branic howard

Sound art for a walk in the park

Third Angle premieres series of soundwalk recordings

Mt. Tabor setting for Branic Howard’s Overlay soundwalk. Photo by Julia Carey.
Mt. Tabor setting for Branic Howard’s Overlay soundwalk. Photo by Julia Carey.

Portland’s innovative Third Angle New Music ensemble is engaging local artists in the composing and recording of soundwalks that can be downloaded for free and enjoyed by listeners wanting to escape their pandemic isolation with a guided stroll in one of the city’s many parks.

The first listening experience, Overlay, is now available from 3A’s Soundwalk Series website. New walks will be released on the 15th of each month through August. A cadre of outstanding artists has been lined up to compose an exciting collection of soundscape adventures for walkers including: Darrell Grant, Branic Howard, Crystal Quartez, Julie Hammond, Yuan-Chen Li, Amenta Abioto, Loren Chasse, Sarah Tiedemann, and Andy Akiho.

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The beginning of listening

Extradition Series summer concert confronts silence

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: natural classical

Sounds inspired by nature and spring highlight this week's Oregon music performances

Oregonians live in a nexus between the natural world that drew so many of us here and the human-created environment that nurtures us. That juxtaposition has inspired several of this week’s musical highlights.

Read my ArtsWatch preview of Habitat, Third Angle New Music’s immersive multimedia performance created by Portland composer/sound artists Branic Howard and Loren Chasse,
Thursday and Friday, Studio 2 @ N.E.W. 810 SE Belmont St. Portland.

• Lewis and Clark College faculty chamber ensemble Friends of Rain’s annual new music concert features music that responds to the natural world, written by a cast of top Northwest composers from accomplished veterans like Susan Alexjander to an award winning rising star, Andrea Reinkemeyer.
Friday. Evans Hall, Lewis & Clark College.

• One of the stalwarts of Portland’s classical music scene, Violinist Adam LaMotte is probably most familiar for his sterling work in Portland Baroque Orchestra. He’s launched a new, conductor-less orchestra to explore repertoire for bigger bands than the standard chamber ensembles he also performs with, and that stretches across a much wider time period than PBO — from the 17th to the 21st centuries. Amadeus Chamber Orchestra seeks to “bring new audiences into the realm of classical music via education, outreach, and vibrant live performances, collaborating with other entities to present multifaceted events.”

The added facets this time: interpolated readings by one of Oregon’s greatest nature writers, Kathleen Dean Moore (who has done similar shows with a pianist), and nature photography by Larry Olson. Both complement the nature-inspired musical selections in this “concert devoted to Mother Earth”: two of Vivaldi’s famous seasonal concertos, a flurry of English Baroque master Matthew Locke’s music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, early 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’s famous The Lark Ascending, long a popular evocation of spring’s impending arrival, and even an original composition for piccolo and strings by LaMotte himself.
Friday, Lincoln Recital Hall, Portland State University.

• There’s more English music for chamber orchestra in this Saturday’s Oregon Mozart Players concert. The program includes one of Haydn’s miraculous London symphonies (written for a much bigger orchestra than OMP’s chamber orchestra forces) to a couple of mid-20th century works, Benjamin Britten’s Rossini tribute ​Soirées Musicales and Malcolm Arnold’s ​Serenade for Small Orchestra​, to contemporary composer Jonathan Dove’s ​nifty Mozart tribute Figures in the Garden.​
Saturday, Beall Concert Hall, University of Oregon.

• The Lark Ascending reappears, in a much larger flock, when the Oregon Symphony mixes a pair of much-beloved classics with a brand new piece from one of the country’s leading active composers. Oregonians can sympathize with a 19th century German composer’s joy in visiting sunny Italy — Felix Mendelssohn’s ebullient “Italian” Symphony. The big news is the world premiere of leading American composer Christopher Theofanidis’s new concerto Drum Circles, co-commissioned by the Oregon Symphony, which incorporates a percussion quartet as the soloists rather than the usual violinist or pianist. Theofanidis wrote it for an all-star group called the Percussion Collective, who will play it with the orchestra.
Saturday-Monday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

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‘Habitat’ preview: capturing a city in sound

Third Angle commissions Portland composers to create an immersive soundscape that reflects urban and natural interactions

How do you evoke a city in music? George Gershwin used jazzy, brash orchestral music to summon 1920s New York’s bustling beauty. On Thursday and Friday, two Portland composer/sound artists will create a very different kind of soundscape to reflect our city’s 21st century collision between urban life and nature. The joint composition Third Angle New Music commissioned for its Habitat performance will conjure an immersive, meditative sound world from our environment itself.

The event is the brainchild of Third Angle New Music artistic director Sarah Tiedemann, who grew up in Hillsboro at the edge of the Portland metropolitan area’s urban growth boundary. “I was used to crossing a street and being on farmland,” she remembers. As the region grew explosively, that imaginary political boundary became “an image in my mind of the way the natural world around us is butting up against the urban world around us. We’re constantly in the presence of both.”

Branic Howard

Branic Howard

Tiedemann decided to commission a performance that would evoke Portland’s quintessential tension in music. She didn’t have to look far to find a composer to capture the area’s urban/natural interface in sound. Portland composer Branic Howard specialized in creating soundscapes. He also happened to be Third Angle’s sound engineer for many concerts. And he has a discerning ear for sounds — and not just what we traditionally think of as music. “Branic and I will be working in the office, and suddenly he’ll point out how the sound of a furnace coming on sounds so interesting,” she says.

For a collaborator, Howard thought of fellow Portland composer Loren Chasse. “He and I are on the same wavelength,” Howard said. For example, “you might spill dishwasher powder and not notice, and the next day you’ll step on it and it makes this certain sound. For Loren and me, that really is where a lot of the interest lies — situational sounds made up of interesting textures that we normally don’t home in on.”

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