Category Archives: Music Studies

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Jennifer Walshe

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Interview with Jennifer Walshe:

Objects and their sonic properties are central to Jennifer Walshe’s music. The terms of reference for her work are wide and draw in the world around her: everything has potential as material, whether it is found text from food packaging, old answer machine messages, skateboarding, or the texture of ribbons. There is a voracity to her collection of sounds and exploration of ways to elicit them from performers, exemplified by pieces such as Hostess-in-a-Jiffy® Brings You Cooking With Stone: 4 Five-Minute Dishes (2004) which presents instructions for sonic cooking, or elephant (2004) with its unique scoring of ‘harp, gun’. The manner in which sounds are made is perhaps every bit as important as their audible result. Instructions in her scores typically indicate the necessary attitude required to make sounds as a primary focus, or differing forms of documentation are used to enable performers to triangulate her intentions when working with objects. This consideration of the physical situation of performing is a constant in her work, drawing on her own experience as an improviser and a concern with what it feels like to make sounds. Often this involves recontextualizing her material, stripping away some of its inherent meaning so that it can be used as a building block to construct new identities, finding a natural extension in her recent installation, stage, and intermedia work. All of this was present in the first piece of hers that I heard at the Darmstadt Ferienkurse in 2000, her astonishing duo for violin and voice as mo chéann (2000), which she also performed. This piece helped me begin to expand the palette of my own work and its impact on an unsuspecting audience was startling, as was her follow-up lecture there two years later, which mostly used kick-boxing as a presentation medium.

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The interview was conducted by email between 10 May – 5 December 2004, and edited in September 2008.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

This week, James Saunders has published his interview with Antoine Beuger.

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Interview with Antoine Beuger

Antoine Beuger’s suggestion that the subject of music is the pervasive noise of the world and that its form is cut out from this infinite diversity is perhaps surprising for a sounding result that is permanently on the verge of disappearing. The extreme dilution of sound in his work emphasises both its savoured value and the importance of space as its receptacle. Calm inaction is the norm, with sound and momentary action the exception. Listening to performances of his music, it is easy to forget what is being experienced: when sounds reappear after a long period of silence, they have an impact which is born only of necessity. Sounds also rarely appear together intentionally, almost always in isolation to further reinforce their identity: this is music of the utmost clarity. Yet within each sound Beuger suggests there are infinite possibilities, so that everything can be contained in the brief moments of activity which characterize his work. Structurally, his music from the 1990s is either rigorously ordered with a grid at its heart or very open, with the minimum necessary instructions as to how to project sounds. These approaches are linked: freedom out of precision, and precision out of freedom. More recently he has begun exploring the ontology of ensemble size in a series of pieces for specified numbers of players, such as dedekind duos (2003) in which two performers play specified pitches as long quiet tones, separated by enough time to breathe, or much longer, carefully listening to each other. From these pieces fundamental questions concerning the nature of separation and togetherness emerge, as does the serendipity of coincidence, focusing on how people interact with each other and project sound in performance. I was introduced to Beuger’s work by Manfred Werder, and we finally met up in Witten in April 2002 in a hotel breakfast room surrounded by most of the German contemporary music establishment, in town for the Neue Musiktage. Antoine showed me some scores, producing them from a beautiful well-used leather briefcase, and we had an interesting morning discussing each other’s work. I have been fascinated by his music ever since: for me it is a benchmark to which other music must be compared. The interplay of action and inaction, of sound and silence in carefully weighted and understated amounts continually makes me evaluate my own practice, and the ideas behind his work cut to the heart of the nature of music and making art.

The interview was conducted by email between 1 December 2003 – 12 March 2004.

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Read the full interview here.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

Continuing with this series, James Saunders has published his interviews with Laurence Crane and Philip Jeck:

Laurence Crane

When I first encountered Laurence’s music, my interest was in extreme miniaturisation, and his exquisitely constructed, poised compositions made a deep impact on me, both through their own beauty and the way it made me readdress the assumptions I had grown to have about the way music could (should?) be. It has been interesting to see the way in which his music has changed since then: principally the soundworld has expanded in some pieces, often looking away from pitch to define material. The focus and reduction is still apparent though, with a carefully selected palette of sounds distilled from the objects used to make them. Laurence’s material is resolutely abstract, and despite the superficial references to a classical tradition, his harmony has little sense of teleology. Tonal constructions are hinted at, but mutated through a studied use of unbalanced and extended repetitions. His approach to titling is important too: descriptions of the ensemble, as with Feldman, form a large proportion of his catalogue, as do names (which make passing references to the music’s original performers). The Skempton connection can also be heard through his general preference for miniatures and movements. Although more recent work has explored longer spans, much of Crane’s music deals with economy.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 14 June 2007. Read the interview in full.

Philip Jeck

While improvisation forms a component of Philip Jeck’s music, he considers it as much arranging given his use of records as material. His work in performance, recording, and installation is linked by the equipment he uses, but is in other ways very different. In his performances, making decisions about the deployment of material can be altered by the inconsistent response of his aging record players and well-played records, necessitating the readjustment of ideas when something unexpected occurs. The installation work uses domestic time switches to control grouped banks of players set with a prepared tone arm tied to create loops, or the use of locked grooves. Over time, these too degrade and produce slippage: the time switches drift chaotically out of phase, and the arm and groove preparations become worn. Here the equipment defines the detail of the resultant music, taking its own course within Jeck’s prescribed boundaries. Both these approaches contrast with his recorded work, surprisingly created by mostly cutting and pasting minidisc recordings of live performances. The opportunity to audit the results of this process allows for more precision, although he notes the importance of surprise here as well, with a dislocation between his memory of a performance and its newfound context as sample informing his decisions. It is perhaps no surprise that collage is a common theme through all this work, given his material is derived from locked physical objects in which sound resides. It is testament to his skill at manipulating them though that subverts the music’s construction in the sounding result.

The interview was conducted by telephone on 13 June 2007. Read the interview in full.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicAll the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicPosted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders is publishing a series of interviews from The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music via his website. The 14 interviews that feature in the companion will be posted gradually over the coming weeks, starting with Christian Wolff:

Introduction provided by James Saunders:

Christian Wolff’s work addresses the way musicians interact with each other, and with material. In much of his work the contingency of the relationships he prescribes between people leads to a vibrant provisionality in the resultant music. In pieces like Looking North from the Prose Collection (1968-71), or the fourth part of Burdocks (1970-1) performers are, in differing ways, asked to attempt to synchronize their actions with those of others. The performance energy set up by these simple constraints can only be achieved by players listening and responding to each other in this manner: any attempt to capture this activity through more conventional forms of notation would be pointless. It is no surprise that Wolff has worked for a long time as an improviser: the spontaneity in his notated work draws on this experience whilst at the same time formalizing it. Performers are sometimes asked to make decisions during performance. Whilst these are not necessarily improvisatory actions, there is a freedom of movement granted through his use optionality: time brackets, multiple transpositions of the same material, or the gravitational pull of heterophony. The result is a social music, in which participation is a rich and rewarding experience. In his recent work, it has been interesting to see how he has revisited the varied strategies employed over the course of his career, whether contingent or more determinate. There is a compendium-like summary of ideas in these pieces, whereby disparate fragments are presented together to form longer spans, such as with the hour-long Long Piano (Peace March 11) (2004-5) or the piece for three orchestras Ordinary Matter (2001). This admission of personal history is unusual amongst composers, for whom the pressure to move forwards is constant, and it is indicative of the inclusive approach to his work.

Find the full interview here.

About the Editor: James Saunders is a composer, with an interest in modularity and series. He performs in the duo Parkinson Saunders, and with Apartment House. He is Head of the Centre for Musical Research at Bath Spa University, currently working on the composition and performance practice of text notation, and directs the ensemble Material.

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Moshe Morad talks about Music and Gay Identity in Special Period Cuba

Posted by Laura Macy, Senior Commissioning Editor

Fiesta de diez pesosMoshe Morad first visited Cuba in 1994. There he discovered a rich and thriving underground gay music scene. Multiple research trips over the next 12 years resulted in Fiesta de diez pesos: Music and Gay Identity in Special Period Cuba, published in the SOAS Musicology series in December 2014.

In an announcement about the book on the SOAS website, Series Editor Professor Keith Howard said: ‘We’re delighted to announce Moshe’s fantastic work as the 53rd title in our Series. It’s a very strong piece and its inclusion demonstrates how the Series is going from strength to strength, showcasing cutting-edge research, including titles from many of the School’s music academics and alumni.’

Watch Dr Morad discuss his book on the Israeli news channel i24 News

About the Author: Moshe Morad is an ethnomusicologist, journalist and radio broadcaster, who has also presented ‘on location’ world music programmes on BBC Radio. His vast experience in the music industry includes managing the ‘Hemisphere’ world music label at EMI. He completed his PhD at SOAS, London, in 2013, following longitudinal fieldwork in Cuba.

In Praise of a Virtuous Woman – Louise Talma

This is a guest post from Kendra Leonard, author of Louise Talma: A Life in Composition

Louise TalmaAmerican composer Louise Talma (c.1906–1996), herself a strong-willed and independent woman, often celebrated those qualities in others, dedicating many of her pieces to the women who had made a difference in her life and in the lives of other artists. Recipients of such dedications included music pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, MacDowell Colony co-founder Marian MacDowell, and singer Geraldine Marwick. One of Talma’s last works was a setting for female voices and piano of Proverbs 31:10–30, “In Praise of a Virtuous Woman,” which was composed in the autumn of 1990 at the MacDowell Colony. While the piece is dedicated to Virginia Davidson and  the Treble Singers, it celebrates all women.

“Who can find a virtuous woman?” asks the text. “Her price is above rubies.” Beginning with simple melodic lines  in the two vocal parts—a soprano and alto—and a spare and elegant counterpoint in the piano, Talma’s music becomes increasingly more complex and densely textured as the four-minute piece progresses. The two voices sometimes declaim together, in unison, and sometimes engage in dialogue, mirroring one another’s lines, or offering supporting harmonies to each other. As the soprano sings of the word women do—“She layeth her hands to the spindle…she layeth her hands to the needy…she worketh willingly with her hands,”—the alto recites the names of hard-working and strong women from the Bible: Martha, Ann, Mary, and Elizabeth.

At the end of the piece, Talma sets the text “she shall rejoice in time to come” at the very top of the soprano’s singing range, an exultation bolstered by the altos, who for the first time split from singing together as a single voice as if to show that two melodic lines aren’t enough for all of the praise a virtuous woman is due, and sing in parallel fourths, creating the sound of an organ. As the singers call for the praise of the virtuous woman, Talma gives the piano a fast and chromatic passage that suggests that while women should and will be praised, their work and lives are more difficult and complicated than the words would have the listener believe. Talma’s setting of “In Praise of a Virtuous Woman” is itself a challenging work, apt praise for the women of Talma’s life who met and exceeded the boundaries and roadblocks presented to them because of their sex.

Kendra Preston LeonardAbout the Author: Kendra Preston Leonard is a musicologist whose work focuses on women and music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; music and screen history; and music and disability. She is the author of The Conservatoire Américain: a History and received the inaugural Judith Tick Fellowship from the Society for American Music for her work on Louise Talma