Perhaps it might be said rightly that there are three times: a time present of things past; a time present of things present; and a time present of things future... The time present of things past is memory; the time present of things present is direct experience; the time present of things future is expectation.-St. Augustine
Thursday, April 8, 7:30 PM
MALIKA KISHINO (b. 1971)
Monochromer Garten VI for Viola (2015)
Matthew Lipman, viola
PATRICK CASTILLO (b. 1979)
THOMAS MEADOWCROFT (b. 1972)
JURI SEO (b. 1981)
Time (Stillness, Movement, and Memory)
Music is so ambiguous. We might think of it as made of sound passing through time, but we could equally conceive it as time that manifests itself by way of sound. Time comes in all kinds of shapes and sorts: orderly progression, abrupt discontinuity, stasis, recollection. The four pieces on this program present us with wholly different worlds of sound, to be sure, but they draw us also into wholly different worlds of time.
The Japanese-German composer Malika Kishino is quite clear about when and where she locates her solo viola piece Monochromer Garten VI (2015), one of seven “monochrome gardens” she has produced for soloists or small groupings: “A silvery world,” she writes, “night, black tiles covered with snow, reflected-light, space, silence.... I wanted to represent with sound such an image of a garden, one I once saw through a window behind a temple in Kyoto.” The result is a garden made not with plants, water, and space but with sound and time—or rather, it is a wander through such a garden. Its starting point is an abrupt low G, to which it keeps returning, rather as, in a physical garden, you might find your eyes repeatedly drawn back to, say, a prominent moss-covered rock. Other features that recur include tremolando harmonics that intensify until they become almost noises, but the visit also brings in new things: fragile melodies, urgent low slides. At the same time, the viewpoint—or “hearpoint”—of an observer gradually fades, so that there is no longer an “I,” only the garden.
Patrick Castillo’s Incident for violin and piano, from the same year, also belongs to a series, coming between similarly titled pieces for cello and for flute. An incident, the composer notes, “when deeply considered, may reveal some underlying truth beyond its superficial details.” In this case, he goes on, “the principal concerns are memory and elasticity: each a thing that may be tried to a breaking point.”
Memory is actualized within the concert hall at the start of the piece, where the live violinist is preceded by an unseen image of himself, a phrase he has recorded in advance. This he then takes up, against a delicate backdrop created by the pianist working within the instrument with fingers and a bow. Restatements of the theme become more emphatic to a point of crisis, after which the violinist’s efforts seem to be to avoid, evade the melody. The pianist soon comes forward with a bold statement of it in octaves, but is this prompt or provocation? Shadows of the theme appear here and there, as the violinist moves toward a resting place somewhere else.
Thomas Meadowcroft is remembering, fondly, not a tune but a whole technology, that of the reel-to-reel tape recorder. Developed in the 1930s and 1940s, machines of this kind soon became ubiquitous, whether used by professional studio technicians or kids at home. We might note, in the context of tonight’s program, how the tape recorder offered instant storage of time, for a recording, once made, was immediately available for playback. The machine’s heyday lasted, however, hardly more than a generation, for in the 1980s it was replaced by digital recording. Its time now has long passed.
Nevertheless, coming to it in 2013, Meadowcroft was able to find new possibilities in what had long been junked. The two percussionists who take part are asked to pre-record sounds such as will be used in the performance: those of chimes and of a keyboard. They then prepare cut lengths of tape, which they pull backwards and forwards across the playback heads of their tape recorders, sometimes fast, so that the effect is something like bird song, sometimes more or less slowly. Meanwhile, they behave like more normal percussionists, with their arrays of chimes, rattles, glockenspiel, and so on; and all the time, lulling harmonies are coming from a keyboard instrument that may itself have been pre-recorded.
“Cradles,” the composer writes, “is a utopic lullaby, to help put treasured analogue musical equipment to bed. The work takes its inspiration from the sensuous, tactile relationship between a performer and his or her instrument.”
But perhaps the tape recorder is unwilling, as occupants of cradles often are, to lie down and go to sleep. Perhaps it is still reinforcing our understanding of time past as a long stretch, unbroken—except that it can be snipped into and respliced another way. This is what Juri Seo does, with wit and flair, in #three, which she composed in the winter of 2014-15. And this could be the moment to note that all four of this evening’s compositions came about at very much the same time, even while, in their choices, shapings, and references, the four composers play with so many and such different times.
This is what Seo has to say about her piece: “I have always been drawn to the spontaneous beauty and easygoing virtuosity of jazz (despite my meager experience as a jazz pianist). In #three, little jazzy snippets take surprising turns: from espressivo to scherzo, from Romantic piano flourishes to clamorous rock beats. The collage-like progressions resulted from my struggle to compose piano licks while my husband Mark was drumming away rock grooves in the basement. Somehow, everything worked out in the end. I love such moments, when conflicts dissolve in one giant musical stockpot.”
Thomas Meadowcroft’s Cradles is a work that gives the performers a good deal of freedom. His score is mostly instructions, but he gives a loose graphic timeline of the work that indicates the physical position of the two percussionists in relation to the playback tapes they manipulate. The bottom layer of this score shows the harmonies and character heard in a third “e-piano playback” voice. There are various options for realizing this third part, but in all of them, the changes in the electronics part are cued in response to the decisions of the percussionists. The e-piano part is in a symbiotic relationship with the other musicians and not an authoritative driver of structure. Meadowcroft’s system of scoring serves to emphasize this flexible ebb and flow between the three parts.
#Three Kinds of Memory
In Juri Seo’s #three, a study in the ways that musical styles can dissolve into one another, much of the music feels strangely familiar. What prompts this sense of recognition—this feeling of remembrance and connection with past listening experiences? In his book Sweet Anticipation, the renowned American music psychologist David Huron identifies three different kinds of memory that influence our listening experiences.
Studies have shown that most listeners can identify the style of a particular song in less than a second.
New Milestones IV: Time (Stillness, Movement, and Memory)
Streaming for free at 7:30 PM ET
New Milestones concerts include a rich array of newly recorded performances along with archival recordings, interview clips, and supporting material to help introduce the composers to new audiences and deepen the listening experience for those already familiar with the composers and their work. Featuring Malika Kishino, Patrick Castillo, Thomas Meadowcroft, and Juri Seo.