Darmstadt and John Moran in the Spiegeltent

Darmstadt, newly popular avant

I definitely don't post enough here about arts other than the visual. Serious or non-commercial music is extraordinarily important in our lives, and while I suppose a lot of people can make that statement Barry and I are fortunate to be able to live with an enormous collection of recordings, including an accumulation of more DVD's of underknown or underappreciated operas than we can keep up with.

One of the reasons for our inevitable neglect of the music recordings, at least in warmer months, is the enjoyment we get from the complex songs of birds in the garden, but in the evening, when we are more likely to sit down at home in front of a screen not attached to a laptop, the competition is even keener. We actually spend as many evenings (and a few afternoons) away from the apartment watching live performances as we do days visiting galleries or museums.

Our enjoyment of music, dance, theatre, or their combination are rarely recorded in my blog. I suppose the reason is partly the difficulty or impossibility of capturing a visual image of my own (and the inadequacy or even the unavailability of promotion images), even when there is visual content, and partly the fact that most of the obscure experimental works which attract us are scheduled for only one or two performances.

Once in a while, and unfortunaely more often than you would know from looking at this site, a performance is just too wonderful to let me keep my silence.

To begin describing what we saw and heard last night, I have to admit that a certain credit has to be given to the venue, the Spiegeltent. I had heard about this temporary, very downtown performance space all summer, but I think it was July's weather that had discouraged me from investigating it earlier.

The tent is an almost unbelieveably perfect relic of the European cabaret and music salons of the 1920's and 30's, but last night we spent hours of pure delight inside carried away into the twenty-first century. No, "Absinthe", wasn't on the program last night, although the authority of good friends whose judgment we respect tells us that it's great fun.

Instead we were a part of a wonderful audience for a performance of the Brooklyn collective Darmstadt, Classics of the Avant Garde [I like the reference to Darmstadt, but I love the phrase in the second part of the name!] in collaboration with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) and pianist Emily Manzo. The works we heard/saw performed in this colorfully-spotlighted, smoky (artificial) mirrored and brocaded tent were by both contemporary composers and the those of the classical avant garde who still inspire adventurous musicians and audiences with works which haven't gathered a speck of dust in the years which followed their composition.

Cage, Ligeti, Xenakis and Andriessen works were interspersed with newer pieces by Rodney Sharman, Aaron Siegel and Du Yun. Maybe it was partly the buildup of enthusiasm, since they were the last wo works on the program, but I was totally crazy about the performances and the music of Xenakis's "Dmaathen" (Claire Chase on electric flute and David Schoztko percussion) and Andriessen's "Workers Union" (David Reminick on saxophone, Gareth Flowers on trumpet, Daniel Lippel on electic guitar, Randall Zigler on bass, Cory Smythe on piano and David Schotzko and Adam Sliwinski percussion).

This kind of stuff totally wipes out the boundaries of "classical Music" which have been assigned to its acolytes over the last century. The enthusiastic, standing-room-only audience was composed of much more than the older, sober and often slumberous faces found uptown in our heavily-funded music museums.

There are three more nights of ICE performances at the Spiegeltent: September 11, 18 and 25.

John Moran, as if at rest

Everything I said in the last paragraph can be said in spades for the performance which followed Darmstadt, John Moran's "Zenith 5! (Vrs. 2.0)", programmed by Performance Space 122. Moran is something of a legend among downtown music and performance entusiasts. I had first heard about him, I believe, soon after I moved to New York two decades ago, maybe in a tribute from Kyle Gann. I searched everywhere for a recording and kept my eyes open for any notice of a performance, but for years I found nothing.

This was In the early and late 80's, when I often often visited small to medium-sized rooms where the "downtown" or "new music" audiences numbers often barely exceeded those of the performers, and this was for groups I was already virtually worshipping. These were musicians who had already produced a number of records, and I knew I had most of them at home - or would have them in my hands by the next day. There was one hot evening in the late 80's when I stood in Manny Maris's CD store on Bleecker Street, called "Lunch for your Ears", crowded together with maybe seven other people (including Manny) to hear John Zorn do a solo horn gig. There was no AC and the door was closed to protect us from the neighbors' wrath. I was physically miserable, but I couldn't believe my privilege!

But back to Moran. I finally tracked down a CD. It was "The Manson Family: An Opera". And it was only a few years ago that I finally heard about a live performance of his ahead of time and of course I went. I was delighted, and I snatched up every CD he offered for sale after the music and the wonderful madness stopped. I resolved never to miss another opportunity to see what he's up to. It still happens once in a while, but only because this brilliant artist apparently doesn't keep a mailing list.

Unfortunately the piece performed last night was a one-off, at least for now. He's sure to be back, and what may be just as sure is the fact that the work will not look the same when we find him again.

For all of its innovation, even within the context of his own exotic body of work, "Zenith" was probably more typically Moran than anything I had seen before - precisely because it was a new direction as well as being so truly bizarre. "Zenith Five" was annoying and disturbing but totally unforgettable. We may not all be ready for it yet, but its beauties were real. The music was concrete and sampled and homemade; the movement was the same. I once wondered where "minimalism" could go once it had become part of our canon of styles; Moran seems to have found an outlet in the direction assumed by this exquisite piece. He's calling this work a ballet, at least tentatively; if he sticks with both the form and the appelation the virtually dead-ended world of "the ballet" can only be enriched by what started in the Spiegeltent last night.

ADDENDUM: I just realized that as respects the Darmstadt program the two pieces I had singled out for mention, of the eleven included in the program, were both written by recognized giants of the late twentieth century. Even though one of them is very much alive, my notes may look like a deliberate slight of Andriessen's younger colleagues and that was certainly not my intention.

The acoustics of the tent were not kind to the solo piano that was Emily Manzo's instrument during the first part of the evening, and it was in this portion of the program that Siegel and Sharman's compositions were heard. After the pause the ICE musicians moved in with their multiple instrument groupings and it was during this segment that we were treated to Du Yun's "Vicissitudes No. 1" (David Reminick on saxophone, Daniel Lippel on guitar, Kivie Cahn-Lipman on cello, Cory Smythe on piano, Randall ZIgler on bass and David Schotzko percussion).

The piece was totally new to me and I was equally unfamiliar with the composer, but I loved what I heard and I would really like to hear it again - elsewhere. Even with these larger forces the tent took its toll: I'm guessing that it was because of a lack of familiarity with the quirks of the space that the easy asssertiveness of the electric guitar and the natural power of the larger percussion instruments ended up bringing their players' contributions distractingly too forward of those of the ensemble. I think of the work itself - and its interpreters - as otherwise truly powerful and "electric" - in the very best way.

[unattributed Darmstadt image from Darmstadt; John Moran image by Chang W. Lee from NYTimes]

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Published on August 29, 2006 1:42 PM.

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