8 years ago

Volume 9 Issue 4 - December 2003

  • Text
  • Toronto
  • December
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NEW Music Qu1CKP1CKs

NEW Music Qu1CKP1CKs continued from page 25 NN Dec 07 8:00: Ramona Carmelly NN Dec 07 8:00: RCM. ARC Festival· Music Reborn NN Dec 11 2:00: Northern District Library. Ricochet Trio CoMPOSER m CoMPOSER INTERVIEW WITH JULIET PALMER NN Dec 12 8:00:· Anno Domini Chamber Singers. GLORIA NNN Dec 14 7:00: Les AMIS Concerts. NOVEMBER 2003 · · NNN Dec 19 7:00: The New Music by Paul Steenhuisen Piano Recital. Born in New l:ealand, Juliet Kiri NN Dec ·20 7:30: Amadeus Choir. Rejoice! Pal.mer studied at Auckland Univer- NNN Dec 21 4:30: St. Anne's Church. siJy, mut then Princeton, before set- Nine lessons & Carols tJing in Toronto in the mid-1990's. NN Jan 08 12:10: U of T Faculty of Music. Since then, ~she has . be musicallv Rapoport, Peter Stoll, Salwyn " NNN Jan 11 7:00: New Music Concerts. ·active in Canada, the US, Europe, Cuarteto latinoamericano. will Oceania, with perfonnances NN Jan 12 7:30: Associates of the TSO. from many excellent groups, in- Tonal 20th century eluding Continuum, Bang on a NN Jan 14 8:00: Aldeburgh Connection. Can All-Stars, the Orchestre Met- Recital Series: Colin Ainsworth ropolitai.n de Montreal, California · NN Jan 15 8:00: 0Music Toronto. EAR Unit, and Piano Circus. Jn St. Lawrence String Guartet. between trips to various perfor- NI Jan 16 7:30: York U. Dept. of Music. mances, we made time to discuss lmprov Soiree her work "on the. rec.orrl". NNN Jan 20 12:30: York U. Dept. of Music. Musica Electronica. STEENHUISEN: In your disser- NNN Jan 20 7:30: U of T Faculty of Music. tation, you write that it's "a defense New Music Festival Concert 1. and celebration of the playful in mu- NN Jan 20 8:00: Music Toronto. sic "and art". You.mention a num- Ouo Turgeon ber of visual artists (Jeff Koons and NNN Jan 2112:30: York U. Dept. of Marcel Duchamp, for example), but Music. The Music of Peter laparinuk. I'd like you to talk about examples of NNN Jan 21 8:00: U of T Faculty of Music. the playful in music. New Music Festival Concert 2. - NI Jan 22 12:30: York u. Dept. of Music. PALMER: At the time I wrote lmprov Ensembles. that, I was very excited about NNN Jan 22 8:00:. Music Gallery. /an Birse/ C.P.E. Bach's music. Its over-thelaura Kavanaugh/Matt Rogalsky. top rate of change borders on the NNN Jan 23 8:00: U of T Faculty of Music. comic. I wanted to look at his music New Music Festival Concert 3. more closely and understand how it NNN Jan 23 11 :OOpm: U ofT Faculty of works. I. was also drawn to Franco Music.NewMusicFestiva/Concert4. Donatoni's music because his out- NNN Jan 24 8:00: U of T Faculty of Music. ward stance was so playful, though I New M,usic Festival Concert 5. NNN Jan 27 12:30: York u. Dept. of suspected it was a kind of deep silli- Music. Composer's Forum. ness. I wondered how his music NNN Jan 29 12:30: York u. Dept. of might manifest that attitude. His Music. Composer's Forum. piece Refrain hints at jazz, but it isn't NNN Jan 29 8:00: Arraymusic. Scratch! 2. (Jan29·31}. jazz: it teases you into listening in a way where you're going to be frus- NNN Jan 29 8:00: Music Toronto. trated, or disappointed, or surprised. Barbara Hannigan That approach intrigues me because NNN Jan 30 8:00: Arraymusic. Scratch! 2. I'm interested in music that isn't .NNN Jan 31 8:00: Arraymusic. Scratch! 2. what it seems to be. For me there's NNN Jan 31 8:00: Esprit Orchestra. no appeal in writing a piece that's a Les idlfes fixes. · NNN Feb 01 8:00: New Music Concerts. conviilcing example of a particular The Music of Mauricio Kagel style. I'd rather write a piece that NN Feb 05 12:10: u ofT Faculty of Music. seems like it's one thing and then it's Toronto Wind Guintet. · not. It fools you. Then your whole NN Feb 06 12:10: U ofT Faculty of Music. understanding of the genre or style is Visiting Artist: Martin /sepp .altered. It's that alternation between NI Feb 06 7:30: York U. Dept. of Music. different states and different ways of lmprov Soiree thinking that attracts me. NNN Feb 06 8:00: Soundstreams Canada. STEE~EN: It's expectation? Beauty on the Edge NN Feb 07 8:00: U of T Faculty of Music. PALMER: Frustrating expectation. Wind Ensemble and Concert Band. I -started thinking about it as an oscillation between different states. In FURTHER AFIELD that oscillation energy is released. · NNN Jan 06 8:00: Continuum Think about a kid's game like Peekaboo. What's so funny about that? I Contemporary Music. Souvenir. NN Jan 24 3:00: Arcady. A Beckett mean it's just...someone's there, and Miscellany. then they're not. And yet it's hilarious. So, an alternation between two extremely different states can bring humour but humour i's extraordinarily perplexing to comprehend or plan. STEENHUISEN: What's an examp~e of humour in contemporary music? PALMER: I find a lot of my own music funny. Sn;ENHUISEN: Humour is pretty subjective though. PALMER: It is, and highly.contextual. A lot of it has to do with timing, but obviously humour relies on a language that people share. If you're using a gesture, which to that. particular audience has become hackneyed or a signifier of a certain situation or language or style, then the ..yay you use it can have a humorous effect. But if your audience isn't party to that, then it's lost. How is Beethoven funny? Or the Haydn symphonies? It's hilarious how they end; there's a convention of the cadence, but he repeats it to the nth degree so that it becomes ridiculous. .,. STEENHUISEN: I've never . thought of Beethoven as funny. 'PALMER: (laughing) STE~NHUISEN: What woukl you consider to be unplayful in music? PALMER: Music that takes itself so seriously. Rather, the composer takes !11emself so seriously that they lose sight of the connections between their own art form and the outside world, or other art forms. STEENHUISEN: How did this become an issue for you? Did you feel there was an absence of playfulness in contemporary' music? PALMER: Yeah, that's why I was talking ~bout a defense of playfulness, beCause I felt there "'.as this pre~sure to be serious, to somehow embody a particular set of ideals that made your work Authentic Contemporary Music. That was very interesting to me. STEENHUISEN: Were you reacting to your own choice to go io Princeion, one of the serious places? PALMER: It is and it isn't. Steve Mackey, who I studied with, has an incredible amount of humour in his pieces. Ideas that are just off the deep end. , He has an orchestra piece where at one point there's just this recording, quite a hokey recording, from a boombox, of his dog bark­ !11g, which is so well integrated that it goes beyond any gimmick. I guess that's what I'm talking about by plllyfulness - not necessarily humour, but allowing your imagination to take flight beyond convention. STEENHUISEN:- What's the line between that and entertainment? PALMER: There's still an element of seriousness involved in the en- WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM deav?ur .. What we're playing with is our ideas. Before coming to Canada I had heard that Cirque du Soleil was incredibly postmodern, so when I saw them I was really disappointed: it's just entertainment. There's no rigour to what they're doing. STEENHUISEN: How are these ideas your own work? PALMER: Many of my music theatre works are obviously playful. For instance, back in 1999, I went to the composition atelier Voit Nouvel/es in France. ·Les Percussions de Strasbourg were there that year, and ~mehow. or other, I ended up hav­ ~g to :wite a music theatre piece. I unmediately thought of Mauricio Ka" gel's music theatre works, but from · everything I'd seen, I really disliked them. I didn't find them at all fiinny, though I felt they were meant to be funny. So I took upon myself the challenge of exploring that language - all the more tricky as the piece was entirely in French. It was a way too of reappraising Kagel. the audience seemed to find the piece funny, although the material tljey were confronted with was quite bleak. Of course humour can be a way to approach material you otherwise couldn't face head on. In this case it was the futurist writings of Marinetti glorifying speed and viotlence. One stand-Out line says people should 'follqw a constant hygiene of heroism and every century take a glorious shower of blood', a highmacho position I wanted to subvert. _ STEENIIlJISEN: What's the piece? PALMER: It's called Bloodshower. I ended up with a weird, almost sadomasochistic relationship between the two perforiners. They work with Marinetti's text, a drumset and some very everyday objects: a ton of beer bottle caps, a lot of water buckets ' chairs, jars ... In the final ~ne ' they're just sweeping the floor, cleaning up, singing a bizarre love song: "and yet it feels so sweet to . cause you pain" . It's a painful text but it's presented in a humorous ' way, so that it sneaks in, and you can digest it later. STEENHUISEN: Kind of like how some games are really borderline funny, but also disconcerting? PALMER: Disconcerting is a very good word to use. Someone once said that my music almost grooves, but never lets you feel like you've quite got a grip on it. Either I'm a lousy groover or, more to the point, I'm interested on riffing on the idea of grcJ

piece. ·1 think if something .is too expected, there's no room for anyone to enter into a dialogue. You need to have some kind of discrepancy or flaw that Jets peopl~ into the music. STEENHUISEN: Do you think things like timing and expectation change with _the decades? PALMER: Acting and singing styles definitely change. And certainly, timing is key to a lot of those changes . . So, yes, it's certainly possible. If you're wondering whether those changes might affect how a piece is received in the future, I'd say I'm not so worried about posterity. 1bat's more a 'composer-hero' thing. But I think performers are adept at making sense. of music from ·the past, at adjusting the music's · pace to our own. In 1990 I worked with a ,Chinese poet called Gu Cheng. His poetry was simple and jarring, very present-tense - a bit like graffiti. I wrote a couple of pieces with him including Se/ffor three percussionists. It's a very physical piece, where the performers' movements embody the text. At one point they run as fast as possible around the entire percussion battery playing and speaking. Their panting afterwa.rds is as much a part of the piece as the sounds of the gongs. STEENHUISEN: When you 're talking about the pieces it's as though the elasticity of thinking and . that quality you 're looking for really is concentrated more on theatre than it is on how you deal with materials. PALMER: No, not necessarily. I · think it manifests itself that way in a music theatre piece, but in a concert piece like Mother Hubbard it was the compositional process itself that was playful. I wanted to see what would happen when I cut together instrumental transcriptions of found sounds with the original si:>urce materiiil from the internet. If I cut them into small enough pieces and mixed them,. would they start to form a new substance? In a way l\m playing a game with these materials, and the listener and myself get to judge what the result of that game is. Does that seem like a game to you? . STEENHUISEN: It has that quality. PALMER: It was an experiment: how much would I edit that process before it was presented? Mother Hubbard is one of the more raw examples that I have unleashed to an audience. The piece is different every time because the ensemble is not chained to the CD part. Tiiey're just playing along ·separately - when they collide, they collide. If something beautiful happens that's serendipity. · IfI did that piece again, I'd like to deal with individual sound files and silences, with some trigger- DECEMBER 1 2003 - F EB RU ARY 7 2004 ing from the ensemble or conductor. Still playfulness and unpredictability, but more causalitY. ' STEENHUISEN: One consistent factor in your pieces is that they constantly wok outside of themselves. PALMER: Absolutely. For me to sit down and play a chord on the piano, starting at the beginning, and to go from there plucking pitches from some beautiful pure soundworld hovering around me ...I don't work like that. There will be something that strikes me in my everyday life. Take the soulld in Mother Hubbard. The computer part all comes from one little audio clip of the Quebec Summit protesters that I found on · CNN's website. The other sound is a burst of digital distortion which my computer added somewhere along the line. What pulled my ear to that particular clip was the incredible . emotional depth in such a flattened sound. The sound quality is really wretched, but there's this amazing sense of so many people gathered together to fight this huge machine of corporate globali7.ation. Just the sounds of their voices and their drumming w.ere incredibly moving. More recently I wrote a piece for J'Orchestre Metropolitain du Grand Montreal, and was sandwiched between Stravinsky's Firebird and , Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. I ended · up writing a piece called Buzzard, a hideous-looking bird that doesn't even sing. The music is completely scavenged from those two pieces. STEENHUlSEN: So, in woking outside 'of the pieces, you 're wanting to tap into signification? PALMER: Yes, I'm not in~rested · in a pure music. I'm very engaged in the world around me. I don't know if it's a political music. "1bat's a very slippery term. I'm not sure whether political music even exists. But, I certainly can't separate my p6- litical concerns from the way I would approach music or what would motivate me to write a piece. You don't want to beat people about the head, but I also don't want to put iny time and energy into something that is simply entertaining o.r decorative. STEENHUISEN: Each of the pieces you've mentioned also deals with juxtaposition? PALMER: 1bat's true. 1bat's an essential condition of how we live. . Particularly now. We're not living in a holistic, agrarian culture where I grow a tt:ee, make it into the beautiful chair, sit on it and eat a bowl of barley that I grew in my garden. We live in an age of juxtapositions where geographic and temporal realities are constantly colliding. Those kinds of juxtapositions permeate my music .. . to me, it seems inevitable. STEENHUISEN: Can y(JU talk a bit more about that, specifically in relati,on to Secret Arnold? PALMER: When . · asked to write the piece in 1999, I said, '·'what am I listening to?" And I was listening to Portishead and a fairly obscure dub album by Clive 'Randy' Chin. I wa~ also reading Bernstein's The Unanswered Question. He writes about the last movement of Schoenberg's second string quartet where the soprano suddenly · comes in .out of the blue, singing "I feel air from other planets" and the language moves us into the new realm of the twelve tone. So, in that piece, I wanted to create a space where these three very different musics could cohabit. What was fun about it, was that once I started to break them down, there were so many areas of overlap. It was kind of spooky. The Portishead and the dub clip, shared this wonderful harmonic space, and then the Schoenberg formed ii counterpoint. .. it was surprising how they opened up to each other, like characters finding things in common and making music together. STEENHUISEN: Do you try and achieve a Unity oetween them or separately amongst them? PALMER: At times they're playing with each other, so to speak. And other times, one strong identity interrupts. So, there is that juxtaposition of very different musical materials. 1bat being said, some of·the ·most extremejuxtapositions are of materials derived from the same composer. I'm not keeping one person's identity So intact that they' re the same throughout the piece. It's more what happens if you speed the Portishead up and slow down the Schoenberg .. Do they start to ooze into each other? I think of that process as a way of re-listening and re-hearing music that's already familiar to you. STEENHmSEN: Are you seeking out corinections between them despite their disconnection ? PALMER: Yeah, but I don't want to bomogenize them into each other. It's more an experiment of what happens when· they share space. STEENHUISEN: How do you want it to be pe_rceived? PALMER: In that pi~e . I felt there were elements of humour in the interpolations of the comrasting materials. But also there are moments that turned out to be very.beautiful, where you heard something that in WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE. COM dub is raw and funky, but when orchestrated becomes luscious ·and Mahlerian. 1bat's fascinating to me - a character showing another side of themselves that you hadn't realized was there. STEENHUISEN: That's a recontextualization thing ? PALMER: Perhaps. I hope that people who think these divergent musics have nothing in common would maybe think again, would open their ears in a new way. STEENHUISEN: What would Schoenberg have .{o say about that? PALMER: I'm sure he'd be fine with it. I followed dodecaphonic procedures throughout (laughing). STEENHUISEN: How have these ideas come together in your recent .. ' work? PALMER: I just had a piece mindmeat premiered in New York, which was for piano and percussion. The texts were by Dennis Lee, from his new book UN. The players had ' wanted something theatrical, but in fact, ihe theatricalities ended up being pretty subtle. They don't really move, other than to play their instruments and to,sing and speak the text. STEENHUISEN: What is the subject matter i>f the texts? PALMER: It's a cycle. of 54 very short poems. The language itself is breaking down and reconstitliting itself into words that don't exist, but which make absolute sense. It's about the destruction of our world. There's a cyber-apocalyptic-bebop feeling to the whole book: the poems are utterly dark yet beau~ifully musical. In some movements the words aren't heard explicitly, but in others the players sing or speak them. The performers (Danny Tunick and Kathy Supove) were blown away by Dennis' poetry. It's very bleak, but the energy of the poems sustains you ' through that bleakness. · I'm also writing a piece for Continuum for February. Each of the players is keeping a dream diary. It's . kind of an alanning prospect, but I thought I'd like to hear the music of 'their dreams. • 27

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