Open Space is pretty much right in the thick of a prime tourist zone Victoria, British Columbia and is a rectangular, bright, acoustically sound space. Really perfect venue for this kind of music in that some sounds drifted in from outside, but it wasn’t all just traffic. A skylight above the performance area let in natural light and the occasional pop’s and groans as it expanded in the sun. Most striking was Wendy Hough‘s Wall Drawing, which stretched across the entire back wall forming a hypnotic backdrop. A semi-cicle of chairs in two long rows was setup for the afternoon concerts and a third row added dynamically as the evening shows filled up. A really good crowd I though and the Open Space music director told me that they averaged around 25 people for most of their new music events. Pretty impressive — when I saw fellow Wandelweiser composer Micheal Pisaro in Seattle, at a venue that is basically the Seattle’s equivalent to Open Space there was only a handful of people in attendance.
The concert series was over two days with an afternoon concert, followed by a Q&A, then an evening concert. If you attended all four concerts, as I did, you were able to hear 12 pieces from 6 different composers. I’ve listened to various Wandelweiser composers for maybe 5-6 years now and just like everything certain things appeals to me more than others. There is also a lot of material from this collective which has been active for more than 15 years now and I’ve hardly heard it all. So for me when discussing composed pieces the historical context, both of the composers own compositional history as well as the lineage in which they are situated is really key. Since I feel that I can only provide limited insight in that vein here I am going to mostly try to sketch out the overall nature of the pieces. I should also add that I don’t feel that a blow-by-blow description of this kind of music is that useful. In the main without actually analyzing the piece I feel that is of limited utility and can actually be misleading. Likewise focusing too much on the environment I think can just be a laundry list and also push understanding of the piece to specifics that undermine the intention. That is to say that these pieces in general are accepting of these sounds, but not reliant on the specifics that you heard. This may seem like I’m leaving little to write about but really I’ll talk about all of these aspects, but just in passing without trying to claim any sort of notion of completeness.
Jürg Frey — Canones incerti (2010)
The piece was all held tones with occasional ascending and descending runs. There was beating tones at times between the flute and clarinet that reminded me a bit of The International Nothing. But with the different tonality of the flute and clarinet as opposed to two clarinets this was richer and more engaging in my opinion. The piece was really nicely paced; not overly spacious but not hurried or at all busy. Overall it was very pretty and it’s softness welcomed the sound of seagulls, the occasional passing pedestrian and motor vehicle. A telephone rang twice in the Open Space office and at the end in the concert venue itself. I’m pretty sure these were unintentional (they occurred the next day) but I thought fitted in nicely with what could be thought of as an overly pretty piece. While that obviously wouldn’t happen at every performance, the equivalent certainly could. This was maybe my favorite piece of the series.
Antoine Beuger — méditations poétiques sur “quelque chose d’autre” (2012)
The piece began with Beuger introducing the piece as being based on text fragments from five philosophers. He then read text fragments that the piece utilizes. One immediately makes note that the quintet includes a muscian as representative for each philosopher. Following the reading each performer then clearly worked though a set of material at their own discretion and with each ending at different times. They mumbled and chant/sang bits of the text which were all in French. This seemed very self conscious to me but I should note is not really generally too my taste. It is certainly in the lineage of all of John Cage’s text pieces which frankly I’m pretty mixed on, but can get into a times. So I don’t write off this entire area but I feel that you have to be completely committed: no one would deny that Cage threw himself wholeheartedly into his text performances. Apart from the text readings the played pitches were nice, mixing a variety of traditional tonal playing along with faint, dusty scraping of strings at times. Each performer stopped after they worked through their material and the performance concluded with just Frey on the clarinet.
Michael Pisaro — asleep, river, bells, chords (2009)
The field recordings seemed to be of a bus stop with cars, birds, various voices and the busses pulling in (un) loading and pulling out. The recording was rather loud and included within it various synthetic tones and sine waves. The strings mostly played very quiet long dry strokes. The flute and clarinet petty much blended right in with the field recording but also was long held soft ntes. the peice is interacting tones and incidental sounds. I really enjoyed this piece, especially the balance between the field recording, additional natural sounds from outside the venue, the pre-recorded sounds seamlessly blending in and then the nearly inaudible classical instrumentation. This is clearly in the same family as asleep, street, pipes, tones the recording of which was put out on the Gravity Wave label. In the linked blog post he describes how he put together the recording used for that piece from snippets of pipe organ, vocal pieces, sine waves and field recordings. While we don’t have the specifics for this piece it clearly is in the same style but in my opinion the live performance aspect works better. I especially appreciated the bowed strings here but I also think that the higher tones of the clarinet and flute also worked really well. This piece was right up there among my favorites from this series and was happy this was part of the repertoire as Pisaro was the only Wandelweiser composer not present from whom a work was performed.
Martin Arnold — Waltz Organum (2012)
This was a more standard new music peice for string quartet and clarinet from a Canadian composer not associated with the Wandelweiser collective. The art supporting agencies always require works from Canadians to get grants and this piece I presume was at least present for that reason. That being said it was okay if nothing very remarkable. It was mostly muted strings, playing mostly long tones rather dry, without vibrato. It was all very upper register in the strings and the clarinet also was rather high and quiet. The cello often played percussively by bouncing the bow on the strings. The piece was constructed from several rather disparate, movements giving it a rather episodic feel. They reorganized the performers and their setup for the different combinations: one movement was violin and cello only and IIRC at least one was the quintet and then various trios.