I decided to make a mini-tour through Europe after being invited to the 2010 Approximation Festival , a five day piano festival in Dusseldorf. For over a year ago, I had been in email contact with a Hamburg-based pianist Thies Mynther about various creative projects. He found out about my work through Coraline and told me about some of his theatrical pieces using prepared piano. I couldn’t believe that there was actually someone else out there doing something so similar to Coraline. He then wrote a really quirky piece for toy piano and electronics (which I regret that I didn’t play in Dusseldorf.) Just a few months ago, we decided to finally meet in person and he invited me to Dusseldorf to perform with his duo, Phantom/Ghost at the Approximation Festival hosted by Volker Bertlemann (aka Hauschka).
The line-up was filled with interesting musicians–the first night I saw Rachel Grimes (US) and Aki Takase (Berlin/Japan), followed by Barbara Morgenstern (Berlin) and Kathy Supove (NY) the next night. Already it proved to be a unique keyboard festival allowing a large range of keyboard players with different backgrounds and styles to do what they do. I came a couple days early to work on a few songs with Phantom/Ghost. Thies (piano) and Derek (vocals) played their own set, then I joined them for three songs (including Theatre is Fun from Coraline) and played my own solo set. It was great to share a stage with Phantom/Ghost. They write great songs and have a distinctive sound to their style. The experience made me realize that most of the musical endeavors I have are either completely written music or completely unwritten music. My short period of time with Phantom/Ghost was unusual because it was a collaboration that existed in that gray area in between.
If you are unfamiliar with Hauschka’s music, I recommend listening some of his tracks for piano. I learned on this trip that his music has evolved quite a bit in the last 20 years. It is interesting to ponder the range of his musical background and to know him as a keyboard player now. His solo piano shows often come through New York City and he has recently just released a new record. He is definitely someone to listen to (or meet up close) because aside from his music, he is a gem of a person too.
For those of you who are fans of Christian Marclay, there is a great festival going on right now at the Whitney Museum until September 26th. The fourth floor is dedicated to the ground-breaking work of this great visual and sound artist with a listening lounge for his tracks, a display of his graphic scores and vinyl records that he cut and pasted as a revolutionary turntablist. There is also a piece that is constantly “in progress” on a gigantic chalkboard on the wall that invites visitors to contribute to the score. The best part of this whole festival are the numerous performances going on–usually one or two every day–featuring other musicians/improvisors that worked with Marclay through the years. I was lucky enough to catch a show of Christian performing on Saturday with Terry Hirsch on voice. It was an improvised show using photographs of sonic words immersed in everyday life as the “score” for Terry to improvise to.
I am definitely planning on going to several more performances–there were two works in particular that caught my interest. One piece is an improvisation with his collection of one-of-a-kind handbells that are currently on display at the Whitney. The second piece will be performed on a guitar with a bunch of music boxes mounted inside the instrument. All you see on display is a guitar with a bunch of pegs sticking out of it for the music boxes. Not being able to see the mechanism certainly adds a mystery to the music. There are more pieces of his to be performed until September 26th, so check the Whitney site for more details.
I recently read a great interview with Anthony Braxton in Jazz Inside magazine. At age 64, Braxton is a well-known composer/saxophonist that straddles the “jazz” and contemporary composition world. (Apparently he cringes when people classify him as a “jazz” musician) It is clear that he is a very articulate and thoughtful musician who considers himself “a student of world music” on all levels, as he says. I took special interest in some of his thoughts and explanations on his career choices that ultimately led to his recording output. He explains that “Documentation…is form of closure. Once a given target project is documented and distributed, I can then go on to the next areas of my music system. “
A very honest and enlightened realization that seem to relate to me at this point in my life was when he identified himself to the character Alberich from Wagner’s Ring Cycle “…I can relate to Alberich [who] makes the decision to give up love after humiliation and to accept power instead. For me, the gambit was to give up the idea of making money from music performance or recording and concentrate on doing the best I could to to advance my work-because as I surveyed the world of performance dynamics for creative music, it became very clear that I wasn’t going to make any money and so part of the gambit for my decision to go forward was understanding that there would be no monetary gain for my music effort. ”
I would hope (and assume) that this is no longer the case for Mr. Braxton(he is a tenured professor at Wesleyan now). But this is a creative force that has recorded over 230 records already in his lifetime! What a true testament to his commitment and relentless desire to make music. Artists like these always give me so much hope.
Since moving to New York, I have been looking for great music venues that have a lot of interesting stuff on a regular basis. Often times, artists that are performing there are publicized and previewed in online magazines but the venues themselves don’t get as much limelight attention. Sometimes I think venues have a hard business supporting artists like myself and keeping themselves afloat. Here are a list of some of my favorite alternative new music venues in the NYC area:
Issue Project Room
Galapagos Art Space
Le Poisson Rouge
This is just a shortlist, but go check them out!
Last night Rob and I went to see an improvised multimedia show at the Gershwin Hotel. This place is probably my new favorite spot with funky decorations, friendly people, a grand piano,a nice cafe and ‘library’ that reminds me of Soma’s Coffee in Bloomington.
The show had three parts featuring multiphonic soundscapist Ben Miller (guitar and electronics), Greg Reynolds (electronics/harmonium, violin), Orin Buck on video and butoh dancer Mariko Endo . The piece that struck me the most was Ka-Mi, a meditative piece with video, Greg Reynolds on sound and Mariko Endo. The intimate space of the Gershwin Hotel seem to magnify the facial expressions of Mariko. The video was made of folded/fractured colored trasnparencies that the artist was manipulating over the projection light in the back of the room . Every now and then you could hear the crackling of the plastic gels which added a nice “live” element to it. The music, video and dance all worked with elements of restraint and minimalism. But as a whole the work had a great multimedia effect and these limitations really generated a focus to the piece. I will be sure to find these performers again in concert.