TRANSDADA EXPRESS / ENDANGERED SPECIES
My solo performances are the musics that I was born with - my beginings in the early '70s (documented on the 3-CD set Alvin Curran, Solo Works: The '70s, which includes Songs and Views from the Magnetic Garden (excerpt), Fiori Chiari Fiori Oscuri (excerpt), Canti Illuminati (excerpt), and The Works (excerpt)). Today this form is one of my favorite ways of making music because it demands the the whole truth and nothing but! TransDadaExpress (excerpt 1 excerpt 2), Endangered Species (excerpt), and The Alvin Curran Fake Book are the latest titles I give to such concert performances, where I feature a spontaneous mix of piano (Diskklavier where available), keyboard sampler, processors, voice, horns and other small instruments. These are always 45-90 minute unpredictable "exercises" in rigor and anarchy, where the extreme minimal and maximalisms meet; where the music is always on a wacky rollercoaster ride inside a temple.
TransDadaExpress, The Hague, 2007 (excerpts).Video Susan Levenstein, 9'58"
THE TOTO PORTRAITS
Developed in the ‘90s and currently an important focus. I perform spontaneous sound-portraits based on the archives of festivals, places, and people, notably: The Donaueschingen Festival (excerpt), The Knitting Factory (excerpt), The Angelica Festival (excerpt), John Cage (excerpt) (excerpt), the contemporary art scene in Vienna (excerpt), Achille Bonito Oliva (excerpt). Similar special occasion performances with tailored sample sets include wallsCAGEwalls, Mumbai's Way, etc. All these are performed with an 88 key midi controller using extensive samples of every aspect of the subject at hand, and Max MSP processing- average duration about 45 minutes.
ON HEARING THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE SING IN YIDDISH
ZKM Klangdom, Karlsrühe, November 2010. Photo Susan Levenstein
On Hearing the Brooklyn Bridge Sing in Yiddish is a solo concert/theater piece for two Diskklaviers. I play on one, whose keys sometimes trigger only its own strings, sometimes the sounds of the world (featuring yiddish and the song of the Brooklyn Bridge itself), sometimes the strings of a second piano hanging in the air, all under an outline of the bridge in lights. With Torzam software by Luca Spagnoletti. Listen to excerpt 1 excerpt 2
from the program notes: ...A man sits at a piano (a special Diskklavier). He pauses then plays a simple A minor triad. From these familiar three tones which begin to taper off, emerges the sound of a strange chorus, sounding as if it were trying to project the same chord the man has just played; as if those notes were actual catalyzing tones which somehow produced these alien voices – in their sustained, long vocal spannings. But these tones are strange, they are “curved.” They waiver, they rise slightly, they fall slightly, they stop abruptly then begin again on a different tone trying as it were to find the initial tone they set off on, now seemingly lost and irretrievable. The man at the piano plays another tone, say G sharp 3 octaves higher – as his middle finger activates this black key the sound of human laughter from inside a cage of chimpanzees is heard along with stuttering blurts of Russolo’s Intonarumori and a wildly vibrating water faucet in the men’s room of a famous woman’s College in California – these appear as from different points in space- each sound moves to the left or the right or up or down or nowhere, each sound circles, jumps across the room, re-emerges from under your seat, from behind your back –suddenly like a rat racing across the floor, climbs the wall and reenters into one of many loudspeakers – home to rats and birds, mold, insects, industrial noise and rotting piles of abandoned sound files… This is only one imaginary beginning, but as you might have guessed - those long randomly undulating tones (speeding up and slowing down like the automobiles which produced them from the sounding metal grid below their wheels) were recordings I made in the early 80’s while standing under the Brooklyn Bridge and thinking that I was actually hearing a chorus of human-like voices of a people who have not yet been discovered - a long-lost tribe of ancient choral societies - in the sense of modern geography and anthropology. The Bridge was singing, but nobody knew what “song” or in what language, or with what kind of extraterrestrial musical intervals. Meanwhile, the pianist plays a fragment of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” in perfect stride-style. This slip on a popular banana peal activates another Diskklavier piano that hangs from the ceiling – there, the piano, without a piano player, is playing all by itself as if possessed by the ghosts of Conlon Nancarrow, Beethoven, Scelsi, Maryanne Amacher, or by the spells of Cecil Taylor, Merzbow or Robert Ashley. The sound of ship horns and tobacco auctioneers and Aphex Twin’s deep sighing appear in the air – suspended like a bridge – which spans a distance equivalent to that of Brooklyn to Minsk. The earlier sounds of the bridge singing are now convoluted into speaking voices, they are telling a story in Yiddish about a Rabbi who lost his way in the snow. This is convolution pure and simple, we cannot know if the bridge sings, or even speaks in Yiddish or if the the singing and speaking voices are possessed by the sonic souls of the bridge… we cannot know – and the not-knowing, as I imply here – while an enlightened form of knowing, does not allow us mortals to really know if these sounds are mere balloons of hot air, Kabbalist permutations, the sound of the Tree of Life, or a Hip-Hop BoomBox, an Allen Ginsberg Mantra, ecstatic ravings of Meister Eckhart - or the door to Dante’s 7th Bolgia. Such as these sounds envelop us – while sitting, standing, breathing sleeping, gently living and floating in this room of intergalactic audio islands (the 43 computer controlled loudspeakers suspended like a childrens toys in space) – awaiting commands from some electronic general to leap into action, leap from the bridge to the forcastle and land, zap, like a charged particle in this imaginary space-theater, “in mittn d’ menschen...
Shofar III, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, March 2009. Photo Susan Levenstein
...since its first performance in 1990 at the WDR remains a work in progress which can be presented in solo and ensemble versions. It features one of the most archaic music instruments – the ram’s horn - which is plugged into a computer running Max MSP which takes the few humble tones of this primitive instrument and turns them into sonic fireworks. 1994 Shofar II program notes (Shofar II Tel Aviv excerpt Freiburg excerpt)
...while originally a solo performance of a few piano compostions of some of the prime essences of my music, has now become a theatrical 6 hour presentation of the whole book of 14 pieces. Now performed around the world by the extraordinary Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle. program notes