Saturday, January 21, 2017 8:00 pm Littlefield Concert Hall
Kyle bruckman and composers from the center for contemporary music
An evening of new electronic music (some with dance or acoustic instruments) by guest composer/performer Kyle Bruckmann and Mills faculty composers John Bischoff, Chris Brown, James Fei, Maggi Payne, and Les Stuck.
The program includes:
An Extruded Introversion for Blixa Bargeld (2016) – premiere
Kyle Bruckmann: oboe
Kaori Suzuki: circuit
Nathan Wheeler: circuit
John Bischoff: laptop
Kyle Bruckmann: oboe
Chris Brown: computer
Sine of Merit I (for Don)
James Fei: Buchla Electronic Music System
Les Stuck: music, video, choreographic direction
Lindsey Renee Derry: dance improvisation
Megan Jones: voice
Erin Dougherty: ASMR consultant
Rob Ramirez: animation consultant
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An Extruded Introversion for Blixa Bargeld (2016) - premiere
This is the third in a series of three pieces that arose together as attempts to re-integrate my practices of composing, improvising, and performing contemporary 'concert music' on the oboe, which I felt had been developing along separate paths for too long. I owe thanks to Tom Djll, whose invitation to contribute to a ‘solo + extensions’ night at Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco, in 2015 provided a key catalyst.
They all trouble themselves, in some way, with a fundamental crisis: how to transform a hermetic creative practice into an outward-facing product with sufficient payoff for anybody else – a thing in the world that can justify not only its own existence, but mine as an artist. Like all of life, a balancing act: between the megalomania of presuming anyone else should care about a public display of introspection, and the humility required in striving to ensure anyone could. Make it a solo composition – worse yet, exclusively for me to perform myself – and the screws tighten a couple more turns.
An Extruded Introversion for Blixa Bargeld (2016) is my most recent and likely last stop along this line of inquiry. The dedication is maybe a notch more oblique than those of the other two pieces (James Turrell and John Barth). Discovering Einstürzende Neubauten as a 14-year old marked a sort of aesthetic Year Zero for me. I could gush about all that the band meant to me at the time; what seems relevant here, though, begins with their self-immolating front man as model of “the performative body,” his physicality an undeniably central component of his music. Another dimension involves the role I projected onto them as I myself began to navigate overlapping worlds of classical music, contemporary art, and rock & roll’s more bastard offspring. I concluded years ago that they were the perfect heirs to German Romanticism – a logical, if grotesque, conclusion that linked them from the far side of the breaking point directly back to Weber’s Der Freischütz. I began this piece with the explicit intent of maintaining more ego-less poise and equanimity than I’ve yet achieved elsewhere – trying to contend in my own way with the gauntlet gently proffered by the Wandelweiser collective, another form of Germanic extremism entirely – in order to make something that’s unapologetically…well, beautiful. In the end, I can’t deny the ghosts I see poking through the rent fabric all the same: of the histrionic, and of The Sublime’s taunting brass ring.
Phraseology is an improvisational trio featuring two analog circuit players and one laptop performer. The piece is in two sections. In the first section, the circuit players produce solo phrases one after the other, followed by a solo laptop phrase based in part on the pitches and timings of what the circuits just sounded. The second section is a freer tutti interaction where circuit events may gate laptop sequences on and off in complex patterns. The gating patterns are the result of coincidences between current circuit events and a series of laptop sequences freely recapitulated from the first section—in essence, the past interacting with the present. Thanks to Kaori and Nate for their musical contributions, and to James Fei for his technical expertise.
Feedback is a principle of both acoustic and electronic instruments, since without it, there is no resonance. Audio feedback is normally thought of as a problem to be eliminated, but has been used since the beginning of amplified music for its musical effect, and is used as a generative technique of many influential live electronic compositions. Feedback reveals the inherent qualities of the various materials it passes through, amplifying their singularity and personality.
In Snakecharmer, four processes (each called a “snake”) derive pitch and amplitude information from a single microphone input. Each “snake” responds to this data only at different repeated time intervals (beats). When the amplitude of the input sound exceeds some threshold, it triggers a synthesized voice at some transposition of the analyzed pitch. The input sound is also transposed by the same interval through a harmonizer. The synthesized and harmonized sounds are mixed and amplified in the performance space and can feed back through the microphone, producing ascending or descending arpeggios based on the transposition interval. This feedback depends also on whether the performer's vocal or instrumental sounds or the computer's output dominate the sound input to the microphone. The performer plays with this balance, choosing with their volume and proximity to the microphone how much to control the computer's output with their performance, or how much to allow the system feedback to control it. A sequence defining the form of the piece changes the transposition interval, the time intervals of each of the four “snake” processes, and the timbre and envelopes of each synthesized voice.
Snakecharmer was originally created using MIDI hardware pitch-followers, a Yamaha FM synthesizer, and a Roland four-voice harmonizer. Its software was written in the FORTH computer language, running on a MacPlus computer. It was performed often during several years, and was recorded in three different versions, with soloists William Winant, percussion; Larry Ochs, sopranino sax; and Chris Brown, whistling and voice. By 1995 the software would no longer run under new computer operating systems and so the piece could no longer be performed. This new version runs entirely with software I wrote in SuperCollider, and this is its first complete performance. Thanks to Kyle Gann, for charming the snakes using their favorite instrument!
Sine of Merit I (for Don)
Sine of Merit I was first performed in 2007 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College. Wanting to make a piece that addressed the history of the center, I limited myself to using the original “Buchla Box” that Don Buchla designed for the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1965. The instrument, which is still used by students today, has plenty of quirks: there is no filter, the physical interface consists of touch-sensitive copper plates, and practically half of the system is dedicated to sequencing (which I hate). Its condition also makes it somewhat unpredictable, all factors which made developing a live piece with it an interesting challenge.
I first met Don Buchla in 1997. I was playing at Yoshi's in Oakland with Anthony Braxton, and at the end of one evening Braxton came to fetch me backstage, saying "there's someone here that I know you'll want to meet." He was right, and Don was pretty much just as I imagined--wearing a white visor with flashing LED's. I think I pestered him about his designs--he was very friendly but wouldn't say much, an interaction that would become familiar in later years. When Don came to the 2007 concert, he grumbled something along the lines of "why are you using that old thing?" He then added that Mills should sell it back to him for $500 (what he got paid for it originally), and that I should really be using his new 200e system. Tonight’s performance is dedicated to Don.
Sferics are electromagnetic waves caused by lightning occurring in the opposite hemisphere that propagate via the Earth-ionosphere waveguide. If the energy enters the magnetosphere it bounces multiple times, with high frequencies traveling faster than lower frequencies, resulting in downward sweeps rather than the crackles produced by sferics. Proton whistlers rise in frequency. These electromagnetic phenomena, along with tweeks, produce frequencies that lie within the human audio range, and can be converted to audio using VLF (very low frequency) receivers.
Both Voyager 1 and 2 plasma wave instruments detected whistler-like activity as they passed Jupiter in1979. It seemed appropriate to celebrate Juno’s 2016 arrival at Jupiter by composing a work using recordings of whistlers available from NASA as well as sferics captured by my VLF receivers. These fascinating sounds are noisy—often full of static, crackling, popping, grittiness, choppiness, and irregular fluctuations. It struck me that they were very similar to sounds produced by the white and pink noise generators from the Moog IIIP and Aries synthesizers and my shortwave radios, which I also used in this work. I time-stretched many whistlers up to 20 times their original duration, allowing them to more slowly rip the fabric of space and time.
The sound of benevolent attention is typically tactile and delicate.
Read the biographies