An Un-Disappearance, and Personal News

I have, I admit, been a very bad blogger of late—which is to say this’ll be my first post in (ulp!) four years.

Not much to say today, but a little news upstate.

I’ve been quiet here, but busy elsewhere. In terms of writing, I’ve done a lot of reviews for the Journal of Music. Too many for me to link four years worth, but here’s a couple of quotes from the most recent ones.

On Louth Contemporary Music Society’s performance of Michael Pisaro-Liu’s *Asleep, wind, voice, poe:

Music like this resists narrative implications. Each section of the work is not a journey but a place. A new note, which may arrive after a couple of minutes of the same chord, feels not like a change in direction but like a change in weather. And with music this slow and delicate, the appearance of a simple major third in the strings has a surprisingly pronounced brightening effect; the addition of a single dissonant note in the bass of the piano gives a heightened friction. Throughout, you feel like your senses are especially attuned to small changes.

I’ve covered LCMS’s summer festival for the JM every year since 2017—except for the cancelled 2021 festival—so I was heartbroken to have to miss out this year, as I was self-isolating with Covid.

Last month, I covered “Totemic,” a release from the excellent Irish label Ergodos, featuring duos for percussion and viola:

Ironically, given its title, and unusually for an Ergodos release, Totemic feels like an album pulled in four directions at once. The forceful gestures of the Berio, Schlepper-Connolly’s cool trance, the tightrope walk of Moore’s piece, and the nocturnal stillness of Wilson’s each works in isolation, and I’ve found myself returning to each one alone several times.

And also last month, I covered Irish National Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. INO’s approach is generally to stage radical performances of canon—or canon-adjacent—works. I’ve generally found myself impressed, though I think the ambition of this one exceeded its outcome, though the quality of the singing was extremely high (and Tara Erraught is always amazing):

I’ll always admire a production that takes risks and makes bold choices. This would have been easy to stage as a period costume drama but, while it may have been less incongruous, it also wouldn’t have given a deeper look at the characters. And for all the pomp of the show, it is Erraught and [soprano Anna] Devin’s commitment to their characters, to displaying their internal and external conflicts, and their extraordinary vocal prowess, that carries the opera to success.

If you’re interested in reading what else I’ve been catching, the JM keeps a list of my reviews here.


My other project lately has been writing music for games. I’ve got a couple under my belt, though unfortunately one was withdrawn from availability. If you’d like to check out my first, Haunted Bar, it’s available here.

I also wrote a track for the game String of Hearts. And I’ve recently finished work on an upcoming visual novel, My Grandmother’s Last Adventure, due for release soon.

Within the next day or two, I’ll have a new page on this site with music to listen to. Moreover, I intend to start writing here more regularly, so I’ll see you again in under four years.

Review: Emanating Sparks

My latest review for the Journal of Music was for a concert I particularly enjoyed: a performance arranged by Louth Contemporary Music Society of music by Karen Tanaka, Tristan Murail, and John Luther Adams, performed by Taka Kigawa and Russell Greenberg:

Kigawa’s playing was impressive – it had to be – but as extraordinary as it was to watch his fingers dance across the rapid, complex passages, the delicacy of his playing was even more striking. In quiet moments, he summoned the merest ghosts of notes, tiny pinpricks just a half-step above silence.

Maud Cuney Hare

Remarkable story, written by Emily Hogstad for Song of the Lark:

Maud Cuney’s cultural inheritance was no doubt a bewildering one to come to terms with. It consisted of rape, poverty, and oppression, as well as self-determination, wealth, and privilege. Ultimately Maud Cuney chose to use that legacy, and the advantages it offered her, to promote the achievements of African musicians.

Despite a lifetime of devotion to that cause, she is almost entirely forgotten today.

Song of the Lark is one of a handful of classical music blogs out there doing really stellar work in highlighting overlooked composers and musicians—in its case focussing on women.

Hitler’s Jazz Band

Terrific piece by Mike Dash for Smithsonian Magazine on the Nazis’ jazz band.

Goebbels knew he needed to engage—with an increasingly war-weary German public, and with the Allied servicemen whose morale he sought to undermine. This clear-eyed determination to deal with reality, not fantasy, led him to some curious accommodations. None, however, were quite so strange as his attempts to harness the dangerous attractions of dance music to Hitler’s cause. It was an effort that led directly to the creation of that oxymoron in four-bar form: a Nazi-approved, state-sponsored hot jazz band known as Charlie and His Orchestra.

The decrees by which jazz had to abide have to be seen to be believed; they’re listed in full in the article.

(Via Scott.)

DeepNote

THX:

In 35 yrs we have NEVER shown this! View the never-before-seen score of #DeepNote THX’s audio trademark 🔊 created by Dr. James A. Moorer

It had never even crossed my mind that there might be a written-out sheet for this. Very cool.

“You cannot imagine the unimaginable”

I almost criminally let the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey pass without comment (and without rewatching the film). But here I am almost two months late.

The best thing I’ve read for the anniversary is Dan Chiasson’s piece for the New Yorker, rich with details I’d never heard.

In a movie about extraterrestrial life, Kubrick faced a crucial predicament: what would the aliens look like? Cold War-era sci-fi offered a dispiriting menu of extraterrestrial avatars: supersonic birds, scaly monsters, gelatinous blobs. In their earliest meetings in New York, Clarke and Kubrick, along with Christiane, sketched drafts and consulted the Surrealist paintings of Max Ernst. For a time, Christiane was modelling clay aliens in her studio. These gargoyle-like creatures were rejected, and “ended up dotted around the garden,” according to Kubrick’s daughter Katharina. Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures of thinned and elongated humans, resembling shadows at sundown, were briefly an inspiration. In the end, Kubrick decided that “you cannot imagine the unimaginable” and, after trying more ornate designs, settled on the monolith. Its eerily neutral and silent appearance at the crossroads of human evolution evokes the same wonder for members of the audience as it does for characters in the film. Kubrick realized that, if he was going to make a film about human fear and awe, the viewer had to feel those emotions as well.

Of course, it’s also an appropriate time to link back to my piece on the music from the film. (Part two, on A Clockwork Orange, is finally underway.)

Review: Misunderstandings, Trickery, and Guile

Lastly, my review of Irish National Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro, starring Tara Erraught and Jonathan Lemalu. INO is firing on all cylinders, and off to an excellent launch year. (I’m especially looking forward to Duke Bluebeard’s Castle in October.)

Erraught and Lemalu were a delightful pair, exchanging chaste kisses and loving glances as often as frustrated huffs and glowers. Their voices danced around the trickier passages so readily it was easy to miss the virtuosity.

Review: Bill Whelan’s Orchestral Music

Next, Bill Whelan’s recent album of orchestral music. Short version: it wasn’t quite for me, but I thought it did what it did very well, and it was catchy as hell.

There is in Whelan’s work an admirable self-assurance; a tightness in orchestration and harmonic structure, and an unapologetic sweetness in melody. It may be too much for some, too tidy, too sentimental, too carefully designed. These are two sides of the same coin. It’s Whelan’s control of musical design, and his direct emotionality, that have allowed him to create the most popular Irish piece of orchestral music of the past fifty years.

Review: Leaving Nothing Behind

As I begin to catch up again on my writing (I’ve been at work, just not very publicly), I realise that I have again left behind a number of recent reviews I’ve written for the Journal of Music.

First, the Kaleidoscope Gala concert felt like it was made for me; I’d be very surprised if it isn’t my favourite concert of the year.

Two refrains amongst classical music listeners are that contemporary music is difficult to programme alongside more traditional works because of the stark difference in style, and that alternative concert venues provide suboptimal listening experiences, and potentially noisy audiences. Smorgasbord concerts like this epitomise the nonsense of these arguments. Four more variegated works would be hard to find, but the audience – as full as I have seen the Sugar Club – was rapt.