Monday, August 24, 2009

Program for Upcoming Concert! Sunday, October 25

Sunday, October 25, 2009

[durations approximate]

Tim Aubuchon--Octet [45']
Tom Stevens "Sonata for Flute & Piano" [11' ]
Frank Abbinanti "little rootee tootee" (after Thelonius Monk) [10']

Dave McDonnell--The Time Inside a Year [10']
Chris and Nancy Lemons--[10']
Marita Bolles--Olivia [10']
Julia Miller--[10']

Eric Roth--Vibraphone Journal
Open Improvisation...

Laura Koepele-Tenges, flute
Tom Stevens, piano
Nancy Lemons, piano
Chris Lemons, guitar
Katie Wiegman, vibraphone
Blake Taylor, percussion
Mark Landes, trumpet
Mitch Paliga, alto and soprano sax
Tim AuBuchon, tenor sax
Steve Schnall, bari sax and bass clarinet
Ryan Shultz, bass trumpet
Doug Bratt, drums
Jeff Kowalkowski, piano
Dave Smith, bass
Eric Roth, voice and/or percussion
Dave McDonnell, sax, etc.
Jason Adasiewicz, vibraphone, etc.

Jeff K: 10 ? for Charles Lipp

"Generate as much music as you can and discard what you dislike."---Debussy

1. Were you trained traditionally in music?
Traditional academic training leading to a doctorate in composition from the University of Illinois, Urbana and Fulbright Fellowship in Poland. Formative experiences: composition studies with Brun and Martirano (Urbana), Schaeffer and Lutoslawski (Poland).

2. When did you first compose a piece of music? What is your earliest opus?
In high school, composed pieces for jazz band (now lost). Pieces for Bassoon (1970).

3. When did you first use computers for composing music?
About ten years ago I used Finale to prepare a score and parts for a chamber piece.

4. Who are the living composers (both in Chicago and abroad) that you feel deserve attention? Marek Choloniewski in Krakow, Poland, is relatively unknown in the United States. See a video of one of his pieces at

5. What is good and bad about the new music scene here in Chicago?
It's large enough and varied enough to be called Good. Interaction between groups and collective promotion would be less Bad than the ever-present self-promotion.

6a. What is your opinion about the intersection of political ideas and new music?
Music and political ideas must intersect since they take place in the same social sphere, but it's beyond the analytical powers of sociologists and anthropologists to make definitive statements about this intersection. Philosophers draw conclusions that are more or less convincing depending on their presentation skills.

6b. Do you think it is futile for composers to be socially engaged?
No more or less futile than the social engagement of any other worker.

6c. Do you consider your work to be political in any way?
No more or less than the product of any other worker.

7. Describe your compositional process at the current time.
"Generate as much music as you can and discard what you dislike."---Debussy

8. What is your prediction for the use of computers in the future of music?
As computing power increases, the likelihood of generating good music increases and the likelihood of generating bad music increases.

9. If you had to pick one work, or collection of works by a single composer to bring with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Beethoven last quartets.

10. What is your advice to young composers studying today, what do they absolutely need to know?
When composing, follow your Plan A. When generating financial security, follow Plan B.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Jeff K: "10 ? for Abbinanti

"A composer is like a social scientist, a research person, a philosopher of people, of life." --Frank A.

1. What is your training?
My parents were Big Band Era people, Frank Sinatra and went to all of the shows in Chicago to escape as at The Aragon Ballroom, appreciated popular and light classics music and the skill of playing a brass instrument. My parents always encouraged me to study music, but wanted me to be a lawyer, but I was too stupid for that.
So I began very early with the study of the trombone, 1957-58. By the time I got to high school I knew the scores of Stravinsky, Varese, not well, yet always liked popular music; I much preferred Frank Zappa to the Beatles, who I thought had a element of fakery in them; if that tells you anything, but the very concept of the music remains with me even today.
Then I did theory, harmony while in high school, and went to Chicago Symphony concerts in 1965-66. It was not until I studied with Frank Crisafulli, trombone that formal classical training began. Yes I learned more about humanity from him than music.
Music can always be taught, but respect for humanity is more difficult, look at the Middle East today, who respects whom there? Gaza is a permanent prison. He was a wonderful person; quite dignified, respectful of whom you were, when and how. Saw your sensibility right through you, and what you needed as a musician something I never got from Ralph Shapey, who was really closed minded. I studied composition with Ralph in 1975. He didn’t think I had any compositional talent, and I may have had something, but he hadn’t the patience to arduously discover it with me. Shapey didn’t understand himself, how could he comprehend a budding na├»ve problem ridden student who loved music like me.

2. When did you first compose a piece of music? What is your earliest opus?
I actually "assembled" a piece of music from printed scraps of discarded music, very ecologically minded. It was the "Concert for Clarinet (1970)" was my first piece, for unaccompanied Clarinet. It was performed numerous times, was quite a hit for its time. Later I added electronics, piano and cello; and called it "Oracle" also of my "assemblage" technique where I pasted these melodic materials on large sheets, made them into books a page, each page being a texture, one-idea, and the musician can play them anyway round, begin anywhere and go wherever you like for the page. I still have this music somewhere, never discarded it. My style was a la Cage, and Earle Brown. I also did a nice brass quartet, WATT after Samuel Beckett’s novel, I still have a recording of that, from 1970; I am a very visually oriented person but have a bad mediocre writing hand, So all my scores gotta look good, to feel good;. Later I did a number of percussion pieces for James Dutton’s Ensemble at the American Conservatory of Music in the Fine Arts Building. Also one piece for Solo Soprano and Percussion. "4 E 77."

3. When did you first use computers for composing?
I never got into computers and music. I was never a technical person. I wish I could have been. I studied with Ramon Zupko electronic music and found it tedious and boring. Luciano Berio came to visit the studio but he had nothing to say; There are some things you never learn in music even after 40 years, Some things however that you thought you would never learn, you learn easily, as for me aesthetics, history and philosophy and George Flynn’s TRINITY, that I’ve played numerously well WOUND, in Berlin, Edmonton and Chicago. I have a great idea for a piece for Tubas and LIVE Electronics with computer on Katrina debacle in New Orleans. I like to study chaos theory, Mandelbrot Sets, fractals, geometric shapes, but have not developed it. That is a full time job. In the early days I did do much tape music with acoustic, self-recorded my prepared piano I made, and a fender-rhodes piano I had, also "musique concrete-like" things, hanging the microphone out the window; dragging the microphone on the floor, and did whatever I could primitively. I learned how to splice tape indeterminately, and use this then with acoustic instruments.

4. Who are the living composers (both in Chicago and abroad) that you feel deserve attention?
Well in no particular order I like much of the music I’ve heard at the Green Mill on Sundays for the past 20 Years; Jeff Kowalkowski is very original, has his own language as Julia Miller and technology, electric guitar, and George Flynn. In Europe I’ve grown quite fond of Stefan Streich’s music in Berlin, he writes this very geometric music I guess you can call it. Like the work of Carl Andre, or Richard Serra in the visual arts, very primordial, basic, earthy; everything is planned, and he uses interesting combinations, like Viola and Bass Flute, short pieces, 5 minutes; It is all very well planned. The metronome is always 60 to the quarter like real-time. He has a wonderful lyrical sense within this context, which is unusual.
John Cage was quite an early influence, I tried to buy all his music, and saw him in 1972 or so with Merce Cunningham in Chicago. Later I had dinner with him in 1986 we did his "Hynmkus" at the Art Institute. Cardew’s "Treatise" was an inspiration in the early days, I performed this at the University of Chicago, 1972 with Perry Vinson and Tom Darter.
Cardew wrote to me as early as 1969-1970, and sent many of his graphic pieces, "Schooltime composition" Then we both turned to politics and Marxism simultaneously around the same time. I studied with Richard Teitelbaum at the Art Institute, when it was just beginning its sound and video department; we did the "Concert for Piano", of John Cage with a chamber group of students there. I played trombone in his class, all for non-credit. He introduced me to graphic notation, microtonality. Fredric Rzewski then was there and we talked some. He took his place in teaching here in Chicago for about one year.

5. What is good and bad about the new music scene here in Chicago?
What’s always bad is the politics that arises around who gets the share of the money. I believe there is always enough to go around, but the Illinois Blago thieves all want to retire early, so they embezzle to their hearts content, and always got a way to embezzle big deals at our expense, like selling off Midway Airport, parts of O’Hare, and now the Olympics. They are all "Bag-Men" for someone. Like the 400million-plus$$$ for Millennium Park; many retired on that piece of change. There used to be quite vibrant scene in Chicago in the Eighties, very ecumenical, collective like with New Music Chicago, all self-supporting groups for the most part, at least more than today. I think because everyone needed everyone else, like our immigrant ancestors when they came here, they were a tight nit community because they needed each other for jobs.
Those today in new music who get the lion’s share of this funding are not very imaginative either at what they do. They seem to stick to a tried and tested formula for putting derrieres in the seats, and leave it at that. And then it all becomes a "party" for their friends. They do whomever they know and will butter their bread in another city, this vice-versa stuff. We all do it. But when you got relative "BIG" money$$$ to do it like a $100,000 yearly budget or more, you squeeze out most of everybody, and once you begin "squeezing" you keep "squeezing" for whatever you do.

There simply is enough to go around, but there are small tribal Music "mafias" here in Chicago that make it their business to get all the money$$$ there is to get. But wherever you are you gotta begin your own scene yourself. No one is going to hand it to you, because you are really not important in the larger scheme of society and reality.

6. What is your opinion about the intersection of political ideas and new music. Do you think it is futile for composers to be socially engaged? Do you consider your work to be political in any way?
This question still makes people in the arts angry; we still have this tribe of "Art for Art sake people." Don’t they know that serious music has been living in exile for decades, it is all-marginal. Serious music has little audiences. Even in Europe where there is more money for it, you have political force fields, where one select group gets everything, the institutionalization of new music, Boulez and IRCAM was the prototype for this and I suppose there are clones of this all over the globe. It doesn’t matter for you as composers, should continue to make your own scene, and form your own independent collectives.

For the past ten years I like giving "By-invitation" Non-public concerts. Don’t let the Media know anything, they can’t help you anyway, and the Media, like the Classical music stations are homogenized now, their functions are to streamline their product so that when the station is sold it can get a 100 million$$$$-plus amount. Like WNIB in Chicago when it was sold. Syndicates in the Media offered Studs Terkel one-million$$$ for his spot. He refused. They had to wait until he died.

Without politically engaged music, composers would not have a context, a perspective, and a "brain" for what they do. And composers should quickly learn the political world in which they write music, and produce culture; Culture is the last place the Ruling Elites have been "colonizing." The "Disneyfication" of culture I call it. There is nothing draconian here, or terrible, this is how capitalism works, it is its function to accumulate wealth and solicit surplus profit, by, Sports, Behemoths or Rock n’ Pop, Boulez or Pornography it is all the same now. So as a serious composer I’d think it is part of your job to know the places, the contexts in which you, yourself within this context work and think and write.

Music as an art form itself is also enriched by political imagery. People need this consciousness, people need to be reminded of atrocities and corruption, people’s struggles around the globe or right here in Chicago in Humboldt Park, or they will simply forget. And without anything happening on the bottom, there will never be any change at the top. If you as a composer artist don’t do it, don’t depend on anyone else to do it. Some prefer this, to do nothing, to invert Lenin’s great pamphlet, "What Needs to Be Done," now I saw a postcard with Lenin sitting smiling, it said "Nothing needs to Be Done". If you are sitting on a few million dollars$$$, you don’t need change, You simply need things to remain the same.

7. Describe your compositional process at the current time.
I always begin with a concept, an image, an idea, like my "Kinderscenen" for the children of Africa, I try to use known genres and subvert them. The music always comes afterwards, after I have seen photos and done some research. Now I’ve never been to Africa so liberals will criticize this, for which I answer, "Trade places with me, you devote your life to being a composer without pay of any kind for what you do. Then see how many accept this" I don’t develop my music very much in the traditional way, or the morphology that Boulez always looks for in a piece of music. I like one-idea pieces because the idea the image to me is just as important as how the intervals move. My music has grown complex over the past 12 years but remains lyrical. I need to have that communication with the voice always there. Lately I’ve devoted my work to the piano and to Thelonius Monk, working his songs into concert pieces, like half-an-hour for one song. I came to playing jazz very late. I was never good at it, until quite recently, the past 5 years. So this is how Monk worked, taking one song and playing it for about an hour. This is how I work as well, and again this concept is transferred. I try to bring more to it then with development of intervals, harmonies, and piano resonance of it in my own way. This has been the neglected part of American music if you can speak in that way. Composers like me should take jazz greats as a source for materials to do pieces, you are not really writing, but working up the piece, assembling it, projecting it; in that respect it is experimental, a word no one ever uses today.

8. What is your prediction for the use of computers in the future of music?
You still gotta say something with the materials you work with, computers are not a "free-ticket", it doesn’t, should not make your life any easier. In fact now you got more responsibility, because you gotta prove that using computers has something above and beyond acoustic music. Luigi Nono and AMM of London has taught that LIVE electronic music works quite well. You don’t sacrifice the "Human" element then, and your music remains within a complex situation. But you can see where the "de-humanizing" residue is always with us, composers simply wanting to escape into a Never-Never-Land of electronics; the Pop world has been going full-tilt, they have been producing interesting things with electronics, as the Black Eyed Peas.

9. If you had to pick one work, or collection of works by a single composer to bring with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Only One? Iannis Xenakis, because his music is simply "shapes" "patterns", designs, like bringing interesting looking rocks or twigs, something to contemplate. And he used extended technique so he got the most from the instruments he wrote for; As composers we should always think about the "shape" of things, of a melody, a rhythm, a texture, a vocal line, we live and create by shapes forms; If I couldn’t bring Xenakis then I’d prefer lots of music paper.

10. What is your advice to young composers studying today, what do they absolutely need to know?
They need to know themselves, and work toward something, finding a voice. That is still possible. Yes get excited about new music and concerts, other composers, but then step back to see where you are going. And I know that most of the time, you don’t know where you are going, but then I’d advise experiment but with a conscious to the larger society, so you are not simply looking at your own navel, introspectively; Society and culture today does not need more" genius composers" to get all the money to write inconsequential music as we see coming out of Big City Orchestras, and recording contracts. Instead find a corridor, a pathway to people to whom you hope to communicate with. You need to have some kind of audience in mind, some larger collective in mind to be a composer. Sometimes this collective is the globe itself.

You should look outward at the globe, and down the street, where you live and always be inquisitive, and question everything you do. A composer is like a social scientist, a research person a philosopher of people, of life.

Frank Abbinanti
July, 2009