Ben Chadabe Curtis Bahn Mara Helmuth

 Benjamin Chadabe, Curtis Bahn, and
 Mara Helmuth at EMF @ The Flea.

 [[ April 14 - 16 & 28 - 30, 2002, New York City ]]
EMF @ The Flea

 Alicia Zuckerman

This year's EMF (a.k.a. Electronic Music Foundation) concert series, a kind of snapshot of experimental and avant-garde music at the beginning of the 21st century, begins this week at The Flea theater in New York City, featuring a range of electroacoustic performances by major artists from the EMF Media label. EMF is ArtsElectric's founding partner and EMF Media is EMF's publication program.

"I think when you get into electronic music one of the big issues is how to make the sound relate to human beings and not sound like you're in outer space," says Mara Helmuth, director of the University of Cincinnati's Computer Music Center. "One way to do it is to start with natural sound." So with Allen Otte, founder of Percussion Group Cincinnati, and others, Helmuth uses sounds ranging from arctic ice and African termites in 'A Question of Focus: Bugs and Ice,' to wind gong, triangles, and Tibetan, Chinese and Turkish chimes in 'Mellipse 2,' which Helmuth describes as a sound color exploration.

"For me, natural sound's a wonderful source because you can have a whole family of sounds that are related to your source sounds," she continues. "So you have lots of diversity but it still is tied to familiar sounds that we recognize and like, or at least know how to relate to in some way."

She'll also present excerpts from the new opera, 'Clotho: the Life of Camille Claudel,' about the life of the late 19th century tortured French sculptor (and one-time lover of Rodin), based on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, featuring soprano Audrey Luna and Otte on percussion.

Like Helmuth, composer-performer (and former Carnegie Mellon physics fellow) Elliott Sharp strives to convey a sense of immediacy in his performances. "When I first began to perform with computers onstage in '86, it was very limiting in terms of what the audience felt," he recalls. "There's a certain ambivalence in watching someone perform electronic music."

He sees 'Living Room,' a piece for Apple Powerbook and microphone which will have its New York premiere at the Flea (and was somewhat inspired by Alvin Lucier's seminal 1970 'I am Sitting in a Room'), as something of a solution to the ambivalence problem. Almost all of what Sharp's computer is processing at any given moment of the performance is happening live, in that room -- his voice, the resonance of the room.

On the same program, Sharp performs 'Tectonics' for soprano saxophone, eight-string guitarbass and Powerbook and will be joined by percussionist Benjamin Chadabe for an improvisational set. Chadabe also performs a solo set exploring various tonal qualities of percussion.

The concept for 'Living Room' and 'Tectonics', explains Sharp, is "a way to have a Powerbook concert, but with more physicality."

Physicality is also a major concern to the group Interface, a collective founded in 1995 by traditionally-trained string bassist Curtis Bahn and violinist Dan Trueman. One of their primary interests, explains Bahn, is "exploring the role of human gesture in electronic music."

To this end, the two have built a series of sensor-based instruments (including digitaldoo‹yes that's an electronic kind of dijiridoo, played here by Perry Cook), and spherical speakers perched in various locations, including their laps, during performances. "That allows us to be much more physical and natural in the way in which we communicate with a computer," says Bahn, "and also allows the audience to read our bodies physically, as you're used to doing when you watch an acoustic music concert Š It brings electro-acoustic music back to the body in terms of the originator of sound."

The more involved they became in issues of movement and the body with relation to sound, the more they began thinking of themselves of dancers. So the next step was to work with actual dancers, transforming them into sensor-instruments, too.

At this peroformance, Interface will be joined by Tomie Hahn, trained in traditional Japanese dance and outfitted in a sensor suit, speakers on her body and a radio on her back. "Her body is seen directly as being the originator, through movement, of the sound," says Bahn. "It's very important to us that she's in complete control of the technology." Bahn compares the piece to 'concerti grossi' in classical music -- here, Hahn is the soloist and the sounds she generates is the orchestra.

"Much of what we're doing is trying to make the performance of the electronic music more intimate," he says, echoing a notion expressed by many of the artists involved in this series. "That's to make us more comfortable on stage so that we can then project to the audience a more natural chamber context for performance."

Other EMF concert series artists include bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay, who'll kick things off with 'A journey around the world in 60 minutes!' in a program of solo, tape and computer works. His playing is "intense, contemporary, rigorous music," says Bernadette Speach, vice president / producer for Composers' Forum, Inc., the series co-presenter.

Pioneer Laurie Spiegel will be on hand to discuss her work as it plays, in a kind of interactive 'schmooze-fest.' Bob Gluck takes a break from his rabbinical duties with 'Sounds Can Touch', an electronic exploration of sounds from Jewish culture; don't miss the electronically-expanded shofar (ram's horn). And Hugh Livingston, the Oakland-based cellist who has been compared to Jimi Hendrix, presents new works for cello and interactive electronics.


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