Monday, March 3, 2014

Bob Priest talks about March Music Moderne IV

March Music Moderne, Portland's annual celebration of new music, will be opening this Friday for a run of 10 days (March 7th through the 16th) at various venues all over the city. I caught up with impresario and composer Bob Priest to find out more about this year's offerings. Here is the first of three installments of this interview:

What is different about MMM IV this year? Is it just the fact that you’ve condensed it to a span of fewer days?

Priest: Yes, fewer days (daze?) but with the same gaggle of 32 action-packed events in 24 different venues sprinkled all across Global Village PDX! Actually, this year, MMM is more of a multi-media affair with a goodly dose of film, visual art, poetry, and dance, as well. Of course, music is still very much full-frontal and central: high modernist avant-garde, minimalist, neo-romantic, industrial noise, world-beat-inflected, meditative, soundscape, jazz, free improv, electro-acoustic, microtonal, gamelan, tango, flamenco, 20th century classics, and arty rock. We are presenting music by 67 composers from 19 countries. Heck, there's even some Beethoven and Bach thrown into the eternal present of our - and all - time. By the way, 14 MMM events are free, and many others are only $10 or less. MMM has something for every ear and change purse!

From attending festivals all over the world, I’ve found that people tend to gear-up more readily (masochistically?) for a vertical blitz of concerts than for programs stretched-out across many weeks. That's why a day for night like Saturday the 8th has SIX events for the most hearty of festspiel goers!

You are kicking things off in cinematic fashion with a showing of A Clockwork Orange at Cinema 21.

Priest: Yes and I’m calling the opening evening's fare Ears & Eyes Wide Open. Film continues to have a dramatic impact on my life. I guess it's fair to call me a closet film maker without the camera, crew, training, and budget! One of the pictures that is key to my entire esthetic is A Clockwork Orange because of the way it employs traditional and highly familiar music in both a literal and somewhat twisted way. In this case, Wendy Carlos has stitched together Beethoven's 9th Symphony and other music by Purcell, Elgar, Rossini, and herself to form a fresh and deeply iconic sound tapestry. The show starts at 11pm, and the first 20 "droogies" get in for free. I’m hoping that some folks will come in costume. Maybe a few will even dress up as Beethoven!

Then, the very next morning (actually, a mere 7-ish hours later), the Independent Artists of Milepost 5 present a 24-installation of Nine Beet Stretch - Beethoven’s 9th Symphony stretched to 24 hours at pitch. The Norwegian sound artist, Leif Inge, took an actual recording of the 9th and fed it through a rather complex computerized system that you can read more about by going to Leif's website. Essentially what happens here to be heard, felt and lived is that "9 Beet" winds up being more than 18 times slower than normal. It’s the sonic equivalent of looking under a high-powered microscope and seeing a whole slew of cells and molecules dancing & morphing about. You will literally reside inside Beethoven's micro sound world (whirled?) as you experience multiple layers of strange harmonics, inner vibrations, glacially-paced melodic fragments and suchnesses there-like that you would never hear otherwise. People worldwide have signaled "9 Beet Stretch" as a life changing encounter with musical protoplasm!

There will also be a visual art component to this "experience" and refreshments will be available. You can come and go, doze, meditate and BYO-sleeping bags if y'all would like to curl up and/or stretch out with the music. Downbeat is 9am on Saturday the 8th and lasts for 24 hours until 9am on Sunday! In other words: Number 9, Number 9, Number 9...

Well, while "9 Beet" drones on across town, there’s also a Soundwalk led by composer Susan Alexjander at Mt Tabor Park beginning at noon. This was a very successful and enlightening walkabout last year, and we are looking for another good turnout for this unique MMM offering. One of many free MMMings, do remember to dress for the occasion as Susan will NOT be deterred by any sort of PDX weather of the mmmoment.

Then, at 2 pm, you can drift over to a concert of new music by the Contemporary Portland Orchestra Project and the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble at AudioCinema. This program features works by Justin Ralls, Emyli Poltorak, Sam Reising, Jay Derderian, Fred Rzewski and Terry Riley (his mesmerizing "In C").

MMM ambles on at 4pm with another freebie, PDX NOIR: Photo Images From Our Global Village, curated by Guy Swanson and Chris Leck at Three Friends Coffee House. This intimate and cozy setting serves as MMM Centrale or Grounds Zero during this year's festival. Here, one can find fellow MMM attendees in various stages of advanced caffeine-addled revery and conversation.

Still on Saturday, at 7:30 pm, electro-dynamic host with the most, Leo Daedalus mounts a special edition of his signature avant variety show The Late Now at a gloriously gussied-up Vie de Boheme in SE. A wildly eclectic evening of whip-smart mayhem, instruction in musical Kama Sutra will be on the bill under the loving guidance of some of PDX's most advanced practitioners of musical, comedic, and poetic ecstasy. Ah . . .

Finally, MMM's 6-spot Saturday concludes with an 11 pm mixed-media staging of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music at Three Friends Coffee House. Gifted local writer Amanda Sledz will read a brand new prose piece just before the maelstrom begins that will be danced in candle light by three Seattle Butoh artists: Joan Laage, Sheri Brown, and Alan Sutherland. Metal Machine Music is a virtual hour long wall of layered and wailing feedback. Lou Reed assembled his "godfather of industrial noise" music collage of multiple electric guitars panning explosive sound across the stereo spectrum back in 1975. Essentially a giant drone piece with finely detailed micro activities, your experience of Reed's MMM will likely relate back to and cross-fertilize with "9 Beet Stretch" in that you will once again live somewhat inside the highly saturated sound. It’s an immersion experience with the music pretty pumped. Now, lemme be honest here, OK? This gig really is NOT for the faint of ear, eye, mind and/or spirit! So, now that I've warned you into REALLY wanting to attend, try to arrive a bit early as seating is intimate and limited. Then, after Metal Machine Music is over close to 1 am, you can crosstown traffic your way back over to Milepost 5 to catch the last "few" hours of "9 Beet Stretch!" Come on, muchachos, ride the night out & ring in the day! You can tell your grandkids about this lovably nutso all-nighter as a bedtime story during a long March night to come . . .

Anyway, moving further into Sunday the 9th, there will be a noon exhibit of art by local and regional artists inspired by the anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius. This exhibition is called Andreas Vesalius at 500. It was commissioned by Peter Rossing and will be held at Muse Art and Design on Hawthorne. Vesalius was a 16th century physician that dabbled in grave robbing in order to enlist the cast of characters that are featured in his highly influential treatise on the human body. Artists, composers, students of anatomy and doctors still draw heavily upon his, uh, ground-breaking work!

The Tardis Ensemble will perform on Sunday. I’ve not heard of this ensemble.

Priest: The Tardis Ensemble is a relatively new group formed by the wonderful Canadian oboist Catherine Lee, who recently moved to Portland. Tardis' program will feature works for flute, oboe, violin, double bass, and percussion by Louis Andriessen, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Lang and the great French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier. His "Pulaw Dewata" is a very beautiful, gamelan-inspired work – very motoric with lots of ringing percussion. The concert will take place 2pm at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. By the way, one can find all MMM venues mapped on our website;

Extending the gamelan theme a bit further, the Resonance Vocal Ensemble will collaborate & beautifully blend with the Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan in a program entitled Gongs + Songs at The Armory. The main work on this molto delicioso 5 pm program is Lou Harrison’s “Gending in Honor of Aphrodite,” written for choir, gamelan, and harp. Harrison was a Portland native and is the subject of a book that music critic and Venerable Showers of Beauty Gamelan member Brett Campbell is currently writing.

Sunday's MMM marathon concludes with a concert by PDX's vital and crazily energetic Classical Revolution PDX. C-Rev's program is devoted to modern LGBT composers including Pauline Oliveros, Lou Harrison, and Peter Maxwell Davies. "Max" is one of MMM's focus composers this year as he celebrates his 80th birthday. Pauline is a terrific American composer and sound meditator that plays accordion and is co-founder of the Deep Listening Band with fellow sonic wizard, Stuart Dempster. I'm told that one of Pauline's works will include inviting audience members to join in by singing pitches and passing them around the room to each other. This concert will take place at Holocene at 7:30 pm.

That’s a lot of events for the first three days!

Priest: You bet. And, guess what? Yeah, that's right, droogies, more comin' your way soon, so, please stay 'tooned . . .

1 comment:

bob priest said...

Sehr wunderbar, James, thanx so much for letting me run my cyber-mouth @ such length - wow, you are a true MMM glutton & I admire & respect that very much!

Yes, more soon . . .