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Thread: Exploring Contemporary Composers

  1. #556
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    I've been listening/relistening to several of Adams' works over the past couple of days, and one thing that occurred to me was that his music is even more minimalist than the minimalism of, say, Reich. In Reich's minimalism, you often have a highly rhythmic phrase that's played simultaneously across multiple instruments but played at different tempi or played on different beats, thus creating a sort of higher-order rhythm that phases in and out depending on the alignment of the lower-order rhythms.

    In Adams' minimalism, this aspect seems to be missing. And the reason for this is that Adams *loves* to use repeated notes, trills, tremolos, etc. When you repeat notes over and over, you end up with no vertical movement in your music, vertical movement being an essential component to establishing rhythm. It's much harder to establish a rhythm if you just play the same note than if you constantly change notes (think of the extreme case of Scelsi, where there's no rhythm at all because his music is restricted to a single note).

    Thus, the end result with Adams is that his music just moves from one collection of notes to the next, where each note in a given collection just repeats ad nauseam. And where there is rhythm, it's just the rhythm that result from repeated notes or trills landing on the strong beat (i.e. the rhythm is a very locomotive-sounding 1-2-1-2-1-2... -- the strong beat is in bold). In some pieces like Phrygian Gates or Shaker Loops, I find this brand of minimalism quite compelling, but in others like pieces like Common Tones in Simple Time (take note of the name of this piece), my mind did begin to wander. Here's Shaker Loops, which I think is a great example of what I'm trying to get at in this post:



    I'll be listening to more of his music over the next few days, especially some of his more recent stuff where he seems to depart from this minimalist aesthetic (The Dharma at Big Sur is a fantastic piece).
    Last edited by calvinpv; Oct-12-2019 at 02:49.

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  3. #557
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    Saw Adams' Girls of the Golden West last year (DNO Amsterdam), which is another co-production between Adams and Peter Sellars based on the California gold rush. Very much enjoyed myself there


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    I don't know if it has been recorded already.

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    Quote Originally Posted by calvinpv View Post
    I've been listening/relistening to several of Adams' works over the past couple of days, and one thing that occurred to me was that his music is even more minimalist than the minimalism of, say, Reich. In Reich's minimalism, you often have a highly rhythmic phrase that's played simultaneously across multiple instruments but played at different tempi or played on different beats, thus creating a sort of higher-order rhythm that phases in and out depending on the alignment of the lower-order rhythms.

    In Adams' minimalism, this aspect seems to be missing. And the reason for this is that Adams *loves* to use repeated notes, trills, tremolos, etc. When you repeat notes over and over, you end up with no vertical movement in your music, vertical movement being an essential component to establishing rhythm. It's much harder to establish a rhythm if you just play the same note than if you constantly change notes (think of the extreme case of Scelsi, where there's no rhythm at all because his music is restricted to a single note).

    Thus, the end result with Adams is that his music just moves from one collection of notes to the next, where each note in a given collection just repeats ad nauseam. And where there is rhythm, it's just the rhythm that result from repeated notes or trills landing on the strong beat (i.e. the rhythm is a very locomotive-sounding 1-2-1-2-1-2... -- the strong beat is in bold). In some pieces like Phrygian Gates or Shaker Loops, I find this brand of minimalism quite compelling, but in others like pieces like Common Tones in Simple Time (take note of the name of this piece), my mind did begin to wander. Here's Shaker Loops, which I think is a great example of what I'm trying to get at in this post:



    I'll be listening to more of his music over the next few days, especially some of his more recent stuff where he seems to depart from this minimalist aesthetic (The Dharma at Big Sur is a fantastic piece).
    This is an interesting idea. I like much of Reich and Glass's music, but I always felt that their music was "simpler" than Adams. I'm not sure I can define simpler well, but Adams music appeared less minimalist to me. There certainly are parts of Adams where what you say jumps out at us. I think Grand Pianola Music is a good example (I do love the work however).

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  7. #560
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    This is an interesting idea. I like much of Reich and Glass's music, but I always felt that their music was "simpler" than Adams. I'm not sure I can define simpler well, but Adams music appeared less minimalist to me. There certainly are parts of Adams where what you say jumps out at us. I think Grand Pianola Music is a good example (I do love the work however).
    I should've been clearer. I think if we're talking about harmony, then, yes, Adams seems less simple than Reich and Glass -- mostly because Adams seems to take an actual interest in traditional chord progressions, whereas Reich and Glass (I'm less familiar with Glass, so I may be wrong about him) seem to focus on literally just one or a few chords per piece but nevertheless try to create rhythmic variety within those few chords in the way I suggested earlier.

    So I think it's with respect to rhythm that Adams is simpler, though after listening to Adams's later works, I now think this only applies to his earlier works. Since the mid-1990s, he has definitely departed from this type of minimalism, and his recent stuff sounds almost like film music.

    As for the term "minimalism", I know that Adams has called some of his own music minimalist, but I would agree that maybe it's not the best term to use.

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    A much-performed piece by Adams is his "Lollapalooza." Is this minimalism? Here's a nice wind band arrangement.



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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    A much-performed piece by Adams is his "Lollapalooza." Is this minimalism?
    Adams left true Minimalism behind him by the early 1980's. However, there often minimalistic elements, obvious or subtle, in all of his pieces since.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Can't stop myself! John Adams, El Dorado Part 1: A Dream of Gold.



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    Composer: Simon Steen-Andersen (1976 -)

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    At the heart of Steen-Andersen's music is a desire to move away from music's inherent abstract nature and to try to "concretize" music as much as possible. For him, the abstract side of music is "all the elements that only pertain to intramusical matters -- that is, where music refers only to itself ... its opposite, the concrete, is understood as the tangible aspect or all that relates to the world outside the music" (taken from the liner notes of Black Box Music). For example, if I play a C Major triad on the piano, a concrete aspect would be, say, that specific timbre of the chord that refers to an outside world object (the piano), while some abstract elements would be, say, the fact that the chord possesses a major third interval, a minor third, and a perfect fifth (an interval being an intramusical relationship).

    So by creating a concrete music that points only to the outside world and not inward towards itself, what we get in Steen-Andersen's music is a sort of onomatopoeic quality in that the music is literally trying to recreate the sounds you would get from striking an object, any object. Now, a lot of composers today do that from time to time. But I think what separate Steen-Andersen from the others is that he does it better than everyone else (in my opinion, at least). His piece Black Box Music is a great example of his concrete music and is, therefore, a great place to start listening; in fact, the piece takes the notion of concrete music a bit further by including a essential visual element (this visual element being so essential that without it, the music literally becomes meaningless). I would say Black Box Music is easily one of the best pieces of contemporary music that I've heard. There are no full youtube videos of the piece, unfortunately (only an excerpt here); you'll have to buy it on DVD.

    Below is a description of Black Box Music that I wrote a couple of months ago in the "Pieces that have blown you away" thread. I don't feel like reinventing the wheel, so I'll just copy and paste it here:



    Black Box Music is essentially a concerto for conductor in three movements. Yes, conductor. To achieve this, Steen-Andersen blurs the line between a conductor who just gives instructions to an orchestra via hand signals and a puppet master who creates the illusion of sounds actually emanating from the hands (or puppets).

    The conductor places his hands in a box, and everything that happens inside the box is projected onto a screen in front of the audience. On both sides and behind the audience are three ensembles of 5 musicians each. When the conductor "plays", he will sometimes give instructions typical of a conductor. For example, if he points to the left, the ensemble on the left will play; if he raises his hand, the ensemble(s) will respond with increased dynamics; if he puts up the stop-sign hand sign, the musicians will stop playing. However, there are a few moments when the conductor gives signals and the musicians refuse to acknowledge. At these points, the conductor will humorously throw up his hands in exasperation or will wag his finger as if giving a stern lecturing.

    The best parts, though, are when the conductor gives everyday hand gestures like the V-sign, the telephone sign, the middle finger, paper/scissors/rock, the talking hand gesture, the finger gun, etc. Or when the conductor plays with knick-knacks in the box like rubber bands, plastic cups, and an electric fan. At these moments, the ensembles either play music that match our expectations of what the hand gestures should personify (e.g. the telephone signals give way to a telephone-sounding noise coming from the ensembles) or play music that comes eerily close the the actual tactile sounds of the knick-knacks. Either way, we're given to the illusion that the conductor himself is the source of these sounds. This is the concerto aspect of the work, the conductor being the soloist.
    Last edited by calvinpv; Nov-05-2019 at 04:54.

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    György Kurtág

    Musical Period
    20th Century, Contemporary

    Born
    February 19, 1926 in Lugoj, Romania

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    Classical
    Avant-Garde

  17. #567
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    Double Up, for orchestra and sampler, is a piece whose title refers to the risky strategy of doubling up on the stock market or at the casino; it can also refer to the doubling up on drinks at the bar. Thus, the sampler plays samples of sounds you would normally hear at the bar or at the casino, such as the sounds of a slot machine, drunken singing, and pouring of drinks (How these samples refer to doubling up in particular, I don't know).

    But the most interesting aspect of the piece is the orchestra imitating, or "doubling up", those very samples. Listen very closely and you can hear instruments playing alongside and melting into the samples. This is another example of the onomatopoeia that I referred to in the previous post, and here it's even more convincing than in Black Box Music (what puts Black Box Music over the top for me, though, is the visual element, which is absent here).

    The piece can be divided into two. The first half tries to tell a story through the samples (perhaps a story of winning big on the stock market? -- again I don't know); the second half organizes those samples into musical scales to form a musical "story", so to speak. The halves are divided by a speech from the sampler about doubling up on the market.

    This is yet another incredible piece by Steen-Andersen.

    Last edited by calvinpv; Nov-09-2019 at 23:03.

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    I listened to Double Up. I found the second part more enjoyable, but I'm not sure I can say exactly why other than that I was distinctly more engaged.

    I watched the Black Box Music video excerpts. I found it fun although I don't know what the full 32 minute video would feel like. I'm still slightly confused by the performance. I assume the musicians play a set score, and the conductor must time his hand gestures to that score. In other words, the conductor does not affect the music. The performer response seems too fast to be otherwise. Is that correct?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    I listened to Double Up. I found the second part more enjoyable, but I'm not sure I can say exactly why other than that I was distinctly more engaged.

    I watched the Black Box Music video excerpts. I found it fun although I don't know what the full 32 minute video would feel like. I'm still slightly confused by the performance. I assume the musicians play a set score, and the conductor must time his hand gestures to that score. In other words, the conductor does not affect the music. The performer response seems too fast to be otherwise. Is that correct?
    Yes, they play a set score, and for the first two movements, every musician and the conductor use "click track" (i.e. wear in-ear headphones that play a metronome). Not so for the third movement because there are several moments where the conductor has to set up the black box with rubber bands, mini fans, etc., and in setting up, he may encounter unexpected difficulties, so while the conductor sets up, the musicians repeat ad libitum whatever musical gesture they're on until the conductor is ready to go (obviously, the conductor shouldn't dilly-dally around). And yes, the conductor must time his hand gestures to the score.

    Reading through a few of his scores over the weekend, these types of safeguards seem to be omnipresent in Steen-Andersen's music. And it makes sense. He's trying to recreate with instruments sounds from the outside world. Such an endeavor, to be successful, leaves little room for error and even less room for free interpretation. So he puts in all these safeguards, provisos, and warnings in his scores to the effect of "Hey, musician, this passage coming up is difficult and fraught with uncertainty. You should practice it X times the normal amount and, if necessary, consider these alternative techniques." For example, in the piece in spite of, and maybe even therefore, the horn, clarinet, and flute have to play a Beethoven bagatelle while dismantling their instruments and placing all the pieces on a table. Steen-Andersen acknowledges that every brand of clarinet, flute, and horn are built a little differently, so he asks the players to know the ins and outs of their brand of instrument so that they can disassemble in a timely manner, and he also asks them to, if necessary, find a personal solution to playing the right notes on their broken-down instruments.

    Finally, I'm glad you used the word "fun" to describe his music. His music may not be pretty; in fact, without knowing the concepts behind the music, it can be pretty darn ugly. But it's fun.
    Last edited by calvinpv; Nov-12-2019 at 03:55.

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