Archive for the ‘Ars Nova Workshop’ Category

Looking for Greater Possibilities: Derek Bailey’s “Ping”

Posted June 23rd, 2016

This weekend the Ars Nova Workshop presents hcmf//anw, a British Contemporary Music Festival, featuring the US premieres of compositions from free improvisation luminaries Derek Bailey and Paul Rutherford, as well as a performance from renowned contemporary improviser John Butcher. The series of performances are presented in conjunction with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the UK’s largest international festival of new and experimental music, and will bring together key members of the British improvisation scene with some of Philadelphia’s most accomplished and versatile musicians to realize these remarkable works. The festival kicks off on Friday June 24th here at FringeArts with an evening of Bailey and Rutherford’s compositions, including a piece by Bailey based on Samuel Beckett’s short story Ping, and continues through Saturday with two events at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, one of which is free. Click here for tickets (Fri. and Sat.) and more info about the festival.

Samuel Beckett’s short story Ping is a challenging one. In fact, some may even contest its distinction as a story. Considering its lack of any discernible storytelling elements readers are trained to look for, defending its categorization is an uphill battle. Still, it’s hard to deny the presence of a deft craft that propels the reader through this dense, surreal, yet impossibly transformative work of art.

Derek-BaileyThough there are various speculations regarding the subject matter of Ping, to dive in with the hope of discerning what it’s “about” can prove maddening. There’s a room, there’s a body, there’s largely an absence of color, there’s a memory . . . maybe. Without clear contextual markers we are left with nothing but a series of impressionistic images, yet they are pointedly wielded. Beckett attempts to represent consciousness as it is experienced by subtracting any sense of omniscience. He relies on an incredibly limited vocabulary and in turn a great deal of rhetorical repetition to achieve this goal. As such, each slight tweak to a particular image or phrase becomes all the more significant. This cycle of repetition and rework has a cumulative effect and by the end there’s a strong sense of finality and change, even if the particulars of that change remain obscured. Though Ping is challenging, heady material to draw inspiration from, it makes some sense that free improvisation pioneer Derek Bailey decided to compose a piece of music around it at the time that he did.

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What Was Said

Posted June 19th, 2016

This Monday, June 20, FringeArts and the Ars Nova Workshop present a rare North American performance—and the first in Philadelphia—from esteemed Norwegian jazz musician and composer Tord Gustavsen, accompanied by his long-standing drummer Jarle Vespestad and vocalist Simin Tander. The trio recently released their debut, What Was Said, on the venerable ECM Records to much acclaim, with one critic from The Guardian noting, “The mixture of the instrumentalists’ distilled reflections with Tander’s palette of hummed tones, sighing note-bends and pristine inflections represents a beguiling new Gustavsen collaboration “

While Gustavsen and Vespestad’s well established musical rapport has been widely lauded, perhaps the greatest revelations to be found on What Was Said are in the spellbinding vocal stylings of Simin Tander. Regarded as one of European jazz’s brightest young voices, the German-Afghan singer previously released two albums with her quartet—2011’s Wagma and 2014’s Where Water Travels Home—that established her as a polyglot whose tireless creativity is matched only by her stunning voice. While her debut found her singing in English, Spanish, and her own improvised language, she expanded her repertoire to include Pashto on her follow up, describing the album as “a journey – to myself, through the world of my emotions and thoughts and to my Afghan roots.” Doing so not only expanded her vocal palette, but helped to spark the collaboration that would eventually become What Was Said.

Around the time of Where Water Travels Home’s release, Gustavsen was exploring Sufi poetry for a project with Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat. When Tander’s album came to his attention he was instantly drawn to her singular voice and Pashto singing, and a collaboration was soon arranged. Though there was initially no defined direction for the project, it wasn’t long before the two began drawing from the poetry of Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi and Norwegian hymns of Gustavsen’s childhood as source material for the album’s lyrics. The hymns were translated to English, reinterpreted and amended to better fit Tander’s personal aesthetics, and then translated to Pashto by Afghan poet B. Hamsaaya. “We wanted someone not only who can translate the lyrics but who also has a sensitivity for poetry, especially Pashto, which is a different universe when you translate,” Tander told All About Jazz, adding, “You cannot just translate word for word—you have to get the context.”

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A Crash Course in the Works of Chatham, Shea, and Dahl

Posted May 19th, 2016

Next Tuesday FringeArts, in collaboration with the Ars Nova Workshop, hosts one of the most important figures in contemporary music accompanied by two of the most wildly accomplished and versatile musicians working today. The powerhouse trio led by Rhys Chatham, featuring drummer Kevin Shea and bassist Tim Dahl, will delve into the murky sonic depths of post-punk and return with something that will no doubt rock you in your seat (tickets/info). Minds will be blown. Maybe a few ear drums too.

Each of the performers have tirelessly explored so many varied sounds throughout their prolific careers it’s difficult to grasp the breadth of their achievements. Below you’ll find a brief introduction to just some of the boundary-pushing work these three have created over the years.

Rhys Chatham

In 1971 Chatham premiered Two Gongs, one of the best examples of his early work. Featuring Chatham and Fluxus affiliated sound artist/composer Yoshi Wada on a pair of large Chinese gongs, the piece showcases the duo’s incredibly precise and controlled drumming, as well as Chatham’s mastery as a composer. What may seem like an improvisation is actually a carefully calibrated piece, each strike composed and working to achieve the piece’s rapturous effect. It’s hypnotic, it warps your sense of time, it’s really damn loud, and in it one can hear early strains of all noise music to come. Like the ebbs and flows of a raging sea or the chaotic abandon of a blustery storm, the piece tosses about its listeners and leaves them in a state of awe.

By 1976 Chatham’s work began to be shaped by the burgeoning punk rock scene. Chatham began exploring intersections of minimalist composition and punk rock instrumentation which in turn led to his most influential work, Guitar Trio. Consisting of three guitarists, a bassist, and drummer, the piece’s deceptively simple structure belies its unprecedented brilliance. “In this century (the 21st), it has never taken more than an hour to teach G3 to everyone’s satisfaction and comfort level,” Chatham wrote to performers in his 2007 tour of the piece. The framework he lays out for performers provides enough room for each to incorporate touches of their personal style, which has in turn led to more enthralling variations of the piece than would seem possible. It still stands as a perfect entry point to minimalism, punk, and no wave, a genre which Chatham helped kick start.

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