Page 1

November 2010

What you’re into if you’re into sound and music

MAZEN KERBAJ IMPROVISING IN LEBANON

LISTEN CLOSER Twenty years of empreintes DIGITALes KAFKA FRAGMENTS Kurtag’s private theatre

The magazine of


Welcome to the November issue of INTO A highlight of Sound and Music’s busy autumn and winter programme is the MazaJ festival, taking place in London from 18 to 21 November. Coproduced with the Zenith Foundation, the festival celebrates new music and sound art from the Middle Eastern countries and their diasporas. Finding out about some of these artists has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of putting together this issue. We’ve focussed on Mazen Kerbaj for November’s cover feature, as Daniel Spicer asks the trumpeter and visual artist about his key role in developing Beirut’s flourishing improv scene. This month also sees an impressive lineup at Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival, directed by Rebecca Saunders. Alongside key works by Saunders, Enno Poppe and more, Canadian electroacoustic CD label empreintes DIGITALes celebrates its twentieth birthday with concerts and premieres. Abi Bliss talks to Published by Sound and Music www.soundandmusic.org Contact: into-magazine@soundandmusic.org

founders and artists about empreintes DIGITALes’ history, and how a label dedicated to electroacoustic music can survive in the internet age. György Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments has been performed many times since the 1980s, but the production that brought this challenging work to wider attention is the one by opera director Peter Sellars, who in 2005 set the piece in a new theatrical context using dramatic and visual material. This production comes to the Barbican on 11 November, and Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s thoughtful article – focussing on the performative challenges of the music – makes for good advance reading. Frances Morgan Editor

Managing Editor: Shoël Stadlen Editor: Frances Morgan Designed by: Tatiana Woolrych Original Design: PostParis, www.postparis.com


03

NOVEMBER 2010

Want to print your issue of INTO? Click here to download the PDF

What’s on in the UK? Click here to visit Sound and Music’s UK Listings

Cover Image: Mazen Kerbaj at the Irtijal Festival The opinions expressed in INTO are those of the authors and not necessarily those of INTO or Sound and Music. Copyright of all articles is held jointly by Sound and Music and the authors. Unauthorised reproduction of any item is forbidden.


04

NOVEMBER 2010

CONTENTS

C ntents WHAT WE’RE INT PAGES 6–7

EMPREINTES DIGITALES PAGES 20-27

NEWS PAGES 8–18

KURTAG’S KAFKA FRAGMENTS PAGES 28-33


05

MAZEN KERBAJ PAGES 34-39

OPPORTUNITIES PAGES 40-41

NOVEMBER 2010

CONTENTS


06

NOVEMBER 2010

WHAT WE’RE INTO

Phil Niblock, The Movement of People Working (1973-74)

What we’re INT What we’re INTO is a small monthly round-up of some of the new music and sound that we’ve been enjoying at Sound and Music. Follow the links to see and hear our audio, video and interactive selections.

Extract from Brian Eno’s new album Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Mutmas and d


07

NOVEMBER 2010

ssik tracks downloads

WHAT WE’RE INTO

Sound and Music’s New Departures podcast Christian Marclay, The Clock

Spatial mix podcast from the Unsound Festival

Composition Lab, a new online resource for music education

Unfolding, Janek Schaefer’s new soundtrack to Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion exhibition at The Barbican


08

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

NEW BRAVE NEW MUSIC AT TENTH INSTAL FESTIVAL

BRANDON LABELLE

After announcing the initial line-up in last month’s INTO, more details of 2010’s Instal festival have been announced. Taking place from 12 to 14 November at The Tramway, Glasgow, the festival offers three days of performances, installations, talks and other events that explore and challenge the boundaries of sound and art, and also explore the intersections of music with areas such

as activism, science, geography and more. Key appearances include electronic music practitioner and mathematician, Catherine Christer Hennix, whose seminal work The Electric Harpsichord was recently reissued to great acclaim, and Christopher DeLaurenti, who will present a multi-channel installation using field recordings from conflict and protest. Meanwhile, actor Tam Dean Burn takes to the streets in an exciting opening


09

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

TAM DEAN BURNS

event: he will lead a walk with the Resonance Radio Orchestra, exploring Glasgow on foot for 48 hours, broadcasting as he goes. Other highlights include new commissions by Brandon LaBelle and a collaboration between experimental writer Vanessa Place and theorist Mark Sanders. Festival organizers Arika stress that, to be involved in Instal, “the only specialist knowledge required is the knowledge that no specialist knowledge is required”. With that in mind, an element of the festival, Evacuation of the Great Learning, is still a work-in-progress. Leading

up to the festival weekend, a number of participants will be taking part in workshops with the Glasgow Open School, which will culminate in further workshops during Instal with Ray Brassier and Mattin and a final outcome on the last day of the festival. It is up to the participants to decide the form of this performance, or indeed whether it is a performance at all. Visit Arika’s website at www.arika.org. uk/instal/2010 and check www. thewire.co.uk/articles/5226/ for further reading and links to audio and video from some of the featured artists.


010

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

NEW PIANOCIRCUS IN WORKSHOP AND PERFORMANCE Keyboard ensemble pianocircus perform a programme of contemporary music at Holy Apostles Church, Cheltenham, on 11 November. The six pianists will play works by Steve Reich, John Cage, Graham Fitkin, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Lynne Plowman, among others. The ensemble continue their role as Associate Ensemble for 2010-11’s Young Composer of Dyfed competition, and have just announced the latest event in their Brunel University Seminar series: on 16 December, Clarence Barlow will join pianocircus to discuss his work, in particular his paino compositions. www.pianocircus.com

ROYAL PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY ELGAR BURSARY ANNOUNCED The Royal Philharmonic Society has announced Jonathan Lloyd as the recipient of its fourth Elgar Bursary. The composer will write a new work for the BBC Symphony Orchestra to be premiered in 2013. Previous recipient Edwin Roxburgh’s Elgar Bursary-supported Concerto for Orchestra received its world premiere at the Barbican on 8 October, and previous recipients have been Lyell Cresswell and Dominic Muldowney. Jonathan Lloyd has worked across many areas: he has written a community opera, a radio fantasy, a live score for a silent movie, an installation piece and a new realisation of The Beggar’s Opera. He is currently working on a large-scale theatre work and is part of the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh. The bursary was set up after Anthony Payne was commissioned to elaborate Elgar’s sketches for the unfinished Third Symphony, with the intention of supporting mature composers while they create a new work.


011

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

NEW SOUNDS AT LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL

SOWETO KINCH

London Jazz Festival takes place at various venues in the city from 12 to 21 November, featuring the usual wide range of jazz legends alongside new and emerging artists. New Eastern European jazz is a focus at the ICA on 19 November with new Lithuanian trio, Nu Clear, led by saxophonist Liudas Mockunas, playing with British noise/improv group TrioVD. New bands from France and Denmark perform at the Vortex’s Fresh From Europe night on 13 November, the east London venue also hosting genre-defying jazz-punk from Led Bib on 14 November. Premieres include the new album from Soweto Kinch, The New Emancipation, performed by an ensemble including Byron Wallen and Shabaka Hutchings at Queen Elizabeth Hall on 15 November, and the European premiere of Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider on 13 November at the Barbican. Meanwhile, the Take Five initiative, which supports new artists, presents performances from Seaming To, Matthew Bourne, Dave Kane and Corey Mwamba. www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk


012

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

NEW XXX SOUNDFJORD SHOWS AND CALL FOR ARTISTS Photography: James Bulley/Daniel Jones

SONG-MING ANG, YOU AND I

New London sound art gallery Soundfjord continues its exhibitions and events this autumn, with Song-Ming Ang’s You and I until 27 November, followed by a new exhibition by Rie Nakajima, which runs from December to January 2011. Soundfjord, which opened in north London in summer 2010, is the UK’s first dedicated sound art gallery. Events planned for the coming months include a season of film and video work, for which there is an ongoing call for contributions. The curators of Soundfjord are also looking for artists who create alternative film scores, and artists to take part in an exhibition around the theme of silence, to take place in 2011/2012. All of Soundfjord’s calls for work, including submissions for a contemporary sound art archive, can be found on www.soundfjord.org


013

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

LISTEN TO THIS RELEASED IN THE UK This month sees Alex Ross’s new book, Listen To This, published in the UK on Fourth Estate. Ross, the author of The Rest Is Noise, an ambitious introduction to twentieth century music, now brings together a collection of essays on music ranging from Brahms to Bob Dylan, some of which have previously appeared as columns in the New Yorker. Listen To This, which has already received glowing reviews in the US, tackles weighty subjects like the ‘crisis in music education’ alongside an account of Radiohead on tour, and profiles contemporary figures such as EsaPekka Salonen as well as re-examining Mozart and Schubert. www.therestisnoise.com


014

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

NEW LABAN THEATRE’S FIRST COMMISSION IS HARD-HITTING COLLABORATION WITHOUT WARNING

New music and dance meet in Without Warning, the first ever commission by Greenwich-based dance agency Laban Theatre, presented for the first time on 11 and 12 November. Performed by dancers and musicians from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and led by choreographer Lizzi Kew-Ross, the production was inspired by the writing of author Brian Keenan about his experience as a hostage in Beirut, and uses an original score composed for voices, strings and percussion. Kew-Ross and Dominic Murcott, Head of Composition at Trinity Laban, have devised Without Warning as a truly collaborative meeting of music and dance, in which the audience is immersed as an eye-witness. Accompanying the performance is Darkroom, a photographic exhibition by Peter Anderson showing the cast in rehearsal, which will be displayed in the Laban’s foyer from 25 October to 12 November. www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/labantheatre


015

NOVEMBER 2010

NEWS

CAGE EVENTS AT KETTLE’S YARD As the touring exhibition of John Cage’s visual art, Every Day is a Good Day, draws to a close at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, two performances highlight different aspects of the composer’s work. On 10 November the New Music Ensemble and friends will perform a ‘Musicircus’, Cage’s conception of a piece of joyous, collaborative music-making in which the audience can wander freely. In a Musicircus, performers of all kinds fill every part of an unusual space – such as Kettle’s Yard – with music and sound, with durations determined by chance. On 11 November, Lizie Fisher performs from Composition In Retrospect, Cage’s exhaustive collection of the ideas and methodologies that informed his work throughout his long career. The exhibition itself runs until 14 November. www.kettlesyard.co.uk

RELAY OF SOUND IN LIVERPOOL Tate Liverpool’s Long Night Sound Relay takes listeners on a journey through the city with musicians including Ensemble 10/10 and aPAtT Orchestra forming a cumulative procession of performances at venues such as Rapid, FACT and the Tate itself, picking up musical material along the way. Taking place on 18 November, the Sound Relay forms part of the Liverpool Biennal, and takes as its starting point composer and saxophonist. Jennifer Watson’s Reflections, performed by the Liverpool Philharmonic in October. www.tate.org.uk


016

NOVEMBER 2010

SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS

NEW EXAUDI WORKSHOPS GET UNDERWAY

MEMBERS OF EXAUDI ENSEMBLE

On 2 November shortlist composers Yuko Ohara, Nicholas Peters and Hugo Morales had their first workshop with the EXAUDI ensemble, with whom they are working on new pieces to be recorded and performed in 2011. The workshop on 2 November saw the composers trying out ideas with the vocal ensemble, which will then inform their compositions. The composers used a variety of approaches, with Hugo Morales getting members of EXAUDI to manipulate their voices using plastic tubes and tin cans (above). The next workshop for the project, which is mentored by Judith Weir, will take place in


017

NOVEMBER 2010

SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS

DISCUSSION ALONGSIDE PERFORMANCE AT MAZAJ

HASSAN KHAN

Mazaj is a new festival co-produced by Sound and Music and Zenith Foundation, taking place in London between 18 and 21 November. Dedicated to exploring new middle-eastern sonic culture, Mazaj introduces artists from Lebanon, Egypt, US and UK whose work challenges stereotypes of Arabic music, with performances and collaborations at London’s Cafe Oto and talks both at Oto and City University. Featured artists include US/Egyptian DJ and producer Mutamassik, Sound and visual artist Hassan Khan, festival curator and composer Seth Ayaz, and

this month’s INTO interviewee, improviser Mazen Kerbaj. Two conferences at City University on 18 November will explore ‘Topologies of Authority, Technology and Production in Contemporary Middle Eastern Musical Practice’, while a discussion at Oto, hosted by Wire, takes place on 20 November, entitled ‘Recalibrating the noise: is there a middle eastern sound art?’ www.soundandmusic.org/projects/ mazaj


018

NOVEMBER 2010

SOUND AND MUSIC NEWS

NEW SHORTLIST COMPOSERS AT HANDEL HOUSE Sound and Music’s continuing collaboration with Handel House sees more performances of new works by shortlisted composers this month, with a concert on 11 November including pieces by Nina Whiteman and Yuko Ohara. The concert follows one on 31 October, at which Nina Whiteman’s piece was performed, alongside a new

work by Richard Bullen. Performed by resident ensemble Spirituoso, the concert on 11 November will also include period repertoire. www.soundandmusic.org/thesampler

TURNAGE AT 50 FEATURES SHORTLIST COMPOSER A few months ago in INTO we featured composer Charlotte Bray, currently the Apprentice Composer-in-Residence with BCMG, while she was in the process of composing a new work to be performed in November as part of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50th birthday celebrations. The concert, conducted by Oliver Knussen, is set to take place on 14 November at CBSO Centre, Birmingham, and features Charlotte’s new work, Caught In Treetops, alongside key works by Turnage and Adagio adagio by Hans Werner Henze. www.bcmg.org.uk


019

NOVEMBER 2010

INCOMING

Incoming A news feed direct from Sound And Music’s composers from around the UK, with details of new projects, forthcoming concerts, academic appointments and much more. If you’re a composer or artist and would like to let us know what’s going on in your world in 45 words or less, get in touch at incoming@soundandmusic.org and we’ll publish a selection every month. Andrew Hall is excited to have been chosen for the 2010 Adopt-aComposer scheme, and can’t wait to start work with the Essex Symphony Orchestra. Ophir Ilzetzki‘s new piece, Violin and Piano, will be performed by Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea on 6 December as part of Southampton University’s New Works Festival. www.facebook.com/event Roberto David Rusconi has been selected as finalist for the Daegu Contemporary Music Festival in Korea. His orchestral work Wu Wei will be performed by Daegu Contemporary music Ensemble (ISCM Korea Section) on 26 November. Roberto David Rusconi was selected as finalist for the prestigious FBBVA International Contemporary Contest, with Tristan Murail as head of the jury.. His orchestral work Nemomen will be performed on 6 January at Auditorium National de Musica, Madrid.


SP

IR

AL

ST

U

D

IO ,H

U

D

D

ER

SF

IE

LD

U

NI

VE

RS

IT

Y

020

NOVEMBER 2010

EMPREINTES DIGITALES


021

NOVEMBER 2010

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

LISTEN CLOSER Since 1990, Canadian CD label empreintes DIGITALes has excavated electroacoustic music’s early classics and brought important new artists and composers to light. As the label marks its twentieth birthday with a series of curated events at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Abi Bliss charts the history of empreintes DIGITALes, and hears how it is navigating the post-CD world of recorded music. Twenty-one years ago Jean-François Denis found himself surrounded by pioneering and beautiful pieces of music that few people would ever hear. His ears had been opened to the possibilities of electroacoustic music during a summer course at Concordia University in Montreal in 1981; eight years later he was a professor teaching the same subject at the institution, which hosted concerts by some of the leading composers in the field. “In my office I had this incredible collection of reel-to-reel tapes, works by international composers,” he recalls. “Many of them needed to be listened to more than once. But if you were not at that one concert or radio broadcast where the piece was played, you missed it; it just

became a programme note.” Studios such as the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) in Paris were releasing records, but mainly of their own composers’ works. There was no dedicated independent label for electroacoustic music – an odd situation for an artform which, by definition, existed as recorded sound. “I went to many established record labels to see if they wanted to open a collection dedicated to electroacoustic music and none of them were interested,” Denis says. “I was left with the task of setting it up myself.” The following year he and fellow composer Claude Schryer founded empreintes DIGITALes, along with the music publisher YMX média, to issue electroacoustic works on CD.


022

NOVEMBER 2010

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

ET RR BA A H NA TA S

The label’s first release was Ligne de vie: récits électriques by Christian Calon, followed by Lieux inouïs by Robert Normandeau. Both are composers associated with Montreal’s strong electronic music scene; however two decades on, the empreintes DIGITALes catalogue of 111 albums features artists drawn from across the globe. These include established names such as Denis Smalley and Francis Dhomont as well as lowerprofile but equally intriguing artists such as Belgian composer Ingrid Drese, whose first CD came out earlier this year. In addition, empreintes DIGITALes’ distribution arm, www.electrocd.com, offers access to countless other recordings on allied labels. The label’s 20th anniversary has been celebrated throughout 2010 with a series of international concerts programming music from past and present. Composer Monty (Mathew) Adkins is a lecturer at the Centre for Research in New Music at the University of Huddersfield and is curating two concerts dedicated to empre-

T

‘I BELIEVE THAT LABELS WILL STILL BE NEEDED WITH ONLINE ACCESS, AS A SEAL OF APPROVAL, SO TO SPEAK’ – JEAN-FRANÇOIS DENIS


NOVEMBER 2010

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

he

t

023

Ph ot og ra ph y:

M

ar k

M

us

Photography: Svein Berge

JEAN-FRANÇOIS DENIS

intes DIGITALes at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival this month. He became aware of the label in 1993. “Before empreintes DIGITALes, getting hold of the early, beautiful electroacoustic music and that made by the new generation of Canadian composers was really difficult. The label brought them all together and gave them an identity,” he says. For Denis, who has been empreintes DIGITALs’ director since 1991, the increasing popu-

larity of CD albums over tapes or LPs came at the right time for a label so focused upon close listening. “Going to vinyl or cassette required you to reduce the sound quality; with CD we didn’t have that issue,” he says. He also notes that the relative novelty of being CD-only helped the label make a name for itself in the early days, as did the daring concept of its fourth release, 1990’s Électro Clips, on which 25 composers realised their ideas in three-minute vignettes


024

NOVEMBER 2010

more commonly associated with the MTV age. “Électro Clips keeps selling today. So that one had an impact, and I’ll let you decide why,” Denis says. In 2005 the label further narrowed the gap between concert hall diffusion and home listening by introducing DVD audio releases in 5.1 surround sound. One of the most exciting names with a recent release on empreintes DIGITALes is British artist Natasha Barrett. Currently living in Norway, Barrett’s work encompasses acousmatic compositions, sonic installation, live electronics, Max/MSP based strategies for acoustic processing and research into the cutting edge of three-

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

dimensional sound. Her album Bouteilles de Klein features works such as Sub Terra, formed from sounds recorded underwater, down silver mines and during the drilling of a subaquatic rock sample from a fjord. The track Mobilis in Mobili, meanwhile, references the storms, shipwrecks and Nautilus submarine of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, forming the centre of a larger work called Trade Winds, which Barrett explains is, “all about the sea: myth, science, our experiences of the ocean around the world.” If some electroacoustic composers aspire to an ideal of work whose sounds are completely non-

‘BEFORE EMPREINTES D HOLD OF EARLY, BEAUTIF MUSIC AND THAT BY NEW COMPOSERS WAS DIFFIC – MONTY ADKINS

MONTY ADKINS


025

NOVEMBER 2010

representational, Barrett is more relaxed about including recognisable sound sources in her music. “I move back and forth in this world of concrete and abstract. Even if a sound is very abstract, it still stimulates ideas and the music stimulates images and I’m more interested in that: whether a sound is abstract or not, the kind of images it can evoke.” She adds, “As a listener I find Schaeffer’s reduced listening [the idea of removing sounds completely from their context and listening to them for their own sake] an impossible thing.” She is currently working on pieces combining three-dimensional sound and video data in a

DIGITALES, GETTING FUL ELECTROACOUSTIC W CANADIAN CULT’

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

new hyper-reality. “I want to try and make an experience where the space is three-dimensional and coherent in the way that we understand our coherent, normal everyday. And then once I’ve got that, I can start to distort it, carve it, squash it around and play with expectations and bring that into the music.” Having experienced the rapidly evolving technology of the 1990s and 2000s, however, she feels it’s essential to not be dazzled by software. “Primarily I’m trying to make music; I’m not interested in making sound effects or doing something just for the impact.” Monty Adkins’ most recent release on empreintes DIGITALes was 2008’s [60] Project, a work marking the 60th anniversary of Schaeffer’s game-changing musique concrète work, Etudes de Bruits. Adkins curated and mixed the sonic ideas of 66 varied contributors into an hour-long piece that ranged from complex gestural noise to a collage of eerie vocals. The artists uploaded their contributions and worked on sound treatments via FTP, an approach that would have been impossible when Électro Clips was released. Yet [60] Project echoes the 1990 release through its accessibility to new listeners. “The surprising thing is that most people have found it fairly easy to listen to,” Adkins says. “I think that’s because of the


026

NOVEMBER 2010

type of people that I approached, because there was such a broad aesthetic. One of the aims of the album was to demonstrate the wealth of ways in which Pierre Schaeffer’s ideas had spread.” Having risen with the CD, em preintes DIGITALes now finds itself facing the question of how to adapt to the format’s imminent demise. It’s a matter that Denis has been considering seriously of late. So far he has resisted adding the label’s catalogue to iTunes because of the bitrate of its AAC files: “It doesn’t do justice to electroacoustic music.” Instead, he has been seeking a distributor for high-definition sound files. “We’ve been developing our software for databases to provide the high-definition sound files to a distributor and I’m still keeping my eyes and ears open for the opportunity. If it does not materialise soon enough then I guess that, just as we did 20 years ago, I’ll have to set up my own shop.” He anticipates the label being a continuing presence even as the industry moves from physical CDs towards models such as subscription based streaming. “I believe that labels will still be needed with online access, as a seal of approval, so to speak. We’ll see how empreintes DIGITALes can continue to be of service to this kind of music, because it really is a service, rather than the other way around.”

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

Indeed, it’s in part due to the label’s ongoing influence upon composers, teachers, students, programmers and ordinary listeners that electroacoustic music nowadays is less likely to languish unloved in a dusty university cupboard. “If you listen to some of the improvisations by Christian Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Richard Barrett and FURT or by Nicolas Bernier, the work is actually not very different from what 10 years ago you would have said was traditional electroacoustic music,” concludes Adkins. “One of the things is that many of those approaches to sound have become so ingrained in all of the electronic music that we hear. “We’re living in an age where there are so many different electronic musics, of which electroacoustic music is one, and that they all feed off each other.” The world premiere of Monty Adkins’s [60 Project] takes place on 28 November at HCMF. empreintes DIGITALes@20: Cinema for the ears, featuring works by Jean-François Denis, Francis Dhomont, Denis Smalley and more, and empreintes DIGITALes@20: Music for dark spaces, featuring a premiere by Jonty Harrison and Mobilis in Mobili by Natasha Barrett both take place on 24 November.


027

NOVEMBER 2010

EMPREINTES DIGITALES

Listening post

Extracts from Natasha Barrett’s Bouteilles de Klein on empreintes DIGITALes

Extracts from Natasha Barrett’s Bouteilles de Klein on empreintes DIGITALes

Extracts from Monty Adkins’ [60] Project on empreintes DIGITALes

Cortex (edit) by Monty Adkins, video by Mike Almond

Electro CD Radio featuring sound clips from other empreintes DIGITALes artists


NOVEMBER 2010

KAFKA FRAGMENTS

STAGING KURTÁG’S PRIVATE THEATRE Gyorgy Kurtág’s stark and complex chamber work Kafka Fragments presents a challenge for both musicians and directors. As Peter Sellars’s daring staging of the piece comes to the Barbican, Tim RutherfordJohnson examines the innate theatricality of Kurtág’s music, and the dramatic demands it makes upon the performer. Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments is one of the Everests of recent chamber vocal music. Lasting an hour and written for the ultra-reduced forces of soprano and violin, it is almost unremittingly dense, angular and hyper-expressionistic. However, when the renowned opera director Peter Sellars first presented a staging of the piece at Zankel Hall, New York, in 2005 he found large new audiences for this obscure and immensely difficult work; the production has been successfully performed around the USA and comes to London’s Barbican this month for the start of a European tour. In devising his setting, Sellars took his cue from Kurtág’s score, in which occasional annotations suggest a hidden

DAWN UPSHAW AND GEOFF NUTALL IN KAFKA FRAGMENTS


029

NOVEMBER 2010

KAFKA FRAGMENTS

Photography: Steve J Sherman


030

NOVEMBER 2010

KAFKA FRAGMENTS

Photography: David Michalek

drama: “The singer follows the acrobatics and the rage of the violinist with increasing tension, excitement, moreover, fear”, runs a note to ‘Ruhelos’ (Part I, fragment 4). Kurtág’s music is unchanged, but Sellars has overlaid a scenario involving a struggling housewife (Dawn Upshaw) and a gypsy street musician (Geoff Nuttall) to blow up and open out what these expressive markings hint at. Yet even without being ‘staged’, Kurtág’s music contains a strange theatre of its own. This is something distinct from the music theatre of Mauricio Kagel, say, and it’s not easy to read from the score. But when playing Kurtág you become acutely aware of the very particular demands being made on your body. Tension and conflict are introduced into

the act of operating one’s instrument: so fingerings, phrase lengths or articulation marks might be presented in an awkwardly counterintuitive fashion, often overriding much more comfortable options. It’s a way of heightening the grain of performing habits, forcing the player to concentrate on the immediate moment and, at the same time, introducing them to an alternative set of ergonomic/ musical possibilities. In Kafka Fragments, “The concept of positions goes out of the window,” says Nuttall, yet the results are thought through in incredible detail. At the piano such oddities – manifest as bizarrely crossing hands, for example – are easily read by an audience, but on the violin they are acted in an almost entirely private theatre the size of the


031

NOVEMBER 2010

KAFKA FRAGMENTS

TENSION AND CONFLICT ARE INTRODUCED INTO THE ACT OF OPERATING ONE’S INSTRUMENT player’s left hand. The resulting sound may be almost indistinguishable from the more conventional alternative, but the score is always precise in its demands. Not only does Kafka Fragments place huge demands on its performers, it doesn’t give its listeners an easy way in with exotic timbres, rich harmonies or readily grasped rhythms. There are the pacing C–D crotchets of the violin at the very start, soon paralleled at the fifth by the voice, but from then on the music rapidly spirals into a dark, hobbled world of missteps and fumbles. The music’s expressionistic force never lets up: there are no easily presented moments of rest, one has to find what one can. So the major sixth at the end of ‘The closed circle’ (Part III, fragment 6) gains a radiant,

Wagnerian glow, and the fleeting unisons buried in the microtonal weave of ‘The true path’ (Part II) ring out like the clearest morning bell. And this highly compromised, uneven balance of effort and reward is finely calculated and precisely the point: there is no glorious salvation in Kafka’s writing, only endless toil tempered with illusionary distractions. Likewise Kurtág is sensitive enough to the sedimented meanings of the components of the Western classical tradition – just look how much of his music is composed of basic scales, arpeggios and intervals – to know how to trigger these resonances without indulging in sentimentality. The full depth of this semiotic network will probably remain inaccessible to all but the most dedicated initiates. A martial


032

NOVEMBER 2010

artist will tell you that it takes a lifetime to properly train your body, mind and breath, and one feels a similarly endless uncovering of layers and understanding when approaching Kurtág’s music. The intensity of his instrumental classes – in which hours may be spent rehearsing just a handful of bars – is notorious.

KAFKA FRAGMENTS

‘legible’. One particular reading is privileged, and as its font size is increased the others recede. An outsider would guess that the music’s multivalency is reduced, and some critical reviews from the USA would suggest that this is the case. Of course it’s impossible to judge the London performances in advance.

SELLARS’ PRODUCTION DEFINES A MORE OVERTLY THEATRICAL SPACE AROUND KURTÁG’S HALTING SCENES, GESTURES AND MOVEMENTS, AND, AS A RESULT, THE WORK BECOMES MORE ‘LEGIBLE’ Likewise, the careful listener is given enough hints to probe beneath the splintered surface and find their own path across precarious stepping stones of association and intertextual meaning. Kurtág has not been directly involved in Sellars’s production – although presumably it has at least his tacit approval – but the performers are no less dedicated for that. The European tour has involved weeks of all-day rehearsals between Sellars, Upshaw and Nuttall, despite the fact this is a revival of a production they have all three worked on for five years. According to Nuttall it’s still “damn hard”, but its technical demands have become less frightening. Moreover, the production and the musical partnership has become integral to how the performers now think of the piece: now, they find it hard to imagine doing it any other way. Sellars’s production defines a more overtly theatrical space around Kurtág’s halting scenes, gestures and movements, and, as a result, the work becomes more

The production is in constant evolution and Sellars has made many tweaks and changes: there will be things at the Barbican that haven’t been seen before. There is a question of accessibility here – or “getability” as Nuttall carefully puts it. Kafka Fragments is one of the most demanding compositions of recent years, yet it is available in several recordings and receives enough performances annually almost to qualify as new music standard repertoire. Sellars’s production has certainly generated for Kurtág the sort of coverage in the New York and Los Angeles press that a European composer needs in order to have an impact in the North American market. In Europe, however, where Kurtág is more familiar, the production may be judged more strictly on its own merits. It should make for an interestingly tense evening. Kafka Fragments is at the Barbican, London, on 11 November. www.barbican.org.uk


033

NOVEMBER 2010

KAFKA FRAGMENTS

GYĂ–RGY KURTAG

Listening post

Interviews with Peter Sellars, Dawn Upshaw and Geoff Nuttall

Conductor Mikhail Shmidt discusses Kafka Fragments

Notes to the ECM release of Kafka Fragments


034

NOVEMBER 2010

MAZEN KERBAJ


035

NOVEMBER 2010

MAZEN KERBAJ

A NEW DESTINATION FOR IMPROV Mazen Kerbaj is at the forefront of Lebanon’s growing improv scene, bringing together local and international musicians for Beirut’s Irtijal festival and developing his own sonic and visual art. Ahead of this month’s MazaJ festival in London, he tells Daniel Spicer about the challenges of discovering, playing and curating improvised music in the Middle East.

“There is no such thing as an Arab identity. I do not define myself as an Arab artist because I wouldn’t say that Picasso is a Spanish painter or Evan Parker is an English musician. You are just a musician or a painter or whatever.” Lebanese trumpeter/improviser Mazen Kerbaj may well deny the existence of an Arab identity, but this month he’ll be in London among a group of Middle Eastern musicians playing at the MazaJ Festival – a new event that seeks to celebrate contemporary experimental Arabic music and Middle Eastern sonic culture. According to the organisers, MazaJ (Arabic for ‘mood’) will strip bare the stereotypes of Arabic music by giving UK audiences a rare chance to encounter some of the Middle East’s most questing artists. The fact that it’s happening at all is


036

NOVEMBER 2010

proof positive of the rapid growth of interest in experimental music in the Arab world in recent years. In Egypt, sound artist Mahmoud Refat’s 100COPIES label and 100LIVE Electronic Music Festival have helped to document and stimulate Cairo’s nascent experimental scene. In Turkey, free-jazz guitarist Umut Çağlar’s re:konstruKt label has provided a focal point for Istanbul’s improvising community. But, in many respects, Lebanon is leading the way, with an explosion of interest in avant-garde sounds over the last decade – an explosion for which Mazen Kerbaj is largely responsible. Today, Kerbaj is an in-demand artist with a distinctive musical identity. He has played in the Middle East, the USA and Europe, frequently in solo performance but also in duos and trios – not just with other Arabic musicians, but also with Euro-improv artists including trumpeters Franz Hautzinger and Axel Dörner as well as US improvisers such as Assyrian-American percussionist Michael Zerang and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, both mainstays of the Chicago avantjazz scene. Tellingly, Kerbaj’s trumpet style sits somewhere between the fire of American free jazz and the classicallyinformed lyricism of some European improv. It wouldn’t even be too fanciful to suggest that there is a hint of the muezzin’s call to prayer in his lingering, evocative tones. While resisting the temptation to describe his application of mood as ‘painterly’, it’s also worth noting that he’s developed a parallel career as a visual artist and cartoonist. As well as

MAZEN KERBAJ

‘THE AUDIENCE IS DIFFERENT FROM IN EUROPE WHERE IT’S OLD GUYS – THE GUYS WHO FOLLOWED THE EVOLUTION OF THIS MUSIC. IN BEIRUT IT’S MOSTLY YOUNG PEOPLE’


S

037

NOVEMBER 2010

several published volumes of cartoons, he’s contributed his bold, Cubist-influenced designs to numerous magazines, newspapers and posters. But the fact is, he’s had to work hard to get where he is now. Kerbaj’s first gig took place in a Beirut bar in 2000, as a duo with Lebanese saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui – considered by some to be the first improvised music concert in the Middle East. “Improvised music itself did not exist almost here before myself and a couple of other guys began to play this music,” claims Kerbaj. “It was non-existent until roughly ’98 or ’99.” The following year, together with guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui, Kerbaj co-founded the Irtijal Festival, which he has continued to curate ever since. Over the years, the festival has provided a crucial nexus for the burgeoning Middle Eastern improvising scene – and brought many respected

SHARIF SEHNAOUI, RAED YASSIN AND MAZEN KERBAJ

MAZEN KERBAJ

international musicians to the region, including Joe McPhee, Rhodri Davies and Michael Zerang. The Irtijal festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, with four days of concerts entertaining more than 500 paying guests. It’s quite some achievement considering how unknown improv was in Lebanon just a decade ago. “When we started playing this music,” says Kerbaj, “people would come up after the concert and say ‘you have invented a new music.’ We had to explain, ‘No, these types of experiments have been in music since the ’60s.’ It was like what people would say after an AMM concert maybe in ’65, in London.” Perhaps it’s little surprise that radical artforms such as improv have taken a while to catch on in Beirut. Even now, mention Lebanon and most Westerners will think of the horrific civil war that shattered the tiny state from 1975 – the year of Kerbaj’s birth – until 1990. It’s a long way from the thriving improv scene of London or the jazz clubs of New York, Pairs or Berlin. Growing up there meant that Kerbaj had to work hard to learn about the music. “Contrary to a lot of people who discover it first by a concert and then buy CDs, I discovered this music by CDs and didn’t see my first concert until maybe five years after discovering the music,” he says. “I went to Paris especially to see a festival where a lot of musicians were playing this music. I knew about it well by then because I had friends in Europe who would send me CDs. It was difficult that I couldn’t find any CDs here.


038

NOVEMBER 2010

MAZEN KERBAJ

‘WORKING HERE, YOU FEEL YOU’RE NOT JUST WORKING AS A MUSICIAN – YOU FEEL YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING FOR THE COMMUNITY’ In a sense the internet was a big deliverance You see mostly crap and you have to go for the cool things, but at least you can get them whenever you want to, which is the big innovation, the big relief.” The advent of the internet hasn’t just made it easy for curious music fans in the Middle East to track down obscure free-jazz discs. It’s also made it possible for musicians like Kerbaj to spread their own sounds further afield. And that’s also been the purpose of the Lebanese CD label Al Maslakh (‘The Slaughterhouse’), founded by Kerbaj and others in 2005. “Even before the internet, the biggest tool for me to make myself known was the CD,” says Kerbaj. “It enabled us to show our music to festivals, to get gigs outside of Lebanon. That was our way and we still believe in this thing. We are retro guys who believe in the object.” Recent releases on Al Maslakh have included 3:1, a 2008 trio date with Kerbaj, guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui and German trumpeter Birgit Ulher.

It’s a testament to Kerbaj’s drive and tenacity that the homegrown Lebanese appetite for free-improv is now so healthy. “Today it is better because we have played this music for ten years so there is a small audience,” he agrees. “There are people who know about Peter Brotzmann or Evan Parker or AMM or whatever. The audience is typically different from in Europe where it’s old guys – the guys who followed the evolution of this music. In Beirut it’s mostly young people from the Universities or just beyond in their twenties or the beginning of their thirties. So the scene is building up and there is a new generation of younger people coming in.” Moreover, it’s not hard to sense how proud he is of the transformation he’s helped to bring about in the artistic life of his homeland. “I grew up thinking that at the first opportunity I would go and live in Europe or somewhere. I never would have thought that I would stay in Lebanon. But today, I wouldn’t imagine myself living somewhere else. Somehow I dis-


039

NOVEMBER 2010

covered it’s the same shit here or in London or in New York or whatever. Working here, somehow you feel you’re not just working here as a musician – somehow you feel you are doing something for the community, for the musicians, you are really creating a high ground for the scene to follow You are really helping somehow to create something.”

MAZEN KERBAJ

MazaJ takes place at London venues from Thursday 18 to Sunday 21 November. Mazen Kerbaj performs on 20 and 21 November. www.soundandmusic.org.uk/mazaj

Listening post

Mazen Kerbaj and Sharif Sehnaoui

Mazen Kerbaj, Raed Yassin and Charbel Haber

Rouba3i (Mazen Kerbai, Chrsitine Sehnaoui, Sharif Sehnaoui, Fabrizio Spera)

Mazen Kerbaj performing at Franz Hautzinger’s Oriental Space, Konfrontationen Festival 2007

Al Maslakh record label

Mazen Kerbaj


040

NOVEMBER 2010

OPPORTUNITIES

Opportunitie Arcomis – call for scores for online publication Deadline: 31/12/10

Arcomis is welcoming submissions of scores from composers ahead of the official launch of its online publishing service. Scores accepted to the collection will be available for digital download or in printed format. Scores of all types are welcome: grounds for inclusion in the collection are not stylistic but rather are concerned with presentation. We’re hoping that this new and innovative service to composers will be of use and we welcome any comments or suggestions that you may have about what we’re doing. www.arcomis.com

WAKTM – call for collaboratorsz Deadline: 31/12/10 WAKTM is a musical/opera/film/ performance in progress. Based on a book by Chris Eales, we are looking for artists in any form, styles, from any locations, backgrounds, religions, languages, races to collaborate with us to create the work. www.waktm.com www.twitter.com/waktm

CoMA London Ensemble – call for pieces Deadline: 01/01/11

Composers are invited to write flexibly scored pieces for the CoMA London Ensemble based on a visual image. Selected works will be rehearsed for a public performance in March 2011. CoMA (Contemporary Music Making for Amateurs) is a national organisation dedicated to promoting participation in contemporary music. CoMA commissions leading composers to write music which is technically suited to amateur ensembles, without any compromise in artistic integrity.   CoMA London Ensemble is a vibrant ensemble of about 25 players who meet weekly to rehearse with conductor Gregory Rose. They have performed at bmic Cutting Edge series, and major festivals including Huddersfield, Spitalfields and Canterbury Sounds New. The ensemble consists of strings, wind, brass, keyboards and percussion and plays only new music, mostly written with flexible scoring in 4 parts with piano and percussion. Conrtact Liz Herbert: library@coma. org or 0208 806 3959/0797 339


041

NOVEMBER 2010

6836. Project www.coma.org Electroclassic

call for submissions

OPPORTUNITIES

plexity of music copyright and intellectual property in a short symposium.

Deadline: 29/11/10

Following on from our research fund awarded by the Arts Council of England’s Digital Content Development programme, Welsh National Opera would like to commission three digital sonic artists to respond to a collection of Welsh National Opera produced audio samples taken from our forthcoming season. The selected artists will also be invited to collaborate with musicians from Welsh National Opera’s Orchestra during scheduled sessions in March through to April. Works are invited from sonic artists or composers who are working with digital compositions and open to collaborate with Welsh National Opera’s Orchestra. Artists will be encouraged to engage with new audiences, developing their creative pieces into a live performance, sonic art or digital media installation. The performance and installation will also be broadcast on Welsh National Opera’s digital platform WNO///3. The residency will take place between January and May 2011. As part of this event artists will also be expected to openly debate the com-

Email david.massey@wno.org.uk for more information.

New Music Critics Collective – call for submissions Deadline: 30/11/10

New Music Critics Collective is a new venture designed to provide a platform for people who write about British new music. Its rough and ready blog format aims to keep the atmosphere informal, yet informative. We are looking for the first submissions for our new site. The site is aimed towards British new music (anything from the start of 2010 onwards), which includes electronica, dance music, composition, experimental music and sound art. There is a word limit of 500, and we welcome CD reviews, event reviews, event promotion and general commentaries/articles.   Email newmusic.cc@gmail.com and be part of the first wave of site entries!


The magazine of


INTO November  
INTO November  

Sound and Music INTO magazine, November 2010

Advertisement