23 February 2011

Be part of aural history! Today, between 7-11am Central Time, UMFM and OgreOgress productions are pleased to present three world radio premieres of works by John Cage (1912-1992). Catch a preview of this episode in the February 16th edition of The Manitoban. The frequency is 101.5 in Winnipeg, http://www.umfm.com/listenonline/ in the stream.

Set #1 - 7:00am - 9:00am

Shô: "The light that penetrates from the Heavens."

In John Cage's Two3 the reedy, etherial sounds of the shô (Japanese mouth organ) are like a distant spotlight that waxes and wanes, punctuated at long intervals by bubbles from the water-filled (and highly-amplified) conch. I know of few other works where the silence between sounds is so insistent, so impinging. As suggested by that anonymous quote above, it is as if we are experiencing a series of slow-motion glimpses into a heavenly realm. (Aldous Huxley wrote in 1931: "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." To paraphrase: Silence more nearly expresses the inexpressible than does music.)

1. John Cage: Two3 (1991)
Tamami Tono - shô, Glenn Freeman - conch shells
John Cage: Two3, Inlets, Two4
OgreOgress productions, 634479 370557

A word on conch technique: Bubbles are produced by tipping the shell, allowing trapped air to escape from the three-dimensional spiral. A startling, comedic element at first — What else are bubbles associated with? Office water coolers, perhaps. — becomes part of the fabric of the piece over the next two hours.

Producing bubble(s) by tipping is a contingency, "a future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty." Contingency refers also to the measures put in place to deal with such an event. What is your contingency? "To get yourself a comfy chair, maybe brew yourself a cup of tea, sit back and try to get your mind into John Cage’s sound-world."

Rob Haskins' detailed liner notes are available here.

Set #2 - 9:00am - 11:00am

2. John Cage: 108 (1991)
The Chance Philharmonic:
Christina Fong - violins & violas
Karen Krummel - cellos
Michael Crawford - contrabasses
Ruth Bylsma - piccolo, flutes & alto flute
Sarah Bowman - oboes & English horns
Michael Kornacki - clarinets & bass clarinets
Vince Karamanov - bassoons & contrabassoons
Paul Austin - horns
Michael Bowman - trumpets
Robert Ward - trombones, bass trombones & tuba
Glenn Freeman - percussion

Like Cage's other Number Pieces, the title refers to the number of performers deployed; the superscript (if any), to the place in Cage's work catalog. 108 is in four movements, like a traditional symphony, but lacks the traditional symphony's goal direction. Silences of up to 4 minutes separate the individual movements.

Of the three recordings on the Chance Philharmonic's CD, this is my favourite. I'm drawn to the percussion part, which uses a battery of instruments from snare drum to thunder sheet in a variety of creative ways.

3. John Cage: 110 (1991)

Any three movements of Two3 played with 108, making a double concerto for shô and conch shells plus symphony orchestra.

All of the pieces featured on today's show are composed using a time bracket technique: "the score consists of short fragments (frequently just one note, with or without dynamics) and indications, in minutes and seconds, of when the fragment should start and when it should end. Time brackets can be fixed (e.g. from 1.15 to 2.00) or flexible (e.g. from anywhere between 1.15 and 1.45, and to anywhere from 2.00 to 2.30)." Needless to say, every realization of a Number Piece will be one of a kind.

Rob Haskins says this about Cage: "[His] music depends on a slow unfolding and a leisurely approach to time in order to make its full impact.... There is no contrast, no epiphany, no drama, no point. The music simply continues with almost annoying steadfastness until its end."

Tracks 2-3
John Cage: 108, 109, 110
OgreOgress productions, 884502 966343
(109, which I'm saving for a future broadcast, is a cello concerto.)

4. Etenraku [Music of divinity]
Kyoto Imperial Court Music Orchestra
Gagaku: The Imperial Court Music of Japan
Lyrichord, LYRCD 7126

The shô in its natural habitat: Gagaku, the ancient court music of Japan. There will be more shô on next week's show sho' nuff.

Where to buy CDs featured on today's show:
Two3 - CDBaby
108 & 110 - CDBaby
Kyoto Imperial Court Music Orchestra - CD Universe

16 February 2011

Arthur Koestler wrote about the wisdom of following a thought to its logical conclusion. Recently a listener complained that Wednesday mornings have become a "black hole" for him. "The music is relentless" from 8-11am CT on 101.5 FM in Winnipeg and http://www.umfm.com/ in the stream. Extraordinarily, the show starts an hour earlier this week.

Set #1 - 7:00am - 10:00am

1. Richard Burdick: I Ching Arpeggios, op.99 for solo French horn with a background of tuned wind chimes (2001)
Richard Burdick - French horn & wind chimes
I Ching Music, CD2
(Composer Richard Burdick is also Principal Horn of the Regina Symphony Orchestra. Burdick's description suggests a carefully thought-out relationship between musical elements: "Sixty-four pieces using [the] I Ching scales system organized into an arpeggio pattern based on the relationship between the artificial scale and the natural overtone series. Presented from fastest to slowest, with the tempo determined by the vibration of the key.... The I Ching is sort of a fortune telling system of the ancient Chinese. Being a binary system, it suggests scale intervals of either half steps or whole steps. It is ideal for scales structures."

I purchased this CD, sight unseen, on the premise alone. Burdick's sound-world is ambient, but not cheap New Agey. As always, I'd be interested in hearing listeners' thoughts.

For those of you who wonder how he can play French horn and wind chimes simultaneously, without using his feet, he explained: "I played the wind chimes after the horn track was recorded. I made a four octave set of wind chimes from special aluminum tubes. For each track I used only the chimes in the key of the scale in a harmonic series pattern, then basically improvising these 'bells.'")

Set #2 - 10:00am - 11:00am

2. Raga Malkauns
Rash Behari Datta - sitars & tanpura, Sarvar Sabri - tabla

(Rash Behari Datta is an innovator: 1) He opens with a fast gat, a rhythmic movement that usually appears in the middle of your standard Hindustani raga. 2) Datta has overdubbed himself into a virtual orchestra of 20 sitars, 14 better than Wagner, who used just six harps for the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla. 3) And so we get a little polyphony(?) and harmony(?) [heterophony?] as the strands of the Malkauns melody overlap. For more on mystical Malkauns, mosey on down to some of my older blog posts.)

3. Raga Shobhavari
Baluji Shrivastav - sitar, Sanju Sahai - tabla

Tracks 2-3
Rash Behari Datta: 20 Sitars
ARC Music, EUCD 2312

Where to buy CDs featured on today's show:
Richard Burdick - CDBaby
Rash Behari Datta - CD Universe

09 February 2011

I've set an ambitious agenda for today's episode.

In the first hour you'll be awakened and greeted.

The second hour focuses on elements of Ostad Elahi's musical system: forms, pitches, rhythms, etc.

The third hour addresses the spiritual dimension of his playing, listening from the inside.

Read a concise history of the tanbur, the putative ancestor of all stringed instruments, here. Take a virtual tour of the 1995 Paris exhibition commemorating Elahi's life and works.

Set #1 - 8:00am - 9:00am

1. Suite Sahari
("[I]n the past, this melody was played at dawn to awaken the dervishes, calling them for prayer.")

2. Suite Jelo Shâhi
("The title of this piece means 'Go and Greet the King.' It invokes imperial rites of ancient Persia, transposed to the spiritual level...")

Tracks 1-2 (rec. Tehran 1964-72)
Ostad Elahi - tanbur & voice
La musique céleste d'Ostad Elahi: L'art du luth oriental tanbur
Le chant du monde, 7741026

Set #2 - 9:00am - 10:00am

†3. Suite de Tchapi
("Chapi is part of the Kurdish dance repertoire." Recorded in 1950 or 1960. Bad proofreading.)

†4. Ali Aman yâ Ali
("The Chapi [dance] theme keeps returning throughout this improvisation...")

5. Bâbâ Faqi
(Song evoking "mystics who lost their lives [as martyrs] on the path of divine love." Limited pitch range with lots of minor seconds.)

6. Bâbâ Sarhangi
("The major intervals of this piece give it a clear and gentle tone, resulting in some degree of calmness after the poignant evocations of the previous piece.")

Tracks 5-6 (rec. Tehran c. 1970)
Ostad Elahi - tanbur & voice
Oraison mystique: L'art du luth oriental tanbur
Le chant du monde, 7741137

Set #3 - 10:00am - 11:00am

7. Hymnes Hey Dâwed (rec. Tehran early 1970s)
Ostad Elahi - tanbur & voice
Destinations: L'art du luth oriental tanbur
Le chant du monde, 744 1626.27

†8. Supplique d'Ali
(This could have been penned by Martin Luther: "O You whom I adore, my Creator, my solid support, my refuge/ Whether rich or poor in You I seek refgue.")

†Tracks 3, 4, 8 (rec. Tehran 1964-72)
Ostad Elahi - tanbur & voice
Harmonies célestes: L'art du luth oriental tanbur
Le chant du monde, 7741122

9. Suite Jelo Shâhi
(Track 2 repeated.)

Where to buy CDs featured on today's show:
La musique céleste d'Ostad Elahi - CD Universe
Harmonies célestes - CD Universe
Oraison mystique - CD Universe
Destinations - CD Universe

02 February 2011

Attention must be paid. A recent study out of Harvard University suggested that people spend 47% of their waking hours with their minds wandering. A theatre director of my acquaintance once stated he was aware that audiences "zone out," only to have their attention recaptured when something new happens.

Test this universal of human cognition yourself, this Wednesday, from 8-11am CT. The frequency is 101.5 in Winnipeg, http://www.umfm.com/listenonline/ in the stream.

Set #1 - 8:00am - 10:00am

1. Suite Rastpanjgah: Naghde Sufi
Mahmoud Zoufonoun - violin, Amir Zoufonoun - voice, Ramin Zoufonoun - tar, Amin Zoufonoun - setar, Siamak Pouyan - tombak
Mahmoud Zoufonoun, nn
(Suite of songs and instrumental pieces in the Rastpanjgah mode, the equivalent of a major scale on F.)

Set #2 - 10:00am - 11:00am

2. Une épopée spirituelle (rec. intermittently 1960-71)
Ostad Elahi - tanbur & voice
Une épopée spirituelle: L'art du luth oriental tanbur
Le chant du monde, 7741432

(Tanbur = three-string lute, "the ancestor of most [Persian] plucked, string instruments," "a sacred instrument associated with the Kurdish Sufi music of Western Iran." A suite in four movements, assembled from a decade's worth of private recordings, traverses "the fundamental states of the soul: loss, nostalgia, separation, as well as union and return" via archaic and religious melodies, finishing with a dance tune. "The domains of the secular and sacred are not as clear-cut in eastern culture as they are in the occidental world.")

Where to buy CDs featured on today's show:
Mahmoud Zoufonoun - CDBaby
Ostad Elahi - Amazon