Monday, November 10, 2014

Concert Review: Seattle Composers' Salon 11/7/14

"The Seattle Composers’ Salon fosters the development, performance and appreciation of new music by regional composers and performers. At bi-monthly, informal presentations, the Salon features finished works, previews, and works in progress."

First Up: Three guided improvisations, from a longer set by Jacob Zimmerman and played by same, along with Christian Pinock and Jeff Draper. These were unified by their approach to improvisatory structures: each consisted of nine sections (not always perceptible as such), each developing from the last; an extended drone that spun into diverse eddies and constellations. Instrumentation included wind instruments (sax and trombone) and electronics consisting of a hot pink telephone and a bank of guitar pedals.

Next up: Me. This was another guided improvisation which, like a lot of my pieces, is coordinated (more or less) with a prerecorded soundtrack that adds shape and structure. The piece was three short selections from a longer work, “Sounds, Found”, for field recordings and found objects played as percussion. Keith Eisenbrey joined me playing the latter. I can’t say a lot about these since I haven’t yet had a chance to hear the recordings; what I can say is that I’ve been working on the prerecorded parts for this for several years but have never done any of it “live” because I’ve been rather reluctant to present something so different in aesthetic from most of my pieces. In contrast to my often more ambient approach, these are deliberately rough and unpolished, with rough “unmusical” sounds and audible edits – something of an auditory version of bizen vs. celadon pottery. The first (shortest) piece consists of clunks and clanks over a recording of plumbing repair; the second develops (live) unsynchronized rhythms that fade into a (recorded) hip-hop band at a street fair; the third uses sustained tones, intended to sound like overtones, over the mechanical drone of an industrial air-conditioning unit.

Third: Nat Evans presented part of his project, “Tortoise”, consisting of musique-concrète derived from field recordings of his recent trek along the entire Pacific Crest Trail. (On his journey, he did, in fact, once meet a tortoise.) This particular piece was based on howling desert winds (tamed, in this concert setting) with interjections from cowbells on both cows and horses, and deep gamelan gongs that were added later for compositional effect. The vast scale of the piece (despite its being less than ten minutes), invocations of nature, and cowbells all inevitably seem to channel Mahler, though this is a Mahler shorn of heart-rendering fortissimo outbursts and filtered through a century of modernisms to return to the roots of music, at one with the natural sounds from which it arose.

If Nat Evans’ piece recalled Mahler, the last piece on the program recalled the Second Viennese School which followed directly on his heels. Keith Eisenbrey’s “J”, a solo piano piece in memoriam to J. K. Randall, sounded (on the surface) like Anton Webern – but listening to it as he practiced before the concert, I realized that the “row” had fewer than twelve notes… In fact, there was no “row”. Each melodic fragment consisted of a chain of increasing intervals, descending until a pitch class repeated, then ascending at half speed. Several of these together produced counterpoint, or at least superposition. As always with such procedural music, much of the effect was in the playing (Webern’s works can sound either ravishing or bone-dry, depending on performance) – in this case, Keith rendered each fragment in sharp contrast to its surrounding silence, without pedal, as if to present it as its own case for existence (with its emotional content derived from its intellectual rigor). This type of music is, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, some of the most engaging (on several levels) that one is likely to hear (see, for example, some of Xenakis’ pieces, which are to be played without emotion or sense of beauty, yet the very lack of these things produces them…).

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