Saturday, October 12, 2013

Meeting 10/9/2013: Mostly Piano Music over Silence

This meeting took an abrupt turn from previous meetings: no loud beat-driven electronica (only one mellow techno number and one loud electronic piece but without a beat); no in-your-face screech and honk free-improvisation; no cartoon soundtracks. Large chunks of the time were taken by three “modern” classical piano works, with shorter blues and world-music pieces (and one classic rock). I can’t actually say that much about the piano pieces – like a lot of “serious” music, they can really only be described metaphorically and must be experienced first-hand.

What was played:

Toru Takemitsu: For Away, played by Roger Woodward (in the classic 1970’s recording)
Delicate tendrils and rivulets of piano sound, always returning to the augmented fourth. Restful or disturbing, depending on one’s stylistic bent.

Claudio Monteverdi: Duo Seraphim, sung by René Jacobs with Concerto Vocale
One club member commented on the sensuality inherent in this “angelic” music. It would appear that Monteverdi got the point of the Song of Solomon. From a musical standpoint, the piece is interesting because of its suspension of time (angels have an eternity in which to sing): over an infinitely slow tempo, delicate melodic flurries condense into individual repeated pitches, sounding as different speeds of vibrato.

Steve Barsotti: Bypass
Musique Concrète becomes noise becomes a composition. This is the (loud, chaotic) climax to an otherwise fairly ambient CD of works made from field recordings. Lots of distortion, static, and thermonuclear bombast. The piece ends with a final roaring cadence and a collapse back into the silence from which it arose.

The discussion occurred how music of this type is put together compositionally, given its obvious (intentional) lack of melody, harmony, or rhythm. My own take on this is that density can be the prime mover for this kind of piece; another club member argued (based on a previously heard, unidentified piece) for the importance of timbre.

This led to another discussion about the difference between the jazz and classical traditions. One member of the club mentioned that listening to Stockhausen and Cecil Taylor is much the same experience; the two genres seem to converge when the music is taken into “experimental” territory (obviously, they often merge in the “popular” field too: is “Rhapsody in Blue” a classical or jazz composition?). So, what exactly is the difference? Is there a difference? My own take on it is that in classical, the melody controls the rhythm, whereas in jazz the rhythm controls the melody. That is to say, in a classical piece, the rhythm will speed up or slow down (or even pause) depending on what the melody does; in a jazz piece, even one with the same melody or chord progressions, the rhythm “locks in” like clockwork and everything else conforms to it or deliberately contrasts with it. Even in the Stockhausen and Taylor, this is apparent: Stockhausen’s music is essentially organized along melodic lines (even if the melody is fractured or based on atonal progressions so it isn’t recognizable as such); Taylor’s music retains its rhythmic base (even if the rhythm is fractured, subdivided, or multi-layered so that it isn’t recognizable as such).

Kansas: Sparks of the Tempest
Maybe slick overproduced late-1970’s mainstream rock wasn’t altogether such a wasteland. This surprisingly funky, bongo-based apocalyptic pre-metal romp is just a lot of fun despite its dark lyrics.

Sainkho Namtchylak: Tanola Nomads, Tchashpy-Hem, and Lullaby For Lambs
Three pieces by the famed Tuvan vocalist, mixed with three different international styles. The first is electronica with a fairly subtle beat; Yoko Kanno has similarly mixed Balkan song with electronica in some of her anime soundtracks. Pretty in an unexpected way. The second uses a traditional melody with an orchestral accompaniment – this could be a 21st-century version of earlier “classical folk” like “Appalatian Spring” or the “Songs from the Auvergne” (hints of this type of fusion go at least as far back as Monteverdi’s “Orfeo”). The 3rd piece uses throat singing (here, subtle whistling overtones) to create an experimental soundscape in which lumps of sound evolve over silence.

Aaron Copland: Piano Variations (1930), played by Charles Fierro
A brilliant composition in a craggy “modernist” style, with hints of Bartok and Messiaen. The variations do not seem autonomous; rather, they proceed in a patchwork manner, each crosscut with fragments stitched into the next. Quite different from Copland’s more familiar Americana.

Count Basie and Joe Turner (with other musicians): The Honeydripper
The essence of the blues, Kansas-city style (hmmm - is Kansas a theme for this meeting?). It’s hard to really say a lot about this kind of playing except for its obvious deftness and emotional honesty. Turner’s vocals shout and smooth-talk the power, tenderness, despair and joy of the genre (and of life). Basie’s piano is the catalyst for most of the other playing; in the brief solo at the end, he almost seems to be idling or playing in his sleep, yet this holding back creates the most effective part of the piece.

Christian Wolff: Variations on Morton Feldman's Piano Piece 1952, played by Sabine Liebner
Individual notes like stars in a night sky of silence.

Next meeting: 11/14/2013