A man unstuck from place and time, he travels the world on foot…
Werner Herzog Reads Where’s Waldo (by RyanIverson)
It’s the season of being out of touch, so I thought I’d write and let you know the news from Mike-land.
The big news is that after a year as a visitor in Ithaca, I’ve been asked to stay at Cornell as Director of Percussion. I’m excited to explore great music with unbelievable colleagues and interesting students, and can’t wait to get started.
I’m celebrating with a performance at Mayfest, Cornell’s summer international chamber music festival. On May 20th at 8pm, I’ll be playing William Kraft’s Encounters IX with master saxophonist James Spinazzola, and Iannis Xenakis’ canonical percussion solo Psappha as part of an eclectic concert in the Rem Koolhaas-designed Milstein Hall. (If you’re interested, there’s a great time-lapse video of the building’s construction here). The rest of the program features music by C.P.E. Bach, J.S. Bach, Schnittke, Kagel, and Cornelius, and is sure to be stupendous. If you’re in the area, check out all of the concerts from the 19th to the 23rd. Artistic directors Xak Bjerken and Miri Yampolsky have put together an a great series chock full of wonderful music and musicians. Ticket information is available on the Mayfest website.
What’s new with New Morse Code? After a busy few weeks of performing in Brooklyn and Jersey City, we’re heading up to Hannah’s home town of Geneva to kick off Geoff Herd’s Geneva Music Festival. We’ll be playing a program of new and recent works inspired by text, including Martin Bresnick’s Songs of the Mouse People, Tonia Ko’s Hush, and other works by Robert Honstein, Andy Akiho and Osvaldo Golijov. It’s June 10th at 7pm, and is shaping up to have all the requirements for a great evening: scenic location, wine, flowerpots, and marimbas. We’ll also be giving an interactive performance for all ages at the Geneva Community Center’s Pat Collins Black Box Theatre on Saturday, June 8th at 6pm. Stay tuned to our website for updates: we’ve got a lot of great new music and events coming up!
Lastly, at the end of June I’m excited to be taking part in the premiere of personal inspiration and bucatini aficionado Martin Bresnick’s new chamber opera, My Friend’s Story, at New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas on June 19th and 20th. Inspired by Chekhov’s short story, “Terror,” My Friend’s Story has got an all-star cast and artistic team and is not to be missed! More information and tickets are available here.
Enjoy the beginning of the summer, and I hope to see you sometime soon,
Thanks Kevin, Victoria, Zach, et al for the great videos from Last September’s Ruckus NYC conference at Cooper Union. During the day, there were great presentations about music, art, new media, publicity, time management, creative communities and other issues germaine to being a working artist. That night, we put on a concert, which featured wonderful performances from Kings, Sylvana Joyce and the Moment, Zach, Jody Redhage, and more! Hannah and I played Andy Akiho’s “Karakurenai” and Osvaldo Golijov’s Mariel.
Check out the Ruckus NYC tumblr (I suppose it should be a “Tumblog”) for videos from the conference, the youtube playlist for concert vids, and more information about all the great people involved. I can’t wait for the next one!
A great video montage from Caroline Shaw’s Boris Kerner, taken the day of the piece’s premiere back in November. New Morse Code is playing this piece again this Friday: we’re doing a set on the Firehouse New Music Series, out on the L train in Williamsburg. We’re playing music by Andy Akiho, Martin Bresnick, Robert Honstein, and Caroline. Also performing is Iktus+ and Cadillac Moon Ensemble. Tickets are $10. Hope you can make it!
Lots of new content and announcements I’d like to share.
First, a new video of me performing John Cage’s In a Landscape is on the Vic Firth website and on my media page. Mark, Neil, and everyone and Vic Firth is dedicated to getting performances and educational materials to a wide audience of drummers and percussionists, and I’m really excited to be a small part of that. So far, this video has not generated the same interesting comments as my last…
Last May, I had the distinct pleasure to go to LA with Andy Akiho—everyone’s favorite composer-workaholic-pan player—and an all-star group of percussionists for the West-Coast debut of Andy’s Alloy, a new take on traditional Trinidadian steel band music. We made a video of the piece before the concert, and it’s online. Take a look! I wrote a miniscule blog post about the experience which you can read here.
On January 25th, I’ll be playing a recital at UMass Amherst, capping off my semester filling in for Ayano Kataoka. The program will feature some great music that manipulates our perception of time in intriguing fashion. I am really excited to be joined by Ayano for two movements of Alejandro Viñao’s Book of Grooves, where the two marimbas explore how far a rhythm can be stretched before it can no longer be considered a groove. New Morse Code buddy Hannah Collins is coming too, forAndy Akiho’s 21 and Martin Bresnick’s murine miniatures,Songs of the Mouse People. Rounding out the program is Andy Akiho’s Stop Speaking, Iannis Xenakis’ Psappha and Viñao’s dance hit Khan Variations. The concert is at 8pm in Bezanson Hall, tickets are $10 ($5 for students).
Next, on February 1st, New Morse Code is playing a set at the Firehouse Space in Brooklyn. The concert is curated by Iktus Percussion, and both Iktus and Cadillac Moon are also performing. Hannah and I will be playing Caroline Shaw’s newly minted Boris Kerner, Andy Akiho’s 21, and some other surprises. We’ll also be joined by our friendAnne Lanzilotti for Robert Honstein’s Patter. Our recording of Patter was featured on I Care if You Listen’s 2012 Winter Mixtape, which you can hear here, alongside great music by Florent Ghys and Missy Mazzoli. The show starts at 8, and is $10.
Lastly, I’ll be playing another recital February 9th at Cornell, including music inspired by written, spoken, or sung words. In addition to the aforementioned Psappha(based in part on the scansion of ancient Greek poetess Sappho), and Stop Speaking (where the solo snare drummer hits plays in dialogue a recorded voice aware of its own mortality), this concert will feature the world premiere of Tonia Ko’s cello/percussion duo Hush, based on Virginia Woolf’s short story “The String Quartet.” Hannah and I love this sensitive and expressive piece already! Here’s Hannah being excited:
Hannah and I will also be joining forces with superstar pianist Xak Bjerken for one of my favorite pieces, Marc Mellits’ charming and exuberant Tight Sweater. The concert is at 8pm in Barnes Hall, and is free
Hope to see you there!
A new video of me performing John Cage’s In a Landscape is on the Vic Firth website and over on my media page. For more information about the piece, visit Vic Firth. Mark, Neil, and everyone and Vic Firth is dedicated to getting performances and educational materials to a wide audience of drummers and percussionists, and I’m really excited to be a small part of that.
Last May, I had the distinct pleasure to go to LA with Andy Akiho—everyone’s favorite composer-workaholic-pan player—and an all-star group of percussionists for the West-Coast debut of Andy’s Alloy, a new take on traditional Trinidadian steel band music. The occasion was the LA Phil’s laudable Green Umbrella series; a program featuring Berio’s Recital 1, a new percussion concerto by Joe Pereira (performed by Colin Currie) and Alloy.
The piece welds (get it, “welds”?) a powerful timbral imagination (watch for the foot-operated junk metals, the scrap-heap drumkit and the creative extended pan techniques) with a fluid and intuitive rhythmic sense. You can read Mark Swed’s review, where he extols the “wonderfully engaging variety of sounds a dozen players can get from Caribbean drums (with the help of found materials, including drums made from satellite dishes),” here.
A few days before the concert, a few of the group suggested to Andy that we needed a video of Alloy. We joked that it would be just perfect to find a warehouse in which to record it, a film crew that would work for cheap, a recording engineer who knew what he was doing, and a truck (for free). We were still joking as Andy told us all to find black t-shirts (we didn’t), still kidding as pulled into LA’s warehouse district in a borrowed truck and a rented van, and maybe only a little serious as we began pushing aside cardboard boxes of imported toys to set up the pans. The result, as you can see, is wonderful!
Stay tuned for more information about New Morse Code performing Andy’s music in Jan, Feb, and beyond…
New Morse Code’s recording of Robert Honstein’s “Patter” (with the wonderful Anne Lanzilotti) is featured on “I Care If You Listen’s” Winter 2012 Mixtape, alongside great music by Florent Ghys and Missy Mazzoli. Give it a download!
A(n HD) video from the premiere of Paul Kerekes’ “Turning,” live at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival. Hannah, Paul and I are excited to take the rest of the piece for a spin February 7th, on Yale’s New Music New Haven series! More information is forthcoming…
Not shown: almost two minutes of page re-arranging pre-downbeat.
What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?
I have very strong opinions about this subject, but don’t want to dilute Wampole’s sincerity with my babbling just yet. More to come.
—via the NY Times
Even though this post doesn’t have effusive ASL interpreting, I hope it’s informative.
The big news here is that I’ve accepted an appointment as Visiting Lecturer in Percussion at Cornell University, where I’m director of the Steel Band and World Drum and Dance Ensemble. Although I’ve always prided myself on being a total drum nerd, these two genres of music are relatively new to me. I’m humbled to have been given the opportunity to start exploring, and so far both bands are sounding great, no thanks to me. More information about the program is available here.
If you’re in the Ithaca area on November 16th, you can hear the fruits of this semester’s work: a joint concert featuring the Cornell Steel Band and WDDE, with special guests Nukporfe, Dr. James Burns’ crack team of Ewe drummers and dancers from Binghamton University. Nukporfe really smokes, as these videos will attest. This free concert will begin with the Steel Band at 6:00 on Ho Plaza. WDDE and Nukporfe will follow inside Willard Straight Hall: more information is available here.
Cornell has a vibrant music scene, and I’m excited to get involved. Stay tuned for for some recitals and other performances, but in the meantime you can catch me with the Cornell Chorale on November 30th, for a performance of Vincent Persichetti’s Winter Cantata for women’s voices, marimba, and flute.
What’s next for New Morse Code? On November 20th, we’ll premiere a new piece by Caroline Shaw on thePrinceton Sound Kitchen’s series (formerly the Princeton Composer’s Ensemble). I can’t wait! Also on the Princeton show is the ever amazing Janus Trio. Stay tuned tonewmorsecode.com for the latest telegraphs.
Lastly, this semester I’m filling in for Ayano Kataoka as lecturer in percussion at UMass Amherst. The studio is a great group of people: nice enough to put up with my terrible puns, at least. I’m honored and humbled to be put in charge of such a great percussion ensemble. If you’re in the area, please check out our joint concert with the UMass Symphony Band on December 4th at the UMass Fine Arts Center, featuring some classic chamber percussion repertoire.
Hope to see you soon!
After spending countless hours working on making life more complicated, I’m really enjoying the simplicity of Paul Kerekes’ wonderful website, whose open and inviting atmosphere befits such a kind and generous person. Can’t wait to get back into Paul’s lovely trio for himself and New Morse Code in a February installment of New Music New Haven! Below is the first part of his forthcoming piece…
I’m extremely excited about Ruckus NYC, a one-day conference and concert on art and the web happening September 29th at Cooper Union. Old-friend and former No Signal co-conspirator Kevin Clark has wrangled a FULL day of interesting dialogue about how new media has affected the arts, tied it together with some sessions about making life as an artist work nowadays, and topped it off with a concert, featuring some amazing groups that have harnassed the web to build their ensemble, increase their visibility, and produce their unique art.
I’m happy to say that New Morse Code will be playing a short set amidst a great line up featuring Sylvana Joyce and the Moment, and Deb Oh and the Cavaliers, Florent Ghys, Jody Redhage, Kings, and old pal Zach Herchen. Hannah and I are on between 8:30 and 9:30, and will be playing some music by Osvaldo Golijov our own arrangement of one of Andy Akiho’s tunes.
Here’s what K has to say:
The entire arts world is a million tiny experiments in how to live the life of an artist, and we’re all waiting for the results. Ruckus NYC is our way of sneaking an early look at the data.
We’re bringing together a massive group of artists of all different kinds, and looking at their experiences. How does an animator who lives on grants, fellowships, and one-time gigs create a living and make the art he wants to make? How does a rock-band leader with a day-job find the time for her rehearsals, gigs, and songwriting? How do you balance playing the saxophone, teaching music, and being a recording engineer? How much work does it take to build an ad-supported arts blog? How do you balance different personas online when some of your art isn’t quite Safe For Work? How far will “1,000 True Fans” really get you?”
I’m back from six amazing weeks at Norfolk (more on that soon) and all moved out to gorge-s Ithaca (more on THAT soon, as well), but I wanted to share this live recording Hannah and I made of Martin Bresnick’s Songs of the Mouse People, a fabulously clever (albeit brief) meditation on Kafka’s last short story. It’s one of many shiny new live recordings on the new New Morse Code website. Like all labors of love, it’s a work in progress, so keep checking back as Hannah and I update and tweak things, edit video, and argue about font sizes and margins. If you’re more interested in solo music, check out my new video of the vibraphone portion of Manoury’s Livre des Claviers.
Enjoy, and stay tuned for more news, a new calendar page, important links, recordings, musings, reports, and complaints!
Thanks Kevin Clark for posting and Zach Herchen for sharing this video from the inaugural Ruckus Amongstus show last winter at Exapno. In addition to a ton of other great pieces (check out the youtube channel), I joined forces with some other Peabody Alums—Zach Herchen, and Rhymes with Opera-ites George Lam and Robert Maril—to perform “Canon,” a movement from Juan María Solare’s Gestenstucke, for a quartet of gesturers.
We talk so often about musical gestures that it’s easy to forgot that the concept of a sonic gesture is essentially a metaphor. Very few pieces (save Thierry de Mey’s Musique de Tables and the emerging genre of “works for solo conductor”) engage directly with the physical gesture as meaningful signifiers outside of their sonic result. As a percussionist, I deal with the relationship between movement and sound fairly frequently. Still, Solare’s decision to map what is typically a sonic process (canon) directly onto gestures is particularly interesting.
Check out Kevin’s videos of the other awesome performances from the show (I played Khan Variations and did some improvising) and get ready for the newly reorganized Ruckus CONVENTION in NY this september!
Hannah Lash just sent me this recording of Paul Kerekes and I performing her blistering piano/vibraphone duo C at a New Music New Haven concert last November. Hannah says that “C is a piece about the expansion of material in a motor-like, additive process. Its anchor and beginning are the C-octaves, which spin out of the rest of the material in relentless perpetual motion.” To me, the overlapping rhythmic groupings in the piano and vibraphone create a dense harmonic texture that gradually comes in and out of focus throughout the piece .
Just in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to or getting up to, I’m celebrating packing up my possessions and moving out of New Haven by spending the next six weeks at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival with New Morse Code peep Hannah Collins. Hopefully the idyllic surroundings of the stunning Stoeckel Battell estate and the comforts of my host family’s home will keep me focused: we came with suitcases of music to learn, and aren’t leaving until it’s done!
While it won’t be anything near as ambitious as what these percussionists did the last ten days with James Wood, stay tuned for details and concert specifics. You can always check out any of the summer’s shows from the comfort of your own home with the festival’s live video and audio stream.
Come for the concerts, stay for the GIANT slide at a nearby school.
Just ran across this video of Joel Brennan and I playing Derek Jacoby‘s Sketches, for trumpet and percussion. Joel commissioned the piece for the annual Fulbright Kommission Gala in Berlin, a concert at which I performed a few years later while living in Frankfurt. This is from Joel’s DMA recital last year at Yale. I was lucky to have the opportunity to play with such a talented and flexible trumpeter. Be sure to check out all six movements, and thanks for posting, Joel!
I’ve just posted my video of Lachenmann’s classic percussion solo, Interieur I, to my media page. Below is a reprint of the notes I wrote for the piece for Vic Firth, as well as some of Lachenmann’s own prose about his musical material. Thanks to Mark and Neil at Vic Firth for their help and support! Interieur I has become one of my most beloved, and in my opinion it remains an under-appreciated masterpiece in the percussive canon.
“At a time during the 1960s in which many composers in Europe and the US began working in electronic music studios in a search for new sounds, Helmut Lachenmann asserted that not only could acoustic instruments create original colors, but that there’s something special about the physical gesture of producing sound that is essential to the vibrancy of music. His music uses sound—the gradual transition between closely related sounds, and the bold crashing of conflicting timbres—against one another as an argument, both for the importance of acoustic music, and for the need to constantly rethink traditional means of expression and conventional playing techniques.
I’m sure every percussionist has played a piece where they thought “this composer must have never heard or seen a single percussion before instrument in his life.” With Lachenmann this isn’t the case: not only does he have a deep knowledge of the instruments’ capabilities, he’s also famous for using primarily non-traditional playing techniques, expanding the repertoire of sounds each instrument can produce. Throughout Intérieur I you’ll hear me making—I hope!—beautiful marimba, cymbal, triangle and timpani sounds; you’ll also hear me scratch, scrape and crash my way through some other, more original colors. I think Intérieur is a really important piece for percussionists to get to know because of how perfectly it’s suited to percussion’s greatest strength: the potential to produce a startlingly diverse range of colors and dynamics. It’s a whole piece about sound, where timbre determines both the small gestures within the piece and the overall structure!
Lachenmann’s score is bursting with innovative timbral ideas. It’s also bursting with instruments, which makes getting into position to play the correct drum or cymbal at the right time one of the major challenges in learning the piece. Lachenmann gives us a lot of help: an incredibly detailed setup diagram, a score designed to be spread across three music stands, and a notation system that helps indicate where an instrument is located based on its position on the staff. However, because most of the piece involves extremely delicate combinations or progressions of sounds, practicing my footwork was one of the first challenges in learning the piece. I also decided that memorizing as much of Intérieur as possible would let me stay focused on getting into position and producing the kinds of sounds I wanted. Lachenmann emphasizes that Intérieur is a actually a very vocal and melodic piece, regardless of how disjunctive some sections may seem. This is especially important because Intérieur is written almost entirely without traditional rhythms. Lachenmann gives suggested durations for phrases and indicates rhythmic relationships through note spacing and beaming, but the performer is left to use his or her ear and the sonic characteristics of the specific instruments in the set-up to determine note length. Because of this, I tried to rely less on muscle memory in my memorization, instead latching onto the connections Lachenmann makes between gestures and how I could use the particular instruments I had to create composite sounds from multiple instruments and to make sharp transitions between sections
Another challenge in a piece with so many instruments is the mallet changes. In the interest of simplicity, Lachenmann asks for only a few types of mallets: hard wooden or yarn mallets, soft mallets, drum sticks, brushes, a tam tam mallet and a knitting needle. He is, however very specific about where and how to change sticks, even making a note in the score to practice the many switches as an integral part of the piece and asking that the changes occur quickly and don’t disturb the flow of the piece. Because practicing Intérieur had me so attenuated to sound, I began to make additional mallet changes that I thought could improve the clarity of musical line without sacrificing continuity. A marimba mallet doesn’t sound as rich and full on a timpano than a large timpani mallet, and using a real triangle beater or brass mallets on triangles allows them to sparkle more than the butt end of a drumstick. Although my additional mallets added a some logistic difficulties and necessitated some creative thinking, the ability to both emphasize and prioritize some of Lachenmann’s gestures while making some of his brilliant timbral combinations come out was in my opinion worth it.
I hope you enjoy watching and hearing Intérieur I as much as I do playing it!”
“Intérieur I was composed in 1966 at the suggestion of Siegfried Fink, to whom it is dedicated. It was premiered in the United States in Santa Fe by Michael W. Ranta in 1967 and in Germany in the same year by Christoph Caskel at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt.
The terraced arrangement of the instruments — vibraphone, marimba, kettledrum, two tom-toms, three triangles, three cymbals, two tam-tams, four temple blocks, and four cowbells, high hat, cymbales antiques—forming a horseshoe around the player creates a characteristic ‘playing room,’ an ‘intérieur,’ not only for the player but also for the composer himself, which can be illuminated in a variety of ways. The form thus proves to be a multi-level process in which layered structures are probed, as well as the combinations and relations that result from them. Sound and gesture are thus individuated in two ways: as abstractly subdivided components of structural constellations, as well as the result and expressive product thereof.”
“…instrumental musique concrète…by which I mean a music in which sonic events are selected and organized in such a way that their mode of origin becomes no less a part of one’s experience of the music than the resulting acoustical characteristics themselves. Timbres, dynamics, pitches, etc., do not sound for their own sake or for the sake of the forms from which they are built, rather they characterize or signal the concrete situation of their origin: from them one hears under which conditions, with which materials, with which energies, and against which (mechanical) resistances each sound or noise is produced. Such a perspective has no effect by itself: it must first be called to attention, exposed, and given a musical sense through a compositional technique that makes use of a nuanced alienation in playing techniques. Thus, the unthinking path to the music, i.e., using one’s usual, ingrained habits of listening, is obstructed. Through its insistent scrutiny of new visions of the con- text of sound, the totality becomes an aesthetic provocation: beauty as an invalidated habit.”
I can’t believe this scooter/suitcase from Hammacher Schlemmer is “no longer available.” It looks perfect for a quick getaway, and with a “spacious interior for storing work shoes, a lunch, or purse,” definitely trumps roller-skate shoes while positioning itself as a working-class Segway. It’s approved for overhead and under-seat use, but why fly when you can riiiiiiide?