ICE launches new series, On and Off the Page

wolff Last night I went to see fellow ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble)  musicians perform the first of a series of concerts called On and Off the Page with the venerable Christian Wolff at Issue Project Room. I am so happy that ICE has launched such a great project along with the many other things ICE does. According to our website, On and Off the Page “is a series illuminating music that breaks down the barriers between written and improvised music.” As a musician that has been improvising and composing more and more, I am excited to see an organized effort to bring attention to this dynamic area of making live performance.  What’s odd is that improvisation has been a big part of music-making for centuries but classical music has somehow evolved to be a genre that is extremely focused on “the printed page.” Many of the canonic classical composers (Bach, Mozart)  were all improvisers/performers/composers. ..not to mention the invited improvisatory nature of a lot of Renaissance music that existed even before them.  Somehow, through the years, we have become so specialized that the idea of branching out to other roles of music-making is new again to our generation.   I have high hopes for my ICE buddies on this series! The next concert  will be on March 16th at Le Poisson Rouge.

New Multimedia work

phyllis_chenFor most of this past Fall, I have been focusing my energies on a new multimedia piece that Rob and I have been creating named Down The Rabbit-hole for two toy pianos, live electronics, video and amplified objects.  Like chamber music,  I wanted to create something where the video and audio do not cancel one another out, but come together as a whole. The main question I find myself asking is what components of the multimedia piece are absolutely essential? What do we want the audience member to be looking at and at what point? Sometimes it seems that the performer and video can be competing visuals, resulting in a more confused overall statement. I think a lot of our work is aspiring to create a narrative that unfolds through music and images… at certain times the video is what carries the narrative and at others, there are no video but only music.

Now that it is becoming more and more easy to produce multimedia production with computers (and less people), I have found myself as not only the composer/performer, but also the narrator/storyteller. We have become so much more conditioned to take visual and aural stimulus simultaneously that the idea of “multimedia” is perhaps more of a common-life experience. With this in mind, I hope that the immersive environment that is created in Down The Rabbit-hole is one that is completely unique and different than our everyday stimulus.

We did a showing of this piece as a work-in-progress last November at the Flea Theater. Premiere date is yet to be determined.

Chroma part 2

I apologize for the long break in my blogging. The UnCaged Toy Piano concert had such a great first year. Chris Henry is absolutely wonderful for allowing us to use his beautiful space so freely. I felt so happy and satisifed with the new pieces I performed this year.

I apologize for the long break in my blogging. The UnCaged Toy Piano concert had such a great first year. Chris Henry is absolutely wonderful for allowing us to use his beautiful space so freely. I felt so happy and satisifed with the new pieces I performed this year.

I was pretty nervous about premiering “Chroma” for toy piano, projections, sampling keyboard, broken cassette tape player and film dress. A few months ago, I was looking around my home and realized how much clutter I had. I noticed I had a lot of old VHS and cassette tapes of myself playing the piano when I was younger. I decided that I didn’t need these things anymore and felt inspired to make something new with these old materials. Rob and I started experimenting with these materials and we were so amazed by range the of colors that can be found in the metallic VHS tape. I’d say most of the video projection portion of the piece came from our experimentation of the materials.

I decided to use toy piano samples for the electronic portion to accompany an amplified toy piano. I also made a cocoon-like prop that was basically a lot of VHS tape wound into a ball with a broken cassette tape player mounted onto it. I was able to “play” distorted versions of my earlier piano performances on cassette tape by pulling the tape on the tape head manually. As you can imagine, it was a cassette tape mess…with the electronics I added with it, it sounded incredibly “boomy” and angular. Hopefully it came across as a kind of unleashing or birth of the cocoon.

In one of my previous posts I mentioned that I made a garment from a non-fabric material. It took me about two months to make an entire dress woven of VHS film. I liked the idea of wearing my old performances as if I was wrapped or “cocooned” by my history. A video of this premier performance is up on my “Look” page.

Someone in the audience took some great photos:

Skipping Rope

This past year, I hosted the first UnCaged Toy Piano Competition, a composition contest for toy pianos and electronics. This was the first time I hosted and judged a competition. We received over fifty entries from the US, Germany, Croatia, Australia, Mexico, Japan, Norway and Italy. We were thrilled with the general turn out! It was difficult to judge because all of the pieces are so different from one another.

Though he was not technically named a “winner,” I was pretty charmed by Ross Manning’s piece “Rotation” for toy piano and electric fan. It is more like an invention than a piece. The insides of the toy piano are exposed and a heavy rope lies across the toy piano beams. The rope is attached to a fan, so when you turn on the fan, the rope jumps and bounces around on the metal rods. This creates a pretty alien and unpredictable sound effect. The piece can be played as long or short as desired. “Rotation” will be set up as an installation for the UnCaged Winners concert in September. (more details soon)

Ross is from Australia and a member of the Clatterbox. I found him on their website for inventing the bass toy piano. Read and listen to it at the Clatterbox website.

A much-needed concert

Rob and I went to an incredible electro-acoustic ambient music concert last night featuring pianist Sakamoto and guitarist and renowned electronic musician, Fennesz. They played pieces from their new album, “Cendre.” The free concert took place at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. The venue was a large domed arena with tall fake palm trees in the court yard. There were hundreds of people sitting in the dark room listening and watching the abstract video projection in the background. It was a great open space for such spacious music.

I haven’t been to many concerts that bordered on ambient or “new-age.” I felt that it was kind of like a sonic bath. I loved watching Sakamoto relate to his piano sounds. Somehow, sound became more lucid and took a life of its own with the electronics.

Rob and I walked up to the second floor to listen to their last encore. To our surprise, the glass window on the second floor overlooked ground zero. I haven’t been there since 9/11. This image really heightened the musical experience. To see the large hole in the ground with sleeping construction equipment in it made the music seem even more calm and peaceful. As I was leaving the concert, I thought how this music must have such a different effect on people in New York than in Bloomington, IN. The sounds that we hear everyday in New York tend to be noises of construction, cars, trains, yelling people, etc. In Bloomington the sounds we hear are birds, lightning bugs, frat boys, bad 80’s music blasting from fraternity houses. It wasn’t until then I realized the necessity of listening to peaceful music. When we walked out of the venue, we heard construction workers with a jackhammer. It was such a sad palette-cleanser for our ears.