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Posts tagged 'New Focus Recodings'

Listening to Social (and Musical) Distance with Wang Lu

As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to make live concerts with large audiences impossible, musicians and composers are faced with a unique opportunity to think carefully about the sociality of composition, performance, and listening: since sound can travel through physical space (and digital space), what can music mean, or do, in a time of social distance?

Wang Lu is a composer whose work has explored ideas of the distances of time, memory, and place—often evoking, recreating, altering, manifesting places and times from her own distant memories. The titular work on her recently-released album, An Atlas of Time, maps and remembers sound and space from her own past: the opening melody of a children’s television broadcast is reincarnated in the strangeness of the present; fragments of the ambitiously trans-historical "Internationale" struggle among instruments responding to its insistent reemergence. In this sense, Wang’s pre-COVID music was already exploring ideas of “social distance”: a kind of musical sociality between people that connects them through time and space. 

During the COVID era, Wang has had the opportunity to stage this kind of “distant musical sociality” through a residency as a Vanguard Young Composer in Residence at Chicago Opera Theater: a paradoxical residency that is at once physically present yet also largely virtual. The experience of working with music and theater is new to Wang, who says that it has changed the way she thinks about her role as the composer: not only is she working with performers and conductors, but now also a director and a dramaturg, all of whom increase the complexity of composing in musical time. Wang reflects: “Now I have to think about dramatic action, movement, breathing, how much time and space a person needs to express themselves… and to translate that into Sibelius, with its insistent metronome—it’s hard to translate time!”  

One example of how Wang is navigating this new dynamic is a series of four art songs she has composed for the singers of the Chicago Opera Theater—who, she reports, have been living in a “pod” and quarantining before rehearsals in order to continue their craft. In “The Everlasting Voices”, sung by bass-baritone Keanon Kyles, Wang translates the senses of time, distance, and memory she has developed in her works for chamber ensembles into a composition for a single voice—from extremely dense polyphony to the simple, modal writing of an a capella voce.  

Wang also brought this sense of a personal unfolding of time to her new work Like Clockwork, which was commissioned and premiered by the Seattle Modern Orchestra—entirely remotely. For this work, written with Beethoven’s 250th birthyear in mind, Wang created a score that includes guided improvisation, asking five performers to record themselves at home, listening to recordings of each other as they improvise, remembering what role Beethoven’s music played in their own musical development. “Some repertoire might be right on your fingertips, memories in your hands from training… each gesture moves through the next like a clock—it’s what retains a sense of time, clock and calendar.” In Like Clockwork, Wang meditates on her own memories: “like walking through an old conservatory building in china, where all of the practice rooms leak sound”, creating a spatial memory. 

In June 2021, Wang is scheduled to premiere a new work for The Crossing: a socially-distanced, outdoor performance for 24 singers, each equipped with their own personal microphone and speaker, allowing them to stand in a 170-foot-diameter circle. A concentric circle inside will contain loudspeakers, and inside that circle, pods of audience members will listen in the round. Wang says that this work, which will set poems from Forrest Gander’s 2018 Be With, will continue to explore topics of distance, connection, and mourning. “Intricate rhythm of response isn’t possible with physical distance. But like ‘mountain songs’ sung by distant lovers across valleys, with communication across physical distance, it makes private relationships become uniquely public.” 


Richard Carrick's "lanterne" Released on New Focus Recordings

Richard Carrick has often felt most at home composing music for intimate spaces. In his chamber music, Carrick brings his own sense of virtuosity and structure to the interaction between nimble performers, adding his own meticulous artistry to the act of small-scale musical performance. As a performer himself, and as co-director of the Either/Or Ensemble, Carrick seeks out the precarious nuance and subtlety of live performance, writing works for small instrumental forces that focus both performer and listener to the present moment. 

lanterne, Carrick's latest release with New Focus Recordings, brings several of his works together on an album that celebrates this kind of small-scale intimacy in a time when so many people have been forced into social isolation, and in a time when the reflection made possible by his music is all the more valuable. Though this album was conceived well before COVID, Carrick's music takes on even more meditative power. In the titular composition lanterne, for example, Carrick explores the intricate possibilities of the bass flute, creating a kind of "wall of sound" that emerges from its lower register and climbs rhythmically throughout the instrument's harmonics and even the performer's own voice. The gasping, breathy sonorities of lanterne also emerge metaphorically in Carrick's 2018 string quartet Space:Timewhich imagines the physical barriers of space travel—from the claustrophobia of the interior spaces for humans, to the pull of gravity and acceleration "into the light", as its coda is titled. 

Like many composers, Carrick often works with the musicians for whom he has written many of the works on lanterne both in person and remotely—this latter method involving correspondence including scores, recordings, videos, and voice memos. The ability for Carrick and his collaborators to share sketches, ideas, and sounds together, even though they are not in the same space, enables Carrick to compose works that evoke liveness and virtuosity through careful craft and technique. Carrick often draws inspiration for this refinement of performative gesture from gugak, the traditional music of Korea, which often features highly controlled yet wildly expressive sounds generated on instruments intended for small spaces. On lanterne, three works explicitly incorporate structural and sonic elements from gugak: DangaSeongeum, and sandstone(s), the last of which incorporates traditional Korean instruments put into timbral dialogue with flute, violin, and cello.  

Recorded before the current crisis, but mixed and mastered in the isolation of a global pandemic, Carrick's lanterne is a prescient reminder of the possibilities of smallness and intimacy that emerge from the interaction between composers, performers, carefully crafted as scoee and recording—even in a time when we all must remain physically alone. Check out an interview with Carrick by New Focus Recordings below.

Christopher Cerrone's "Liminal Highway" Released as Album and Film

Back in 2016, Christopher Cerrone continued his innovative exploration of new possibilities for musical composition with a work for the flautist Tim MunroLiminal Highway, for flute and electronics. Originally co-commissioned by Miller Theatre & New Music USA, this work continued to develop into more than a work for live performance: in 2018, Cerrone and Munro teamed up with Four/Ten Media to produce a film of the piece, shot aboard the decaying SS United States—a decomissioned ship that lives in the Philadelphia harbor. 

Like many of Cerrone's works, Liminal Highway takes inspiration from a poem: "Liminal Highway," by John K. Samson, known for his work with the indie-rock band The Weakerthans. In conversation with the Classical Post, Cerrone and Munro discuss the making of the piece, including Cerrone's amateur explorations of the flute, taking inspiration from the world's longest reverberation, and the process of "fixing" a piece in recorded media. In addition to the film, Liminal Highway is also released as an audio recording on New Focus RecordingsLiminal Highway joins many other of Cerrone's works as hybrid works that are simultaneously fixed and open, existing in multiple media yet also begging to be performed live. 

All five movements of Liminal Highway are now streaming on Bandcamp, where the album is also available for sale:

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