Oregon ArtsWatch

 

Noise Fest 2018 preview: art of noise

Eugene-based festival extends a century-long experimental music tradition

By DANIEL HEILA

Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. — John Cage.

On Saturday, Eugene’s WOW Hall will tremble, throb, and reverberate with the tweeter-searing, woofer-warping sounds of Noise Fest 2018. The festival, which resurrects itself every year or so, is a day of genre-stretching, noise-based performances that run the gamut from glitch (technology pushed to its limits) to noise pop, No Wave to industrial and post-digital “organized sound” (Edgar Varèse’s definition of his music).

The festival is the brainchild of designer, artist, and noise musician Don Haugen, who started it in the early 2000s when he was associated with the newly formed Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA). The large gallery space at DIVA (now a Buy 2 convenience store) was the scene of endlessly creative expressions of noise in all its guises, including virtual silence, violent caterwauling, circuit-bent sweetness, and rich feedback decomposition.

klowd and Don Haugen at Noise Fest.

A couple of memorable acts from the first festival come to mind: Portland artist Daniel Menche’s foundation-shaking, additive, minimalistic performance, using only a contact mic at his throat, a few foot-pedal effects, and a giant speaker cabinet. Menche ended his set by doing a backward flip onto his bank of foot pedals which he then beat into silence with his fists (he happened to have a fractured collarbone at the time). And IDX1274, a dude dressed in work clothes and a snap back, who dropped an active microphone onto a steel plate and then attacked it with a power grinder.

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MORE THAN THREE HUNDRED NEWSPAPERS AND OTHER PERIODICALS across the United States have published editorials in today’s editions denouncing President Trump’s continuing attacks on the news media, which he has repeatedly characterized as “enemies of the people.” The media campaign, coordinated by the Boston Globe, is a daring and in some quarters controversial, yet necessary, step. The political tactic of deliberately confusing the public about what is truth and what is a lie is deeply dangerous to the core values of the nation, and to make a public enemy of the institution that exists to bring truth into the public view is to, in fact, endanger the nation as a whole. We shouldn’t have to say this. Unfortunately, in the nation’s current extreme circumstances, we do. Freedom relies on a free and open press. A government that denies this is a government that denies the rights and freedoms of its own people. Unwarranted attacks on the value and necessity of the press degrade and imperil the culture itself. We at ArtsWatch stand with the publications that have taken this stand, and with the journalists who strive every day to publish and broadcast what is true in spite of intense pressures to hide the truth from them and shake the public’s confidence in them. We hope you’ll stand with them, too.

Steampunked in WashCo

An exhibition at the Washington County Museum brings the imaginative artifacts of 11 steampunk artists into the gallery space

By MICHAEL SPROLES

The underground science fiction movement of steampunk has been steaming full speed ahead into the public eye since the 1980s, in books, movies, video games, music videos, and much more. For both fans and the unfamiliar, the Washington County Museum’s exhibit Steampunk: An Art Invitational allows the opportunity to browse works from regional artists that incorporate technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.

The exhibition, which continues through August 30, combines real museum artifacts with the artwork of talented tinkerers, costume designers and award-winning artists from the Tualatin Valley and across the Pacific Northwest. Some have been featured on Oregon Art Beat and Steampunk’d, a reality television series that features crafters and designers who specialize in steampunk creations.

ArtsWatch talked with three of the exhibition’s artists – Cherie Savoie Tintary, C. Morgan Kennedy, and Steve La Riccia – about their work and steampunk in general.

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Cherie Savoie Tintary’s “Deaux Ciseaux,” which translates to “Two Scissors,” features her daughter, Devin, donning steampunk attire. Photo courtesy of the artist

Tintary – a photographer and hairdresser who lives in Forest Grove – developed an interest in the retro-futuristic fashion of the genre in 2010 at San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest conventions on the West Coast. “I’d definitely heard of the term before, but then I saw this group called the League of S.T.E.M. walking around in steampunk regalia, and I was immediately inspired – they were mixing Victorian fashion with a ‘mad scientist’ aesthetic and gadgetry” she said. “I was studying photography at Chaffey College [in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.] and began a body of work for our 2011 student invitational show featuring models that I helped outfit and style in steampunk fashion.”

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‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb

Resonance Ensemble's Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community's struggles and celebrates its creativity

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

“One of the most common questions I get is ‘what is pride?’,” said Pride Northwest Executive Director Debra Porta at the Q&A following Resonance Ensemble’s June concert, Bodies. “It’s difficult to put into words.” This echoed Porta’s words from the beginning of the concert (an official Pride Week event), when she praised the pride and perseverance of those who “broke the universe into pieces” to be who they are and concluded that “Pride is a verb.”

The Cerimon House stage was lit with splashes of color, a rainbow of lights arrayed along the wall, a doubled Roy G. Bv coruscating out from central violets to perimeter reds. The concert commenced with Dominick DiOrio’s The Visible World, a sort of modern madrigal treating the struggle for marriage equality with a quilt of texts ranging from Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” and a love poem by Catullus to quotes from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and civil rights activist Paul Barwick. The title comes from Théophile Gautier’s quote “I am a man for whom the visible world exists,” but the piece was dominated by a line taken from a poster spotted outside Seattle City Hall in 2012: “Sorry it took so long.”

PRIDE Executive Director Debra Porta with Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon at ‘Bodies.’ Photo: Kenton Waltz.

That phrase spooled out through the ensemble in a Proverb-type canon that immediately put me in mind of Renaissance counterpoint, Meredith Monk, Caroline Shaw, David Lang. The harmony often veered into very chromatic realms, not dissonant (if the word even means anything anymore) but those dense, jazzy, Manhattan Transfer jazz chords that Resonance knows how to sing better than anyone else in Portland. Wolfe-style post-minimalist pulsations and flashes of Gabriel Kahane’s populist lyrical sensibility elevated quotidian lines like “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives” while two millennia of queer poetry intermingled over drones and semitone shimmers and cascades of “sorry it took so long.”

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Oregon Bach Festival review: vision vacuum

Lacking a coherent artistic vision, venerable festival flounders

By TOM MANOFF

You can’t really assess what was at this season’s Oregon Bach Festival without acknowledging what wasn’t: erstwhile artistic director Matthew Halls, the multi-talented conductor whose questionable dismissal last year was widely covered throughout the arts world. Would this new season put an end to the shocking (for many) episode? Would this year’s music reassure audiences and musicians that OBF will continue at the highest levels of artistry? Most crucial, could the festival of founding artistic director Helmuth Rilling and Matthew Halls remain world class — without a music director?

Baroque on Steroids

OBF 2018 started June 29 at Silva Hall with audience favorite Monica Huggett leading the Festival’s 30-member Baroque Orchestra in four of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. In first half lineup of Brandenburgs 2, 4, and 5, No.4 was best performed, with Huggett’s virtuosic violin passages shimmering through Bach’s delightfully dense harmony and counterpoint.

The other two Brandenburgs fared less well with poor ensemble playing. The tempos were quite brisk and not all sections kept up with the pace.

Monica Huggett conducted Bach’s music at this year’s Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Athena Delene.

The OBF Berwick Academy — the festival’s workshop orchestra of 30 young period instrumentalists — joined the OBF pros to make an unusually large orchestra for Bach, but suitable for Silva’s large space. Perhaps in keeping with this “Baroque-on-steroids” ensemble, Huggett led an irreverent (but somewhat charming) interpretation of Brandenburg One. The longtime Portland Baroque Orchestra leader and renowned Baroque violinist asked the audience to imagine that the two horn players in the ensemble were drunk, low-born musicians who had crashed a royal musical occasion. Whenever they played, Huggett pointed her bow to them, exhorting a loud, over the top effect. At other times Huggett stomped her feet with the music. Not your standard Bach, but the audience loved it. I remain on the fence. Since the concert I’ve listened to the work several times on CD with the score to restore the music to a more pristine version in my mind.

The concert ended with a tidy performance of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4, led from the keyboard by visiting conductor Alexander Weimann, but, following the “Bach Bacchanale” that was the Brandenburg One, the Suite came off as too straight-laced.

Silva’s acoustic was problematic. The sound was unfocused and without warmth. But last year, in the same hall, a splendid OBF performance of Handel’s Hercules proved that some Baroque fare sounds fine in Silva space. But Handel’s textures are generally less dense than Bach’s, especially the Brandenburgs. How to use Silva (and its electronic enhancement system) is an ongoing issue for OBF, ideally addressed by a future artistic director.

Berwick Academy

My favorite performance of the festival was by the Berwick Academy. The first half of their July 3 concert featured Telemann’s Overture in E minor, Händel’s Concerto Grosso in A major Op.6, No.11, and the suite from his 1706 opera Rodrigo in B flat.

This performance featured what every good Baroque outing must have: a decisive, forward moving bass line from the continuo instruments. In too many performances, the bass line plods along with no regard for the melodic richness. But here, the energized and nuanced phrasing by the cello and double bass Berwick players enlivened the lower part of the musical structure.

Phrasing from the entire ensemble was wonderful. Renowned Dutch harpsichordist Jacques Ogg directed from the keyboard. Concertmaster Chloe Fedor was particularly elegant leading the string section, and moving with the phrasing almost like a dancer.

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Joan Tower: ‘The voice is in the risks’

The esteemed American composer, in Oregon for Willamette Valley Chamber Music festival, talks about music, teaching, risk-taking, and the future of classical music (not)

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

I love Joan Tower’s music. It’s right there in the Goldilocks zone: serious but not stodgy, zealous but not brash, subtle but not understated, big and bold but also immediate and intimate, fun and exciting and weird but also somber, emotive, complex, heartfelt. It’s expansive, stimulating stuff, neither overly planned nor chaotically aleatoric but organically developed from simple generative ideas, grown from seed to plant to harvest with a minimum of fuss and fluff.

It’s rich music that fills your soul like a hearty meal. When I’m done with a typical 13-to-15-minute Tower composition (say, 1976’s Black Topaz, or the Grammy-winning Made in America), I don’t want more, at least not right away; I want to savor. No obsessive munching on hours of Glass opera, no blissing out in Oliveros trances, no Kahane singalongs.

Tower is, above all, a narrative composer. Not in the sense that there is a poem or story dictating each detail like in a tone-poem by Strauss or Berlioz, but in the more abstract isomorphic sense that led Debussy to affix descriptive titles to the ends—not the beginnings—of his preludes. The music comes first, and has its own peculiar narrative language; titles and subheadings come later, as a description of music that has already been written.

American composer Joan Tower.

Tower will be in Oregon for the opening weekend of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, whose founders Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi are among what seems like an endless river of Tower friends (David Ludwig is another name in that river, and when I mentioned him she said she had just been texting him). As this year’s composer-in-residence, Tower will attend open forums to discuss her work, and the first weekend’s concerts feature her fifth string quartet (“White Water”, which I remember quite fondly from Calidore’s performance at last year’s CMNW) and Rising for string quartet and flute, sandwiched between Haydn’s Joke and Beethoven’s second Rasumovsky quartet. Portland area superstars Amelia Lukas, Marilyn de Oliveira, Greg Ewer, Charles Noble, and Megumi Stohs Lewis join Callahan, Eguchi, and former composer-in-residence Kenji Bunch, whose String Circle for String Quartet features in the second weekend.

I spoke with Tower by phone while she waited to board a plane to Oregon and drink wine in the country with classical musicians.

On composing

“It’s totally organic. It’s like writing a novel. You start with a character and an environment with a particular profile and then you try and figure what that character is going to do.”

“What is technique? I don’t know. You see, I’m not a pitch person. The world’s all pitch pitch pitch, and that’s not what my music is about. It’s about everything else. The register, the texture, the rhythm, the action, is it going up, is it going down, all that other stuff is what I’m concerned about. Pitches are not that important to me. I can say that now. Pitches to me are like, okay, I’m going to use bricks, I’m going to use marble, but they mean nothing to me until I start shaping. They don’t drive the music, the music drives them. It took me a long time to figure that out, after all the schooling.”

“If you look at Beethoven, who is one of my biggest influences, he is very much about the texture, the rhythm, where is it going, where is it coming back to; those kinds of issues are very significant to Beethoven. If you just did just a pitch analysis of Beethoven, it’s not that interesting.”

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Carrington-Coltrane-Spalding: Celebrating Geri Allen

PDXJazz concert summons the generous spirit of the late pianist

by PATRICK McCULLEY

The February 22 PDX Jazz Festival concert at Portland’s Newmark Theatre was originally intended to showcase the music of the ACS Trio. But because of the untimely death of pianist Geri Allen (the “A” in ACS, Allen-Carrington-Spalding) the previous summer, the concert turned from showcase to musical memorial. The result was a worthy celebration of the life and music of an inspiring human being.

The night opened quietly and subtly with improvisations on jazz standards and popular songs by Portland pianist Darrell Grant, who collaborated with Allen during a performance at Reed College in 2009. Before playing, Grant took time to praise Allen’s bold voice, openness, and encouragement of “finding my own voice” in his playing. Before each song, Grant gently read lyrics to songs he was about to play, to provide the audience with a verbal connection to an otherwise instrumental medium, and then turned to the piano and began. The first song, Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” set a nostalgic and beautiful tone for much of the rest of Grant’s set. Particularly poignant was his improvisation on James Taylor’s (by way of John Denver) “Fire and Rain” with particular stress on the melody of “but I always thought I’d see you again.”

Pianist, professor and composer Darrell Grant.

There was something particularly enchanting about Darrell Grant’s playing that night. His improvisations, even during their wilder moments, seemed to have a hypnotically calming effect on the audience. Perhaps too calming, because it was at about this point in the set I could hear an audience member close to me snoring. The only thing surprising about that was how long it took for his friends to wake him up.

Audience etiquette, guys. It goes a long way.

The highlight of the set was an original composition, “The Compass,” that Grant said reminded him of the way Allen’s music “danced.” Opening with a deep, grooving, insatiable bass line played in the left hand, and a bluesy, spiritual accompaniment in the right, as the song continued, the bassline became a frame for an increasingly complex spiral of colorful, and chromatic improvisations that built and intensified until the melody’s eventual return.

When the trio of Ravi Coltrane (soprano and tenor saxophones), Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), and Esperanza Spalding (bass), began their set it was without grief, without a sense of mourning or hesitation, but with celebration. Their first song was rhythmically complex and fast, with a playful and punchy melody sung by soprano sax. The saxophone melody transitioned to a solo and afterwards an energetic interplay of bass and drums, and then a spitfire drum solo.

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