Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Alvin Curran composer in residence

As a child Alvin Curran would stay up late listening to the ship horns outside his bedroom window in the port town of Providence, Rhode Island. But instead of thinking of Moby Dick he dreamed of making music with the sounds. Curran is now renowned as one of America’s most eclectic composers. Based in Italy he continues to draw on sounds from the natural world in his compositions. Curran is composer-in-residence for the Totally Huge New MusicFestival (August 9th-18th) and several of his pieces will be performed across the ten-day new music extravaganza.

“Anything that is resonant is my instrument,” explains Curran. “It could be a primitive ram’s horn, electronics, walking through puddles or the sound of a thousand tubas. It is not a mash up or a remix, it has evolved out of my own DNA.”

Curran’s broad approach to contemporary classical music perfectly suits the experimental festival which is masterminded by the all-embracing Tura New Music. The headline artists include Italian electronics composer Agostino Di Scipio, Japanese deconstructed pop artist Haco, UK’s David Toop, Australia’s figurehead of experimental music Warren Burt, Robin Fox, Michael Kieran Harvey and ensembles Speak Percussion, Decibel and Clocked Out Duo.

The impressive list of international artists is thanks in part to the International Computer Music Conference which is being held in Perth this year. The conference is the pre-eminent annual gathering for computer music practitioners from around the world and is expected to attract hundreds of international artists to Perth during August.

Over the course of his career Curran – who is one of the keynote speakers at the conference - has witnessed the overwhelming impact the electronics and computer music has made on music culture.

“I have bridged nearly fifty years in electronic music making from the early synthesiser and tape to this brave new world of digital electronics. You know, I’m sick of learning new machines,” he laughs.

He believes electronics has become the meeting place of popular and unpopular (experimental) music and is forming a new musical genre. Curran’s keynote address for the conference will explore the history of electronics and make some daring predictions about the future.

“Soon there will be internet concert halls and microchip enhancement of musicians,” he says. “I’m serious!”

And Curran could well be the one to make it happen. His latest commission is a double piano concerto which draws on music contributed form the iPhones of people in the audience. Curran’s extensive catalogue of works defies categorisation and includes pieces for radio, solo works, large scale choreographed pieces, sound installations and theatre works.

Yet for all his eclecticism Curran’s entry into music making was fairly traditional. He played trombone in jazz bands and studied composition at Yale School of Music with Elliott Carter. He then moved his base to Europe and ended up co-founding, with Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum, the radical collective Musica Elettronica Viva. He counts as colleagues people like John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Earl Brown, Milton Babbit, Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Robert Moog, La Monte Young and Giacinto Scelsi.

Curran has had several teaching posts around the world but he and his wife have remained based in Rome where Curran’s rooftop vegetable garden overlooks the Colosseum.

“Culturally, politically and economically Italy has been in a continuous and dangerous slide for the last 25 years. But I don’t have anything to lose anymore, I’ve done my career. And this city has been here 2000 years which gives a sense of permanence to the chaos and change.”

These days when he composes Curran’s inspiration comes from simply being alive and having work to do.

“I want to continue making music that makes me happy and that others can enjoy. Music can transport you; it’s like a transport system.” He continues the analogy with a chuckle: “You pay a ticket and get on and if it’s good you go with it. That’s what I do, I transport people and things!”

He has written a piece for Decibel ensemble which he describes as Alvin Curran minimalism, “a kind of virtuoso chamber piece”. Way Out Back will be premiered Sunday 11th August at Hacket Hall alongside works by other ICMC keynote speakers.

Curran is a keen exponent of taking music out of the concert hall and performances of two of his works will take place at Victoria Quay, Fremantle in the final weekend of the festival. BEAMS (2005) is Curran at his most avant-garde and requires 35 musicians, a chorus, basketballs, bass drums and metal objects.

“This piece is a form of provocation that leads to delight,” Curran says mysteriously. “For example the instrumentalists have to roll on the floor while playing. It is written in the spirit of randomness and pure fun and invites the public to be part of it.”

Maritime Rites is an iconic outdoor piece which has been performed in rivers, lakes and ports around the world since it was first created in 1979. The Fremantle version will feature Curran performing a sixty minute midi-keyboard improvisation in the Victoria Quay B Shed. He has also requested a ‘sail by’ of a rock band on a boat. Curran will be drawing on thousands of digital samples of ship horns, signal bells and other related sounds including recordings of the ship horns outside his bedroom window that first inspired him all those years ago.


Totally Huge New Music Festival August 9th-18th

More details


Monday, 22 July 2013

Gender Inbalance: it just won't go away

An article in the New York Times is generating debate about the nagging issue of gender imbalance among composers. The issue just won't go away and, as I discovered while researching Women of Note, composers have many different responses.

In the article below American composer Kristin Kuster describes how her perspective on feminism has changed.

I found it interesting that the statistics for women are much more dire in the US. We have a higher percentage of women composers in Australia and they are better represented in university departments. Something to celebrate? Read on and enter the debate for yourself:

Taking Off My Pants

 by Kristin Kuster, The New York Times
July 17 2013 
The Season of My Denial and Evasion lasted nearly two decades — from the age of 18 to 36. During this season, I wore pants for premieres of my music, while performing as a pianist and teaching, for all important composerly things. I hated the “What’s it like to be a woman composer” question at pre-concert talks, on panels and in interviews. If I couldn’t evade this question, I rattled off something dismissive: How could I possibly know any different? That’s like asking me what if I had grown up in Alaska. I refused to enter any competitions exclusively for female composers or to have my music presented at women-only concerts.
I learned this attitude. I learned it from a handful of female composers 5 to 10 years my senior. They believed that talking about our gender in relation to our work would perpetuate the distinction between male and female composers, and therefore pave right over all the ground we had gained in our efforts to break through the gender normative white-male hegemony that is this field.
O.K. I agreed, and for years I perpetuated a non-perpetuation of gender distinction. Today, I vehemently disagree with the notion that if we stop talking about something, it ceases to exist. Today, I believe we must cast a spotlight on facts and evidence that illuminate the gender imbalance of composers with visibly active presences in our field.

read the rest of the article here

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Decibel at PICA

How to cover eight brand new pieces of music in one review? A happy dilemma.
CONCERT REVIEW The West Australian Newspaper
July 8th 2013
Eight West Australian composers, six musicians, one room, and one mandate: the music must include electronics. The result was a fascinating concert that featured jazz composers, WAAPA graduates and seasoned electronics composers, revealing the breadth of creativity in the local new music scene.

Brad Serls

Decibel was ensemble in residence for two weeks at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art which allowed composers to attend rehearsals and incorporate the distinctive reverb of the performance space into the music.

Henry Anderson’s Resident Frequencies ‘introduced’ the performance space with a composition that responded to a recording of the ‘sound’ of the room. The resonant frequencies were layered to create an electronic hum while the ensemble of flute, bass clarinet, violin cello and percussion picked out pitches to mimic the recording.

The distinct rhythmic groove in Johannes Luebbers work The past is never far behind contrasted with a section of free improvisation. Luebbers utilised computer software to create electronic ‘responses’ to the live sounds, resulting in a fairly dense electro-acoustic ensemble sound.

Stuart James’ N-dimension was more free-form and the performers used ear pieces to maintain independent tempos. Snippets of instrumental sounds were refracted between the surround-sound speakers creating the effect of chaotic multi-layering.

The political overtones in Lindsay Vickery’s Silent Revolution and Rachael Dease’s The Perils of Obedience came from images projected on the wall. Footage of waste dumps and psychology experiments literally shaped the scores and musical responses of the respective pieces, creating macabre, decaying soundworlds.

In Chris Tonkin’s Rapid Same Question the crackles and beeps of computer sounds dialogued with the instruments with orchestral precision. The seamless integration continued to the end where the hum of a wine glass blended with the gentle whine of electronic overtones.

Cat Hope’s The Lowest Drawer continued her exploration of the bottom end of the sound spectrum with a ponderous decline in pitch from bass flute, bass clarinet and bass drum contrasting with the ringing almost irritating brightness of a sine wave pitch.

Sam Gillies’ The Aura Implicit was a stimulating contrast. Electronic static was joined by lively instrumental sounds which ricocheted between the speakers and to create a busy soundscape. 

The two well-attended concerts on the weekend demonstrated what many of us already know: Decibel has become a vital institution in the generation and performance of new music in WA.

This review copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013






Monday, 8 July 2013

Music Monday July

It is mid-winter and finally chilly in Perth. I'm looking forward to a lusty Don Giovanni (WA Opera) to stir the blood. The season runs July 16-23 at Perth Concert Hall and stars Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the role that really made him (and his bare chest) famous.

 Jian Wang (cello) and Bernadette Harvey (piano) are touring Australia with a beautiful recital program which arrives in Perth Thursday (11th),
On Saturday (13th) Beethoven's Ninth is being performed by the WA Youth Orchestra and UWA Choral Society. I'm a little over this work - WASO have done it twice recently - but I have to admit it will be exciting for the young musicians to perform such a monster piece.

On Friday 19th July the WA Symphony Orchestra celebrate the West End with David Shannon (think Phantom, Les Mis).