“Cradles is a utopic lullaby, to help put treasured analogue musical equipment to bed. The work takes its inspiration from the sensuous, tactile relationship between a performer and his or her instrument.” –Thomas Meadowcroft
Thomas Meadowcroft was born in Canberra, Australia in 1972 and is currently based in Berlin. His works often combine found objects and fixed media with acoustic sounds to convey complex ruminations on culture or evoke non-existent places.
Cradles is a percussion duo for two reel-to-reel tape machines, small percussion, and playback. Using a technique of Meadowcroft’s own invention, both percussionists spend the entirety of Cradles dragging magnetic tape across the tapehead of their respective reel-to-reel machines, often in simultaneity with “standard” percussive techniques. The resultant sound is both labored and mesmerizing.
Like many of Meadowcroft’s scores, Cradles is comprised of a series of graphically notated modules, from which performers construct their unique interpretation. These modules are split into two distinct parts – Part A consisting of separate “sound images” to be created by each percussionist, and Part B requesting one of the percussionists to “shadow” the other as they move through the various modules.
In preparing this performance of Cradles, I began to understand the sadness in putting these machines “to bed”: the more obsolete they become, the more treasured they are by those who have cared for them, as evidenced by the residents of Montreal who were kind enough to part with their machines and magnetic tape. The duality of amplifying our reel-to-reels with microphones, mixers, and speakers several decades their junior is not lost on me, and might even serve as an adequate metaphor for the performance itself.
Performed by Jess Tsang and Rob Cosgrove.
Sean Griffin’s Tension Study II: Eagle Claw Wu Tsiao Chen Wins is a multilayered percussion piece combining Kung Fu films, Wu Xia novels, and Chinese percussion instruments, ultimately locking its performer into a battle with a manipulated and looped video of female Kung Fu fighter Wu Tsiao Chen. Griffin has stated that he wanted “…to stage a ‘fight’ between [the performer] and fixed time in the video, to animate those split second decisions and improvisation behaviors that compensate for things which one cannot possibly actualize”.
There is no opponent because the word ‘I’ does not exist. A good fight should be like a small play, but play seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking yet not dreaming, ready for whatever may come. When there is an opportunity, he does not hit. It hits all by itself.
—Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon
Virus is a composition for live generated electronic resonating body and percussion solo. Working alongside the resonating body that Elisabeth creates in real-time, I match acoustic sounds to both replicate and conjoin with the electronics. In Elisabeth’s words:
“At first the body is immune, but during the course of the piece the body stops resisting, takes in the sounds of the string instruments, and allows the viruses to multiply freely. It is a struggle and synthesis between two resonating bodies. Together they stay alive.”
“It appeared out of the blue on my street.
I was surprised to the extent that I didn’t think of taking any photo or video of this bird.
The next time we met, it was running purposefully as if hurrying somewhere, again in the same street.
I tried to chase but it was much quicker than me.
Both times there was no one else around; not even a car – just him and me.
The bird was bigger than a duck or any other American bird that may normally roam the streets of Cambridge.
I like to this of that bird being a Dodo.
This occasion caused me to consider the way, in which my imagination affects my perception of reality, blending my thinking with daydreaming, which has made this kind of piece appear. Out of the blue. In my head.”
Subito Dodo was commissioned in 2017 as part of Ensemble Lunaire’s concert for tabletop music, “Tisch”. With a carefully drawn map included with the score indicating contact microphone placement, fishing line string instruments, and a variety of inventive object/instrument devices, Rykova has created a soundworld that is uniquely hers, yet absolutely replicable. The five performers make use of kitchen whisks, wah-wah tubes, a muted music box, and a slide whistle while applying different types of tension and pressure to fishing line stretched around the table, eliciting sounds befitting of the quasi-reality described in her program note. While it’s likely that the “dodo” she describes was one of the many wild turkeys that wander the streets of Cambridge, the boundless imagination of Rykova’s “speaking objects” seem better suited to the fallacy of spotting an extinct species in your own backyard.
Humble Servant is part of a trilogy of pieces dedicated to Lisa McPherson, a member of the Church of Scientology who died of negligent homicide at the Church’s hands. McPherson was held in solitary confinement for seventeen days at the Church of Scientology’s headquarters in Clearwater, FL, and died at the age of 36 from the physical and mental trauma she suffered there.
The composer, Adrian Knight, calls Humble Servant a eulogy for McPherson. Prior to the start of performance, the performer is asked to activate four small vibrators attached to antiphonal sizzle cymbals, which serve as a backdrop for placid vibraphone chords. From time to time, the stillness of the composition is interrupted by a sonic oddity (a pitch bend, harmonic, change in motor speed), a present reminder of the tragic subject at hand.
“The music is a labyrinth of short phrases and melodies whose bittersweet qualities remind me of Lisa, or at least the Lisa I would have liked to know.” —Adrian Knight
1976 Hubcap by Josh Quillen is a "setting" of Ian MacTilstra's semantically compelling conceptual text work: Ekneb. The piece uses the text to allude to the phenomenon of rhythmic speech in a new and lively way. Words are spoken with a natural rhythm and paired with 11 found sounds. Ekneb incorporates what we perceived as some of the uglier words in the English language, such as "bambi friends anniversary jumbo 500 apple ipod shuffles". In choosing the found sounds, we wanted to match the American vernacular of the words with some distinctly American sounds, including a whoopie cushion, a reception bell, and a Christmas nutcracker.
The interesting juxtaposition Josh creates is that of Russ Farnsworth's Revolutionary Way to Learn Radio Code against MacTilstra's text: the codified Morse pulses create a rhythmic text of their own. Pairing the strict rhythms and arduousness of teaching Morse code with MacTilstra's compilation of spam text raises new questions about language and music's interactions with the necessities of communication.
In celebration of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe’s twentieth anniversary, Heinz Holliger composed and conducted COncErto...? Certo! cOn soli pEr tutti (…perduti?...)!, a collection of forty short pieces for various members of the COE. COncErto…? is comprised of sixteen short works for ensemble, one quintet, four trios, six duos, and seventeen short solos for a smattering of orchestral instruments. Nestled within the last category is My apprentice-ship in two kettles, a microtonal, extended technique solo for the two highest timpani.
Dedicated to COE timpanist Geoffrey Prentice, Holliger’s timpani writing bears a striking resemblance to Elliot Carter’s, often using the same type of notation to indicate type of stroke, designated drum, and rhythmic structure. Within the context of COncErto, the piece is often lost in the background – while the structure of COncErto is flexible, the solos often are positioned to overlap with the smaller chamber pieces. The piece alternates between violence punctuations and muted, gradated shifts in timbre and color, reflecting Holliger’s aversion to traditional sounds: “that is the only way I can be true to myself and it reflects my uncertain attitude to life itself.”
Aphasia is a piece for performer and tape, originally intended for non-singing singer. Utilizing transformed voice samples of bass-baritone Nicholas Isherwood, composer Mark Applebaum has created a rhythmicized, alien sign language of 122 unique gestures, ranging from “cut steak” to “straighten tie” to “call me”. Rather than evoke any of these particular gestures, Applebaum has stated that he wanted to call attention to how absurd mundane actions are when examined out of context. While the medical condition of aphasia impairs language processing, it does not affect intelligence. The blank face and robotic motions of the performer, coupled with seemingly impossible sound-producing gestures contribute to the “expressive paralysis” Applebaum intended to convey.
these are their hands is an exploration of singer as a drum. When I first approached Nic Melton about commissioning a piece, they immediately came to me with the idea of striking a singer’s back while playing drums. I can’t thank Dorothy Gal enough for her willingness to explore this piece with me.
Ben Wahlund’s The Whimsical Nature of Small Particle Physics features an electronic track consisting of sounds from Fermilab, home of an atomic particle accelerator. Each section of the piece reflects a different kind of “quark”, or subatomic particle, created when the accelerator slams atoms into each other - top, bottom, up, down, strange, and charm.
How to Make a Universe at Home (Suggested Recipe No. 42) by Shasha Chen is a wonderful collaboration that came out of the 2017 Montreal Creative Music Lab. Composed for Michael Mansourati (tuba) and myself, this mad-science sonic exploration of liquid and metal was a blast to perform.