A Contemporary Playlist: Part II / by Anne Lanzilotti


Tuesday will be our last class and final concert for the Contemporary Music Ensemble at University of Northern Colorado! Earlier this semester, the group performed works by Jürg Frey and Pauline Oliveros as a part of the School of Music's Day of Music for which students organize concerts in the community (pictured above). As the semester comes to a close, I'd like to offer this second playlist as a way to encourage continued listening beyond the classroom. As I mentioned in the original post, these are some living composers/sound artists that students should know if they're studying with me. And as with the previous list, these are people whose music I admire and listen to.

Lesley Flanigan, Hedera (2016)

Flanigan builds sound sculptures—sometimes modified found speakers, sometimes handmade amplification objects—and often uses the feedback in conjunction with her own voice to create multi-layered sonic landscapes. In her own words, these works embrace "both the transparency and residue of process." Flanigan is brilliant and her music is gorgeous and now I'm gushing just listen.

Maria Chavez, live performance (2010)

An excerpt on Chavez from an article I wrote this summer for NewMusicBox:

Sound artist and abstract turntablist Maria Chavez’s wonderful book Of Technique: Chance Procedures on Turntable explains different techniques that Chavez has developed through her career as a performer. What I love about Chavez’s music is that she takes found objects from the environment and finds their beauty through focused listening and attention in her sets. The records Chavez uses are mostly found damaged and would otherwise have been discarded. Taking these objects and turning them into a vital part of avant-garde DJing is what makes Chavez’s music so unique. Giving the objects a new voice points to the idea that forgotten or discarded peoples can be empowered to have a voice through advocacy.

Kaija Saariaho, L'Amour de Loin (2000)

Saariaho's wonderful NPR interview when L'Amour de Loin was staged by the MET Opera last season: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/03/503986298/half-of-humanity-has-something-to-say-composer-kaija-saariaho-on-her-met-debut. The excerpt below is Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim singing to the Countess. Mumford's incredibly moving and intelligent interpretation of this important character in the opera stole the show.

Jacob Cooper, Silver Threads  (2014)

This is an album I come back to—the transition into the last track, “Jar” puts me back into a specific emotion I felt hearing Melissa Hughes perform it live. Cooper’s music explores sound worlds that could only be heard through electronic manipulation, and explores how this similarly affects our perception and feeling about people who in our modern world are always filtered through some kind of electronic medium (whether social media or text threads). In an interview Cooper said, "The beautiful thing about working with electronic music is that new technology constantly allows us to develop and focus on new sounds."

Nina Young, Sun Propeller (2012, rev. viola version 2017)

Young visited the Contemporary Music Ensemble to present her music and improvise with us earlier this month while she was here at University of Northern Colorado to produce my recording of her piece Sun Propeller. Young's music is expansive and lyrical, and her expertise in computer programming allows for this expressiveness to be transferred into the electronics she creates naturally, keeping her voice and vision.

Ted Hearne, Sound from the Bench (2014/2017)

Sound from the Bench (below) takes texts from the Supreme Court cases, Jena Osman's Corporate Relations (poems that examine corporate personhood in the USA), and Ventriloquist textbooks and mashes them up in a way that challenges the listener to think about the what it is to be human. Hearne says:

I strive toward a polyphony of oppositional voices and perspectives in my music, and to bring the chaotic forces of life into the work itself. It was this impulse, and the unabashedly political tone of Osman's poetry, that made me want to set some part of Corporate Relations to music.

Zosha DiCastri, Quartet No. 1 (2016)

DiCastri is a professor at Columbia University, and has a wonderful sense of textures and drama. Her work for the group Yarn/Wire last year was incredible and I hope there will be a production of it again soon! Part of her compositional process involves working directly with sound, either improvising with her voice or by manipulating recordings of effects that she wants to use in her music. This genesis from the sound itself makes these modern techniques and timbres visceral and dramatic.

Chris Cerrone, Invisible Cities (2013)

This is a more in-depth video showing the production of Cerrone's opera Invisible Cities that was staged in the Los Angeles train station. Cerrone is inspired by texts and is an avid reader of poetry and literature. This work is based on the Italo Calvino book of the same name. As with the Saariaho opera, it asks, what are we describing when we describe the other? Are we describing ourselves or are we truly observing? How do we go outside ourselves to explore new places and people, or do we experience them more truly when we allow ourselves to be tangled up with them?

A note about Cerrone, Cooper, and Hearne: they are part of a composer collective called Sleeping Giant including Andrew Norman (in the previous list). I included these composers because they are people I know from graduate school and work with professionally to this day. Another person in graduate school with all of us who "wasn't a composer" at the time? Caroline Shaw. I point this out to remind anyone reading this that 1) no list is totally objective—these are people I find interesting, not a definitive list, and 2) play your peers' music! We are making a point in this final concert to play both the music of established composers, and music by members of the Contemporary Ensemble themselves. Play your peers' music. End of detour.

Ken Ueno, improvisation (2015)

I met Ueno in 2010 when we were both living in Berlin. He was generous with inviting fellow expats over to the American Academy, and was wonderful to talk to about sound and his philosophy of music making. Ueno writes music for other performers on traditional instruments, as well as performing himself, often using his voice to create incredible timbral sonic drones. This is is a video I shared earlier in the semester, but I'd like to end with it because it inspires me to think about making sound, and what our role is as contemporary musicians.

Read the previous post in this series, "A Contemporary Music Ensemble Playlist."