Where do I find John Zorn?
An article about the vicissitudes of shopping for new music in Paris...
Anyone who has spent any time and money getting
into new music will have had the same problem in record shops: there are
always certain styles of music, or even specific artists, who are hard
to classify. Take a simple example: Herbie Hancock. You would think all
his 60s albums (mostly on Blue Note) would be under jazz while everything
on WB, and on CBS up to and including at least Future Shock, would be
in the--er--jazz rock bin (or should that be jazz funk, or fusion?), right?
Try your local record shop: you might be in for a surprise...
Obvious, you say. But Aretha Franklins 1980/81 albums Aretha and Love All The Hurt Away are filed under soul, whereas Chaka Khans Chaka and What Cha Gonna Do For Me? (same period, same label, same musicians, same producer--Arif Mardin) are in the disco bin. So, whos responsible? Well, probably Thierry or Didier something, if you want to write to the FNAC and complain, but there are implications here which go far beyond the confines of one record shop, even such a well-respected one.
Firstly, theres the question of pop music: an utterly useless umbrella-term, since many areas of so-called classical music are now undeniably popular (Pavarotti, Glenn Gould, take your pick), while there are many movements in avant-garde rock that are several hundred light-years away from being easy-listening and, if measured against the brutally objective yardstick of records sold, pretty goddamn unpopular. Clearly, with an ever-growing demand for pop music, especially black music (jazz, soul, funk, rap, etc.), record companies (and hence, of course, outlets such as the FNAC) have been able to stimulate sales by inventing new genres themselves, independent of any objective musicological criteria which might constitute a strict definition of style or genre. Witness grunge (the word came from the fashion world originally) and trip hop (cute play-on-words to refer to slightly more spaced-out and predominantly non-American hip hop), to name but two.
So what, you say?
But watch out! Theyre coming for us next! We have already had the problem of minimalism: ten years ago Terry Riley was in progressive rock (all that Rainbow in Curved Air, psychedelic hippy trip stuff, yeah man) while Steve Reich was under jazz (well, ECM is a jazz label, isnt it?) and Philip Glass was just creeping into the contemporary classical bin (opera is classical after all, wouldnt you agree?).
Nowadays theyre all in contemporary: Riley
due to his string quartets played by that--ahem--solidly contemporary
group the Kronos Quartet, Reich because people have finally realized that
ECM actually stands for European Contemporary Music (and also because
that other seriously deep and totally non-pop composer Arvo Pärt
is on ECM too), and Glass because, er, well Glass hasnt changed
all that much since Satyagraha anyway, has he? But can you imagine the
fun and games we would have if Cage and Copland were filed under new American
music while Feldman joined Pärt, Bryars, Tavener and Gorecki in some
quasi-mystical new spiritualism bin? Dont laugh: its happening
at the FNAC. (Later, musicologists are going to have a great time making
sense of all this.)
Blow your nose (a highlight from the archives)
Critic James Baiye, before he relocated to Mongolia to perfect his Tuvan
throat singing, submitted this note about the opera The Nose:
[Photos courtesey of the Dutch National Opera]
Results of our 1998 reader survey
Q: Would you rather sit through Vexations or a Stockhausen opera?
Q: Have you ever flown a helicopter?
Q: Whats most useful about the internet?
Q: How many minimalists does it take to change a lightbulb?
Adapted by Joshua Cody
The Paris New Music Review retracts its statement from a previous issue. Our unintentional implication in a published retraction of the assertion that [powerful politician] "Jesse Helms of the United States is a scum and slimebag, who probably has crushed-velvet paintings of Elvis on his mantlepiece" was that Elvis is associated with the lower dregs of society. The statement was entirely incorrect. (1998)
Angry mail (the best letter we ever got)
Fans of the second viennese school (of architecture) will find their dream café in the Amsterdam train station. Labelled the 1e Klas Café, it's in a hugely dark and smoky room, through which rays of sunlight (on a good day) illuminate the sumptuous brick, tile and gold leaf columns. Just the place to drink a cup of coffee before boarding the orient express.
Adapted by Joshua Cody
"Wagner did not like the saxophone. He said it 'sounds like the word Reckankreuzungsklankewerkzeuge.'"
-recounted by Nicholas Slonimsky (1894-1995), A thing or two about music.
on British music...
The English public is curious. It can only recognize
one composer at a time.
British music is in a state of perpetual promise.
It might almost be said to be one long promissory note...
Sunday Brunch 4Like any other show, yesterday's performance of "Sunday Brunch 4" began shortly after the doors closed and the audience got settled. Except, in this case, the doors were shiny, metal and mobile, and the audience just happened to be along for the ride.
That's because "Sunday Brunch 4" was performed, as were two earlier versions, on a southbound A train in front of a captive crowd of straphangers, many of whom seemed completely mystified by what was going on. They had good reason to be confused.
by the actor David Ackerman, this 35-minute piece of performance art consists
of a full enactment of a Sunday brunch — including a crisp white
tablecloth, spinach salad appetizer and an attentive waiter in a black
tuxedo — all performed while the A train works its way from 207th
Street in upper Manhattan to Hoyt Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Throughout,
the performers, who seemed oblivious to the stares of the other perplexed
passengers, chatted amiably about Christmas, exchanged gifts and even
signed for a package delivered by a UPS man (played by Rachim Baskin)
who entered the scene at the West 34th Street stop. (2004)
Gone tomorrowOur illustrious, glamorous and bankrupt predecessor, the New York-based EAR Magazine is, according to a news bulletin which crossed our densely-packed desk, "Dead but not gone!" The New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center is now the custodian of eighteen years of new music history, as told by EAR. Gluttons for new music can visit them in person at the Library.
Also in the archive of the NY Public Library are 26,000 pages representing
95% of John Cage's lifetime work, acquired through an anonymous donation.
The collection includes several unpublished pieces as well as unfinished
Gustav Mahler on a bad day
We Meet the Press
Paris Transatlantic Editor Dan Warburton made the
following assessment during a 1999 interview for BBC radio's "Mixing
It" : I think we have to make a distinction between several
new music scenes in Paris; making one global judgment is very difficult.
The French make a distinction between musique contemporaine, which is
composed, avant garde music-Boulez, Ferneyhough, Xenakis, et cetera-and
what they now call musique nouvelle, a kind of grab bag which includes
everything else, from improvised music to free jazz, Japanese noise, and
so on... I think in terms of the musique contemporaine scene right now,
it's a pretty... stable situation. There have been some interesting things,
but I haven't been absolutely convinced that it's the most "happening"
place in the world.
"We look for new sonorities, new intervals, new forms. Where it will lead, I don't know. I don't want to know. It would be like knowing the date of my death."
Our Checkered Past
Before Paris Transatlantic, there was The Paris
New Music Review. For information on Moscow and its extremely unusual
new music scene, tinged with Mafiosi, former spies, and stockpiles of
unbanned scores and recordings, order PNMR special issue number 6-7: Russian
Music, our most notorious issue ever. (Summer 1994)
Monostary on Moscow's Golden Ring
Whither the cd?
Will the recording industry collapse as a result of the CDs permanence?
Or will new technology (DVD) replace the audio CD? Will market saturation
force out the smaller independent labels, or will customers who already
own the Beethoven Symphonies begin adding Stockhausen to their collections?
The New York Times continues to decry the collapse of the classical music
establishment, alternately casting the recording industry as victim and
villain. This season, French venues and publications are turning increasingly
towards world music to sustain audiences and compete for ever-more-elusive
government funding. Amsterdam and New York (see grapevine four)
musicians continue to lead the improvisational forefront, but almost their
producers are on the brink of extinction.
As popular music continues to dispose of huge sums of money to produce extravagant shows and videos, it is no wonder that classical musicians either seek work in restaurants or in the case of Yo Yo Ma, present equally extravagent (and slightly dubious) video collaborations with dancers, film-makers, and other artists. Ma's work maintains a high standard even when commercialized, but other recent multimedia and crossover successes such as the laughable album Mozart the Egyptian (which sold more than 100,000 copies in France in four months) are lamentable. Meanwhile, in contemporary music, selling 2000 discs is considered a huge success. So read our reviews, and buy these discs, if you can!
(oddly enough, this editorial, written in 1999, is still valid today)
The Rise and Fall of a New Music Festival
The following material on the Tanglewood summer contemporary festivals (part of the larger 8-week Tanglewood summer season) is excerpted from the PNMR archives:
Tanglewood 1994Robert Black, whose approach to the instrument should be an inspiration to us all, took on the heady challenge of Tom Johnsons Failing, a seminal performance art piece in which the player delivers a monologue discussing his own performance. It is an amusing and cathartic experience for the audience, and of the utmost sincerity when it comes from an artist like Black.
Reinbert de Leeuws afternoon marathon included some undeniable masterworks (Ives The Unanswered Question from 1906 and the Varèse percussion melodrama Intégrales from 1924). The new Seiji Ozawa hall proved a good environment for Oliver Knussens opening Fanfare with trumpets in the distant second balcony--and for the underground strings in the lves. There is not a bad seat in the house.
It was a pleasant surprise to hear John Adams The Wound Dresser, and the program notes did it justice by pointing out its terrific contemporary relevance. The Walt Whitman text speaks of the horrors of the Civil War wounded and the experience of life and death. Thomas Meglioranza projected a strong and determined baritone voice that effectively brought forth the words of the poet.
Tanglewood 1995Leon Kirchners emotional and narrative Piano Trio no. II was a highlight; paired with the coloristic Romancero (Mario Davidovsky, 1993) its Iyricism contrasted the alternately shimmering and angular painting of Elliott Carters Quintet for piano and winds and the extroverted Evocation No. 2 (Ralph Shapey, 1979) for cellos, piano and percussion.
Seldom heard in the US, but the bad boy of new music in Europe, Mauricio Kagel was represented by an entire concert of his often wacky music. His piano trio combines dance rhythms, melodies, and ostinato frenzies. Notable is the contrast in instrumental color provided by separating as much as possible the timbres. The American premiere of ...den 24.XII.31, a clamor of multitudinous bells and a rubber-gloved percussionist touching electrified jumper cables to produce sparks was fun noise.
Tanglewood 1996Performance highlights were the conducting of Reinbert de Leeuw, Robert Spano and Stefan Asbury, and the late-night performance by professional Stockhausen interpreters Ellen Corver and Sepp Grotenhuis of Mantra (a 1970 composition revolving around 13 pitches most of which are A--and the ratios 13:53), and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, a conductorless group that shows what state money can do for performance.
The orchestral commission offered to a former fellow of the TMC went to Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez (San Francisco) whose Girando, Danzando shows a great awareness of instrumental sound meshed with a perfect ideal of the use of the orchestra.
Tanglewood 1997The contemporary season, while good in spots, was marred by speculation about the abrupt firing of long-time TMC/BMC manager Richard Ortner. BSO Conductor Ozawa's comments and attitude were off-putting, and in the shakeup that followed, Gilbert Kalish, another institution at Tanglewood, tendered his resignation in a heated open letter to the New York Times.
This year's repertoire included only the merest nod at modernism. With virtually no composers left in residence, and morale at an all-time low among the faculty, 1998 was an undistinguished season.
The New Music Week remains a shadow of its former self today. Will Tanglewood regain the cutting edge its founders envisioned and promulgated? Or will it remain mired in conservativism?
Do you think I don't know how to cadence? If I cadence I'm dead. It's like Sheherazade.
Pilobolus Dance Theater at the Joyce Theater
Elysian Fields opens and closes with a silhouetted still-life of the four Pilobolus dancers, a sculptural treat which is almost a signature of this much-beloved dance company. Intertwining strong muscular bodies are used as visual art, not just a choreographers raw material. Their shows are sexy and funny. More recent dances tend to stray a bit from the dance as sculpture motif, into other realms, with mixed success.
John Harbisons music, never that daring, is at its most banal in Elysian Fields. His Olympic Dances are scored as if for high school band. Dancing is tentative, and not as gutsy as one might hope. Costumes resemble but are not body paint. Its under-rehearsed and vague. But the rest of the program, old classics of the Pilobolus repertoire, continued to shock and enthrall.
A solo from the Empty Suitor (1980) was marked by pratfalls and lunacy. Its acrobatics suggested the style of choreographer Joseph Nadj, himself inspired by Buster Keaton films.
Walklyndon (1971) is a funny classic, a la Woody Allens bananas. Its an afternoon in the park with hurried by hilarious New Yorkers.
Day Two (1980), is a smash hit, and one
of the classic Pilobolus dances of all time. Scored to music by Brian
Eno, David Byrne, and the Talking Heads, the dancing is tight, and complex.
The scenario is based on an action-packed creation of the world in stark
and sexy scenes.
Choreographer for the Compagnie DCA
Music by Joseph Racaille
Anticlimactic is the operative word for this circus, tremendously exciting in many ways, but not what one would expect from a sophisticated dance company with considerable talent and a large budget. Ironically enough, given the rich French traditions of mime, circus, and cabaret, this extremely French circus never managed to break free from a heavy consciousness of time and place. Découflés company had all the trappings, the essential accouterments, the silly accessories, the huge tent, the bright lights, and the freak sideshows. But it was all too slow, too cautious, too scripted, too careful. The sideshows on the other hand, were goofy, dumb, and comic and well worth the trip out to the bleak suburb of St. Denis.
The very fact of a big top heightens ones childlike expectations to be dazzled, perplexed, to dissolve into gales of laughter over clowns and be frightened by tigers. Découflé made a clear decision to skip those elements, but he had little to replace them with. The actual dancing seemed a bleak and abstracted reflection of a circus, one with fitful starts and stops, and no sense of timing: the enchainements were clumsy and amateurish.
Audience reception symptomatic: on the one hand all the Parisian intellectuals
were shushing and trying to concentrate on the abstract beauty of the
show, and on the other hand, all the St. Denis teenagers were laughing
and joking and having a ball, as if they thought it was a circus!