Stephanie Lavon Trotter

December DanceWatch: Rhyming couplets rule!

December dance around the state and especially Portland has its fair share of Nutcrackers and yet more

‘Twas the month of December and all through the state, 

Not a dancer was sleeping. They hardly could wait!

Dance shoes of all kinds were readied with care,

In hopes that big audiences soon would be there.

Choreographers were restless and pacing all night,

With visions of slip-ups creating a fright.

While ArtsWatch’s writers got set to review,

The dancers lined up and awaited their cue.

With music beginning and growing intense,

The curtain rose softly, without a pretense. 

The dancers all flew from the wings with a flash,

They tore up the stage and gave it a thrash!

The dancers’ excitement gave rise to new hope, 

That in this new year, we may cheerfully cope.

With so much to see we can say without fear,

Happy winter to all, and a Happy New Year!

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: psychedeliclassical

Trippy visuals and more enhance Oregon classical music concerts

Classical music still lags a ways behind, say, the reggae community when it comes to appropriately celebrating 4/20. Admittedly, the some of the thrill has kind of, uh, gone up in smoke since Oregon finally ended the preposterous cannabis Prohibition, but it’s never too late explore the possibilities of imbibing ear-opening music with mind-altering visuals, and this week offers a couple of psychedelicious opportunities.

Radiance Orb prepares for its Hult Center trip.

On Thursday, the Eugene Symphony’s The Color of Sound concert spotlights Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s notorious expansive voluptuous music, which partakes in both Romanticism and Impressionism. Whether or not he was actually gifted by synthesthesia, the crazy visionary Russian composer (like others then and now) “saw” sounds as colors — the note A was green, for example. His score for Prometheus included a part for a “light organ” that could display colors corresponding to the pitches in his music, but he was born a century or so too soon for technology to fully accommodate his vision. Fortunately, the mad scientist/artists at Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory and Light at Play have arrived to help the ESO realize Scriabin’s vision for that proto-psychedelic 1910 piano concerto (subtitled Poem of Fire), with an eight-foot keyboard-controlled “Radiance Orb” suspended above the stage projecting tapestries of light around Silva Hall matched to the music.

The show also includes Scriabin’s famous 1908 fourth symphony, Poem of Ecstasy, which zooms from erotic to mystic to cosmic, plus short classical greatest hits by Handel, Grieg, Debussy, Pärt and more. ESO should sell edibles out in the lobby before this one.
Thursday, Silva Hall, Hult Center, Eugene.

• As should Cascadia Composers, whose 4/20 All Wired Up concert doubledose features more than a dozen of the region’s most accomplished composers, including some of its most promising next-gen voices. This mini festival of new electronic music includes original homegrown compositions for electric guitar and bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals, oboe, amplified trumpet and horn, piano, organ, and interactive fixed media. Then they add projections, modern dance, even an aerial drone. And that’s just the 4 pm show.

After a break (including an optional talk about “data-driven instruments” by prog/electronic/algorithmic composer percussionist Steve Joslin and electronic music and soundscape wizard Mei-Ling Lee), the video-enhanced 7 pm concert includes video/sound art for percussion, electronics, piano, electric guitar and fixed media. Composers include Timothy Arliss O’Brien, Dana Reason, Paul Safar, Brian Field, Greg Steinke, Nicholas Yandell, Matthew Andrews, Ted Clifford, Jennifer Wright, Tristan Bliss, Antonio Celaya, Stacey Philipps, Vivian Elliot, Mei-Ling Lee, Jeffrey Ericson Allen, Joshua Hey, Greg Bartholomew, and Daniel Brugh.
Saturday, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th Ave., Portland.

• The Creative Music Guild’s fascinating Extradition Series features 20th- and 21st-century experimental music that often blurs the imaginary line between composition and improvisation. The five pieces in Saturday’s concert leave many artistic choices up to the interpreters. A score by Bay Area composer Danny Clay consists of a large wooden box containing dice, playing cards, a clock, marbles, and instructions to the performers to turn the melange into music. Alexis Porfiriadis’s Happy Notes, Sad Notes gives performers ten “episodes” of graphic symbols and a series of questions regarding how they are to be interpreted (“Are these happy notes? Shall we play them?”) and invites them to take it from there. Performers include harpist Sage Fisher (Dolphin Midwives), clarinetist Lee Elderton, Branic Howard on guitar/electronics, pianist Matt Carlson, oboist Catherine Lee (oboe), cellist Collin Oldham, trumpeter Douglas Detrick, flutist Maxx Katz, percussionist Matt Hannafin, and more.
Saturday. Leaven Community, Portland.

Trotter & McNeal perform Friday and Saturday.

• In Golden Organ, Margaret McNeal and Stephanie Lavon Trotter use electronic and acoustic music and voice to “reclaim Opera.” This weekend’s “performative installation,” and there was a new voice which you slowly recognize as your own, includes original compositions, improvisations, multimedia and more. C
Friday and Saturday, Performance Works NW, 4625 SE 67th Ave. Portland.

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