Sept 21 @ 8:00 @ Z Below: Tickets at http://zspace.org/humble-servant
A solo percussion concert of works written for Andy Meyerson, The Living Earth Show’s percussionist and Artistic Director, exploring the musical tension and resonance of contemporary composers and creators whose work is distinctly polemical and deeply queer. Sarah Hennies and Amadeus Regucera utilize ritual and resonance in the service of exploring queerness and the inherent violence therein, while Samuel Adams, Adrian Knight, and Christopher Cerrone, use these tools to explore the sonic potential of the interplay between electronic and acoustic resonating bodies. Together, the program paints a vibrant and affecting picture of percussion today.
Adrian Knight: Humble Servant (2013)
Sarah Hennies: Kisses (2017)
Samuel Adams: Surface (2018)
Amadeus Regucera: imu/ilu (2018)
Christopher Cerrone: A Natural History of Vacant Lots (2018*)
All works on the program were commissioned by Andy Meyerson. A Natural of History of Vacant Lots is the arrangement for solo percussionist of a quartet of the same name written for Third Coast Percussion in 2017. The quartet version was co-commissioned by Miller Theatre at Columbia University and Third Coast Percussion’s New Works Fund.
About A Natural History of Vacant Lots, Christopher Cerrone writes:
A Natural History of Vacant Lots was originally composed as a piece for percussion quartet and electronics. At Andy Meyerson’s suggestion, we took the original work, and collaboratively refashioned it into a work for solo percussionist and electronics with many of the original instrumental parts becoming woven into the electronic landscape. It became— in effect—a duo for Andy (live) and Andy (electronic).
Vacant Lots is a lonely piece, written in a dark time for me and the world. Somehow having a musician alone on stage, going through a series of highly choreographed motions by himself, feels appropriately reflective of that isolated state that I wrote the piece in.
The piece was co-commissioned by Miller Theatre at Columbia University and Third Coast Percussion’s New Works Fund.
Winner of a 2015 Rome Prize and a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, the Brooklyn-based composer Christopher Cerrone is internationally acclaimed for compositions which from chamber music to electronic. Throughout, his music is characterized by a subtle handling of timbre and resonance, a deep literary fluency, and a flair for multimedia collaborations.
About Kisses, Sarah Hennies writes:
The work of Sarah Hennies utilizes an often grueling, endurance-based performance practice in a subversive examination of psychoacoustics, queerness, trans and gender identity, and performance art. Based in Ithaca, New York, Hennies is currently a member of improvised music group Meridian with Greg Stuart and Tim Feeney, a duo with sound/performance artist Jason Zeh, and the Queer Percussion Research Group with Jerry Pergolesi, Bill Solomon, and Jennifer Torrence. In late 2017 she premiered the groundbreaking work, Contralto at Issue Project Room (NYC), a film featuring a cast of transgender women with a live score for string quartet and three percussionists.
Questions for Samuel Adams (written by Andy Meyerson) about Surface:
AM: For someone who has never heard your music or been to a concert of contemporary music, what advice can you give them on how to best experience this piece?
SA: Think of it as music, not contemporary music.
AM: The performer is meant to perform this piece with a click track–that is, the performer hears a metronome keeping time and is designed to perform each note with a kind of mathematical, rhythmic specificity. What role does human imperfection play in this piece and in your music?
SA: I have many works where human imperfection plays a central role. Quartet Movement, for example, asks of a string quartet to play slowly descending glissandi in unison with a computer. The slight discrepancies of pitch and timbre create all these wonderful flickering overtones, and it’s precisely this imperfect sound that I aim for. In other words: a successful performance of Quartet Movement requires the performers to, paradoxically, “fail correctly.”
A click track solves the complex problem of aligning digital sound with a live performer. With a composition like Surface, there are numerous ways one could approach creating the same overall sound, either through live-processing or sampling. I typically do not use a click track in my music. However, since this piece is part of a larger work that involves dance, Andy and I chose this particular solution to keep time as consistent as possible for the dancers and to also provide in-ear cues. So, as much as the click track is an implacable element, it also serves as a crutch.
AM: How do the ideas of control and agency play into your work and this piece in particular?
SA: The possibility of failure opens the possibility of transcendence. This is why we continue to desire various forms of high-stakes performance. If in performance, we expected self-similar reproductions of the objects of our attention, we wouldn’t attend concerts, baseball games, political debates, etc. That said, I am not interested in “controlling” the performer with notation. That’s not interesting. What’s interesting is creating a fixed space where limitations can be transcended.
But there’s also the aspect of collaboration. I think it’d be a bit dishonest to reduce the composer-performer relationship to the score itself. The score is a product of a relationship. What’s exciting about working with Andy is that we’re close friends—we trust each other—and the process of composition is a back and forth. The final piece is birthed of an in-depth dialogue about not only finding the essential qualities in the music, but building them in the most intuitive, natural way. In this regard, Surface is tailored to Andy’s specific idiosyncrasies. For example, since he memorizes everything, I shaped the material so that the patterns change in logical ways, and the score is color-coded so that he can easily understand the hierarchy of material in the score.
Questions for Andy Meyerson (written by Samuel Adams) about Surface:
SA: We’ve been making music together for more than 10 years. Since our first collaboration, what about our process has changed and what’s stayed the same?
AM: Every single piece Sam has written for me has 1) challenged what I thought I knew about the medium of percussion music and 2) required me to stretch just a little bit past my comfort zone to play the latest piece Sam writes. His music is challenges me as a performer in the way that only someone who knows me can challenge me: the challenges inherent in realizing the score feel just one step beyond my what I’ve done before and what I’m comfortable doing, and I grow substantially as a performer and as a musician every time we work together.
The aspect that has changed in our process is that I feel like I know myself as a musician and a performer infinitely better than I did when we first started working together. I feel the same love for Sam’s music that I did 10 years ago, but my own relationship to music and performing it feels less immature and far more nuanced than it was when I was just coming out of school. I feel like I’m better equipped to meet the challenges inherent in performing his work.
SA: You’re a brilliant analytical mind, and so much of your work involves thinking about patterns, choreography, logistics and mnemonics. At what point in the process of preparing a piece do you start to ask questions about what to emotionally communicate and how?
AM: As soon as I can play the piece from start to finish. The most important part of learning and a piece of music is being able to internalize the narrative. That’s the aspect of the memorization process that requires patterns, choreography, mnemonics, and anything else that makes the narrative of the notes sticky and memorable. Once I can play the notes from memory, then I can step back and analyze the emotional impact of each note, phrase, and idea. Obviously some of that is baked into the learning process in the initial stages (playing notes at all forces the performer to make decisions about how those notes are performed) but as soon as the piece is memorized, then I focus with the same kind of obsessive intensity on how the emotional communication. And honestly, most of those decisions are gut-based. It’s more or less: “how does this musical phrase make ME feel?” Also, working with such a brilliant musician and listener (TLES guitarist Travis Andrews) helps me make those decisions. He’s pretty much always correct in how music should be phrased and performed to maximize emotional impact, and listening to him guides me in those decisions in our ensemble work.
SA: What’s your favorite aspect of performing a work in front of a live audience for the first time?
AM: I love the intense responsibility I feel to the composer when I perform a work in front of a live audience for the first time. This performance will be the only way the work has ever existed in the world (until the next performance or recording), and the pressure to perform it to the best of my personal ability helps give the premiere performance a special kind of energy.
Samuel Adams is a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. Adams has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the San Francisco Symphony, the New World Symphony, pianist Emanuel Ax and the St Lawrence String Quartet. In 2015 Adams was named a Mead composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO). During his tenure with the CSO, Adams has created new works for the orchestra and co-curate the CSO’s critically acclaimed MusicNOW series. A committed educator, Adams frequently engages in projects with young musicians. Adams grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he studied composition and electroacoustic music at Stanford University while also active as a contrabassist in San Francisco. Adams received a master’s degree in composition from the Yale School of Music.
About IMY/ILY, Amadeus Regucera writes:
When Andy asked me to develop a piece with/for him, the first thing I did was ask “how far” he was willing to go…physically. His seemingly cavalier answer was “as far as you want.” I knew Andy mainly though his work in The Living Earth Show (at that point I knew Travis – the band’s guitarist – more, though only through professional engagements which is to say I didn’t know Andy at all really). Though I didn’t know him that well, I knew him to be a committed player and even more committed advocate for new work. I wanted to respect that but also push Andy into a liminal space where the music making process was new and extremely challenging — for me as well. I wanted to create a piece for him that reflected my interests in bringing together movement and music but was singularly rooted in the body and visceral relationship between the three.
As a percussionist myself (if formerly), the bass drum was always the instrument that spoke most to me, personally. It was a body unto itself; skin, stretched across a frame, the bowels of the orchestra, resonating at the depths of any instrumental group, mysteriously grounding a musical texture with its spectral rumbling, sometimes unheard but rarely unfelt. But whose presence is also violent and immediate when struck.
In this piece, I treat the drum as Andy’s “partner,” an Other, that is gazed upon and caressed but it’s also a surrogate for Andy’s body and vice versa. Bringing together two different bodies in this sensual and physical way always implies a sexual dimension but not always so. There is a lot of gestural and material symbolism in the piece but I hesitate to say that it all has to do with sex. It has to do with power. With dominance and who has the agency to inflict and receive pain. Within the context of the composition, one might point out that the bass drum doesn’t have this agency. Yet to me, the musical instrument and its sounds are not innocent. The instrument, how it’s played, and how it sounds is couched in history and in a musical “Tradition,” one which colonizes and punishes its practitioners and one which I am complicit in and a victim of. I don’t really want to go into the ins and outs of being a Filipino-American composer trained in a Western European tradition and who participates in its community…the intricacies are implicit in that sentence. The deed is done. What I want to do with my training is to continually tease out the generative aspects of the problems inherent in that cross-cultural morass, I want to find out what I can mine for impactful creative work.
In the same way that the composition deals with power, I had to reckon with my own power as a composer with Andy as a performer. The composer/performer paradigm as it had become (it’s shifting now) in the late-20th century almost made the performer a slave to the music, and indirectly or directly, to the composer. This was always weird for me. Some strands of virtuosic contemporary music of the recent past is masochism, straight up. I wanted to make this blatant in IMY/ILY, yet I wanted the process to involve something that is often absent in contemporary music performance-practice yet is so foundational to physical relationships – consent. “As far as I want[ed]” wasn’t carte blanche for me to inflict untold harm onto Andy. When he strikes himself and hyperventilates or holds his breath to sing to the point of exhaustion, I ask him to do it because we’ve both agreed that it adds something of artistic or aesthetic merit to the piece. I was always ready to change something if we didn’t both commit. Why I chose the “musical” actions I did are because of my tastes and my background. Andy got to know those things as the piece was written, as we got to know each other over the course of many breakfasts and many rehearsals, traveling together, and working closely. In essence, developing trust. My personal, cultural, and musical background and my tastes are all very physical and very violent. That is my inheritance. I needed Andy’s consent before that became his inheritance also – as the performer of a piece of music from a composer. Andy asked me an interesting question recently when I wondered what to write here – “what does it mean that you, the audience, then are participating in the inheritance.” You were not a part of this long conversation about consent. I confess, I don’t have the answer. So at this point, you have my permission to leave.
When I speak of violence, I also speak of trauma – that subterranean current of dread that passes from one to another by sheer force over time, sometimes generations. I don’t know what to say about it other than I don’t think I can ever get rid of mine. There are a lot of psychotherapeutic ways to deal with it, some more accepted than others, but they all seem a little inept at teaching me how to get rid of it. But some are more helpful than others in helping me deal with it. Repetition is a common and useful rhetorical and musical device in terms of memory and defining form. It’s also incredible at cementing a difficult memory into our bodies. If we relive something terrible, repeatedly, it’s unclear whether it remains more securely or whether it will eventually leave us. Lately, I’ve just been trying to find healthiER ways of integrating it (or at least try to). One of these ways is to ritualize the repetition in musical form. I’m never after catharsis or transformation in my music but I often try to find some kind of release. Both in the score, measure to measure, and in the process of making music.
Part of that process is meeting new performers, simpatico with my musical desires and experiments. By witnessing this performance and reading about its creation here, you’ve also watched the development of friendship. Now, Andy and I play on the same ultimate frisbee team. This piece is for him.
The work of Amadeus Julian Regucera engages with the embodied and acoustical energy of sound and the erotics of its production. He has had the opportunity to present works around the world: notably, at the ManiFeste, the Festival Musica, Voix Nouvelles (France), the Resonant Bodies Festival and the SONiC Festival (New York), the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music as part of the American Composers Forum artist delegation to Cuba, the Mizzou International Composers Festival, the Hong Kong Modern Academy, the International Summer Courses in Darmstadt, Germany, the Impuls Academy (Austria), June in Buffalo, and the Mexican Centre for Music and Sonic Arts. His music has been performed by ensembles such as Ensemble Linea, Alarm Will Sound, JACK string quartet, Ensemble Intercontemporain, EXAUDI vocal ensemble, Ensemble Pamplemousse, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Eco Ensemble, Duo Cortona, Third Sound, and the University of California, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. In addition to concert music, his practice intersects with visual and performance art, most notably in the piece Communication (2013), which was featured at the Kulturzentrum bei den Minoriten in Graz, Austria as part of the group show Seelenwäsche and a collaboration for performer, Schlachtfeld with choreographer Elysa Wendi (2015). Upcoming projects include a new piece to be performed by the composer alongside flutist Stacey Pelinka and a new work for the reed quintet Splinter Reeds. Amadeus holds degrees in Music from the University of California, San Diego (B.A. 2006) and the University of California, Berkeley (PhD, 2016).
About Humble Servant, Adrian Knight writes:
Adrian Knight (b. 1987, Uppsala, Sweden) is a composer and multi-instrumentalist, and an active member of several groups, including Blue Jazz TV, Private Elevators, and Synthetic Love Dream. His works are published by Project Schott New York. Commissions and performances include pieces for Post:Ballet, The Living Earth Show, R. Andrew Lee, Minnesota Orchestra, Mobius Trio, Red Light Ensemble, Nonsemble 6, Tigue, Margaret Lancaster and the Yale School of Drama. In 2008 he founded the record label Pink Pamphlet as an outlet for his own and his friends’ recorded work. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.