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.)