American Festival of Microtonal Music
MicroMystery Tour ’98
May 7-8, 1998
St. Pauls Chapel, Columbia University, NY, NY.
Dubbed “MicroMystery Tour ’98” by festival director and founder Johnny Reinhard, this years American Festival of Microtonal Music festival was held at New York’s Columbia University, St. Paul’s Chapel. Microtonal are the intervals smaller than a half step and every year the festival spotlights microtonal music from around the world. In contrast to recent years, most of this years pieces were in just intonation – intervals of whole number ratios.
Atom Turning In The Heart Of The Sun by Sasha Bogdanowitch was a half hour epic journey. Sasha sang in an expressive invented language, danced across and around the musicians while he illustrated his tale. In a 20 tone 7 limit tuning in various instrumental combinations the musicians provided a backdrop for his performance. Extensive studies in eastern musical traditions like gamelan and North Indian singing as well as Western composition show as influences in the work. I’m *just* a sucker for the instrumentation and this is the one piece that totally knocked me out this year.
Sasha Bogdonowitch – voice
Elizabeth Panzer – harps
John Schneider – just intonation guitar
Judith Hershman – just intonation marimba
Andrew Bolotowsky – flute
Jennifer Devore – cello
Johnny Reinhard – conductor
Virgil Moorfield’s (Slight Return) tread the same territory as his Tzadik release “The Temperature in Hell is Over Three Thousand Degrees”. Using a 48 tone equal temperament tuning in a “coloristic” way, he still attacks the keyboard like the drummer he is. The band was in attack mode too: Cellist David Eggar and violinist Tom Chiu aggressively bowed their instruments, guitarist Evans Wohlforth played lines full of large interval jumps. At one point, Eggar picked up a bass guitar and after a burst of dissonance, proceeded to bow the instrument with an ebow and tune the strings down. By the end of the work, the whole band was bending notes, unwinding strings, sliding all over the place. Before performing the piece with his ensemble, the composer informed us that although the he was going to explore a psychoacoustic phenomenon called Just Noticeable Difference, the piece was really inspired by a beetle that flew into his ear once.
Virgil Moorfield Ensemble:
Tom Chiu – violin
David Eggar – cello
Evans Wohlforth – guitar
Tim Otto – baritone saxophone
Virgil Moorfield – synthesizer
John Schneider played Lou Harrison’s Suite #2 for Guitar. Each of the five movements required a different tuning. Schneider handled this with two guitars, one with interchangeable fingerboards. Suite #2 for Guitar is related to the Suite #2 on the Just West Coast cd – Threnody and Waltz for Evelyn are the common movements. As always, Harrison’s music is a joy to hear, much of his music is lush and beautiful and stylistically is influenced by both European and Asian music. Schneider, of course, did extreme justice to the music.
Schneider also performed his arrangement of Fratres by Arvo Pärt, was rearranged for viola, guitar and cello in just intonation. With the trio spread out a bit – the cello drone was a few feet back , the musicans arranged in a diamond – the chapel bounced back a lot of the pitch creating a shimmering cloud of meditation.
Anastasia Solberg – viola
John Schneider – just intonation guitar
Jennifer Devore – cello
Rumanian composer Violeta Dinescu’s Din Cinpoiu was performed on viola by Anastasia Solberg. Spikey post-classical modern music. Quarter tones. Yipes!
Like last years Odysseus Cello Concerto by AFMM’s Johnny Reinhard, Adam and Eve is a new kind of theatre. Musicans act out the parts and improvise polymicrotonaly all over the chapel. Of note:
While Paul Savior dramatically intoned the part of God into a microphone and guitar amp, ji guitarist Jon Catler picked a couple of chords for the opening section that made the hair on my arms stand up. Combine the sum and difference tones with St. Pauls ambience – there’s more then a few seconds of reverb there, the resonance of the room probably added a few extra notes – and the result is a dense consonant chord. The effect was so stunning that some listener’s later complained that the guitar was too loud. A tiny amp with the volume set to three: Lightweights! That was God talking, what did you expect???
Michiyo Suzuki was the perfect snake: crouching down, pointing her clarinet up, then down, standing up, wearing flowing legato clothing.
Christina Coppola, who danced in last year’s Odysseus as a Siren, returned as Eve. Her performance was equally expressive this year.
Tree of Knowledge David Eggar, cello wore a mask while abusing his cello and Forbidden Fruit Ron Kosak, english horn, skronked some serious harmonics.
Joshua Pierce produced rain by playing the inside of the piano. The inside of the piano is always fun and the AFMM director sez that 12tet is microtonal!
Tom Chui and Matt Maneri, violins talked back and forth as cats. Even as a cat fight!
A double role was filled by Skip La Plante: as Giant Sloth on double bass and Anteater, using a long tube as a bass didjeridu, pointing the instrument towards the floor, the sky, even the stereo mikes recording the entire event.
Johnny Reinhard as Adam, the dancing bassoonist. I realise that there aren’t too many bassonists that dance at all. In high school, I played bassoon for a few months before the end and there was a guy trying to get me to play in marching band! JR danced his way into history with his light footed performance and new works like this should be performed more often. Pretty funny too!
Of course Reinhard’s solo was mind blowing too. Dyads and triads on the bassoon. Everybody should do that kind of stuff on their horn.
Eve – Christina Coppola: dancer, choreography
Adam – Johnny Reinhard: bassoon
God – Paul Savior: actor, Jon Catler: electric just intonation guitar
Tree of Knowledge – David Eggar: cello
Snake – Michiyo Suzuki: clarinet
Forbiden Fuit – Ron Kozak: English horn
Fate – Frank Malloy, Orlando Colon: djimbe
Antelope and Sound – Don Conreaux: shofar, gong
Wart Hog, Kudu – Tom Horgan: contrabass racket, bass sordon
Birds – Andrew Bolotowsky: flutes
Cats – Tom Chiu, Matt Maneri: violins
Whale, Deer – Steven Antonelli: slide guitar, mandolin
Giant Sloth, Anteater – Skip La Plante: double bass, bass didjeridu
Rain – Joshua Pierce: piano
Punctuation – Virgil Moorfield: percussion
Set – Carol Lopresto and Orlando Brugnola
Atom Turning In The Heart Of The Sun – Sasha Bogdanowitch
Slight Return – Virgil Moorefield
Suite #2 for Guitar – Lou Harrison
Adam and Eve – Johnny Reinhard
Day 2 MicroMystery Tour ’98, May 8, 1998
Last years festival MicroMay ’97, May 16, 1997
Information about the American Festival of Microtonal Music: http://www.echonyc.com/~jhhl/AFMM/
Originally published on line at Juxtaposion Ezine.