drewbakermusic BLOG

Monday - February 1, 2010

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New York is currently enjoying a wide array of events celebrating Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001). In addition to various concerts throughout the city, The Drawing Center is hosting Iannis Xenakis Composer, Architect, Visionary. The exhibit, which runs until April 10, 2010, presents pre-compositional sketches as well as hand-written scores and architectural plans. The Drawing Center's site describes the show as exploring "the fundamental role of drawing in the work of Greek avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis." Indeed, the exhibit reveals how Xenakis often began his creative process by sketching shapes, color-coded patterns and motifs. In Sharon Kanach's essay Music to be Seen: Tracing Xenakis's Creative Processes (featured in the show catalogue), Xenakis is quoted as saying, "In retrospect, I think it was more natural for me to draw...I was convinced that one could invent another way of writing music. I started imagining sound phenomena with the help of drawings."

The path from the visual to the aural is made abundantly clear throughout the exhibition. The viewer is shown the progression of drawings that eventually lead to a complete and traditionally-notated score. Many of the initial drawings (like the top-left image of Metastaseis) contain "curved surfaces" and other forms. These are followed by renderings on graph paper (see the center image to the right) in which pitch, register, timbre and time are mapped out in accordance with the previous designs.

Video is also skillfully used throughout the show to further emphasizes the connection between the visual impetus and the eventual sonic result. Below are two such examples, a synchronized score/audio clip from Metastaseis and the complete score/audio to the electronic work, Mycenes Alpha.

On a personal note, I must say that this show merits multiple visits (it's free so you can hook yourself up as much as you like). Rarely does one get a chance to comprehensively investigate the creative process of such an important artist, especially one whose work spans the fields of music and architecture. While it makes sense for this show to be presented at an art gallery (the exhibit will later travel to the Canadian Centre for Architecture from June 17 - October 17, 2010 and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from November 7, 2010 - January 30, 2011), it nonetheless seems a shame that there isn't a major American musical institution hosting the event. Student composers need to be exposed to a wide variety of methodologies when it comes to conceiving sounds, forms and other applicable structures. Regardless, this show made me want to go home and compose and that is a good thing.

Related Event Links:

February 5, 2010 - The Jack Quartet plays the string quartet of Xenakis at the Morgan Library February 6, 2010 - Daniel Tiege's Xenakis Interpretations 5 electro-acoustic works at the Diapason Gallery

Tuesday - January 26, 2010

On Wednesday, January 27th (tomorrow), the ai ensemble will perform works by Alvin Lucier and Morton Feldman. The concert is at the in NYC (7 E. 27th St. between Fifth and Madison) and will begin at 7pm. I am of the opinion that the music of Lucier and Feldman is best experienced live. This is perhaps most apparent in Lucier's Music for Cello with One or More Vases, one of the works to be presented on Wednesday. Each performance ensures a unique rendering given the differences in venue and setup (number of vases). Lucier further articulates this point in a conversation with cellist Arne Deforce: "I think of the vases as small rooms, in which the sound of the cello gets trapped. We know that every room has a set of resonances, determined by its size and physical dimensions. It’s the same for a pot, where there is one strong resonance frequency. I think of the pots as resonant environments. The theatrical and visual aspect that goes with the piece, comes afterwards. Each player that plays the piece uses a different set of pots. So, there isn't only one visual image, it’s just sounds of the cello getting trapped in the pots, and each pot has its own resonant frequency." Click to read the complete interview.

Click here to access Alvin Lucier's web site. Click on the image above to view full-size concert poster In addition to Music for Cello with One or More Vases the program will also include:

  • Bass Clarinet and Percussion - Feldman
  • Piano Piece (to Philip Guston) for solo piano - Feldman
  • For Aaron Copland for solo violin - Feldman
  • Durations II for cello and piano - Feldman
  • Projection I for solo cello - Feldman
  • In memoriam Stuart Marshall for bass clarinet and sine tone - Lucier
  • Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra for triangle - Lucier

Note: The list above is not necessarily the actual program order. The ai ensemble was founded in 2007 by clarinetist Alejandro Acierto and cellist Isabel Castellvi. Recently they have expanded their instrumentation, adding violinist Joshua Modney, percussionist Matt Donello and pianist Vicky Chow. I had the very good fortune to work with ai this past December when they premiered my piece Charon for clarinet, violin and cello. You can view a video of that performance on my homepage. Tomorrow's concert promises to be yet another engaging and exciting event. The concert will be split into two sets. Tickets are $10 for one set and $15 for two. Student tickets are $5 for each set.