Thursday 10 December 2009

A Quotation, Because It's Nearly Christmas.

Stravinsky; courtesy of Pablo Picasso.

I did not and indeed could not, count on any immediate success for this work. It is devoid of all the elements which infallibly appeal to the ordinary listener and to which he is accustomed. It would be futile to look in it for any passionate impulse or dynamic brilliance.

It is an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of homogeneous instruments.

I fully anticipated that the cantilene of clarinets and flutes, frequently taking up again their liturgical dialogue and softly chanting it, did not offer [the public] sufficient attraction.

Stravinsky writing about Symphonies of Wind Instruments; Chronicle of My Life pp.156-7 (quoted in Stravinsky by Roman Vlad pg. 80)

For US readers, Chronicle of My Life and Stravinsky by Roman Vlad Complement.Inversion.Etc store links (UK store links above.)

Thursday 3 December 2009

Yet More Free Stuff!!. Webern's Complete Works dir. by Robert Craft.

Anton Webern: Trying to look composed after falling over in the grass, probably.

Just spotted a useful tweet from Ubuweb which links to The High Pony Tail blog where you can find 'Webern: The Complete Music recorded under the direction of Robert Craft.'

Recorded in 1957 apparently and released by Columbia as a 4-LP set (out of print and never released on CD.)

Here's the link to an updated post featuring a processed mp3 version of the album and a link to the original post with an unmeddled with version in lossless flac format.

I haven't had a chance to peruse the other content on The High Pony Tail but from the post titles in the sidebar it looks like there is some good stuff available (not sure of the legality of it though, this Craft recording seems ok but I haven't looked at the rest.)

TinyURL for this post:

Friday 6 November 2009

Free Stuff!!, Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments

Stravinsky: 'What's that?, free stuff?'

That's right, Stravinsky's finest piece (possibly, as if such a thing could exist) Symphonies of Wind Instruments was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this evening.

Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth you can listen to it on the BBC's site here, but if that isn't working for you (you are reading this after the 7 day period for instance) then by some strange coincidence some kind and thoughtful soul has uploaded it to the internets, you can get it here as an MP3 (let me know if the link goes dead and I'll try and find another copy of it, somewhere.)

While on the subject of Stravinsky's best piece (cough) don't forget about Frank Scheffer's excellent documentary 'Stravinsky: The Final Chorale' available on DVD from the complement.inversion store here (US 'customers' go here.)

It's a double bill with his documentary about Schoenberg's über Five Orchestral Pieces (now in its centenary year.)

Probably the 'best' DVD in Ideale Audience International's 'Juxtapositions' series (excluding the ones about Glass, Part and Dun, not seen those obviously, or, obviously)

Both documentaries feature the usual talking heads stuff about the pieces and end with performances (the Stravinsky by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble cond. Reinbert De Leeuw, the Schoenberg by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic cond. Michael Gielen), very worth seeing.

Tinyurl for this post:

Saturday 31 October 2009

Quote Of The Last Few Months (normal service resumed)

Varèse: seemingly unaware of the piano next to him.

Suddenly, toward the end of his life, Kierkegaard began to worry what his answer might be if he were asked in Heaven: 'Did you make things clear?.' He realised that in order to make things clear, he must make it known that of all those serving the Church of Denmark, not one had any feelings for God.

And ourselves?, what if we were faced with the same question?, being that music is our life, in that it has given us life - did we make things clear?. That is do we love Music, and not the systems, the rituals, the symbols - the worldly, greedy gymnastics we substitute for it?. That is, do we give everything - a total commitment to our own uniqueness?.

Have we no examples of this?, is this not Varèse?. Do we only have models for scale tinkering and instrument clinking?. Do we think Varèse isnow something to dissect?. Are we making ready the test tubes?, remember, there was no funeral. He escaped.
Morton Feldman: Perspectives of New Music, Vol 4, No.2 (Spring - Summer 1966)

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Berio Liner Notes; Poetic Injustice.

Dealing out criticism isn't really in this blog's remit (I prefer to feature things I like), however this is something worth covering, perhaps.

A while ago I started collecting Berio material, recordings, scores, documentaries, books and so on (previously I just had Sinfonia on cd, sad, I know.)

A primary resource is my local music library, thankfully they have quite a bit of stuff, however there was a gap in their catalogue. In stock were the scores for Chemins I and Chemins IIb/c but they didn't have any recordings of them, the only ones currently available were on a fairly recent Col Legno release (Chemins I and IIb, IIc is the same but includes an extra bass clarinet part, not sure a commercial recording of this exists.)

So I filled in a form on the library's site suggesting they buy this cd and that I would like to reserve it if they did. I heard nothing back about it for a few months and in the meantime I bought the album as an Mp3 from ClassicsOnline (link here), and very good it is too (you can watch the Chemins I performance on YouTube here, not a great quality recording but on the plus side, it's free. The cd also includes Formazioni and Concerto For Two Pianos and Orchestra.)

Then the other day I got an email saying the library had bought the cd and it was reserved for me (I had forgotten all about it), I thought I ought to go and borrow it even though I didn't really need it now (at least I could burn a copy of it and have an uncompressed audio version, I had paid for an mp3 of it remember.)

On the way home from the library I ran into a musician friend (Mark the tubist) who on hearing the story said 'at least you'll have the liner notes'. Yes I thought, good point, I walked the rest of the way home thinking about all the fine words the booklet would surely contain.

However, this was not to be. For some strange, unfathomable reason, poetry has replaced the usual and arguably more useful musicological/biographical material. I shall subject treat you to an example.
Formazioni -:

there's a draft (quake, quote)
that is building up
collectively and thereover
and above it the little birds
buzzing hissing
the sun rises
mounting darkness
a cloud of white birds in the white whey
i acknowledge
i know nothing
pricking pins (pastiche)
then the part
partitioned parts lend it
a sudden whole
trumpets fanfare briefly
strike without
You, she says, or i, say she
Ferdinand Schmatz, September 2008

I'm no literary critic so I'm not going to comment on the relative merits of the work, but do think Col Legno should have included some normal liner notes, with or without the poetry.

To end on a positive note, if you like Berio's music this cd is a must-have and I commend Col Legno for releasing it, just don't expect to learn anything about the music from the booklet.

I've 'stocked' the cd in my shop/store, UK here, US here.

TinyURL for this post...

Friday 24 July 2009

Contemporary Music At The Proms 2009

[Note: This is a duplicate/archive of an article I published on Sequenza 21
on 14/07/2009]


Yes, it's Proms season again here in the UK/GB (see link for the differences.) The "worlds greatest music festival" kicks off on Friday and I thought I would put together a vaguely 'contemporary' programme for those so inclined.

Included are composers who are still alive regardless of 'style', and a few 20th century composers I thought relevant (excuse my subjective and rather fuzzy criteria; Stravinsky and Bartók are included for instance, Debussy, Ravel and Shostakovich are not; feel free to berate me in the comments section.)

All the concerts listed will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be archived a week or so later on their website (for seven days only). Also, the BBC normally broadcasts quite a few live on TV (usually on BBC 2); these will be archived on their 'iPlayer' but unfortunately this is not accessible by those outside the UK (if you are not a native get your British friends to set their VCRs or whatever newfangled device people are using these days).

If you fancy making a personal appearance, most of the concerts will be on at the Royal Albert Hall in London with those from the 'Proms Chamber Music' series occurring at Cadogan Hall in Chelsea (listed below with the prefix 'PCM', Chelsea is also in London if you didn't already know.) The festival runs from Friday the 17th of July to Saturday the 12th of September.

If you are visiting from outside the UK this might be a good year given how weak the pound is currently (against the US Dollar and the Euro at least.) To buy tickets and to check availability please visit the Royal Albert Hall's tickets page.

Rather than list each Prom I thought composers in alphabetical order might be more helpful (taken from this page on the BBC site where you can access the full list, including Debussy, Ravel and Shostakovich et al), please click on the links to each piece to get more information about the specific concert.

A couple I am looking forward to are Prom 63 featuring two Xenakis pieces (Aïs and Nomos Gamma) and Prom 65 featuring Ligeti's Atmospheres and Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces (in it's 100th year) conducted by Jonathan Nott. Also it will interesting to see/hear some of the pieces by younger composers I have never heard anything from before such as Anna Meredith, whose piece Left Light is premiered at Prom 32 and Ben Foskett whose From Trumpet has its first outing at Prom 24.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the list... [EDIT: I've now added a link to a Google calendar with the dates and details of all the Proms in the list plus a few more I think, thanks very much to Jamie Bullock for putting it together.]

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Contemporary Music at the Proms, on S21

Just uploaded a list of more or less 'contemporary' music on at this year's Proms at Sequenza 21, I'll archive it here in a week or so.

EDIT: The list now includes a Google calendar version of the list (and an ical file too.) Thanks to Jamie Bullock for putting it together.

Saturday 11 July 2009

A Quotation For Nearly The Middle of July

Berio: Cigar, mackintosh, strange heart shaped pendant (???)
'I get the impression that behind the far-from-desperate musical folly of a Morton Feldman who writes everything pianissimo, lies the fear of taking even a step out of the "avant-garde", lest he should end up in those regions which in old maps used to carry the inscription "hic sunt leones", where music opens out with all its volcanoes, its seas and its hills. Maybe he is afraid of being eaten alive.'
Luciano Berio, an interview with Rossana Dalmonte (1981), from Luciano Berio, Two Interviews, available in the UK here, US here.

TinyURL for this post...

Thursday 9 July 2009

Quotation For Early July

Ferneyhough, Cage, and Reynolds (image courtesy of The Library of Congress.)
'What I have against the term "serial" is certainly partially dictated by the cliche which the word has become. In a sense, it means all and nothing. Music is in every case a more or less ordered object; whether the methods employed call for some form of pre-ordering or emerge only in the course of actual composition by so-called intuitive processes is scarcely very interesting.'
Brian Ferneyhough, Interview with Andrew Clements, taken from Brian Ferneyhough: Collected Writings, edited by James Boros and Richard Toop. Available in the UK here, US here.

TinyURL link for this post..

Thursday 25 June 2009

Earle Brown Documentary, yes....Free Stuff!!!

Earle Brown: Is that a tan or has he just been up a chimney?.

This may not be news to some, but if you go to Earle Brown's site you can watch a 25 minute documentary about him (you have to hand over some email details first though.)

It features the great man himself explaining some of his ideas and the history behind them, plus a little conducting footage is thrown in for good measure.

Oh, and also you get to watch him feed some swans in slow motion and hose down his black Porsche 911 (which he drives later on, wearing a black baseball cap, black leather jacket, blue jeans and white hi-top sneakers, nice, it looks like late 90s early noughties too, even better.)

Here is the now routine tinyurl for this post for feeds/blogs/water cooler conversations and so on..

Quotation For The End of June

Alan Walker: being 'generous' at McMaster University.
'The whole point of an inspired composition is that it diversifies a unity. On the other hand, the whole point about musical analysis is that it seeks to show the unity behind the diversity.'
Alan Walker, A Study in Musical Analysis (London, 1962).

Quoted in Repetition in Music by Adam Ockleford.

You can purchase the book in the UK here, or in the US here (probably better to buy it from the UK though, it's £10, compared to $100 in the US.)

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Quotation For Mid-June 2009, and, Free Stuff!!.

Lerdahl and Jackendoff: not a brand name emblazoned on hi-end audio equipment, apparently.

..'What of the other well-known Chomskian argument, the argument from linguistic universals? Chomsky urges that the existence of certain principles common to all languages strengthens the case for innateness. Are there structural similarities between the musics of different cultures that would support a parallel argument for music?.

Not just any universal feature will suffice for such an argument to work: in order to justify an explanation in terms of innate cognitions, the universal features need to be of reasonable complexity and somewhat "unobvious". For example, suppose it were found that all cultures made chairs. It would clearly be absurd to attribute this universal to a specialised mental structure for chair construction, because the idea of a chair is just too obvious to need a special structure.

I think we can say the same of ideas such as regular pulse, pitch centricity, and scales. Consider the example given in the context of Lerdahl and Jackendoff's version of the universality argument:
The range of variation among rules in different idioms also constitutes grounds for hypotheses about innateness. For example (to consider an extreme case), though idioms differ in metrical and intervallic possibilities, we feel safe in conjecturing that there is no idiom that makes use of metrical regularities 31 beats apart, or for which the most stable melodic interval is the thirteenth.
The trouble with this is that such similarities are just too obvious to call for explanation in terms of an innate grammar or module. The preference for somewhat smaller, more readily singable, intervals and simpler divisions of musical time are just the most obvious musical structures, just as chairs are the obvious things to sit on.

This is really another version of Putnam's point: if a structural principle is simpler than the
alternatives, it does not need to be explained by innate cognition.'

John Croft; Musical Memory, Complexity, and Lerdahl's Cognitive Constraints. 11-12. (masters thesis from 1999 which you can download for free from Croft's site here.)

TinyURL for this post for blogs/feeds etc....

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Birtwistle On Messiaen

Interesting video here from the Southbank Centre in London with Birtwistle talking to Gillian Moore about Messiaen (I found it on the London Sinfonietta's site.)

If that wasn't enough the Southbank Centre made a three part documentary on Messiaen in 2008 (as part of their Messiaen festival) that's also on the same YouTube 'channel' (Lightweight Media.) Links to parts 1, 2 and 3. (it says a four part documentary in the blurb but I can't find that one, also, who knew Jack Bruce was a Messiaen fan?.)

BTW if you want to download this or other YouTube videos I suggest using Any Video Converter, it's free (in basic form) and once you have downloaded the clip it will convert the file into a format of your choice (I have been dl'ing stuff off YouTube and putting them on my Walkman, the quality is surprisingly good.)

Probably best to use the HQ version of the clip you want to DL, to do this add some text to the end of the YouTube URL,... &fmt=18

As per usual these days, here is a tinyurl for this post for your blogs and twitterings and so on..

Monday 1 June 2009

Berio's Sincronie, More Free Stuff!!!.

Yes indeed. I found an old copy of the score to Berio's string quartet 'Sincronie' (1964-67) a while ago at my library and it looked like an interesting piece, however, I couldn't get hold of a recording of it (you can get a study score here, via UE.)

The only one available is on a Disques Montaigne CD* performed by the Arditti Quartet from 2002 but that is out of print (at the time of writing you can buy a second hand copy for over £50 on Amazon.)

I gave up looking after a while, then, like a crepuscular ray, I saw the light. A set of torrents called the Vinyl Flac Project or VFP. Inspired by the boss Avant Garde Project the VFP collects old vinyl recordings which have never been released digitally and preserves them for the good of man/womankind.

There doesn't seem to be much uploaded so far (from a few searches I made anyway) but amongst what I could find there was a recording of Sincronie made by the Lenox String Quartet.

Unfortunately I can't find a date for the recording though judging by the graphic design of the record sleeve and the audio quality I would guess late 60s to early 70s (I stand to be corrected.)

It took a few days to download the torrent but I got it eventually, to save you the trouble of doing the same I have uploaded a 320kbs Mp3 of the piece to deposit files, download it here (its about 32meg.)

Here is what Berio had to say about the piece in the program at the 'world premiere' in 1964..(from the OCR version of the liner notes of the album that comes with the torrent, I've uploaded the .doc file here.)
"Most commonly used instrumental ensembles reflect the typical equilibrium of classic polyphony. There is no doubt that the four voices of a string quartet are one of the most homogeneous and perfect examples of this equilibrium. With "Sincronie," however, I was interested in using the string quartet not especially as a polyphonic ensemble, i.e. as a dialogue among four voices of the same family but rather as a single, homophonic instru­ment. The four participants elaborate the same sequence of harmonic blocs almost continuously, simultaneously 'saying' the same thing in different ways."
The original torrent is here.

Here is a TinyURL for this post for your feeds/blogs etc, (please don't just rob the links.)

Regards copyright etc, I have no idea if anyone still owns the rights to the recording but am fairly certain that if someone does they won't be expecting to get rich off the back of it or ever release it again so it seems fair to share this rare gem (if you do own the copyright and want me to remove the link let me know in the comments section.)

*Re Disques Montaigne, that link is to their parent company Naïve, they were purchased by them in 1998 and don't have their own web address for some strange reason, you have to navigate the overly-fancy Naïve one to find the relevant stock.

EDIT: 14/10/2010

Thanks to Tassimo for adding some useful info in the comments section about the various recordings of this work. I've added the text below.......................

There have been four recordings of Berio’s Sincronie, two of which were released on LP, two on CD:

Luciano Berio: Sincronie (1963-64; 1966)
The Lenox String Quartet
Peter Marsh & Delmar Pettys, violins; Paul Hersh, viola; Donald McCall, ’cello
Desto CD 7129 [This is the LP catalogue number] According to the liner notes, “Berio added a section to the work after the original ending in 1967 which completes the present work as recorded here,” so the recording probably dates from 1967 or thereabouts. Other sources date the revision/expansion to 1966. (The Lenox Quartet had premièred the first version in Grinnell, Iowa, on 25 November, 1964.)

Luciano Berio: Sincronie (1963-64; 1966)
String Quartet of the Società Cameristica Italiana
Enzo Porta & Umberto Oliveti, violins; Emilio Poggioni, viola; Italo Gomez, ’cello
Recorded October 1968, Südwestfunk, Baden-Baden
Wergo 60053 (P) 1970 [?]

Luciano Berio: Sincronie (1963-64; 1966)
Kairos Quartett
Wolfgang Bender & Chatschatur Kanajan, violins; Simone Heilgendorff, viola; Claudius von Wrochem, cello
edition zeitklang ez-90007 (or DeutschlandRadio 4032824000092)
Recorded Berlin, 28 December 2000, (P) 2001

Luciano Berio: Sincronie (1963-64; 1966)
Arditti String Quartet
Irvine Arditti & Graeme Jennings, violins; Dov Scheindlin, viola; Rohan de Saram, cello
Disque Montaigne: Naive MO 782155
Recorded 2002; (P) 2002

Friday 29 May 2009

Free Stuff!!!, Berio Interview and Ferneyhough Pieces Free To Stream, and More!.

Berio, during his neck-less period.

For your perusal today I have an interview with Berio on NPR from March 1994 (thanks to Laputean Solaris for the link, worth checking his twitter feed for more interesting stuff)

Also, an oldie but a goodie (did I just write that?), some Ferneyhough pieces free to stream via the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg, go here.

A list of the pieces..(real media streams)
Prometheus (1967) für Bläsersextett
Four Miniatures (1965) für Flöte und Klavier
Terrain (1991/92) für Violine und Oktett
On Stellar Magnitudes (1994) für Sopran und 5 Instrumente
Superscriptio (1981) für Piccoloflöte
La Chute d'Icare (1988) für Klarinette und Ensemble

Also, if that wasn't enough, the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg has more stuff to stream, from Yun, Härtling, Killmayer, Matsudaira, Donatoni, and Kancheli.

Here is a TinyURL address to link back to his post for your twitter/FB feeds and so on...,

Monday 25 May 2009

Quotation For Late May, and, Free Stuff!!.

Xenakis: Possibly taking a break from doing a spot of painting and decorating (just out of shot is a large mug of strong tea and a king size Lambert and Butler alight in an ashtray)
Xenakis: ...'I was amazed by the fact that with so few notes you can produce that comprehension of things. I felt like a child because I write many notes.'

Feldman: 'I felt like a child because I write so few notes. Half of the alphabet is not there. . .'

Xenakis: 'It also was a kind of lesson: I thought about a piece that I should write with very few notes. . .'

Morton Feldman and Iannis Xenakis In conversation 1988. You can download the full text here (via Evergreen State College.)

Let me know if the link goes dead and I'll upload it again, also please link back to this post if you want to spread the freeness on your twitter feeds or blogs etc (don't just go 'hey guys, look what I found!.'), here is a tinyURL link especially for you....

Monday 18 May 2009

Free Stuff!!, Again: Contemporary Music on YouTube and from the JACK Quartet

The JACK Quartet (photo by Justin Bernhaut.)

I haven't done a 'free stuff' post for a while, sorry about that, not been on the internets much recently (composing, listening, reading scores, international espionage, you know the deal.)

Here is one to be going along with anyway. I spotted on Tim Rutherford Johnson's blog The Rambler that he has updated his YouTube list of contemporary classical music, worth a look (he also has a list of classical mp3 blogs too.)

Also, I should mention the JACK Quartet again, not only have they recently recorded and released Xenakis's complete string quartets on Mode Records (CD/DVDs) but as I mentioned a while ago, they have a fair bit of music free to stream on their site (Lachenmann, Xenakis, Cassidy, Eötvös and more.)

EDIT: The JACK Quartet used to have full pieces to download/stream on their site but now there are only samples unfortunately, still, better than nothing eh.

If you are feeling in the mood to purchase the JACK Quartet's new releases you can get them at the Complement.Inversion.Etc shop/store.

UK shoppers go here for the CD, and here for the DVD, shoppers in the US go here for the for DVD and at the moment I can't find the CD listed in the US (?) (you can download the CD as an mp3 too BTW, nice, here for UK, here for US)

Saturday 16 May 2009

Now a Sequenza 21 Contributor

That's right, as of fairly recently I am now a contributing editor for the excellent new music site Sequenza 21. Almost certainly the most visited new music site on the internets (in the English language anyway, but probably in any language, New Music Box is another worthy contender I suppose, slightly different remit though).

When I have something to contribute (nothing as yet, working on it, busy with music lately) I'll post a link to the article here then archive it here after a couple of weeks.

Quotation For Mid May

What I want...
- is always the same: a music which in order to be grasped, does not require a privileged intellectual training, but can rely uniquely upon its compositional clarity and logic; a music which is at the same time the expression and the aesthetic form of a curiosity able to reflect everything - including the illusion of progressive-ness. Art as a fore-taste of freedom in an age without freedom.

Helmut Lachenmann: from the liner notes of the Kairos CD pictured above. Available as usual from the small but ever-growing and select CD stock at the Complement.Inversion.Etc shop, or store if you are in the U.S.A.

Also, check out this audio interview with Lachenmann at/with the Slought Foundation way back in 2008.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Quotation For Early May

A Japanese Biwa, image courtesy of Centre for Nonlinear Studies,
Institute of Cybernetics at
Tallinn University of Technology

A sawari mechanism on a Shamisen, 'Sawari is a mechanizm of making buzzing sound purposely to put the first string off the upper bridge of shamisen, and the touch the string to top of the dent and then we can get the buzzing sound like biwa.(Biwa has this mechanism in all strings.)' text and image from a Japanese blog I can't work out the title of, here.

Tradition of Sawari

The biwa could be called the mother of Japanese music. The major characteristic that sets it apart from Western instruments is the active inclusion of noise in its sound, whereas Western instruments, in the process of their development, sought to eliminate noise. It may sound contradictory to refer to 'beautiful noise,' but the biwa is constructed to create such a sound. That sound is called sawari, a term that also has come to be used in a general sense, as we shall see.

On the biwa the sawari is part of the neck of the instrument where four or five strings are stretched over a grooved ivory plate. When a string is stretched between these grooves and plucked, it strikes the grooves and makes a noise. The concave area of the this ivory plate is called the 'valley of the sawari,' the convex area the 'mountain of the sawari,' and the entire plate simply sawari. When a string is stretched between these grooves and plucked, it strikes the grooves and makes a noisy 'bin.'

The term sawari may also mean 'to touch,' but this term, more than referring to a part of an instrument or touching, contains a much wider significance useful in understanding Japanese aesthetics.

In a book from the Edo period [1615-1867], the biwa player is advised to try and imitate the sound of the cicada. The biwa is deliberately designed, with sawari plate, to create such insect sounds. This is also true of the shamisen.

The term sawari, which also means 'touch,' may additionally mean 'obstacle.' Thus, sawari is the 'apparatus of an obstacle' itself. In a sense it is an intentional inconvenience that creates a part of the expressiveness of the sound. Compared to the Western attitude toward musical instruments, this deliberate obstruction represents a very different approach to sound.

In the kabuki repertory there are many long works such as Chushingura. When one sees only the famous scenes this is referred to as 'viewing only the sawari.' In this sense sawari is a very important part of a work.

What we call hogaku today is that collection of pieces developed and refined by the Edo population. Why did those people bring sawari (understood now in the sense of obstacles) into their music?. Whether the reasons were political, religious or social is not clear to me.

The monthly biological function in women is also referred to in Japanese as the 'monthly sawari' - a natural inconvenience for women but essential in producing children. For me there is something symbolic about this: the inconvenience is potentially creative. In music the artificial inconvenience in creating sound produces the sound. The resulting biwa sound is strong, ambiguous, deeply significant. While the Japanese biwa cannot execute the fast passages that are part of the Chinese p'ip'a technique, it is capable of complex, profound and wonderful sounds.

We can see that the Japanese and Western approaches to music are quite different. We speak of essential elements in Western music - rhythm, melody and harmony. Japanese music considers the quality of sound rather than melody. The inclusion in music of natural noise, such as the sound of the cicada, symbolises the development of the Japanese appreciation of complex sounds.

Tōru Takemitsu; Confronting Silence. (US astore link)

Sunday 3 May 2009

Listening/Reading Recently

Eötvös: writing on a score, see? (image courtesy of his site.)

Listening to and reading recently (apart from the Eötvös score and Kurtág Op2 score which I have ordered from EMB and the Feldman and the Dutilleux which I don't have access to, the Feldman isn't published anyway I don't think)

Eötvös - Sequences of the Wind ('flute and other instruments')
Scelsi - Ko Lho (flute and clarinet)
Kurtág - Officium Breve Op28 (string quartet), Wind Quintet Op2 (have a guess)
Dillon - Sgothan (flute)
Ferneyhough - Superscriptio (piccolo)
Lachenmann - Air (percussion and orchestra)
Berio - Allelujah II (for five groups of instruments), Points on a Curve to Find (for piano and 22 instruments)
Messiaen - Trois Petites Liturgies De La Presence Divine (women's choir, piano, onde Martenot, celesta, percussion, and strings)
Takemitsu - Garden Rain (brass ensemble)
Feldman - Trio for Flutes (erm)
Dusapin - I Pesci (flute)
Dutilleux - Ainsi La Nuit (string quartet)

Thursday 30 April 2009

Calling All Contemporary Woodwind Ensembles

James Dillon, image courtesy of the Guardian, this interview as it happens.

I recently started looking at James Dillon's pieces, starting with Sgothan for flute (which you can hear performed for free by Richard Craig via the great Avant-Garde-Project, Sgothan really stands out on that album as per my ears).

Then the other day I spotted the score for a woodwind quintet called 'Le Rivage' by Dillon in my library's 'basement stock' and I took it out (you have to find the secret PDF file of their non-catalogued contemporary music and ask for stuff 24 hours in advance, it's quite exciting.)

It looks really interesting (only had it since yesterday, not studied it properly yet.) I started looking around for a decent recording of it, no luck, apparently there is no commerically available recording of the piece (I googled, quite a lot), but you can hear an extract of the Ensemble Intercontemporain performing it via the French archive search engine/site/thing I posted about recently.

It sounds good to me, I would like to hear the rest and emailed the archive but unfortunately they can't sell or distribute the recording (legal stuff.). They suggested I contact Mr Dillon himself, which I did, he confirmed that there isn't a recording available to buy anywhere (but did give me a line on an 80s recording to follow up), so I am suggesting that someone make one, immediately!.

Some exciting and talented woodwind ensemble should take it on, I would buy it, so would others presumably. If you are in a woodwind ensemble or know someone who is, get on it.

Fear of Music: Visual Art vs Music

Perhaps an interesting book here (I haven't added it to the now world famous Complement.Inversion.Etc shop because it might not be that interesting, I haven't read it, I might do at some point)

Writer/Composer David Stubbs wonders why people 'get' Modern Art like Mark Rothko's but don't 'get' contemporary, avant-garde music like Stockhausen's and Feldman's, listen here on the BBC's Today programme site, including some audio from the programme and some extracts to listen to of pieces Stubbs recommends.

I sort of agree with Stubbs, that contemporary music should be appreciated in the same way as modern art, however, there would be a downside, one thing that is valuable about contemporary music is its resistance to commercial appropriation (commerce being arguably, the most dominant force on the planet, for better or worse.)

I don't want to draw out some extended Adorno like argument about how great it is to resist popular paradigms and so on but I think it's worth mentioning that having some forms of music or art which don't appear in TV commercials or as background music in hotel bars and so on is a good thing.

It's like a musical wilderness or green belt land, somewhere you can go without seeing a Macdonalds or a Barrett home or a billboard advert for underwear or car insurance. In this sense contemporary music is certainly not elitist as it is sometimes claimed, it's our music, not something that can be co-opted and sold back to us as a cliché (perhaps I have tempted fate, expect to see a new iPod advert featuring one of Berio's sequenzas or something)

By the way I am not suggesting commerical music is bad or immoral by comparison (that would be silly), just that there is a place for music that is outside of mainstream discourse, we don't have to feel sorry for contemporary music or seek to change the situation.

While being at the cultural margins relative to the mainstream has its problems - e.g lack of resources, scores going out of print, lack of performances and so on - the plus side is more than a compensation arguably.

Either way, it's a win-win situation in my opinion, if contemporary music suddenly becomes the new pop, fine, if it stays in the margins, fine. I don't see any reason to complain. Foucault said it far more elegantly some time ago (I've quoted this before on this blog, I'll probably do so again.)

'..Painting in those days was something to be talked about; at any rate, aesthetics, philosophy, reflection, taste - and politics, as I recall - felt they had a right to say something about the matter, and they applied themselves to it as if it were a duty: Piero della Francesca, Venice, Cezanne, or Braque. Silence protected music, however, preserving its insolence.'

Michel Foucault: 'Pierre Boulez, passing through the screen'; Aesthetics Vol 2, Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984.

Sunday 26 April 2009

A Quotation For Late April

György Kurtág
Amid this motley procession of works that passed in front of my increasingly overstrained eyes, one score suddenly arrested my attention and assailed my curiosity. Composed for soprano voice with piano accompaniment, it immediately struck me by virtue of its uniqueness. In retrospect I think it must have been The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza.

My queries yielded the information that the composer, György Kurtág, whose name was totally unknown to me (I later found out that this work had actually been performed in Darmstadt in 1968, but I hadn't set foot in Darmstadt since 1965, following years of perhaps good, and certainly loyal, service!) was working on a piece entitled Messages of the Late Miss R.V. Troussova for soprano and a small orchestra.

I immediately seized on the opportunity and, following some complications of the practical sort, we managed to produce a meticulously rehearsed performance as well as the first recording of this piece. Thus began a sustained relationship whose milestones were set by compositions that consistently displayed genuine originality within a thoroughly personal sphere.

After consulting the archives of the Ensemble Intercontemporain I realised that, curiously enough, to this very day we have never performed The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza, the work to which I owe my discovery of this utterly singular composer. I hope that we will have a chance to perform it in the near future, even if it was not exactly written for a birthday celebration.
Pierre Boulez 'Birthday Greetings' to György Kurtág, from the Hungarian Quarterly.

Also from the same publication, Struck By Apollo; Remembering György Ligeti by György Kurtág (2007)

Saturday 25 April 2009

Lutoslawski's Ad Libitum method: A Failed Experiment.

A while I ago I was looking into Lutoslawski's 'ad libitum' method - called, post-facto, 'controlled aletoricism' by the more musicologically minded - I didn't get that far into it before I moved on to look at something else (studying Simha Arom's book 'African Polyphony and Polyrhythm', still some way from finishing it, it's about 700 pages long, I am currently more interested in scoring things conventionally at the moment so I chose to follow this route first)

From what I picked up the pitches are notated but the durations, tempos and rhythmic values are, in general, approximate. These sections are cued in and out by the conductor, sometimes performed simultaneously with semi-conducted sections (where the conductor gives some instruments a starting pulse/tempo, as in Jeux Venetiens) and (more often) these ad libitum sections are juxtaposed with fully conducted or 'A Battuta' sections/movements (as in Chain 2.) [one odd one out so to speak, is his String Quartet of 1964, which obviously, has no conductor, I intend to study that one more closely when I get the opportunity.]

Even though I hadn't grasped the method fully (probably an understatement) I had a mess around with it by multi-tracking some flute parts. I wrote a twelve-tone row and simple aggregate section (i.e. all twelve notes in use at once, 4 per voice) to see what they sounded like, not that great as it turns out (make your own mind up from the YouTube clip.)

I constructed the twelve-tone row as chromatically as I could stomach in the hope that the vertical alignment wouldn't stray too far from the sound I had in mind (i.e. avoiding any tonal implications ideally).

I chose a twelve-tone row just to see how it worked as presumably it's one of the most trying or challenging melodic/horizontal forms to use (the more pitches you use, arguably, the more indeterminate the result.)

As you can see from the score on the video clip it's a basic heterophonic form, the same line with slightly different rhythmic values (played freely/approximately.)

The aggregate section is musically more successful in my opinion but still wanders somewhat and in the vertical domain there are a few shaky moments, and some nice ones. From my cursory look at Lutoslawski's method he tends to use less pitches per voice which, I think, results in a more predictable vertical arrangement, that is how it seems to me anyway comparing the tone row version and the aggregate section.

One reason I tried using this more indeterminate approach was to see why Lutoslawski didn't (I haven't seen any evidence of him composing like this anyway however I may find some when I look into it properly.) Perhaps using this many pitches per voice would require a fully scored approach to maintain the 'atonal equilibrium'.

I thought I would upload it here anyway just in case anyone finds it interesting or is researching this themselves also, I learned something from it anyway (what not to do, more or less).

I intend to look into this properly when I have finished looking at African polyphony/polyrhythm.

Also please bear in mind I have only been playing the flute for a year and a half so it's a bit ropey here and there, particularly the higher notes which are a bit edgy. I should also state that I had to pitch correct the higher flute part slightly in the aggregate section as it was sharp compared to the lower two (I performed each part without listening to the others, as Lutoslawski recommends, implicitly at least, in some of his score notes.) In retrospect I should have used a reference tone to play to however a 'natural' performance wasn't necessary for this test, I just wanted to see how the texture sounded.

Thursday 23 April 2009

French Contemporary Music Archive

This site I just ran into looks quite useful, I'll let them explain...,
The gateway to contemporary music resources in France is a specialized search engine for art music from 1945 to this day. Simple or advanced searches allow one to find and localize resources made available by the French partners of the gateway: documents (books, periodicals, music scores, commercial and archival sound recordings, films, program notes, documentary files, music databases…), events (concerts, festivals, conferences, courses…), addresses (of people and organizations). It is thus possible to find rapidly which library holds documents about a specific music work (recordings, scores, analyses…), where and when it will be performed in a live concert, how to contact the composer or a performer and to read their biographies. Many sound excerpts of heretofore unpublished archives are available online.

This gateway has been made possible with grants from the French Ministère de la culture et de la communication and Sacem to the founding partners.

Add to that this more recent news...,
2/16/09 : over 2000 excerpts from the sound archives of the Ensemble inter­con­temporain went online and are accessible via this gateway. • 2/2/09 The records of the contemporary music holdings of the Conservatoire national supérieur musique et danse de Lyon have integrated the gateway.
A good research tool by the looks of it, perhaps even more respect is due to the French taxpayer (what with their generous funding of contemporary music and all, e.g. IRCAM)

Tuesday 21 April 2009

A Beautiful Score (Kurtág)

It's not often that the graphic design of a score is this good (in my experience and as per my tastes.)

Kurtag's Omagio A Luigi Nono doesn't just have a pretty cover, have a look at the third movement, a beautiful, elegant page of music, and it sounds like it looks (unsurprisingly, perhaps, have a look at the YouTube clip of the piece at the bottom of the post).

I intend to look more closely at the harmony at some point but I am currently a bit too busy with other stuff so it will have to wait. The piece can be found on this CD (first link UK shop, second US, the first CD 'in stock', so far.) The score is currently out of print unfortunately (so I am told by Boosey and Hawkes although they are still listing it for some reason)

(click on the images to enlarge them, as per usual.)

UPDATE: Hungarian composer Adam Kondor informs me that Kurtág scores can be ordered direct from the publisher, Editio Musica Budapest. Thanks to Adam for the information and links.

Also if you search on their site you can have a look at sample pages of the scores and listen to extracts of pieces, nice feature/s.

Unfortunately, EMB have changed the design of their scores, now Omagio has a somewhat muted black shiny jacket, see. (looks a bit like a restaurant wine list.)

Thursday 16 April 2009

Now On Twitter

Yes, I now have a Twitter account (which must make me a twit) not quite sure what it's all about but I have signed up anyway. Not really looked around for people/stuff to 'follow' yet but I intend to update information about things posted on this blog and/or other possibly exciting music things.

If you are also a contemporary music person then feel free to add me or follow me or whatever people call it and i'll do likewise (or just hide behind the sofa and hope all this networking tish-tosh goes away or something.)

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Quotation for Mid-April

Reginald Smith Brindle (right) talking to Danish guitarist Erling Moldrup, image courtesy of Moldrup's site.
Summing up in the general musical scene, it would seem that the major period of avant-gardism is past, and the most radical upheaval in musical history is over. For a while it seemed that genius could only be expressed through the greatest complexity and erudition, but in the end, it would seem rather that true genius lies where the profoundest thoughts are expressed with the greatest directness and lucidity. But while it seems certain that the sound jungles of Répons lead to non-communication, it is enigmatic as to what simple musical language can become a vehicle for our deepest feelings. Perhaps that is the next musical revolution. Nevertheless the avant-garde period has revealed a vitality in music which by comparion, makes the other arts seem in decline.
Reginald Smith Brindle; The New Music ('Conclusions -1986'.)

Ferneyhough's Bone Alphabet

An interesting video of Ferneyhough talking about how to play the beginning of his piece Bone Alphabet, also I've posted a performance of the piece in the video below that by Morris Palter (I can't vouch for the accuracy of the performance, I don't have the score, or the 'chops' probably but it sounds good to me anyway apart from the usual camcorder sound issues)

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Quotation For Early April

Helmut Lachenmann, resting the weight of his beard on his fingers.
Beauty-according to my own definition from twenty years ago-as 'the denial of habit' (not of all things habitual!)-has, insofar as the term 'habit' encompasses the idea of (...comfortably? thoughtlessly? safely? unemancipatedly?) 'dwelling', the following meaning: an offer to break free from all security, i.e. a naively intact bourgeois consciousness. The 'retrieval of art' would thus-to expand upon Kraus's pronouncement-mean: bringing art to a place of in-security, discarding false securities, and doing this with reference to an innovatively-orientated work-ideal that subjects our experience of music to constant dialectical renewal.
Helmut Lachenmann; Philosophy of Composition: from Identity and Difference: Essays on Music, Language and Time.

(first half of blue link above goes to the UK compinv Amazon shop, second part to the US store, UPDATE, that doesn't work for some reason, link to UK shop here.)

Thursday 2 April 2009

Free Stuff!!: Ligeti Documentary with English Subs, Plus Other Stuff Inc Audio Interview

Ligeti: A still from the documentary linked to here.

That's right, that documentary on Ligeti you might have come across, the only one ever made as far as I know which unfortunately never had English subtitles, well now it has, sort of, with a bit of jiggery-pokery.

Here is the English blurb and credits..
Runtime: 64mins
Language: French (no subtitles)

Réalisateur: Michel Follin
Auteurs: Judit Kele, Michel Follin, Arnaud de Mezamat
CoProduction: Abacaris Film, Artline Films, La Sept Arte, RTBF, Magyar
Televizio, Productions du Sablier, Centre Georges Pompidou

Grand Prix, Festival International du Film d’Art de Montréal (1994) Prix Sacem, Film de musique (1994)

The Hungarian composer György Ligeti's biography typifies the displaced cosmopolitan, truly at home only in the international community of music. Appropriately enough, this revealing film portrait of his life and music has a train journey as its central metaphor, with Ligeti gazing through the window onto the changing middle-European landscape. His music - innovative, complex, brilliantly eclectic - accompanies his reflections and memories.
I shall explain this jiggery-pokery, I found a 'DVD' copy of the documentary on a non-legit music site that cannot be named here (see Gerry in the legal department if you want an explanation, 5th floor.)

Someone posted a comment on the page with a link to a file containing some English subtitles he/she and his/her friend had put together (unfortunately the French speaking side of the partnership 'disappeared' at some point so apparently the last few minutes of the documentary have been translated with Google translate, you can still understand the text though.)

They are ok as far as I can tell (I don't speak French unfortunately), not brilliant but good considering it was a non-professional DIY job, some spelling and grammatical errors here and there etc.

Overall I found it watchable and informative anyway so thanks very much to those involved.

I shall get to the point then, you can download the video file legally and for free from the great UBUWEB site, link here.

This video file has no subtitles so for those you will need to go here (a Deposit Files link to the .SRT file I just uploaded there, it's only 43kb).

UPDATE: Alternative link to SRT file here.

The original .SRT file was made to match the much larger 'DVD' version on the site-that-cannot-be-named (I don't think there is a real DVD version, I couldn't find one anyway, it might just be a better quality copy, it's over 2gig.) I renamed it to match the UBUWEB version, happily, the two work together ok (the UBUWEB version is a more manageable 600+ meg.)

To get the subtitles to work simply place the .SRT file in the same folder as the video file, then make sure you have subtitles selected in your media player (I don't know if this will work with Macs BTW, try it, if not do some searching for how to use .SRT files)

And Bob's your uncle, you can now watch the documentary in English. If you speak French and think the translation is terrible and needs doing again, let me know, send me the text and timings and I'll make another version of it (I might cut it into pieces and put it on YouTube too.)

That's not all, when looking for a decent picture for this post I came across this site called Lichtensteiger, not sure what it's all about (home page says something about digital design) but on their servers somewhere is this page on Ligeti, featuring lots of tracks to stream and various links and quotes, including one back to the BBC's Radio3 site featuring the John Tusa interview with Ligeti (in English) which you can stream here (it covers quite a bit of the same material as the documentary.)