All I Know³
Information, transmission, modulation, and noise – 3rd Edition

Other Minds 16!

OM 16presented in association with the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and the Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

Featuring these composers:
Louis Andriessen (Netherlands)
I Wayan Balawan (Indonesia)
Han Bennink (Netherlands)
Kyle Gann (USA)
Janice Giteck (USA)
David A. Jaffe (USA)
Jason Moran (USA)
Agata Zubel (Poland)

Tickets & Information
Thursday-Friday-Saturday, March 3-4-5, 2011
7pm Panel Discussions / 8pm Concerts
Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco (JCCSF),
3200 California Street (at Presidio Ave.), San Francisco



Dane Rudhyar

The San Jose Mercury News has a great article on the upcoming Dane Rudhyar Retrospective concerts next week.

It includes a YouTube Video of Sarah Cahill performing  Rudhyar’s “Yearning” from Pentagram IV at an earlier Other Minds Seance:

It is the music that Other Minds is revisiting, compositions from his early and his late-in-life work. The retrospective begins with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Monday in San Francisco’s Swedenborgian Church, 2107 Lyon St., with a panel discussion moderated by Other Minds artistic director Charles Amirkhanian and featuring the composer’s widow, Leyla Rudhyar Hill, and his biographer, Deniz Ertan of the University of Nottingham. In the concert that follows at 8 p.m., the Ives String Quartet will play Rudhyar’s “Crisis & Overcoming,” a string quartet written in 1979. Violinist David Abel and pianist Julie Steinberg will collaborate on “Poem for Violin and Piano” (1920), and Berkeley-based pianist and radio show host Sarah Cahill will play three solo works: “Transmutation,” a tone sequence in seven movements (1976); “Stars” from “Pentagram No. 3″ (1925) and “Granites” (1929).

Cahill, asked for her thoughts on Rudhyar’s musical language, spoke of the “atmospheric, layered sound world” he invented and said she was amazed that both the early and the late works seem to dip into the same pool of inspiration. She quoted his annotations from his “Transmutation” score: “The inspiration for the music stems from a sequence of psycho-spiritual states of consciousness, not from anything resembling physical movement. Music here is a nonverbal speech aiming at communicating or inciting inner experiences.”

Read the entire article here.

Sarah Does New York City

Sarah Cahill - NY TimesBerkeley’s national treasure, pianist Sarah Cahill, wowed ‘em in New York City last week, together with Carl Stone.

Here’s the NY Times review:

August 4, 2010

Laptop and Piano, Dispelling Traditions

Tune in to any pop radio station today, and the ubiquity of electronic music is evident in the Auto-Tune vocals and programmed beats of even the most banal hit single. Listen closely, and you realize that gifted pop producers routinely turn out sophisticated orchestrations that surpass the reckonings of avant-garde prophets like Busoni, Varèse and Stockhausen.

But within the classical mainstream, where physical exertion and virtuoso skill have never lost their primacy, electronic music retains an alien quality. Could any computer jockey hunched over a laptop, peering intently but otherwise inscrutable, produce sounds as rich and relatable as those of a performer busily (and visibly) working on a piano?

Creating music of charm, quirk and sublimity with a computer is no more unlikely a notion than making it on a ponderous wooden coffin with ivory keys, felt hammers and taut metal wires. Both contraptions express the imaginations of their programmers and operators: a point made during related performances by the pianist Sarah Cahill and the electronic composer Carl Stone on Tuesday night at the Stone, an austere East Village new-music laboratory.

Ms. Cahill, an eloquent and indefatigable new-music advocate from the San Francisco area, offered an appealing range of concise works during her set. Some were part of “A Sweeter Music,” her continuing project created in response to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. All had an approachability that neatly sidestepped notions of avant-garde formidability.

The cascading arpeggios of Eve Beglarian’s “Night Psalm,” based on a 16th-century antiphon from Augsburg Cathedral in Germany, had a plain-spoken, hymnlike radiance and zeal. Annie Gosfield’s “Five Characters Walk Into a Bar,” inspired by the five-character codes used by the Danish Resistance during World War II, wrangled knotty five-note clusters with an improviser’s sense of spontaneity and propulsion.

Five-note cells also popped up in selections from Mamoru Fujieda’s placid “Begonia in My Life,” music derived from biofeedback signals provided by the plant of the title. Ms. Cahill handled the fearsome polyrhythms of Guy Klucevsek’s rollicking “Don’t Let the Boogie Man Get You” with impressive ease, and sang as she played in three gemlike miniatures from Larry Polansky’s “B’midbar.” Terry Riley’s “Fandango on the Heaven Ladder” was a buoyantly cheeky conclusion.

…Read the Whole Thing

Help KALW!

 KALW, the local NPR radio station in San Francisco that hosts our Music From Other Minds weekly new music program, really needs your financial support right now. This goes especially for those out-of-towners that listen to these programs over the internet. KALW is one of the finest local public radio stations around. And right now they need all the support they can muster. It’s been struggle for them for years. And unlike some of the big NPR stations in the area, the staff is extremely small, and mostly volunteer. But today’s economy makes maintaining alternative voices like KALW a continual struggle. They need your support. CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT KALW!  And mention Music From Other Minds in the comments field! THANKS!

Garden Of Memory – New Music Circus

Monday (June 21, Summer Solstice) at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland , the 15th annual new music circus will happen.

Garden of Memory 2010 is always a lot of fun and has some amazing performers .. some of the best names in new music in the Bay Area.

Today’s NY Times had a piece about it, and one of its founders Sarah Cahill.

Sarah Cahill

Sarah Cahill, New Music’s Tireless Advocate

When she is at the keyboard, Sarah Cahill exudes self-confidence. At a recent recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with David Latulippe, a flutist, Ms. Cahill dashed off challenging works by Arvo Part and Terry Riley with an easy flamboyance that matched her bright orange dress.

But during the curtain call, another side of Ms. Cahill’s personality came through. With an awkward bow and a shy smile, she looked more like a student playing in public for the first time than a seasoned world-class performer.

Ms. Cahill has such a gentle demeanor that it can be hard to grasp the magnitude of her impact on the contemporary music scene — not only as a pianist but also as a champion of contemporary composers, a prolific events producer and an influential broadcaster of classical music.

Composers like Pauline Oliveros and Frederic Rzewski have dedicated works to her. John Adams wrote his 1977 piano piece “China Gates” for Ms. Cahill when she was just 17. (more…)

Louis Andriessen on MFOM

Louis Andriessen

Dutch composer Louis Andriessen is being celebrated at a number of concert venues in New York city this week, and last. (Here’s more information about the Andriessen mini-festival in NYC: »link )

Which leaves us to wonder why NYC and not San Francisco? Andriessen’s music continues to be an important influence on many younger composers. And his influence is felt world wide. Much of his music from the 1980′s and 90′s broke with many European and academic traditions, and to this day still sounds new.

One of my favorite Andriessen works, from 1980, is de Tijd (Time). Extended chords held by a choir are punctuated by brass and percussion outbursts .. the weight of the sound builds, like some heavy, powerful machine plodding forward, step by step thru some force field. I had forgotten how much I liked this piece until I started thinking about putting an Andriessen work on this week’s MUSIC FROM OTHER MINDS program. It’s 43 minutes long, but it could go on forever.

After some further digging, trying to come up with a 10 minute piece to follow de Tijd, I found 3 a cappella songs by Philip Glass, on a new re-release on Orange Mountain Music.  The texts are by Leonard Cohen, Raymond Levesque, and Octavio Paz. Powerful enough on their own, it rounded out the program perfectly.

You can hear the program here: 

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Other Minds Festival 15 – March 4-6

Other Minds 15

Cowell 1925  
Gyan Riley  

Other Minds, in cooperation with the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Eugene and Elinor Friend Center for the Arts of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, is proud to announce that the following artists will be featured at the 15th Other Minds Music Festival (OM 15), March 4-6, 2010, in San Francisco.

Natasha Barrett (Norway)
Lisa Bielawa
Chou Wen-chung (China/USA)
Jürg Frey (Switzerland)
Tom Johnson (France)
Kidd Jordan (USA)
Carla Kihlstedt (USA)
Pawel Mykietyn (Poland)
Gyan Riley (USA)

This year’s Festival will bring to the Bay Area three highly influential senior composers:

* Perhaps the first modern Chinese composer to emigrate to the US, Chou Wen-chung became the founder of a movement for contemporary Chinese music, and counted among his students Zhou Long, Chen Yi, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Ge Gan-ru (OM 9), and Chinary Ung (OM 14).

* Kidd Jordan of New Orleans organized the first World Saxophone Quartet, and in 2005 received knighthood from the Republic of France.

* From 1972 to 1982, composer Tom Johnson was also one of the most influential new music critics in the US, writing brilliant reviews for the Village Voice of emerging “other minds” of the day such as Frederic Rzewski (OM 3), Pauline Oliveros (OM 8), La Monte Young (OM 3), Meredith Monk (OM 1), Philip Glass (OM 1), and Paul Dresher (OM 4).

These new music stalwarts will be joined by local talents Gyan Riley and Carla Kihlstedt, Bay Area ex-pat Lisa Bielawa, Switzerland’s radical minimalist Jürg Frey, Poland’s rising star, Pawel Mykietyn, and Natasha Barrett, an electroacoustic and acousmatic sound installation composer from Norway. Performers will include ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Quatuor Bozzini, the Del Sol String Quartet, and Eva-Maria Zimmermann (piano).


Hard to believe, but I just finished producing the 200th MUSIC FROM OTHER MINDS program and put it in the mail to KALW across the bay in San Francisco for Friday’s broadcast (December 11, 11pm PST KALW 91.7).

Little did I know when we started this series on KALW in January 2005 that it would go this far. So here we are, about to begin our fifth year!

It’s still fun. And I’m still discovering new music.

Friday’s program features some releases from 2009, and starts with a preview of a release that will be available in January from Michigan-based OgreOgress – a premiere recording and first radio broadcast of the Bardo Sonata by Alan Hovhaness, performed by Paul Hersey. And there’s also music by Ingram Marshall, David Simons, Christopher Roberts, and Morton Feldman.


So far we’ve broadcast over 600 pieces of music from nearly 250 composers:

John Luther Adams, Peter Adriaansz, Charles Amirkhanian, Beth Anderson, George Antheil, Mark Applebaum, Larry Austin, Richard Ayres, Milton Babbitt, Alexander Balanescu, Billy Bang, Jean Barraqué, David Beardsley, Dan Becker, David Behrman, Barbara Benary, Cathy Berberian, Luciano Berio, Johanna Beyer, Iva Bittová, Marc Blitzstein, Mark Blitzstein, David Borden, Pierre Boulez, Tim Brady, Henry Brant, Martin Bresnick, Chris Brown, Earle Brown, Galen Brown, Ryan Brown, Gavin Bryars, Michael Byron, John Cage, Cesar Camarero, Edmund Campion, Elliott Carter, Friedrich Cerha, Philip Corner, Mildred Couper, Henry Cowell, Rick Cox, Ruth Crawford, Alvin Curran, Roland Dahinden, Maria DeAlvear, Eric de, Donnacha Dennehy, Dennis DeSantis, Francis Dhomont, Kui Dong, William Duckworth, John Duncan, Henri Dutilleux, Julius Eastman, Brian Eno, Robert Erickson, Daniel David, Morton Feldman, Luc Ferrari, Michael Jon, Gordon Fitzell, Jim Fox, Dominic Frasca, Fred Frith, Ellen Fullman, Kyle Gann, Peter Garland, Anthony Genge, Philip Glass, Vladimir Godar, Manuel Goettsching, Malcom Goldstein, Daniel Goode, Michael Gordon, Gerard Grisey, Sofia Gubaidulina, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Barry Guy, Lars-Petter Hagen, Cristobal Halffter, Frode Haltli, Mark Hand, Lou Harrison, Michael Harrison, Lejaren Hiller, Hirokazu Hiraishi, Christopher Hobbs, Heinz Holliger, Bryan Hollon, Eleanor Hovda, Alan Hovhaness, Melissa Hui, Charles Ives, Richard James, Leos Janacek, Dobromila Jaskot, Joan Jeanrenaud, Ben Johnston, Klaus Jorgensen, Dan Joseph, Mauricio Kagel, Elena Kats-Chernin, Mari Kimura, Guy Klucevsek, Charles Koechlin, Jo Kondo, Drew Krause, Hanna Kulenty, György Kurtag, David Lang, Thomas Larcher, Elodie Lauten, Daniel Lentz, Tania León, Arthur Levering, Jorge Liderman, György Ligeti, Pierre-Yves Mace, Bruno Maderna, David Mahler, Keeril Makan, Philippe Manoury, Tigran Mansurian, Igor Markevitch, Ingram Marshall, Steve Martland, Janis Mattox, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Colin McPhee, Marc Mellits, Olivier Messiaen,  Olivier Messiaen, Chris Miller, Jeff Morris, Stephen Mosko, Marjan Mozetich, Hyo-Shin Na, Conlon Nancarrow, The Necks, Olga Neuwrith, Phill Niblock, Per Nørgård, Michael Nyman, Pauline Oliveros, Erik Ona, Leo Ornstein, Hans Otte, Gerard Pape, Arvo Pärt, Harry Partch, Gerard Pesson, Steve Peters, Larry Polansky, Jonathan Pontier, Wendy Prezament, Alwynne Pritchard, Serge Prokofiev, John Prokop, Horatiu Radulescu, Maja Ratkje, Belinda Reynolds, Roger Reynolds, Eric Richards, Wolfgang Rihm, Terry Riley, Jean-Claude Risset, Curtis Roads, Christopher Roberts, Neil Rolnick, Ned Rorem, Daniel Bernard, Loren Rush, Jeffrey Ryan, Frederic Rzewski, Franco Saint, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Eleanor Sandresky, Somei Satoh, Giacinto Scelsi, R. Murray, Dieter Schnebel, John Schneider, Arnold Schoenberg, Phillip Schroeder, Stephen Scott, Peter Sculthorpe, Ralph Shapey, John Mark, Wayne Siegel, Valentin Silvestrov, David Simons, Charles Smith, Chas Smith, Linda Catlin, Ronald Bruce, Wadada Leo, Alessandro Solbiati, Bent Sørensen, Ann Southam, Robert W., Karlheinz Stockhausen, Markus Stockhausen, Carl Stone, Igor Stravinsky, Morton Subotnick, Mari Takano, Toru Takemitsu, Karen Tanaka, James Tenney, Michael Tenzer, Terre Thaemlitz, David Toub, Jason Treuting, Sachito Tsurumi, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Frances-Marie Uitti, Edgard Varese, Giovanni Verrando, Serge Verstockt, Claude Vivier, Kevin Volans, Zachary Watkins, Francis White, Ian Wilson, Erling Wold, Christian Wolff, Stefan Wolpe, Iannis Xenakis, Carolyn Yarnell, Chen Yi, Frank Zappa, Hervé Zénouda, Walter Zimmermann, Evan Ziporyn, Agata Zubel

(The complete list is on the website.)

Remember the World Ear Project?

Sometime in the early 1970′s , Charles Amirkhanian and I were so taken by Luc Ferrari’s “Presque Rien”, a tape recording made at the seashore in Yugoslavia, that we started thinking about gathering field recordings made by our listeners at places around the world. We sent out letters to radio stations, composers, and artists around the world encouraging them to take their tape recorders out into their local environments and just record the ambient sounds that surround them. And then mail in the recordings to KPFA in Berkeley.

We took these recordings and made a series of radio programs out of them. They were fascinating back then, they’re even more fascinating now.

And, you can hear almost all of them now on

Here’s one of them from 1970 featuring recordings of ambient environments made by listeners and friends in Frankfurt, Germany; Yogoslavia; Atlanta, Georgia; Aptos, California; Berkeley, California; San Francisco, California; and Greece.:

First of Three

Completed the first of three programs for Music From Other Minds in preparation for Evan Ziporyn’s A HOUSE IN BALI (see posting below).

This Friday’s program will include McPhee’s TABUH-TABUHAN in the 1956 Howard Hanson recording, Evan’s 2003 NGABEN (for Sari Club), Jeff Morris’s RAIN with the Gamelan Pacifica of Seattle, and a section from Evan’s PONDOK.

Here’s the 30″ spot:

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As I listened from the house, the music was simply a delicious confusion, a stragely sensuous and quite unfathomable art, mysteriously aerial, aeolian, filled with joy and radiance. Each night as the music started up I experienced the same sensation of freedom and indescribable freshness. There was none of the perfume and sultriness of so much music in the East, for there is nothing purer than the bright, clean sound of metal, cool and ringing and dissolving in the air. Nor was it personal and romantic, in the manner of our own effusive music, but rather, sound broken up into beautiful patterns.

It was, however, more than this, as I was to find out. Already I began to have a feeling of form and elaborate architecture. Gradually, the music revealed itself as being composed, as it were, of different strata of sound. Over a slow and chantlike bass that hummed with curious penetration the melody moved in the middle register, fluid, free, appearing and vanishing in the incessant, shimmering arabesques that rang high in the treble as though beaten out on a thousand little anvils. Gongs of different sizes punctuated this stream of sound, divided and subdivided it into sections and inner sections, giving it metre and meaning. Through all this came the rapid and ever-changing beat of the drums, throbbing softly, or suddenly ringing out with sharp accents. They beat in perpetual cross-rhythm, negating the regular flow of the music, disturbing the balance, adding a tension and excitement which came to rest only with the cadence that marked the end of a section in the music.

Tiny cymbals pointed up the rhythm of the drums, emphasized it with their delicate clash, while the smallest of bells trembled as they were shaken, adding a final glitter, contributing shrill overtones that were practically inaudible.

–from A HOUSE IN BALI, Colin McPhee (1947)

Music From Other Minds – Back From Summer Break

We’re back producing another season of radio programs for KALW. The first new program is this Friday, Sept. 4, and it will feature The Minimal Piano: Piano music by David Toub and Ann Southam.

These are solo piano pieces like you’ve never heard before, and I’m really jazzed about being able to present their music.

David Toub’s TEXTBOOK, completed in 1987 but realized in 2006 by Steve Layton from Toub’s MIDI score, reminds you of Philip Glass, but without the romanticism. We’ll hear three sections from this 2 hour piece.

Then there’s Canadian composer Ann Southam’s pieces invoking the sounds rivers and creeks, recently released on Centredisques.

In the coming weeks we’ll also be presenting music freely influenced by Balinese music, primarily by Colin McPhee and Evan Ziporyn, as a backdrop to the Cal Performances premiere of Ziporyn’s A HOUSE IN BALI (see post below) later in the month.

Here’s the 30″ spot announcement for Friday’s program.  The program will be available for streaming from the MFOM website after broadcast. Hope you can catch it.

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John Cage at the Beach :: Final Concert of OM 14

Last night’s third and final Other Minds 14 concert was a smash hit!  This was “new music” at its best.

Chinary UngThe evening began with Chinary Ung’s SPIRAL XI: Mother and Child, for viola solo,  performed by his wife, Susan Ung, who sang, chanted, spoke, and whistled while playing very expressive and dramatic music that at times reminded me of the Chinese Erhu. And except for some tricky harmonics and glissandi up and down the fingerboard, the viola was played “normally”, unlike so many of the pieces heard so far in this series. No bowing across the wood, or rapping the back of the instrument .. and this let the beautiful sound of the viola, the most under-appreciated instrument in the orchestra (my opinion), shine thru.  Dark and soulful, the sound of the viola and vocalizations mystified and amazed. A wonderful performance, and a wonderful piece.

John SchneiderGuitarist John Schneider appeared next, along with an array of various guitars arranged at the front of the stage.  The mood stayed firmly in the East with Schneider playing his Listening to Lu Tzu-Hsun Play the Ch’in on a Moonlight Night, while reciting the text of Li Po. With the guitar, one of Harry Partch’s Adapted Guitars, perched on his lap and using a lucite rod in one hand while plucking gently, he evoked the ancient Chinese seven-string zither, the ch’in. Then John went on to the Jahla section of his Tombeau for Lou Harrison, playing his adapted National Steel Guitar so closely assocated with Harrison’s Scenes from Nek Chand. This is a beautiful sounding (»and looking) instrument that Schneider used to invoke Harrison’s imagery.

Harry PartchAll thru these OM14 concerts, the ghost of Harry Partch has been apparent in the work of Ben Johnston, Schneider, and others. And here’s where John Schneider paid full homage to this “composer’s composer” by playing three of his works. The  Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales from 1950 were written for Partch’s own Harmonic Canon, a 44-string bridged table zither.  And while the tunings may have been to Ancient Greek scales, the delicious sound of this »beautiful instrument was firmly in the East.  And then to conclude his portion of the evening, Schneider took one of his Partch Adapted Guitars and took to walking the stage like an old-school folk musician to perform Partch’s wonderful Barstow from 1941. Eight “songs” derived from hitchhiker graffiti, accompanied by a guitar tuned to 29 pitches per octave, the effect was spectacular, especially with Schneider’s great timing, acting out the sounds of cars passing with his thumb out, hoping for a ride. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it.

Chico MelloThis nightclub atmosphere continued  with a performance by Brazilian composer Chico Mello, beginning with his hilarious John Cage at the Beach, that used chance techniques (and silence) to cut up some very recognizable Brazilian pop songs. Mello, who studied with Dieter Schnebel and others in Germany and now lives mostly in Berlin, inserts a lot of Brazilian pop in his music “because it is home”, he said. And after two evenings of some very serious stuff, it was a real relief to finally have some humor injected into the proceedings. Which is not to say that this was light stuff .. because what sounded funny was actually the result of working out some true experiments between improvisation, composition, and theater. One of his songs, Samba Do Budista (the Buddhist Samba) sounded very much like an ordinary samba, except for the multiphonics and throat-singing that he added to extend every line, and the choreographed facial expressions that kept his ample eyebrows in constant motion. He concluded with a cut-up of 17 Bossas, where, or so I’m told, some of them were even sung backwards. The cuts between them sometimes occurring in mid word in a dizzying display that made him seem like his own sampling machine. Quite a performance. Afterwards I suggested that perhaps Mello and Schneider should take their stage show on the road, it was that good!

Michael HarrisonBut the big event of the evening was the performance of Michael Harrison’s Tone Clouds, derived from his recent solo piano CD release Revelation. For this performance, Harrison added a string quartet score, performed by Del Sol. (You can hear some of the piano solo verison of Revelation on a recent »Music from Other Minds broadcast.) The piano, a very grand Steinway, was retuned to a Harrison’s own scale that divides the octave into twelve ‘unequally’ spaced pitches, all of which are tuned to harmonics of a fundamental low F. The result is a rich and extremely delicious sound, more “metallic” to my ears than a standard piano tuning. Harrison used this to great advantage, exploring the resonant possibilities of the piano and the quartet. After an introductory section that slowly reveals the tones of Harrison’s harmonic piano, the real action begins with extremely fast repeated notes, arpeggios commented on in various counter rhythms by the quartet, leading up to a massive climax where the piano sounds louder than any piano I’ve ever heard. It was all quite overwhelming in a dervish dance of total energy. What a way to end OM 14!

This WAS as spectacular festival.

(And now on to the Arditti Quartet playing a Mills college this afternoon… stay, ah,  well-tuned.)

A Slow-Music Sandwich :: Second Night of Other Minds 14

Some new music concerts are a challenge for both the audience as well as the performers.

Last night’s Other Minds 14 concert, the second of the three-concert festival of new music being held this weekend in San Francisco, was one of those.  Featuring the music of (the young Polish composer) Dobromila Jaskot, (even younger LA-based) Catherine Lamb, (Brazilian-born but living in Berlin) Chico Mello, and (New Yorker but living in Toronto) Linda Catlin Smith, it came off as a sandwich of slow, quiet music in the middle, surrounded by a crusty, spicy, and aggressive toast outside.

Dobromila JaskotThe top outer crust last night was provided by 28-year-old Dobromila Jaskot, who started the evening with a work for solo cello with electronic/computer support played in real-time by the composer and her Macbook laptop. This imaginative piece, titled Hannah, short for Ophiphagus Hannah, the Latin name for a royal variety of cobra snakes, uses the snake as “the main character, creating her own images, as if surrounded by fun-house mirrors, which deform and at times obscure the limits of reality.” Here the cellist, Hannah Addario-Berry from the Del Sol Quartet and no relation to the aforementioned cobra that gives the work its title, deploys every possible way to attack the instrument to produce a spectrum of sounds, at times violent and gruff to soft whispers and shakes, while the electronic sounds from speakers surrounding the audience comment and riff on the cello sounds and add some new ones. This sort of extreme cello playing, like so much of the music by followers of the German composer Helmut Lachenmann, attempts to make musique concrete out of traditional acoustic instruments. These antics, like bowing on the parts of the instrument that are usually never touched by fingers or bow, produce odd sounds that go by so fast the result seems like a sound catalog on fast foward. I will admit, I have a very hard time with this approach and aesthetic, and found the computer generated sounds and the field recordings of a real cobra hiss  much more interesting than those emitting acoustically from the poor cello. But that’s just me, perhaps, and my peculiar history with this sort of music.

Catherine LambThings went quite differently as we bit futher into the evening’s sandwich. Dilations, by Catherine Lamb, for three male voices, three bass clarinets, and three cellos (the festival seems to be a riot of cellos!), was a very quiet, static piece of long tones and very slowly shifting colors that, at 40 minutes, was a bit of an endurance test for the audience. Lamb, a spectralist who paints with a very small and narrow brush, is interested in the inner life of sounds, and the way pitches and harmonics from different and similar instruments interact to produce new sounds — sort of the way you can mix basic colors to create new ones. The problem here is that the audience is not able to perceive much from a position so far from the instruments on stage. An unfortunate thing about live concerts in the standard arrangement of the audience in fixed chairs facing the performers at a distance on stage is that by the time these delicate and subtle sounds reach the listener, all their energy is spent and the listener hears only a faint shadow of what was intended. (And then there’s the psycho/physical issue of being in the midst of 300 or so breathing, fidgeting, and restless beings that makes it hard to stay personally centered enough to focus on the sound you can hear.)  The best place to appreciate this piece might have been where the conductor sat, in this case Ms Lamb, surrounded by the instruments. This seemed to be an extremely personal piece for the composer. I think the rest of us in the audience were left out in the cold, unfortunately.

Chico MelloThe second half began with …das árvores… (“out of the trees”) by Chico Mello, for percussion, piano, two clarinets, double bass, and tuba. Broken into sections lasting 25 or so seconds, quiet chords alternate with material drawn from Brazilian and other sources. This cut up becomes slapstick in some sections where Mello has the players moving their shoulders, facial expressions, and arms in exaggerated and comical ways, while making those exotic bird sounds we often hear in Brazilian pop music. A strange piece, I found myself wanting to hear more of the Brazilian material, and the way Mello distributed them to unlikely instruments (e.g. tuba).

It’s been my observation that audiences have a hard time with long stretches of slow and quiet music – they prefer full and extroverted music thrown at them from the stage, and a good show to watch as well. So the problem for the audience last night was how to manage 2 hours of soft/quiet/slow music without a break. It’s true even at the Symphony, the slow/quiet movements are when most anxiety attacks and heart problems surface. I’ve never attended a mass meditation event, and don’t think it’s even possible for 300 or so people, packed together in concert hall chairs, to achieve much beyond anxiety and restlessness when confronted with such meditative music on stage, unless their expectations have been prepared in advance.

So I believe this was the source of my disappointment in the performances of the next two pieces on the program by Linda Catlin Smith. I love her »music, and have so ever since I first heard a few pieces a couple of years ago. She blends the sense of MortonLinda Catlin Smith Feldman, John Cage, and even Debussy in some truly deep and introspective ways. But I think that by the time her Through The Low Hills, and her new String Quartet #4 were played, the audience was beyond recovery, the magic lost,  and concentration difficult. Through The Low Hills, for piano and cello, is an embarrassingly beautiful piece, and it was wonderfully played by the extraordinary Gianna Abondolo, with the composer on piano. But something was wrong in the house, and it sounded nothing like the studio recording I have and was expecting to hear. The recording is closely miked, so you are hearing it from the position of the performers. In the hall it sounded thin and distant, and the restlessness of the audience (at least where I was sitting) impaired the real appreciation of this wonderful work. (I played it on a recent »Music From Other Minds broadcast, where you can hear it again.) From the solitude and quiet of my own living room, I’ve played this and other pieces by this wonderful Toronto-based minimalist composer over and over again, and enjoy them greatly.

I must also say something about the performance by cellist Gianna Abondolo, who teaches at Mills College here in Oakland. There are many performers who appear on stage staring at their music and looking like they are in a constant state of panic (and maybe they are!). Ms Abondolo, on the other hand, was the picture of divine serenity. Her gracious bowing and poise gave the performance the grace and stature it demands. I only wish other performers could study her stage presence… it does a lot for the full appreciation of the music being performed. With so many eyeballs focused on stage, the way the performance looks is as important as the music itself.

Smith’s String Quartet #4, “Gondola”,  also may have suffered being at the tail end of such an evening. It was already after 10pm, and the Del Sol Quartet were faced with this quartet, quiet, slow, introspective, in mostly the high registers of the strings, very delicate and floating dreamlike, to be followed by another explosive outbreak coming next in the performance that would close off the evening.  Suffice it to say that I would dearly like to hear this work again at home in a studio recording where the only interference might be of my own making. At most I felt that what I heard of this quartet was not demonstrative of Linda Smith’s other works, and deserves another listen.

The bottom crust of our sandwich was provided again by Dobromila Jaskot with her extroverted and quite exciting Linearia, performed by the Del Sol Quartet. Again in the Lachemann style,  harsh noise sections, Ms Jaskot calls them “knots”, flow along with ethereal “cantilena” surfaces, and it’s an enjoyable, tho athletic,  journey. (You can hear Linearia also on a recent »Music From Other Minds broadcast.)

A challenging evening for everyone, to be sure.

Spirals, and the Ghost of Harry Partch: Last Night at OM 14

Last night was the opening concert of this year’s Other Minds New Music Festival, OM14, here in San Francisco.  And there was something for everybody.

The problems of doing a music festival like OM are immense. Besides compiling a list of potential composers years in advance, getting committments, and making all the arrangements to bring the composers and performers to town, there’s also the issue of finding the right pieces to perform, and getting enough time to rehearse.

Obviously, if a composer comes with a new orchestral piece, there’s no way it’s going to be performed at OM – the cost would be prohibitive. Someday maybe we’ll have the resources to take on projects requiring dozens of players (maybe some youth orchestra?).

And then there are the inevitable cancellations. Almost every festival has had this happen. Who knows what will happen months down the road as the festival dates get closer. We can only hope.

But, eventually it all works out. As it did last night.

The principle behind the festival is to bring together composers from many countries, various styles, and at various stages in their careers, and have them live together for 5 days before the festival at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program ranch in the hills above Woodside,  south of San Francisco and west of Silicon Valley. Here they present their work and ideas to the others, and just enjoy the setting and conversation before starting rehearsals. In many cases these people have never met before, and many of the friendships started here are long lasting.

This is very different than most music festivals, where the composer arrives and leaves before ever getting to know the others on the program.

This festival brings together nine composers from six countries (depending on how you count), and ranging in ages from 27 to 82, and an even wider range of styles.

Last night’s concert was well attended, nearly filling the hall, and began with Cambodian-born, San Diego (California) composer Chinary Ung’s SPIRAL X: IN MEMORIAM (2007) for string quartet, performed by the Del Sol Quartet. The score, the tenth in a series of “Spiral” pieces commemorating the Cambodian holocaust (1975-79), requires the performers to sing, chant, grunt, talk, and growl while playing. Now, singing while playing the violin is pretty hard to do. Violist Charlton Lee told me that he had to “unteach” his fingers not to move when he sang a phrase, something very contrary to the synapses built-in after a lifetime of playing.

This was a great way to start off the evening. The music is dazzling, at times aggressive, evocative, and dramatic.  The voices added a gripping human connection to the musical narrative. It got the audience to sit up and take notice.

The two works by Danish composer Bent Sørensen that followed created an immediate change of scene. Like many of Sørensen’s works, the inspiration for The Shadows of Silence (2003-2004) for solo piano came from a dream he had about the sound of church bells you (still) hear all over Europe rising up from a piano in a huge empty concert hall. Performed beautifully by San Francisco pianist Eva-Maria Zimmermann, the piano shimmered and echoed bell-like sounds that echoed around the hall. An added touch was the eerie sound of the pianist humming quietly in high register that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. A delicate and exquisite experience.

This was followed by another Sørensen work, a trio for piano, violin, and cello, Phantasmagoria (2006-2007), that featured the Trio Con Brio Copenhagen. Mostly quiet, muted, the narrative that ran thru its five movements Sørensen equates to a shadow play, where the instruments appear “behind each other as a play of shadows… Phantasmagoria is a shadow play in darkness, where contours of persons and music, voices and instruments, create adventures behind one another.” I really liked the quiet introspection. Here too, a creepy eeriness was created when the players softly hummed tones and phrases … it would have been even better to have heard this in total darkness.

After a very brief intermission, the second half began with a premiere of a work begun in 1998 by the now nearly 82 year-old Ben Johnston, and finally realized last year. The Tavern, for voice and adapted guitar, used the Coleman Barks translation of texts by Jalaluddin Rumi, and was performed by John Schneider, guitar, and Paul Berkolds, baritone.

My immediate impression was this: while neither the guitar or the singer were amplified, Berkold’s voice was strong enough, and the guitar is really quiet. Still, the hall, with nearly 300 people, was totally silent. And everyone seemed to breath as one, concentrating on every note and word. That was incredible. Such rapt attention! And what an enjoyable piece. No amplification was needed here at all.

The Rumi text (are they poems?) is full of humor and despair. It starts with:

All day I t hink about it,
then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and
What am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.

And the “out-of-tune” guitar  picked out an ironic melody to fit the words. Actually, the guitar, made with fret-boards that can be removed and changed to adapt it to any tuning, gave Johnston, one of the early pioneers in alternative tunings and microtonal music, the opportunity to write a work with a 15-note-per-octave scale based on the first 13 harmonics of the overtone series, which turns out to match some of the Persian scales that Rumi himself may have heard.

Clearly, this is a very challenging piece to perform. Berkolds’ strong voice, even in the higher registers, was clear and each word was decipherable. It sounded somewhere between singing and speaking on pitch, much like similar works by Harry Partch, with whom Johnston studied and apprenticed. The guitar fingering that Schneider demonstrated seemed impossible to a non-guitarist like myself. Each finger seemed to work independently from the others, and at times I thought of those circus contortionists .. I don’t know how he did it, and mostly from memory. A truly wonderful performance. Hopefully we’ll hear this again someday on recording.

The evening ended with something unique for these Festivals. The Amsterdam Cello Octet performed two works by composers not resident at the festival, the late Argentinian/German Mauricio Kagel, and the Estonian Arvo Pärt. This was made possible by special grants from the Amsterdam to include the Octet at OM14 as part of their US tour. And what a wonderful performance. These eight young men and women played like synchronized swimmers, amazing to watch as well as to hear.

Kagel’s Motetten (2004) is written with full humor and dexterity, as with all his works. He also pays great attention to the visual experience as well as the sound. The result is a riot of sounds and colors, and effects (slapping the back, the fingerboard, snapping the strings, etc.).

In complete contrast was  Pärt’s very serious seven movement O-Antiphonen (2004) which takes the seven antiphons and works them without words. Recognizable as true Pärt, with its closely spaced Eastern-sounding chords and voice-like phrasing, it served as a spiritual sendoff for an exceptionally well paced concert. I don’t know if I could actually sit thru a full concert of just cello octet music (even tho the range of sound and timbre is quite wide from this ensemble), the exposure here was just right and stirring. I think it left everyone feeling good, and wondering what’s in store for us tonight at the second OM14 evening.

Stay tuned.

Mind Alert: OM14


Welcome to MindAlert!

Brought to you by Other Minds
anticipation of Other Minds 14 concerts this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we bring you this special issue of MindAlert with a letter from OM Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian:

Woodside, CA—Since Saturday, this year’s nine “other minds” have been in retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, learning about each other’s music and swapping stories from distant corners of the new music world.


This year we’ve heard Ben Johnston tell stories of his teachers Darius Milhaud and Harry Partch, connecting us all to a generation that most of us never had the opportunity to meet and be a part of. The photo above shows John Schneider at his replica of Partch’s Harmonic Canon, on which he’ll perform this coming Saturday, March 7. (Left to right: Chinary Ung, Catherine Lamb, Bent Sørensen, Dobromila Jaskot, Chico Mello, Michael Harrison, Ben Johnston, Linda Catlin Smith, and John Schneider, seated. Photo by Richard Friedman)

We’ve also enjoyed listening to Linda Catlin Smith describe her experiences with Morton Feldman, Michael Harrison speak of his time as a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath, and Chinary Ung (pictured here) talk of lessons from his teacher Chou Wen-Chung.

As well as all of these stories from the past, we’ve seen a glimpse of the future, with two twenty-something composers at OM 14 in Dobromila Jaskot (left) and Catherine Lamb (right), both of whom will have music performed on Friday’s concert. They’re joined in the photo below by OM Associate Director Adam Fong, another twenty-something composer. Who says new music is dying!?! The future looks quite promising from this vantage point…


One of the great pleasures of organizing this event every year is to watch as a new group of composers who are each coming from a different background, with a different font of knowledge and different sense of the world, come together and find common ground. We hope that the connections established here at the private part of the OM Festival are evident at the concerts as well.

In addition to the music, we encourage you to take advantage of the special offerings that have become an integral part of the OM Festival: panel discussions before each concert at 7pm, an exhibition of handwritten scores by the composers in the lobby of the JCCSF, extensive program notes and composer biographies in our printed program, and a Festival sales table making available hard-to-find titles by this year’s artists. Plus, this year we invite you to join the OM staff and artists for a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception at Garibaldi’s on Presidio following the opening night concert ($20 admission, free for Premium Pass Holders). Space at this reception will be very limited so call us at (415) 934-8134 to reserve your spot!

Check out some other previews for this year’s Festival on SF Classical Voice and SFGate, visit to read more about the composers and hear their music, and order your tickets today!

Looking forward to seeing many of you at the concerts,

Charles Amirkhanian

Order your tickets from the JCCSF Box Office by calling (415) 292-1233 or click here: Single Tickets Festival Passes


Ben Johnston (left) and Dobromila Jaskot (right) study a score by Catherine Lamb (center). Photo by Richard Friedman

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Richard Friedman lives in Oakland, CA, is a freelance tech writer/editor, web designer, photographer, is a Director of Other Minds, wrote his first computer program in 1962 for the IBM 650. It played dice. He is also a ham radio (AG6RF) operator, and he also takes a lot of photographs, composes music, and does a weekly radio program on KALW called Music From Other Minds.
He is not Kinky.

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