21 November 2010

Private Passion Now Public: Rachel Brown and the Tip of Quantz’s Previously Unpublished ‘Iceberg’

W hat a remarkable performance Rachel Brown (baroque flute) and Terence Charlston (harpsichord) gave last Friday, in the Parry Rooms at the Royal College of Music in London!

  • Sonata in G major, No. 272 - Presto mà fiero
  • Sonata in B major, No. 267 - Larghetto
  • Sonata in A major, No. 274 - Grazioso mà vivace
  • Sonata in D major, No. 277 - Allegro assai
  • Sonata in G minor, No. 366 - Affettuoso, mà mesto; Allegro di molto, mà fiero
  • Sonata in B-flat major, No. 272 - Allegro di molto; Affettuoso; Vivace
  • Sonata in C minor, No. 276 - Cantabile
  • Sonata in F major, No. 356 - Larghetto, mà arioso; Allegro di molto
  • Sonata in G minor, No. 265 - Con affetto, mà non troppo lento
T he occasion for the performance was the launch of the publication of the first two volumes of Quantz flute sonatas that Rachel has edited. Brown’s edition of Quantz Sonatas, bringing these works to the public for the first time, is available by subscription, either to one volume or both, by emailing her at info@uppernote.com.

T his is a marketing approach similar to that used in the 18th Century. For example, Brown notes that Telemann’s Paris Quartets listed among its subscribers not only several members of the French aristocracy, such renowned players as Blavet, Guignon, Edouard, and composers, notably de Caix d'Hervelois, Charpentier, Mondonville, Fasch, Pisendel but also a ‘J.S. Bach of Leipzig’.

V olume 1 contains 6 sonatas (F major No. 272; G major No. 273; A major No. 274; B-flat major No. 275; C minor No. 276; D major No. 277) as does Vol. 2 (B minor No. 231; B minor No. 267; G minor No. 336; E-flat major No. 348; A major No. 351; F major No. 356). These are selected by Brown from the more than 300 flute sonatas that Quantz composed, almost none of which have been previously published.

Q   uantz’s book ‘On Playing the Flute’ is still one of the most-consulted books on flute technic, which makes it especially odd that virtually none of Quantz’s many compositions were actually published. Almost everything that was written by Quantz for King Frederick of Prussia remained in the court’s private possession, and then in the Stadtsbibliothek in Berlin, for more than 200 years. So I went to the library in Berlin to have a look. I would arrive in the morning when they opened at 9 a.m. and take a quarter-hour lunch and leave when they closed at 7 p.m. The librarians were wonderful; they broke almost every rule to help me—they were so delighted that someone was taking an interest in these things. It turns out that there are more than 300 Quantz concerti and about 400 sonatas, hardly any of which have been published.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
T he design of these Volumes is unique in several ways. Firstly, for the sonatas that have a ‘bass’ (cello) part as well as flute and harpsichord, the flute and bass parts appear on linked staff-systems together—so that both players can continuously see what the other is doing, with the obvious advantages that this entails for fluid, mutually-responsive performance.

I   t is crucial, I think, to have the flute and the cello (bass) parts together on the page—to have the cello able to see where the dialogue with the flute is going and, from that, to be better able to choose appropriate phrasing and ornamentation.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
 Quantz book
T   onguing, for Quantz, was not just simple ‘tuh’ or ‘duh’. Instead, tonguing involved a whole range of syllables and shades—tiree, tä, diddle-diddle—all sorts of articulations that could alter the sound and reveal different qualities of expression. The expressive range he covered is really quite marvelous—something that takes years to fathom, really.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
R achel expressed deep thanks to Terence Charlston for his skill and devotion in preparing right-hand parts where Quantz only provided left-hand continuo. In all, Terry had to compose about 120 minutes of right-hand harpsichord score, for the multiple movements of the 12 sonatas in these two volumes.

R achel also expressed gratitude to Jackie Lee, whose Finale©/Sibelius© copyist/pre-press expertise produced the publication-ready digital files. Rachel’s specification and Jackie’s layout involve fold-out pages so as to prevent any awkward page-turns for the performers. This is a second unique/novel aspect of the design of the 2-Volume publication.

T he acoustics in the intimate, modest-size Parry Rooms on the 4th floor at RCM were ideal for the baroque flute-harpsichord duo. Filled to capacity with more than 120 people eager to hear these works, the rooms with their irregular wall and ceiling contours and the warm yellow-pine ceiling and paneling served to reflect the sound in such a way that most everyone had a good vantage point for hearing the performance. (We were grateful for Rachel's consideration in getting everybody who was in Parry 1 moved into Parry 2 just before the performance began!)

 Ceiling of Parry Room at RCM
B rown explained at length the merits of various alternate fingerings that the Quantz design affords. Her blazing 32nd notes in the bravura first movements of the pieces, though, are pretty incredible, regardless how well-engineered and forgiving a particular instrument may be. It is hard for most of us to imagine executing these fast passages on a modern Boehm design instrument with anything approaching the fluency and consistency of tone that Brown achieves on an early flute! What prodigious ability she has!

W e were similarly thrilled by Charlston’s finely-nuanced harpsichord performance. The gracefulness of his accomodation of accelerando and ritardando decisions initiated by Brown was magnificent; the ornaments Charlston applied embodied a fresh spontaneity that responded attentively to Brown’s gestures but never ‘competed’ with them. Really exciting ‘collaborative keyboard’ at its best!

O   ne of Quantz’s strengths was rhetorical ‘delivery’... all of the gestures with tonguing and breathing... He believed that every musician should play like an accomplished orator speaks: clarity and conviction should ring out from every declaration that you make as a musician. Above all else, you must be an orator.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
A n especially endearing and comment-worthy aspect of the evening were Rachel’s remarks between the pieces that she and Terry played. She covered an amazing gamut of topics, ranging from instrument design, to ornamentation and historically-informed performance practice, to flute-playing technic, to composition methods, to Prussian history, to anecdotes on parent-child relationships and the plight of kids whose natures are ‘different’ than their parents would prefer. Seldom have we had so much fun as we did on Friday night. Immediately bought all of Rachel’s Quantz CDs on-offer, to take them home and get better acquainted with this previously-private-now-public Quantz passion. Judging by the qualities she displayed during the Friday night performance at RCM, Rachel must be one hell of a teacher! Bravo!

E   very day, Quantz was defending and protecting his reputation... It is interesting to read other people’s accounts of him... In his own writings, filled with quotidian bits and pieces, he will often tell you, for example, how much he paid for a thing, as though it were important to him to demonstrate or prove his shrewdness. He was orphaned at a young age and was taken under the wing of a local musician... In his teens, Quantz concentrated on oboe and violin; only later did he come to concentrate on flute. It is underappreciated how much of a musical jack-of-all-trades he was—how resilient.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
H   e gave flute lessons, secretly, to Prince Frederick—before Frederick’s father, the King, died. The father’s disapproval of music, and especially of flute, was absolute; he considered it far too effeminate, inadequate as a representation of Prussian militarism, and incompatible with the important priorities that Frederick must have in his training to become King one day. There was one episode during one of Quantz’s lessons when one of Frederick’s servants reported that the father was approaching the part of the palace where the secret flute lessons room was located. Quantz and the flutes and the music and the music stands were shoved into an armoire. The father arrived and found Frederick alone, studying some book of military strategy, but, because Frederick’s hair was still done-up in the French style, he knew something was ‘up’. The father searched the area for more than an hour, but never found Quantz in the armoire. Quantz, though, subsequently referred to the incident as ‘being cooked’—because the armoire was so cramped and hot while he was confined in there.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
A   t one point, Frederick tried to escape, with the help of a servant. The two did not get far. The father arrested them and subsequently had them tried for high treason. Frederick was imprisoned for a year, and his father forced the young Frederick to witness the execution of the servant.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
Q   uantz did marry, you know. It was under, shall we say, ‘intriguing’ circumstances. He went to visit the widow of one of his friends who had recently died. The woman was ill; bedridden; in fact, the priest had been called to administer the last rites to her. And, with the priest there, the woman was asked if there was anything she most desired before she departed this life. And she replied that her dying wish was to be married to the great Quantz. So Quantz agreed and the priest conducted the ceremony on the spot. After which the woman sprang from her bed, said she felt very much better now, and thanked everyone for coming. This was when Quantz’s annual income was more than 2,000 talers, more than 10 times that of C.P.E. Bach...”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
T   his particular flute is a boxwood one that I was able to buy from Carl Hanson in Yorkshire before he retired. It is a 2-key design after Quantz—the two keys are E-flat, which is a few cents higher in pitch, and D-sharp, which is a few cents lower in pitch [than would be the case in equal-temperament]. The difference is very useful, depending on which key a piece is written in. Rudolf Tutz in Innsbruck also made me two flutes of Quantz-type design, one of ebony and one of boxwood—these woods have substantially different tone qualities, both very good. The bore of Quantz flutes is considerably larger, especially in the headjoint, compared to other baroque flutes. The sound is darker and richer in the lower register and yet they are brilliant in the upper register...”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
T   hese titles or designations for pieces became more and more florid, you know... this ‘Allegro di molto, mà fiero’, ‘this way, but not too much so’, and so on. In fact, as we enter the Classical period, you can tell that people were finding it to be over-the-top. Mozart, for example, entitled one of the movements in his Quartet in A major KV-298 ‘Allegro grazioso, mà non troppo presto, però non troppo adagio, così-così-con molto garbo ed espressione’, mocking the excessiveness of the practice of a generation or two earlier.”
  —  Rachel Brown, remarks between Quantz sonatas, 19-NOV-2010.
 Quantz 2-key flute, by Tutz
M   odern editorial markings can so easily obscure the composer's intentions. Unhelpful editions of baroque music are readily recognisable: if a copy of a baroque sonata designates ‘piano accompaniment’; if the left-hand keyboard part has no figured bass; if there is no separate bass part for a cellist or viol player; if there are metronome marks...”
  —  Rachel Brown, The Early Flute.

19 November 2010

Meta-complexity in Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet

 Robert Hill, photo © Benjamin Ealovega
A nthony Burton’s program notes for the London Phil’s ‘Chamber Contrasts’ series at Wigmore Hall emphasize how impressed Brahms was with the potential of clarinet, as a result of his hearing clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld perform in 1891. But Brahms composed this Op. 115 clarinet quintet within a few years of his death from cancer, a period when many of his friends and family died (his sister Elise, his brother Fritz, Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, Hermione Spies, Theodor Broth, Clara Schumann, etc.). This makes me think that the recursive, ‘re-considering’ structures in this quintet maybe derive more from the emotional impact of those events on Brahms—than from any scheme Brahms may have had, to create in Op. 115 a virtuosic clarinet showpiece for the great Mühlfeld.

L arge-scale variation comes from relationships between variations (the theme included) and how these relationships are united into a pervasive algorithm that encapsulates the entire set—that is, an operating system governing the entire set. In other words, these are not a mere series of independent objects and methods (scripts) that are expected derivatives of a parent object or class. They are a ‘network-based object-oriented OS’.

W hat I mean is, Brahms’s variations feel to me ‘network-based’, not ‘hierarchical’. It seems (to me) that Brahms was exposing larger-scale connections, and transforming his idea into a multi-domain network rather than a hierarchical structure with conventional ‘parent’ exposition classes and ‘child’ instantiations. The arrangement of variations involves pairs of diatonic pitch-class cells derived from the theme. But the textural differences that follow are like remote procedure-calls that cross-link the tension-producing structures within the variations’ designs. This gives the piece an attractive sort of ‘meta-complexity’.

I n other people’s analyses (links below), variation sets in Brahms’s multi-movement instrumental compositions are usually only moderately complex. Variation sets in interior movements often do not have full ‘closure’. In the variations in this Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Brahms suggests or ‘projects’ closure by recapitulating first-movement phrases. But the promised closure doesn’t come until the very end. It is as though there is a latent, suspended complexity that is irreducible until the very end.

T his gets me to thinking about how Brahms does this, and how we might devise similar structures and mechanics in new music. The ‘Kolmogorov complexity’ (links below) of a software program or script, or a piece of text or a musical composition, is a measure of the computational resources needed to specify the object. Kolmogorov complexity is also known as descriptive complexity, Kolmogorov-Chaitin complexity, stochastic complexity, algorithmic entropy, or program-size complexity.

O ne of the appealing, intuitively plausible qualities of Kolmogorov complexity as a metric to characterize what I was hearing last night in the account of the Brahms clarinet quintet given by Robert Hill and his colleagues has to do with how the aggregate complexity goes, for large composite or ‘compound’ or ‘network’ or ‘cloud’ objects that are constituted from multiple smaller objects. For example, consider a compound object built up from objects X and Y. The Kolmogorov complexity of the two of them together K(X,Y) is:

K(X,Y) = K(X) + K(Y|X) + O(ln(K(X,Y)))

T his says that the shortest program that reproduces X and Y is no more than a logarithmic term larger than a program to reproduce X and a program to reproduce Y given X. This basically puts a quantitative ‘bound’ on the amount of mutual information there is between X and Y in terms of the Kolmogorov complexity.

T he amount of unresolved tension we feel in the inner movements in this Brahms quintet—and the intensity of the desire we feel for the eventual resolution of these tensions at the end—feels, to me, logarithmic. Maybe some future music theory PhD candidate will explore this notion properly and critically. For now, it’s happy enough for me to give you a few interesting links below and the glimmer of a potential reason why the complexities and proportions of this quintet seem so ‘right’ and so beautiful.

16 November 2010

Chamber Music-Induced Chills

 King’s College, Cambridge
L ast night I attended the candle-lit evensong choral services at Kings’ College Chapel. The 28-voice boys’ choir sang the service.

A t various moments, chills went up and down my spine, listening to the organ and the beautiful voices reverberate through the large sanctuary. “Why does the body do this?” I wondered. Go to PubMed and have a look!

C hills seem to be related to distinct musical structures and the “reward” system in the brain, including parts of the ventral striatum, the midbrain, the amygdala, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex. Considerable research has recently been published on “chills”—as “leading indicator” correlates of emotional “rewards” that the brain is just now processing and propagating to other parts of the body, and as near-term “trailing indicators” of individual cognitive and emotional peaks just-past. Phenotypic measurements of physiological arousal (skin conductance response, heart rate, heart rate variability, etc.) consistently show peaks during chill episodes. Replication of the original studies have confirmed that chills are a reliable marker of emotional peaks that are induced by structures in music, that are temporally associated with self-reported subjective feelings with physiological arousal.

F or example, Oliver Grewe, Eckart Altenmüller, Reinhard Kopiez, Frederick Nagel, and others at the Institut für Musikphysiologie und Musikmedizin in the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien, Hannover, find that people already familiar with the music are more likely to feel shivers up their spines at characteristic, predictable moments:

  • At transitions from loud to quiet;
  • Upon the entry of a solo voice or instrument;
  • When two (or more) parts have harmonic contrasts, such as close-harmony with beat-frequency interference between the notes'/formants' spectra; and
  • When the music evokes memories of past experiences that were emotionally intense.
T he responses of people who are not already acquainted with a piece of music are, in general, weaker and less predictable.

I n terms of programming for chamber music presenters and ensembles, these findings may lend some support to the traditional precept of including at least one familiar work in each program.

A s listeners or performers, in terms of explaining why our reactions to a work on first hearing are sometimes less vivid or shivery than we would like or expect, the lesson seems to be “Wait awhile. Give it multiple hearings. Assimilate the piece over time, and see what it does to you later.”

A nd, as composers, there is probably no surprise in these findings. Devising chill-inducing structures and mechanisms to create and resolve dramatic tension is what you do and have always done. Understanding the neurophysiology of music-induced shivering and spine-tingling doesn’t provide you with any new tools beyond the ones you already comprehend and routinely use. The aesthetic decisions about when and how often to use them remain the same as always.

I f you’re interested in the recent research on music and shivering, have a look at these papers (links below) to read about various bits of the physiologic mechanisms of music-induced “chills,” such as are known so far.

 King’s College, Cambridge

Constitutional Figments of Bachian Imaginations: Florilegium Compares and Contrasts Compositional Methods of 6 Members of the Bach Family

 Bach ahnentafel, the musically important bits

T    he Bach family has for a long time been the focus of genealogical research. No other musical family of German origin has spanned so many generations and produced such highly talented performers, as well as composers of the highest order.”
  —  Florilegium program notes.
T he Florilegium concert at Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 3 November was both illuminating in the musicological sense and satisfying musically.
  • Ashley Solomon - flute 1
  • Marta Gonçalves - flute 2
  • Bojan Čičić - violin 1
  • Jean Paterson - violin 2
  • Malgorzata Ziemkiewicz - viola
  • Jennifer Morsches - cello
  • Tim Amherst - bass
  • Terence Charlston - harpsichord
  • Johann Bernhard Bach - Overture; Marche; Passepied; Air-Lentement; La Joye; Caprice
  • Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach - Sonata in C major
  • Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Sonata in C minor, Wq 161 No. 4
  • Wilhelm Friedmann Bach - Adagio and Fugue in D minor, Falck 65
  • Johann Christian Bach - Quintet in D major
  • Johann Sebastian Bach - Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
T hey showed through these pieces how each Bach proposed, developed, elaborated, disposed, and decorated each element in structuring his composition.
I   f large-scale form really generates the working-out of inventions located right on the musical surface, then one needs plausible evidence of this [in the score]. In the absence of such evidence, the reverse position—following Occam’s Razor—is more compelling: that Bach first worked out his inventions—his themes which he ordered in permutational arrangements—and then ‘disposed’ them in a conventional scheme...”
  —  Laurence Dreyfus, p. 169.
T hey brought us fresh illustrations of these Bach family members’ working methods, and how they differed from each other. We also learned about the Bachs’ savvy and opportunistic appropriations of French and Italian styles—and about their co-optation of various genres for expressive or programmatic purposes different from their conventional/traditional ones.

T he ensemble played beautifully throughout, and the program was expertly devised to optimize variations in tempi and texture—to maximize dramatic tension, climax, and resolution for the audience—in addition to accomplishing the nominal aim of shedding light on parallels and differences among these Bachs.

T he flutes and viola, for example, in the Johann Bernhard ‘Passepied’ were a lush and serene contrast to the preceding ‘Marche’ and majestic ‘Overture’.

T he flute-violin-harpsichord ‘call-and-answer’ patterns in the Johann Christoph Friedrich Sonata were, for another example, a striking contrast to counterpoint and tutti sectional passages in the surrounding works.

F lorilegium will next perform at the Nicholas Young Society in Lewes, Sussex, on 26 November. The program then promises to be an innovative exposition of Baroque-era trans-national diffusion of musical ideas and is entitled ‘Les Nations’ and includes works by Couperin, Handel, Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, Marais, Telemann, and Rebel. We look forward as well to future repeats of their fascinating ‘Six Members of the Bach Family’ program.

I n thinking about the various initiatives that Florilegium have taken recently, a unifying concept seems to be ‘innovation’, broadly conceived. Instead of packaging familiar, excellent repertoire in conventional, “safe” concert offerings, they instead differentiate themselves from other first-rate Baroque ensembles by devising novel thematic programs of less-familiar or totally unfamiliar works. Music as ‘international relations’? ‘Nature vs. Nurture’ among Bachs? How was it for Telemann in Paris? Bolivian Baroque? Yes! More, please!

T he program notes and promotional materials for concerts like these are fabulous. They are razor-sharp and provide fresh, engaging copy for print and broadcast and online media, which in turn makes the promotion more effective for these programs compared to more conventional programs, which in turn gets more people buying tickets and into the seats.

A dditionally, the Friends of Florilegium [patrons association] is vibrant and well-managed. The quarterly newsletter (edited by Dame Emma Kirkby OBE [president] and Sir David Lumsden and David Hill [honorary vice presidents]) is a hoot to read, filled with droll humor and exciting news and other bits.

F lorilegium members, led by Director Ashley Solomon, author some of the contributions to the Friends newsletter, and they are informative and engaging. Thank you for the wonderful ‘Bach Family’ concert at Wigmore, and thank you for the Friends’ excellent example of how to foster sustainable financial growth in support of these fine programs and scholarship!

Č   ičić [Florilegium principal violinis], coming from a musical family, was sent as a child to play the violin and promptly sobbed, ‘I want the piano!’ He also then began tennis lessons; Croatia is well-known for producing some fine champions. Bojan sadly wasn’t to become one of them… Finally, managing to produce a sound [on violin] that would melt icebergs and later woo women, he gave up on tennis. ‘The fees are getting ridiculously expensive,’ was the explanation given by his parents. Et voilá, yet another child plunges headlong towards the uncertain future of a musician… In order to find out more about his repertoire, he left his job as a modern musician in Zagreb, packed his things, and moved to Paris to study early music, speaking no French. Ahh, Paris, the world’s capital of kindness to foreigners, where one is always welcomed with open arms. Bojan had only one option to escape this everyday problem: immerse himself fully into the music he studied, which was mostly French Baroque. Today, he admits this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but, together with a bath and some Prosecco, it’s a jolly good way to relax...”
  —  Profile, Friends of Florilegium Newsletter, Summer 2010.

15 November 2010

Faster than Sound: Acoustic-Electronic Compositions and Combined Visual-Music Performance at Aldeburgh

 UVA LED tower array

M   usical sound is too limited in its quantitative variety of tones. The most complex orchestras boil down to four or five types of instrument… This limited circle of pure sounds must be broken, and the infinite variety of ‘noise-sound’ conquered. ”
  —  Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noises, 1913.
T he ‘Faster Than Sound’ program was held at Snape Maltings in the Britten Studio last Friday (12 November), one of Aldeburgh Music’s events. The performance was preceded by a 10-day composing workshop led by composers Milton Mermikedes (Univ Surrey and Royal College of Music, London), Martin Suckling (Somerville College, Oxford), and Ted Machover (MIT and Royal College of Music, London).

T he compositions each involved either one or two performers and utilized a combination of conventional acoustic (‘analog’) and signal processing software (‘digital’) idioms.
  • Adrian Gierakowski – Unitas Multiplex (eDrum tablets and software DSP)
  • David Ibbett – Impulse Imagined (miked and processed cello and software)
  • Charlie Williams – e to one million pieces (miked and processed piano and video)
  • Gregor Riddell – Skyfish (miked and processed cello and software)
  • Enrico Bertelli – Drumactica (eDrum tablets and software DSP)
  • Tod Machover – Michael’s Dream (K-bow processed cello and software with lights)
  • Tod Machover – Spheres and Splinters (K-bow processed cello and software with lights)
A  pre-performance talk was given at 6 p.m. in the Jerwood Kiln Studio at Snape. Among the 5 panelists, Ash Nehru (Software Director) from United Visual Artists (UVA) explained the multiple ways in which the 25-pole LED tower array is engineered to respond to inputs from the various sensors on the K-bow and on the cellist’s body. Ben Bloomberg (MIT student) explained some aspects of the Max/DSP and related software that controls the array of 16 loudspeakers positioned around the performance hall. The pre-performance talk was attended by an SRO crowd of about 70 people on this damp, dreary Friday evening in November. The performance itself was attended by about 150. Aldeburgh is famous, but such a turn-out is pretty remarkable given the considerable distance from Cambridge or London in darkest Suffolk on a Friday night. Fantastic to see!

 UVA’s Chris Bird and Ash Nehru
T he gist of Tod Machover’s preconcert remarks was that electronic and multimedia technology can lead ‘classical’ music into new, financially viable markets and young audiences who are not now disposed to spend money consuming classical music. For my part, I strongly doubt this will happen. I have attended concerts of electronic chamber music for years and occasionally write about them in this blog, but see no evidence of market ‘traction’ or audience growth, certainly not among the youth segments Machover was referring to. The affinities, such as they are, are among those who already are devoted to serious music, new or otherwise. That and things like Classical Spectacular, which is about as far from ‘chamber music’ as one can get.

A nd, honestly, the capital expense for acquiring all the gear required—and the expense to ship it and set it up and tear it down for each performance, and the technical complexity of managing it—are out-of-reach for all but a very few classical musicians. The ‘Faster Than Sound’ faculty do not acknowledge this.

T he financial growth opportunities are considerable, though, for combined electronic-acoustic and multimedia compositions in film or recorded on-demand HD downloadable media that are not ‘live’ performances. Home theatres with synths and lights?

T he Ibbett and Riddell e-cello compositions were the ones that I found most accessible and compelling. Gregor Riddell’s cello performances were passionate and elegant, and the use of electronic DSP software effects was tasteful. The textures and timbres provided by the DSP contributed meaningfully to the compositions’ narrative arc and lent extra emotional tension and complexity to the pieces.

 Gregor Riddell
I n other pieces on the program the DSP effects proliferated. Sometimes ‘less’ really is more?

O    ne begins with a mark, another mark, a third mark, a splash, a smudge, a drip—until the whole work energetically completes itself and the artists can then see [hear] what has been achieved [if anything]. It is not something in which all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand with ‘the execution a perfunctory affair’! How could Pollocks’ ‘Autumn Light’ have been planned? Or de Kooning’s ‘Woman I’? In Abstract Expressionism, hand and eye were everything, and for those who can remember that era, the intellect could hardly have been more suspect. The painter’s studio and the philosophy seminar room were at one in repudiating the ‘ghost in the machine.’ ”
  —  Arthur Danto, Unnatural Wonders, p. 98.
T he quality of some of this was a bit like Abstract Expressionistic painting, with cascades of disparate effects—ones that are responsive to telemetered measurements of the performers or their instruments, yes, but not ones that are intentional or deliberated, anymore than Pollock’s dribbles were deliberated in detail. There is an aleatoric, ambient ‘found’ quality to such music, though, and that ain’t a bad thing...

 Jackson Pollock, Free Form, 1946
O    rson Welles once said, that a movie studio was ‘the biggest electric train set a boy ever had.’ I think [McMillen’s] TrioMetrik® [software] just may be the modern composer’s ‘electric train set.’ ”
  —  Jay Cloidt, Composer.
B y far the most inspiring aspect of the performance, in my opinion, was the United Visual Artists light installation that accompanied the Machover ‘Spheres and Splinters’ composition. The equipment consisted of 25 poles about 3 meters tall equipped with high-intensity LED lamps from top to bottom. The poles were arrayed in two concentric rings (6-meter and 10-meter diameter) about cellist Peter Gregson who was seated on the darkened stage in the middle of this forest of light-poles. The signals from his K-bow and instrumentation that measured his muscle tension, arm gestures, and other physiological variables were processed by software that then controlled the dynamic geometrical 3-D patterns and changing colors on the light-poles.
H ow much ‘control’ or ‘reproducibility’ there may be to this spectacle from performance to performance is anybody’s guess. But there is no doubt that the combination of light and sound can be emotionally engaging and genuinely moving.

I n the pre-performance Q&A session, one professional cellist inquired as to what, if any, of the DSP and lighting is amenable to ‘notation’ in the conventional sense of musical scores and orchestration. ‘How much of what comes out is a surprise to the performer? How much of it is, shall we say, improvisational and how much of it is explicitly notated?’

T he responses of the panelists were, frankly, unconvincing. If graphical scoring methods à la Stockhausen and Xenakis and others are used, they did not say so. Instead they insisted that everything is exquisitely ‘controlled’ by the performers.

N otwithstanding the fact that the patches and loops and software init parameters and so forth constitute a network of procedural and declarative code, it should be confessed that these bricoleurs’ constructions of dozens of disparate elements and subsystems must be documented, in a manner that can not only be replicated and performed by others (not just by the original composer and collaborators) but can be performed by others in decades yet to come, on future equipment and software that can emulate the equipment and software used today. The equipment and software you are performing on will be obsolete in 2 years! In 15 years you won’t be able to boot one of those things you are performing on today or find replacement parts for it when it fails—they will be inoperable ‘antiques’ by then! You must have a notation and waveform specs and filter specs and patch specs, or your ‘composition’ will be like so much disappearing ink!

A rchival characterizations of current system and DSP object-classes and instances? [Crickets chirping] MusicXML representations, with extensions to MusicML? [More crickets]

T he cellist and I were disappointed with the ‘Faster Than Sound’ faculty members’ answers. But we (and, I think, the rest of the audience, based on their enthusiastic applause) were delighted with the performances, regardless whether they prove to be one-of-a-kind, ambient, impossible-to-replicate, incompletely-documented ‘improvisations’ or installation-art ‘happenings’. These were wonderful new works (works-in-progress), composed, engineered, and produced under the duress of a 10-day-long workshop. Bravo to one and all!
C   ombining the visual and classical is not as blasphemous as many would think. More than a century ago Alexander Scriabin notated his 1909 symphonic poem ‘Prometheus, the Poem of Fire’ for the Luxe, a custom designed light projector built by Russian physicist Alexander Moser. In the mid-20th century, as a biography explains, conductor Leopold Stokowski often had lights set up for concerts to cast huge shadows of him on the walls of the concert hall. In the 21st century we maintain the visual convention of dimming the auditorium lights to provide engagement betwen audience and musicians. Light installations such as the one that accompanied Spheres and Splinters at Snape yesterday simply strengthen this engagement... Combining visual and classical could press the important hot button for funders, and a little bird tells me UVA may have some speculative work waiting to be picked up by someone quick off the mark in the classical field. Bring on music and movement.”
  —  On an Overgrown Path blog, 13-NOV-2010.