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In celebration of Lou Harrison’s centennial, Wild Rumpus is premiering a work by Brian Baumbusch, Kings, which is an homage to Harrison’s music, on Friday, May 5 at St John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Here, guitarist and Executive Director Giacomo Fiore interviewed Brian about his new piece, his background, and upcoming projects. Learn more about Brian’s music at his website.
GF: Your piece Kings is conceived in part as an homage to Lou Harrison; in what ways has Lou’s music informed your own through the years?
BB: I’ve been listening to Lou Harrison’s music since I was probably 17. The first recordings of his that I got into were on John Schneider’s Just West Coast album. At the time, I was just getting really into alternative tunings, and, being a guitarist as well, I was really attracted to that album. From there, it was Rhymes with Silver, and then Linda Burman-Hall’s album of harpsichord and cembalo pieces in different well-temperaments, which ended up being the one I’ve listened to the most. I learned some of [Harrison’s] pieces on guitar, including one of the Jhalas and Scenes from Nek Chand. I was never particularly interested in his gamelan music, though recently I’ve really enjoyed some of his American gamelan pieces, particularly the Suite for Violin and American Gamelan, which I’ve been playing with Willie Winant. I think I never got into his gamelan music originally because I was also much more in the Balinese camp. Also, I wasn’t particularly supportive of the idea of tuning gamelan sets to just intonation because for me, gamelan tuning was much more about embracing inharmonicity; but i’ve since given up on such idealism.
GF: The third movement, “Boru”, features a rather unusual instrument—a resophonic guitar tuned in just intonation, devised by Harrison towards the end of his life. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
BB: So guitar is my original sin, although I am more actively a percussionist and gamelan musician as of the last 5 years. I had one of those JI guitars made for me (with the generous help and support of one Giacomo Fiore, mind you), because I was hoping to bridge my interests between guitar and alternative tunings. However, I never got around to composing much for it because the full-on just tuning seemed to pigeon-hole the instrument into a certain modal language, which I like for re-tuned piano stuff like LaMonte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano and Riley’s The Harp of New Albion, but wasn’t able to capture in composing for guitar. Nonetheless, I’ve still remained interested in Harrison’s JI guitar and have hopes to write something more extensive for that instrument. The story behind “Boru,” in fact, was that I composed the piece for a subset of Balinese semar pegulingan (seven-tone) gamelan instruments last summer, with the intent to incorporate it into a longer piece that I had written for those instruments + electric guitar and electric organ.
I originally thought to have the piece played on gamelan at one point in the composition, and then later on organ at another point; I later realized that it actually fit really well on the guitar, so I planned to have it played as a solo guitar piece to open that whole performance, but eventually I scrapped it altogether. Then, as I was working up the music for Kings, I decided that that piece would actually work really well in its arc, and that it would probably sound fine on the JI guitar. I had to adjust a few notes from what I originally wrote for guitar (or really for gamelan), so as to avoid as many wolf-fifths as I could, but I turned out liking it on JI guitar more than any of the other iterations. Also, the name ‘Boru’ comes from the King Brian Boru of Ireland (11th century), which is actually the person whom my mom named me after. So that piece is kind of special to me… One of the only solo guitar pieces I’ve ever (formally) written also.
GF: You could say that the piece uses different tunings. Do you consider yourself to have a flexible approach to intonation?
BB: I strive for that more and more, and it is actually something that I hold in an extreme high regard these days, that is the ability to find meaning in all tunings (even equal temperament!) and in mixing them together. I would say that there was a time when I was quite inflexible in that I wasn’t really interested in any music in equal temperament. I’ve since grown out of that and learned to like each tuning that I come across for its own possibilities and individuality. Lately, I’ve been really interested in mixing tunings (so, often equal temperament and something heavily inharmonic like gamelan or other percussion instruments). This piece has an aspect of that with the mix of the metal tubes (which although tuned to a concert pitch, have really complex spectra that interact in unique ways with the other harmonic instruments in the ensemble), and especially the brake drums combined with the clarinet, violin, and piano. I’ve been into Charles Ives lately, and especially his father’s obsession with hearing two different ensembles performing simultaneously; I’ve been approaching new pieces by trying to design that sort of interplay with poly-tempo and poly-harmonic relationships.
GF: Indeed, there’s some intricate poly-temporal stuff happening in the interludes. As a composer, what’s your approach to this sort of device? Do you relate simultaneous tempos to acoustical phenomena, sort of like Cowell described in New Musical Resources?
BB: I’m often going for a swarming/flocking aesthetic (schools of fish are good) when using multiple tempo relationships; my hope is that each individual line will be semi-indescernable, but that the lines will have a cohesive motion as a flock, and “change-directions” in concert with each other, for example. In the first movement of Kings, it’s all about creating strobing through the four lines, as they phase and tessellate with each other so fast that secondary and tertiary patterns emerge, both in the fundamental frequency register as well as the higher part of the spectrum, which is a lot of what I am listening to. The last movement is kind of new in my poly-tempi exploration in that I’m going for very slow moving non-coincidental tempo relationships, so that as they pull apart and align, we derive some sort of meaning from how patterns emerge from this generative process, almost like in deterministic chaos. Sometimes I’m thinking of the tempo relationships in terms of their large scale poly-rhythmic relationships, like some large 3/2 that shifts to a 4/3 over time, or something like that, which you could say is reminiscent of Cowell, although I don’t think of it the same way as he did. Rather, I would say where I agree with Cowell is that any simple ratio (2/1, 3/2, 4/3, 5/4, etc..) will have musical significance whether applied to frequency relationships or tempo relationships.
GF: What is the Lightbulb Ensemble?
BB: A neo-gamelan group that I put together during the end of my time at Mills while completing my master’s. We mostly play on a set of instruments that I built which are inspired by Balinese instruments (especially with regard to their tuning), and the tuning embraces a theory of inharmonicity which was put forth by William Sethares in his book Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale.
The Balinese kind of broke the question of tuning wide open by designing audible beats into every pair of instruments, so that the instruments are always beating with one another as a feature of allure and attractiveness; most other tuning theories have been based on eliminating beats, treating them like the enemy. Through my work with Balinese music, I’ve learned to embrace difference-tone beats and inharmonicity, and find those sounds to be some of the most attractive to me.
GF: Tell us what else you have going on in terms of projects and commissions.
BB: I recently won a generous grant from the Gerbode Foundation that will commission a new piece of mine on the Other Minds music festival in San Francisco, a little over a year from now. I plan to compose for the Lightbulb Ensemble, although I might build some new keys for the instruments to start working in a different scale, and also incorporate several 12-tone instruments to have some poly-ensemble capabilities. I will certainly be exploring poly-tempo relationships in this piece, which will actually involve an extended collaboration between my bother Paul, who is a poet and playwright, and Chis Bisset, a South African video artist. We will produce a silent film inspired by German expressionism (and commenting on the historical rise of fascism), and I will compose a long piece (around two hours) that Lightbulb will perform along to the video, inspired in part by early minimalist aesthetics.
Wild Rumpus presents
Friday, October 16, 2015: 8 PM
Berkeley Arts Festival
2133 University Avenue, Berkeley
Wild Rumpus presents a program of genre-bending works of chamber music expressing a wide variety of reflections on life in the 21st century. Echoes and repetition provide two threads weaving themselves throughout this program. Paula Matthusen’s The Ontology of an Echo takes field recordings made in abandoned underground tunnels in New York City and orchestrates them for chamber ensemble. We also reprise a work we commissioned in our very first season by Jenny Olivia Johnson, Reflect Reflect Respond Respond which takes its inspiration from the mythical story of Echo and Narcissus and J.S Bach’s chorale Jesu meine Freude. Composed for two sopranos and ensemble, Johnson responds to the story with music that continually echoes and doubles back on itself, with electronic processing further enhancing the effect.
Beat Furrer’s Invocation VI from his opera Invocation makes typically idiosyncratic use of repetition. The aria for soprano and flute with brilliantly varied sonic textures looping in varying and unpredictable ways evokes St. John’s allegory of the soul’s search for God. Jürg Frey represents the Wandelweiser Group of composers from central Europe, still little known in the United States. Frey’s music is marked by its extreme stillness and quiet; despite its minimal materials, the music has a stark hypnotic beauty unlike anything else. Rounding out the program is a world premiere by up and coming composer Christopher Cresswell, part of Wild Rumpus’ continuing Commissioning Project, supporting some of the most exciting young composers on the scene today.
Christopher Cresswell: From Dreams, We Emerge (2015) World Premiere
Jenny Olivia Johnson: Reflect Reflect Respond Respond (2012)
Paula Matthusen: The Ontology of an Echo (2013)
Beat Furrer: Invocation VI (2003)
Jürg Frey: More or Less Normal (2005-07)
Joanne de Mars – For the Sea (2014) World Premiere
After almost 400 submissions and a lot of listening, we’re thrilled to announce the winners of the 2015 Commissioning Project! Thanks again to everyone who applied! Here they are:
Carolyn Chen has made music for supermarket, demolition district, and the dark. Her work reconfigures the everyday using sound, text, light, image, and movement. Recent projects include an assemblage on falling, a story for ASL interpreter strung to chimes at a distance, and an opera mashup of Euripides’ Hekabe and Red Riding Hood. Upcoming projects include works for Wild Rumpus and Klangforum Wien.
Wilder Shores of Love, commissioned for a 2011 Zankel Hall premiere by the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, was described by The New York Times as “evening’s most consistently alluring piece … a quiet but lush meditation.” The work has been supported by the Fulbright Foundation, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, MATA, impuls Festival, American Composers Forum, ASCAP, Stanford University, University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, Emory Planetarium, Wellesley Composers Conference, and Machine Project at the Hammer Museum. It has been presented at festivals and exhibitions in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Israel, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, China, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.
Chen has been fortunate to work with ensembles such as Pamplemousse, Surplus, Talea, Chamber Cartel, Die Ordnung Der Dinge, Dal Niente, On Structure, Ensemble This Ensemble That, Asamisamasa, NorthArc, Now Hear, Kallisti, Ostravska Banda, S.E.M., Prague Modern, Gliss, thingNY, Red Light, New York Miniaturist Ensemble, red fish blue fish, Silent Book, orkest de ereprijs, and Zwo. She earned a PhD in music from UC San Diego, and an MA in Modern Thought and Literature and BA in music from Stanford University, with an honors thesis on Free Improvisation and Radical Politics.
Joshua Clausen is a Minneapolis-based composer, music producer and educator. Clausen’s works often inhabit stylistic interstices between chamber concert music, electronic music and varied popular forms exerting “a dynamic intensity to [their] influence of popular culture (Computer Music Journal).”
Clausen has composed works for the Antithesis Project, AVIDduo, the Renegade Ensemble, Keith Kirchoff, Kyle Hutchins and Sarah Porwoll-Lee and has recently been awarded commissioning grants from the Jerome Foundation and MacPhail Center for Music. Clausen’s work has been presented at numerous festivals and conferences of new music including the International Computer Music Conference, Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States, New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, Electronic Music Midwest and the Spark festival.
Clausen is director of Community Programs at Slam Academy, a business he co-founded that is dedicated to community education in the electronic arts. He teaches theory, composition and electronic music at Perpich Arts High School, and was a composition mentor in the inaugural season of American Composers Forums’ NextNotes workshop and concert series for young composers. Clausen earned a Bachelor of Music degree (theory/composition, minor in philosophy) from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota and a Master of Arts (composition, minor in art – time & interactivity) from the University of Minnesota. His mentors at the University of Minnesota included Douglas Geers, Alex Lubet and Judith Lang Zaimont.
William Dougherty (b. 1988) is an American composer whose works have been performed by ensembles including the Orchestre National de Lorraine (Metz), the Nemascae Lemanic Modern Ensemble (Geneva), the Lontano Ensemble (London), Ensemble Phoenix (Basel), and TILT Brass (New York). His music has been performed in festivals such as the Tectonics Festival New York (2015), the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (2015), the 47th Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt (2014), the New York Philharmonic Biennale (2014), the Bowling Green New Music Festival (2014), and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Dougherty has received recognitions and awards from BMI, PARMA Recordings, the PRS for Music Society, Sound and Music, the American Composers Forum, the Philadelphia Orchestra Association, the Institute for European Studies, and the UK Foreign Aid and Commonwealth Office.
As a scholar, William has written and presented research into the life and works of Romanian composer, Horatiu Radulescu, in the U.K., Austria, and Switzerland. His recent article on Radulescu’s 5th String Quartet before the universe was born can be found in the April 2014 edition of quarterly contemporary music journal, Tempo.
William graduated with a Bachelor’s in Music Composition from Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance. As a Marshall Scholar, William earned his Master’s from the Royal College of Music in London after which he completed supplementary studies (Ergänzungsstudium) under the guidance of Georg Friedrich Haas in Basel. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate of the Musical Arts at Columbia University in New York City.
Currently based in Buffalo, New York, Nathan Heidelberger is a composer of diverse instrumental and vocal music. His pieces range in character from the uncannily beautiful to the unrelentingly didactic, dealing variously with lists, texts, distance, ephemerality, repetition, and the distortion of traditional musical objects. Nathan recently received his PhD, with distinction, from the University at Buffalo. He also holds undergraduate degrees in Composition and English from Oberlin College and Conservatory, where he was awarded the Walter E. Aschaffenburg Composition Prize. His primary teachers have included David Felder, Lewis Nielson, and Richard Carrick.
Nathan was a composition fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in summer of 2013 and at the Aspen Music Festival in the summer of 2012. He has also participated in the Copland House CULTIVATE Institute, June in Buffalo, and a residency at the Banff Centre. His music has been performed by such groups as Ensemble Court Circuit, Ensemble Linea, the Mivos Quartet, the New Fromm Players, the Nouveau Classical Project, and the Slee Sinfonietta. As the first composer-in-residence for the Netherlands-based Oerknal Ensemble, Nathan was the subject of their Lunatics portrait concert in June, 2014. His composition Of songs for soprano and string quartet was awarded the 2010 Frank Robert Abel Prize from the University of Louisville. In 2015 he was granted a Special Award from the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music to support the composition of a new solo piece for pianist Daniel Walden.
Sometimes a pianist and a horn player, Nathan focuses on performing the contemporary repertoire. He is a founding member of Wooden Cities, an ensemble committed to introducing new music to audiences throughout Western New York. As an undergrad, he worked closely with Helmut Lachenmann during the composer’s 2008 residency at Oberlin to prepare his solo piano works Echo Andante and Ein Kinderpsiel.
Carolina Heredia’s music aims to blend her musical experiences in the fields of Western Classical and Argentinean Folk and Tango. Her music has been performed in South America and the United States by esteemed groups such as the JACK quartet, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Cordoba State String Orchestra and Cordoba Metropolitan Orchestra. In Fall 2016 the University of Michigan Chamber Choir will premiere her piece “Virginia” under the baton of maestro Jerry Blackstone. In Winter 2016, the JACK quartet will premiere her dissertation, a piece for string quartet and electronics.
In the summer of 2015 she was a fellow at the Susan and Ford Schumman Center for Composition Studies at Aspen Music Festival and School where she studied with Steven Stucky and George Tsontakis. She is the recipient of the Brehm Prize in Choral Composition 2015, the University of Michigan International Research Grant 2015, the Margaret Dow Towsley Scholarship 2012, the Merit-Scholarship of the University of Michigan 2011 and the Dorothy Greenwald Scholarship 2011.
In 2014, Carolina founded the Khemia Ensemble, a group formed by eight performers and three composers, dedicated to performing and commissioning new music. Khemia ensemble will go on tour on August 2015 to Argentina and Colombia to conduct residencies at the National Universities of Cordoba and Bogota.
Carolina holds a Bachelor in Music Composition from the Universidad Nacional de Villa María (Argentina), a Bachelor in Violin from the Conservatorio Superior Félix Garzón (Argentina), a Master in Music Composition from the University of Michigan, and it is currently in her last year for the Doctorate in Musical Arts program at University of Michigan. Her professors include Michael Daugherty, Evan Chambers, Kristin Kuster and Erik Santos. Carolina has taught as a Graduate Student Instructor for the Chair of Electronic Music at the University of Michigan.
Finola Merivale is an Irish composer and pianist. Her music focuses on intercultural composition, improvisation and person-specific pieces. Her compositions have been featured at festivals such as the Bang on a Can Summer and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festivals, the 21st Young Composers Meeting, and they have been performed internationally. Her music has been published by the University of York Music Press and has been released by Huddersfield Contemporary Records. She has most recently studied composition with David Lang, Ken Ueno, Martijn Padding and Richard Ayres.
She holds an MMus Composition from the University of Leeds, and while there, she founded her own gamelan ensemble which promoted both traditional and contemporary gamelan music. She holds a First Class Honours B.A. in Drama & Theatre Studies and Music from University College, Cork.
Finola is moving to Philadelphia in August 2015, where she will become a doctoral fellow at the University of Pennylvania.
Dan Tramte Ph.D (b. 1985) is an (electro)acoustic composer/artist, a teaching assistant at Harvard University, a new media/music theorist, and the youtube ‘Score Follower.’ He is proficient in frequencies of 0Hz-20kHz (specializing in the upper and lower extremes), and also often works in frequencies of 430-790THz. Listeners have described his music in terms such as “noisy, intense” (Computer Music Journal 34-4), “youthful, energetic” (CMJ 35-3) “glitchy, fragmented, lots of silence” (ICMC 2011 review by John ffitch), “medium rare filet mignon” (Elainie Lillios) “I don’t feel safe in this room anymore” (Joseph Lyszczarz), and “This makes my face feel funny” (Monica Hershberger). His music has been presented on five continents; highlights include performances and research lectures at IMD, IRCAM, Composit, festival-futura, ISSTC, #foetexmachina, NYCEMF (x3), ACDFA (x2), CIME/ICEM (x2), SMC, EMM, ACMC, ICMC (x2), and SEAMUS (x2). In 2014/15 his works have been toured throughout USA and Europe by ensembles/soloists InterSpheres Trio, Patchwork, and Nico Couck. 2016 projects include commissions from Keith Kirchoff and Weston Olencki.
Over the past four years at the University of North Texas, Tramte has worked to develop audio/video granulation tools for multimedia theoretical analysis of independent video games (tA/v\Am), and for dance and live performance. He has presented this research at Darmstadt, Harvard, SMT, & Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
Wild Rumpus presents
Emma O’Halloran: Endless Deeps (World Premiere)
Stefan Weisman: Bloom (World Premiere)
Beyoncé (arr. Dan VanHassel): Blue
Christopher Cerrone: I Will Learn To Love A Person
I. That Night With The Green Sky
Steve Mackey: Fusion Tune
Jen Wang: Adrogué
Wild Rumpus presents “Darkness and Light” at the Center for New Music on Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. The performance marks the first in a series of three concerts featuring winners of the Wild Rumpus Commissioning Project.
“Darkness and Light” presents a study in musical contrasts, a contemporary musical exploration of chiaroscuro: juxtaposing harmony and noise, movement and stillness, shadow shapes and light. Gritty, kinetic energy reigns supreme in Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union for instrumental ensemble and in David Coll’s theatrical Position, Influence for soprano and sound sculpture, while harmonious stillness characterizes Jacob Cooper’s serene haiku Silver Threads and Arvo Pärt’s modern-day classic Fratres for violin and piano. Delicately poised between these bold extremes, Balance of Power by artistic director Dan VanHassel receives its West Coast premiere.
Three world premieres commissioned by Wild Rumpus round out the program, each making exquisite use of color and contrast: the wild surrealism of Ioannis Angelakis’ DreamPlay by Ioannis Angelakis references the absurd logic of dreams; Ben Richter’s serene, evocative Water’s Edge builds musical constructs only to detune and deform them; and David Bird’s Switch explores society’s mechanization through an interplay of noisy patterns and sounds for instrumental trio.
Ioannis Angelakis: DreamPlay (World Premiere)
David Bird: Switch (World Premiere)
Ben Richter: Water’s Edge (World Premiere)
Louis Andriessen: Workers Union
David Coll: Position, Influence
Jacob Cooper: Silver Threads
Arvo Pärt: Fratres
Dan VanHassel: Balance of Power (West Coast premiere)