Saturday, November 7, 2015

Playlist

Live

October 31, 2015
The Pearl Fishers - Bizet
Seattle Opera
McCaw Hall, Seattle

Leaving aside the deeply uncomfortable in-your-face mid-19th Century European attitudes about the 'exotic', there were plenty of things to enjoy - intricate vocal lines, lots of choral singing, and a good mix of solos and ensembles. It is very easy on the ears. The effusive emotional palette was nearly drowned out by the sets, whose colors and patterns seemed intent on out-shouting the music.

November 3, 2015
Cristina Valdés
Meany Hall, Seattle

Cristina, as always, played with clarity and thoughtfulness, doing her utmost not to get in the way of what she's playing. Truly a breath of fresh air.

Cantéyodjayâ - Messiaen
Messiaen

A group of astounding textural/rhythmic episodes marred by a refrain that sounds thrown away. In the notes M writes that it "gives unity to the work". I couldn't think of why such fabulous material would need unity, exactly.

Tres Piezas para piano - Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann

An organism, spacious, chantlike, emerges from its own roots. Completely believable.

fardanceCLOSE - Chaya Czernowin

Contrasts of size, of registers, of clottedness and transparency. I could have listened to this longer - or again for that matter.

Among Red Mountains- John Luther Adams

Full of big bold changes that make little difference.

Grossmann
Variations for Piano, op. 27 - Webern

Folded shapes, contraptual, un-nesting themselves in new ways each time we pick one up.

Piano Counterpoint - Reich

Tuning dials turned here and there to pick out different parts of the spectrum.

November 6, 2015
Seattle Composers' Salon
Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, Seattle

Nadya Kadrevis

I was taken by the peculiar narrative person of this music. My first thought was that it is like a film score, providing a sonic point of view of a visual sequence, but a visual sequence that is very nearly, but not quite, in the first-person singular - the so-close-as-to-be-nearly-first-person second person, the music in the position of a close observer of a close observer.

Clement Reid

I had forgotten, or didn't know, that Clement plays not just piano but guitar too - a trick I have never been able to manage. I liked his notion of "clumps of ideas".

Neal Kosály-Meyer

This silence is your own.

Nicole Truesdell

Violin and piano each finish the sentences of the other, person and place spilling into the same cup.

Beth Fleenor

Beth brings more ideas to the table in 10 minutes than there are crickets in Tennessee. Pretty much leaves me, gape-jawed, astonished, eating dust. Love it.

Recorded

November 1, 2015
Trio in C minor op. 101 - Brahms - Istomin-Stern-Rose Trio

Development is explored as a deep unraveling, the music coming apart, forced asunder by its own flexing.

Peacherine Rag - Joplin - William Albright

Syncopation as a flavor of rubato.

Passacaille - Satie - Frank Glazer

Unravels more quickly than Brahms, but much more comfortable with it.

Symphony in F-sharp minor, No. 10 - Mahler (Cooke) - Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle

A first person account of the experience of dying.

First Movement: It begins by levitating, never sinking to the utmost bottom. The phrases inflate and blossom, impossibly large, in long ocean swells of rhythmic time. Comforted again and again. The intensity of the expression is the disease that consumes, lurks.

Second Movement: About the business of finishing up, assembling scenes, back stage.

Third Movement: Quick alternations of state, nagging thoughts intercut with other distractions.

Fourth Movement: Crisis, clinging to the happy place, adrift on the dire abyss, invisible. The motor slows to a stop, fading past nothingness.

Fifth Movement: The passage beyond, confused, as if hearing the undersides of the most recent fading past nothingness. Infinitely slow easing back into bliss, long melodies leap through realms of realms. Breaking through. Plunging in one dimension, suspended in another, the moment when the bass drum does not come in is the moment we realize it was not a barrier keeping us from life, forcing us into death, rather it was what kept us back, the last tether. Now we can go on.

In Session at the Tintinabulary

November 1, 2015
Tambourine Quartet - Keith Eisenbrey

Karen and I were riffing about a scene in the novel she's writing when out popped the idea of a tambourine quartet. Once an idea like that is in the air the only option is to act. We had to buy a fourth tambourine to fill the quota. Darn!

November 2, 2015
Gradus 278 151102 - Neal Kosály-Meyer

Atmosphere in the sense of a 3-D, or Music-D, map - parameters of sound indexing parameters of temperature, pressure, humidity, the shapes of clouds in sound.

Exchange (continued) - see part one here.


(Keith) Riffing in contrapunctilio obligato:
Neal Kosály-Meyer:
Except that it seems that you DO have a notion that has a quite particular meaning:   that of being amputated or severed from that which you don't wish it to be amputated or severed from, or of being the instrument or victim of murder.
Keith Eisenbrey:
I don't have a way of understanding it that I like, that I would want to believe Cage meant. I don't want to believe Cage is a monster (or more precisely, that this is a monstrous statement), but I haven't been offered an alternative.
N:
It feels more direct to me to think of the sound AS nature, or as just being itself, rather than being an emanation, messenger or intermediary.   As when Beckett said that Finnegans Wake is not about a thing, it is the thing.
K:
For me this ignores that sound only exists for us through mediation. Direct perception isn't an option (at least for me), outside of divine intervention (which I don't rule out).
N:
Using the trappings of concert music certainly thickens the plot, especially back in the day when musicians and conductors would ignorantly or intentionally sabotage pieces like Atlas.   Nowadays recordings like this one or the SEM Ensemble's seem to me to offer a different and refreshing thing that a set-in-its-ways beast like a symphony orchestra can do.   Hearing orchestras do repertoire like this well actually gives me hope for music and I guess for humanity.
K:
Played well or ill isn't the problem. Either way it has been sucked into the prestige factory, stamped with a brand name.
N:
Hearing Cage played well always feels me to me intensely human and intensely uttersome, generally requiring significant engagement, attention to fine detail, a respect for the composer and what he has made.   I guess I find it more exciting when what is being uttered is a sound formed and contemplated in as much detailed glory and mystery as is possible to form and contemplate, and often mysterious as utterance, just as often serendipitously connecting to the rest of the piece in a theatre or a phrase or an arc that can be as extraordinarily compelling as if it had been the result [of] an intended design, and often the more enjoyable because I know there was no such intention.
K:
I have never been convinced that there was no such intention, and yet I often enjoy performances of Cage's music.
N:
As indicated, I don't think sounds cannot utter if we're actually listening to them.   There is perhaps an implicit metaphysic in Cage that utterance, consciousness, feeling, thought are not exclusively human qualities or attributes, but are generally present in all things.   At least that's the way I like to imagine the universe, not privileging thought feeling and design as being things that only humans do, but as being inherent properties of all manifestations of matter and energy.   Can't be proved or demonstrated one way or the other, obviously.   Imagining it that way, for me, makes the universe more fun, friendly and less lonely, I guess.   Cage's music played well usually makes it feel more likely to me that this is in fact the way things are.
K:
So thought-privileged sounds, as sounds themselves, are utterances of themselves, utterances of their own thinking, and therefore have everything present in them that would be present in them even if you didn’t think of them as being only themselves. As a way of understanding what Cage meant it seems to me like a fancy way to have your cake and eat it too.
N:
I would argue that privileging thought, feeling, design etc as exclusively human, and narrowly defining "utterance" to conform with that is the more amputating and murderous act, and the sort of thing that defines what Freud called the General Neurosis, that which makes us, as Nietzsche would have it, the "Sick Animal."    I don't need all music to be like Cage's, but I definitely need Cage's music among those I hear and contemplate--for me it opens kinds of doors and windows OUT of the sickness that hardly anybody else's does.
K:
How did Freud get in here? Anyway, I don’t believe I privilege TFDe as exclusively human, but rather that human TFDe are a privilege of being human. The TFDe of other’s are distinctly other, fabulously alien. Corrolarily, my own personal TFDe are exclusively, ineluctably, mine, they are not those of others. When I hear the music as an other’s utterance it is precisely the otherness of that utterance that I value.
N:
I'd add that all of this very much validates and confirms the work I've taken on with Gradus.    Among lots of things, that project is very much about taking that Cagean sound-in-itself notion and carrying it into a way of playing which is not dependent on the strictly composed ways that JC employed.    Your continued enthusiasm for Gradus means even more to me given the frustrations you still have with Cage, since it feels like I'm managing to transmit what's most important to me about him in a way that you can receive without as much ambivalence as you experience with Cage's own compositions.   Must be doin my job.
K:
Please see my copious, frequent, and often enthusiastic, comments on Gradus through the decades. Apropos of this discussion, the greater part of my frustration with Cage is in understanding what he was talking or writing about. The music I have heard is (apropos of this discussion) problematic in the sense that I have trouble lining it up with (some of) the talk about it.
N:
P.S.   Felt I needed to add that my final response (to your bit beginning "If emptying the sound of its utterance-hood . . .")  was not meant to be as harsh or contrarian as it may read.   That came out because it hit me that the imagery of amputation and murder were reminding me of something on point, which was Norman Brown's close reading of Freud, Life Against Death, especially the sections in which he traces the early developmental crises and their culmination in the Oedipal phase.  Brown emphasizes that these are not simply "normal" developmental phases however universal, but tragic and traumatic experiences that each of us has gone through, and that the final result, the mature human ego, is in fact something which is profoundly amputated or castrated from that which it would be better not to have been amputated or castrated from.    Freud's heartbreaking insight is that we are as a species burdened with an awful and constitutional illness out of which it is difficult to see the way out.   Brown sees more hope than Freud, partly through a re-thinking of psychoanalysis at a social level rather than just individual, but also in ways that artists might envision different, healthier ways of being human.
K:
Freud AND Brown! Yikes! We’re not gonna have enough pie! I was the one who chose the murder metaphor, perhaps I can clarify with less dire imagery:
Scene One: I hear the sound of a violin. Is that sound the utterance of the violin or of the violinist? Which would I rather do without? Cage’s “the sound as itself” suggests to me he would rather have the utterance of the violin and do without the violinist. I come down on t’other side.
Scene Two: I hear the sound of thunder. Is that sound an utterance? If not, it an accident of the sudden expansion of an air mass, or whatever other materialist explanation you prefer. If so, of what (or of whom) is it an utterance? If it is an utterance then it is the utterance of something or of somewhom, of nature (as placeholder for any number of concepts concerning the greater other out there), of a deity, or of God. If I’m serious about it’s being an utterance then I must accept the utterer, even if I created the utterer on the fly from the concept of utterance itself.
Scene Three: A child says “I love you”. Sounds as themselves or child?
(Neal) Responds to Riffing in contrapunctilio obligato:
N:
Taking the liberty of removing one stratum (my previous contributions).   Hopefully things will retain coherence without it. 
K:
I don't have a way of understanding it that I like, that I would want to believe Cage meant. I don't want to believe Cage is a monster (or more precisely, that this is a monstrous statement), but I haven't been offered an alternative.
N:
Realized this may be an important question:   Which Cage writings have you read?   If your response is to a quoted “Allow sounds to be themselves,” rather than to the article or essay in which he said that, the whole context may help.   The pieces in Silence and A Year From Monday pretty clearly state his take on things, and have never come across as monstrous, at least to me.  If you HAVE read some of them, and your perplexity remains, here’s what I’ve got for you at the moment.    Cage’s attempt to remove ego from composition and playing, to let sounds be themselves is part of a tradition:  Buddhist, Taoist, Upanishadist, and in the west represented by Eckhart and John of the Cross, among others.   The Zen goal to see your original face before you were born, Eckhart’s “I pray God to rid me of God,”   John of the Cross’s “Nothing nothing nothing and at the mountaintop nothing.”   All the same idea and goal, and the crafters of each statement knew they were dealing in paradox, in that these are all extraordinary personalities working with extraordinary and very individual craft toward the goal of extinguishing ego.   And the Zen Masters, Eckhart, Juan and Cage are definitely smart enough to know what they’re doing—none of this is naïve self-contradiction.   Rather all share the intuition that this mindset is necessary to get where we want to go.
K:
For me this ignores that sound only exists for us through mediation. Direct perception isn't an option (at least for me), outside of divine intervention (which I don't rule out).
N:
As an artist I always want to transcend mediation whether or not that is possible.   Direct perception is essential (at least for me), and I must further hold that divine intervention is a constant, though doubt and worry about this point never leave us alone.
K:
Played well or ill isn't the problem. Either way it has been sucked into the prestige factory, stamped with a brand name.
N:
Don’t know that that prestige factory is any worse than any of the others.   We want connection, revelation, ecstasy, partnership with the divine, yet we must constantly deal with conformity, stupidity, bullying and branding.   To my mind it makes a difference anytime artists do beautiful things in defiance of all that.   I heard Seattle Symphony do that at least twice last year playing Messiaen and Ives.   That recording of Atlas likewise breaks through whatever cynicism or hypocrisy may be going on in that world.   As the Irishman entering the bar in the old story said, “Is this a private fight or can anybody get in?”
K:
I have never been convinced that there was no such intention, and yet I often enjoy performances of Cage's music.
N:  
I’m starting to get that what you miss in Cage’s talk about what he does is what he’s trying to do, as opposed to what he’s not trying to do.   So here’s my take on a positive, active intentional version of the passive/negative “let sounds be themselves.”   Cage is always attentive either to defining a sound precisely in space and time, or else (in the indeterminate works), providing an example, a direction, and room for a performer to similarly make a sound in as precise and complete a manner as is possible.   The freedom to the performer is exactly one more dimension of that precision and completeness.   Letting go of intentions (chance procedures et al) exist precisely to allow possibilities and detail that would not occur to a composer operating out of taste or habit.   Silence and space receive as much attention as they do in order to frame and give room to these precision made sounds.   Letting sounds be themselves is to allow them dignity as sentient beings—assuming they are only fit to be medium to someone’s message to someone else is from a certain point a view an affront to their dignity and to their souls.   They don’t exist to do something for us or say something between us.  Or rather we all exist simply to delight in and take pleasure in each other, leaving mediation behind or perhaps shining our mutually radiant othernesses on each other otherness.
K:
So thought-privileged sounds, as sounds themselves, are utterances of themselves, utterances of their own thinking, and therefore have everything present in them that would be present in them even if you didn’t think of them as being only themselves. As a way of understanding what Cage meant it seems to me like a fancy way to have your cake and eat it too.
N:  
Not sure what you mean by a thought-privileged sound.   I was using privilege in the way that “white privilege” or “male privilege” is commonly used these days, to critique what I think of as the privilege of solely human sentience, which I don’t buy, and which I think impoverishes our experience of the world.   Privileging human consciousness seems to me to only make us unnecessarily isolated and lonely, and generally and needlessly creates the particularly human malady of alienation.   Zen, Eckhart, the Upanishads, Juan de la Cruz, John Cage pretty much agree on the way out:  Let go of that privileged sentience and let everything else have it as well, which I’m pretty sure everything already does.
K:
How did Freud get in here? Anyway, I don’t believe I privilege TFDe as exclusively human, but rather that human TFDe are a privilege of being human. The TFDe of other’s are distinctly other, fabulously alien. Corrolarily, my own personal TFDe are exclusively, ineluctably, mine, they are not those of others. When I hear the music as an other’s utterance it is precisely the otherness of that utterance that I value.
N:  
Freud’s here because of his particularly and empirically founded theory of the General Neurosis, which I understand Cage in particular as being an artist who profoundly seeks a way out of it, rather than just accepting it.    In order to seek the way out he must enter that paradoxical realm of intentional use of nonintenion, of having nothing to say and saying it.   In this he did not achieve a personality-less anonymity, and that was not his goal.    His utterance is there in the tremendous variety of compositional means he divided to continue working away within this paradox, never assuming there was some mechanical solution, say simply using the magic square of Music of Changes for the rest of his life, or for that matter, making 4’33” and saying, “I did it, I’m done.”
K:
Please see my copious, frequent, and often enthusiastic, comments on Gradus through the decades. Apropos of this discussion, the greater part of my frustration with Cage is in understanding what he was talking or writing about. The music I have heard is (apropos of this discussion) problematic in the sense that I have trouble lining it up with (some of) the talk about it.
N:  
As at the beginning, I think we’d proceed more constructively if we had a particular piece of writing by Cage to chew on.   If you have a particular piece in mind, maybe we could talk about that one.
K:
Freud AND Brown! Yikes! We’re not gonna have enough pie! I was the one who chose the murder metaphor, perhaps I can clarify with less dire imagery:
Scene One: I hear the sound of a violin. Is that sound the utterance of the violin or of the violinist? Which would I rather do without? Cage’s “the sound as itself” suggests to me he would rather have the utterance of the violin and do without the violinist. I come down on t’other side.      
N:   
Cage nearly always wrote for specific performers and collaborated closely with them.   Solo for Piano, that extraordinary and graphically beautiful compendium of compositional techniques is essentially a love letter to David Tudor, made with his virtuosity in mind, his love of puzzles, and the implicit trust in that performer’s capacity to do wonderful things with an indeterminate score.   “Letting the Sound be Itself” takes a village, so everybody involved matters, composer, player, bow violin, room, air, tone.
Scene Two: I hear the sound of thunder. Is that sound an utterance? If not, it an accident of the sudden expansion of an air mass, or whatever other materialist explanation you prefer. If so, of what (or of whom) is it an utterance? If it is an utterance then it is the utterance of something or of somewhom, of nature (as placeholder for any number of concepts concerning the greater other out there), of a deity, or of God. If I’m serious about it’s being an utterance then I must accept the utterer, even if I created the utterer on the fly from the concept of utterance itself.   
All sound is utterance when we listen, and ultimately all sound is the utterance of US, by which I mean, I think, that the more attentively and deeply we listen the more the barriers and the distances go away, the more otherness either goes away or else becomes a radiant other one confronts, or possibly a systole and diastole of oceanic oneness and confronting radiant otherness and back.
K:
Scene Three: A child says “I love you”. Sounds as themselves or child?   
N: 

Both/and, and a gift to me the recipient and obligation on myself as the caregiving recipient to give back.   What if all things are saying just that, and what if we are actually in a position to speak that back to all things?   That child is very likely seeking to re-charge, and carries the hope of that oneness which we as parents actually have the ability to impart if we are attentive to those moments;  And then we have to be ready to let the re-charged child go be OTHER again, and not need to hold on to the union.  It’s a dance and it’s not easy to learn the steps, but I’m persuaded they can be learned.

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