third angle

Black Music Matters, Vol. 3: Smell the roses

Amenta Abioto takes a walk, Tony Ozier conceptualizes

Last year, Third Angle New Music released a list of local composers they’d be working with on their new “Soundwalks” series. It was an exciting list, and the series is now five episodes in, including this month’s episode with percussionist and sound wizard Loren Chasse. The biggest names in that lineup are Darrell Grant and Andy Akiho, with the entire series being a study in artistic diversity, but one name stood out: Amenta Abioto. Because out of all the various local and/or living composers Third Angle has worked with over the years (and in series like this one), Abioto is the Oregonian musician I’d most like to see in a Caroline Shaw-style profile concert.

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Once things clear out, what do you hear?

Recalling Caroline Shaw’s Third Angle visit: a song, a memory, and a chat with the composer

I just have to tell you about this song I’ve had stuck in my head for the last nine months, rattling around my quarantined brain ever since my personal Last Concert from the Before Times.

It was Friday, March 6th (an obligingly dark and stormy night), two days before the state-of-emergency declaration, and Third Angle New Music Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann was standing in the dimly lit Studio 2 at New Expressive Works on Southeast Belmont, starting the second night of 3A’s Caroline in the City concert with a Ram Dass quote:

When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You are too this, or I’m too this.” That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

Caroline Shaw performing at New Expressive Works in March 2020. Photo by Kenton Waltz.
Caroline Shaw performing at New Expressive Works in March 2020. Photo by Kenton Waltz/Third Angle New Music.

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MusicWatch Monthly: Death and recirculation

Nightlights, soundwalks, and snowed-in traditions

I’ve spent a lot of this last month thinking about the idea of tradition, as year’s end and the various solstice-adjacent holidays bring us back to annual traditions. Whether that be certain films or music, family events, or whatever else, there’s this feeling of recirculation, a point of return necessary to bring in the new year. But this year the holidays take on a more somber tone, as we may have to leave some of our favorite traditions behind.

Winter has long symbolized death. The sun–the celestial body that brings forth all life on Earth, the ur-symbol if there ever was one–reaches its lowest point, and days become shortest (in the Northern Hemisphere) on or around the twenty-first. In Portland, the sky becomes overcast for months on end–the same weather that makes the Brits so stereotypically dour. It seems ironic that humans have for millennia celebrated the nadir of this death season. But the inevitability of rebirth in spring is what gives hope for the future.

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Eggnog & Nutcrackers to the 2020 rescue

ArtsWatch Weekly: Holiday shows in the St. Nick of time; making theatrical spirits bright, gallery art, new music, fresh flicks, passages

EGGNOG AND CHRISTMAS MUSIC ARRIVED A FEW WEEKS EARLY at our house, and really, who could blames us? – the quicker we can nudge 2020 toward the door, the sooner we can move on to something a little more promising. The early arrival of eggnog in grocery-store coolers was, I suspect, a calculated move by the dairy industry, which rightly surmised that a lot of people who’ve pretty much had it with this train wreck of a year would like an early start on the holiday season. As for those Christmas CDs (yes, we still listen to CDs), a lot of the greatest music known to humankind was composed for winter celebrations. Even popular holiday songs can feel like old friends and true companions. Winter Wonderland is an eminently hummable and whistleable tune, even if, after a certain number of repetitions, your podmates cry for mercy.

One of the things that goes with the season is The Nutcracker, a Russian tradition that became an American inevitability, performed annually to box-office hallelujahs everywhere from New York City Ballet to Miss Marcie’s Junior Terpsichorean Academy in Little Falls, Oklahoma (if such a training ground for budding balletic talent actually exists). For a stretch of several years it was one of my annual tasks to review the newest incarnation of The Nutcracker in town, an assignment that usually gave me enjoyment in the watching but consternation in the writing: What could I possibly say that was both pertinent and new? One year I found myself lost in description of the one thing that seemed, at that particular performance, most striking: the pleasure on the faces of the flock of star-struck little girls who had rushed down to the orchestra pit during intermission to get a little closer to the magic. Pertinent? On that day it seemed almost the whole point.

Sugar plums with a beat: Portland’5 Centers for the Arts presents a one-night stream Dec. 12 of Decadancetheatre’s live-recorded “Hip Hop Nutcracker,” set in Brooklyn in the 1980s, with Kurtis Blow as emcee. Photo courtesy Jennifer Weber 

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MusicWatch Weekly: 0 brave new world

In which we lament Geter’s Requiem, remember Menomena, and set Kevin down on the PDX Couch

Caveat lector: this is a long’n, dear reader, as we begin to unpack the reality sandwich and lay the groundwork for our digital decalogue

That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited, that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.

Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell (1956)

There are some who say we’ve been screwed ever since Gutenburg invented the printing press. Others, like Socrates, go further and blame the written word itself. Some even go so far as to label Western Civilization itself Faustian, for its technological fascinations and its devil-may-care, “can do, must do” attitude. And although we have begun, relatively recently, to see the beginnings of a new mindset in things like the appropriate tech and organic gardening movements of the seventies, those are only the seeds of what comes after. For now, we’ve still got an apocalypse to get through.

As any disaster capitalist can tell you, every crisis is also an opportunity. This month, we’re looking at our increasingly irrelevant calendars and lamenting the Damien Geter African-American Requiem we recently didn’t get to go hear performed by Resonance Ensemble at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Beautiful Downtown Portland. We’re still smarting from March’s interrupted Caroline Shaw residency, and last month we were supposed to be at The North Warehouse for the premiere of Darrell Grant’s 3A-commissioned Sanctuaries.

Last weekend, we were supposed to be hanging out with 45th Parallel Universe and two of our favorite living composers: Andy Akiho and Gabriella Smith, whose work was on the bill for what would have been another wonderful Old Church concert. And just this past Monday we would have been back at TOC for Fear No Music’s “Haters Gonna Hate” concert, listening to Michael Roberts and Amelia Lukas play the big bad scary music of Morton Feldman and Edgard Varèse.

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MusicWatch Monthly: Mayday!

Strikes, unions, and the unpaid labors of love

Today we’re going to talk about one of the oldest musical traditions in the world: getting screwed. But first, we’d like to invite you to open a new tab and go cancel your account with Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more, Inc. If you can’t bring yourself to do that (but why not?), you should at least boycott them today, along with all the other government-sized corporations that can’t be bothered to attend to their employees’ needs. The virtual picket line is the easiest to cross–don’t give in, dear reader.

And now, here’s Oregon Symphony principal cellist Nancy Ives with a Sarabande:

Alrighty, let’s talk about Music and Labor. We’ll start with Portland Musicians Union Local 99 and their page of resources for musicians. These folks (led by trombonist Bruce Fife) are a part of the American Federation of Musicians, who in 1942-44 prosecuted the longest entertainment strike in modern history. The strike itself is worth looking into, and you can do that right here (and read about the 1948 follow-up here), but there’s one specific part of the story we’d like to call attention to on this unusually bizarre International Workers’ Day: the divide-and-conquer part.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home!

Cancellations, confirmations, and quarantine playlists

Bad news, everyone! No, it’s not quite the end of the world, at least not yet–and that’s probably the scariest thing of all. It seems we never quite hit Full Disaster, and if the Great Malthusian Dieoff really is underway it’s apparently content with taking its sweet time with us. Instead of a full-blown crisis, we get a series of morally debilitating crises which drain us but don’t ever amount to much (except for the people directly impacted by these subapocalyptic crises, of course, but they’re usually poor, old, foreign, or some other shade of invisible).

Not that we’re wishing for a full-blown crisis: but our minds sure go there in a hurry, don’t they? You’ve seen all the memes by now: on some level of our social psyche we find it easier to hoard toilet paper than to wash our hands more often. We don’t like the small, rational fixes. We like to dream big, and we like to nightmare big too. We like to panic. We like to ostrich.

That, paradoxically, is why the present author has been so gratified to see the concert cancellation notices pouring in. Denial and panic are two sides of the same apocalyptic coin, a rejection of measured responses in favor of whichever easy option is more comfortable (note that neither denial nor panic require much effort). Instead, everybody’s actually talking about it, weighing options and doing their own research, grappling with their social responsibilities, and coming to their own conclusions in the old contest between “safety is job one” and “the show must go on.”

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