This Fall, Bryant Park will be hosting the third season of their annual series of dance, jazz, opera, and classical music performances, Bryant Park Fall Festival, presented by Bank of America. The event will feature artists from the New York City Ballet, Five Boroughs Music Festival, Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Jazz at Lincoln Center, BAM, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Parsons Dance, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.
Yesterday, Inside Thirteen had the opportunity to speak with Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, who gave us behind-the-scenes insight as to how Great Performances at the Met is produced.
Now in its 37th season on PBS, Great Performances at the Met gives viewers a front row seat at the Met’s premiere operas, and has long been a THIRTEEN viewer favorite. This Thursday, the 2009-2010 season of the series concludes on THIRTEEN with Gioachino Rossini’s Armida, starring Renée Fleming and directed by Mary Zimmerman. Tune in to this performance on Thursday, August 19 at 8 p.m., followed by an encore performance on Sunday, August 29 at 12:30 p.m.
Mr. Gelb answered our questions via email.
IT: Can you explain what season planning for Great Performances at the Met entails?
PG: The performances shown on PBS were all originally presented in movie theaters around the world as part of the Met’s Live in HD series. We treat these live transmissions as the first step in a Hollywood-style, multi-step movie release. First they’re shown live in movie theaters in 45 countries, then on Great Performances. They also end up on Met Player, our online streaming service at metplayer.org, which now has more than 30 HD productions that you can watch on your computer whenever you want. And many titles later end up on DVD. As with our longstanding radio broadcasts, it’s important for us to offer these performances on PBS, where audiences can enjoy them for free.
IT: How are the featured operas selected? What has been your favorite thus far?
PG: We present more than 25 different operas at the Met in a given season, so when we’re planning the HD series (and, in turn, Great Performances) we look to capture the wide range of repertory you can experience at the opera house. We try to select a good mix of operatic styles, the greatest stars, and a mix of new productions and revivals. Of course, the Met’s complicated scheduling inevitably enters the equation. There are really lots of factors. My favorite? Each production presents unique challenges and becomes my favorite — or at least the focus of all my attention — at the time I am working on it.
IT: Aside from hosting the performances, how has the Metropolitan Opera been involved in the production of this series?
PG: We produce each program from start to finish, including all the planning, production and post-production. By controlling all aspects of the productions we are able to ensure the most integrated and satisfying results for the public.
Yesterday at noon, on what turned out to be another day of record-breaking heat in NYC, crowds descended on Times Square and surrounded The Beatles’ storied Magical Mystery Tour Bus. The occasion? A celebration of iconic Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday, hosted by the Hard Rock Cafe.
In what seemed like a callback to Beatlemania of the ’60s, Starr was greeted by the crowd with screams and cheers, followed by a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Per Starr’s special request, the crowd shouted “peace and love” at noon, local time, and showed off peace signs. Starr greeted the crowd with thanks and mentioned that being in New York was “a magical moment in 1964, and it’s still a magical moment” (referring to The Beatles’ now legendary 1964 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show, just blocks away). He threw “Peace and Love” bracelets to fans, along with cookies designed with hearts and peace signs.
Starr, who is currently on tour with his “All-Starr Band,” was also honored by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum inaugurated a special display of Starr’s gold-plated snare drum, which will remain on view to the public through December 2010 in the Museum’s Musical Instruments Galleries. The custom-made drum was presented to Starr in 1964 by the Ludwig Drum Company after The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (featuring a Ludwig drum set) produced a large surge in drum sales.
In celebration of Starr’s 70th birthday, this Friday THIRTEEN will broadcast Live From the Artists Den: Ringo Starr with Ben Harper and Relentless7. The one-hour concert marks the premiere of the series’ second season, and features Starr, folk-funk star Ben Harper, and Relentless7, and singer Joan Osborne. The episode was taped at the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, and also features an interview with Starr and Harper. It is set to air on Friday, July 9, at 9:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN, and Saturday, July 10 at 10 p.m. on WLIW.
This Saturday the Central Park main stage will host Istanbulive II, a Celebration of Turkish Music. Starting at 2PM, it will feature five hours of contemporary music, presenting New Yorkers with familiar genres influenced by the Turkish context in which they’ve developed. We had an opportunity to ask event producers Mehmet Dete and Serdar Ilhan a few questions about the show.
THIRTEEN: How did Istanbulive start? How did it go last year?
Serdar Ilhan: Istanbulive is a one-day music festival that aims to introduce to the American audiences the modern sounds of Turkey. I’ve been doing events in New York since the mid-’90s and have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful presenters, venues and other international music promoters. When SummerStage asked me whether I would be interested in doing a concert in the Park as part of their summer season programming, I immediately thought of bringing in the Turkish Tourism Office, whom I have a great rapport with, to do a large scale Turkish music event. They strongly supported the cause and saw it as an outreach event to promote not just the music of Turkey, but the country as a travel destination.
Mehmet Dede: Attendance for last year’s event exceeded our wildest dreams, registering close to 7,000 fans. People took it upon themselves to inform their friends and co-workers about the event and brought with them their families. SummerStage had to close the gates midway through the concert. We were told that several hundred people were left outside. At the end of the season SummerStage confirmed that Istanbulive was one of the top three most attended shows of the 2009 season.
Nearing the end of their week on the Eastern half of the country, Maus Haus perform tonight at Pianos on the Lower East Side. The independent San Francisco band produces electronics-heavy, rock-oriented songs that pull from countless influences without sounding like pastiches or tediously intentional bricolages. They seem to avoid these pitfalls through creative collaboration, a self-described “six-person filtering system” that lets the music drift from familiar territory to singular explorations ranging from dreamy to driving. For a sample, here’s “Winter” from their latest 7″.
Last night I heard Maus Haus open for local shoegaze trio (+ drummer) School of Seven Bells at a sold out Mercury Lounge. The band started with their slower-paced recent release “Winter” (hear it above) and proceeded through an hour or so of their work.
As on record, the music evoked a flurry of references from the past 60 years of popular music without falling into stylistic mimicry. Instead the familiarity generated an immediate connection and comfort, while fresh, original use made the content actually interesting.
Without the cleanliness of post production, Maus Haus’ live show was sonically more aggressive than their headphone experience. Squealing synths struck fearlessly at the forefront, as the performance made obvious a love for playing with undeniable “keyboard sounds.” Although musically dissimilar, the approach — complete with mod-wheel-riding keyboard shredding — was in some ways reminiscent of YMO, as strange as the comparison might sound.
Synth patterns were played, repeated, and varied live rather than sequenced, and the band threw dramatic time changes into most of their songs. These changes, possibly the most dynamic aspect of the music, were lead by an energetic, concentrated rhythm section. It was here that the set received its strongest song-to-song variety.
These guys didn’t really “make it look easy.” There was a looseness to the group, but it was tempered by orchestrated changeups. With no reverb washes or heavy noise to hide behind, they would look at each other to help keep things on track. The shifts didn’t need to be as dramatically precise as those in the music of a band like Radian, but were instead more like the variety found in Deerhoof’s songs.
For the most part the ensemble proceeded without a standout charismatic vocal presence, but an itching Joshua Rampage brought out some heavy personality for the driving, less harmonized song “Reaction!”
At some point drummer Joseph Genden switched stations with Sean Mabry, a strange site that was followed by some fun percussion interplay, with Mabry finishing drum runs that Genden would start from the other side of the stage.
Maus Haus never seemed to over-indulge in a particular direction, sound, or genre, which made for a refreshing absence of the feeling that they were “trying to be” something in particular. All the details fell cohesively into the service of good songs. Oh, and I could actually hear and understand the lyrics.
Before they came to town, I had a chance to talk with the three Js of Maus Haus about their creative process and where they see themselves fitting in musically.
Bijan: Here’s a general lineup I gleaned off the internet:
Aaron Weiss: bass, synths, trumpet, drums
Sean Mabry: vocals, drums, synths, trombone
Tom Hurlbut: sax, flute, clarinet, drums
Joe Genden: synths, drums
Josh Rampage: vocals, synths, bass, rhodes
Jason Kick: vocals, synths, bass
There are lots of “synths” in that list. What kind of gear are you guys using on the electronic side of things?
Joe Genden: Our recordings are always shaped by what’s on hand – junky yamaha keyboards, old casios, microkorgs, a few old analog mono synths, various drum machines, an omnichord, an old lowrey organ, and some soft-synths here and there. In the live show, we try to keep it minimal and digital, and sample any of the sounds we can’t replicate. There are a lot of those.
B: Ultimately you get grouped into a sort of indie, rock-oriented realm, with the common note that nobody’s a dedicated guitarist. Why do we make such a big deal out of this fact?
Jason Kick: It’s an easy characteristic that separates us from other bands–no guitars in any sort of rock band is odd to most people. For us, it was not a conscious decision from the beginning, but no one picked up a guitar until well after we had a lot of ideas going. We had a lot of other instruments to play with. There may have been a moment where we said, “well I guess we could/should add guitars”, but then thought, “hey, maybe we shouldn’t.” There’s still no hard or fast rule, but we’ve managed to avoid it for the most part, save some brief moments on “Lark Marvels.”
The guitar sound of a band is often the definitive sound of the band, and it’s a very cathartic instrument that sounds quite different depending on who’s playing it. Synthesizers are viewed as less idiosyncratic and physical, but it’s fun for us to make synths the noisy, cathartic center of attention that guitars often are, and get physical with them. They also make good basses. And drums.
JG: People do make a big deal about the guitar thing, but really, we cheat. We use a lot of bass in higher registers. Doesn’t anyone notice that a bass and a guitar are pretty much the same thing?
B: Some reviewers refer to your band like a 60s throwback, while others relate your sound to the futuristic. Where do you see yourself between this discrepancy? Is there some relationship between the two?
Josh Rampage: The 60s served as an important generation of new and interesting sounds that were previously unheard of. thinking of the 60s and their idea of the “future,” it’s interesting to consider what has occurred musically over time – we think about how we can integrate the same sort of forward thinking that created such compelling sounds back then, while bearing in mind all that has been made musically in the 50 years leading up to this point in time, 2010.
JG: In the 50s and 60s, musicians got their hands on synthesizers and tape machines, became scientists and engineers, and saw a future of alien music completely unlike the past- without acoustic instruments or human performers. I’m sure we don’t sound like Milton Babbitt or anything, but maybe we like the idea of looking into an imaginary alternate musical future, and make music with that in mind.
B: It’s funny to read reviews of your music, because people really struggle to describe it. The most common approach is to use comparisons, but these are wildly varied, I assume matching the diversity of your influences. What do you think makes your music so particularly difficult to describe?
JR: We have a 6-person filtering system that typically vaporizes any semblance of evidence of the ideas we steal from in the first place. We have such varied tastes and influences among us that when combined, the results take on a unique sound by a convenient default.
JK: There are six of us with pretty varied tastes and influences, reaching into all kinds of pop and experimental music, so schizophrenic comparisons make sense. When we’re working out new ideas, we cook up all sorts of things, but the ones we develop into songs are the genuinely unique ones, as we are most excited by combinations of sounds we haven’t quite heard before. Also, a song has to have a nice melody or two that reminds of music we’ve listened to all of our lives–but haven’t quite heard yet.
B: With six people, how do you bring it all together for a composition/recording? Is there some complex bureacracy at work?
JR: Goes something like this: idea suggestions that lead to lengthy email debates, fish fights (getting slapped with a salmon!), and inevitably ending in hugging it out and the resulting recordings.
B: Where do the lyrics come from?
JK: Many of the lyrics come from us filtering real-life experiences into a state of mind that is slightly beyond reality.
JR: Absurd, dada and surrealist leanings, creating a lyrical atmosphere, real-life experiences, and trying to tell a story in a way that has never been told before.
B: Your songs have some dramatic (and enjoyable ) stereo imaging. What’s your ethic or approach with this?
JK: Stereo by nature is a special effect. It seems that stereo was created because we have two ears. Our ethic might be “to keep both ears engaged.” Extreme panning, like on many 60s records, can be tiresome, but when it helps create movement and helps the whole mix seem more visually imaginable, we pan like crazy. Panning also helps manage a lot of ideas at once.
Bijan: How do you make these songs work live? Did touring Lark Marvels material inform the production of Sea-Sides?
JK: Sea-sides is a mixed bag of songs that were older and newer to us, but if anything, we felt less obliged to represent the recording, because we found from the “Lark Marvels” songs that live renditions could be different and still work. The first three songs on sea-sides were auditioned live before finishing them, but the production on all of those went beyond the live versions, quite a bit, with around 100 tracks for each song.
B: Who does your visuals, and what’s the guiding aesthetic there? I noticed an image from Richard Heffner’s Open Mind in a performance photo…
JG: We’re always into the idea of our music as accompaniment to visuals – partly because a bunch of guys pounding on keyboards might not be as visually interesting as guitars – but also because we’re influenced by the effect of a lot of old soundtracks – Spaghetti Westerns, Bollywood, etc. We aspire to be a soundtrack. In our earlier shows, we used found footage of early computer graphics, psychology experiments, and a clip from Open Mind. Since then we’ve played with a couple visualists – Tyler Freeman, who uses a Wii controller to interact with his visuals, and Miko Revereza, who does live video feedback with an old camcorder and editing deck.
B: Any favorite / memorable shows that you’ve played?
JR: NP 2010 at the mezzanine [in San Francisco] with !!! and a show in Oakland on Halloween where I broke aaron’s glasses and we all almost died.
B: What do you think makes a good live performance?
JR: Avoiding computer malfunctions and making sure everyone has used the bathroom beforehand. Emilio Estevez jokes seem to lighten the mood for certain audiences. Above all that – genuinely enjoying ourselves while hoping to help the audience in getting on the same page as we are – we love when people get down while we are.
B: Any recent releases you guys are enjoying?
JR: GonjaSufi, ambient (dolphins into the future, the caretaker), Cosmogramma, flying lotus’ new one.
JK: The new Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sonny + the Sunsets, Add N to X (not new, but listening a lot), Nite Jewel, + still shocked at how good the new MGMT record is, as I never cared for them before but I think they’re doing something interesting with their vast recording budgets.
This Sunday in Central Park, SummerStage presents a tribute to Latin American music and Fania Records with Pupy y los que Son Son, Jose Conde and the Nu Latin Groove Band, and DJs Bobbito Garcia, Laylo, and SAKE-1.
Founded in 1964 by Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pacheco, Fania became the premiere label for salsa music and the sound of New York. The label hosted some of the most prominent names in Latin music, like Celia Cruz, Ray Barretto, and Héctor Lavoe, and toured the world as the Fania All-Stars.
In addition to releasing remastered works on CD and MP3, Fania today expands its offerings by letting DJs and producers revisit its catalog and sculpt sets based around more contemporary formats informed by hip-hop and electronic music.
One DJ to have his hand at the Fania Live series is San Francisco’s SAKE-1, who put out the third installment with his From the Fresh Coast mix. Since then he’s collaborated with New York City DJs Laylo and Bobbito Garcia to create an annual celebration of Fania’s music, featuring Fania classics and remixes along with relevant rare grooves.
DJ Laylo is a filmmaker, activist, and half of the hip-hop duo Eli Efi and DJ Laylo. As a DJ she’ll play “anything that moves [her] from the African Diaspora music continuum.”
Bobbito Garcia is a DJ, writer, sneaker guru, and celebrated hip-hop icon with a broad musical focus.
I spoke with the three DJs about their relationship with the music and how they came together to share their love of Fania.
Bijan: How did the idea for the three of you getting together and paying tribute to Fania come about?
SAKE-1: When Fania was purchased by Miami-based Latin music distribution company Emusica earlier this decade they initiated a promotional partnership with NYC-based music periodical Wax Poetics. I had wanted to do a Fania tribute party for a few years and contacted Wax Poetics magazine, since I didn’t have a direct contact with Fania or Emusica. They wound up recommending me as an artist for their “Fania Live” DJ album series, in which a few DJs were picked to interpret/mix/remix/curate the Fania sound and back catalog for the electronic music generation.
I still wanted to do a proper tribute to Fania as a club night however, so when the CD was released in 2008 I did it in SF, and of course there was only one DJ in the world that would make it legit, Bobbito. So I asked him to come spin, and it was a great night. We did another night in LA, then collaborated with Laylo to do the NYC event a few weeks later… Once Laylo got involved, it took the event to a new level and i think we felt that we had the right folks to make it an annual event, and in NYC which is synonymous with Fania.
B: As DJs with strong ties to hop-hop, what do you think are the intersections of hip-hop and salsa/boogaloo/other Fania genres? How might these connections come out in your set?
Bobbito: The intersections one might find between Fania and Hip-Hop would be that both found a home in New York during the ’70s, and were shaped idealogically by the economic and social conditions of the times. A great film that explores this is Henry Chalfant’s documentary From Mambo to Hip Hop. He pays it a lot better justice than what I could explain in this interview. The connection that comes out in our sets is easier to explain. Hip Hop taught us to not accept what was played on the radio, but to dig deeper into our souls and decide for ourselves what beautiful music should be shared amongst us. So during our party, yes, you’ll hear some of the Fania classics, but you’ll also be exposed to rare and unknown album cuts from their catalog, modern-day remixes with hip hop and dance beats, and some live-recorded performances from that era. And since we have many hip-hop heads who follow us individually, some of whom don’t listen to much outside of rap or it’s sampled derivatives, we are helping shine a light on them of an entire Latin movement that was powerful and deserves to be preserved. . . thus the name of the party SIEMPRE: A DJ TRIBUTE TO FANIA RECORDS.
B: Technical curiosity – are you playing vinyl, CD, serato/traktor, or what?
Bobbito: I’m still strictly vinyl in my DJ sets. I prefer the superiority and warmth of analog sound. I also love, in particular, the Latin music’s rich history in artwork (which has been the subject of books like Cocinando and others).
Laylo: Sake and myself rock both vinyl and Serato. I love vinyl but also like that Serato allows one to play music/edits/remixes that you can’t find or have never been released on wax.
B: What role did this music have in your lives growing up? Why do you think the “Fania” name carries such a strong, inspiring legacy?
Bobbito: My father was a Latin Jazz musician and we grew up with an actual set of Tito Puente’s vibes, a gift directly from him, in our living room. My mother was Fania All-Star singer Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez’ personal hairdresser. Honestly, though, I didn’t tune into Fania until my adulthood. As a child, I looked at Latin music as what my parents listened to, and I tried to find my own rhythm. The Fania legacy was, and still is, so ridiculously powerful, how could I, a Boricua music lover, not eventually discover it?! I love all music with soul, and the fact that so much heart was poured into the making of Barretto, Colon, Cruz, Rivera, etc. records, plus they happen to be my own peoples . . . it’s a wonderful passion that drives me to hear, play, dance, smile, all that.
Laylo: All of my best childhood memories have Fania as a soundtrack. My mother moved from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico in the early ’70s as a young adult…and my moms was a crazy salsa dancer. She has tons of stories of seeing Fania legends live and dancing the night away. Fania was a huge part of her life and she made it a part of ours. Whether it was a birthday party or cleaning the house on a Saturday afternoon, there was always some Ismael Miranda, Willie Colon, or some other Fania great blasting in our home. At family gatherings, we used to do dance-offs between all the kids. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I loved the music as a little girl, and the more I dig as an adult the more I love this era of Salsa.
B: Can you tell us a little bit about Jose Conde and Pupy Pedroso w/Los Que Son Son?
Laylo: There’s always controversy about who started what with Salsa so I’m excited that this show is bringing together older Cuban musicians, younger Latin fusion artists, and the pan-Caribbean flavor of New York City…all paying homage to the power of Latin music.
B: What are you working on at the moment?
Bobbito: I have a residency at Camaradas en El Barrio, NYC, the first Monday of every month. I also started up a new label called Alala Records, releasing 7″ vinyl only. I’m up to a ton of other things, best for people to peep where I’m at on my Facebook page.
Laylo: In true NYC form, I’m working on a bunch of things at the same time. I work as Development Director at Firelight Media, a Harlem-based film production company. My film Estilo Hip Hop premiered on PBS last year and we’re getting ready to release our DVD on June 22nd in partnership with Indiepix Films. I’m also working on an album with my partner, Eli Efi, who is a pioneering hip hop artist from Sao Paulo, Brasil. And of course, I’m always spinning music I love around NYC and other cities.
B: Could you share a couple of your favorite Fania records, or a couple that you’re into at the moment?
Bobbito: Impossible to list favorites cuz there are so many, but two that have been stuck in my head recently are Ismael Rivera “Caras Lindas” and Bobby Valentin “Nací Moreno.” I love when any genre–driven by people of color–dives into social issues, expressions of self-love, upliftment . . . topics that challenge people to think and at the same time move their feet.
Laylo: I agree, choosing a favorite is impossible, but two songs I’m currently loving are “Apaga La Luz” by Celia Cruz and Willie Colon and “El Hijo de Obatala” by the incredible Ray Barretto. I love these tracks cause they literally force you to dance but also because the lyrics bridge spirituality, social justice, and cultural pride.
Bobbito, SAKE, and Laylo celebrate Latin music with Pupy Pedroso, Jose Conde, and their bands this Sunday at 3PM.
They’ll be performing the full SIEMPRE! DJ tribute at Le Poisson Rouge on July 11 with live violin and congas.
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Although Jorge Santana gives this one some California/rock flavor, here’s a piece of Fania All-Star goodness:
This Thursday night, multi-instrumental musician Bora Yoon performs at Warsaw for a show headlined by electronic dub supergroup Moritz von Oswald Trio. The event is a joint production between Knitting Factory and Beyond and also features electronic composer Keith Fullerton Whitman.
Bora Yoon performs with a collection of conventional and unconventional sound-generators, from her own voice, string instruments, and Tibetan bowls to household items processed through software. One moment she might be singing, while a few minutes later her cell phone sits on a turntable, its periodic proximity to a microphone or a listening ear acting as a visible LFO. This visually performative element underscores her singular performance, which constructs sound environments from a myriad of sources.
A recording from a performance at last February’s Unsound Festival gives an idea of how five minutes might look and sound:
In anticipation of the show on Thursday, I asked Bora Yoon a few questions via email.
Bijan: Describe what you’ll be doing at Warsaw on June 3.
Bora Yoon: I’ll be presenting ( (( PHONATION )) ), an interdisciplinary song cycle of ambient electro-acoustic soundscapes, using voice, electrified viola, turntable, Tibetan singing bowls, radios, water, metronomes, musicboxes, homemade instruments, and electronics — and visual artist R. Luke DuBois will be joining me on live visual projections, which will be manipulated in realtime, creating essentially an immersive audiovisual environment and experience.
B: How are R. Luke Dubois’ visuals integrated into the performance? Do they affect decisions that you make on stage or do you do your thing while he does his?
BY: We essentially do our own thing in tandem — Luke sets up a camera and uses the live video feed from the performance to manipulate in realtime as the performance occurs — creating a sense of time and elasticity, and the idea of permanence or possibility of permanence.
Luke is amazing, and a brilliant visual artist in his own right, and considering he programmed Jitter, and it’s his medium, I usually just speak in general terms of the artistic intent and macro arc of the set, and where the set travels to, what textures are involved, and what moods are to be evoked, and we hit the stage. He does what he does best, I do what I believe I do best — and it works.
B: As an improviser with a lot happening at once, do you make “mistakes” or is it all just part of what happens? Do you incorporate unintended actions/sounds into the developing performance or just leave them behind?
BY: The way I see it, whether it’s improvised, or thru-composed, everything has to fall into step with the rhythm of the moment. So whether it’s planned, or accidental, at its moment of delivery, the performance has to breathe with the energy in the room, so it comes off seemingly ‘new’ every time, and doesn’t seem forced, or too rigid. My compositions are approximately 75% structured: I know the order in which things come in, and the rest is somewhat breathable, within the context of the set, the pacing of the night, the energy in the room, and what seems to fall into place. Whatever happens happens — so when there’s feedback in A-flat, harmonize with it then.
B: How does a specific space affect your performance? When you’re not the only musician of the evening, as on June 3, does the bill/lineup have any effect on what you do?
BY: Space and architecture certainly affects the way I present my performance. Music has the dynamic ability to create both inner and outer space for a listener — and I believe that taking a venue space into account, in its presentation and delivery, only augments the dynamism of delivery, to be more experiential, than presentational beyond just the proscenium of a stage.
For instance, if it’s a church space, large concert hall, or auditorium, then there’s acoustics to play with, perhaps even history to fold into the repertoire, sense of time, balcony, layout — or if it’s a small space like a blackbox, then I have to create inward space — playing with close micing, the subconscious associations of sounds, and perception of proximity, and sense of scale through effects, and visuals, and lighting.
The billing, and the lineup also definitely affects what I perform, as I often find myself in pretty varied scenes: electronic, contemporary classical, multimedia, art world, dance world, etc. Knowing what other performers, kinds of performers, overarching context or theme of the night focuses my instrumentation of a set (if it’s a more classical gig, then I’ll use my viola, more tonal instruments — or if it’s an electronic festival, hen I’ll use my vocoder, synths, etc.), allows me to anticipate the expectations of the crowd, how to play with that expectation, create contrast, and segue in interesting ways so that the night, not only my set, has a nice ‘bloom’ to it.
In essence, all factors work towards creating a kind of rarefaction of experience: from intimate to transportive, by utilizing the perception and scale of sound.
B: Do you have a favorite piece of gear, other than your voice?
BY: One of my favorites in the battery in the Tiny Orchestra I schlep around with me is an original instrument I made last spring with Brooklyn’s League of Electronic Musicians and Urban Robots (LEMUR) called Subwoofing Spoons. They are a pair of repurposed Swedish spoons amplified with an old violin pickup, and processed through custom software in Max/MSP, to create a large bass subwoofing hit, approximated by its attack. When there’s a sweet subwoofer in the house, it’s quite satisfying to hear — it’s basically having a German industrial rave in your hands.
My newest addition and enchantment I am working into ( (( PHONATION )) ) is this Stroh violin, a horned violin from the turn of the century, when recording technology was not sensitive enough at that point to capture softer sounds like strings, and voice — so that they altered the entire string family to sound a bit shriller (akin to an erhu) so they would be able to be heard.
I’m drawn to its mutant form, and how instruments are a reflection of the time — and that it was a hybrid prototype of various audio technologies of the time — and is very much a part of the steampunk aesthetic I am drawn to, which is this idea of “ancient future”, and the cyclicality of patterns through time, as we move forward in such a digital age.
B: 2003’s Proscenium recording, which I just heard recently, seems like a very different side to your music. How does the experience of recording and performing this type of work compare with something like ( (( Phonation )) )?
BY: In a past musical life, I was a classical composer,and folk-singer before I started to experiment more into the sound / noise side of things.
Proscenium is much more nascent in my development towards my original sound — and it took the stripping of lyrical and formulaic elements of songwriting to reach ( (( PHONATION )) ) — which is literally means the utterance of sounds into language. ( (( PHONATION )) ) is basically a result of the degeneration from songs to the elements of music, to see what else could take form — and I have to say, it is the most original and honest music I have made, and is more a departure into more the mood, texture, and timbre side of music’s unraveling, focusing further and relishing in the music-side of things — whereas the songs from Proscenium are much more lyrically-oriented and prescribe much more formulaically into what a “song” is.
I do however still consider the experimental soundscape works of ( (( PHONATION )) ) to be essentially songs without words — and it’s interesting and bemusing / amusing to me to see what radically different genres and categories I fall under now (experimental / contemporary / electronic) , with simply the removal of words and lyrics.
B: I read that you’re creating music for a theatrical production of “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.” Can you tell us more about that project? How did you get involved, and what “music and live performance” will you be doing?
BY: I’m co-scoring and performing the live music for the staged adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s “Wind Up Bird Chronicle” directed by Stephen Earnhart, making its world premiere at the Baryshnikov Art Center next March. I became involved when he was looking for a new composer for the project, through a mutual colleague I had worked with before at BAM and became excited by the project, not only because I am a huge fan of Murakami — but because of its multi-layers of unreality, dream states, and states of consciousness and unconsciousness that I felt I could explore and offer insights as a hybrid composer/composer who draws inspiration from those very invisibles — and also falls within the cracks of many definitions.
I perform at the side of the stage — a one-woman orchestra pit essentially — in a cubicle of soundmaking devices and instruments: with a prepared piano on one end — an aquarium on another (to mirror the set), and a table full of goodies which I make music with: Tibetan bowls, metronomes, walkie talkies, zippers, bird callers, bike bells, velcro, chimes, meditation boxes, radios, and electric viola, electronics, and voice.
I echo the movements of the characters, I embody the motions and imagery happening in the show through seemingly coincidental movements and performance interfaces that resonate what is being described, which creates a sense of Michel Gondry-esque one-degree-removed synchronicity that makes sense, in a very illogical but intuitive way (much like dreams).
I am performing thematic music, as well as live foley, noise, and leitmotifs specific to certain characters, and I’ve carefully chosen which instruments arise when, akin to the imagery described in each section, so that the interfaces of actions are also mirroring what is being described within a certain scene or between characters (i.e. using a bow pulled across my Tibetan singing bowls to create shrieking feedback sounds, during a scene which recalls a man-skinning experience in Manchuria in WWII, so that performatively, the gesture looks like what is being described, though functional in a different way). The show is a rather subconscious rabbit hole of a show — and I am on stage for the duration of the entire show, in addition to a 30-min preshow to set the tone and scene for the audience as they arrive, and settle.
What I enjoy most about the role, is the fact that I perform in an in-between world between what is happening on stage, and what is happening in the minds of these characters, and the other multimedia / tech aspects of the show. I love toying of expectations to an audience of whether they should pay attention to me, or overlook me, as an audience would in a classical setting with a conductor of an orchestra pit — or whether I am actually a character, a ghost character, etc. To me, this role is an embodiment of music’s dynamic ability to be everywhere, and nowhere, be invisible and intangible, yet visceral and illuminating.
I consider it a kind of audio Butoh — or as Stephen and I jokingly call it: “au-toh.”
B: What do you have coming up, in terms of specific performances or new works?
And new works-wise,
I am currently working on and recording my forthcoming record, “Sunken Cathedral” to be released in 2011, and I’m developing a one-woman show entitled “Weights and Balances.”
June 1 marks the beginning of SummerStage, New York City’s free music and arts festival. This year the festival celebrates its 25th anniversary with an impressive calendar of events in Central Park and other locations all around the city. We’ll be covering a number of the SummerStage events over the next few months, and we’ll also be giving away some guaranteed-entry/quicker-line tickets to select performances every week, courtesy of City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage.
To learn more about the festival history and operation we spoke with David Rivel, Executive Director of City Parks Foundation.
THIRTEEN: Can you talk about City Parks Foundation and what it does?
David Rivel: City Parks Foundation is the organization that produces SummerStage, but we also do lots of other stuff. We do free sports programs for kids. We have education programs for school groups. We help get involved in neighborhood parks in a productive way, but the arts and culture programs that we do are the biggest part of the organization and probably the most famous and well-attended.
T: When was the foundation founded?
DR: City Parks Foundation was founded in 1989.
T: So when did SummerStage start?
DR: SummerStage started in 1986. So you’re saying to yourself, “Well how is it that SummerStage is older than City Parks Foundation?” and that’s because SummerStage was founded by the Central Park Conservancy, which is a not-for-profit organization that works to maintain Central Park. After seven or eight years of running Central Park SummerStage they decided it didn’t really fit into their mission anymore. The program was getting larger and more logistically difficult for them to produce. So it made sense for City Parks Foundation, which is a large, producing organization, to take over the program. We officially took over in 1994.
T: So we thought it was all at Central Park, but there are event listings for all over the city…
DR: The series started in Central Park, but we started doing programming in other parks all around the city. We started a concert series in parks around the cities in 1990. We started a dance program in parks in 2005, and the same year we started a theater program, and those other programs all had different names. We had “City Parks Concerts,” “City Parks Dance,” and “City Parks Theater,” and what we’ve decided to do for this year is to rebrand all of our arts activity under the single brand of SummerStage. That gives New Yorkers one festival which takes place in 17 parks including Central Park but also other parks in neighborhoods around the city with music, dance, theater, and a variety of programming. So it’s just bigger and better than ever before, and it made sense to do that for our 25th annivesary.
T: How is the festival curated?
DR: So the department works individually and also as a team to see as much stuff as they can. We go to international festivals. We go to important festivals in this country like South by Southwest. It takes about a year to program everything. We’re already starting to program next summer, for example. Some things have been in the works even longer than that. Some works that we’ve commissioned, and we have a couple this year, can take more than a year. For some of the bigger acts — like we have two free performances from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in July — those conversations have been going on for three or four years actually.
T: And so these are mostly free shows, except for a few benefits?
DR: Everything we do is free. All of our sports programs are free. All of our educational programs are free. There are six shows that have a ticket price. The proceeds from those help us pay for the free shows, but we put on 1200 performances a year, so the number of paid ticketed events is dwarfed by the number of free events that we’re doing.
T: So how is it all funded?
DR: We raise money privately. We have a presenting sponsor this year, MasterCard. We have subsidiary sponsors. JetBlue is our official airline, Manhattan Beer Distributor is our official beer sponsor, City Winery is our wine sponsor, so we put it together with corporate sponsorship and some money from the benefit shows. We also have some food, beverage, and merchandise concessions — we get a little bit of money that way. The rest we raise from foundations, from individuals. It’s a big job. It costs about 5.9 million dollars to put on SummerStage, and we work, just as the programming staff works for a year to put the program together. Everybody else in the organization — the development staff, me, the board of directors — works about a year to put the funding together.
T: Can you tell us about the pieces that have been commissioned?
DR: Our commission is a theater piece called “American Schemes.” It’s written by an emerging playwright Radha Blank, whom we’ve known about for a couple of years and have been trying to work with. We commissioned a piece last year also, a theater piece from a different emerging playwright named Chisa Hutchinson, and what’s great is that they know when they write the piece that it’s going to be performed outdoors in a park. So Chisa’s piece last year, which was called “Dirt Rich,” was about a bunch of kids who discovered some money buried in their playground, the complications that ensue from that discovery, and the dynamic among the kids. It was a great play, but what was particularly interesting about it was of course that it took place in a park, next to a playground, as the performance was playing out. So you get these layers of meaning. So when we commission theater pieces we’re specifically commissioning works that we know are going to play particularly well outdoors. Now I haven’t seen “American Schemes” yet. The rehearsals are only starting next week. The first performances are in July, so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m sure Radha’s done a piece that will particularly resonate outdoors.
T: What other performances are you looking forward to?
DR: Some of the other performances that are notable? Well, we can start with the start of the season. The start of the season is June 1. We have two performances that day, one in Red Hook Park, which is a park in Brooklyn, featuring Jay Electronica, who is a contemporary hip-hop artist. Hip-hop is one of our several themes of the season. The other show we have that day on June 1 is Melody Gardot with the New York Pops orchestra, and that’s at the Mainstage in Central Park. So those two shows together kind of give you a sense of the artistic diversity as well as the geographic diversity of the series.
We end SummerStage at the end of August, on August 28 and August 29, with the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Jazz and in particular bebop are another theme of the season. We have McCoy Tyner, James Moody, Vijay Iyer, and a bunch of other people celebrating the music of Charlie Parker and doing it in parks — one where he lived, Thompskins Square Park in Manhattan, which is basically right next to the street he lived on when he lived in New York City, and then the other day of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is in Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park, where of course Charlie played when he was here in New York.
So we’re trying to highlight New York City artists, art forms that were developed in New York City, trying to play music, present dance, and present theater that will resonate with the various communities that live in New York City, and to do that in the very neighborhood parks that are important to communities around the city. So SummerStage is really the New York City festival, and that’s what we’re really celebrating.
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Click here to see the entire SummerStage schedule. Check back for reviews of SummerStage events, event previews with interviews, and more information on the guaranteed entry tickets.
Beyond’s Bunker music series in Brooklyn is one of my favorites in the city. Focusing on mostly rhythm-centric electronic music, Bunker consistently showcases quality live acts and DJs. Last week’s visit from Minneapolis’ DVS1 provides a shining example of the type of proper, skilled DJs they bring to New York.
Every now and then they shake things up with a lineup that breaks the four-on-the-floor mold, and such was the case this past Friday, when they invited Byetone, Aoki Takamasa, and Carlos Giffoni to trample a few familiar barriers. The night was bookended by music closer to Bunker’s standards set to Joshue Ott’s stunning Sueprdraw visuals, but these three visitors stood out most.
Carlos Giffoni (with whom we spoke a few weeks ago) took the stage and suffocated the room in noisy acid, presumably presenting the sound of his No Fun Acid project. The music was notably not acid house. In acid house, the squealing bassline follows the drum kit’s lead, accentuating the kick rhythm. In Carlos Giffoni’s bizarro-noise-acid world, burning waves flood the ears while the programmed drums keep up as an additional reinforcement. Imagine Steve Reich’s “Drumming” set to 303s, drum machine, and a more freeform generator on a big sound system, although the polyrhythmic changes had more to do with pattern switches than phasing. I initially feared that a set of “acid” from a genre outsider might have a naive, pastiche-like quality, but Giffoni is a confident enough performer to develop his own sound rather than pursue a sort of mimicry and variation. The result was a refreshing sonic experience.
After little more than half an hour, Giffoni passed the speakers to Byetone, AKA Olaf Bender, a co-founder of the electronic music label that does no wrong, Raster-Noton. Byetone plays an unmistakeable, idiosyncratic set of digital noise, rough waves that sound something close to distorted guitar, and rather traditional beats, but with a 21st century timbral treatment. His set is a self-performed, synchronized A/V experience that might permit little spontaneity, but included new material that he didn’t share at Mutek last year. Byetone extends his compositions, riding and effectively modulating what others might compress into a couple of minutes.
To give a sense of his music, here’s a video from a performance in Chile with the beginning to “Plastic Star.”
I’m not sure who or what I’d compare Byetone’s music to, other than to say that it makes sense for him to be on Raster-Noton.
Finally came the night’s second Raster-Noton signee and the only person to have no visual accompaniment, Aoki Takamasa. Takamasa’s set could be perfectly described by the title of last year’s release for the label’s Unum series: “Aoki Takamasa – Rn-Rhythm-Variations.” While Aoki Takamasa has built his reputation on stuttering, chopped, glitch-funk, it’s typically paired with an element of warmth, such as synth pads or the voices of collaborators like Tujiko Noriko. This sound can be heard on his recent remix compilation “Fractalized” on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Commmons label.
His release for Raster-Noton is colder, dryer. I was somewhat surprised to see his name appear as a third to follow two tough, noisy releases for RN’s Unum series, but hearing the music it makes sense. Takamasa has somehow sharpened his edges for Raster-Noton and on Friday night played this stripped version of his trademark sound in the dark. The hints of warmth are still incorporated into rhythmic fragments, but ultimately take a back seat. Instead of a gapless set comprising a continuous groove, he presented a series of his irregular, glitchy rhythms, continually playful in their unpredictability and conscious failure to deliver upon moments of anticipation. The music tread a very fine line in which it maintained a moving funk but never really escaped from its own precise detail.
Next week Bunker’s back to its utilitarian dance bombast with a visit from Berghain/Panorama, but it was good to hear a change in tempo.
Cluett is a multidisciplinary artist with a background in photography and a special focus on sound. His work includes installation, live performance, composition, video, critical theory, and more. On Sunday he’ll be presenting pieces for paper and stones, cello and oscillators, and a long solo finale to explore intersections of physical actions, listening, and memory.
In anticipation of Sunday’s event I asked Seth Cluett to share some of his thoughts on sound, listening, and the upcoming performance.
Bijan: How does your background in photography inform your sound work?
Seth Cluett: I tend to think photographically, even when I’m working with video or music. I like holding something still and seeing what happens when you move things around it. This happens in photography with seeing through the lens. I’m a fairly pragmatic person, so I’d much rather have a limitation like a lens and solve the problem of what fits in the frame in order to make an image that is legible. I approach composition this way as well: I’ve been trying to find ways of holding material still to draw attention to details the way the eye moves around in order to make sense of an image. A lot of music relies on constant motion and change, which I love, but lately I’m fascinated by exploring what is available from stillness.
B: In descriptions of your early work, you mention photographing images that you found to be worth photographing and recording sounds that you found to be worth recording. What makes a sound worth recording?
SC: I can only answer for myself here, of course. I like sounds that bring the place they were recorded along with them. Sounds that have something going on that needs some decoding; sounds that require a little work on behalf of the listener are fascinating to me. I like sounds that offer a sort of everyday exoticism that can be both aesthetic and social.
B: You grew up in a rural environment Upstate and have since lived in some of the biggest cities. How do these environments and your sonic experiences of them differ?
SC: For me the biggest difference lies in the perception of speed. I tend to feel out of sync in the city; the bustle and pace moves past me like a movie. I’ve found, though, that my own pace has changed over the years; I feel like it takes me some time to adjust to the slow pace of the rural community where I was raised when I visit there. In terms of sound, the relationship between urban and rural is very different. I think there is a misconception that the country is quieter than the city – I just don’t think that’s so. When I listen to a city like New York, I hear a very constant baseline murmur, a steady state that ebbs and flows. Sure, there may be more abrupt and jarring loud sounds in the city, but in a way the shape of listening is the same in both environs. In a rural space, the background is quieter, but that heightens the contrast with foreground sounds. I think for many people this is a much harder thing to acclimate to. I grew up with it, so it feels more like home to have a less mechanical sound and a higher contrast between background and foreground.
B: At what point does collected, extra-musical sound become music?
SC: At the point that the listener starts thinking about it as music.
B: I’ve heard you say that you are interested in teaching sound to young students…
SC: I am, though young people are a subset of something larger I’m interested in. I like developing sound-making pieces for people who have no training. I guess I could have said ‘musical training’ just now, but I think that ‘sound-making’ is more appropriately broad and perhaps not so coded and weighed down. I’ve developed a number of pieces for paper and stones, cans of compressed air, and the sound of drawing basic shapes. These pieces are intended to engage people in constructing very complex soundscapes without ever feeling as though they need a special skill set or vocabulary to do so. This works well with groups of any age because they are immediately successful, they have fun, and they get something rewarding to listen to. I hope when I work with members of the audience at Roulette on Sunday that a similar kind of thing happens.
B: You’ve expressed an interest in exploring the details around the “boundaries between urban and rural, private and public experience.” Are you talking about sonic details, or is your sound work somehow an exploration of social and other details beyond what’s merely heard?
SC: For me, scoring sound or making an installation is very much about an exploration of social workings. The problem I am interested in is precisely that we often ‘merely hear’ instead of attentively listen. There are patterns to social behavior, ways of functioning within society, that art and music are capable of mirroring, exploring, exposing, and critiquing. I’m interested in the patterns of commuting and the interactions between members of communities. I’ve been making scores for ensembles and installations meant to be engaged by the public that try to explore these patterns at work. Traditional chamber music sometimes appears as a public display of the intimate interactions between a group of musicians who have a bond, a social contract that must move in sync with the score. That is just one, particular, centuries-old conception the aesthetic potential for a particular type of action between people. Seeing neighbors you know at the farmers market or the nod you give each morning to the subway booth attendant are very real parts of human interaction. I’m trying to see what kind of chamber music comes out of these more irregular, cyclic, routined human interactions that haven’t yet become intimate, but could.
B: How did Okkyung Lee become a part of this weekend’s performance?
SC: A year and a half ago, Okkyung invited me to improvise with her at Roulette for a benefit, along with Brian Chase, Shoko Nagai, Miya Misoaka, and Marina Rosenfeld. We had seen each other perform before, but this was our first time playing together. I’ve been working on scored works for improvisors for a while and I’m in a cycle of solo works now with other pieces for Boston-based vocalist Liz Tonne, Welsh Harpist Rhodri Davies, the German-based American guitarist Seth Josel, and the trombonist Tucker Dulin. Okkyung and I started talking about collaborating almost immediately after the first Roulette gig and have had this Sunday’s piece in the works ever since.
B: What role does memory play in your work?
SC: I’m interested in the oscillation between memory and (in)attention. Put simply, if one doesn’t attend to the sounds of a piece for a while and then begins attending because something has drawn them back in, how can I draw attention to those moments of connection? When these moments become clearly defined they become something like objects of memory. When you think about it, memory isn’t a continuum, it’s a string of assembled of moments. I’ve been trying to think about how to explore this in my work by making a rich sound set that doesn’t require constant attention. On top of this I construct levels of events to draw the listener back in to a place of awareness. I’m not sure yet whether its working… sometimes people fall asleep calmly and sometimes people say that it feels surreal.
B: Tell us about Three Forms of Forgetting and the three works or movements that are a part of this performance.
SC: There will be three pieces presented on Sunday evening. The event will start with an untitled piece for paper and stones to be performed by the audience. The second is a piece called ‘overflow and drift’ written for Okkyung Lee that includes a tape part consisting of sine-wave oscillators and very slowly modulating unison reed drones. I will end the evening with a long-form solo performance called ‘forms of forgetting.’ All three pieces are ‘forms of forgetting’ of one kind or another, each began as a year’s worth of long-form (45-minute or more) performances. I approached these performances as experiments to explore the role of sound memory and attention in live performance work. The first two pieces focus on details that came out of this work, and the eponymously titled solo piece has some elements that came out of previous work and some that are specific to the acoustics and the environment of the specific venue in which it will be performed. I’m hoping that the concert can be a slow, quiet evening out.