Cold Blue and instruments, too

Here’s some relatively new goodness we got about Jim Fox’s label Cold Blue, a March review of Cold Blue 2 on New Music Box:

which includes a very pretty track by Jim. If you haven’t got this record, then it’s worth checking out — the best in that kind of long, lovely and almost lonesome music that CB does so well. It’s very much an ‘LA’ sound, even though some of the composers (like Gavin Bryars) are not LA people.

But that’s not all. Two of the pieces at least, James Tenney’s and Larry Polanski’s use Partch instruments, with their special tuning, and NMB has offered a little contextual information. At the bottom we found a link to a very old article (2002! Love the picture, Dean!) by Dean Suzuki on invented instruments in experimental music, covering a wide range of instruments:

If you haven’t read it, do. It’s an enjoyable read for general audiences and covers a range of instruments and their uses in experimental music from all over the world.


Varela plays Shrapnel — update

Hi there,

We just got a cool package of DVDs containing the recordings of Hugh Shrapnel’s Cantation II by Daniel Varela, which we had told you about here. We’ve only seen the video presentation which looks stunning! — and are looking forward to hearing more of this. The new year is bright for experimental music, if this is the way it begins. More soon.

Fondazione Querini Stampalia: Venti Nuovi. Né piano né forte _ mercoledì 19 dicembre _ dalle ore 19

Here’s something from the Laboratorio Novamusica in Venice, Italy. We didn’t get it in time to advertise it, but it’s really useful to hear that experimental and minimal music is live and kicking!

New Music Lab


Conlon Nancarrow Kickstarter Campaign

Charles Amirkhanian is heading a large Conlon Nancarrow 100th birthday project, which will be funded by Kickstarter. Nancarrow is pretty famous these days, but in the 1970s and 1980s, he was an exciting secret, the composer/trumpeter who moved to Mexico and created impossible music for player piano.

If you’re interested in an all-star project (Nancarrow’s biographer Kyle Gann, the player-piano guru Rex Lawson, and the person who started the Nancarrow bandwagon, Peter Garland, are involved), then help to fund it by 5 November, or all the money goes away forever:

It’s worth visiting even if you’re skint, because the appeal begins with a short taste of one of Nancarrow’s fantastic ultra-boogie-woogies (aren’t they what drew us all to Nancarrow?).

Bryars on Cage

In the BBC Radio 4 programme, Archive on 4, John Cage – Composing Controversy, hosted by Gavin Bryars, Gavin interviews a number of people associated with Cage, including Caroline Brown and Christian Wolff. The show also benefits from a number of archive recordings of Cage and the people who knew him. Interviewees include some surprising choices, including the comedian Stewart Lee (who performed Cage’s Indeterminacy), John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin, and Brian Eno. Cage fans will know a lot of the stuff here, but it’s presented so well that it was consistently fascinating.

The online ‘Listen Again’ window for this has passed, unfortunately, but you can see a summary here, and perhaps catch it when it is repeated: .

Westward by Iceberg

The EMC must admit that it doesn’t work on the best experimental music 24/7. Occasionally it watches the odd sporting contest. The other day, whilst watching the US Open, we saw a commercial for Dassault Systemes, a kind of data imaging software company, which proposed to find a way of moving icebergs from the polar regions to areas of the earth that need fresh water, following a theory proposed by the engineer Georges Mougin. You can see a lot on this proposal at: .

iceberg being towed in dassauly systemes simulation

But the Scratch Orchestra got there first, in the concert ‘The Journey of the Isle of Wight Westward by Iceberg to Tokyo Bay’, a research project proposed by Brecht & McDiarmid Research Associates (yes, that George Brecht!) and delivered sonically by the Scratch Orchestra at the Chelsea Town Hall, 15 November 1969. In this realisation, individual SO members researched aspects of the project and performed them simultaneously. You can read about this in John Tilbury’s book, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished (Matching Tye, Essex: Copula, 2008), p. 391. In Michael Parsons’ article ‘The Scratch Orchestra and Visual Arts’, Leonardo Music Journal, volume 11 (2001), 5–11, Parsons described how Christopher Hobbs ‘tolled a deep bell at regular intervals to warn of the island’s progress’. Frank Regan and Roger Wright provided feedback with a Uher tape recorder, and, writes Tilbury, ‘There was joyous celebration when the equator was crossed’.

Now that Dassault Systemes has caught up with the Scratch Orchestra, they might want to go the whole hog — how are they going to detach the Isle of Wight? Obviously just a technicality: we’ll be looking for garlic festivals and regattas in Tokyo Bay very soon!

A mynah bird in a majah role

The San Franciso Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde, ed. David Bernstein (Berkeley: UC Press, 2008) may not have enough about the SF counterculture for some — it is less a history of the movement as a whole than an oral history and collection of memories by the members of the SF Tape Center itself. But as an oral history, it contains some really good anecdotes of the group and period in question. For instance, when we were students, Barney Childs used to regale us with a tale about Ahmed the mynah bird. Pauline Oliveros improvised with a mynah bird called Ahmed, he said, and when Ahmed chose to speak, it was part of the piece. It made me want to go out and buy mynah birds. Instead, I used my pet budgie, Furd the Burd, as a sound source in my first tape piece (I sprinkled budgie seed on a metal baking pan, under which was hidden a mic, and let Furd walk round on it, eating the seed and chirping). But a mynah bird would have been awesome.

The full story is that Pauline Oliveros, a long-time accordionist, found that David Tudor was learning bandoneon (Mauricio Kagel put him onto the instrument), so she began writing a piece for the two of them to play on the Tudorfest, which she put on in 1964. Two things affected Oliveros’ plan: the first was that Laurel Johnson’s mynah bird Ahmed insisted on taking part in their rehearsals. She accommodated Ahmed, turning the accordion and bandoneon duo into Duo for Accordion and Bandoneon with Possible Mynah Bird Obbligato. The second thing was the choreography/staging by Elizabeth Harris. According to Oliveros (in Bernstein, p. 86):

We needed a way to stage this trio. I invited Elizabeth Harris to do the staging. Elizabeth asked, “How would you like to play the piece on a seesaw?” David and I innocently agreed. Elizabeth turned up at 321 Divisidero [the SF Tape Center] with a large, handsome seesaw mounted on a turntable. The seesaw went up and down around and had swivel seats. She placed Ahmed’s cage in a mobile suspended above the centre of the seesaw. I swallowed hard and abandoned the written score that I had composed and decided on improvisational instructions. After experimenting with the possible motions of the seesaw, we needed some choreography. Elizabeth provided the choreographic instructions. Davis and I both had to work very hard to integrate this new element of performance. I had to employ a safety belt to negotiate the swivel chair because of the imbalance of the motion of my accordion bellows. David could centre on the seat with the bandoneon without a safety belt since the bellows were bidirectional. Slowly, we gained some control of the seesaw and began to enjoy it. The motions of the seesaw served to project and spatialize the sound of our instruments in all directions as we flew around on the seesaw and turned in the swivel seats.

Ahmed, plunged into darkness due to Tony Martin’s light show, became uncharacteristically quiet for the premiere. ‘The second night’, said Oliveros, ‘we decided to let Ahmed make the first sound. That strategy worked and the audience was delighted with the mynah bird obbligato! [Bernstein, p. 87]’ The effect of Harris’ staging would have been amazing — and possibly it would be illegal now in terms of health and safety. Stuart Dempster told Thomas M. Welsh in the same book (p. 257) about its capacity for danger, as well as its unique spatial sound qualities:

That was incredible. The seesaw was built by Elizabeth Harris, and presumably designed by her, and it was on a big circle pedestal. It was quite huge. I would saw it was twelve feet across, at least. It was built so that it went up and down like a teeter-totter normally does, but it also would go around in a circle at the same time. So you get these kinds of “ellipticals’. Each seat was also able to turn around on its own. Well, [during] the first rehearsal, Pauline fell off, so they put seat belts on the seats after that. And it was really dramatic. I remember going to the rehearsal and the concert and I sat fairly far down front so the teeter-totter would actually come right over my head, so it was kind of this revolving stereo and then suddenly back-front stereo and up-and-down stereo as well. So it was as close as you could get to what we would now call spherical stereo. I don’t think there was anything like it that I’ve ever run across since.

This is a ‘wow’ factor on many fronts. Harris’ creation is absolutely amazing to read about (does anyone know about her? I can only find her work with these composers and possibly with Pauline Koner?). It would be amazing to experience this piece as an audience member. But no way would it be good to perform! Dempster’s description of the sound reminds me that Henry Brant (a composer who specialised in spatialization) once said that he would put his performers on roller coasters and other fairground rides to get the sound movement, except that the players would get sick. So ‘wow’ to Pauline Oliveros and David Tudor for their bravery in the cause of performance.

But above all, because as an animal, he didn’t have to do it, a big ‘wow’ to Ahmed the mynah bird.

Fancy a Schottische?

This is not our usual fare in some ways, but it’s such an alternative approach to music history that it’s right down our alley in others. Doctor David Patterson, our good friend (and the author/editor of a bunch of books and articles on John Cage), is launching a Kickstarter event to record a CD of the music of William Wright, father of Frank Lloyd Wright. Here’s what is promised:

The music of William Carey Wright! Songs, piano pieces, organ pieces! Waltzes, polkas, variations, schottisches, and more! Check out the video for some sample sound bytes!

You may know already that Kickstarter is a site where people do the equivalent of a PBS telethon to get money for projects (they have only thirty days to do so), so it is basically an ad space, but it’s cool in its own rights (or Wrights). David has created a really fun page of explanations and a neat video here: . Wright on, David!