Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Concert Review (and some participation): Seattle Composers' Salon, Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 5/6/2011

“The Seattle Composers’ Salon fosters the development, performance and appreciation of new music by regional composers and performers. At bi-monthly, informal presentations, the Salon features finished works, previews, and works in progress. Composers, performers, and audience members gather in a casual setting that allows for experimentation and discussion. Everyone is welcome!” (from the Composers’ Salon website).

David Paul Mesler (piano) and Tony Rondolone (sax – see my 3/7/11 posting) first played “Double Play” by Doug Palmer. This was a light, clever opening piece. Doug said the title “Double Play” was because he had been watching a baseball game on TV while writing it; however, this title was reflected in the music. The sax and piano “bounced” ideas (such as the sputtering opening phrase) off one another in just the right way; reminding me of baseball players cooperating to throw the ball just right to make more than one “out” on a play.

I was the second composer of the evening. Of course I played some fragments of the “StormSound” Cycle (not complete pieces, just fragments). With piano, found objects (seashells and a chair) and prerecorded sounds, I did the opening of the piano cadenza in “Nature Lives in Motion” (the first, and longest, piece in the Cycle) and about half of the second “Soundforms” (the 13th piece in the Cycle). The former is a quartet of piano and prerecorded flute, birdcalls, and woodpecker percussion. The latter uses found objects in quasi-“random” jingling sounds over prerecorded crickets (altered slightly) and the “mystic chord” that haunts much of the Cycle. I recorded both performances; the electronics, as usual, didn’t sound quite loud enough, probably because the speakers were pointed at the audience, not the small mikes of my hand-held digital recorder. But, the pieces sound beautiful and I’m looking forward to performing the entire set in a couple of weeks.

Yvonne Hoar then presented her piece “Langsam”, played on piano by Jennifer Yu. She first talked about how she’d written the piece with a different ending, didn’t really care for it and shelved it for a while, then came back to it and re-wrote the ending and added a lot of atonality in the rest of the piece as well. I course I’ve never heard the earlier version, but this “new” version was a beautiful piece. Impressionist chords suspended a slow (langsam) melody over silence in a way that recalled both Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral” and the first movement of Messiaen’s “Visions de l’Amen”. The real interest came about 2/3 of the way through (probably where the “new ending” began); it abruptly shifted to a completely unrelated key with a suddenly dissonant progression – but still kept its meditative aura. This was an evocative, thoughtful piece that I’d like a chance to hear again sometime.

Lastly, Ben Houge (composer of electronica and video-game music, among other things) presented part of his electronic installation “Kaleidoscope Music”. This was originally done as the “soundtrack” of an art exhibition in Beijing (the artist used digital cameras and processing to create kaleidoscopic patterns from scenes in and around the museum). Ben’s sound installation was also created from available material, though in this case it was prerecorded from his own conversations with other musicians and from a radio station also in Beijing. He then processed these sounds, in one or more layers, with one or more techniques (all computerized) to bring out various frequencies or overtones (narrow band filters), provide rhythmic interest, or alter the sound in other ways. The result was indeed a kaleidoscope of sound – added to, in this case, by Ben’s continuous explanations of exactly what he was doing. Since there were voices in the sound installation, and since his own voice wasn’t always completely clear or understandable over the electronic sound, he often sounded as though he were simply adding another layer to the mix. The result was a kind of performance art, whether or not it was intended… Interesting work, and I’d like to hear it in its original context.

After a discussion with the audience, there was a fifth, unplanned piece in the concert. During the discussion, I’d raised my hand, and said that I’d like to ask my question last. When there were no other questions or comments, I asked mine to Ben: “Could you let that (Kaleidoscope Music) play for four or five minutes? I’d like to improvise with it.” And so I did, using various inside-piano techniques. I recorded it (in addition to my earlier pieces) and think it came out pretty good – particularly near the end where I imitated the rhythmic beeps in Ben’s piece with muted notes from the damped piano strings. This might be another idea for a piece…

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