Christopher Dylan Herbert’s “Winterize” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
A few weeks ago, on the day of the Winter Solstice, Make Music Winter made a bunch of very special musical events happen around New York City. Luckily for me, some of them were very close to home.
Christopher Dylan Herbert performed his “Winterize” in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s a staging of Schubert’s “Winterreise” cycle which moves around the garden, Herbert singing to prerecorded accompaniment played back on small radios, while translations of the lyrics are held up on large cue cards. It was a wonderful performance, and a fun experience, very reverent to the music while being rather irreverent to the trappings that traditionally go along with “the classics”. There were some significant technical difficulties with the radios, but perhaps that was cosmic justice for the weather being so unseasonably balmy? There needs to be some struggle.
In any case, while cold weather would have been more appropriate, the warm weather certainly made sketching easier. I think I did this one just before he took his coat off.
Later that day I participated in another Make Music Winter event, Merche Blasco’s “Blink”, which involved cyclists ringing our bells in response to light cues. It was more successful as a happening than as music, but it was fun, and the concept has a lot of potential. (And I’m right in the middle of this New York Times photo of it; that’s got to be good for something.)
Working on Amtrak
Merry merry! I finally managed to make something intelligible with my #3Doodler
Claire Chase, Ken Thomson and JACK Quartet at SubCulture
The incredible Claire Chase was up first, performing (if I remember right) Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” and Mario Diaz de Léon’s “Luciform”. If you harbor any prejudices about flute music, she’s the one to destroy them.
Next, Ken Thomson and JACK Quartet performed Ken’s “Perpetual” for bass clarinet and string quartet. Ken then left the quartet to fend for themselves through “THAW”. Both are wonderful compositions: visceral, humorous, and exciting. It’s always a pleasure hearing Ken play. And his writing for string quartet manages to use a huge range of the configuration’s possibilities while remaining totally coherent, and building up mammoth charges of energy along the way.
I hadn’t been to SubCulture before. It’s a real nice room, somewhere between a concert hall and a club, with excellent sound. I hope to catch more shows there.
UnCaged Toy Piano Festival at Pianos
I went to the kickoff concert for the 2013 UnCaged Toy Piano Festival and sketched the performers. It was a really nice event, with a diverse and inventive program. Just seeing the stage set up with all of the instruments might have been the price of admission. The concert was held at the rock club Pianos, which was an unusual place for most of this music, but worked out great for those of us not too bothered by the music blasting in from the front bar.
The sonic interference was even an asset for the first performance, Ranjit Bhatnagar and Margaret Leng Tan performing a few of John Cage’s Indeterminacies (which I adore) using various instruments including Ranjit’s Speak and Play:
Then, singer-songwriter Alexa Dexa did a few tunes. She makes amazing use of toy instruments, including a trombone kazoo that I am sorry I didn’t sketch:
Tristan McKay played and Christina Oorebeek's Three Sketches and Peter Koeszeghy's “Moon Veil” from behind a thicket of tines and spokes. The former involved the toy-piano guts and the unicycle, and the latter required playing a melodica and toy piano simultaneously (sorry I didn't sketch that for you):
Then, Ken Butler played his light-up one-string hurdy gurdy and a dental dam transformed into a jazz horn (yes really). It was dark, so I couldn’t sketch much on this one:
Then, Phyllis Chen and Tristan McKay returned, joined by Cory Smythe, to play Tristan Perich's “Qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqq”, which I suppose we can never discuss aloud by name:
Finally, Matthew Evans did a few pieces for us which involved various audience participation—rustling plastic bags, giving him pennies to add to his jar, jangling our keys—in support of his toy pianoisms:
There’s two more days to the festival. Even if you aren’t familiar with the performers or the repertoire, if you like interesting music and artistic inventiveness, you’ll have a good time.
Cargo Cult Nonet Using Tic-Tac-Toe Yin Yang Sonification Notation
I attended the Automatic Music Hackathon on December 7, and composed a game piece for improvising musicians that for now is known by the sturdy and workmanlike title “Cargo Cult Nonet using Tic-Tac-Toe Yin Yang Sonification Notation”.
While most projects at the hackathon used computer programs as the key implementation of their automation, I used a board game, Ultimate Tic Tac Toe. The automation occurs because, as the score says, “the game players are obligated only to the goal of winning the game, and must not act with intention to influence the music. The musicians must have a clear view of the gameboard, as it is their score and conductor.”
The piece was performed in the evening. It was an honor and a thrill to have nine musicians (Hunter, Linda, Nick, David, Travis, and 4 members of the Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra) and two game players (Cassie and Brady) ready and eager to give it a run-through, fresh out of the oven. Later on, I’ll share further documentation, including sound, video, and hopefully more comprehensive personnel credits.
For now, you can read score, reproduced below. I have some ideas for refining and extending it for future use, but even this initial draft should be pretty serviceable. It was a good day’s work!
Cargo Cult Nonet using Yin Yang Tic-Tac-Toe Sonification Notation
by Jason Das, December 7, 2013
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
The composition uses Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe as a score/parameter generator for improvising musicians. Each move/turn in the game generates specific musical instructions. There are two game players and nine musical players. The game players are obligated only to the goal of winning the game, and must not act with intention to influence the music. The musicians must have a clear view of the gameboard, as it is their score and conductor.
In Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe, the game board consists of nine smaller boards arranged into one larger board. Each smaller board can be won by a player or end in a draw. When three boards in a row are won by a player, that player wins and the game is over. (Complete game playing instructions are not included here, as they are not entirely necessary to the musicians.)
A blank game board:
Each small board within the larger game acts as a score for one of nine musicians. Assignment of musicians to squares may be determined by chance, consensus, or executive order.
A hypothetical assignment of musicians:
Key, Melody, Rhythmic Pattern, and Tempo are not determined by the game and may be freely negotiated by the musicians.
The game may begin in any square (and thus the piece may begin with any musician).
Each small board has 2 axes, and 2 possible values for each square (X, O).
As each turn is played, a single musician is activated or reoriented. Each musician continues to follow their most recent direction until they receive a new one. (Or until their square ends in a draw or the game ends.)
The vertical axis determines Harmonic Range: bottom = Low, top = High.
The horizontal axis determines Complexity: left = Simple, right = Ornate
The game player’s symbol, X or O, determines dynamics and timbre. O is Yin and X is Yang.
Yin (O): “slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, passive; associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, nighttime”
Yang (X): “fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, aggressive; associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity, daytime”
When a square is won, the musician plays continues playing the winning subsquare until the end of the game.
When a square ends in a draw/tie, the musician stops playing completely, and is out of the piece.
When the game is won, all musicians stop playing, and the piece is over.