[Switch~ Ensemble] performs a new commission from Sam Pluta, recent commissions from Victoria Cheah and Zachary James Watkins, and a performance of Julius Eastman’s Buddha.
Sam Pluta’s commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Do Your Best, Never, Say Can’t, and Love One Another (2020)
Do Your Best, Never, Say Can’t, and Love One Another is a mantra my father would have my sister Tighe and I recite every morning when dropping us of at Elementary School. During the pandemic, I found myself remembering these words and feeling overwhelmed with love. I have written a piece that attempts to resonate my understanding of these words in this specific moment in history. This piece continues to explore a 20 note just intonation tuning that I have been developing for over 10 years. Here, I juxtapose these intervals with the Western Equal Temperament with the intended goal of creating a new sonic tapestry. Tension and release.
– Zachary James Watkins
Hard columns you within (2022)
Instabilities at the forefront of attention beome features - who is to say what is intentional, when looking at something that is inherently unstable? The romance of instability lies in the search for affirmation. Is this what I thought this was, or could be, and how may I earn you? Hard columns you within (2022) attempts a meditation on the undertow towards stability in identity and meaning, through intense amplification and the residue of resonance. Commissioned by and dedicated to the [Switch~ Ensemble], and written with the utmost gratitude and friendship.
– Victoria Cheah
Buddha (1984) is a late period open instrumentation and open duration work, a single-page, hand drawn score of a resonating oval encompassing 20 staves of non-durational pitches, without performance instructions. Unlike many of Eastman’s other works, no audio recording of the piece from his lifetime exists. The original score consists of a single page on which notes are notated in an oval on twenty systems one above the other (eleven in treble clef, nine in bass clef). On the paper, the staves vary greatly in length due to the oval that delimits them; on the shortest ones, there is only one note each. Almost always, the last notehead of each line is connected by a horizontal line to the right edge of the oval, suggesting a long holding of the note in question. The conventional arrangement of the staves from top to bottom (or high to low or all G clefs at the top and all F clefs at the bottom) as well as the range of tones that get deeper and deeper from top to bottom suggest the simultaneity of the musical proceedings—and not just a playing of the individual lines one after the other. The coordination of the simultaneous sounding, however, is not organized by any numbers, bar lines, auxiliary lines, or recognizable superimposed notation.
– Program note by Philip Bartels
1. Digital Feedback
2-(N-2). Feedback Systems
N. Two for Tea (for Alvin Lucier)
This commission has been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2006, while I was a student at the University of Birmingham, our studio performed Nick Collins’s pioneering work Pea Soup in an old factory in downtown Birmingham. This was a seminal experience for me, as it pushed me into a lifelong engagement with feedback systems. Collins’s work, using (originally) pre-computing technologies, allows feedback to develop in a room, and when it detects a buildup of feedback at a certain pitch, uses phase adjustments to reject that pitch from feeding back further. Due to the harmonic nature of a rooms, once one pitch is rejected from the room a new one will inevitably emerge to thusly be squashed again by the software/hardware. The result is an emergent sonic sculpture, where the software, room, and performers interact in an ever evolving system.
Around 2008 I developed my own feedback control system using FFTs to measure magnitudes across a spectrum. First written in SuperCollider and then ported to a C++ UGen, this system mimics Collins’s, but with more granular analysis capabilities and more rapid control over emerging harmonics. I used this software in my 2012 compositions Broken Symmetries and for Brad Garton, and the installation American Idols from the same year.
Tectonics is a work that uses feedback in many approaches. In the final two movements, my C++ plugin controls feedback that is flowing through different resonant objects: a saxophone and two teapots. In both of these movements, the saxophone and teapots act as resonant filters, and the performers exert some control over the system by adjusting their fingerings, in the case of the saxophone, or the opening of the teapot lid and an eq in the case of the teapots.
However, because the software is constantly listening and adjusting, neither the software nor the players have total control over the system. Furthermore, in the saxophone movement, the clarinetist is also asked to improvise with the saxophone, playing tones near to those of the feedback. Their sound interacts with and pushes the system in further different directions. The results are cybernetic systems, where the machine and human performers listen and adjust to create music seemingly out of nothing. In the first movement, Digital Feedback, I use a different approach. A complex and chaotic digital feedback network is triggered intermittently, adjusting 50+ parameters to random values to result in a new sound on each trigger. Microphones pick up the signal coming out of the speakers and feed it back into the digital network for added variation. The ensemble accents each trigger with randomly generated tutti attacks which themselves are the result of listening to and reacting to the previous state of the environment.
In the inner movements of the work, feedback is used as a non-realtime device for ensemble composition. Algorithmic text scores create cybernetic acoustic composition machines that guide the ensemble to build vertical structures one element at a time. Each layer of the sound is the result of feedback from each previously constructed layer, and each movement is built through a process of listening and creating.
Feedback systems are incredible muses. When set up in certain ways, like with reverbs or filters, they give us predictable outcomes. When set up in other ways, they become expressive cybernetic creation machines. Tectonics is a set of studies of approaches to the latter (though the former is of course used in the software as well).
– Sam Pluta
Zachary James Watkins studied composition with Janice Giteck, Jarrad Powell, Robin Holcomb and Jovino Santos Neto at Cornish College. In 2006, Zachary received an MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media from Mills College where he studied with Chris Brown, Fred Frith, Alvin Curran and Pauline Oliveros. Zachary has received commissions from Cornish College of The Arts, The Microscores Project, the Beam Foundation, sfsound, The Living Earth Show, Kronos Quartet and the Seattle Chamber Players among others. His 2006 composition Suite for String Quartet was awarded the Paul Merritt Henry Prize for Composition and has subsequently been performed at the Labs 25th Anniversary Celebration, the Labor Sonor Series at Kule in Berlin Germany and in Seattle, as part of the 2nd Annual Town Hall New Music Marathon featuring violist Eyvind Kang. Zachary has performed in numerous festivals across the United States, Mexico and Europe. Zachary releases music on the labels Sige, Cassauna, Confront (UK), The Tapeworm and Touch (UK). Novembre Magazine (DE), ITCH (ZA), Walrus Press and the New York Miniature Ensemble have published his writings and scores. Zachary has been an artist in resident at the Espy Foundation, Djerassi and the Headlands Center for The Arts.
Victoria Cheah (b. 1988, New York, NY) is a multi-disciplinary composer interested in boundaries, sustained energy, and social-performance rituals. Her work has been commissioned and/or featured by ensembles and presenters including Non-Event, [Switch~ Ensemble], Line Upon Line, Han Chen, andPlay, Yarn/Wire, Wavefield Ensemble, MATA Festival, Guerilla Opera, Ensemble Dal Niente, Vertixe Sonora, Marilyn Nonken, PRISM Quartet, and performed by others. Recordings of their music can be found on Dinzu Artefacts, New Focus Recordings, and XAS Records. Cheah currently serves as Assistant Professor at Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory, as well as Director of Operations of Talea Ensemble. From 2011-2015, Cheah served as the founding executive director of Boston new music sinfonietta Sound Icon. She has worked with ensembles and festivals including Composers Conference, Manhattan Sinfonietta, Argento Chamber Ensemble, Composit Festival, and Cantata Profana towards the realization of contemporary music events in New York, Boston (USA) and Rieti (IT). Previously, Cheah has taught music, research, and writing related courses as an instructor at Longy School of Music, Brandeis University, and as a teaching fellow at Harvard University. As a composer, she has attended academies including Sommerakademie Schloss Solitude, Darmstadt, Fontainebleau, VIPA, SICPP, The Walden School, and others. Cheah holds a B.A. in music from City University of New York Hunter College & Macaulay Honors College and a Ph.D. in music composition & theory at Brandeis University.
Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was an artist who, as a gay, black man, aspired to live those roles to the fullest. He was not only a prominent member of New York’s downtown scene as a composer, conductor, singer, pianist, and choreographer, but also performed at Lincoln Center with Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic, and recorded experimental disco with producer Arthur Russell. ‘Eastman is something of a cult figure among composers and singers’, reads a 1980 press release. Despite his prominence in the artistic and musical community in New York, Eastman died homeless and alone in a Buffalo, NY hospital, his death unreported until eight months later, in a Village Voice obituary by Kyle Gann. He left behind few scores and recordings, and his music lay dormant for decades until a three-CD set of his compositions was issued in 2005 by New World Records. In the years since, there has been a steady increase in attention paid to his music and life, punctuated by newly found recordings and manuscripts, the publication of Gay Guerrilla, a comprehensive volume of biographical essays and analysis, worldwide performances and new arrangements of his surviving works, and newfound interest from choreographers, scholars, educators, and journalists. ‘The brazen and brilliant music of Julius Eastman…commands attention: wild, grand, delirious, demonic, an uncontainable personality surging into sound’, writes Alex Ross for The New Yorker.
Sam Pluta is a composer, electronics performer, and sound artist. Though his work has a wide breadth, his central focus is on using the computer as a performance instrument capable of sharing the stage with groups ranging from new music ensembles to world-class improvisers. By creating musical systems of shared agency, Pluta’s vibrant sonic universe focuses on the visceral interaction of instrumental performers with reactive computerized sound worlds.
As a composer of instrumental music, Pluta has written works for Wet Ink Ensemble, the New York Philharmonic, International Contemporary Ensemble, Yarn/Wire, Spektral Quartet, and other groups. His compositions range from solo instrumental works to pieces for ensemble with electronics to compositions for large ensemble.
Pluta is the Technical Director for the Wet Ink Ensemble, a group for whom he is a member composer as well as principal electronics performer. As a performer of chamber music, in addition to his own works, Pluta has performed and premiered works by Peter Ablinger, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Charmaine Lee, Katharina Rosenberger, George Lewis, Alvin Lucier, Chiyoko Szlavnics, Kate Soper, Eric Wubbels and others.
As an improviser, Pluta has collaborated with some of the finest creative musicians in the world, including Peter Evans, Evan Parker, Ikue Mori, Craig Taborn, Ingrid Laubrock, Ben Lamar Gay, and Anne La Berge. Pluta is a member of multiple improvisation-based ensembles, including the jazz influenced Peter Evans Ensemble, the free improvisation-based Rocket Science, and the analog synth/laptop duo exclusiveOr (with Jeff Snyder). With these various groups he has toured Europe and America and performed at major festivals and venues, such as the Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, the Moers and Donaueshingen Festivals in Germany, Bimhuis in Amsterdam, and The Vortex in London.
Pluta studied composition and electronic music at Columbia University, where he received his DMA in 2012. He received Master’s degrees from the University of Birmingham in the UK and the University of Texas at Austin, and completed his undergraduate work at Santa Clara University. His principal teachers include Brad Garton, George Lewis, Tristan Murail, Fabien Levy, Scott Wilson, Jonty Harrison, Russell Pinkston, Kevin Puts, and Lynn Shurtleff. Previous to joining the Computer Music faculty at Peabody Institute, Pluta taught composition and computer music at the University of Chicago, Bennington College, Manhattan School of Music, and The Walden School.