R. Murray Schafer

Eiko, Koma & 9/11; Beaverton rising

ArtsWatch Weekly: Remembering an extraordinary dance after 9/11; Beaverton rising; can't stop the music; immigrant tales & more

SATURDAY WILL BE THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. It was a strike that shook the world, and led, among many other things, to a twenty-year war in Afghanistan that only now is being ended – or perhaps, is shifting from a “hot” war to a cold diplomatic conflict.

Next Thursday, Sept. 16, will be the kickoff of this year’s Time-Based Art Festival, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual fall gathering of performance and other art from the edges of the contemporary art world. 

For me, these events will always be linked by an extraordinary hour in the 2003 TBA festival, when, on the evening before the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the great duo of Eiko and Koma performed a piece called Offering amid the water pools of Northwest Portland’s Jamison Square.

Sixteen years after her extraordinary performance with partner Takashi Koma Otake in the dance “Offering,” Eiko Otake returned to PICA’s 2019 TBA Festival for several projects, including “A Body in Places,” her evolving piece based on her return to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima. Photo courtesy Joseph Scheer, IEA at NYSCC, via PICA.

It was, I wrote at the time, “a sad, deep, hopeful blessing,” and linked, through the influence on Eiko and Koma’s work of the post-World War II Japanese performance movement butoh, to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


From Earth to Elsewhere: Remembering R. Murray Schafer

Exploring the Canadian composer’s contributions to acoustic ecology and the politics of noise

A couple years ago I went to the Portland Art Museum to look at the Monet and van Gogh on the first floor of the Jubitz Center for modern and contemporary art. Suddenly I realized how quiet the building was; it felt like everything receded a bit, footsteps and distant sounds faded into the background. Were they playing pink noise over speakers? I asked an attendant who said she didn’t know: it must be the HVAC system in the building. Did the designers of the gallery intentionally make the air conditioning so pleasantly mellow? 

If nothing else, it illustrated how important sound is to our perception of space and the environment. Museums and libraries are designed to be quiet, offering a space for study and deep thought: bars and restaurants are loud to facilitate socializing in a busy atmosphere. Popular music is mixed to be as loud as possible in order to be heard over supermarket speakers and arena PAs. Human civilization has been working through this issue since–at the latest–the 3rd Century BC, with the construction of Rome’s first amphitheatres.

R. Murray Schafer, who passed away last month at the age of 88, reoriented our perspectives on sound and the place of sound and listening in our society, especially as we face down the existential threat of climate change. As the nexus for the discipline of Acoustic Ecology, Schafer’s life-long concern for the environment and sound remains with us as an essential pillar of contemporary musical aesthetics.


MusicWatch Monthly: Too many notes

Summer gets all sweaty, with classical and jazz festivals, operas, experimental sound art, and a bit of good old-fashioned NW gonzo punk

Garden wall at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

La Finta Giardiniera
July 12-27, Newmark Theater
In The Penal Colony
July 26-August 10, Hampton Opera Center

It’s oddly appropriate that Portland Opera is closing its season with summer performances of Mozart and Philip Glass. Both composers are that rare breed: equally adept at performing their own chamber music, writing grand symphonies for orchestra, and collaborating on a variety of comic and tragic operas on themes both timeless and timely.

They have both also been accused, perhaps justly, of writing too many damn notes, and that’s part of why the best way to experience theatrically-inclined composers like Mozart and Glass is in their native habitat: the opera house. That’s really where their music lives best, in live performances rich with grand singing, engaging sets and costumes and lighting and the other “works” which give opera its name—plus the comedic and dramatic intimacy that is live theater’s specialty.

July 12-27, PO stages the lesser-known Mozart opera La Finta Giardiniera, in its second Portland production of the year (PSU Opera put on their own production earlier this year). Lindsay Ohse stars; Chas Rader-Shieber directs.

July 26-August 10, Jerry Mouawad (co-founder of Portland’s Imago Theatre) returns for another modern “pocket opera.” PO specializes in presenting these chamber operas by modern composers, thrilling Portland audiences recently with Laura Kaminsky’s As One and in 2017 with Mouawad’s production of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field and The Little Match Girl Passion. Martin Bakari and Ryan Thorn star in Glass’s adaptation of the terrifying Kafka story.

Jazz and Blues

Waterfront Blues Festival
July 4-7, Waterfront Park

For over three decades, Portland’s iconic blues festival has been a hot, sweaty, messy, crowded, rite of passage. It’s such an undertaking they’ve got a handy little guide for navigating the four-day, four-stage fest sprawled across the west side of the river, wedged between the waves and the construction cranes.

Take a look at the line-up right here. If any of those musical legends and other hot-shit artists sound like you’d want to get into a sweltering, sunscreen-slathered groove with them and a thousand other vibing blues fans down on the sun-baked shore of the Willamette River—then pack yourself a bag full of bottled water, grab a big floppy sun hat, and get your ass down to the water.

Waterfront Blues Festival, July 7, 2018.
Waterfront Blues Festival, July 7, 2018.

Jazz in the Garden
Tuesdays, July 16-August 20, Lan Su Chinese Garden

Across six Tuesdays this summer, Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town Portland hosts PDX Jazz’s Summer Music Series, featuring a variety of international and local artists. On July 16th, it’s Malian supergroup BKO Quintet; on July 23, Portland vibraphonist Mike Horsfall pays tribute to Cal Tjader; on July 30, erstwhile Portland saxophonist Hailey Niswanger returns from Brooklyn with her band MAE.SUN. In August, jazz and soul singer China Moses performs on the 6th, pianist Connie Han plays on the 13th, and on the 20th Bobby Torres Ensemble commemorates Woodstock.

The Territory
July 15, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College
July 16, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University

Local superstar jazz composer and pianist Darrell Grant is having a busy year, as usual. His nine-movement suite for jazz ensemble The Territory, premiered at Chamber Music Northwest in 2013, led to the formation of the “Oregon Territory Ensemble,” which has continued performing the landscape-inspired music and recorded it with Grant in 2015.

They’ll perform The Territory here twice in July, and the line-up is pure local A-list: Florestan Trio cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, vocalist Marilyn Keller (From Maxville to Vanport), bass clarinetist Kirt Peterson, multi-instrumentalist John Nastos, trumpeter Thomas Barber, drummer Tyson Stubelek, bassist Eric Gruber, and vibraphonist Mike Horsfall.