike-driver work songs. After establishing the pulse, complexity increased with strikes on a metal rod and aggressive stomping on four kick-pedal bass drums, one mounted with a cymbal on its face, another with a garbage can lid. Once all the elements were in the mix, a quiet passage ensued . . . break time . . . and then suddenly the fury returned, driving to full mayhem and a sudden conclusion as Steve’s instruments started to shake loose from their substantial moorings. As Steve told us afterwards, it is good thing Anvil Chorus doesn’t last any longer, because he and his batterie of junk are right at their breaking point by the end. 
 
The centerpiece of the evening was the world premiere of Lang’s my international, commissioned by Oberlin Conservatory especially for the occasion. His inspiration was The Inernationale, the Communist Party anthem originating from the Paris Commune uprising and defeat in 1871. David reworked the lyrics to represent the elements of the original that parallel his own aspirations. The piece began with some players carrying the melody in their instruments, some chant-singing the lyrics (all droning in the same middle register), and some doing both! The chanting and playing roles moved in waves through the ensemble, unfolding as an atmospheric anthem. It was like a dream . . . you chance upon an ensemble playing and chanting a faintly familiar tune . . . you look closely at each player and realize . . . they are all you! 
 
Afterwards, David told us that indeed when he wrote the piece, he was essentially addressing himself. Thus, the “my” in the title. He reinforced that sense in the music by setting the singing lines all in his own register, rather than adapt for the individual voices. As we considered my international in retrospect, we imagined the audience joining in the chanting towards the end, for an even more moving effect . . . “If you wake up, you will be free.”
 
Stay tuned for more of our Oberlin adventure in music. 
 
Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com) 
 
Listening Tip: 
Steve Schick plays David Lang’s Anvil Chorus on the Bang on a Can CD “Live 2” from Composer Recordings. 
 

 

February 6, 2012

“George Lewis & Friends on the MCA Stage”: Photos from the Scene

We had a great time playing the music of George Lewis, Steve Lehman, Nicole Mitchell, and Tyshawn Sorey Sunday afternoon at the MCA in Chicago! Many thanks to everyone who came out.

Click the image above to view a few more photos from our pre-show run through.

February 6, 2012

The composing odyssey continues at PS 169!

 

A guest post from ICE pianist (and mastermind behind The Listening Room), Jacob Greenberg.
 
This week, David Byrd-Marrow joined the fray and introduced the French horn to our two fourth-grade classes. After developing their vocabulary of graphic symbols, students started to compose collaboratively in groups for the first time.
 
As always, the kids' markers were color-coded to what the players were wearing: green for toy piano, orange for bassoon, and red for French horn. We'd never seen trio pieces so different from each other!
 
There were many standouts among the compositions, but here are two.  First, "Good vs. Evil," by the illustrious team of Gonzalo, Jenny, Chi Sun and Anika, starts with a death march, continues with a super fast, epic battle and finishes with the bassoon going BOOM!
 
And "The Musical Note," by Jennifer, Jacob, Yu Chen, Miao and Bryant, is clearly an uptempo showpiece for all the instruments. A light, happy rainfall starts things off, and sprinkles of sounds from all three players set up the  piece's happy, extroverted core, climaxing with a low "Super Star" horn break. Rebecca (expertly drawn twice in the treble clef) plays another lick and then it all ends with a Bang! Bam!! finish. I'm not sure what that fish is doing there, though...
 
For next week's finale and final presentation, Eric Lamb comes back on flute, and everyone learns to play percussion instruments with Ross!
 

 

February 4, 2012

Claire Chase @ AIC: Return from Parnassus [Review]

 

Impressions from Row G - ICE AT Art Institute of Chicago
 
According to Cy Twombly’s obituary in the New York Times (Cy Twombly, 1928-2011: American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path) he once said of his work “It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture.” Frankly, until a week or so ago, we didn’t know Cy Twombly from Cy Young (who, it turns out, Mr. Twombly is nick-named for in a roundabout way). But thanks to Claire Chase and composer Marcos Balter we have been ensnared in Twombly’s alternate universe. Claire, along with guest percussionist Svet Stoyoanov, presented a masterful program of works by Takemitsu, Varèse, Reich, and Balter in Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago on Friday, January 27. Marcos’ work Descent from Parnassus was commissioned by the museum and inspired by Twombly’s painting The First Part of the Return from Parnassus which hangs in the new Renzo Piano designed Modern Wing. 
 
Previous ICE blog entries by Claire and Marcos discussing their collaboration on the work and previewing the concert greatly piqued our curiosity to know more. So we arrived at the museum Friday with plenty of time to examine Twombly’s Parnassus. We got a little confused about the location, but we turned a corner and suddenly there it hung, directly beyond the glass doors to its gallery. It is not a painting that is easy to describe. Indeed, painting is not entirely the right word, as the work is composed of overlapping handwritten cryptograms tinged here and there with color. Pencilled scratches and scrawls; painted blotches, splotches and smears; erasures and replacements; here orderly ranks of numbers, letters, waveforms; there disorderly sketches of forms and geometric shapes with uncertain edges, tinged with crayon or paint in white, gray, red, green, blue. In the upper right corner, a golden pyramid, sides numbered 1, 2, 3 . . . Parnassus’ peak? The muses have spoken; Cy tells us what they said in a confusion of symbology. Meaning? Everything. Nothing. We wandered the museum, letting other images and shapes permeate our senses. We returned to Parnassus four times. Each time we knew more, viscerally; understood less, intellectually. 
 
Like Cy said, it’s more like having an experience . . . an apt description for Claire’s world premiere performance of Descent from Parnassus for solo amplified flute. What Marcos and Claire have created is musical, yes. But it is also something beyond or outside of music. In a very tangible way it transports you into some parallel consciousness, much like Twombly’s painting. 
 
Claire’s performance of this music deciphered the painting more clearly than any mere intellectual explanation ever could. With a fearless display of incomprehensible techniques and lingual gymnastics, she inhabited the piece. Laying down overlapping lines of notes, recitations of Dante, groans, howls, pops, clicks, whistles, and simply the vital act of breathing in and out across the flute’s aperture, Claire created a swirling vortex of sounds that pulled us into the maelstrom with her. The amplification provided essential reverberation to extend the length of the counterposed lines, reinforcing the otherworldliness of the experience. Then, it was over. The trance broken, we were dazzled, exhausted, enlightened. We knew, no . . . felt, that we had just traveled somewhere in time and space we had not been before. 
 
The other pieces on Friday’s program were exquisite wrapping paper enfolding the gleaming jewel Return from Parnassus. First, Claire and Svet played Toru Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea, commissioned for Greenpeace’s “Save the Whales” campaign, in an arrangement for alto flute and marimba. Svet played the marimba with amazing delicacy and restraint, a perfect accompaniment to Claire’s plaintive flute lines. The pairing evoked a Japanese sumi-e seascape, painted in sound. 
 
Claire took the stage alone to play Density 21.5 by Edgard Varèse. Claire described the work as a turning point for the flute, unleashing a beast no longer confined to only pretty, feminine, and frilly sounds. She played this daunting piece with all the verve and energy she must have displayed when she mastered it at 13. Svet then took his solo turn on stage, playing his arrangement of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, originally written for Pat Metheny to perform on electric guitar. The contrapuntal nature of the work comes from the performer playing one line against his own recording of the other line. Svet’s reworking brilliantly exploits the tuned/percussive timbres of marimba and xylophone and their sustained sounds to bring an extra dimension to this lively work. 
 
Claire and Svet closed the concert with a high-energy rendering of Iannis Xenakis’ Dmaathen. Originally written for oboe and percussion, they played a 1995 arrangement for flute by Cécile Daroux. Claire had plenty left in the tank to execute a demanding part that included seeming to play lines of simultaneous different notes. But it was Svet who needed to have his gym shoes on. He was in almost continuos motion pounding on bongos and congas (with and without mallets), xylophone, and marimba; kicking a bass drum; striking the side of a gong with a metal rod. All in all, a spirited conclusion to another amazing ICE concert. 
 
Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com) 
 
Listening Tips: 
Svet Stoyanov plays his version of Electric Counterpoint on his CD: “Percussive Counterpoint” on CAG Records. 
Marcos Balter’s compositions Ut and Live Water can be heard on Nadia Sirota’s CD:  “first things first” on New Amsterdam Records.
 
Postscript: We really struggled to articulate our experience of Return to Parnassus. We ruminated, talked, took notes, ruminated, talked, took notes . . . Before long, we looked at the notes (below) and realized we’d “gone all Twombly on ourselves.” 


February 3, 2012

Impressions from Row G

Today we introduce Arlene and Larry Dunn and their new ICE blog feature: “Impressions from Row G.

 
Hello to all you ICE lovers out there. We are here as a result of conversations we had with Claire Chase surrounding the recent Rubin Institute for Music Criticism at Oberlin. We attended the conference in part for its great series of four concerts in four nights, featuring ICE on the final night. We also participated in the institute as “audience critics.” We hoped to heighten our music listening skills and hone our ability to express ourselves about a music performance by jumping into the cauldron of having to write and submit reviews by 9:00 AM the day after. It was exhilarating and exhausting, and we will relate more about the experience in future blog posts. In the midst of this Claire wondered “wouldn’t it be great if we could leverage what you are doing into blog entries that provide an audience reaction and perspective on the ICE experience.” Well, you may know that it is hard to say “no” to Claire (her contagious energy is very persuasive!) . . . so here we are. 
 
We’re calling our posts “Impressions from Row G” because we always seem to be sitting in Row G for performances at MCA Chicago, where we enjoyed our first live ICE encounter a few years ago. We thought it would be helpful to begin our ICE-blogging adventure by providing a bit of background on just what sort of audience perspective we are bringing. We have become rabid followers of contemporary music rather late in life (Larry is 62 and Arlene is 69) by a long and winding path.  Between us, we have a total of one college course in Music Appreciation. Neither of us grew up in “musical” families, no performers among our immediate families or ancestors, and not even much interest in music listening. We each have made ill-fated attempts to play music -- Arlene took a run at the piano when she first retired, and Larry made several attempts to play the guitar and bass to no avail. But our failure to master music performance at any level in no way denies music’s power to profoundly move us, and that is an experience we continually crave. 
 
We are quintessential naive, self-taught listeners. Arlene got hooked on R&B and early Rock and Roll in high school, then got into the beatnik folk scene in Cambridge while she was going to Brandeis. Fellow beatniks turned her on to jazz and some classical music too, and she became an avid listener of all those genres. Larry’s first real immersion into music came in the hippie era of the ‘60s with a deep dive into psychedelic acid rock and early “Album Rock” radio. Larry’s ears were opened up considerably when he met Arlene and her friends in ‘68 and started exploring their eclectic album collections. Together we have pursued many musical threads over the years. In the ‘80s we moved to Chicago, subscribed to the CSO and Lyric Opera, and began to realize there was this contemporary branch of music out there. The mainstream of audiences around us were confused at best, appalled at worst, when such pieces would show up on programs. But we were exhilarated at the energy and creativity we heard in this “music of right now.” Starting with Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, we indulged in contemporary music when and where we could find it; and It wasn’t always easy to find. Live performances were especially sparse. Fortunately contemporary music prospects in Chicago have improved significantly in the past 10 years. Ensembles like ICE, Eighth Blackbird, and Fulcrum Point; and series like CSO’s Music Now and U of C’s Contempo have all greatly expanded the opportunities to hear contemporary music live and introduced us to a wide array of new (to us) composers. 
 
So, here we are, new music junkies seeking a fix wherever we can find it. Live performances are always the best avenue for satisfaction. The web is a big boon to our searching, not only for performance opportunities but for sources of interesting recordings and background information on composers and performers. The WQXR (NYC) new music radio stream Q2 is indispensable. And we have found a surprisingly rich catalogue of contemporary music on the web-based music service Rhapsody, which we stream into our home audio systems using devices from Sonos. No doubt Rhapsody’s competitors like Spotify and MOG have similar catalogues you can tap if you already subscribe there. We also have an extensive CD collection that is deepest in Jazz, our other strongest music interest, and Classical music of all eras. 
 
For us, ICE is the pinnacle of our contemporary music adventure. Perhaps we can sum it up in one statistic -- ICE has premiered over 500 new works in ten or so years of existence. That’s an average of one new work per week for ten years people! 
 
We have postings in the works about the recent Oberlin ICE concert and the Rubin Institute and about the concert at the Art Institute of Chicago on January 27. We will attend the February 5th concert at MCA and the May concert in Boston and will write about those too. Fellow icicles, fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride. 
 
Arlene (acornarlene [at] gmail [dot] com) and Larry (acornled [at] gmail [dot] com) 
 

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