08.08.2021 FAST DARKNESS
The Riot Ensemble plays music by Chaya Czernowin, James Tenney and Clara Iannotta
1. How came that you chose Chaya Czernowin and Clara Iannotta for this concert?
2. What happens when Riot meets Chaya Czernowin and Clara Iannotta?
3. What is the Riot way of collaborating with composers?
Can you recognize this moment when you fall into complete uncertainty between a few sets of mental tunings ? like the short feeling of falling when you thought there was a stair in your next step but there was none ? Or when suddenly your hand seems like it’s someone else’s hand for a split second? imagine this moment of blindness stretched to 35 minutes in all its fast turns and confusions… One longs for the incoherence to solidify into clarity but when it does, it might be scaringly surprising…
In the early 1960s it was difficult to tell the visual artists from the composers. La Monte Young created conceptual art. Yves Klein composed symphonies. James Tenney did both. He was an integral part of the first generation of Minimalists (an early member of the Philip Glass Ensemble), as well as a founding part of the sound art scene. Both artists and Minimalists were questioning the fundamentals. And when artists like Tenney began to examine the fundamentals of music, they often came up with very minimal results. Tenney’s Postal Pieces are the perfect example of this experimental Minimalism. They came about from Tenney’s aversion to writing letters. Short compositions would instead be sent on backs of postcards. The last, Having Never Written a Note for Percussion, is a work for a solo percussionist. The only instructions are that the performer must roll a single note from quadruple pianissimo through to quadruple fortissimo and that it should be “very long”. The point of this seemingly simple act is to train the ears on the sounding process itself – on the instrument’s overtones and the hall’s sympathetic resonances.
Riot’s Sam Wilson playing James Tenney in the Hush Hall
Like many of Iannotta’s works, They left us grief-trees wailing at the wall takes its title from the Irish poet Dorothy Molloy (1942–2004); in this case her poem ‘Death by poisoning’, about the accidental death of a pet dog. Iannotta discovered Molloy’s poetry of dark domesticity (all of it published after Molloy’s sudden death from liver cancer) in 2013, during a difficult winter living alone in Berlin, and it has been a source of inspiration ever since.
Everyday objects and settings are never far from the centre of Molloy’s poems – indeed, as in her image of ‘dead wasps in the jam-jar’ from the poem ‘Mother’s Kitchen’, itself a line that has inspired a trilogy of compositions by Iannotta, the mundane is often the source for raw emotion. Something similar happens in Iannotta’s music: objects surround and encrust her instruments like barnacles, displacing them from their precisely managed traditional status and into a world that is uniquely raw, scarred and fragile. Polystyrene, paperclips, blu-tac, cardboard boxes, metal sheets, wine glasses, even a vibrator or two – the players of They left us grief-trees use all of these to alter the sound of their instruments, or to make sounds in themselves.
And yet, like Molloy again, Iannotta finds a new kind of mystery in these quotidian objects: forms of buzzing or reverberation, clanging strikes or ringing halos, sounds one never hears otherwise but which fit uncannily well in the ear. The music of They left us grief-trees is dominated by seemingly static bands of sound that on closer attention appear full of life and variety. Like paint brushed in strips across different surfaces, each band reveals a different texture, from the relatively smooth sounds of wine glasses or bowed vibraphone keys, to the more cragged sounds of bowed cardboard or laminated paper vibrating against a saxophone bell. Metal sheets roar throatily; a fork twangs between piano strings. From time to time the horizontal layers are ruptured by sudden convulsions of sound. A giant, sleeping beast, the ensemble snores and twitches, dreaming, elsewhere.
They left us grief-trees wailing at the wall was commissioned by Ars Nova, Riot Ensemble and Wien Modern, and first performed on 13 November 2020 at Wien Modern by Riot Ensemble.