TRANSIENTS : The Wavefield Blog


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Nov. 9, 2019
Composer Highlight: Sarah Nemtsov
We perform Sarah Nemtsov’s trio [love] as part of The Story of One of my Follies on November 16th along with works by Lewis Nielson, Victoria Cheah and Nicolas Gombert. Tickets available here.

The piece is part of a larger work, Phoneme. Here Sarah discusses her inspiration for the piece, her influences, and musical utopias. 

What was your inspiration and experience in writing the Phoneme Cycle?
I got the commission to write a piece for Ensemble Meitar from Israel and  Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart from Germany. It was a project called "crossing borders". Of course this motto has (many) political connotations. To me it was very important to kind of relate to these connotations in many ways. To question them and hopefully evoke something. It was difficult work, of course, kind of painful. But I was also looking for utopias, for hope...

The singers have no text. They sing phonemes only – sounds and notation are taken from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The singers need to learn the phonemes as a new „language“ for this piece. The list of phonemes is (of course) incomplete, but consists of many different „phones“ from many different languages and different cultures. The use of the phonemes points to the infinite and borderless. As a sign of both our connectedness and of isolation, of speechlessness and the multitude of ways to communicate, of incomprehension on the one hand, and empathy on the other.

 The program notes include several quotes, what is the general theme linking them together and binding the piece?
There are four quotes, two quotes about Freedo, one from Virginia Woolf, one from Imre Kertesz, a quote I found on a wall and probably the main one: the well-known Leviticus 19,9 "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" - these 7 words give the titles to the seven movements.

 [love] piano trio – [your] 2 voices (soprano, alto), violin and cello – [neighbour] 3 voices (tenor, baritone, basso), bass flute, bass clarinet, bassoon – [as] ensemble (bass flute, bass clarinet, bassoon, violin, cello, piano) – [you] prepared piano solo – [love(2)] 5 voices a capella – [yourself] tutti (5 voices and 6 instruments)

 It's so simple. And yet. If only. (The Hebrew original is not to be translated as easy actually, as you love yourself or as yourself or as he is like you... etc.)

 Can you discuss one of the quotes?
"free people cry" - a graffiti I have seen in 2017 on a wall in a smaller east German city. It haunted me since then in a strange way. And somehow I think there is a truth.

 My piece Phoneme is written so that all movements could be connected, all attacca - as one piece - but it has also (optional) 4 transitions - sounds, actions the singer (and musicians) could do between movements. The fourth transition is quite theatrical: the performers should look into each others eyes and cry. Silently. This transition couldn't be performed so far, it's utopian.

 However, this piece is about extremes, and empathy. The opening piano trio [love] is quite dark, angry. Attack, reverberation and decay - violin and cello are mostly playing on the fourth string - only a few times in higher register. But the music is kind of starting to "dance" after a while.

What are you working on currently? 
Right now I am writing a piece for Ultraschall festival Berlin - a piano solo with keyboard and it's a composition for a film, a collaboration with the film makers Shmuel Hoffmann (from US) and Anton von Heiseler (Ger). I won't say much for now, but I am pretty excited.

Afterwards I will write for Klangforum Wien, exciting too - I am grateful.

Who were important musical and artistic figures in your musical life and training?
Walter Zimmermann was my teacher in Berlin. I admire him as a composer, thinker, human being. It's almost ten years now I am not studying anymore, freelancer, finished with my studies, but I often question myself when writing, what would he tell me. Listen inside. But also look at the architecture... His music is unique. No one is writing like him. But also his way of thinking. I am right now reading a book with interviews ("Ursache und Vorwitz - Walter Zimmermann im Gespräch mit R. Toop) - it's absolutely enlightening and inspiring.

What do you do when you are not composing?
Playing/being with my kids, hopefully somewhere green.

 Sarah’s website: www.sarah-nemtsov.de

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 Oct. 31, 2019
Composer Highlight: Lewis Nielson
Lewis Nielson discusses his piece Cilice, concepts of amendment and atonement, and aiming to create a better society. 

We will perform the US premiere of Cilice, for seven instrumentalists and four vocalists, on November 16th as part of The Story of One of My Follies. Tickets available here.

What was your inspiration for Cilice?
Pretty basic, really.  I got a commission from Oerknal and Damask (instrumental ensemble and vocal quartet based in the Netherlands) and Cilice was the result.  Regarding inspiration, I don’t deprecate the spiritual aspects of it but I think artists generally contribute hard work, experience, and talent on a continuing and persistent basis to insure inspiration as a way of living, for all practical purposes.

How did you choose the texts for the piece? How do they relate to the general theme?
This came very naturally with the scope of the piece.  I’ve gotten more appreciative of formal clarity recently, especially in extended works.  On a personal level, I’ve always been concerned with the relationship between amendment and atonement.  If I burn down your house, I have to build you a new one; that’s amendment. But I still had the impulse to destroy; how does one atone for this?  Through the private infliction of pain privately? Through a public act of contrition? And what about the willful “sinner?” The contrast between the Psalms of David (someone not unacquainted with sin) and the riotous self-indulgence of Rimbaud knocked loose a whole host of ideas, musical and textual.

The players are asked to speak and sing through the piece. How would you describe the relationship between the players of the ensemble and the vocalists?
The work is, essentially a choral work with four solo voices who participate in the choral singing, as often happens in an oratorio.  The layering and complexity reaches to seven independent parts at times. There is, though, some textual separation between the solo vocal ensemble and the instrumentalists in that the vocal group has the majority of the sacred texts of atonement and the instrumentalists have the majority (though by no means total) of texts that deal with impulse gone awry.

The piece has been referred to as a 21st century cantata, would you agree with this categorization?
I would prefer oratorio, actually.  It‘s a non-liturgical sacred piece with lots of biblical text.  There are also poly-textual motet aspects that I associate with the contrast of spiritual and worldly impulse so well handled in the Middle Ages.

What is your next musical project?
I’m finishing a string trio for the group Chartreuse.  Previously, I executed a commission from Steven Schick and one from ICE.

Who were important musical and artistic figures in your musical life and training?
I had some not-famous teachers who showed me how to develop what talent I had.  And there’s my current friendship with Helmut Lachenmann, who has been a constant source of stimulation for nearly 30 years, and close relations over the last 15.

You taught for many years and have mentored musicians who are all around the musical world now, what do you think is the best advice you have for composers who are at the beginning of their careers?
I’d tell them not to disparage technique and not to give into the DIY improve culture that has grown up.  An important aspect of composing is to reflect music history in what one does, not merely oneself. Composing is very hard work and the more one knows and the harder one works, the more one’s talent can and will grow.  Lastly, be original, which means one must learn what originality amounts to; that would be a long topic to discuss!

I know you live in VT and teach a lot in detention centers now. Can you describe the work you do with people in detention? Has it changed the way you write? 
In our current society especially but for the majority of my lifetime, there’s very little in my composing that is affected by or that affects what I do in prisons.  My experience as a teacher has proven invaluable, however. I found my teaching style adapts very well for both the music and counseling work I do, since it’s all about listening and communicating clearly and compassionately.  I’m also interested in the fact that motivation in this work is in no way inferior to my motivation to teach at the college and university level.

What advice would you give to musicians and artists who wish to be more involved with helping the imprisoned population?
Don’t just live with your head in the clouds!  Become and stay involved with the society you live in.  And do this regardless of what effect it may have on your music.  It’s about creating a better society: one that cares about all of its citizens and one that acts without expecting rewards.

Tell me about your dogs!
They are highly indulged and have become very good at being self-indulgent!
Lewis’ website: http://www.lewisnielson.com


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October 17, 2019
Composer Highlight: Victoria Cheah (…revisited…)
We will premiere Victoria Cheah’s “You would be like diving into the ocean” on our season opener concert, The Story of One of My Follies, at University Settlement on November 16th. Victoria discusses her writing process and upcoming projects! Tickets available here.

We recorded many samples during our residency at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in June, what were you looking for and how did you use these?
It was so helpful to spend time at Avaloch! I got to know you all better as people and musicians, and also to get to know us as a group dynamic, which is important to the performance practice in my music.

I was mostly looking to experiment with orchestration with Wavefield, without the pressure of committing to putting this material into a structured form. It was really valuable feedback to have these samples as reference material while in the last phase of writing the piece, since it also helped me pay more attention to certain intuitive tendencies I might have (and to either choose to go ahead or revise).

How do you approach a piece for an ensemble that you have already worked with?
I try to take into account things that the musicians in that ensemble would like to do or would like to be challenged by, based on previous shared experiences and collaborations. Ideally, such a piece would become a continuation of a relationship.

What are you working on next?
I'm working on an opera scene for Guerilla Opera, based on a video prompt from the 1950s advertising the use of gas for kitchen stoves (the production is called Let's Make a Sandwich). My scene is called Etiquette, and a major subject of this scene is the use of legal/mainstream means to sedate or seduce in social transactions. Much of the text is based on vintage advertisements for alcohol, which comes through in the electronics component of the scene. Repetition and suggestion are other important themes in Etiquette, and I'm excited to see how the production team will interpret this in two totally different versions in the same show.

Your new piece is called You would be like diving into the ocean, how do you pick your titles? (We love your titles!)
Thank you!! My titles are usually based on something that happened in everyday life that is related to something I'd like to communicate in the piece. For example, a track on my forthcoming album Romance from Flag Day Recordings is called "I took my lover to Chinatown and felt better about myself."

Would you like to talk about your work with Score Follower?
Sure! At Score Follower, we provide materials of contemporary music for open study, bringing together ensembles, composers, and new music professionals and enthusiasts from all over the world on our three YouTube channels, which feature videos of scrolling scores/documentation and audio/visual recordings. My role with Score Follower is mostly organizational, and I'm really, really excited about some of the new initiatives we have in the works, including new collaborations and features. I can't talk about them yet, but anyone wants to stay up to date, subscribe to our ScoreFollower / Incipitsify / Mediated Scores channels!

https://victoriacheah.com


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May 7, 2019
Composer Highlight: Ezra Teboul

50 years after its first performance, Wavefield Ensemble presents the second performance of Steve Reich's Pulse Music (1969) with solo electronics as part of Wavefield Ensemble I Clocks are hearts in search of bodies. Don’t miss it Sunday May 12th at Areté Venue and Gallery!

The piece was originally composed for a unique analog device Reich called the "Phase Shifting Pulse Gate" made in 1968-69 with the help of Bell Labs engineers Larry Owens and David Flooke. After the original piece, Reich had stated "I felt that the basic musical ideas underlying the gate were sound, but that they were not properly realized in an electronic device." The instrument and the piece have been digitally recreated by Ezra Teboul for this performance, and will be played along with a new work by Teboul for his digital Phase Shifting Pulse Gate.

Why were you interested in re-creating Pulse Music?
The motivation behind this adaptation was purely curiosity: what about this piece could have left Reich with such a strong opinion of electronics? Since his recent book "Writings on Music 1965:2000" (Oxford, 2004) contained all the information necessary for a recreation short of an actual circuit schematic, I experimented with various ways of implementing a digital system to mimic the "phase shifting pulse gate" device. In doing so, I realized (with the help of Michael Johnsen and encouragements and feedback from Nicholas DeMaison) that I could also address what Reich disliked about the machine: it's rhythmic rigidity. My variation on his original Pulse Music piece therefore effectively plays a very similar set of pitches in roughly the same order, but with the machine implementing each progression in pitch as a glissando rather than a discrete jump. This is part of a longer project studying different conceptions of phase as implemented with electronic instruments in the music of Reich and his contemporary, David Tudor.

Based on Reich's detailed description of the piece and score, the new digital version of the system and the associated score allow us to understand why Reich moved away from electronic realizations after Pulse Music. Reich's conception of phase, as well as the rigid, stepped implementation of variation built into his system indeed does give his score a mechanical quality - however, what became clear in this effort of investigation and experimental recreation is that there were some unexplored alternatives. Based on suggestions from Michael Johnsen, and illustrating those possibilities, a new work for continuous phase-shifting pulse gate follows Reich original piece. Both are performed from the same system, programmed in the open-source Pure Data digital signal processing environment. The system will be released publicly after the performance.

Ezra’s bio:
Ezra J. Teboul (born Paris, 1991) is an artist and researcher primarily concerned with the labor in and agency of electronic music instruments. Currently a PhD candidate in electronic arts at RPI in Troy, NY, he's released two albums with Karl Hohn as Passive Tones (Afternoons Modelling; Index Drift), and performed or installed works in a variety of venues in France, Denmark, Germany, Canada and the US. His research has been published in the Guide to Unconventional Computing for Music (Springer), Making Things and Drawing Boundaries (U.Minn. Press). His graphic score "Pop Rock" will be published in Tonebook, vol.2 curated by Lea Bertucci for Inpatient Press.

www.redthunderaudio.com


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May 1, 2019
Composer Highlight: Angélica Negrón
“...the electronics come from the inside of a grandfather’s clock I got at a thrift shop.”

Our Wavefield Ensemble I Clocks are hearts in search of bodies concert on May 12th at Areté Venue and Gallery includes Angelica Negron’s Hush, performed by Roberta Michel!

Is there anything specific you would like the audience to know before hearing the piece?
This piece is inspired by images taken by Roberta Michel's dad which are all beautiful photographs he took of flowers and plants.

Can you describe the electronics, and what sounds they are derived from?
Most of the electronics come from the inside of a grandfather’s clock I got at a thrift shop. I recorded many different ways of playing these chimes and them edited the sounds electronically playing with taking out the attack of the sound and creating pads out of their resonance.

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started composing when I was 20 years old. Early passions include Björk, Shostakovich, John Cage, Schnittke, Satie & the Puerto Rican band Súperaquello.

What are some of your bucket-list travel destinations?
Perú, Bali & Iceland.

What do you like to do when you’re not composing?
Walk and play with my dog, watch Rupaul’s Drag Race & karaoke with friends.

Angélica’s bio:

Puerto Rican-born composer and multi-instrumentalist Angélica Negrón writes music for accordions, robotic instruments, toys, and electronics as well as chamber ensembles and orchestras. Her music has been described as “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” and “mesmerizing and affecting” while The New York Times noted her “capacity to surprise” and “quirky approach to scoring”. Angélica has been commissioned by Bang on a Can All-Stars, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, A Far Cry, Carnegie Hall, Sō Percussion and the American Composers Orchestra, among others. Angélica is the composer in residence for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra for their 2018-2019 season. She is currently the Artist-in-Residence at National Sawdust, completing “Chimera,” a lip-synch, drag queen opera focused on the intricacies and complexities of identity as well as the first composer in residence at The New York Botanical Garden working on an interactive choral piece which will give voice to the natural world at the Thain Family Forest.

www.angelicanegron.com


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Jan. 21, 2019
Program Note:

Iannis Xenakis, Palimpsest (1979)

palimpsest

1. A manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing. 1.1. Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
“parchment from which earlier writing has been removed to clear it for new writing”. 1660s, from Latin palimpsestus, from Greek palimpsestos “scraped again”; from palin “again, back”.

E.g.: the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus contains 5th Century portions of the Old and NewTestaments in Greek covered with 12th Century works of Ephraem the Syrian.

For music to tease at our comprehension in the same way as would such a multi-layered parchment, simultaneously holding highly disparate layers of information and meaning, it must do so in time. Time is the parchment. It is time that must be scraped away, and it is time that must be written over anew.

It is deliciously tempting to look at the layers of complex rhythms that occur throughout this piece, and, in visually inspecting a single bar, believe that one is looking down through symbolic musical centuries, through a series of accumulated, stacked, scraped, and overwritten texts. My favorite instance is one particular measure wherein the winds and strings are simultaneously performing 23, 22, 21, 20, 20 (but slower), 19, 19 (but slower), 18 and 16 attacks within the space of four beats. Such a conglomeration of unaligned notes gives the eye the impression of many layers in an unlikely coexistence.

The problem for me is that these layers are all “of a sort.” To the ear, this measure sounds like a single sound mass. It sounds not like “nine things,” but like “one thing.” So if we’re thinking about the palimpsestic as not just jumbled words on a page (like what comes out of an old photocopier prone to jamming), but rather as completely different documents with completely different but totally coherent ideas that happen to coexist within physical proximity, then this sort of rhythmic layering is not it.

For Xenakis, 23 against 22 against 21 against 20 against 20 (but slower) against19 against 19 (but slower) against 18 against 16 all over 4, is just…Xenakis…composer par excellence of rhythmically complex, churning sound masses. It his native language, so to speak.

I have elsewhere seen Palimpsest described as a “piano concerto.” While it is true that the piece opens with a short piano solo, and the piano writing is at moments highly virtuosic, the piece just does not “read” as a concerto. As the work progresses, the solo voice is subsumed in interruptions by the ensemble and ultimately this polyphony of interruptions gives way to a striding unison melody, which has absolutely nothing to do with the solo piano music with which the piece began.

I would propose that the palimpsesticness of the work is not contained in the small moments of chaos, but in these large transitions. It is as though Xenakis began writing a solo piano piece, then wrote over it with a rhythmically complex ensemble piece, then wrote over that with a second, quite different and rhythmically simplified ensemble piece. As we go, moments of each earlier piece peak through in small, scraped away holes in the sound, reminding us that the parchment through which our gaze must pierce is actually our own memory.

-Nicholas DeMaison


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 Jan. 9, 2019
Composer Highlight: Katherine Balch
“Right now I am really obsessed with writing jittery processes that can sustain themselves”

We are performing Katie Balch’s Una Corda on January 27th for our Visible Traces program at National Sawdust!

Can you describe the process of writing Una Corda?
Una Corda was written for the wildUp as part of the LA Philharmonic’s National Composer’s Intensive. I wrote it while I was teaching at the Walden School, a summer program for young composers in Dublin, New Hampshire. I didn’t have a lot of time to compose while teaching there, so I wanted to stick to simple, concise material and treat the piece as an exercise in restrictions.

Earlier that summer, I’d written a piece, uni sono, for mixed quartet, that took Berio’s idea of an orchestrated unison or single line as its premise. Berio’s Linea and Points on a Curve to Find are examples of this. In Points on a Curve to Find, for piano and ensemble, Berio actually wrote the entire piano part first and then orchestrated it, which is what I decided to do too in Una Corda. The result is a piece that feels very simple and focused for me — essentially a descending tetrachord (four scalar notes) in the piano that is sustained by the ensemble, with some microtonal deviations. Later, that same tetrachord rises again and becomes embellished.

What was your experience writing the piece?
I wrote this piece mostly in the early morning before beginning my busy day of teaching at Walden, so it was sort of written in a haze of sleepiness / morning tranquility. I think you can hear that in the material until the very last few minutes, when there’s a short energetic outburst. Maybe the coffee kicked in at that moment :)

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I did a lot of song-writing in middle school and high school and became more interested in concert music towards the end of high school. My early passions and influences were definitely the jazz pianists Keith Jarret, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Tigran Hamaysan, and many other jazz artists. I didn’t really start listening to classical music until 11th grade, when I went to Interlochen arts camp for jazz piano, and remember being totally blown away by the orchestra concerts. I think one of the first concerts there the student orchestra played Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, which I was stunned by, first because the music was gorgeous, and second, because I had never really experienced so many of my peers make art at that level before.

What are currently your main compositional challenges/interests?
Right now I’m really obsessed with/challenged by trying to write that is energetic, and frantic, jittery processes that can sustain themselves. It means the last few pieces I’ve written probably have too many notes.

What sorts of sound worlds and experiences can listeners expect from your upcoming projects? What's coming up for you this year that you are particularly excited about?
I’m really excited about a violin concerto I’m writing for Robyn Bollinger and the California Symphony, and a piece for seven double basses I’ll be writing later this spring for Tanglewood Music Center.

Favorite place to eat in NYC?
I love cooking, but when I want someone else to do the cooking, probably most consistently ROKC (a cocktail, ramen, and oyster bar by my apartment in West Harlem).

What do you like to do when you’re not composing?
1. play with my cat, Zarathustra
2. hiking / spending time outdoors
3. cooking for my friends
4. playing pool

http://www.katherinebalch.com/


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Jan. 3, 2019
Composer Highlight: Matthew Ricketts

“Don’t trust a composer who can’t cook”

We can’t wait to perform the large ensemble premiere of Matthew Ricketts’ Melodia on January 27th at National Sawdust along with works by Rebecca Saunders, Katie Balch and Xenakis!

What was your experience writing Melodia? Was there anything unexpected about the writing process?
Writing Melodia was—like many of my compositional projects—one of discovering where I was going rather than knowing where I was going. Given that, almost everything which emerged from the simple opening melody was a surprise; in effect, the listener is overhearing me sitting at the piano, picking out notes and slowly sculpting lines. This was the original piano version of Melodia, which then got turned into a concerto for piano and orchestra and now a chamber work for piano and sinfonietta-sized ensemble.

What are currently your main compositional challenges/interests?
As I've written elsewhere I am deeply attracted to two rather opposing aspects of music: the ability to suspend or augment the psychological perception of time, and the tendency to feel forward-directional, onward-surging, unfolding—in other words, moving. How can music be both time-suspending and striving forward at once? I have tried in recent pieces to address both of these contradictory tendencies (sometimes at once).

Favorite place to eat in NYC?
At home, with my husband (I love cooking and heed well the warning of one of my first composition teachers: don't trust a composer who can't cook).


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Nov. 2, 2018
Program note:

Pierre Boulez: Dérive 2

Imagine a kaleidoscope: cardboard tube, patterns of refracting colors inside.

Imagine you made your own kaleidoscope, or rather, a bunch of kaleidoscopes, all highly elaborate, all expanding on the possibilities of modern kaleidoscope construction. New colors. New shapes. You are making modern, portable versions of the the light refracting beauty of stained glass masterpieces in old French cathedrals. One of these kaleidoscopes may have been like a wagon wheel, with colors radiating out in all directions from a central viewing point, with the ends of the spokes each refracting the light of the other spokes, asking you to wonder if it is possible to observe in all directions at once.

Now imagine that you decide to make an updated version of your original models, but it turns out you left all the originals on a remote mountain pass somewhere (maybe they were small gifts for wandering hikers), and now can only see inside your kaleidoscopes by peering through a telescope from very far away, and aligning it perfectly. Refracted light viewed through refracted light. It might take quite a long time to gather all of the needed ideas, and the process of looking from afar would transform your understanding of the originals in a way that would have been impossible to imagine while making them.

That’s maybe a bit complicated, but this is perhaps analogous to how Boulez made Dérive 2, if we understand time and distance to be loosely synonymous (…of course…).

As the composer noted:

“My recent music is much like a family tree—one tree spawns many other trees, and so on. Dérive 1 is from Répons, mostly music I left out, so I derived it from the piece, hence the name. Dérive 2 is based off of studies I did for Répons…As long as material from another piece is not used fully, I like to expand on it until it is exhausted.”

Dérive 1 was a relatively short exploration of six chords derived from the name of Boulez’s friend, the philanthropist Paul Sacher. Dérive 2, begun as a 5-minute birthday present to Elliott Carter in 1988, grew into the present work by 2006.

The words “kaleidoscopic” and “river-like” are often used to describe Boulez’s music. It is intensely colorful, the patterns flow from one into another, it is difficult not just to hold onto any one idea, but difficult also to know which idea one even ought to try to grasp as they fly past. Also, despite a great deal of surface activity, one has the sense that the music is fundamentally of a single sort. After the virtuosity required for execution, this aspect – the ever changing sameness – may pose the biggest challenge for performers.

Writers about music have taken great interest in Boulez’s operations for spinning out harmonic ideas (harmonic multiplication!), and rightly so – there is a baffling quantity of pitches in this music. The quest for large forms outside the grounding structures of tonality that began with Schonberg and Berg in the early 20th Century emerged as a central focus in Boulez’s composition. And where it seems over the course of the last generation so many composers have shifted their attention to using fewer pitches with more clearly audible relationships between them, or discarding pitch altogether in favor of noise and gestural elements in order to articulate longer swaths of time, Boulez persisted down the path he proclaimed early in his career as the only possible path.

I would like to propose, however, that we need not simply sit in wide-eared awe of the perpetual motion and deluge of auditory information.

There is a delight to studying this music and hearing the referential glimpses shining through (Debussy, Webern, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Carter, Bebop, and the works of Boulez’s own that he cites as directly related, to say nothing of the sounds of his research into computer music), but ultimately it is the imperative of every composer to create music that is knowable on its own immediate terms, in its own sounds, without a web of references necessary to understand it. We are told that Boulez, inspired by Carter and Ligeti, set out in Dérive 2 to understand the limits of periodicity. Interesting, but does this help us hear the music? I’m not sure.

We can think of Dérive 2 in a few different ways: first as the high French baroque kicked into overdrive. And just as, in some of the most florid overtures of that period, there emerges a confusion as to what is “flourish” and what is “subject” or “content”, so it is with Dérive 2. Boulez stretches this dichotomy into something closer to a spectrum: “subject” (eg: a rising scale in triple rhythm) accelerates to the point of becoming “flourish” (overlapping scales outlining a series of bell-tone arrivals that are the “new subject”), which then explodes into actual chaos (a group of overlapping solos fully unaligned with one another).

Second, one could hear Dérive 2 as a constant interplay of motion and stasis, again to the point of questioning how far these ideas can stretch until they are confused with each other. The piece opens with a single French horn note, and then immediately erupts into a collective super-melody (a single melody created by a pointillist conglomeration of many voices). As we continue, we understand that Boulez uses collective arrival on a single pitch or single chord as a cadence gesture, or as a turning point. Eventually these moments of repose become entire sections en-flourished with bustling activity. Are we floating “in one place,” or are we still “moving forward”?

Finally, we could think of Dérive 2 as analogous to driving across a vast landscape, but not in the Romantic sense of “composing the Alps” (as did Strauss or Mahler, for example). This is not a journey across a turbulent psyche. It is a journey of sonic experiences. As you pass from region to region, there are mostly no firm borders, just gradual shift. Occasionally, you pass a Delaware Water Gap sort of formation and understand the beginning of Pennsylvania (so to speak), but on the other side, the rocks and trees are remarkably similar to those in New Jersey. Clusters of forest give way to patches of farm land. Hills emerge and vanish. Suburban outskirts of cities all have a shocking similarity, and…after awhile, you understand that the shiny oak trees of the Southwest are not the oak trees of the Northeast. And yet, there they are, instantly recognizable and wholly transformed.

-Nicholas DeMaison


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Oct. 26, 2018
Composer Highlight: Victoria Cheah
“I'd like to challenge the hierarchical dynamic between composer and performer, and encourage interpretation and ownership through subtle choices left open.”

We perform Victoria Cheah’s I watched her smile her hand on November 3rd at Mana Contemporary.

I watched her smile her hand unfolds very gradually, the sound morphing over time. Can you describe this process?
This piece is made up of two equal main sections, and each of those consist of smaller equal sections. In the first main section, the smaller sections are paired, the first with still material and the second with gradual dissonant motion. The second main section breaks with this pattern, with just a bare, reductive image of elements from the first section, suggesting that something familiar has been taken away.

What are currently your main compositional challenges/interests?
Right now, I'm interested in all the things I might be able to explore within the expectations of stillness. I'm also interested in how to create space for those playing and those observing - for everyone to be able to find their own way through the sounds they hear or make. I'd like to challenge the hierarchical dynamic between composer and performer, and encourage interpretation and ownership through subtle choices left open. Each performance of my music should have the space to become personal, since for me, listening to and making sound for each other should be a personal interaction. A more concrete challenge for me right now is how to approach these ideas with a solo instrumentalist (clarinet, cello, piano) and electronics, while maintaining fullness in sound and integrity of form and material.

What sorts of sound worlds and immersive experiences can listeners expect from your upcoming projects?
My upcoming projects will involve more sine tone layers, both with acoustic instruments and just by themselves, and more extreme comparisons of tension, peace, and stillness.

Favorite place to eat in NYC?

My favorite places to eat in NYC are Nyonya on Grand Street for Malaysian food, Otafuku on E. 9th Street for takoyaki & okonomiyaki, and Elephant and Castle in Greenwich Village for omelets.

What do you like to do when you’re not composing?

I like to cook and rearrange the plants in my apartment.

Victoria’s biography:

Victoria Cheah (b. 1988, New York, NY) is a composer working in multiple media and genres, exploring hierarchy, ambiguity, and the concert ritual. Cheah holds a B.A. in music from City University of New York Hunter College & Macaulay Honors College, and is pursuing a doctorate in composition at Brandeis University. She is currently production manager of Talea Ensemble and a co-director of Score Follower.

www.victoriacheah.com


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Oct. 13, 2018
Composer Highlight: Anahita Abbasi
“To me, every piece is in some way a shout out to social and political situations in our daily lives. I see preparing the instruments as a metaphor for changing the appearance of people, which changes how their surroundings perceive them.”

We will perform Anahita Abbasi’s Situation 2, on November 3rd at Mana Contemporary, 7pm.

Tell us more about your Situations cycle!
Situations Cycle is a series of pieces with a set of circumstances in which one finds oneself. In Situation 2, I am focusing on different layers / kinds of “dialogues” / musical dialogues within various situations and contexts.

A dialogue to me means “a kind of thinking, acting, and speaking” in which thoughts pass through. Therefore, talking to each other is merely one aspect of a dialogue but acting dialogically can function as a multi dimensional, dynamic and context-dependent process of creating meaning and behaviors. On a daily life basis, we hear various snippets of phrases, for example someone says: “Why didn’t you tell me ?” We don’t know why she did not tell him, or what wasn’t told, or any other details. Also, the way the person says this phrase conveys various meanings, and the situation that this sentence happens in can make it completely different. So these aspects are all interconnected and our perception of them is through numerous details within specific contexts and circumstances.

One important point: talking / language is only one type of having a dialogue. We can be in dialogue with someone in pure silence, by the way we look at each other, or by the way we touch each other and etc... So, coming back to the piece: in this piece, various types of “Dialogues” are occurring simultaneously or after/before each other. The qualities/timbre (within talking, acting and behaving emotionally) of each dialogue influence their surroundings and therefore the other dialogues that occur at the same time or will happen subsequently.

What was your experience writing Situation 2? Was there anything unexpected about the writing process?
I do not recall anything unexpected but I can say, it was a journey of discovery. Researching the various colors and qualities of each prepared instrument was truly beautiful and magical.

Is there anything specific you would like the audience to know before hearing the piece?
To me, every piece is in some way a shout out to social and political situations in our daily lives. I see preparing the instruments as a metaphor for changing the appearance of people, which changes how their surroundings perceive them. Maybe it will add a new “quality” to that person, or highlight a specific capacity of that person, or change and hide other aspects of that person …. Also, I wanted to write an acoustical piece, which would sound electro-acoustical. People see traditional instruments and are not used to the sound world created by the preparation of the instruments. But being in gestural dialogue with each other opens a new space in which the “new identities” of these instruments make sense.

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
The 2 people who influenced me immensely are Pina Bausch (German choreographer) and Jaques Tati (French director); getting to know their works changed my entire way of creating and the meaning of creation.

What are currently your main compositional challenges and/or interests?
I am currently reading and working with dancers a lot - physical movements on the stage. In my music and in general to me, the contact and touch, the image, the embodiment of the instruments/performers and also the spatial component matters a lot and plays a huge role on the perception of the piece. I am now researching how to use these more radically, in order to create a more expressive momentum within my music; a kind of momentum that unfolds its path throughout time.

And also exploring electronics, and delving in to signal processing world! I am hoping to use all these in a more profound way, in order to create a different kind of vocabulary, in which I can express various aspects of my inner thoughts, emotions, and etc. and the way I observe the world.

What are some of your bucket-list travel destinations?
Well, first, I need to be able to travel all around the world! Which currently I can not, as an Iranian student! But well: good question. I think I really am interested in exploring Africa, and also Japan.

And pure nature spots … I am always so inspired by nature (you can see that element in Situation 2 as in most of my works).

Biography:

“Anahita’s music is powerful, vigorous and colorful. It embodies tremendous timbral exploration and multilayered gestures.”… (Mathew lorenzon & Harry Fiddler- Australia). “As it is also vivid from the titles of her works such as Dialogues, Situations, Distorted Attitudes, and etc; she investigates and gesticulate thoughts and feelings; At the same time it is manifestation/ observation of a scene or multiple scenes, which occur simultaneously; the content of which, however, never becomes more concrete, but remains delicate at the border. She has the tendency to take us with her music on a mystical, puzzling journey and leave us within our thoughts, to find out the “ending” ourselves.”…(Ernst. M. Binder- Austria)

Anahita Abbasi’s works have been performed around the world in various festivals such as: Darmstadt Ferienkurse (Germany), Ircam - Manifeste Academy (France), Matrix –Experimental studio des SWR (Germany), BIFEM (Australia), Klangspuren Schwaz (Austria), MISE-En festival (USA), Tage neuer Musik (Austria), Tongyeong International music festival (Korea) Impuls festival (Austria), Time of music (Finland), Atlas festival (Netherlands), Grachten festival (Netherlands) and many others.

In 2014, she received the work-scholarship from Experimentalstudio des SWR in Freiburg. A recipient of a 2015 Morton Gold ASCAP young composers award, Ms. Abbasi was also nominated in 2017 as the “women composers of our time” alongside Kaija Saariaho and Isabel Mundry. She is the founding member of Schallfeld Ensemble in Graz, Austria. and IFCA (Iranian female composers association) in New York City, USA.

Anahita Abbasi (b. 1985, Iran) graduated from the University of music and performing Arts Graz, Austria; where she studied music theory with Clemens Gadenstätter & composition with Beat Furrer and Pierluigi Billone; while working closely with Georges Aperghis, Franck Bedrossian and Philippe Leroux. Anahita is currently residing in San Diego and pursuing her Ph.D. in Composition with Rand Steiger at the University of California San Diego.

Check out more of Anahita’s work on her website and soundcloud!“To me, every piece is in some way a shout out to social and political situations in our daily lives. I see preparing the instruments as a metaphor for changing the appearance of people, which changes how their surroundings perceive them.” We will perform Anahita Abbasi’s Situation 2, on November 3rd at Mana Contemporary, 7pm.


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Oct. 19, 2018
Composer Highlight: Aaron Helgeson
“Teenagers always crave new experiences, and listening to piles of discarded CDs was my fix. That was my ritual. When I think about it, those were the most important composition lessons I ever had. And I literally learned them from listening to other people’s garbage.”

Wavefield Ensemble is thrilled to perform Aaron Helgeson’s Echoes of Always at Mana Contemporary on November 7th, 7pm!

You describe Echoes of Always as “an overture made from transcriptions of other overtures.” Can you discuss this a little further?
It’s music that’s collaged from tiny moments of French baroque opera overtures and unmeasured harpsichord preludes by François Couperin, stitched together with scraps of my own previous music. So for example, the first half of one measure might start with a couple beats of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s overture to Acis et Galatée, with ornamentation I transcribed from contemporary interpretations, mixed with my own continuo realizations, transposed up a minor third, and juxtaposed with sonifications of weather data from the introduction of my anti-cantata Snow Requiem that include and add to the pitches in the Lully fragment. Then maybe the second half of the measure follows with a beat from the overture to Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, transposed down a major second, harmonized with transcriptions of homemade wax cylinder fiddle tune recordings from the opening of my string quartet Brief Regards for Sometimes. Part of the idea came from Les eléméns, a baroque opera-ballet whose music was created independently by two separate composers, André Cardinal Destouches and Michel Richard Delalande. Even though the only thing tying the music together is the trappings of Baroque form, it’s almost impossible to tell who wrote what. I hope Echoes of always preserves that feeling, but across a much larger stylistic and temporal threshold. By making my own contributions to the music seamless and ambiguous, I want people to constantly question what’s authentic and what’s novel.

What was your experience writing Echoes of Always? Was there anything unexpected about the writing process?
My music’s taken a surprising turn lately. Maybe not as surprising to me, since I’ve been slowly changing along with it. But it’s probably shocking to someone who might have heard things from ten years ago and then heard something I’m making now. Echoes of Always is a culmination of that turn. A turn away from “sound” and back toward music. I’ve always been interested in using transcription as a way of drawing on our lived aural experience. Before, my focus was mainly on everyday sounds (foghorns in the San Francisco Bay, birdsong, people breathing). I’d cut them into fragments, transcribe those fragments as exactly as possible for acoustic instruments, and arrange them into a meaningful order. Somewhere along the way, it started making sense to use musical sounds. Sounds from music of the past. I guess there were lots of reasons for this — some pragmatic, some aesthetic, some social. But mostly I wanted re-engage with the things that got me started writing music in the first place.

You know, the playwright Bertolt Brecht had this useful notion of historicization. Of using contemporary forms thinly veiled as history to provide a critical distance from which to view the present. For Brecht it was the Thirty Years’ War, the Catholic inquisition of Galileo, or Prohibition-era Chicago. For me, it’s 17th-century European court opera, 19th-century French hunting calls, and Norwegian-American immigrant folk songs during the Homestead Act. It’s a little like comic book superheroes. We all know the story of Superman, of Catwoman, of the Incredible Hulk. They’re so familiar that as long as they wear the costume, you can tell whatever story you want with them. A story that can feel really contemporary and personal. And it’ll produce a tension or drama with what we already know about the person. A costume allows for a dialog between different versions of “now” and “then.”

When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
When I was a teenager, I’d sneak out of school and hop on the bus to this CD store where they had a Used Classical section. It was the only music that you could listen to for free, which was important for me since I didn’t have money to be buying lots of music. So I’d browse every inch of those two shelves, pick out a big stack of discs, and hunker down for a couple hours to listen. And hidden in between some pretty awful recordings of classics (think Bach’s Greatest Hits Vol. 10) were these gems of contemporary music that people had listened to once and just thrown away. Some of them still had their packaging. That’s how I was introduced to composers like John Cage, Phillip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Milton Babbit, Arvo Pärt, Louis Andriessen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Eleanor Hovda... there were even a couple Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane albums. Now I know how important these composers were, but back then I had no idea what I was listening to! Then when I was 14 a local Bank of America branch in Oregon decided to sponsor a tuition-free composition course, offered through a community music school and taught by graduate students at the University of Oregon. I decided to enroll. There were three of us in the class. We were asked to bring in recordings we liked, so I saved up some lunch money to buy a few of my Used Classical finds and brought them in. We took turns writing our own music like it, and played it together on whatever instruments we had available. We were explorers in a frontier of endless possibilities. Our lives were permanently changed. Teenagers always crave new experiences, and listening to piles of discarded CD’s was my fix. That was my ritual. When I think about it, those were the most important composition lessons I ever had. And I literally learned them from listening to other people’s garbage.

What do you like to do when you’re not composing?
I’m a politics junkie. The boring, unfiltered stuff. C-SPAN. The full text of district court decisions. Anything as long as its beginning-to-end and without commentary. Especially things that can’t be easily read through ideology. Give me the messy and contradictory parts. Land rights of public utility waterways through wildlife preserves. The ethics of military recruitment programs for young women in public schools. That’s where you see what people are really made of. I’m working on a big project right now for The Crossing that deals with this. It’s a set of music for many voices based on the Novgorod Codex, a 10th-century Ukrainian book of psalms whose carved wooden pages were covered in wax and overwritten hundreds of times with non-canonical religious texts by a missionary excommunicated from the Orthodox Church for using pagan messages in his worship. The writing is acid-tongued. Here was this person at the dawn of a new millennium who was trying desperately to hold on to his religious past with one hand, and pull his people into the future with the other, only to be abandoned by the same institutions he represented. His response? To write his own liturgy, using his own alphabet, full of bitter sarcasm and heartfelt longing for a new age that could also accommodate the complexity of the past. For me, all this is a good reminder of what’s lost in exchange for ideological purity. Like Brecht once said, “When something seems the most obvious thing in the world it means that any attempt to understand the world has been given up.”

Aaron’s biography:
Aaron Helgeson's music — described by Sequenza 21 as "beautifully ethereal" and the New York Times as "simultaneously virtuoso display and engaging instrumental drama" — draws on the diverse fields of acoustics, literature, philosophy, and cognitive science to find new ways of engaging with old musical traditions. In 2013, he was commissioned by Grammy-winning soprano Susan Narucki to write Poems of sheer nothingness, a 40-minute song cycle for voice and chamber ensemble that re-imagines Occitan troubadour song poetry, set by Helgeson in its original language with consultation from the University of Toulouse. His “anti-cantata” Snow Requiem was premiered in 2015 with soloists David Bowlin and Alice Teyssier of ICE, and subsequently honored with an award from the Ohio Arts Council. Based on author David Laskin’s book The Children’s Blizzard about the Homestead-era snowstorm of the same name, the work combines original transcriptions of Norwegian-American folk music with sonifications of weather data using orchestral tone clusters, wordless vocal chorales, and percussive noise.

In 2005, Helgeson received the Saul Chaplin Award for his chamber opera The Crane Wife, an original adaptation of the popular Japanese folk tale of the same name. He has garnered additional accolades from organizations like the Barlow Endowment, Aaron Copland Fund, ASCAP, and American Composers Forum.

With recent performances across the US and Europe at venues including the Monday Evening Concerts in Los Angeles, IRCAM’s Manifeste, the World New Music Days in Vienna, and the MATA Festival, his music has been championed by such ensembles as the Talea Ensemble, Imani Winds, Yarn/Wire, Ensemble Dal Niente, The Crossing, Spektral Quartet, Argento Ensemble, loadBang, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Wild Shore, SONAR New Music, Les Cris de Paris, and the Formalist Quartet. Recordings of his music are available on Carrier Records, Oberlin Music, and Innova.

Currently on faculty at the Longy School of Music of Bard College, Helgeson previously taught as Assistant Professor of Composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, with additional visiting fellowships at the University of Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition and the University of California Washington Center. He resides in New York, where he was recently appointed Executive Director of the Look + Listen Festival.

www.aaronhelgeson.com