Tag Archives: MiMoDa studio

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.

Vienna meets Theater Voyeur in Little Ethiopia

15 Jan

by Aron Kallay

Paper or Plastik

When Yasha J. Michelson bought the old Dancers Studio, a few blocks south of Los Angeles’ Little Ethiopia neighborhood, he had big plans.  A true renaissance man, Yasha has worked in fashion, design, fine art, photography, film, and dance.  His vision for the newly renamed and refurbished MiMoDa Studio is to create a multi-purpose space that is capable of accommodating dance, film, music performances, theater, release parties and also capable of being a spot for more community-centered projects, such as youth ballet and yoga classes.  Oh… and did I mention that there’s an amazingly hip and understated coffee shop in the storefront, Paper or Plastik.  I got to experience Yasha’s vision firsthand this week at a concert that featured members of the Symbiosis Chamber Orchestra and Mimoda Jazzo Gruppa.

MiMoDa Studio

Walking into Paper or Plastik, I was struck by the urban sensibility of the space: brick walls, exposed beams, hard concrete floor.  Starbucks this is not.  After ordering myself a tasty cup of Intelligentsia coffee, I entered MiMoDa Studio through a tiny steel door in the back of the shop.  When I was in college, I played piano for more than my fair share of ballet classes.  It was decent money and, if you were good enough at it, you could read the newspaper while you played.  MiMoDa is nothing like the drab dance studios I remember.  Here, one entire wall is floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the street.  The back wall has chairs and tables nailed to it (on which Yasha tells me they sometimes dance).  A high vaulted ceiling has exposed wood beams, lending the space better acoustics than I would have expected.  And here is the kicker: it was packed, on a Wednesday night!

Photo by Aleksandr Ostrovskiy

The first half featured members of Symbiosis, a conductorless chamber ensemble based in Torrance.  To open the concert, the ensemble tore into up-and-coming young composer George N. Gianopoulos’s Cello Quintet, Op. 22, a charming piece that deserves more hearings.  They then moved on to more standard fare, playing Schubert’s epic late Cello Quintet, D. 956, a piece composed two months before the composer’s death.  Alternately tranquil and turbulent, the piece invites comparison to Schubert’s own late piano sonatas, which are similar in emotional scale and harmonic inventiveness (the Quintet ends with a Neapolitan sixth chord in place of the dominant–Chopin, taking up the mantle of harmonic inventiveness after Schubert’s death, would open his First Ballade, op. 23 with a Neapolitan sixth seven years later).  Symbiosis played admirably–one could sense their searching for a deeper beauty contained within the music.

Photo by Aleksandr Ostrovskiy

After a short intermission, and another cup of coffee, it was back into the studio for Yasha’s Mimoda Jazzo Gruppa, an ensemble of dancers, actors, clowns, and singers.  Theater Voyeur is hard to describe.  It continues in the tradition of the grand vaudevillian; short sketches of dance and theater, often intertwined, alternate with comedy and downright silliness (and I mean that in the best possible way).  Much of the second half was visually stunning, with dancers performing in front of, or behind, large illuminated sheets of fabric.

How close Yasha is to realizing his vision for MiMoDa?  I’ll leave you with the following: at the close of the evening, which began with Schubert, something completely unexpected happened: a dance party broke out.

Photo by Aleksandr Ostrovskiy