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Liang Deriving Worlds
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Lei Liang: Deriving Worlds

What would it mean to listen to a painting? What is the relationship between landscape, memory, gesture, vision, and sound—and how can technology help us begin to answer this question? Lei Liang has been exploring these intersections in his musical compositions: Brush-Stroke, In Praise of Shadows, and Listening for Blossoms all enmesh Liang's visual and perceptual experience with his own sonic world. Now, Liang has embarked on an ambitious project to combine this composerly practice with contemporary science, engineering, and technology, resulting in a three-part composition entitled Hearing Landscapes.

(Liang studies multi-spectral scans of Huang Binhong painting; © Alex Matthews)

As a composer-in-residence at the University of San Diego's Qualcomm Institute since 2014, Liang has been working on a project that explores the correlations between sound and vision in traditional Chinese art. "Hearing Landscapes" begins with the paintings of Huang Binhong, a chinese painter whose freehand calligraphic landscapes continued the long tradition of ink-wash painting that dates back to the Tang dynasty into the 1950s. With support from the Mozhai Foundation, who loaned Liang artworks by Huang Binhong, and several grants from the National Science Foundation and the Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities award, Liang and a team of scientists and engineers produced ultra-high resolution, multi-spectral scans of Binhong's works. From these scans, Liang and another team of engineers produced software to translate Binhong's brush-strokes into the sonic world of spatialized, granular synthesis, which Liang uses in his three-part electro-acoustic composition, Hearing Landscapes

A new documentary has just been released that features excerpts from "Water and Mist", one of the three parts of Liang's Hearing Landscapes, alongside interviews with the project team and stunning footage of the project. Watch the film above, and check out a performance of Liang's Brush-Stroke with the Callithumpian Consort, below: 

Pierre Jalbert's "Howl" Recorded by Pro Arte Quartet

Pierre Jalbert has a distinctively American compositional voice that has been heard in concert halls around the country. The Pro Arte Quartet has recently released the first recording of Jalbert's Howl, for clarinet and string quartet, which takes its inspiration from the American master poet Allen Ginsberg. In addition to the emotional and intense nature of the poems' content, Jalbert also translates the poem's form into music, offering a stunning and truly American piece. Jalbert writes that beyond the content of the poem, his chamber work is primarily inspired by Ginsberg's long lyrical line:

This long line is recreated by the clarinet with the strings providing an active underpinning. His poem has been referred to as a kind of 'litany of praise' and the second movement becomes the litany, with the clarinet acting as 'Vox Dei', the voice of God. The third movement returns to the musical subject matter of the first, this time with the bass clarinet taking on the virtuosic role. 


Albany Records has graciously released the first movement of the quartet for free on YouTube—check it out below. 

Gregory Spears' "Fellow Travelers" Premieres at Cincinnati Opera



Gregory Spears
is a crucial voice in the contemporary opera landscape. His compositions, such as Paul's Case and Our Ladyshow how opera can communicate with the history of dramatic vocal music—from medieval liturgical music to the development of opera in the 17th century—while still remaining dedicated to exploring contemporary issues of identity, desire, and politics.

His latest project, Fellow Travelers, is based on the 2007 Thomas Mallon novel of the same name, with a libretto by Greg Pierce. Like Paul's Case, Fellow Travelers focuses on the experience of a young man in the process of discovering his identity, while reconciling his desires with American society. Fellow Travelers is set during the so-called "lavender scare" in 1950's, an often silenced era of oppression overshadowed by the more visible expulsion of suspected communist "deviants" from government and industry. Spears writes, "it's about a part of our history which was almost invisible, and I think one of the things opera can do is make invisible things visible."

Fellow Travelers will see its world premiere on June 17th at the Cincinnati Opera, who commissioned and co-produced the new work along with G. Sterling Zinsmeyer. Check out Spears' aria "Our Very Own Home" from Fellow Travelers, which weaves a thread between post-minimalism and early baroque monody, performed at a 2013 workshop of the opera: 

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