Category Archives: 20th- and 21st-century music

Terry Riley’s moonshine dervishes

Terry-Riley

The title of Terry Riley’s improvisation template Descending moonshine dervishes  is rooted in several sources.

“Moonshine” may be considered a triple entendre referring to the mysticism of the shining moon, the ecstasy associated with U.S. moonshine liquor, and Riley’s property on Moonshine Road in the Yuba River country of California’s Sierra foothills, which he has dubbed Shri Moonshine Ranch.

Dervishes are adherents of Sufism, and although Riley subscribes to a general spirituality rather than any formal religious orientation the Sufi tradition has clearly been important to him, as evinced by his performances in mosques and with musicians more closely involved with Sufism. Riley has also used the word dervish in reference to his Hindustani music teacher, Pran Nath.

This according to “Terry Riley in the 70s” by Mark Alburger (21st-century music XI/3 [March 2004] pp. 4–7).

Today is Riley’s 80th birthday! Above, the composer earlier this year; below, Descending moonshine dervishes as he performed it in Berlin in 1975 (Kuckuck, 1982).

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A John Cage resource

John Cage 1977

Launched by the New World Symphony in 2015, Making the right choices: A John Cage celebration is a free online resource dedicated to Cage’s music.

In celebration of the composer’s 100th birthday, Michael Tilson Thomas and the NWS presented a week-long festival of Cage’s music in February 2013. That festival was the starting point for the videos presented on the site.

Some of the videos primarily capture the live event. Others take the performances much further, adding layers of visual interpretation that provide deeper insight into the spirit of his works.

Above, Cage at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in 1977; below, one of his orchestral works (the NWS videos are not available for embedding).

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Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music

Braxton Composition no. 228

In a 2011 interview, Anthony Braxton described his recent work as “a trans-temporal music state that connects past, present, and future as one thought component. This idea is the product of the use of holistic generative template propositions that allow for 300 or 400 compositions to be written in that generative state.”

“The Ghost trance musics would be an example of the first of the holistic, generative logic template musics. The Ghost trance music is concerned with telemetry and cartography, and area space measurements.”

Quoted in “Anthony Braxton: Music as spiritual commitment” by Josef Woodard (DownBeat LXXIX/3 [March 2010] pp. 32–37).

Today is Braxton’s 70th birthday! Above, Composition no. 228 from the Ghost trance series; below, a performance and discussion of more works from the series.

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Boulez goes electroacoustic

Répons

Répons (1981–84), the first major work to arise from Pierre Boulez’s involvement with IRCAM, is underpinned by a collection of five chords. Surface details interact with the compositional scheme but achieve a certain independence and spontaneity.

Nevertheless, the density of the music, which is sometimes enhanced by computer-facilitated transformation, at times veers towards a phantasmagoric, seamless web that threatens to undermine the articulation of space generated by the configurations of blocks and individual moments. Boulez’s spatial dialogue of system and idea is illuminated by Adorno’s theoretical attempts to turn systematic thought towards the particular.

This according to “Répons: Phantasmagoria or the articulation of space?” by Alastair Williams, an essay included in Theory, analysis and meaning in music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 195–210).

Today is Boulez’s 90th birthday! Above, part of the score of Répons; below, the composer conducts a performance of the work in a film by Robert Cahen.

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Svâtoslav Rihter’s spontaneous recitals

sviatoslav-richter-kiev-1958

In a 1997 interview, Svâtoslav Rihter spoke about his love of unscheduled performing.

“I now know from experience that things planned too far in advance always end up being aborted. Always! Either you fall ill, or you’re prevented from appearing for some other reason, whereas if you improvise—“The day after tomorrow? Of course, why not?” or, if the worst comes to the worst, “Next week?”—everything passes off smoothly. I may be on form today, but who can tell what I’ll feel like on such-and-such a date in the more-or-less distant future?”

“And so, when I arrive in a country I prefer to open a map and show my impresarios the places that have certain associations for me or that excite my curiosity and, if possible, that I’ve not yet had a chance to visit. We then set off by car, followed by the pianos, avoiding motorways like the plague. And then I may play in a theater or chapel or in a school playground at Roanne, Montluçon, or in some remote corner of Provence. All that matters is that people come not out of snobbery but to listen to the music.”

This from Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and conversations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 110, 114).

Today is Rihter’s 100th birthday! Above, in Kiev in 1958; below, a 1964 performance of Prokof’ev’s second piano sonata.

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Ice Music

ice music

In 2014 the guitarist Charlie Sexton and other musicians from Austin, Texas, collaborated with Danish and Swedish musicians in the cross-cultural jam known as Ice Music in Luleå, Sweden.

The artists co-wrote and performed songs on violins, cellos, and other “icestruments” designed by the instrument maker Tim Linhart. The icestruments are played inside igloos to slow the melting process. Some must be suspended from the ceiling to avoid cracking, and all require frequent tuning, re-freezing with dry ice vapor, and spot repairs, as handling and body heat cause nearly instantaneous melting.

Linhart hopes the collaboration with the musicians from Texas will be the start of a long-term project to establish a new genre of music inspired by the elements.

This according to “For these musicians, hot licks provide cold comfort: Players in Sweden make music from ice instruments; beware of melting violins” by Anna Molin and Miguel Bustillo (The Wall Street journal CCLXV/57 [11 March 2015] pp. A1, A10); an online version of the article is here.

Above and below, Ice Music in Luleå.

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Musik und Klangkultur

Musik--Raum--Technik

In 2014 transcript Verlag launched the series Musik und Klangkultur with Musik—Raum—Technik: Zur Entwicklung und Anwendung der graphischen Programmierumgebung Max.

The book discusses the visual programming language for music and multimedia known as Max. After over two decades of development and application, Max has become a sort of international lingua franca in practically-oriented music, art, and media institutions. A complete cultural-historical survey is presented, in which the software figures as the product of a specific sphere of aesthetic practice, which retroactively evokes innovative production structures. The focus of the analysis thus becomes the reciprocal influences of technological and artistic production.

Below, a demonstration of Percussa AudioCubes, an electronic musical instrument that allows users to create Max/Msp patches using an OSC server.

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Directory of South African Music Collections

Stellenbosch University Library

The Directory of South African Music Collections collates information on special music collections in South Africa in order to stimulate music research on South African materials in South Africa and internationally. In an effort to cover the widest possible spectrum in music research, the directory provides the location and status of documents and collections.

This directory was initially part of a Masters study, funded by the South African Music Archive Project (SAMAP) and created under the auspices of the Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service.

Although only a number of national, provincial and tertiary institutions are currently represented in the directory, the aim is to expand it by including further institutions in the aforementioned categories and private collections.

Above, Stellenbosch University Library, the host institution of this free online database, viewed from the rooiplein. Below, a work by the South African composer Hubert du Plessis, who taught at Stellenbosch University.

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Slime mold music

Physarum polycephalum

Die Lebensfreude is a pioneering piece of music composed with the aid of an amoeba-like plasmodial slime mold called physarum polycephalum.

The composition is for an ensemble of five instruments (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) and six channels of electronically synthesized sounds. The instrumental parts and the synthesized sounds are musifications and sonifications, respectively, of a multi-agent based simulation of physarum foraging for food.

Physarum polycephalum inhabits cool, moist, shaded areas over decaying plant matter, and it eats nutrients such as oat flakes, bacteria, and dead organic matter. It is a biological computing substrate, and has been enjoying much popularity within the unconventional computing research community for its astonishing computational properties.

This according to “Harnessing the intelligence of physarum polycephalum for unconventional computing-aided musical composition”by Eduardo R. Miranda, an article included in Music and unconventional computing (London: AISB, 2013).

Many thanks to the Annals of Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above, the co-composer; below, the work’s premiere.

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Tippett and Eliot

tippett-eliot

Michael Tippett called T.S. Eliot his spiritual and artistic mentor, and their numerous discussions in the 1930s proved a lasting influence on the composer’s beliefs about the coming-together of words and music.

Tippett quoted from and alluded to the work of Eliot not only in his early pieces, as has previously been noted, but in much later compositions such as The ice break, The mask of time, and Byzantium.

Eliot’s essay The three voices of poetry examines the number of voices in which the I of a poem can speak, freed from the specificities of prose, and Tippett, influenced by Eliot, harnessed the form of oratorio, freed from the specificities of opera, to allow it to speak in many voices.

This according to “Tippett and Eliot” by Oliver Soden (Tempo LXVII/266 [October 2013] pp. 28–53).

Today is Tippett’s 110th birthday! Below, the opening movements of A child of our time, another of Tippett’s works that was influenced by Eliot.

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