A Very Moving Symphony with Strings and Bells

Originally printed in THE VILLAGER – December, 2018

Tilted_1

Angela Babin and other members of the “Tilted Axes” performance group jammed on electric guitars on “Cold Moon Consort” in Sasaki Garden at N.Y.U.’s Washington Square Village, between Bleecker and W. Third Sts. and Mercer St. and LaGuardia Place, before making their way to “The Cube” at Astor Place. Photos by Bob Krasner (L to R: Sean Satin, Angela Babin, Chad Ossman)

BY BOB KRASNER | If you feel the need to simplify composer Patrick Grant’s long-running “Tilted Axes” project, you could call it a marching band for electric guitars. But given the complexity of the compositions and the dedication of the musicians, that description falls way short.

The latest performance of Grant’s “Music for Mobile Electric Guitars” was realized by 24 musicians, including Grant, on the winter solstice, in the Sasaki Garden at Washington Square Village, “The Alamo” at Astor Place a.k.a. “The Cube” and the streets between.

Tilted_2a

Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars – Cold Moon Consort (Patrick Grant center with, L to R, Chad Ossman, Michael Fisher, Sam Weisberg, Sean Satin, Dan Cooper, Howie Kenty).

The event was commissioned by Faculty Housing Happenings at New York University — where Grant is a professor — as part of “Make Music New York.” The confab featured music evenly divided between older pieces, structured improvisations and premieres written specifically for Friday night.

Tilted_2

Getting ready to move out from Sasaki Garden. (L to R: John Halo, Howie Kenty, Dylan Sparrow)

One of the new pieces, “Tiltinnabulation,” was written to include another Make Music group, “Bell By Bell.” According to Tom Peyton, the leader of that multigenerational group of bell ringers, they were notified that their path might cross with “Tilted Axes” and they were given the choice of avoiding each other or playing together.

Tilted_3

“Tilted Axes” performers playing their “axes” (blues lingo for guitars) while crossing Broadway on their way to “The Alamo” at Astor Place. (L to R: Gene Ardor, John Lovaas, Aileen Bunch, Jason Napier, Angela Babin)

Happily, they chose to do two numbers together at “The Cube” and the result was a perfect combo of chiming guitars and bells. Guitarist Angela Babin, a “Tilted Axes” veteran, called the collaboration “fabulous!”

“It was like a ‘West Side Story’ gang meet-up, with music and camaraderie and solstice celebration love,” she said.

Tilted_4

Composer Patrick Grant at “The Alamo” with his “Tilted Axes” performance group.

Carrying an electric guitar and an amp through the streets while playing somewhat complex music is a daunting task, but the participants found it more than worthwhile.

“The universal joy of the people we encountered on our parade route caused me to transcend the discomfort I felt at not being fully in command of the music, the weight on my back and shoulders,” David Demnitz said.

Tilted_5

Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars – Cold Moon Consort (front row seated L to R: Howie Kenty, Sarah Metivier Schadt, Jocelyn Gonzales, Jason Napier, Chad Ossman, Harry Scott, Sean Satin; middle row seated L to R: Sky Matthews, John Lovaas, Leslie Stevens, Patrick Grant, Robert Morton, Gene Ardor, Kevin Pfeiffer; back row standing L to R: Caitlin Cawley, Dan Cooper, Aileen Bunch, Sam Weisberg, Dylan Sparrow, Michael Fisher, John Halo, Angela Babin, David Demnitz, Reinaldo Perez, Jeremy Nesse, Jon Clancy)

Sam Weisberg voiced a similar sentiment, noting, “It’s a rush like no other. It was so worth the chronic right-shoulder pain!”

Grant made it through the balmy evening with a case of laryngitis that forced him to hoarsely whisper directions to bassist Sarah Metivier Schadt, who amply conveyed his instructions to the crew.

Tilted_6

“Tilted Axes cuts musical pathways through the urban landscape, turning neighborhoods into their own sonic narratives. Since its inception, Grant has produced a number of Tilted Axes processions in various cities upon three continents.”

“There are many unforeseen elements that we could never have predicted,” Grant reflected. “We’re thinking on our feet, we’re performing live, we’re adjusting to the public in real time. Being there, mobile, right up against the public, brings out musical choices that we’d never come up with in rehearsal. There’s nothing like it.”

Onlookers concurred.

“The public went nuts, in a good way!” Grant enthused. “We couldn’t be happier.”

========================================================

Please visit THE VILLAGER and support the great journalistic work they do.

 

Advertisements

Lofty Sounds: Site Singing Traditions in NYC

I met Sig Rosen at the Composers Concordance Records label launch party at St. Marks Church in The East Village late last autumn. He’s known those folks for a while, especially in this case, because vocalist Patricia Sonego had just performed my “Thou Art Translated (Knot)” with me and dancer Megan Sipe at the event.

Things being as they are these days, we became friends on Facebook and, noting his interests on his info page, I saw that Medieval and Renaissance vocal music was one of his passions. His interest stems back to the Renaissance Chorus of New York, a group founded by Harold Brown in the early 1950s.

I decided to send him a link to my site which houses a 20 minute vocal suite I created in 2008 as a commission from medieval music enthusiast (and the work’s librettist) Bruce Barrett, my (uncharacteristic) “Three Choral Pieces in Latin.”

From here, Sig told me all about the vocal groups and overlapping subsets that he has been a part of for years. He asked, would I be interested in having one of these groups, the Friday Night Singers (led by Marge Naughton), do a reading of these pieces I wrote? Of course I would!

Normally, they meet uptown but, due to seasonal flu, the owner of that loft could not do it on January 14, the night we set up. Instead, we met in Chelsea at the loft of John Hetland, director of the Renaissance Street Singers, who was gracious to let us all meet there and sing through not only my pieces, but also a few of his great choral transcriptions of which he has created volumes.

This audio slideshow is a bit of conversation with Sig Rosen from that night:

Audio and pictures by Jocelyn Gonzales.

Patrick Grant

“Will You Be Checking-in Any Baggage, Mr. Litt?”

When Steven Litt opens up his suitcases, you won’t see socks, shirts and a hairdryer tumble out. (Well, maybe a hairdryer – could come in handy, sonically speaking.)

Instead, you’ll find a small mixer, a mess of wires, hacked doorbells and effects pedals hammering out a somewhat industrial heartbeat. Steven is the inventor of CrudBox, basically a super analog robot drum machine.

photo from Steven Litt

photo from Steven Litt

Steven describes his project this way:

“CrudBox is a 16 step, 8 channel step sequencer which replaces digitally created or analog synthesized sounds typically associated with sequencers and electronic music with the amplified sounds of whatever electronic or electromechanical devices are plugged into it.

There are many new possibilities for sonic experimentation with the diverse combination of sounds and musical structures which can be created with CrudBox. Solenoids and motors can be plugged in and sequenced while striking or otherwise moving or vibrating any physical material and their sounds amplified in real time using Piezo contact mics. These mics, or any other sound source, can be plugged into hacked guitar pedals and effects boxes which can then also be sequenced by CrudBox. Cassette decks, reel to reels, turntables, power tools, and any other sound generating devices can also be hacked and sequenced.”

Here’s a quick demo of the CrudBox:

Steven presented CrudBox at ITP’s Spring Show 2009, and he’s performed with it at Handmade Music events in Brooklyn.

This week at my office in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, I asked Steven about creating this new musical instrument and what’s next for his suitcase sequencer:

There’s something beautifully retro and organic about CrudBox, and its percussive possibilities seem limitless due to the variety of scrap materials and devices that can be used with it. There’s no software or computers involved at all, and though it probably has just as much musical flexibility as something you might manipulate digitally, CrudBox can also receive MIDI information from a program like Ableton.

I can’t wait until Steven sells a kids’ version of CrudBox to Fisher-Price, a gift to the exasperated parents of budding musicians everywhere. 🙂

Jocelyn Gonzales

Dial “M” for…

MMiX. That’s “2009” in Roman numerals and the year in which I am pulling together my current interests in how music and media manifest in real time performance through a collaboration with Theaterlab NYC.

Early this year, Theaterlab co-director, Carlo Altomare (with Orietta Crispino) asked me to think up some kind of a concert series for their upcoming season. Our previous effort was an installment of my One-Two-Three-GO! new music series in 2006 and that went quite well.

Ever since, I’d used “MMiX” as a graphic as part of the annual New Year greeting that I send out to my mailing list every year, and I knew that I wanted to use it again somehow. This opportunity gave me the perfect place for it. Perfect in so many ways.

At that time, I had just come off creating three scores for theater, one in NYC, and two in Brazil (Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro) and giving workshops on the software to the public. My whole emphasis has been to create musical scores that would be interactive with the performers on a number of levels that were not possible when I began working in the theater. Those possibilities are the direct result of a number of software programs that have made new these new levels possible, performable, and highly portable since all the hardware that had been used in the past has now been distilled down into the confines of a laptop computer.

With that having been achieved, any number of controllers (keyboards, wands, motion sensors etc.) could now be interfaced with the computer so that all of the performing arts had access.

I have come to see this extra “m” in MMiX as representing the different branches of the performing arts that are now able to be blended and blurred: music, mise-en-scene (theater, film), movement (dance), monographs (words; spoken or sung), montage (visual arts), etc. etc. etc. I found so many “m” words I’ll only put the essential ones here, but it should be said that, the most important one may be, is “meatware,” the human element in a technological system.

The purpose of this new blog is to consolidate the content of our research through original content and the many findings that we come across the internet of like-minded artists working along similar lines. Guided by partner and co-producer Jocelyn Gonzales, “The MMiXdown” will also document our progress in pulling together all of the above elements into a cohesive series of presentations to the public in October to see where we’re at, to see how far we can go, when software, hardware, and meatware meet in the common goal of artistic expression.

Patrick Grant