The first time I remember hearing about David Bowie was from Kurt Cobain. Track 4 on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York was Bowie’s “Man who Sold the World.” I’d never heard this song, nor of David Bowie, but I did enjoy it, and brought Bowie into my consciousness. (Many years later I recognized that a song my father had synched up as the music to a Seseme Street segment was “Space Oddity.”) A few years later a close friend of mine played “All the Madmen,” we listened to the track several times that afternoon while getting high. The themes of madness and conformity was especially evocative at that point in my life.
On the western end of the Manhattan-bound platform of the 21 Street – Queensbridge subway station in Long Island City, there’s a drain that always has the sound of water running. It’s surprisingly similar to the sound of a flowing creek or brook — but in a New York City subway station! Yesterday afternoon I happened to have my hand recorder with me, and I figured I should capture this beautiful and complex sound. Starting at about 45 seconds, you’ll here the Jamaica-bound F train arriving on the opposite track, stopping at the platform, and then rolling out of the station.
The sound was recorded at about 17:15 EDT on September 16, 2015.
For Thanksgiving 2014 I had the opportunity to travel up to Brewster, New York—about an hour north of New York City by train—and spend a few days with friends in their new home. It ended up snowing throughout the day before Thanksgiving and into the holiday morning, and although the snow had quickly melted away in the city, it remained on the ground in Brewster the entire time I was up there (and for awhile afterward I was told). When I was up there I began sketching out ideas for Untwelve’s 2014 Composition Competition, and my submission was inspired by the four days I spent in the snow and alongside friends.
White Thanksgiving is in four sections: Commuter train – Farmhouse blues – Staring at a horse – Ice on the path.
Special thanks to Sabrina & Peter for inviting me up to their home for Thanksgiving, and to Steven N. Severinghaus for the beautiful photo of me and the horse.
On July 23 and 24, Ensemble Musikfabrik (a contemporary music group from Cologne) performed Harry Partch’s final large-scale theater work, Delusion of the Fury as part of the 2015 Lincoln Center Festival. Since the work’s premiere in 1969 there have been only a handful of performances. This one is important to note because it’s the first performance in the United States featuring the near-complete replica set of Partch Instruments built by Thomas Meixner in 2012. The New York City performances were based upon the 2013 performance directed by Heiner Goebbels and produced by Ruhrtriennale, and although some aspects of the staging and costumes seemed arbitrary and distracting, the performance was executed with amazing musicality, impeccable precision, and the ensemble allowed Delusion to exert itself as a great work of art. Most importantly, the performance raises interesting questions about the legacy of Harry Partch now that more than one unique set of his instruments exists.
Back in September 2014, I moved from Brooklyn to Long Island City (in Queens). My new neighborhood was much closer to my regular job, so I was walking to work everyday. One morning at the corner of 39th Avenue and Northern Boulevard I heard a beautiful combination of sounds from traffic, trains, and people. The next week I recorded the sounds of that corner from 09:00–09:05 from Monday, September 15 to Sunday, September 21. So finally, in honor of World Listening Day, I’ve published the field recordings online.
On May 29, 2015, as part of the Composers Collective Spring Concert, Jason Wirth premiered my solo work for piano, Tombeau (for David Ward-Steinman). Dr. Ward-Steinman was one of the first people—along with fellow SDSU faculty members Joseph Waters and Brent Dutton—to encourage me to compose. He passed away earlier this year while I was in the midst of writing this piece, and since he was one of the first to teach me about 12-tone technique, I decided to dedicate the work to him. Thank you to Jason for his incredible playing, the Composers Collective for the opportunity to join their ranks on this concert, and to the staff of the National Opera Center for their support.
On July 4, 2015 the Barbershop Harmony Society’s annual International Convention and Competition came to a close with Instant Classic winning the contest and becoming the 2015 International Quartet Champions. At first glance Instant Classic doesn’t seem like the popular conception of a barbershop quartet: no striped jackets or straw hats, and their competition songs aren’t classic Tin Pan Alley songs such as “Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie.” Instead we get a young quartet who wears sharp suits and takes the stage singing less familiar and more contemporary repertoire. Instant Classic’s six competition songs drew upon a wide swath of source material that ranged from 1920s musical theater and 1950s television theme songs to 1990s R&B. Although this may seem contrary to the barbershop tradition, it’s actually firmly within the historical tradition of barbershop quartet singing; which has made a common practice of appropriating and covering popular songs from wherever and whenever they can be found.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending a concert of choral works by Maurice Duruflé performed by Florilegium Chamber Choir. They sang Duruflé’s Requiem along with his Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégorians (Four motets on Gregorian Themes), and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer. The choir sung beautifully and the intensity of Duruflé’s works were certainly rendered in a compelling manner—especially the end of the Requiem‘s final movement, “In Paradisum”—but the real joy of the afternoon was due to a thunderstorm that rolled in during the Requiem. In fact, the whole concert experience was almost invaded by the sounds of the outside world, not only by the thunderstorm, but also by the busy noises of traffic and people on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Last night I had the wonderful experience of seeing and hearing a cabaret show put on at The Duplex in the West Village in Manhattan. The show, The Tinderland: A Tragicomic Cabaret, featured David J. Baldwin (music director) along with R-Elle Fry, Amanda Tarver, and Timothy Stoddard singing solos, duets, and ensemble numbers all addressing the theme of dating and love in New York City. The Selections included a variety of pop hits such as “Stay With Me,” “Elastic Heart,” and “La Vie en rose” among others.
As I’m in the midst of a research project about Tin Pan Alley, I couldn’t help be be struck by the similarities between the tales of late-19th century New York City entertainment and the performance last night. What really struck me was how the show weaved together contemporary pop hits, classic ballads, standards, and even songs from movies to support a personal and relevant dramatic theme, and how it integrated and embraced the nature of a drinking establishment as performance venue.
Despite the many changes and twists and turns that we see and hear about in the American music scene, The Tinderland affirmed that some things are so good that they can and will remain for some time.
Back in 2006 tech entrepreneur Andrew Keen wrote an article for The Weekly Standard entitled “Web 2.0” that criticized the increasing rise of democratized media and growing ability for anyone to publish books, make movies, or record an album with newly inexpensive technologies. Keen argued that traditional curators of content, the “media and culture industries,” perform a valuable service by making sure that the best works of art and the best artists find their audiences:
The purpose of our media and culture industries—beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people—is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century. Consider Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo and a couple of other brilliantly talented works of the same name Vertigo: the 1999 book called Vertigo, by Anglo-German writer W.G. Sebald, and the 2004 song “Vertigo,” by Irish rock star Bono. Hitchcock could never have made his expensive, complex movies outside the Hollywood studio system. Bono would never have become Bono without the music industry’s super-heavyweight marketing muscle. And W.G. Sebald, the most obscure of this trinity of talent, would have remained an unknown university professor had a high-end publishing house not had the good taste to discover and distribute his work. Elite artists and an elite media industry are symbiotic.