Two Los Angeles composer-experimentalists – Laura Steenberge and Michael Winter – flit between two London art-music venues at the end of this week, joining forces for a two-part concert.
Mira Benjamin presents:
‘Open… and perhaps not yet fully formed’ (with Laura Steenberge and Michael Winter)
- Part I – IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England, Friday 7th October 2016, 7.30pm – information here and here
- Part II – Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England, Sunday 9th October 2016, 3:30pm – information here and here
The two visiting musicians make an interesting and complementary pair. Laura’s linguistic training backs up her musicality and instills a curiosity about the roots of communication, with her ‘Chant Etudes’ series attempting to recreate or recapture a “deep past, when the idea of a musical instrument was not yet fully formed.” Making and playing rudimentary part-salvaged instruments (which combine standard recorder or trumpet mouthpieces with flexible metal or plastic piping), Laura blows and sings into them while also whirling them, combining simple and complex harmonies from instrument and voice while participating in a sound which she partially controls and partially doesn’t. It conflates ideas of natural wind sound, air-hung instruments which play without human intercession (such as Aeolian harps) and human attempts at music making which suggest both the pre- and post-industrial. There’s a mystical element too, as Laura deliberately searches out “the secret vibrations hidden among the controlled tones.”
As for Michael, he’s more computationally-minded: setting out his algorhythmic pieces via scores involving minimal standard notation, or minimal graphical cues, or succinct but meticulous lines of text, and drawing structural elements from other disciplines (science, architecture, mathematics, different art fields). Both concerts will feature a performance of Michael’s ‘for Sol LeWitt’ – a text score piece for solo glissando and four sustained tones, which on these occasion will be performed with at least one amplified/processed violin. (Perform it yourself, right now, using any available sound source, from the instructions here – otherwise, cop a listen to the slow-evolving version below).
Four London-based players are joining in on both occasions, fanning the event out out into a loose potential sextet. Two of these are avant-garde violinists – prepared-instrument/improv doyenne Angharad Davies; microtonal specialist Mira Benjamin. The remaining two are objects-and-electronics player John Lely and fellow object botherer/roving conceptualist/sometime pianist Tim Parkinson.
I’m being more than a little glib and flippant in my descriptions here. Just think of them as being like the tabs in a pop-up book, something which you pull out to unfold the details what these assorted players really do – a cascade of directions and deconstructions springing off from the music and situations they engage with. Many of the ensemble are also active encouragers or curators of New Music – Mira through the vigorous commissioning and nurturing of new compositions, as well as serving as the impresario for these two ‘Open…’ shows; others through running various performance nights in LA or London (Michael’s experimental institution the wulf.; the ‘Music We’d Like to Hear‘ series which John and Tim run with Marcus Trunk).
In addition, two ‘Music We’d Like to Hear’ semi-regulars – double bass player/onetime Oxford Improviser Dominic Lash and cellist/Apartment House founder Anton Lukoszevieze – will join in for the second concert. (Anton will be playing John Leles’ self-descriptively-titled ‘The Harmonics of Real Strings’).
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Beyond the pieces I’ve mentioned before, the programmes vary between the concerts, although the general brief is “simple processes and open forms.” One inclusion will be another Michael Winter piece (the rhythmic three-line drone-counterpoint process ‘tergiversate’). Another will be a second John Leles composition, ‘All About the Piano’, in which the initial piano lines are recorded onto a series of dictaphones as they’re played, and are then replayed later on in lo-fi over the top of later lines. (This enables the piece’s history to repeat – the first time as grace, the second time as what sounds like a distant, distracting coterie of ice cream vans.)
Tim Parkinson will be contributing two brand-new pieces – ‘No. 4’ and ‘No. 5’ – about which he’s not provided any information. Having recently composed an almost actionless opera with a combined orchestra-pit-cum-stage-set of trash and rubble, without any music (bar stolen snippets of Handel and Rossini as performance bookends), and which mostly consists of the performers wading through the wreckage, he’s arguably the most playful of the composers contributing to ‘Open’. Expect anything; and then expect to see that anything dismantled.
Outside of music sourced by the ensemble members themselves, ‘Open…’ will see a performance of one of the Circular Music piano pieces by Swiss composer Jürg Frey (a member of the Wandelweiser Group, who pursue a John Cage-inspired integration of silence and humble reticence into composition). ‘Circular Music part 6’ is part of a series in which Frey seems to have been skirting around the avant-garde composer’s fear of (or suspicion of) virtuoso cliché or cultural determinism – aiming instead to naturally compose something which is both starkly simple and, at the same time, significant.
In an interview with Sheffield record label Another Timbre, Frey expanded on this by talking about how he was “looking to find a confidence in chords, dyads and single notes… I hope that accordingly they will resonate with confidence. This applies to every material, whether stones or a piano, but with the piano it seems to be more challenging because of the clarity of the material and how the instrument itself suggests it should be used.” (Full interview text here, while one of the other Circular Music pieces is linked below.)
The last piece confirmed for the concert (although there should be others) is ‘Another’, by Christian Wolff: conceptual composer, final survivor of the Cage-led New York School of experimental classical, a muso-political provocateur in step with Cornelius Cardew, and an avowed influence on both Tim Parkinson and John Leles. ‘Another’ isn’t a piece I can actually find in Woolf’s catalogue. It may well be a version of his floating, fragmentary but surprisingly lovely nine-minute electric guitar piece ‘Another Possibility’, which is and was a response to a 1966 piece which Woolf’s friend Morton Feldman had composed for him to perform on electric guitar (despite Woolf’s own unfamiliarity with the instrument).
Woolf would later recall the process of making ‘The Possibility Of A New Work For Electric Guitar’ as “we immediately set to work, (Feldman) at the piano, playing a chord: “can you do that?” I could. “How about this?” With some contortions (the guitar was laid flat so I could better see what I was doing – I’m not a guitar player, and this way I could finger and pluck with either hand), yes.”This?” Not quite. “Now” (with changed voicing, or a new chord)? Yes. And so on, until he had made the piece. Tempo was slow and dynamics soft, the structure dictated by the amount of time we were able to concentrate on the work. The sound, the chords or single notes, were reverberations set off by his (characteristic) piano playing, feeling for a resonance, then confidently transferred to the guitar within that instrument’s capacities (sometimes adding one of its particular features, the ability to make small slides with a vibrato bar).” Woolf only performed Feldman’s composition three times before both guitar and the manuscript were stolen from his car the following year – but he’d subsequently use the memory of the lost piece for inspiration.
Incidentally, three years after Woolf composed ‘Another Possibility’ (and some forty years after the theft), a recording of the stolen Feldman score was recovered, and it was subsequently transcribed and put back into the repertoire. The full story is here, and you can compare the two related pieces below – ‘Another Possibility’ via an interesting effect-sprinkled performance (Andy Summers-gone-avant-garde) by Swiss omin-guitarist Gilbert Impérial, and the original Feldman ‘…Possibility…’ in a straight, reverent reading by Japanese classical/electric crossover player Gaku Yamada.
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Here’s a quick rundown of ‘Open…’ again.
Laura Steenberge (objects and voice)
Michael Winter (guitalele, objects, electronics)
Mira Benjamin (violin)
Angharad Davies (violin)
John Lely (objects, electronics)
Tim Parkinson (piano, objects)
Dominic Lash (double bass – Part 2 only)
Anton Lukoszevieze (cello – Part 2 only)
Part 1 includes:
Laura Steenberge – The Chant Etudes
Michael Winter – for Sol LeWitt
John Lely – All About the Piano
Jürg Frey – Circular Music No. 6
Tim Parkinson – No.4 (2016) & No.5 (2016)
Part 2 includes:
Laura Steenberge – The Chant Etudes
Michael Winter – tergiversate
John Lely – The Harmonics of Real Strings
Michael Winter – for Sol LeWitt
Christian Wolff – Another