* Il Suonar Parlante (Ghielmi): Eglise des Minimes, Brussels 4-22-11 (FM CDR)
* J.S. Bach: Four Cantatas (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe): Leipzig 6-12-10 (FM 2CDR)
* Mozart: Violinkonzerte (Mozart Ens. Amsterdam/Bruggen/Schröder) (d.1) (Seon/Philips 2LP)
* Mark Volker: Elemental Forces (Centaur CD)
* Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (Blue Note CD)
* Sonny Clark: Cool Struttin’ (Blue Note/Classic LP)
* Sonny Clark: The 45 Sessions (Blue Note—Japan CD)
* Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Sub-Underground (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume I (Pi CD)
* Henry Threadgill’s Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume II (Pi CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Firehouse 12, New Haven, CT 5-06-11 (AUD 2CDR)
* Herbie Hancock: Headhunters (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Thrust (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Man-Child (Columbia/MoFi CD)
* Massacre: Killing Time (Celluloid/OAO LP)
* Massacre: Funny Valentine (Tzadik CD)
* Spring Heel Jack: Million Shades…… (Island CD)
* Tortoise: It’s All Around You (Thrill Jockey LP)
* Grateful Dead: Curtis Hixon Convention Hall, Tampa, FL 12-18-73 (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, LI, NY 11-01-79 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)(‡)
* Grateful Dead: West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK 6-20-80 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Grateful Dead: West High Auditorium, Anchorage, AK 6-21-80 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* The Soft Machine: The Soft Machine (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* The Soft Machine: Volume Two (ABC/Probe/Sundazed LP)
* Red Krayola: Amor And Language (Drag City LP)
* Red Krayola: Hazel (Drag City LP)
* Steely Dan: Decade of Steely Dan (MCA CD)†/‡
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (Columbia/MoFi LP)
* Pavement: Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (LA’s Desert Origins) (Matador 2CD)
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Jim O’Rourke: The Visitor (Drag City LP)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia LP)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)
Tuesday’s Indeterminacies program at Zeitgeist Gallery was another scintillating evening of art, music and discussion. Surrounded by works by local artists, Patrick DeGuira and Brent Stewart, Belmont University, composer Mark Volker presented three remarkably diverse pieces of music while philosopher/aesthetician, Erin Bradfield, led a fascinating colloquy with the audience and musicians about what they heard.
The first piece was written expressly for the Pulse New Music Ensemble, a group of young musicians committed to performing music by living composers (“composers with a pulse”), and it was appropriately titled, “Pulse.” Actually, it was performed twice: once without introduction and again after a discussion about the composer’s inspiration, the audience’s reception and how they intersected. Mr. Volker explained how the dramatic percussion intro was inspired by Japanese Taiko drumming but that he allowed the ensemble sections to express other influences, not just modern “classical music” but also rock and soul and whatever else moved him—including an emphatic “HUH!” interjected during pregnant silences. Indeed, much of it reminded me of the exuberant, irreverent synthesis of Frank Zappa’s “serious” compositions with its complexly grooving rhythms, brightly pantonal, intricately interleaved melodies and prominent mallet percussion. Mr. Volker also spoke of how a C-major chord may sound bland and banal in the usual context, but becomes exotic and strangely beautiful when it arises within a modernist, “atonal” language—and it’s true. The second time through seemed to be invigorated by the exchange with the audience, the hyper-complicated rhythms and melodies executed with a genuinely rock-ish excitement and verve. While the first take may have been more technically precise (and had that unrepeatable sense of surprise), the second was more immediate and compelling—and those “HUHs” and “C-major chords” did indeed feel powerfully expressive and unifying.
The second work shifted gears, with Mr. Volker picking up the nylon-stringed classical guitar to accompany his wife, mezzo soprano Alyssa Sullivan Volker, in a four-part song cycle based on “Non Omnis Moriar” by the Mexican poet, Manuel Gutierrez Najera (1859-1895). Now, I have to admit up front I am shamefully monolingual, baffled by poetry and have an inordinate aversion to “operatic” singing so I am behind the Eightball when commenting on this kind of stuff. But I realize this is my own failing— and I’m working on rectifying it. Even so, the composition won me over with its rich harmonic density and the inventiveness and sensitivity of Mr. Volker’s guitar accompaniment. During the discussion, he pointed out how the restlessly shifting meters of the piece were based upon the rhythm of the words as spoken or recited, which gives the pieces a flowing yet irregular pace. More personally, he revealed that the poem had helped him to overcome a fear of death with its promise of immortality through art. The title is from Horace (Carmina 3.30) and can be translated from the Latin as, “I Shall Not Completely Die” and in the poem, Guiterrez Najera says farewell to a friend but comforts himself by asserting: “Something of my elusive spirit/shall within the line’s diaphanous urn/by Poetry be piously preserved.” Interestingly, some stanzas (sung in Spanish) overlap in the third and fourth songs, set in contrasting moods as if to physically demonstrate the ability of art to make the poet’s words—and the poet himself—eternal.
The evening concluded with “Deep Winter,” a work for flute and computer-generated music which showed yet another facet of Mr. Volker’s wide-ranging creativity. He spoke of the technological challenges inherent with electro-acoustic music and his desire to move beyond the passive “instrument with tape accompaniment” approach and working with software incorporating score following and real-time instrument tracking, enabling the computer to interact with the performer directly and instantaneously. In practice, it made for some startling precise effects which would otherwise be impossible such as dramatic tuttis and interlocking melodic flurries. I was reminded of Mark Snyder’s remarks at last month’s Indeterminacies program about having to remove these interactive elements from his pieces because of their unreliability and the potential for disaster as a solo performer (which is completely understandable). But with Mr. Volker monitoring the laptop’s behavior, the performance of “Deep Winter” on Tuesday was flawless—and a technological marvel. The work is an homage to the interminable seasons of his youth growing up in Buffalo, New York where, as a child, the bitter cold and mountains of snow were both terrifying and magical and it vividly conveys the bleak grandeur of a winter landscape.
Sadly, time ran out before Mr. Volker could play the shiny, red electric guitar perched tantalizingly over in the corner of the room—but that’s OK. It would have been a shame to cut off discussion just to cram in another piece. Fortunately, I was able to pick up Mr. Volker’s CD on Centaur entitled, Elemental Forces, which contains a studio rendition of “Deep Winter” along with two very different compositions for chamber ensemble and a suite for pipe organ (!). It’s an excellent disc and further showcases the remarkable diversity of this talented young composer.
Indeterminacies will continue in the fall with Andrew Raffo Dewar on October 11 and John Latartara on November 8. In the meantime, podcasts of previous events are available at Theatre Intangible, where you can also read an informative interview with the series organizers: architect, Lesley Beeman, and gallery curator, Lain York. The Indeterminacies series are must-see events—and more than just concerts of “new music.” As Mr. Beeman points out:
[t]he difference is that with Indeterminacies the audience is considered integral to the event from its conception. We never think of the presentation and the Q&A as separate events. When you come to Indeterminacies, expect to participate. Come prepared to fully engage with the program and with your fellow attendees…because there will be a quiz.
Well, maybe there won’t exactly be a quiz, but don’t be surprised if you’re called upon to answer a question or offer an observation—or coaxed into a dialogue with your neighbor. It’s what makes these events so stimulating and unpredictable. See you there!