Listening #87: de Oliveira, Cassidy, Malaussena, Naphtali/Tammen/Speicher

Dafna Naphtali, Hans Tammen, Martin Speicher
Petals (2008), 12’

Aaron Cassidy —
What then renders these forces visible is a strange smile
(2008), 5’
I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips (2006), 4’

Jocy de Oliveira
Estória II (1967), 10’

I remember once saying to a couple of friends a few years ago something along the lines of look i know this sounds stupid but point-blank i really just don’t like solo pieces. obviously that’s not how i feel about it now.

but there is truth to the idea that solo pieces—with regard to notated music at least—can work pretty differently than ensemble pieces. An example of a piece my distaste centered around is Enno Poppe’s Wespe for solo voice. In most of Poppe’s work, there is a really polyphonic, contrapuntal type of discordance that is just completely impossible to capture with a solo instrument. The idea feels to me like boiling down his sort of compositional language to its essence—but rather than that language being the discordance itself, it’s represented as an isolated line.

The first piece that really changed my mind, beyond the scope of, oh this is an exception, was Cassidy’s metallic dust. And I think Cassidy’s work here might be benefiting from the absence of a dogma that is annoyingly prevalent even in many of the more avant-garde corners of Europe: counterpoint as the basic tool by which one learns how to “make decisions”, fine-tune your “inner ear”, etc etc.

In his notes for the piece Cassidy writes that the work is “intensely physical”, and that the counterpoint within it is more visual than aural in nature. For me, it’s like this: although Poppe is thinking a lot deal about aural counterpoint in a work like Salz, with different quasi-motivic fragments woven together, there is a ton of discordance in the final result, and no matter how neat or clear the basic gestures are that are written in each part, there are only moments of alignment. There’s an apparent struggle, a lack of purity even in its clearest moments: this is the thing I love most about much of Poppe’s work. Even though it’s “contrapuntal music” ([god forbid]), its messy, human music that you can dig into with your ears. I just never found that in Wespe, where the presented ideas are so clear, and their development is so singular. composer-power music: how can I ingeniously manipulate this idea such that mine hands wouldst hath bid unto ye eorþe mîn composicioun o mǣst քօմҽɾƒմӀ g̴̮̳͋e̴̛̳n̴̻͑i̴̢̍̓ū̴͔ṡ̷̡̗̪̚.

yeah yeah, im overreacting. however, what I mean to point out is that solo pieces can find strength in their ability to offer interpretive agency for the performer that is much more difficult for ensemble pieces to attain. And that’s what I love about Cassidy’s music; when I listen to metallic dust, I can really hear the performer’s energy shifting from their hands to their breath, from physical gestures to notes, between a type of character (e.g. “unrelentingly methodical”) to techniques to graphic representations. between not only different aspects of physical performance but also between different planes of expression and interpretation.

I wish I could write more about Olivera and Naphtali et. al but I’m completely new to their work. What I’ll say about Olivera, from the small amount I’ve heard so far, is this: I was surprised I hadn’t at least heard of it before, because it seems really old to be sounding so new. Early electro-acoustic music, compared to its contemporary classical counterpart, proliferated out of the West fairly early. It was also more open to female composers—although regrettably this is partially because it was regarded as less prestigious. But it had and still has a visibility problem. Much of the work by these composers is still at least somewhat overlooked, and it’s amazing how often I’ll find an electro-acoustic composer from this period I’ve never even heard of and be like, oh, what, this exists??

On the website Forced Exposure, a reviewer wrote about the album: “Released in 1981, during the last years of her country’s military dictatorship, Estórias Para Voz, Instrumentos Acústicos e Eletrônicos was met by controversy before quickly sinking from view, heard by almost no one beyond Brazil’s border”. Think about that: the work was composed in 1967, and wasn’t put on an album until 1981, where it was quickly cast into obscurity. Luckily, it seems that it has since been re-proliferated. My question is how many composers faded into obscurity entirely? Occasionally, I’ll find signs of one—on the banner of the blog page for this site is a shot of Masonori Fujita’s Dimension, an acoustic piece which was composed in 1971, but never recorded—the only reason I found the score at all is that it was reproduced in an essay by the Japanese musicologist Mikako Mizuno. So, sometimes I wonder whether the global avant-garde might actually be full of voices that have been completely lost in time.

Naphtali, Tammen, Speicher
From: US/Germany (?)
Keywords: free music, sound art

description of Naphtali/Speicher duo (from Naphtali’s site):

Mechanique(s) is a long time aleatoric/improvised electro-acoustic computer music project of mine using live electronics, prepared guitar, voice, and sometimes reeds or other guest instrumentalists, a duo with Hans Tammen with frequent guests.  Working together since 1998 in various configurations, Mechanique(s) has been drawing on many traditions in improvised and electronic music, investigating the overlap of various elements of the performers’ technical and aesthetic practices.

In our performances I create textures, musical elements and gestures using live audio processing of my voice, the sound of the other musician’s with whom I perform, and some audio samples. I use Max/MSP, and an outboard sound processor, both with control in real-time via my voice, MIDI and Wii controllers, Morse code and my various musically mitigated algorithms and composed music processes….

Hans Tammen (“endangered guitar”) works in innovative ways with mechanical preparations and for guitar (at times including brushes, small stones, a small electric fan, a cigarette lighters, an Ebow and chopsticks) and Max/MSP sound processing, with further control via the use of pitch-tracking and and a rotating cast of gestural controllers (at one time an infrared-controller to capture some of his head motion during performance). Tammen’s approach has evolved as well and since the mid-2000’s also incorporates Max/MSP in his Endangered Guitar projects.

In our trio are we have recorded with Martin Speicher (saxophone, clarinet, Germany), (recorded in the eponymous CD “Mechanique(s) 2001 live at Logos in Ghent). We have also been joined by Pascal Boudreault (Montreal), and many others over the years with intuitive, sound-oriented approaches to their instruments.

Aaron Cassidy
from: US
keywords: contemporary classical

bio (from his website): Aaron Cassidy (b. 1976) is an American composer and conductor based in England since 2007. His work as a composer has, for over 20 years, focused on the development of extended tablature notations that prioritise the physical, bodily, and mechanical aspects of sound-production in music. This approach is perhaps most notable through his work since 2010, which has created a multicoloured graphical notational practice that enables wildly multi-dimensional, multi-directional instrumental and choreographic instructions to be represented in a non-stratified notational space, as well as through a parallel strand of activity that has explored new ways of working with and representing what he refers to as ‘non-geometrical’ rhythm. His interest in notation has always been driven by an approach to musical material that is deeply physical, resulting in a soundworld that is expressive and energetic, fractured but dancelike, sometimes violently mangled and sometimes fragile and vulnerable, but always grounded in a fascination with the sounds and textures that become possible when we allow ourselves to rethink our assumptions about what might constitute musical material.

Paper where he talks about his idea of experimental music:

Jocy de Oliveira
from: Brazil

bio (from her website) Jocy de Oliveira has been involved as a composer/author in a variety of media since the early 1960s utilizing acoustic and electronic instruments, music-theatre, installations, texts, graphics, video, and audiences in an approach to an organic development of performance/composition works.

Her operas were released on 8 DVDs distributed by NAXOS Video Library. Her most recent work is a cinematic opera Liquid Voices – A história de Mathilda Segalescu , a feature film chosen for the Official Selection in various European International Film Festivals in 2019…

Author of five books published in Brazil, France and the USA, Jocy de Oliveira , her Dialogue with Letters, published by SESI SP, 2014, was acclaimed by the media and received the most important literature prize in Brazil – Jabuti Literature First Prize, 2015. This same year the French edition of this book was very successfully launched in Paris by Editions Honoré Champion as part of the Sorbonne musicology collection. In 2016 the book was selected as finalist for the Premio Rio de Literatura. In 2018 a book Leituras de Jocy coordinated by Rodrigo Cicchelli and Manoel Correa do Lago was released by Editora SESI SP compiling analyses and reflections from 27 authors on her work. FLIP – the most important Brazilian International literature Festival held in Paraty July, 2018 focused on her works and honored her during its opening and two other different presentations.

Her website:

An article about Brazilian electroacoustic music, looking at its relationship to academia among other things:

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