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REVIEW: Microtextual at the Microfest 2011 concert series

5 Jun

MicroTextual

Catalysis Projects

April 16, 2011

MiMoDa Studio, Los Angeles

Review by CP composer Veronika Krausas

One of my favorite things is bilingual poetry books – English on the right side and the original on the left.  Sometimes it’s a foreign language I understand but often not. Still, it makes me feel a little bit like a traveler to an exotic place – comparing the alternate versions.  It feels like a magical and secret world that is private and I’m opening up a little cabinet of wonders to enjoy and watch sparkle. 

CP’s MicroTextual, curated by Aron Kallay, for me was just like that – a land of wonder, from the moment you walked into MiMoDa.  The space was transformed to an art exhibit with soft lighting and mysterious scrolls hanging from the ceiling and paper-origami-poof lamps  (my term) and a super cool vibe.  This concert featured many of the Catalysis Projects artists and what a collection of creativity and performances it was.

The reason I bring up bilingual poetry books is that the work of Quintan Wikswo is a 3-D version but so much more.   Her ‘cabinet of wonders’ included two wonderful works combining her texts with sublimely beautiful video footage.  They’re from her Floriography collection:  Floriography I (Coimbra 1541) and Floriography II (Bavaria 1543).  Her term is a “diptych of text-integrated video installation.”  

Wikswo "Floriography"

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back wall, in amongst the mostly red images floated text, in English, while Rafael Liebich read, as an echo, the same text in Portuguese, with trombonist Matt Barbier playing a microtonal composition by David Rosenboom.  In the second work, the texts were read in Hebrew to a soundscape of flies and frogs.  These pieces were a visual realization of bilingual poetry books.

Wikswo: FLORIOGRAPHY II: COIMBRA 1453

Starting the program was the amazing Honey, Milk and Blood, a collaboration by composer Isaac Schankler and visual artist Kim Ye, inspired by the ideas of Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.  The scrolls were explained – they were functional art!  It was the score for the dozen singers, dressed in off-white flowing clothes.  The soprano soloist Andrea Zomorodian was herself a sculpture, a kinetic sculptures by Ye, a mermaid plant with a long root carried out by her attendants.  LOVED the music, LOVED the kinetic sculptures – it was the first sparkle opening up the cabinet of wonders.

Schankler/Ye: HONEY, MILK AND BLOOD

And what microtonal concert would be complete without some quintessential Harry Partch, the grandfather of American microtonal music?  The Barstow:  Eight Hitchhikers’ Inscriptions by Partch was brilliantly performed by baritone and guitarist John Schneider, one of the co-directors of the Microfest series this year and Aron Kallay on chromelodeon.  

The second half of the concert started with a minimal and very serene work by Cat Lamb, The Field (for Agnes)There was a world premiere by Jeffrey Holmes, Fragments for soprano and piano.  The vocal line is more of a chant or what Holmes calls “a spell” in a series of images that use text from a variety of anonymous Latin sources. It was a Teutonic saga full of rich harmonies and virtuoso piano writing.  The virtuoso piano part was expertly performed by CP member and organizer of the whole evening pianist Aron Kallay

Holmes: Fragments

The most amazing thing about this piece was visual and completely accidental. I just happened to be lucky enough to be sitting in the exact spot to notice – Katherine Giaquinto, the singer was standing in a spot that when I looked in the mirror on the opposite wall, her body was replaced by the reflection of one of those paper-origami-poof lamps.  This alternate body was like another sculpture by Kim Ye and added to the chant-like Latin text’s magical and removed quality.

The concert concluded with Luminenscence, a gorgeous work by this year’s other co-director of Microfest, Bill Alves.  In his program notes Alves writes:

… an oton [is] a ritual that is performed 210 days after the birth of a child when the baby’s feet touch the earth for the first time. Before that time she is considered still too close to the realm of the gods to be allowed to touch the ground. The only music at this ceremony came from the chanting of the officiating priest and the small bell whose sounds he wafted to the fascinated baby’s ears.  Those chants, or mantra, are … a way of tuning oneself to the vibrations of the universe. These are in a very real sense the sounds of the transition from the celestial to the terrestrial world.

The singers now changed from white to black – from light to dark – balancing the visual and aural in the concert, touching the audience’s feet to the ground.  The whole evening was a wonderfully surreal and dreamlike experience.

PS

If you, like me, love bilingual poetry books – definitely check out The Madness of Amadis by Jean Cassou, translated by Timothy Adès  (Agenda Editions).  Cassou (1897-1986), was a war-time Resistance leader, created France’s National Museum of Modern Art, and a poet!  It’s wonderful poetry and a brilliant and sensitive translation.

PS #2

The concert was part of the Microfest Concert series that started in LA in by the fabulous John Schneider in 1997.  www.microfest.org

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MicroTextual Musings: Isaac Schankler Interview

11 Apr

In the last of our interviews leading up to the April 16 MicroFest event, composer/performer Isaac Schankler talks about the composer as abacus, the omnipresent 60Hz hum, and science fiction eeriness.

MicroTextual will premiere Isaac’s piece Honey, Milk and Blood, with soprano Andrea Zomorodian and conductor Troy Quinn.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,”  but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

IS-Honey, Milk and Blood incorporates a text by Jillian Burcar, a wonderful writer who I’ve collaborated with a few times now.  It’s inspired by an old interview with the inventor Nikola Tesla, who had these radical predictions for the future, including this notion that society would become matriarchal and have this hive-like collective organization.  Jillian’s text is, in a way, a depiction of this society, but what’s great about it is that it’s this very open-ended and free-flowing amalgam of scientific language, poetic symbolism and almost violent imagery, so you can focus in on different aspects of it and come away with very different impressions or conclusions.

I’m drawn to things like that, where things seem to be on the cusp of a comprehensible meaning without ever fully resolving, and it’s something I think music can do really well.  We tend to think of music as emotional or expressive medium, but these emotional associations can vary a great deal from person to person or from culture to culture.  I think in the 20th century there was a lot of skepticism of this and so you see movements to make music totally abstract, to make it some analog or elucidation of a mathematical or objective process, in everything from serialism to minimalism.  But if you rigorously adhere to that process something is lost — you’re not operating as an artist but some kind of glorified abacus.  So for me at least, the process becomes some kind of negotiation between abstraction and expression, and the inevitable imperfections that result are what gives music its beauty and meaning.

CP-Why do you choose to compose in a microtonal language?

IS-I don’t always compose in an explicitly microtonal language, but when I do I’d say it’s largely driven by my background in electronic and electroacoustic music.  When working with electronics it’s really trivial to produce any frequency you want, and if you do any kind of electronic analysis it’s impossible not to notice that all music is inherently microtonal, in a sense.  Almost every sound is made up of harmonics that don’t fit in the equal tempered scale.

The kind of microtonality explored in Honey, Milk and Blood came out of some research I was doing for Light and Power, a chamber opera about Nikola Tesla commissioned by Juventas New Music Ensemble that Jillian wrote the libretto for.  I found out that Tesla was directly responsible for making 60Hz the operating frequency of alternating current throughout North America.  So this low 60Hz hum you hear everywhere, coming off power lines, appliances, stereos, florescent lights… it’s all Tesla’s fault.  It’s normally an unwanted sound, a sound you want to try to weed out or minimize, but I thought it would be interesting to use as a foundation instead.  It’s an especially troublesome sound because it doesn’t fit in our equal tempered tuning system — it’s almost exactly halfway between a low B and B-flat.  So I built a kind of ad hoc microtonal scale based on harmonics of 60Hz and harmonics of 49Hz (basically a low G).  For me this scale became a kind of link between our world and the world of Tesla, and there are some mesmerizing sonorities that came out of that.  There’s not really any grand scheme or theory behind it, though — it arose from the needs of the piece, and the next microtonal piece I write may have a completely different approach.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields?

IS-Well, one thing that’s exciting about microtonality is how it can break down our most fundamental ideas about what music is or how it’s constructed, and how it challenges us to build something new from scratch, from the ground up.  I think one of the things that drew me to Kim Ye’s work, and made me want to collaborate with her, is that she seems to be doing something similar in the physical world, breaking down these concepts of how our bodies are constructed or what our relationship is to our bodies.  Not to mention how Jillian’s text breaks down language, how we write and speak, and how Tesla’s ideas poke at how civilization is put together.  It just all seemed like a natural fit.  Plus there is, I have to admit, a common thread of science fiction eeriness that links them.

MicroTextual Musings: Quintan Ana Wikswo Interview

7 Apr

Quintan Ana Wikswo is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects integrate a constellation of works in photography, original text, video and installation, as well as performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Catalysis Projects interviews her about synesthesia, washing dishes with kitty litter, and microtonal fantasies.

MicroTextual will premiere Quintan’s Floriography I/Coimbra 1452 (with Rafael Liebich) and Floriography II/Bavaria 1543 (with Philip Shakhnis), a diptych of video-integrated text performance works about medieval botanical and ecological life at Inquisition convents and Crusade villages.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

QAW-This summer in Czech Republic – where the character system and language are completely different from English – I spent a long time in a shop trying to distinguish a box of dishwasher crystals from a box of cake mix. Both were cardboard containers of white powder with images of a kitchen and a cat and a half-eaten slice of cake on a plate. I stood there giggling happily while the workers glared at the demented Gypsy lady who might steal the box of cat litter.

A few years ago I was told I have synesthesia, which tends to tangle up meaning through some aberrant neurological and cognitive wiring. As a visual artist and writer, this is a big tangle. For instance, the color yellow makes a sound, and thus has stronger auditory than visual meaning  – yellow is not a “color.” Likewise, letters are very visually and emotionally evocative – much as human faces convey very distinctive personalities.  When I make words, I make little villages. Sentences are civilizations. The integrated text-video-performance pieces for MicroTextual (Floriography I and II) explore mass slaughter and genocide, but I built the texts using letters whose personalities are extremely gentle and pretty and demure. A bit shy, with the tendency to daintily cringe away from any unpleasantness.

Clearly, there’s no way an outside audience could share in that kind of personal language. Yet every creature is fairly clueless about what its fellows are trying to say, and at some point it’s the process of conveying meaning that can be most mesmerizing – watching someone try to wash dishes with kitty litter, or bake a cake using dishwashing powder is more intriguing than doing it just like everyone else. This struggle about attaching symbols and meanings have resulted in psychiatric asylums, Carnegie Hall, and the Crusades. It’s nice to imagine that as artists we finally have the right to draw our own conclusions.

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,” but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

QAW-My most fertile conversations begin with misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and errors of interpretation. Otherwise, there’s no friction. No rough edges to catch against. I find a perverse pleasure in being artistically uncomfortable and confused and disoriented. Over time, this sensation has become a barometer that monitors my stagnation and aeration. I never create a work from a tidy place of comprehension – my own works are documents of an awkward struggle to understand something I find unwieldy.

As artists and audiences, I think it’s very important that we get excited by – rather than intimidated by – disorienting, perplexing, unfamiliar communication. I rarely want anyone to pre-digest anything for me, and I try to carry that philosophy forward to audiences, whether they like it or not.

Overall, I think it’s fruitful to resist the marketplace-driven phobia about being misunderstood – the whole idea that everything must be distilled to a tits-out elevator speech where god forbid something isn’t quick and easy and sexy. It’s repellant, but not in the fun way.  Likewise, the attempt to control the outcome for an audience is very dull and stultifying – when artworks are presented with a hegemonic surveillance around “the right meaning” it completely kills the chemical reactions between artist and audience.  It makes artworks that smother rather than kindle.

A lot of my work is politically engaged, and so for me to try and control or police meaning would get really ugly. The pieces being performed at MicroTextual explore epic historic genocides, and of course I have various points to make. But it would be splendid if someone just gets that there are green butterflies in a field. When someone attaches a new meaning to my work, it means the piece sprouts renegade tendrils and grows weird vegetables in someone else’s brain. Birth is meant to be a struggle for everyone involved.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields? How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small spaces between the keys or between the words.

QAW-I realized recently that I have developed an little fantasy about microtonal music being an arcane, Kabbalistic, alchemical treasure hunt where secret notes are hidden between the visible notes.  Rather like an auditory wormhole through which one can vanish out of mundane do-re-me territory and emerge someplace altogether fantastic. Like sailing to the edge of a flat earth and expecting to fall off, only to discover a sphere…or vice versa. How lovely!

Microtonal music is also such a wonderful imposition on musicians and audiences who might otherwise fall into a rut of twelve – let’s make it fast! Let’s take the interstate, instead of Route 66.  I love how microtonality forces participants to navigate unfamiliar, disorienting situations, and requires people to grow new perceptual antennae to sleuth out what’s going down. The risk is feeling foolish, vulnerable, overwhelmed, annoyed and exhausted, but the reward is gaining a new auditory knowledge that’s a bit secret and arcane.

When you approached me about contributing works to this event, the challenge was to find a analogous “microtonal” tuning in literature – a way of composing and performing text that involves that sense of striding off the map, sailing over the edge, spending time in uncharted waters. I thought about how much I love spending time in countries where I’m illiterate in the written and spoken language because I’m forced to embark upon that treasure hunt for other clues of meaning, like gesture and expression and context.

So I created two works for the April 16th concert that involve finding the small spaces between languages – each text piece is visually projected in English, while being overspoken in other languages such as Russian, Hebrew, and Portuguese. In a sense, the audience is the performance, occupying that space between the two languages where a third meaning emerges.

I’m very excited to hear everyone’s pieces at the April concert, especially so many premieres. It’s impossible for artists to really play it safe within these creative parameters, and that’s tremendously inspiring.  Besides – if the world doesn’t turn out to be spherical, the ship will make a lovely crash as it falls off the edge of the world.

MicroTextual Musings: Cat Lamb Interview

4 Apr

Cat Lamb is a composer, violist, and teacher living in Los Angeles. Her music pays delicate attention to layers of sound, and their shadows.  Catalysis Projects interviews her about her music, lingering tones, and the dhrupad.

Cat’s piece, The Field (for Agnes), will be given its world premiere at Catalysis Projects’ Microfest event on April 16.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Many of civilization’s oldest languages remain unwritten and
undocumented yet maintain an oral history. Our oldest music also
transmits itself this way. How do you feel your work is changed by
the process of formally writing or scoring it?

CL-The musical score is a struggle to the ever-changing being of the musician. I
am a being, in a state, when I place something on paper. What is placed on
the paper is no longer my pure state of being. Later, when I give it to a
musician to “read” (logic interfering), no matter how precise/imprecise my
demands are, ideally, their being will eventually infuse with that something
on the score, and we will experience present being(s) making sound in a
space.

CP-Just as there are an infinite number of pitches between any two
keys on the piano, there are an infinite number of ways to compose
microtonally. Do you adhere to a particular flavor of microtonality,
and, if so, why?

CL-My work has sometimes been described as “droning music,” and although I
relate and have been a student to such described work from the older living
generations, I believe the word “droning” describes something that is static
and unchanging, never fading, but a bold presence for other sounds to sit
within.

Diversely, I am interested in a tone lingering long enough for its colors, in
relationship and alone, to be clear and present and changing in a room,
existing within the quiet shades of clear resonance, and allowing for the mere
fluctuating combinations to ever-alter their presence and fade.

CP-How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small
spaces between the keys or between the words.

CL-I don’t think about being between the keys. I think rather that the keys,
which don’t usually appear in my work, form together an interesting skeleton
of relationships that have accomplished some really wonderful music over the
years in Western Music History.

As far as The Field (for Agnes), the tonal relationships are all derived from a
15 Hz fundamental, or 2 octaves below the ever-present 60Hz, American
electric cycle. I mostly work from a limited and narrow range, this one
simply being the 12th partial to the 36th partial.

I have recently become interested in the clarity of movement within one
tonal spectrum rather than a web of ever branching ratios.

CP-Here at Catalysis Projects, we believe that the collaborative
process can lead us in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected
directions. Have you ever had a collaborative experience that led
you to results you didn’t expect?

CL-I believe it is safe to say I have learned a great deal from every musician I
have worked with. I continue to be interested to write for winds, for
instance, but feel that I am rather ignorant to the technicalities and that I
definitely go into unknown territory (for myself) when writing specific pitches
on these instruments.

For instance, when I give a set of pitches in a certain range to Christine
Tavolacci, my flute player for The Field (for Agnes), she has the impetus to
try every combination she can until the tone will sound clearly and with a
certain timbre. And of course at times it won’t, so that’s all part of the
process, and partly why I find this kind of working “experimental.”  I simply
don’t know every time whether something is going to work or not, and the
result may happen upon a timbre I hadn’t been aware of before.

CP-Is there anything else you’d like to say about the concert,
microtonality, world affairs, etc…

CL-While writing these answers I am thinking of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. His recordings have taught me a great deal about a
being, ever-present in their sound creation. He was a dhrupad
composer/musician who could explore shades of color for hours at a time.

I mention Dagar and dhrupad because dhrupad was (from what I
understand) derived from a language initially, and in general dhrupad
musicians are vocalists. The various timbres are described as syllables, and
there are many, possibly infinite, distinctions. I have a difficult time with
language but this has fascinated me for some time now.

MicroTextual Musings: Jeffrey Holmes Interview

1 Apr

Composer Jeffrey Holmes, Professor of Music at Chapman University, talks with Catalysis Projects about his unique harmonic landscape, microtonal colors, and making microtonality accessible to performers.

Jeffrey’s piece Fragments will be given its world premiere by soprano Katherine Giaquinto and pianist Aron Kallay at Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

JH-Art is communication between two (or more) thinking and feeling individuals.  Language is the basis of this communication.  For a personality to be expressed through art, a set of consistencies must exist.  These consistencies are what we call language.  In my music, this language takes on the form of a unique harmonic landscape.

We young composers face a formidable task…music of older generations shared a common harmonic and motivic language.  These composers that we now see as masters had the advantage of their language being immediately understood and therefore were able to insert several layers of ambiguity in order to create a multiplicity of levels of enjoyment upon repeated exposure.

When a modern composer expresses an individual personality through a unique harmonic language, they face the challenge of presenting their “new'” language in an obvious enough form to be understood, while at the same time one needs to add enough ambiguity to support the expression.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

JH-I compose microtonal music because it reflects the colors and timbres I have always heard in my head.  I never had the “ah-ha” moment as described in the question.  For me, a very specific type of microtonality has always been a part of my internal imaginative world of sound.

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

JH-I write microtonal music that I try to realize in as pragmatic a manner as possible.  The microtones are performed in different ways on different instruments, but only standard acoustic orchestral instruments are used.  The first manifestation of microtonality involves precisely notated divisions of pitch using alterations of fingerings on strings instruments, or adjustments of embouchure on winds and brass.  The second involves using a scordatura achieved by tuning natural harmonics  on harps, percussion, guitars, etc.  In all these situations, I have attempted to make microtonality as accessible as possible for performers that are using standard instruments and techniques.

CP-Here at Catalysis Projects, we believe that the collaborative process can lead us in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected directions.  Have you ever had a collaborative experience that led you to results you didn’t expect?

JH-I compose the exact expression of my creative imagination, then hand it over to performers to interpret.  For me it is gratifying when this non-simultaneous collaboration leads to a performer finding something or bringing something out in my music that I did not previously see or hear.  I hope that my poetic expression will remain, while the interpreter’s input will vary from performer to performer, and from performance to performance.

MicroTextual Musings: John Schneider Interview

29 Mar

The third installment in our series of interviews leading up to Catalysis Projects’ April 16 MicroFest event features guitarist, composer, author, broadcaster, Professor of Music at Pierce College, and founder of MicroFest, John Schneider.  John’s radio show Global Village can be heard on Thursdays from 11am-1pm on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles & worldwide at www.kpfk.org.

John will be performing Harry Partch’s Barstow, for guitar, voice, and chromelodeon with keyboardist Aron Kallay.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Why do you choose to compose in a microtonal language?

JS-I compose using microtones because they produce harmonies and melodies that I’ve never heard before: but when I do hear them, they seem oddly familiar, and somehow exactly right. As a young pianist, I kept asking my teacher to give me scales to practice that were interesting – really exotic. Bartok didn’t cut it, though the Mikrokosmos got near – there was just something….missing. Stravinsky felt like he got closer, and atonality even closer, but still not IT. Now I know what was missing – they were the wrong notes.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

JS-Surprisingly, it was the music of Bach! As a guitarist, I play an instrument that is chronically out-of-tune (Lou Harrison says that most of his just intonation students were ex-guitarists), and have played hours & hours of Bach. Then suddenly, I heard the music in Well-Temperament, followed almost immediately by Dowland in Meantone tuning. After that, I’ve never been the same. That led me to Lou Harrison’s music, and after that – all roads lead to Partch. Playing his music has been a revelation. His humor & boisterous personality drew me in at first, but now that I’ve had the pleasure of performing & analzing so many of his works, I find places in my musical ‘soul’ touched that have never been touched before. I know that sounds hokey, but there must be some reason I keep coming back and back to his music for over 20 years now, with no end in sight. Just this year, a new instrument – the Spoils of War – has come to life, and I’m just as excited as I was when I made the first Adapted Guitar in 1990…we’ll be taking it on it’s maiden voyage at REDCAT this year.

www.myspace.com/partchensemble/videos

CP-Just as there are an infinite number of pitches between any two keys on the piano, there are an infinite number of ways to compose microtonally.  Do you adhere to a particular flavor of microtonality, and, if so, why?

JS-I do tend to favor Just Intonation over any of the equal-division systems (quartertones, 19/tone, etc). There is something deliciously special about the intervals created by the harmonic series (the DNA of all harmony) that reside in each pitched note…dancing with those frequencies is endlessly entertaining, and deeply satisfying from an emotional/acoustical point of view.

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

JS-Difficult? Yes…because in my case, the guitar has to be drastically modified in order to produce the notes. But if you’ve done it once, the rewards are SO great that the sounds themselves seduce me to go to almost any lengths to hear & touch them again. Yes, including remaking Harry Partch’s instruments, too…  Ben Johnston wrote me a song cycle back in 1998, and it took twelve years to learn how to play and sing those microtones simultaneously – but I’m glad I did it. There is just no other way to get those notes without putting in the work…but the results are so unique, it’s worth every minute.

Click here to hear an excerpt of John playing Ben Johnston’s The Tavern

MicroTextual Musings: Kim Ye Interview

24 Mar

Continuing in our series of interviews leading up to Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16, interdisciplinary artist Kim Ye weighs in on embedded text, relating to the public on a bodily level, and the ambiguity of trans-disciplinary collaboration.

Kim is creating performative sculpture for composer Isaac Schankler’s new work for soprano, women’s chorus and electronics, Honey, Milk and Blood.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

KY-In the visual arts, I think many of us read objects and images as texts. We try to find meaning in the piece by decoding, or trying to decode, the symbolism of its components, production process, and its emotional affect on us. In group crit situations, there is this attempt to withhold judgment, to suspend your knowledge of what you like or dislike, in order to give the object a chance to speak.  But because there are so many layers of text potentially embedded in one object, the meaning of the work—what the piece says—is really dependent on what language you listen for.

In my work, the intention is not to inject a specific meaning into a piece for the audience to extract later and then either “get it” or not. More and more, I’m approaching what I make in terms of creating an ambiguous, maybe amoral, force—something that might be meaningless in itself, but forces people to project onto in order to make sense happen.  By asking people to make choices, maybe I’m asking them to identify what language they are listening for…

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,”  but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

KY-I think the question of “who is your audience?” is an important one. The fact that work can perform boundary-work, which creates a group of insiders who speak the language vs. outsiders, who don’t, is really fascinating and problematic to me.  I think my current m.o. is to make sculptures, to make work in general, that can be interpreted through and float between various bodies of knowledge.

There is always an affective component to any work I make, which tries to relate to the public on a bodily or emotive level. I think that I gravitate towards this type of communication because it kind of operates as the “unknown known”—like the things that drive us to sleep, to eat, to learn, to buy, to perform, to like or dislike certain people, to be attracted to someone, are all things that operate underneath the surface. Our moods, associations, fears, and compulsions determine our practices, but are not really beliefs. This is an area that everyone has experience in, but in completely idiosyncratic ways…so instead of trying to force someone to have a conversation with me, maybe I am suggesting that he should have one with himself.

CP-How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small spaces between the keys or between the words.

KY-On a very basic level, Honey, Milk and Blood is a sculpture-based performance embedded in a microtonal oratorio of sorts. In a way, the collaboration between Isaac and myself involves exploring the space between positions; the work we are presenting is not a musical performance in a concert venue, nor is it a performance in the white-cube, art gallery way either. So what are our roles? Am I a set designer, or costume provider for his composition? Or is he a sound provider for my installation?

The emphasis changes depending on how the project is framed. The ambiguity of trans-disciplinary collaboration is pretty powerful and still mysterious even though there are plenty of practical and political implications latent within it.

CP-Here at Catalysis Projects, we believe that the collaborative process can lead us in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected directions.  Have you ever had a collaborative experience that led you to results you didn’t expect?

KY-Well I collaborated with Jeff Jenkins, who directs commercials normally, in the making of the Gastro Porno video. My original idea was that it was going to be a straightforward documentation of a performance where I would eat unfamiliar/nasty-looking food sensuously. In my mind it would be cut together fairly randomly switching back and forth between the different foods. Jeff comes in and is like “Where’s the story? You gotta have a story…otherwise who cares?!” and after some grumbling on my part, I’m like “Ok, well let’s do it then.” So the video ends up being a music video with a cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic as the song!

The final result was way more commercial, but probably much more compelling, than what I would have churned out on my own. (You can see the final version on the homepage of www.kimye.com)

Kim is creating performative sculpture for composer Isaac Schankler’s new work for soprano, women’s chorus and electronics, Honey, Milk and Blood.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

MicroTextual Musings: Bill Alves Interview

20 Mar

In anticipation of Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16, we sent the same fourteen questions to some of our collaborators, and asked them to answer a few.  We haven’t been disappointed… the answers have been as illuminating as they are thoughtful.  First up is composer, video artist, writer, professor of music at Harvey Mudd College, and co-director of MicroFest, Bill Alves.

Troy Quinn will be conducting Bill’s piece Luminescence for choir and tape on the concert.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual: music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
http://www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

BA-My piece Luminescence references a mantra, a repeated ritual text. In such a practice, the “meaning” soon transcends the semantics of the words, which we quickly cease to hear independently, and affects us through the repetition itself. The words themselves become musical and gently dig a furrow in our consciousness. In Luminescence I also sought to achieve this state by expanding the words until they become disembodied vowels and meaning shifts to that which conventional language does not express.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

BA-I began experimenting with microtonality in college when I saw the possibilities inherent in electronics, but (like others I imagine) I was soon overwhelmed by these possibilities. I had just put a great deal of effort into learning music theory with 12 tones; composing with some other number seemed to take me back to square one.

It was only some years later when I began trying out the ideas from Harry Partch’s Genesis of a Music that I began to see that understanding microtonality means seeing what lies *behind* what’s taught in those conventional music theory courses, not an entirely separate music theory. The mysteries that traditional music theory sweeps under the rug in order to give students a rule-based and gradable structure were suddenly answered. Yes, painting in color would be daunting challenge if all you’ve ever known was mixtures of grays, but what painter wouldn’t want to try?

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

BA-It’s true that it is difficult to overcome years of ingrained motor skills and ways of listening, so that (so far) I haven’t taken Ben Johnston’s route and asked a string quartet, for example, to play precise and extensive microtonal pitches. That’s a huge commitment to ask of someone. Instead, I have instruments or electronics that are pretuned to the scales I want, and ask the players of other tunable instruments, such as voices or unfretted strings, to play in tune with the fixed pitch references. Good musicians always listen to play in tune with each other, so simply asking them to do so with a different set of pitches is a much more manageable task.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields?

BA-Although they won’t be presented on the MicroTextual concert, I have created videos which are inspired by the same symphonies of numbers in their images as in the microtonal soundtrack. I find that through the same proportions as in my musical tunings we will see analogous consonances and dissonances, tensions and resolutions, a great choreography of number and geometry that touches our emotions directly.