Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Kathleen Supové’s Piano Threatens to Explode

A titan of the new music community, Kathleen Supové has been a go-to pianist for important, innovative composers since the 80s. Her latest album The Exploding Piano – her first since 2004’s stunningly virtuosic Infusion – is characteristically eclectic and cerebral. Where much of Infusion weaves a dizzying lattice of textures, this one – except for the final, practically 25-minute cut – is more direct and more of a showcase for Supové’s legendary chops. Except for that final cut, the electronics here are pretty much limited to lightly processed sound and the occasional loop.

Missy Mazzoli’s Isabelle Eberhardt Dreams of Pianos is the opening track, replete with Mazzoli’s signature traits: terse, richly interlocking melodies, counterrythms, and hypnotically circular motifs. It’s a tribute to the great adventurer, imagining her riding across her adopted Sahara Desert on horseback, reflecting on the comfort of her early life inVienna high society as bits and pieces of Schubert’s A Major Sonata float to the surface. And then the melody spreads away from the tonic, insistent forte chords create a Radiohead-inflected swirl against a repetitive loop, and the flood that will kill her at age 27 is upon her. It’s as poignant as it is intense.

Michael Gatonska’s A Shaking of the Pumpkin is meant to illustrate activity in the insect kingdom, alternating low rumble with judicious righthand melody and a lot of sustain that finally reaches a roar – and then goes on and on, A Day in the Life style. The placement of a bass drum under the piano lid enhances the boomy sustain of the low tonalities. It ends with a series of muted thumps – a pedal springing back into place? Shots? A salute?

Anna Clyne’s On Track is a launching pad for Supové’s trademark deadpan wit. Inspired by a spoken-word quote from Queen Elizabeth about how quickly circumstances change (which recurs as a sample here), it walks resolutely until the Mission Impossible theme appears for an instant, insistently in the left hand. Eventually Mission Impossible will casually interrupt the busy, rippling melody again and again until it finally shuts it off cold. Dan Becker’s circular Revolution illustrates a Martin Luther King speech (sampled here) using the story of Rip Van Winkle as a parable for how America is sleeping through a revolution. It’s a duet between Supové and a prepared Disklavier (a sort of digital player piano with strings modified to produce what amounts to a percussion track here). After running a series of widening circles, Supové finally breaks free of the rhythmic stranglehold – a hint, it seems – and then lets the melody fall away gracefully as it winds down to just a few repetitive, increasingly simple chords.

Supové’s husband Randall Woolf’s intense, bristling, bluesily magisterial suite Adrenaline Revival was the highlight of Infusion. Here, he’s represented by Sutra Sutra, a long work punctuated by many spoken word passages which reach to string theory as an explanation for both life and matter: as expressed here, vibration is everything (which for a musician it pretty much is). But in less than a couple of minutes, the genuine plaintiveness of the melody is subsumed by all the psychedelic effects and a whispery crash course in subatomic physics. It would be a treat to hear just the piano all the way through. Supove has been busy this year – her performance at the new music series at Brooklyn’s First Presbyterian Church was a 2010 highlight – and her Music with a View series coming next spring at the Flea Theatre is always chock-full of surprises.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Music with a View at the Flea Theatre, NYC 5/2/10

Pianist Kathleen Supové puts these bills together, an imprimatur that instantly signals both innovation and fun. Sunday afternoon’s show at the Flea Theatre incorporated elements of prose and drama along with all kinds of characteristically out-of-the-box musical ideas, sort of a mini-Bang on a Can marathon. The concert began arrestingly with Portable by Paula Matthusen, performed by eight people, each toting a specially designed radio receiver or transmitter encased in a vintage suitcase, filing around a la Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night in what would have been total darkness except for the players’ flashlights. At its most innocuous, it sounded like a chorus of hair dryers or an industrial-size vaccuum cleaner, but those moments came early and disappeared quickly. The rest was an increasingly disquieting blend of white noise with the occasional doppler-like effect, something akin to being blindsided by a heavy truck blasting down Canal Street at four in the morning, or just the hint of a radio broadcast, distant echoes of station promos or commercials. It made a pointedly effective commentary on how surrounded we are by a rather sinister, labyrinthine mosaic of data exchanges.

Rocco Di Pietro’s Rajas for John Cage, a new piece, featured Mike Brown on upright bass, Bill Cook on ragini (a harmonium of sorts), Robert Dick on flutes, Ryan Jewell getting a luminous resonance out of his cymbals by running a long dowel against their edges, Larry Marotta plucking a violin in the style of a Japanese biwa, and Di Pietro providing recitations interspersed with rhythmic bursts on sheng or harmonica. The stories frequently took on a parable vibe – sometimes they hit the mark, sometimes they didn’t but a lot of them had an irresistible, puckish humor. A drag queen freaking out in a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant, a crafty driver finding an innovative and somewhat cruel way to quiet a noisy busload of school kids, and a small handful wartime references that would have been as relevant in the Vietnam era as today were some of the highlights. Meanwhile, the ensemble improvised against a nebulous, quasi-Asian drone, only the violin or bass occasionally providing ornamentation, sometimes introducing a new rhythm for the rest of the group to ponder or subtly alter. Otherwise, it was a frequently hypnotic exercise in horizontality, careful listening and collaboration.

A performance piece by instrument inventor Ranjit Bhatnagar and Asami Tamura was titled Five Leaves…hmmm, now which plant could that possibly be? That leaf, or, more aptly, bud, was featured as the basis for one of “five variations on mechanical and organic improvisation, for toy, handmade and robotic instruments.” The other leafy stuff included fern, seaweed, catnip and gingko (“Ancient lullabies that stink in the fall”), but it was the most obvious one that seemed to drive this particular piece. Beginning at the piano, Tamura took a stab at a pretty, Scarlatti-esque melody against a similar laptop loop and the two quickly separated, never to return. But maybe that was the point. After that, she and Bhatnagar meowed at each other (that was the catnip talking), carried on an animated conversation via primitive, battery-powered toys that made a silly, theremin-like sound, treated the audience to a simulated drum solo played on a hunk of paper, a demonstration of how cool it is when you add reverb to the sound of pouring water, and an endless succession of similarly unexpected, random devices. It was impossible not to laugh, and the crowd loved it, especially the kids. The only thing missing was a toilet. The gingko piece was last, an overlay of music boxes straight out of the scariest part of an early talkie film – or a Siouxsie and the Banshees record.

Gold Ocean, by Tan Dun and Ken Ueno, seemingly a reworking of a Hawaiian fable, was intriguing musically: it would have been rewarding to find out how they created their tortuously oscillating atmospherics. But practically everything was on a laptop – which poses the obvious question, why bother to stage it at all? An interminable, stilted “libretto,” as joyless as it was pointless, only detracted from what could have been a successful mood change after the hilarity of the previous piece – but in this case Bhatnagar and Tamura proved an impossible act to follow. There was another act scheduled afterward, but the poor guy’s laptop wasn’t working and by then it was well past five and time to exit regretfully into the heat. The Music with a View series wraps up on June 6 at 3 PM at the Flea with music and dance by Michael Evans and Susan Hefner as well as works by Nick Didkovsky and Elan Vytal.

May 3, 2010 Posted by | concert, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment