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Updated: 2 hours 3 min ago

Four Paths to the Future: III. Robotics

Tue, 2017-10-10 06:30

In September 2013, I went to the Palais de Tokyo to watch a robot dance. British artist Conrad Shawcross had installed a sixteen-and-a-half foot-tall former tack-welding robot in the basement of the Parisian art institute and re-programmed its once-lumpen gestures into an artful choreography of  arcs and swoops, pairing the movements with specially commissioned music by the likes of Holly Herndon, Beatrice Dillon, Mira Calix, and others. “I think,” Shawcross told me, “if the company who originally built it saw this robot they would be pretty horrified.” For the spectators at the Palais de Tokyo that day, however, it was hard to deny the thing a certain grace.

For Holly Herndon, who I was able to ask about her experience working on the music a little while later, the robot’s movements were almost too smooth. She had insisted on programming in a few more “glitches” into the gestures before she could compose for it. Was the problem that the robot’s dance moves were all too human?

Conrad Shawcross – The Ada Project


Mira Calix's If The While For performed live with Conrad Shawcross' robot at the launch of The Ada Project show.


The arts of music and robotics have long eyed each other with mutual fascination. Two centuries before Kraftwerk’s frank admission "We Are The Robots," the clockmakers’ workshops of Enlightenment Europe were awash with musical automata. The first androids were human-like figures with moving parts powered by cogs and spools – like Jacques Vaucanson’s flute player, presented before the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1738, or the clockwork female figure built by the Swiss father and son, Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet Droz, that played its own tiny harpsichord with fully articulated fingers.

Jacques Vaucanson’s flute player was a life-sized figure of a man that could perform twelve songs.

Three famous automatons built by Jacques de Vaucanson in the 18th century: the flute player, the duck, and the tambourine player. (WIKIMEDIA COMMON/Wikimedia Commons)

In recent years, this fascination has manifested itself in the Archandroid project of Janelle Monae, the "fembot" stylings of Swedish pop singer Robyn, and Beyonce’s Metropolis-esque Sasha Fierce persona. Much as Kraftwerk used their robot drag to simultaneously poke fun at clichés of Teutonic severity and nod to the industrial heritage of their hometown of Düsseldorf; the gynoids of the 21st century both satirise the submissiveness of Stepford Wives while asserting a strong, new feminine identity in the previously male-dominated tradition of Afrofuturism.

Meanwhile, Toyota have been showing off their trumpet and violin-playing "partner robots" since the 2005 Shang Hai EXPO. They’re a little less clunky and mechanical than their 18th century forebears – but not much. Better are more recent efforts from Georgia Institute of Technology, like Haile, a robot percussionist, and Shimon, a marimba player that can even write its own tunes.

Haile, the interactive robot drummer, listens and responds to a human drummer.


Shimon, an interactive marimba-playing robot, collaborates with live musicians.


For New Zealand-based robot band, The Trons (designed by musician Greg Locke), the jerkiness is kind of part of the fun. But more recently YuMi, a Swiss robot that conducted the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra in Pisa just this summer, has been praised by conductor Andrea Colombini for its “fluidity of gesture” and “incredible softness of touch.” Still, YuMi’s developers admit that the machine is only capable of following a set of preprogrammed instructions – it can’t respond to the nuance of instrumentalists’ playing and gets flummoxed by sudden changes of tempo. As French essayist Hervé Juvin found, in his 2010 book The Coming of the Body, the most surprising discovery of the 21st century may be that “the body is rarer – more difficult to reproduce, extend or deputize for – than the mind.”

The Trons: A self-playing robot band.


ABB's robot YuMi takes center stage in Pisa, and conducts Andrea Bocelli and Lucca Symphony Orchestra.


65,000 Shades of Van Gogh: Clint Mansell Scores Stylish 'Loving Vincent'

Wed, 2017-10-04 07:08

Loving Vincent, the directorial debut from Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, is a curious film (you can enjoy an exclusive clip from the film above.) Part reverent biopic, part noir-ish thriller, the film follows Armand Roulin – son of the bearded postman Joseph Roulin, Vincent van Gogh’s friend and frequent subject – in his attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the painter’s death. Loving Vincent is moreover a unique feat of cinema: each of its 65,000 frames is a canvas oil painting; the film was hand-painted by a team of 115 artists.

The aptly titled film is a loving paean to van Gogh’s work. Each scene is built directly from his own paintings; the animation magnifies the undulating colors and uncanny sense of movement in van Gogh’s brushstrokes.

A stylish soundtrack by the English film composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) amplifies the homage to van Gogh. Explaining her practice of leaving flowers daily at van Gogh’s grave, Marguerite Gachet (an intimate of van Gogh’s and the subject of more than one painting) tells Roulin, “He would appreciate the delicate beauty of their bloom.” The same might be said for Mansell’s ethereal vignettes, rife with melancholy piano motifs, hazy string textures, and pulsating rhythms.

Mansell’s music runs through much of Loving Vincent, animating the narrative with subtle propulsion. The muted pastel timbres of Mansell’s orchestration complement the imagery’s softness. Likewise, the soundtrack contains an alchemical blend of delicacy and mystery well-suited to the film’s moody black-and-white flashback scenes. Some moments accomplish both: “Wheatfield with Crows” captures the idyll and the quiet eeriness of van Gogh’s canvas of the same name.

As a stand-alone album, the soundtrack satisfies as a post-minimalist ambient record. From the evocative opening strains of “Night Café” to the unassuming keyboard figurations, colored by dreamlike string harmonics, in “Marguerite Gachet at the Piano,” Mansell’s score sustains a narrative arc on its own. In context, what Mansell has created is music just as essential to Loving Vincent’s complete aesthetic as the painted animation.

Stream Loving Vincent on Spotify:

Loving Vincent is also available on Amazon

Four Paths to the Future: II. Artificial Intelligence

Sun, 2017-10-01 21:00

It is four years now since I visited computer scientist François Pachet in his office at Sony’s blue-sky Computer Science Lab in Paris’s 5th arrondissement. At that time he was working on a project called Flow Machines, a system he believed could be “the next generation of interactive systems.” The software was intended to work as a partner for improvising musicians, able to follow even the most unexpected changes in timing and key.

François Pachet's Reflexive Looper, a loop pedal that uses AI


Effectively, he was trying to teach jazz to a computer. He told me he wanted to take it busking on the Paris Metro (“I don’t expect much money…” he admitted). So I was intrigued to see in the news just a few weeks ago that Pachet had apparently been poached by Spotify. Intrigued, but not altogether surprised.

The Flow Machine Project


The history of artificial intelligence approaches to music is almost as old as artificial intelligence itself. It was Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage’s own “enchantress of number,” the first computer programmer and first theorist of algorithmic art, who insisted that though Babbage’s engine might be induced to create music, it had “no pretensions whatever to originate anything.” The twentieth century has tended to perceive this more as a challenge than a rule to be bound by.

"Mechanical Brain Takes Up Composing Music" was the headline in the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette when Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson premiered their Illiac Suite – a string quartet, named after its "composer," the Illinois Automatic Computer (or ILLIAC). Like many of the projects to succeed it, The Illiac Suite employed a combination of random numbers and Markov chains, strings of probabilities that tell the computer whether, say, A is more likely to precede B or ⻬. One of the most celebrated music AIs of the twentieth century, David Cope’s Experiments in Musical Intelligence, was essentially a more sophisticated version of the same principle.

The Illiac Suite for String Quartet


"Bach-style Chorale" was composed by the Experiments in Musical Intelligence computer program created by David Cope.


More recently, the focus has shifted from Markov-based systems to neural networks. There are now countless different AI music projects, several of them – like Google’s Magenta, the Baidu AI Composer, and whatever Spotify are planning on doing with François Pachet – are funded by the major social network companies. The question is, why? What would the parent company of a notoriously royalty-averse platform like YouTube want with a program that could create music at the touch of a button, without human intervention?

The Baidu AI Composer


"Daddy's Car" is a song composed by Artificial Intelligence in the style of the Beatles.


Robert Barry is the author of The Music of the Future, published by Repeater Books earlier this year, a history of speculative musics from the Enlightenment to the present day. In "Four Paths to the Future," a new four-part series for Q2 Music, he examines the past, present, and future of music through the lens of a set of topics normally reserved for science fiction or futurological think tanks. "Four Paths to the Future" will provide an imaginative glimpse of where we're at and where we might be heading, through the thoughts, sounds, inventions and ideas of the composers, thinkers and technologists who could be taking us there.

Four Paths to the Future: I. Networks

Mon, 2017-09-25 06:45

Robert Barry is the author of The Music of the Future, published by Repeater Books earlier this year, a history of speculative musics from the Enlightenment to the present day. In "Four Paths to the Future," a new four-part series for Q2 Music, he examines the past, present, and future of music through the lens of a set of topics normally reserved for science fiction or futurological think tanks. "Four Paths to the Future" will provide an imaginative glimpse of where we're at and where we might be heading, through the thoughts, sounds, inventions and ideas of the composers, thinkers and technologists who could be taking us there.

In the early 60s, composer Morton Subotnick had a vision of the future. “I did a piece in ’61,” he told me, “which I thought of as what would happen on the stage one hundred years from now.” He could see the world around him was changing. Magnetic tape offered the potential to transform the practice of composition into a studio art, allowing musicians to layer up sounds like paint on a canvas. Subotnick could see that music would be affected by this “in the same way that written language had when the printing press had been created.”

Morton Subotnick: "The Mad Scientist in the Laboratory of the Ecstatic Moment," by NewMusicBox

Half a century later, the revolution Subotnick could see brewing has been normalized and a new series of transformations are already underway. Yet, for the most part, the music we hear – from its initial conception to mastered completion – remains rooted in the same paradigm glimpsed at the start of the 60s. Everything to do with the economics and distribution of music has fundamentally changed, but the superstructure seems scarcely to have followed suit.

A few years ago I interviewed artist and tech theorist James Bridle to talk about what he called “network realism”, a kind of literature written in a new vernacular peculiar to networked societies. He talked about the way, while reading William Gibson’s recent novels, you could tell he had a dozen different browser windows open as he was typing. But when I asked about music, Bridle struggled for examples, finally pointing to Laurel Halo and Holly Herndon as artists whose music “just sounds like the internet.”

We might also think of composers like Jennifer Walshe, whose The Total Mountain, pings just as excitedly through Chrome tabs – one minute a Twitter opera, the next Wikipedia entries, doge gifs, and the Department of Homeland Security's flagged words list – or Brigitta Muntendorf, whose Public Privacy series finds live musicians duetting with YouTube clips of musicians playing at home.

Jennifer Walshe: The Total Mountain (excerpt)

Brigitta Muntendorf: Public Privacy: #1 FluteCover

But what if the music that best represents the new media landscape is the kind of sonic spam that clogs up Spotify’s search results: groups like The Birthday Song Crew with thousands of different tracks, from "Happy Birthday Aariana" to "Happy Birthday Zimena," each one identical bar the proper noun addressed in the chorus, or Silhouette, whose hundreds-strong catalog of instrumentals differ only in their titles. 

Birthday Song Crew: "Happy Birthday Carrie" 

Few artists took better advantage of the streaming landscape than Vulfpeck, whose Sleepify album racked up $20k in royalties with ten tracks of silence. Maybe the music best suited to the new networks is no music at all.

Vulfpeck - "Zz" off of Sleepify

Stay tuned for new installments of "Four Paths to the Future," each Monday from September 25 to October 16.

Watch: Luna Lab's Inaugural Year Highlights Music of Young Female Composers

Mon, 2017-09-25 06:44

The Luna Composition Lab – founded by composers Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid, and operating in collaboration with Face the Music at the Kaufman Music Center – pairs young female composers from eighth grade to rising college freshman with established counterparts in the field. 

Addressing a documented imbalance in the gender of composition faculty at elite music schools and conservatories, Luna Lab provides a critical resource for student composers looking for inspiration and female role models. The overt to subtle challenges facing young women working to make a career as a composer in such a male-dominated field were well expressed in this essay from earlier in the year by composer Sarah Kirkland Snider. 

Watch recent performances from the WQXR studios of pieces composed by the three fellows of Luna Lab's inaugural season – Sofia Belimova, Michelle David and Violet Barnum – below. 

Mentors for the second season of Luna Lab are Reena Esmail, Kristin Kuster, Tamar Muskal, Gity Razaz and Ellen Reid, and applications are being accepted through Oct. 27 through Face the Music's Call for Scores program.

Hallucination by Sofia Belimova (Maya Fortune, violin; Sofia Belimova, piano):


Nighttime Skyscrapers by Michelle David (Michelle David, piano):


Trio by Violet Barnum (Jonah Murphy, flute; Boubacar Diallo, cello; Vasudevan Panicker, piano):


Listen: Qasim Naqvi's Analog Electronic Architecture for 'FILM'

Thu, 2017-09-21 09:00
Qasim Naqvi might be best known as the drummer for the genre-defying, Radiohead-opening and Radiolab-featured trio Dawn of Midi. But he's also an accomplished composer and film scorer: His latest album, FILM, compiles tracks from two of his film scores, which he largely composed on analog and modular synthesizers. Listen to the album — out Sept. 29 on Bandcamp — below, and read what Naqvi has to say about his process and inspirations behind the music.

Tell me a little about the background for FILM.

FILM is a body of analog electronic music that was created for the feature film Tripoli Cancelled and the 3-channel video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral. The films were made by Naeem Mohaiemen and they premiered at documenta 14, one of Europe’s oldest exhibitions for contemporary art. Each work is rather different in tone. Tripoli Cancelled is a fictional film about a man who inhabits a desolate home that is gradually revealed to be an airport and Two Meetings and a Funeral is a 3-channel video installation about the history of the Non-Aligned Movement. Although the works are different in tone, I wanted to sonically bind them by using the same instrumentation for both soundtracks.

So often, albums of “score” are unable to stand apart from the structure of the film. Was this music scored to picture? Or were these composed with the film in mind and fitted to picture later?

For this record, the pieces were actually scored to the film. Naeem did shuffle some tracks around afterwards based on what he was feeling, but the pieces were initially tailored for specific scenes. There are also a couple of tracks on the record that didn’t quite make the final cut of the films, but they seemed interesting to me as stand-alone pieces so I brought them back.

Tell me a little about the compositional process for this music.

At the time l was in this analog synth wormhole and was making music with these machines, and thankfully the director was excited about that and he let me run with it. As a general inspirational source, he introduced me to John Carpenter’s score to Assault on Precinct 13, and from there I revisited some other synth driven scores from my 80’s upbringing, like Carpenter’s music to The Thing, the soundtrack to Legend by Tangerine Dream, Vangelis’s score to Blade Runner, Wendy Carlos’s soundtrack to the original Tron and some of David Lynch’s sound-design work for Blue Velvet and Dune. Lynch creates these powerful room tones in his films that have the presence of music. I just listened and absorbed these materials without being too analytical. From there I tried to maintain an intuitive approach, with lots of trial and error.

This is your second consecutive film-music release. Other than offering a visual reference, does scoring bring something unusual out of you compositionally that doesn’t surface while composing “other” music?

I actually started scoring when I was about 22 years old and fresh out of college, as a way to make a living and survive. It was really hard to make it as a drummer in New York, in 1999, and what started off as a means to an end, quickly changed into a sort of wellspring that got me interested in composing beyond film. It also informed my approach as a drummer. So the connectedness to something visual has always been with me and is somehow woven into all the music I write, for film and everything else. It’s an old piece of the root structure. With that said there are definitely some parameters that can be different when working in film as opposed to your own music. I suppose with certain kinds of film music, there’s a very specific function or intent that needs to be articulated and it’s the composer’s job to enhance that feeling and at the same time, hopefully, be inventive. Also your sense of duration and development is tied to the length of a scene. Actually, when I think about it, most of my albums to date are picture soundtracks, whether it's for film or an art piece. Fjoloy, Preamble and Landscape Studies were all made for museum pieces, as film installations. But unlike other films I’ve worked on, the directors gave me complete creative control and a lot of these pieces were actually made away from the picture, through conversations with the director.  

Though the music on this release is taken from two different films, they seem to occupy a similar, somewhat disconnected, emotional space. When you’re writing, do you begin with the context of an emotional landscape, or do you write more based on sound and movement and let the synthesis of music, film and psychological context happen organically?

With these two films and also with Fjoloy and Preamble, the physical spaces are quite strong. They are almost like characters and a sort of deference is given to them. Tripoli Cancelled was shot entirely inside of a massive abandoned international airport in Greece. I had never seen abandonment on that scale; like 747 jets just languishing in ruin on a runway. It was an amazing backdrop for a film. There’s a solitary character that is either trapped inside of or living in this space. His loneliness and the sort of grandeur of the ruins got me thinking about room tones or the voice of the space singing back to the character. That was the foundational idea for the music and then it was more about intuition and experimentation from there.

Qasim Naqvi's synth setup that he used on his album "FILM." (Qasim Naqvi)

This music is almost entirely performed on a modular synthesizer. How did you discover that instrument? What is it about the modular synthesizer that speaks to you?

Yeah, the music was created using a modular system that I put together, also an Arp Odyssey, and a few tracks were created on a Moog Model D. When I was working on my last record Chronology, (which was made entirely on a broken Model D) I got very exited about this medium and I started building a modular system. It’s like having a chamber ensemble of very unusual instruments at your fingertips and you orchestrate your ideas by patching these machines together and controlling voltage. It really felt like I was learning a new instrument, with its own set of structures, strengths and idiosyncrasies. Software synthesizers lack that, I feel. You can do anything with them very quickly and I was getting a little tired of that. There's something restrictive with modular devices and it makes you think a little harder about how to make interesting choices; you have to learn how to get them to speak. And when you do, they sound incredible.

As well as a composer, you’re a drummer. It’s interesting that that while there are certainly pulses and percussive synth attacks, there’s no actual percussion or drums on the album. And rhythmically — at least on the surface — the music is relatively simple, even approaching ambient music in certain compositions. How does your drumming musically inform your compositional process?

Yes, a lot my music prior to this release has been kind of maximal and I wanted to do something different and more stripped down. I wanted to zoom into the timbral space of the machines. In most cases, the pieces are made up of anywhere from 1-4 layers at most and to my ears it opened things up and enabled me to feel the vibrations of the different oscillators more clearly. Also the slow pacing and stark backdrops of the films pointed me in the direction of something very ambient and immersive. Playing complicated rhythms didn’t seem like the right way to go. It’s weird, with the whole drumming thing; it’s very much a different brain that I use. It’s more immediate and unconscious and with composing it’s almost the opposite. I guess for that reason when I do write rhythmically complex music, I’m not necessarily writing rhythms that I would play on the drums. Time slows down when I write and the analytical side creates other rhythms that my unconscious mind would never dream of making I guess. That bridge will be up and running some day.

Composer and drummer Qasim Naqvi (Falkwyn de Goyeneche)

Are there other composers who’ve crossed into film that you think are doing particularly interesting things at the moment?

I’ve really been enjoying Mica Levi’s work, like from Under the Skin and Jackie. Johan Johansson’s scores for Sicaria and Arrival are also pretty awesome and I’ve been a fan of just about anything Jonny Greenwood has scored.

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I’ve just started researching a piece for solo violin, percussion and modular electronics. The violin virtuoso Jennifer Koh has commissioned me to write a piece for a series that she’s curating at National Sawdust in March. It’s a great honor to be writing a piece for her and that’ll be taking up a big chunk of time. I also have some performances of my chamber music overseas with the group Stargaze and the Erebus Ensemble at the Spitalfields Festival in London and at the Rest is Noise Festival in Holland and I’m prepping for that. This is all largely thanks to Andre de Ridder; a fabulous conductor and curator who’s been a real strong advocate of my music and he’s been getting stuff performed abroad. I’m truly grateful to have someone like that in my life. Other than that, just trying to stay alive. 

Radiohead and Hans Zimmer to Collaborate on 'Blue Planet II' Score

Tue, 2017-09-19 07:27

Ubiquitous, multiple Grammy-winning film composer Hans Zimmer and rock band Radiohead are collaborating on a new track to be included in "Blue Planet II," the sequel to the celebrated ocean documentary series "Blue Planet." 

"ocean (Bloom)" is an orchestral arrangement of "Bloom," a song off of Radiohead's 2011 album The King of Limbs. Vocalist Thom Yorke has stated that the song was in part inspired by the original Blue Planet. As reported by Variety, Yorke said:

“‘Bloom’ was inspired by the original ‘Blue Planet’ series, so it’s great to be able to come full circle with the song and re-imagine it for this incredible landmark’s sequel,” he said. “Hans is a prodigious composer who effortlessly straddles several musical genres, so it was liberating for us all to work with such a talent and see how he wove the sound of the series and ‘Bloom’ together.”

The new version will feature the BBC Concert Orchestra with newly-tracked vocals by Yorke.

Watch Radiohead perform "Bloom" below.

Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and Milton Babbitt Set the Words of the Late Poet John Ashbery

Tue, 2017-09-05 09:54

John Ashbery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for his surreal and experimental style writing style, passed away on Monday at the age of 90. Listen to archival performances of the settings of his work, “No Longer Very Clear,” from WNYC FM's fiftieth anniversary concert, set by some of America's most renowned composers: Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Milton Babbitt. 

WNYC's Fiftieth Anniversay Concert at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall featured settings of text by John Ashbery by twelve established composers. (Alex Ambrose)

WNYC-FM’s 50th anniversary coincided with a very difficult time for the station: Mayor Rudy Giuliani had declared his intention to get New York City out of the broadcasting business by selling the licenses to WNYC – AM, FM, and TV (we broadcast PBS and various leased-time programs on UHF Channel 31). We’d just begun the process of negotiating with City Hall to not stand in the way of the sale of the TV license in return for the opportunity to buy the radio license ourselves, but our 51st anniversary was by no means assured. 

Still, the event at Alice Tully Hall was meant to celebrate the station’s rich history and its deep connection with the contemporary music scene, in NY and around the country. The composer John Corigliano gave John Schaefer the idea of commissioning a bunch of composers to write short pieces for the occasion, and the poet John Ashbery was willing to contribute a new, unpublished poem, so the project quickly turned into a celebration not just of WNYC and the music scene, but of this oblique, dark, and possibly bleakly humorous work by Ashbery. “No Longer Very Clear” touched on familiar Ashbery themes like aging, memory, and regret; more than one composer, in speaking about it beforehand, noted that the title was appropriate to the occasion, with our own future so unclear. 

The concert began with Ashbery reading his work. 

John Ashberry introduces and reads "No Longer Very Clear"

Schaefer gave the composers no rules for setting the text: they could set it all, or part of it, or none of it.

Laurie Anderson set the entire text.  Laurie Anderson's setting of John Ashbery's "No Longer Very Clear"

Philip Glass wrote an instrumental response (which now lives a second life as one of his piano Etudes)

Philip Glass' setting of John Ashbery's "No Longer Very Clear" Milton Babbitt set almost the whole text – and had a hilarious explanation for why he didn’t set a single, short word. 

Milton Babbitt's setting of John Ashbery's "No Longer Very Clear

(And one composer, Raphael Mostel, set only the vowels!) 

These performances were recorded June 13, 1994 at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall on the occasion of WNYC FM's fiftieth anniversary.

Folk-Influenced Composer David Bruce

Wed, 2017-08-30 21:00

British composer and pianist David Bruce draws from folk traditions such as gypsy music, flamenco, and klezmer as well as composers such as Janacek, Stravinsky, Berio, and Bartok in his work. He has composed for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chroma, among others.

Bruce joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the meaning of his piece Marzipan and the complexities of composing folk music for virtuosic violin.

Living Gentrification: Toshi Reagon on What it Means to Build and Unbuild Brooklyn

Wed, 2017-08-23 08:02

Building Brooklyn, written for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus’ Silent Voices project, evokes the full continuum of composer and singer-sonwriter Toshi Reagon's sound world: irresistible grooves, poignant blues harmonies, testimonial gospel melodies, all in the service of unrelenting honesty. Hers is a music based in the tradition of seeing things for how they really are, music that is without a single superficial moment. The truth of her music clarifies and ennobles the thinking of the listener. Put more simply: You are better after listening to Toshi Reagon’s music.

In Building Brooklyn, Reagon wrote a piece that explores the complexity and injustice of gentrification, a topic which is frighteningly urgent in her Crown Heights neighborhood. Particular to this piece is Reagon’s sense of irony. Poignant lines of erasure like "No, there never was a building, there never was a building here. No this never was a school, nobody taught here," are set to an upbeat, danceable rhythm, with the choristers smiling and getting down to the music. The final lines of the piece are set to what Reagon calls an "ironic gratitude": "It’s the moment when someone who takes your heart thanks you as if you gave it to them."

In this second Silent Voices documentary — the first features composer Kamala Sankaram's Keeping the Look Loose — we spoke with Reagon and the choristers about the current wave of gentrification, as well as how Reagon wove the many stages of injustice into a single, cohesive work.

Watch: Building Brooklyn with music and lyrics by Toshi Reagon, performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. 

Brooklyn Youth Chorus's Silent Voices was a multimedia, multi-composer stage work conceived, produced and performed by the chorus. Unfolding over the course of the chorus’ 25th anniversary season, and culminating in a world premiere at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House in May 2017, the work was co-commissioned by Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and WQXR.

Listen: Penguin Cafe Performs Originals, Kraftwerk and Simeon Mobile Disco

Wed, 2017-08-16 21:00

On May 5, 2017, London's long-time instrumental ensemble Penguin Cafe celebrated the release of their album "The Imperfect Sea" – a collection of originals and existing electronic music arranged for acoustic instruments –with a live performance at Le Poisson Rouge.

Originally formed in 1970s, Penguin Cafe Orchestra was the brainchild of composer and guitarist Simon Jeffes. Jeffes passed away in 1997, and his son Arthur resurrected the band, which currently includes members of Gorillaz, Suede and Florence and the Machine, in 1997. "The Imperfect Sea" is the third album by this incarnation of the band. Alongside original material, which intentionally mimics the layering of electronic music, "The Imperfect Sea" features covers of "dance" music by Kraftwerk, Simeon Mobile Disco and Rock Music.

Penguin Café includes: Arthur Jeffes, piano and dulcitone; Vincent Greene, viola and music director; Clementine Brown, violin; Oli Langford, violin; Darren Berry, percussion and various other things; Rebecca Waterworth, cello; Andy Waterworth, double bass; Des Murphy, ukulele and various other things; Neil Codling, cuatro and various other things

Listen to the full show, featuring introductions and on-stage banter by Arthur Jeffes, at the top of this page.

Control 1 Interlude/Franz Schubert (by Kraftwerk)
Half Certainty
Now Nothing (by Rock Music)
Wheels Within Wheels (by Simeon Mobile Disco)
Harry Piers
Perpetuum Mobilé
Music For A Found Harmonium
Air à Danser

engineers: George Wellington (technical director), Duke Markos (music mix), Edward Haber

Watch: Eighth Blackbird's Nick Photinos Premieres Pascal Le Boeuf's Dizzying 'Alpha'

Mon, 2017-08-14 07:27

"Petits Artéfacts," the forthcoming debut from Grammy-winning, Eighth Blackbird-founding cellist Nick Photinos, features new music from an impressive array of new and established voices, including Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang, rocker-cum-composer Bryce Dessner and heralded composer-of-the-moment Andrew Norman. 

In advance of the release, watch Photinos and ubiquitous percussionist Doug Perkins perform jazz pianist/composer Pascal Le Boeuf's teeth-rattling roller coaster ride Alpha.

The music is comprised of hard-grooving, stop-start cells and seemingly takes its cues from high-anxiety Hitchcock film music imbued with elements of vintage funk, John Bonham-style pummeling and free jazz. The intensity sits firmly at eleven the whole time and director Michael McQuilken's fast-cut and dizzying camera work only heightens the drama.

Petits Artéfacts is due August 25 on New Amsterdam Records.

Terry Riley's 'Dark Queen Mantra' Weaves Electric Guitar and String Quartet into a Spiraling Whole

Mon, 2017-08-14 07:05

It is possible that someone, somewhere has listened to an assortment of recent works by Terry Riley and not been utterly charmed, but it is best not to imagine what life must be like for such a person. Now 82 years old, Riley knocked the course of music history sideways with the highly repetitive, process-driven, open-form piece In C in 1964, but he has refused to repeat himself, instead producing a varied catalog of compositions in which the only constants are propulsive syncopation, a richness of ornamental detail, and melody. 

Dark Queen Mantra, the titular piece on a new recording from the Sono Luminus label, unites two of the sound-worlds that have made up much of Riley's repertoire: the string quartet and the guitar. The bowed string players here are not his usual partners, the Kronos Quartet, but another bold Bay-area band, the Del Sol Quartet, who commissioned the piece in honor of Riley's 80th birthday, and it is a pleasure to hear Riley's music created and illuminated by a chamber group with a performance aesthetic that diverges from the very strong style of the Kronos crew.

The guitarist, on the other hand, is one of Riley's most longstanding musical collaborators. Riley has written his son Gyan whole volumes of Latin-influenced music for electric and acoustic guitar, and this Mantra is no exception: a sort of concerto for electric guitar and string quartet that delves from a sprightly tarantella into something more tuneful and wistful, and then deeper still into a distorted rock guitar tone, without ever losing a certain breezy, Spanish character. 

Along with Dark Queen Mantra and The Wheel & Mystic Birds Waltz, a 1983 Riley quartet, Del Sol also offers here a piece by the legendary contrabass player and composer Stefano Scodanibbio, a longtime Terry Riley collaborator who passed away in 2012. Mas Lugares (su Madrigali di Monteverdi) is a sort of double homage to two other Italian masters: Claudio Monteverdi, whose madrigals emerge like ghosts from the Riley-like bustle of the opening movement, and Luciano Berio, whose own music was similarly haunted by the musical past.

Del Sol String Quartet: Dark Queen Mantra
Sono Luminus | Release Date: August 24, 2017
Available to Pre-Order on Amazon

My Body as Me: Kamala Sankaram Shows Us How to Keep the Look Loose

Wed, 2017-08-02 09:24

The Brooklyn Youth Chorus' Silent Voices project – which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this past May – was one of the most socially aware artistic events in New York this year. The project commissioned 10 new works and created space for a sustained conversation about issues of social justice and empowerment among musicians, choristers and audiences alike.

Q2 Music documented conversations about the months of emotional and intellectual energy the choristers’ put into the project.

Keeping the Look Loose by composer Kamala Sankaram, with lyrics written by renowned prose-poet Claudia Rankine (Citizen, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely), is first subject of our two documentary videos. The piece is an anthem for young women, encouraging them to overcome the cultural scrutiny of their bodies.

“I wanted this to be an a capella piece because it's about the choir, it's about them. It's about their agency, and their power, and so I felt like they had to be the ones driving, driving the music forward and driving the journey forward,” says Sankaram. The choristers accompany themselves with claps and stomps throughout to “put them in their bodies and give them a little more power.”

With interviews conducted by Helga Davis, this video is a testament to not only to the truth of these young women’s experiences, but also to a tragically overlooked and rarely mastered gesture of activism: listening.

Watch: Kamala Sankaram's Keeping the Look Loose, with text by Claudia Rankine, below:


Brooklyn Youth Chorus's Silent Voices was a multimedia, multi-composer stage work conceived, produced and performed by the Chorus. Unfolding over the course of the Chorus’ 25th anniversary season, and culminating in a world premiere at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House in May 2017, the work was co-commissioned by Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and WQXR.

Oneohtrix Point Never Remixes Ryuichi Sakamoto

Mon, 2017-07-31 07:30

The New York electronic composer Oneohtrix Point Never has remixed a piece by legendary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

"Andata" appears on Sakamoto's latest release async, an album conceived as a soundtrack to a film by Andrei Tarkovsky that does not exist. OPN subtly colors Sakamoto's tranquil, baroque-informed piano meditation and digital hiss with dated plucked synth counterpoint and syrupy organ-like swells.

Oneohtrix Point Never is the project of composer Daniel Lopatin, who has released seven full-length albums to date (his eighth, a soundtrack to the film Good Time, will be released on August 8). Lopatin often incorporates warped audio samples of sounds from YouTube, films and other "found" sources, referencing modern ambient music, ambient, New Age and No Wave styles. He recently released a single with Iggy Pop.

An upcoming remix album of async set for a September 8 release on Milan Records includes OPN's remix alongside remixes by Arca, Jóhann Jóhannsson and others.

Listen to Oneohtrix Point Nevers's reworking of "Andata":


Listen to Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Andata" from async:


Listen: World Premiere of Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto for Alex Sopp

Sun, 2017-07-16 21:00

On July 11th, chamber orchestra The Knights premiered Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto during a live performance at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. The concerto was written for Knights' flutist Alex Sopp, also a member of the groups yMusic and NOW Ensemble, and broadcast live on WQXR.

As Greenstein explains in the interview embedded below, Sopp is a longtime friend of his and the concerto reflects her relationship with the other musicians in The Knights, both as an ensemble member and soloist. On the onstage interview before the performance, he tells conductor Eric Jacobsen that the piece is about "people doing things that are similar, that are together, but yet have something individual to say."

Listen to Judd Greenstein's Flute Concerto at the top of the page, and his interview with Eric Jacobsen below.

The Knights' Eric Jacobsen interviews Judd Greenstein

Pulitzer Prize Winner David Lang

Thu, 2017-07-13 21:00

David Lang is also co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can. One of the most visible and performed contemporary composers, he has composed for the Internationl Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Kronos Quartet, the New York Philharmonic and eighth blackbird. His score for director Paolo Sorrentino's film YOUTH was nominated for an Academy Award and he was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his The Little Match Girl Passion.

David Lang joins Jennifer Koh to discuss a composer's awareness of the works alongside which his/her own is being programmed, and an alternative approach to virtuosity, one soaked in subtlety, control, and reservation of emotion, both of which he explores and exemplifies in his Shared Madness composition low resolution.

MacArthur Fellow Julia Wolfe

Wed, 2017-07-12 21:00

Julia Wolfe is a composer who finds inspiration in folk, classical and rock music. She was a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, and her opera Anthracite Fields won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. A co-founder of Bang on a Can, she's composed for the Bang on a Can All-Stars and singers and the Munich Chamber Orchestra, among others. Wolfe is currently writing a piece for the New York Philharmonic’s 2018 season.

She joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the history behind the title of her Shared Madness piece, Spinning Jenny, traditional folk technique, and the moment she discovered her love of music.

Watch: Cellist Mariel Roberts Performs Solos by George Lewis and Pauline Oliveros

Wed, 2017-07-12 11:24

On July 12, cellist Mariel Roberts – an accomplished solo performer and also a member of Mivos Quartet – joined us in the studio to perform music by the late maverick composer Pauline Oliveros and Columbia University's George Lewis, off her latest album, Cartography.

The wildly virtuosic Spinner, by legendary composer and trombonist George Lewis, incorporates intricate runs of string harmonics and a rubber superball rubbed against the back of the instrument for a detailed and textured piece that also recalls the spontaneity of improvisation. 

Pauline Oliveros's Thirteen Changes asks the performer to interpret thirteen descriptive sentences, including "solar winds scorching the returning comet's tail" and "elephants mating in a secret grove."

Instructions for Pauline Oliveros' 'Thirteen Changes,' performed by Mariel Roberts (Hannis Brown)

Bang on a Can's Michael Gordon

Tue, 2017-07-11 21:00

Michael Gordon is a composer and co-founder of Bang on a Can known for a "maximalist" approach to composition. Recent works include Natural History, written for Oregon's Crater Lake, a recent bassoon concerto Observations on Air and The Unchanging Sea for pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama and the Seattle Symphony and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gordon joins Jennifer Koh to discuss the changing definition of virtuosity, which Gordon interprets to be  based on potential for connection and communication rather than athleticism, and how this concept is explored in his Shared Madness composition kwerk.