sound observations - houston tx, april 2014

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mudd
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sound observations - houston tx, april 2014

Post by mudd »

tonight was the first of two performances featuring michael pisaro and charles curtis taking place in unique sound venues in the city of houston. this show took place in james turrell's sky space 'twilight epiphany' on the campus of rice university. the skyspace is one of the more substantial pieces of public art at rice, and possibly also the least secure bunker in the world. it's build into a hill, with marble pews along the walls and an elevated canopy over top. the center of the canopy is open to the sky, and beneath the canopy a large number of colored LEDS are embedded. at dusk a carefully planned series of lighting changes highlights the gradual changes in the night sky. tonight the lights were put to a different use, though, as the show began considerably after dusk. in addition to the lights, the canopy hides a 12-channel speaker assembly which was used for the first time to present a specially commission work from an outside composer. there were three performances tonight in total.

first was rice clarinet professor richie hawley, who presented the 1985 composition 'new york counterpoint' by steve reich. it's a piece for multiple clarinets, presented as a solo performance with pre-recorded accompaniment which hawley had recorded himself. the accompanying track was not presented through the surround speakers (i think!) but instead through a pair of large monitors on the floor. hawley himself performed from the center. the piece is 'classic' reich - simple tones and simple melodies woven in to complicated patterns and rhythms through multiple voices and phasing. the lighting program was soft, smooth transitions that fit the clear clarinet tones quite well. as much as i am ready to write off more recent reich compositions i enjoyed this piece quite a bit

the second piece of the night was performed by charles curtis, a 2011 piece called 'slices for cello and pre-recorded orchestra' by alvin lucier. the pre-recorded orchestra in this case presenting a series of complex, thick clusters of sound that reminded me of iannis xenakis. over those clusters, curtis performed careful, strong tones on the cello that quite literally sliced through the accompaniment. eventually the accompaniment developed a sort of pulsing feeling that made it almost tactile. it was an intense, very present piece. the lighting was more intense as well, less pastel and more jarring. it was enjoyable but somehow minor, which was appropriate as curtis will be the feature performer for thursday's performance.

the final piece of the night was the piece commissioned from piaro for this event, entitled violet transmission (gray series no. 4) for electric guitar, noise and sine tones. the lights for this performance were static, a pale gray/violet accented by orange on the outer edges. pisaro sat in the center of the space with his guitar, e-bow, and amplifier. immediately other sounds surrounded, with noise and sine waves coming from all directions. early in the piece pisaro used the guitar to color the sine tones, i think he was nearly matching the frequency to develop beating patterns and subtle changes. the noises were abstract but there was a foundation of sound underneath that absorbed into the background to create. rice is located more or less in the middle of houston with car and air traffic at all times, with all varieties of noise at all hours. i'm personally pretty familiar with those noises, but in this piece i couldn't ever be sure what was coming from the speakers and what was coming from the city. apparently the white noise used in the piece was modeled on field recordings of the city, which both evoked and masked the natural background. eventually pisaro set down his ebow and played a few quite chords, but the climax of the piece came with the ebow again but now summoning a big, thick, and extremely deep tone from the guitar. the sounds continued to evolve until eventually the guitar note grew static and sustained as the other sounds went quite. slowly the guitar went silent, leaving behind it what i first took for a loud silence but realized, just as the lights went dark, that it was the last vestiges of the white noise foundation.

all three of these performances were quite special, unique for the visual and sonic qualities of the venue and for the ideal environment. on thursday night an ensemble of local musicians will present pisaro's 'fields have ears (4)', and curtis will perform eliane radiques 'naldjorlak i'. in the rothko chapel.

m

mudd
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Re: sound observations - houston tx, april 2014

Post by mudd »

the second night of sound observations happened tonight, in the rothko chapel. i won't try to describe the chapel, but i will say that is one of the most peaceful, thoughtful places i have ever spent any time.

the first set was fields have ears (4), composed by michael pisaro and performed tonight by the nameless sound ensemble. the ensemble was predominantly local improvisers, including dave dove on muted trombone, jason jackson on first clarinet and later bari sax, damon smith on bass, jawwaad taylor on electronics, ryan edwards on viola, chris cogburn on snare drum, and the only wildcard was composer and event co-organizer kurt stallmann on soprano melodica. there is a great deal more info about the composition than i can type out available here but in essence the piece was a series of very quiet, nearly static tones separated by spaces of silence. there was some possibility of detecting particular instruments, but for the most part the tones and timbres melded into a single breathing sound full of texture. the muted music was a particularly appropriate match to the deep, heavy color fields hanging on every wall of the gallery.

the second performance of the evening was cellist charles curtis performing radigue's naldjorlak i. the piece began with achingly slow, deep bowing on the lowest string, with delicate finger adding complexity to the gruff tone. gradually the bow migrated across the strings, bringing out more rich tones. eventually there was more activity, still slow but with shorter tones and more silence. eventually curtis moved to the bottom strings at the bracket, bringing the pitch much higer but still rich and full of undertone. after some time, he progressed further down, to the spindle that stood the cello up from the floor. the richness he generated bowing what was essentially an accessory really took me by surprise - not the narrow, sharp tone of bowed metal, but echoing into the chamber of the instrument to stay low and mellow. he took the process one step further still, bowing on what appeared to be a bracket on the base of the cello. this time the tone was narrower but still very powerful. throughout the performance curtis showed incredible steadiness, patiences, and focus. in the end he sat in silence for perhaps a minute before standing and taking his instrument off the stage.

if tuesday night's show was full of color, tonight was all about texture. thick sounds, slow changes, space, and depth.

m

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