Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Music for Loss

Black Friday is just a few days away and already I'm determined to find an alternative to the "holiday music", which is played so often and for so long that it's more like Doomsday my wallet anyway. If you're looking for a tongue-in-cheek alternative, you'll welcome Music for Loss by Hannah Lash. If her name sounds familiar, it's because I wrote about Hannah in an October post

Music for Loss is both a haven  from and an ode to the holiday craziness. The opening  reminds me of Saint-Saens's Aquarium from the "Carnival of Animals" suite. The notes flutter about like falling snowflakes. But instead of the glass harmonica Hannah uses the equally angelic celesta. Just like in Aquarium, though, the serenity afforded by celesta is lost in the unsettling harmonies among the strings and brass.  

I don't know for what loss this music was written. Maybe for my money, my patience, or my hope of ever spending Christmas without having to go shopping. But Music for Loss rightly characterizes the loving spirit of the season and the materialism that seeks to ruin it. Just the song to turn up on my phone when I look around slowly at the chaotic crowds in stores like I've entered the Twilight Zone. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sond'Ar-te Electric Ensemble

 Sond'Ar-te looking sleek in light polkadots

A while back I posted on Tristan's piece Haiku. I loved it because (1) it was a full-on soundscape and (2) because he broke away from traditional musical notation (Because dots and staves are so 1600). In my musical journeys I'm happy to have found this tradition in Lisbon, Portugal--the land of good food, great beaches, and home to the Sond'Ar-te Electric Ensemble.

Sond'Ar-te Electric Ensemble is all about playing new music that incorporates electronics. What makes them different though is that the group is made of soloists. So, when they're not out there being awesome playing ridiculously hard and impressive concerti they join forces--like a musical Justice League or something. They also have annual composition competitions for young music writers that they perform.

Pendulum is one of the competition pieces written by local musician (and 2012 winner) Rui PenhaOnly listening to the audio, the music is dark and mysterious like an otherworldly scene out of a Miyazaki film. The the soot spirits of Totoro or the ghost train riders in Spirited Away come to mind. The amazing music video Rui made is effectively the animated cousin of Tristan's score. See if you can follow the pitches and pendulum swings. FYI, they follow the piano's movement. I hope one day he'll do a remake incorporating colors, shapes, or movements for all the the instruments. 

Watch Sond'Ar-te Live

You can catch Sond'Ar-te Electric Ensemble in concert 12 December at the Festival Musica Viva in, of course, Lisbon! I'm kind of hoping these European rock stars will have time to come this side of the Atlantic, preferably with their immersive audio-video setup. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Listening to New Music Is Like Loving a Platypus

Sometimes, classical music lovers (especially those of a certain age) fear that in an attempt to gain attention and win over "the masses" young composers will concede to the comparatively "vapid" style of pop music and in effect water down their compositions. And apparently a certain duck-billed animal attacked singer Billy Joel leading to Green Day's Platypus (I Hate You).  The reputations of both are hampered by misunderstanding and blind mockery, and every defender thinks they have a solution. But there's something we can learn from Perry, and that's this:

Make me beautiful. 

Be a platypus.

Yes! There's no shame in being a platypus with a fedora even if people question your existence as a joke love child of a duck and beaver, and there's nothing wrong with playing new music that people don't get right away or ever. And present fans need not worry because like Perry, new music has its diehard the Platypus Ensemble.

The Platypus Ensemble is a real group. And no, they are not Phinneas and Ferb fans out to rid the world of evil geniuses--or rather the many contraptions of one particular evil genius--but their mission is just as admirable. Formed back in 2009, they play and commision new music by composers from around the world. Their music is not "easy" nor does it have "commercial appeal".

So, how does one listen to their music? First, let me just say classical music always required a lot of attention. I love Bruch's G Minor Violin Concerto, but if I didn't pay attention to the themes or if I ignored the transitions or *gasp* the cadenzas, even that wouldn't have been interesting. New classical music is no different, it's only that our attention has to be directed to where its beauty lies. Historically, that was largely through modal mixture, but in contemporary classical music (specifically the kind performed by PE) it's through tonal texture. How those musical elements meet creates its charm. And charm only takes effect after being exposed to it for a while. 

A hypochondriac's nightmare.

And so I give you Hardbeat by Leah Muir, which is centers around the experience of chest pain. (Lovely, right?!) The textures, words, and arrhythmic beat create a feeling of anxiety. Their video (below) also plays into the sense of mortality with its imagery of EKG scans, human hearts, and the use of fading in and out of scenes.  Brought to you by the Platypus Ensemble.