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Daniel J. Kushner, traipsing through sounds

Posts Tagged ‘Gabriel Kahane

Beautiful Mechanical : yMusic, The Ready-Made Collaborators

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Chamber music ensembles tend to form because of a palpable chemistry felt between the individual players. But yMusic isn’t quite like many of its contemporaries. The New York-based sextet– clarinetist Hideaki Aomori , trumpeter/French horn player CJ Camerieri, cellist Clarice Jensen, violinist/guitarist Rob Moose, violist Nadia Sirota, and flutist Alex Sopp–came together because it sensed an unnecessary musical disconnect between its individual members and wanted to correct it. During a concert at Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2008 for which indie rock sensation The National had hired violinist/guitarist Rob Moose, trumpeter/French horn player CJ Camerieri, and clarinetist Hideaki Aomori as backing musicians, Moose noticed a lack of musical intimacy.

yMusic, left to right: Hideaki Aomori, Clarice Jensen, CJ Camerieri, Rob Moose, Alex Sopp, Nadia Sirota; photo by Ilya Nikhamin.

I remember during one of the songs at The National show, seeing CJ standing like 60 feet from me across the room and not being able to hear him, and we’re playing the same song but we’re not even having a shared experience. [I] was just feeling like, You know, it’s really great that bands are having more instrumentalists play with them, but the experience was feeling a little bit lacking in terms of actual interaction and arrangement-wise, things were starting to feel a little thrown together…. Since we view the music of these bands with the same amount of integrity that we would put into a chamber music performance, there should be a group that is able to do both things.

Similarly, Camerieri saw a need for a new ensemble:

Nadia was at the after-party, we were like, Why wasn’t Nadia playing? This is insane. Hideaki was on different songs than me and Rob were on–we were like, Why aren’t people using all of us? And they we sort of realized it was because we hadn’t made it obvious that they should be using all of us. So in a weird way, yMusic , the first time we thought conceptually about the group, it was just to make it obvious to other people who we wanted to play with when they hired us for gigs. If you hire me, you should know that I’m gonna want you tor hire Hideaki to play clarinet.

Three years and seven commissions later, yMusic’s debut album Beautiful Mechanical was released on September 27 via New Amsterdam Records. The album features the works of six composers–among them indie singer-songwriters Gabriel Kahane, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, all of whom yMusic had worked with extensively in the past. “In the end we realized that we have these two branches,” says Moose. “We are a commissioning ensemble that performs independently and we’re an auxiliary ensemble that performs with bands and can create arrangements for them and really help put that whole experience together.”

As an ensemble, the musicians’ cohesion transcends that of many professional ensembles entrenched in the classical tradition. Rather than interpreting the music as a group of instrumental layers that merely interact with one another, the players create a fully integrated fabric of sounds inextricable from one another. While many chamber ensembles attempt to sound as one voice, yMusic achieves it.

Beautiful Mechanical is singular in its execution: “contemporary classical” compositions packaged in a pop album context of seven tracks and a breezy 43 minutes. Each cut is a self-contained sound world all its own–from the skittish propulsion of Ryan Lott’s (Son Lux) title track to the cinematic undulations of “Daughter of the Waves” by Sarah Kirkland Snider to Judd Greenstein’s pinpoint post-Minimalism on “Clearing, Dawn, Dance.”

yMusic has created something stunning and uncanny–a vital document of the indie-classical movement that simultaneously resists and transcends the connotations associated with the subgenre. Programmatically, there is an implicit narrative of collaboration at work. Four of the six composers were featured as part of the Greenstein-curated Ecstatic Music Festival earlier this year, and three of the seven compositions were premiered at Snider and Worden’s March 16 Ecstatic concert. yMusic is also the featured band on Worden’s upcoming My Brightest Diamond album All Things Will Unwind, out October 18 from Asthmatic Kitty Records. In speaking about the ensemble’s collaboration with Worden on that record, Camerieri had this to say:

[Shara Worden] didn’t write a flute part, a clarinet part, and a viola part. She wrote an Alex Sopp part, an Hideaki part, and a Nadia Sirota part…she wrote for their individual characteristics and how they play and what’s significant to the way they sound. So it’s really specifically these people, and not their instruments….All of her special relationships with us and the way we play really come through super clear on the record. That’s sort of what yMusic is all about. It’s about us forging these releationships and making this music happen that wouldn’t normally happen, we don’t think, without the collaborative process.

Violist Nadia Sirota clarifies the unifying principle of yMusic:

I don’t think we ever really set out to be like, Oh man, let’s have this rock sensibility and apply it to chamber music or let’s have a classical sensibility and apply it to rock music. I think part of the reason we gravitated towards each other is because all of us have very, very wide-ranging tastes, and we like to be involved in projects where we just perceive the music to be good, no matter in what side of the aisle it lies…. to be a successful player of orchestral instruments in the early part of the 21st century means finding a niche and doing some weird stuff there.


“We Added It Up” from the forthcoming My Brightest Diamond album All Things Will Unwind (release date October 18).

In collaborating with the ensemble, composer Ryan Lott sees yMusic’s virtuosity extending beyond technical ability in a way that distinguishes the group among its peers. “If you want to call them classical musicians, they’re classical musicians for an iPod world, where Mozart and Mos Def are together on a playlist,” says Lott. “They’re the product of a world in which music is profoundly diverse, and they have the skill and the open-mindedness to embrace all of it.”

Lott’s contribution to the album is the title track, the name of which is indicative of yMusic’s overall style, according to Rob Moose. “I think sometimes the danger in classical training and classical music is that you get lost in the pursuit of the technique or the craft, and can lose sight of the music behind it,” says Moose. “So our group’s aesthetic is obviously to always project those things simultaneously and let them energize each other. The name of that piece kind of sums up how we approach music.

Composer/singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane explains the group’s singularity in this way:

I had taken for granted the rarity of their masterful hybrid musicianship as individuals, and as a group, by which I mean: nowhere else will you find a group of players who have both an innate sense of phrasing in the more ‘legit’ classical sense, and at the same time have exquisite sense for rhythm–not the case among your average highly-trained classical musician–and pop-oriented groove. It’s a real glory when writing the kind of music that my peers and I do to have such intuitively resourceful musicians to interpret it.

Beautiful Mechanical Compositions In Focus

Composer: Annie Clark (St. Vincent)

Track: “Proven Badlands”

  • Compositional Features: A coolly seductive flute melody underscored by an unsettling cello ostinato and punctuated by cityscape trumpet accents.
  • What to Listen For: Echoes of “Marrow,” from 2009’s Actor, particularly the four-note motive reminiscent of the line, “H.E.L.P./Help me, help me.” You can hear Clark’s voice in the flute melodies. More overtly, “Proven Badlands” is a continuing exposition of the central melodic theme of “The Sequel.”

Composer: Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond)
Track: “A Whistle, a Tune, A Macaroon”

  • Compositional Features: Woodwind-centric textures—including what sounds like sonic archery—and plenty of quivering tone colors,
  • What to Listen For: The clarity of melodic tone, tranquility, and an uncluttered and deliberate splatial sense reminiscent of “If I Were Queen” tranquility from A Thousand Shark’s Teeth.

Composer: Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond)
Track: “A Paper, a Pen, a Note to a Friend”

  • Compositional Features: Worden’s most vivid and idiosyncratic writing for instruments yet, full of fits and starts and loaded with nuanced articulations. Tongue-in-cheek for the ears, this a subtle and deceptively complex work.
  • What to Listen For: The danceable opening groove is a close relative of the expressionistic percussion painting of “Ding Dang” (from the forthcoming All Things Will Unwind) and the thumb piano motives in “Apple” (from a Thousand Shark’s Teeth) and “Everything is in Line” (from the former album). A continuation of the overall playful, almost coquettish quality of the instrumental writing from All Things Will Unwind.

Composer: Gabriel Kahane
Track: “Song”

  • Compositional Features: Spacious Americana courtesy of the trumpet, complete with the characteristic inscrutable melody and chromatic movements; plenty of chord suspensions with delayed resolutions
  • What to Listen For: Significant chordal accompaniment in the guitar, as on the forthcoming Where Are the Arms; the flute contains traces of a descending melody from “Craigslistlieder I: You Look Sexy.”

Note: The phrase “ready-made collaborators,” referenced in the article’s title, is attributed to Nadia Sirota.

For more information about yMusic’s Beautiful Mechanical, visit New Amsterdam Records here.

Creatures of Habit: A Response to Gabriel Kahane Concerning Spotify

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This past week, composer/singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane wrote a poignant editorial about the emergence of the music service Spotify and how it may adversely affect the way we consume music.  As someone who has recently begun to use Spotify as a resource, I found his opinions to be particularly timely.

And yet I was somewhat troubled by what I perceived to be a prevailing idea–that the medium with which we listen to music ostensibly dictates how we listen:

I’d like to propose a third stream: that the problem we face is not one of economics, but of the spiritual nature of how [we] consume music. That is to say: what Spotify and illegally downloaded music have in common is that they both spiritually devalue music by making a surfeit of it too accessible.

Mr. Kahane seems to be saying that universal, unparalleled access to all music is somehow inherently bad.  This seems dangerously paramount to saying, “The devil made me do it.”  It’s not the mechanism with which we consume music that makes or breaks our listening experience, but rather what we do with that mechanism.  How do we use Spotify and other technologies in an intelligent manner that rewards diligent and deliberate listening habits?

Ultimately, we as listeners must take personal responsibility for how we consume music.  I concede that mediums such as the record player/vinyl challenge us to listen more intently, and in a way I consider more positive than others.  But I can’t accept that listening to music digitally makes the experience any less meaningful because I now have access to more of it and will somehow listen “less.”

Discovering Spotify did not cause me to investigate more music less thoroughly.  Rather, I applied my existing listening habits to my use of Spotify, particularly as a way to supplement my experience of a particular artist’s biography or to listen to specific recordings of a seminal work.  In this way, the service can be used advantageously by completists or by intrepid listeners seeking to compare different recordings of the same composition.

Mr. Kahane refers to the onset of Spotify and “the demise of curation as it applies to one’s music collection” as cause-and-effect.  But with regard to Spotify’s practical function, is that really true?  Users may “star” songs and entire albums for later perusal, and there is of course the ability to create playlists.  This latter function is arguably the most important aspect of the Spotify experience.  How else can one organize a seemingly limitless library of music but through the use of personalized playlists?  If this isn’t curation, what is it?

New developments in music consumption are inevitable, and increased access is part and parcel.  Soon enough, the heir apparent of Spotify will emerge from the primordial sludge of technological innovation.  But was our listening experience decimated in the path of the last digital music victor,in the wake of iTunes and the iPod and their irrevocable trajectories?  No–essentially, we merely transferred our music collections to another format.

Now here is where Spotify’s function differentiates itself, and the subject of “complete access” becomes especially contentious.  Is it really my music collection if I have access to everything?  And herein, I think, is the underlying crux  in Mr. Kahane’s perspective:  What constitutes a personal music collection?  Beyond a matter of spiritual value, I think Spotify raises vital questions about ownership and music-as-commodity.  

Unfortunately, this is also where our topic, “Spotify and the Personal Listening Experience,” becomes derailed and turns instead into an economic  quandary.  By allowing users to access a vast cache for amounts ranging from free to $9.99, Spotify obscures the monetary value of music and fosters a communal atmosphere.  And this is a real  problem in an era in which the avenues for artist compensation are increasingly unclear.   And  as the following articles attest, Spotify similarly seems to have been largely ineffective in compensating artists for their craft.

First, some background history:

 Guardian, August 2009 - http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2009/aug/17/major-labels-spotify

The Music Void, October 2009 - http://www.themusicvoid.com/2009/10/spotify-labels-win-artists-lose/

The latest events:

Billboard, August 2011 - http://www.billboard.biz/bbbiz/industry/digital-and-mobile/century-media-label-pulls-music-from-spotify-1005309442.story

Music Ally, August 2011 - http://musically.com/blog/2011/08/11/spotify-payouts-top-100m-as-it-responds-to-indie-label-critics/

Monetary issues aside, it’s important that we the listeners hold ourselves accountable for how we listen to music and how we use services such as Spotify. If we have caught ourselves devaluing the music listening as a spiritual experience, perhaps the enemy is us.

Written by winebrick41

September 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

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