Monthly Archives: December 2011

Jim Cole and Spectral Voices

The harmonic singing technique used here is similar to Tibetan, Mongolian and Tuvan harmonic overtone singing. Using the naturally occurring harmonic series, the singer changes the shape of the mouth and throat to control the harmonic. This technique enables the singer to produce more than one note.
Recorded in a 120 foot tall water tower, Jim Cole and Spectral Voices continue and extend a tradition of harmonic chant as used by David Hykes and Tim Hill in the Harmonic Choir and Michel Vetter (as well as the previously mentioned Tibetan, Mongolian and Tuvans). One singer is a group, a duo is a choir. Higher harmonics sound like a second person is whistling. Sub-harmonics resemble the gruff chant of Tibetan monks. The resonant water tower adds to the direct to digital audio tape recording, a natural reverb that enhances the music.

Spectral Voices are: Jim Cole and Alan Dow with Berk “Deepak Throat” Meitzler, Sharen Baker, Sylvia Halkin and Florentin Traista. Except for a tambura on Blue India and percussion on Heartbeat to Avalon, only voices are used on this recording. No synthesizers or studio wizardry.
Of course, since we’re dealing with the harmonic series, these musicans are working with just intonation – intervals based on whole number ratios. For example, 7/4 (the seventh harmonic) or 9/8 (the ninth harmonic) are whole number ratios.
Harmonic singing is too beautiful. In all the other traditions of singing, there’s nothing like it, a true spiritual experience.

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.


Invite the Spirit
Knitting Factory Alterknit Theater, New York, N.Y.
May 2, 1997

Soon after Sang-won Park came to America, Charles K. Noyes called and invited him to improvise together.The second time they got together, the album “Invite the Spirit” (Celluloid, 1984) was recorded with guitarist Henry Kaiser. On May 2, 1997, the group played two sets at the cozy Alterknit Theater (downstairs in the Knitting Factory) with Jim O’Rourke on guitar and prepared guitar replacing Kaiser.

Sang-won Park sang and played the kayagum, a 12 silk string Korean zither in the same family as the Chinese ching and Japanese koto. Each string had a small moveable bridge. He would pluck with one hand while bending the strings behind the bridge with his other hand. He also played two other instruments, one was a steel string version of the kayagum and the other with a bow.

Charles K. Noyes had a unique drum set. Instead of a floor tom and a bass drum, he used large one headed frameless drums that were very resonant and a shallow snare. He spent the evening abstractly hitting rims, drums and the occasional cymbal. Where has he been for the last fifteen years?

On his third gig with the band, Jim O’Rourke was the quiet member of a quiet group. Playing an acoustic flat top with an electric pickup taped into the soundhole, O’Rourke’s approach to the guitar was quite subtle. One moment plucking chords, then alterknitly attaching alligator clips, then gently rocking the guitar to set the clips bouncing on the strings, he never blotted out the rest of the band with free improv mayhem. O’Rourke is very prolific and seems to be playing everywhere and with everyone these days. Although listed in the K.F. Knotes as also playing piano and hurdy gurdy, he only played guitar during the first set.

By the way, the performance of the band was more then the sum of it’s parts.

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

Kronos Quartet Dances on the Grave of Harry Partch
The Kronos String Quartet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, October 23, 1998. Part of the BAM 1998  Next Wave Festival.

"I thought I told you not to do that!"

Yep. Not only didn’t the Ben Johnston transcription of Harry Partch’s U.S. Highball (Musical Account of a Transcontinental Hobo Trip) translate well, but Kronos knows they really shouldn’t performing it in the first place. This piece just doesn’t work for a string quartet. It belongs – as was originally intended by the composer – on the instruments the piece was written for. Maybe they have good intentions at heart but here’s the real irony: last spring the Newband (caretakers of the Partch instruments) lost their studio space at the State University of NY at Purchase. Fortunately, they are now renting studio space in Sloatsburg, NY. So, while Newband struggles to pay rent, Kronos Quartet rakes in the cash.

Before you react too quickly, read these quotes by people who worked with Partch:

“We just disagree about the idea of transcribing music to an instrumentation of which the composer would have so obviously disapproved, especially when the composer involved went to greater lengths than possibly any other composer in history to care about the instrumental sound surface of his music. And I can tell you with 100% certainty, based on knowing Partch intimately for several years and living closely with his music for even more years, that he would have disapproved strongly.” Dean Drummond, Newband co-director. May 1996.

“To transcribe Partch’s music is to misrepresent the totality of its interrelated components. To do so is a “…mutilation…” of Partch’s original concept. Harry Partch steadfastly maintained this posture throughout his life, and he would turn over in his grave at the thought of his life’s work being compromised in any such manner.” Danlee Mitchell, Harry Partch Archive. October 1995

Credit where credit is due: an artifact of the transcription is a reduction in the number of intoning voices. Even though vocalist David Barron did a fine job intoning both the objective and subjective voice, it was strange to hear only one person singing a part intended for two.

If Kronos wanted to help someone out, they should record the complete cycle of Ben johnston’s string quartets or at least commision a piece for Newband & string quartet. Hrummph!

 “I really like Stravinsky…I loved his haircut: I mean the way it was real thin, and the way he combed it with a thick-tooth comb.” Captain Beefheart aka Don Van Vilet

While some of my contemporaries still ramble on about how wonderful Beethoven and Mozart were, squeezing their thighs together and moaning at the thought of how wonderful their music was, I’ve always been a modernist. That whole classical error is way over rated. One of my favorite works by Igor Stravinsky is the Rite of Spring. The pounding rhythms, the exotic harmony, the extreme orchestration – it breaks free of that rigid Euro-centric tradition – tight coats and tight shoes.
There have been piano reductions by the composer for four hands/one piano, arrangements for solo piano (Dickran Atamian, RCA Red Seal ARC 1-3636, 1980) and solo guitar (Larry Coryell, Philips 814 750-2, 1983). This evening, Kronos presented John Geist’s arrangement of the Rite of Spring for piano and string quartet. And it survived the transition very well – Kronos and pianist Margaret Kampmeier received a standing ovation from the crowd. The only snag was the balance between Kronos and Kampmeier, the piano wasn’t loud enough in the mix.

Also performed was Steve Reich’s Different Trains. It sounded just like the cd and it should, most of the performance is on pre-recorded tape.


Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.


Kind of extreme, but…hey, I was a young man.


Rod Poole index

Rod Poole – the Death Adder

Rod Poole doesn’t just play guitar, he plays a 49 minute improvisation on a guitar tuned in just intonation. This isn’t mentioned in the liner notes, but on the WIN Records’ Rod Poole page he states:

“THE DEATH ADDER” is constructed with considerably more complex ratios involving the prime numbers eleven & seven. When you utilize fractions based on these primes you find yourself playing pitches which are virtually as far removed from the twelve tones of equal division as you can get.”

Although the rippling and shimmering arpeggios remind one of the Well Tuned Piano, Poole also incorporates percussive tapping on the body of the guitar and apparently intentional occasional sitar-like buzzing strings. At one particularly intense moment, we can hear him doing what sound like deep breathing exercises. At least he isn’t grunting and groaning in an orgasmic Keith Jarrett frenzy!

Another welcome addition to the ever expanding library of interesting just intonation recordings. Where’s the next one Rod? How about a seven hour Well Tuned Guitar?


Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

American Festival of Microtonal Music
MicroMay ’99
May 27, 1999
Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel
Review #2
by David Beardsley

Finale highlights

The combined tone colors of Anastasia Solberg’s viola and Greg Evans French Horn filled Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel with Anton Rovner’s quarter tone Appel a deux. A dense rich work by this new microtonalist.

The next set was performed by the virtuoso AFMM quartet of Andrew Bolotowsky, flute, Michiyo Suzuki, clarinet, Anastasia Solberg, viola and AFMM director Johnny Reinhard, bassoon. Four works, spanning almost a thousand years and showing extreme tuning techniques. From the anonymous Pythagorean Hymnus und Organum (1000) and Coimbra Manuscript (1500) to the more recent Free Music, V.2 (Percy Granger, 1939) and the more extreme 31tet of Ivan Wyschnegradsky’s Etude Ultracromatique (1959) – this was an amazingly twisted programing decision. Also very good programing decision!

An early Harry Partch piece, Potion Scene (1931) was expertly performed by soprano Meredith Borden and violist Solberg. An amazing performance, there was no doubt that this was Partch! Originaly written during the same period as the Li Po songs for vocalist Rudolphine Radil, Partch rarely performed or even recorded this setting from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

A solo bassoon piece in 48tet for master bassoonist Johnny Reinhard by Joseph Person slid around target pitches and microtones hung in space due to the resonant ambience of St. Pauls. I hope this piece remains in Reinhard’s solo repertoire, I’d like to hear it again and it deserves to be heard again.

Finally, AFMM regular Skip LaPlante, tuned percussion performed Camping in the Backyard, a five movement 17tet masterpiece. Joining LaPlante, Bolotowsky and Reinhard was Mathew Fields on string bass. A joyous romp around the yard, my favorite was Raunchy Blues.

Lastly, I’d like to point out the amazing musicanship displayed by the AFMM musicans. Every year they effortlessly perform a stylistically wide range of music in a wide range or tunings. From alternate equal temperaments (today’s 17, 24, 31, 48) to the whole number ratios of just intonation (Partch’s 43 tones) and beyond, they make performing this music accurately seem easy.

I’m already looking forward to this falls AFMM Orchestral performances in October 1999.


Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

American Festival of Microtonal Music
MicroMay ’99
May 23rd, 1999
NYU Physics Auditorium


by David Beardsley
Highlights from a great but a long festival…

Eric Nauman & Douglas Cohen’s performance of three of six/lander, waltz, cha-cha/two people /break/six minutes/continue: Eric fading in guitar chords with one hand, flipping index cards with the other while Douglas provided an ambient soundscape from a laptop computer. Cohen ended the piece by closing the screen to his computer like closing a piano keyboard lid. My only complaint is that the piece didn’t last for an hour or so. Yep!

Michiyo Suziki performed Joji Yausa’s Solitude – everything this clarinetist performs turns to gold. Amazing.

John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano was performed by Joshua Pierce. After all the recordings I’ve heard on large grand pianos, this sounded a bit different. But Pierce’s performance on the halls resident piano still impressed me, the preparations still resonated true.

Violetta Dinescu’s Intarsien performed by Thomas Rutishauser on cello with wild glissando and percussive tapping on the instrument. Why isn’t this composer’s work more widely performed??? Shouldn’t there be a festival devoted to Dinescu’s work?

Sasha Bagdanowitch performed his An Ocean Walks Behind a Lake. Wearing a headphone/microphone/wireless combination, he sang and danced along with his pre-recorded singing Sashas on pre-recorded tape for about 20 min. Oh, those pure intervals sung by voices! An original vision influenced by the east, Sasha deserves wider exposure.

Johnny Reinhard rolled out a version of his solo Zanzibar, now a duet for two bassoons. Yung-Ling Chang accompanied JR in assembling the instruments while using extended techniques to give life to the piece. NYC’s downtown music crowd don’t know what they’re missing – the multiphonics, the extended techniques!

Meredith Borden of NYC’s hardest working microtonal band Birdhouse, performed her Icarus Dreams for voice and autoharp in just intonation. As always, amazing range and a sensitivity to pitch made this piece work beyond any expectations. Knocked me out – she used some techniques that I don’t think I’ve heard her use before. Amen!

Four keyboards and three percussionists gave life to composer Patrick Grant’s Everything Distinct: Everything the Same. Keyboards tuned to a gamalan tuning, in fact the piece seems to be influenced by the gamelan of Bali – I was blown away. It’s so exciting to hear this music live.

Eric Ross and David Simmons – theremin Vito Ricci – wrench guitar Johnny Reinhard – bassoon performed an improvisation Spring, where each performer represented a season. I had trouble separating the seasons but no trouble enjoying the collected improvisations of this seasoned quartet.

And those are only the highlights, I couldn’t hear everything, couldn’t sit all the time, had to get up, stretch and get fresh air.

Much credit goes to Johnny Reinhard – for making it all happen, Ted Coons, President AFMM and Professor of Psychology at NYU for getting us the hall, Patrick Grant for provding a sound system and expert sound check advice.

And I really enjoyed performing my piece Sonic Bloom at the festival. A privilege.


Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

Ellen Band
Sound Artist

Outatown Insight series at Lotus Music and Dance Studios
Improvised Music, Intermedia and Free Hot Liquids
January 23, 1998

I know Ellen Bands music from the Nonsequitur Aerial compilations, Railroad Gamelan is on The Aerial #6. Taking a recording of railroad crossing bells and the accompanying ambient traffic and train sounds, Ellen created a soundscape where you are there, sound and time are remanipulated into a aural fabric familiar, yet more organized than a casual chance listen by the tracks.

And so I was lucky enough to catch an evening of her music at the Lotus Music and Dance Studios…I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by a concert at Lotus, curated by Thomas Buckner and Tom Hamilton.

As the audience seated themselves in the semi-darkened room, Closet Bird played quietly. I thought it was the most extraordinary emulation of a bird by an analog synthesizer. I was visualizing the composer in a white lab coat, studiously and thoughtfully twiddling knobs an a wall of patch chords. Imagine my surprise when Ellen later told me Closet Bird is a tape piece, the electronic effects really being the result of multi-generational track bouncing and a parakeet singing along with it’s taped voice.

Frodo: A Portrait Of Janet used a wide variety of sound sources: loops of an automobile engine idling, water, Beethoven, answering machine messages while Janet Underhill played bassoon & contrabassoon using extended techniques. At one point, while the famous introduction to Stravinky’s Rite of Spring played in the background, Underhill mimicked the bassoon solo, playing a key note and joyously bending and twisting it into a tortured harmonic.

In Radiatore, a black curtain is pulled back to reveal a radiator. We hear the characteristic warming up of a radiator. A single disembodied leg appears, soon to be joined by a second undulating leg above the heating device. Eventually a whole dancer appears, snapping large magnets and chains against the radiator. The percussive sounds are amplified and resemble sounds typical of a radiator contracting and expanding from the heat. Dancer Nancy Adams also defied gravity by throwing objects to the ceiling – yet they didn’t come down because they magically stuck to magnets hung from the ceilings.

A sense of humor permeates Band’s work. From the call and response of a colorful local weather man and a digitally sound processed bassoon in Tabloid Meteorology to the trio of squeaky leather jackets in a totally dark room (Minimally Tough I).
Lotus Music and Dance Studios

This series was titled: Outatown Insight (but sometimes Warmer by the Stove). In the summer, the series is known as Cooler by the Shade. I found out about the show through an anouncement in the USNET newsgroups.

Lotus Music and Dance Studios
109 W. 27th St., 8th Fl.
New York, N.Y.


Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

Martha Mooke’s Interior Motives

From Earl Brown and Morton Feldman’s graphic scores to John Zorn’s Cobra, game pieces & improvisational compositions always assure us of variety. Challenging for the improvising performer and the open minded listener, one never knows what will happen next.

Interior Motives by electric violist Martha Mooke is one of those type of pieces: cards are selected from a deck, performers pick cards from a collection and improvise. The result are a collection of minatures, improvised short pieces. What is on the cards is sort of a mystery, the audience is not part of the “game”. Performers shout “wild” or “solo” and play an improvisation – this could be a solo, duo, trio or quartet.

Mooke’s 5 string electric viola, extended by digital sound processing gear still had a traditional sound. Even though the instrument had a solid body, it still sounded like wood. Her playing was often a solid anchor to a section, bouncing the bow against the strings or spewing forth a series of harmonics that built up a wall of echos.

BJ Cole’s pedal steel guitar (Eno, John Cale, the Orb, Bjork, Sting, Elton John and who knows what else…) pushes the envelope. I’m sure he does this in any context. Cole’s pedal steel guitar sounded at times like a guitar, then an unearthly pedal steel using electronic sound processing to twist the sound. One technique that he used, that I thought was original was to pick behind the steel bar while holding a chord (with knee and foot levers). This chiming resulted in both the chord and whatever complementary chord on the other side of the bar. Ring modulation processed this technique to outer space.

Vocalist and percussionist Tiye Giraud grounded the proceedings with a two headed Indian drum (mridangam?) and truly original scat singing sometimes taking lyrical cues from the video (more on that later). Along with playing other hand percussion, her final solo used a pair of bamboo tubes. Blowing on one tube when ever she needed that note and singing the rest while tapping one tube against the other, I’ve never heard anything like it before.

Video artist Ardele Lister’s manipulated source material included a sped-up view from a car driving past the shore, clips from what-looked-like old home movies; a pair of women walking down the street, siting on a curb, a car in a parade. Images split in columns across the screen, video noise used as contrast to the main image, re-coloring of the images, text posing questions to make the viewer think. The car views made me dizzy, but the manipulation of the material was mind bending.

Remember that this was all happening at once, solos, trios, duos and quartets, a multi-media event. I found that it was hard to restrict my attention to one source at once, all demanded equal attention. Even so, I regret missing Martha Mooke and BJ Cole at the Knitting Factory earlier in the week with other improvisors. But one can only catch so many shows!

Lotus Music and Dance Studios

This series is titled: Cooler by the Shade. In the winter, the series is known as Warmer by the Stove. I found out about the show through an announcement in the USNET newsgroups.

Lotus Music and Dance Studios
109 W. 27th St., 8th Fl.
New York, N.Y.


Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.

Harry Partch’s Oedipus
Metropolitan Museum of Art
April 24, 1997

Harry Partch’s third and final version of Oedipus had it’s premiere at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 24, 1997. Many are unfamiliar with this work because excerpts have been only been available on out of print Gate 5 recordings. Except for a cassette of a murky Gate 5 recording, this was my first experience with this piece.

Joe Garcia (bass) as Oedipus cut though to the last seat (where I was) while some of the other actors were only notable in that they were impossible to hear. The actors read from scores. One might assume that this was because a lack of funds for a proper rehearsal.

There were some instruments that I’ve never seen or heard NewBand use in live performance. The custom made Tenor Violin is a substitution for the Adapted Violin. Twice during the performance, vertically challenged Theban stage hands trotted out with a stool and a music stand. Tenor violinist Gregory Hesselink’s accompanying parts were almost solos beneath the dialog.

When I visited an open house at the NewBand studio a while ago, I pressed my stomach against the side of the Marimba Eroica to feel/hear the instrument. This contrabass marimba produces notes so low that the room becomes part of the instrument. At the Met there was plenty of room for this instrument to be heard and plenty of opportunities in Oedipus for the Marimba Eroica to be thumped. The Adapted Guitars were also there, amplified to be heard above the ensemble. For most of the 90 minute piece, the music took a back seat to the dialog. There were textures that I haven’t heard elsewhere in Partch’s music: simple pre-minimalist plucking and strumming that didn’t divide the listener’s attention from the story. During the coda, the ensemble roared to life in typical Partch splendor. Hopefully NewBand director Dean Drummond has the financing to take these actors and musicians into the studio for a recording before they all go their separate ways.

April 1997

Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.


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