Tag Archives: aron kallay

Misfits and Hooligans Interview: Tom Flaherty and Quintan Ana Wikswo

25 Apr

In the second in our series of interviews with artists leading up to the Misfits and Hooligans concert on April 28 at Beyond Baroque, we talk to interdisciplinary filmmaker/visual artist/writer  (and Catalysis Projects Core Artist) Quintan Ana Wikswo, and composer Tom Flaherty.


Can you tell us a bit about your work that’s being presented on the 28th?

TF: “Shepard’s Pi” a piece that explores weird sonic characteristics of the toy piano, whose lowest notes can sound higher than its highest notes. The live toy piano is accompanied by electronic transmogrifications of itself, and the player gets to dance with a funhouse mirror of his or her playing.

QW: I have two new pieces on the 28th – one is a collaboration with Veronika Krausas: her music JONAS with my poem cycle and 35mm film suite, called THE ANGUILLADAE EATERS. The second piece is my film projection APIMANIAS, which I created to go alongside Aron Kallay’s phenomenal toy piano performance of Tom Flaherty’s equally-phenomenal and intriguing SHEPARD’S PI.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

TF: Named after cognitive psychologist Roger Shepard, a Shepard scale is an audio illusion in which a scale seems to rise endlessly, without getting higher. The constituent pitches consist of several simultaneous octaves, which fade out at the top of the scale and fade in at the bottom. Taken out of the moving context, the actual octave register of a note is ambiguous to the ear. A toy piano displays similar ambiguity: as the length of the sounding rods at lowest keys is too short to produce a true bass note, its overtones are louder than its fundamental pitch. Taken out of context the lowest F can sound more like its C overtone, an octave and a fifth higher. This ambiguity is part of the charm of the toy piano, and Shepard’s Pi enjoys playing with that charm, with lots of scales that seem not to get higher, sonorities whose octave register is ambiguous, and moments where the meter and tempo could be heard in several different ways.

Oh yes, pi. Just as pi = 3.14159265. . ., so too Shepard’s Pihas slightly more than three electronically produced sounds (all derived from the sound of the toy piano), sections, and tempi.

QW: When I first encountered Tom Flaherty’s “Shepard’s Pi,” the word “apimanias” began spiraling through my mind alongside the music. I find the musical work quite charming and endearing – it suggests an obsessive, insistent structural precision, a kind of auditory engineering that is similar to the unrelenting, exciting din of skyscraper construction – something rising, and yet never seeming to finish. Admirable, and inexorable, it’s the din of highly controlled creation. I immediately thought of bees. The preoccupying, intrusive, dominating and yet subtly complex sound of their wings spiraling in circles of flight – annoying, but breathtaking, and also quite gorgeous. As I read the score of Tom’s piece, the carefully nested progression of concentric octaves somehow echoed the precise mathematics bees use to build the structure of their hive. The Greek mathematician Archimedes approximated Pi by inscribing a hexagon into a circle: that is at the heart of bee geometry as well – their honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells that contain their larvae, honey and pollen. And dreams. The word Apimanias means “an excessive interest in bees.” And hidden within the word Apimanias is another word: pi.

While I was working on my B/ee-Movie, I became obsessed by the posture of the bees – their hunched backs bent down intently over their mathematical task. This ominous, slightly maniacal physical shape that suggests obsession and inexorable focus. During this time, I saw a video of Tom’s piece in performance and recognized an uncanny similarity between the bees and the toy piano player – both hump-backed and crouched, singlemindedly constructing geometry within a creation device…I suspect the honeycomb and the piano may serve the same function for two different species. Or perhaps, not so different species. I know pianists have very good posture, especially Aron.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Do you consider yourself a hooligan or a misfit? Or both? Or neither?

TW: Definitely misfit. That used to be a requirement for admission to the Composer’s Union, though they may have relaxed their standards in recent years.
Perhaps hooligan, to my students.
film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

QW: I am probably mostly like a bee: both a misfit and a hooligan. Currently, there is an astonishingly large, obnoxious and ungainly wood-boring bee attempting to drill through the wall of my studio. At first, I thought it was a lawnmower. All that trouble from just a little fellow. There is a punk quality to its uncaring response to being in the way, being noisy and obstreperous, and generally being just not much of a joy to have around…but it’s just being a bee. And honestly, there’s also something quite silly about them in their ridiculous fuzzy carapace and ungainly wings and their sentimental affection for overwrought flowers. Yet nevertheless, bees can kill people. Lots of people are terrified of all sorts of bees – perhaps because they’re also very unpredictable. One never knows if a bee will kill somebody – they’re just as likely to land on your fingertip and slurp up a bit of tasty sweat as to put one into the grave.

But getting back to your question – it’s just the bee’s nature to drill and buzz and annoy and terrify and make life happen, and pollinate, and cross-polinate, and create. They are the best sorts of misfits and hooligans.

As far as new music, I think that Saturday’s concert – and new music in general – won my heart a long time ago with its ability to be the bee…to cause shock and horror, discomfort, and make enemies without even trying – but also to be a bit silly and ungainly, and wobbly and fragile and peculiar. Invariably someone seems to walk out of a concert once they realize the violin in never going to sound like Debussy. They seem partly ashamed of themselves – as if they know they must be missing something – but also betrayed by their friend, the obedient violin. So much new music invariably horrifies unsuspecting audience members who want to expect the expected. And that’s really quite thrilling to be within.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Tell us about the most memorable oddball instrument you’ve ever encountered.

TF: There was a vegetable orchestra in Vienna a couple or years ago. That’s got to rank pretty high on the list. But clearly this question deserves greater thought.

QW: I grew up in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee way out in the country, and my brother played dulcimer at Appalachian and mountain music jamborees. Jamborees are a glorious experience in making a lot of something from nothing. And for truly transcendent expression to come from the least likely situations, and equipment. I was probably about six years old and we were in some mountain hollow filled with hickory smoke and crickets and desolation, way out there in the Smokey Mountains.

Up on stage come these tiny blonde triplets in overalls, each holding a pair of spoons. Honestly, at first they made me really hungry. Everything in the south will make you hungry if you look at it the right way, but spoons just looked delicious. I kept thinking of what they were about to eat on that little rattletrap wood stage, and what it had to do with mountain music. Then it was just like a lightning storm descended into their little pink hands – flashes of bright white shining light and all sorts of glorious rhythm and vibration and clattering whirring cadence. They played a waltz. And a hoedown.

And a “fiddler’s choice” piece that probably belonged in a temple to some unknown displaced haint. They’d hit those spoons on the snaps and buckles of their little overalls. Just to get more range. I guess I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear something equally transcendent and shocking, but it hasn’t happened yet. Those girls really knew how to play their spoons.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

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
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door

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.

REVIEW: Alt + Piano Literature

2 Oct

Review by Veronika Krausas

On Thursday night September 29th our new Catalysis Projects member ARON KALLAY had his Alternative Piano Literature Recital at USC’s Newman Concert Hall.  It was of my favorite concerts of the year!

Aron with his teapot and pianos at Newman Concert Hall

The concert started with Tom Flaherty’s Shepherd’s Pi for toy piano and electronics.  And what a toy piano!  It was the Ferrari of toy pianos – bright red and Kallay wailed on this red zoomer!

Then Kallay moved over to a retuned piano for Bill Alves’ Paths of the Wind followed by a classical, The Perilous Night for prepared piano by John Cage.  And the culinary highlight of the concert was Alvin Lucier’s Nothing if Real (Strawberry Fields) for piano, amplified teapot, tape recorder, and miniature sound system.  Lucier wrote an arrangement of the Beatle’s Strawberry Fields.  First the pianist plays a fragmented version on the piano and it is recorded and played back through a small loudspeaker hidden inside a teapot.  During the playback, the lid of  the pot is raised and lowered, changing the audibility and resonance.  It was wonderful to have a lovely ceramic teapot (whose lid you could sometimes hear as it was replaced on top of the pot.)  Kallay also positioned the pot on the lovely red sports car … I mean toy piano!

The second half included Annie Gosfield’s Lightning Slingers and Dead Ringers – a monster of a work that grooves and at the same time challenges the listener with a complex and compelling aural tapestry.

The concert had a grand finale by the other new Catalysis Project’s artists in residence Isaac Schankler.  The piece was Man on Wiire, an acrobatic work that demands tremendous agility and precision from the pianist.  I forgot to mention that Aron (aka the pianist) has a Nintendo Wii controller strapped to his right forearm.  This fancy schmancy device monitors the performer’s movements and electronically modulates the piano’s sound.  When the performer is most at rest, it’s more of a basic piano sound. When there’s greater movement by the pianist, there are greater disturbances.  Schankler writes “much like the disturbances of a taut wire as the tightrope walker makes his way from end to end.”

It was a superb concert – welcome to Catalysis Projects boys!

He used to raise a storm in a teapot.                                                                                                                               – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Waterland at PIE

6 Jun

BY VERONIKA KRAUSAS Last night PIE (People inside Electronics) had a concert at the Boston Court in Pasadena, in conjunctions with CATALYSIS PROJECTS. This marks our first performance event, and we are pleased to announce that it was sold-out show.

In the introduction, one of the two founding directors, Isaac Schankler, talked about the solitary existence of composers and mentioned that working with electronics sometimes gives composers a false sense of not being alone!

Composing, or many creative processes, are quite solitary but I think we often don’t realize this because our brains are so busy and entrenched in the process that it’s not until afterwards, when we look back, we realize that we were all by ourselves and spending perhaps too much time with just our own brains and thoughts and selves!

Then when the piece is finally performed, that sense of isolation really is front and center, because you realize it’s you and your music that’s going to be standing with your pants down in front of the whole audience!  I’ve had my share of wonderful and not so wonderful experiences but I have to say that last night, the premiere of WATERLAND was definitely in the “happy” category!

Waterland was originally an electronic work created in 1990 on some very forgotten and very long gone equipment in Toronto to accompany a great text by the Canadian writer André Alexis.  Aron Kallay (the other founding member of PIE) asked to perform the work but since it was on a cassette (last century’s technology and a very low quality recording) he offered to help me recreate it using LOGIC.  And poof, we did.  John Payne was amazing reciting André Alexis hallucinatory text.  The video was by fellow Catalysis Projects Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo and it was brilliant in its vividness and beauty.

So this solitary venture turned out into a wonderful collaboration with all sorts of amazing people & I think that this was a much less solitary venture than normal!

Make sure to check out PIE’s next concert in the fall.