alissa derubeis

The beginning of listening

Extradition Series summer concert confronts silence

By CHARLES ROSE

I once heard a joke about the 20th century philosopher and problematic figure Martin Heidegger: he once spent four hours opening and closing the door to his office at the University of Freiburg, trying to understand the action that we all take for granted in all its subtleties. This story is a lie that some cheeky undergrad came up with while struggling through Being and Time, but the joke still points to the crux of phenomenology and its massive influence on artists through this last century. 

Musically, we can trace this perspective to John Cage and his study of Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. Cage’s music demands an entirely new approach to listening that throws out the window all the lavish harmony and rhythms of classical music in favor of the subtleties of individual sounds. Much like his contemporary in the visual arts Mark Rothko, Cage (as well as Morton Feldman and others) sought to tear away all the unnecessary information from music, leaving only the subtle textures and noises within notes and chords that would otherwise fly by unnoticed. The influence of these composers looms over most contemporary experimental music, and the Extradition Series summer concert in July was no exception.

Extradition is a performing series created within Oregon’s Creative Music Guild, a collective of local musicians dedicated to performing improvisational and experimental music. Extradition takes their artistic inspiration from Fluxus and the music of composers like Cage, Feldman, and Pauline Oliveros, and their concerts reveal the subtleties in sounds we hear all the time. The five pieces they showcased at their July 27 concert at Performance Works NW were among the most challenging performances I’ve ever heard live, requiring an intense form of listening that pulled me into the smallest details of every sound while giving space for quiet contemplation. In tight quarters with no more than forty people, I felt like I was participating in a group meditation, with the performers becoming our yogis (dressed in all black rather than orange). 

Matt Hannafin performs Alvin Lucier's 'The Silver Fox' at Extradition's summer concert. Photo by Glenn Sogge.
Percussionist and Extradition Series curator Matt Hannafin performs Alvin Lucier’s ‘The Silver Fox’ at Extradition’s summer concert. Photo by Glenn Sogge.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Second summer chills out

Portland cools down with Montavilla Jazz Festival, two-score local bands, orchestral hip-hop, and a bunch of bleached assholes

Happy Indonesian Independence Day! Seventy-four years ago today, Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands after three centuries of Dutch colonialism (I’ll bet you thought they were always just about tulips and weed). To celebrate, here’s a little video (if you can’t read Indonesian, skip on down):

So in a minute I’m going to tell you where to hear a zillion local composers rock out this weekend, and Senior Editor Brett Campbell has some things to say about the Montavilla Jazz Festival starting tonight, but the gamelan band I’m in Bali with just played its freshly blessed instruments for the first time this morning, so as soon as I wipe these tears of joy out of my beard I think it’s about time to give you all a little music theory lesson.

Caution: All comparisons to Western phenomena are meant as a starting point, not an accurate description of genuine Balinese music. The present author is no expert, but only an egg. Caveat emptor.

Start at your piano, accordion, Casio, or other Western style keyboard. All those white keys make up the diatonic major scale, and if you shift around the starting pitch you get the seven so-called church modes. Music students learn about all that in first year theory and never use them again.

Start with the note E on your white-note keyboard. Play the next two white keys: F and G. Then skip one, to B, and then to C. Skip up to E and you’re done. In the West we might call that a Phrygian Pentatonic. In Indonesia they call it pelog, and it’s everywhere. Even the ubiquitous roosters crow in pelog.

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