A recording of “Journey to Barcelona”, which is from Scene 4 of my recently completed anti-fascist opera, Don Henry.
Don Henry is a chamber opera that tells the true story of a University of Kansas student who fought in the Spanish Civil War against Francisco Franco’s fascist forces in the 1930s. The workexamines the eponymous protagonist’s commitment to the anti-fascist cause for which he gave his life. Don Henry represents a stylistic synthesis of rock music and art music. Don Henry is a sixty-minute one-act work. The work is scored for mezzo-soprano, tenor, pre-recorded soprano and male narrator, Pierrot ensemble, and rock trio (drum set, bass guitar, and electric guitar). The libretto consists of a combination of historical documents, poems written by British international brigaders, and original text and lyrics. The primary purpose of Don Henry is to portray, through music and drama, my conviction that exploitation, national chauvinism, and intolerance are not permanent characteristics of humanity, but are things that can be overcome.
Today I am releasing an EP called Enough is Enough. There are 2 original songs and 3 arrangements. This is music to empower the working class to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
On July 11, 2018, the Hong Kong duo SaxoElectro performed a work they commissioned from me for two saxophones, looper pedals, and fixed media at the World Saxophone Congress in Croatia. It is an honor to have my work performed by such talented performers at such an important event.
I am excited to announce the release of two new albums this month. Lamb of Light and Purple Broccoli are now for sale here. Each album offers something quite unique. Much of the music on Lamb of Light represents a process-based composition technique that I am developing. Purple Broccoli is a collection of improvised compositions written for both acoustic and electronic devices.
On June 21, 2018 Rachael Rule and I will be traveling to Chicago to perform my piece The Spiral with the Fulcrum Point New Music Project. I’ve created an arrangement of the work for 2 electric guitars, 2 saxophones, and piano for this performance. This show is part of the exciting and innovative Discoveries: Hear and be Heard series. Details for the performance will be found here soon.
The 2017 SCI Region VI conference was hosted by Dan Cavanagh and UT-Arlington this year. My colleague Ben Justis and I took the trip down from the University of Kansas and we had an absolute blast. I can confidently say that Dan ran one of the best SCI conferences I’ve ever been to and many attendees echoed this sentiment.
Below is a list of my favorite works I heard at the conference (in no particular order). This is by no means to say that there were not other great works that were performed; the list below signifies those pieces which had an immediate impact on me. One can never really say they don’t like a piece without listening to it more than once.
Waves by Dan Cavanagh
Hear Us by Micah Hayes
Echo Caves by Igor Karaca
Up In Smoke by Ben Justis
Wooden Triptych by Bryce Craig
Veiled Expanse by Natsumi Osborn
5:1 by Joseph Bohigian
Wax Argument by John Huenmann
Essay for Cello by Dan Racer
Pistol Pete’s Passacagilia by Mike D’Ambrosio
Una Reunion Nocturne by Eric Lara
I encourage everyone to see out these works and these composers! Buy their music and show some love.
Since last posting about my trip to Finland to discuss my research on Julius Eastman, a lot has changed.
-I played bass in a 90’s and early 2000’s cover-band…which led to me playing bass in the musical “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” I AM STILL A GUITARIST, but I can bass if you need me to- apparently. The name of the band was Dunewalker. They rock Mid-Michigan. Check em out.
-I no longer live in my native land of Michigan
-A cat occupies my new home
-My new home is in Kansas
-I am a graduate teaching assistant and a doctoral student at the University of Kansas
-I am currently in the process of launching an organization called Art Music for All.
Art Music for All (AMFA) is an organization dedicated to disseminating art music and ideas about art music that promote radical notions about how music can influence politics, society, and everyday life.
The genesis for AMFA came after a long beer fueled talk with my comrade in music, John Jansen. More to come on AMFA has things begin to take off…
This talk about music’s role in society is a good segue into quick spiel about my new music. One of my most recently produced recordings is of a piece called What Democracy Looks Like. Here are the program notes:
What Democracy Looks Like utilizes a fixed media track to accompany a solo guitarist. The fixed media contains several elements: 1) Audio from a protest I participated in at an appearance of a US presidential candidate during the 2016 election cycle. One of the call and response chants at this protest was “Tell me what democracy looks like! / This is what democracy looks like!” 2) Audio of a conversation with my cousin and uncle regarding money in politics and the role of government in people’s lives. 3) Audio of several friends whose opinion I regard highly giving me their thoughts on what democracy is. I was expecting there to be a consensus; democracy is a good thing. Instead, I got rather diverse views on democracy. Because I was unaware of the outcome of asking people their thoughts on democracy, I did not know what the piece was going to be about until it was finished. For me, these diverse views provoked some stimulating contemplation about the frailty and efficacy of democracy in a free-market capitalist society.
The most recent recording of my new music is a piece called Fo’ You Get Rolled Up On. Here are the program notes:
Dedicated to my good friend John Jansen. If you ever owe John or any other friend or family member of mine some money, you better pay up fo you get rolled up on.
For a snapshot of the music that I wrote between Fall 2015 and Spring 2016, check out the following playlist:
The last order of business:
I will be adding three new tabs on the homepage of www.FrankNawrot.com to display my research on composition pedagogy, my research on Julius Eastman, and a tab dedicated to AMFA.
Helsinki Music Centre where I presented my research on Julius Eastman.
The Fifth International Conference on Minimalist music took place from September 23-27, 2015. This conference is put on every two years by the Society for Minimal Music. Some of the most important scholars on minimalism were in attendance; Kyle Gann, Jelena Novak, Robert Fink, Tom Johnson, David McIntire, and others. To be among so many fascinating people with a deep understanding of minimalism was an honor. Sometimes it is easy to forget how young minimal music is; it is still a small mark in the long history of music. My imagination and scholarly intrigue were thoroughly stimulated by all the wonderful music and informative presentations I heard at the conference.
Rock and Popular Music
John Richardson and Slow Floe performing the song cycle “The Fold”
If there is an academic event the greater public might feel comfortable at, it is certainly this one. This conference was certainly a gathering of intellectuals who spend a lot of time thinking about art, but the art form that was being addressed has its roots in a desire to rupture a code of the 20th century avant-garde. Letting the influence of the popular music of America seep naturally into their music was what set Riley, Glass, and Reich apart from the mid-20th century avant-garde. This conference began with a performance from a Krautrock inspired band from Finland called E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr. They performed Riley’s Keyboard Studies II and then immediately followed it with Kraftwerk inspired variations on the same piece. The group consisted of three people on keyboards and synthesizers and a guitarist; all creating hypnotizing polyrhythms, loops, and ethereal drones. Afterwards, John Richardson (the chair of this conference) performed with his band. The music they played is what one could imagine a David Gilmour-led psychedelic folk band would be like.
Some of the presentations given at the conference discussed the explicit relationship between popular music and minimalism. Jedd Schneider and David McIntire co-authored research on Krautrock and other 70’s progressive rock acting as “tangible conduit[s] of minimalist tropes.” Mark Perry presented his research on the intersections of Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) with minimal music. IDM is essentially the art-music counterpoint to Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Some of the defining features of IDM records are ambient drones, repetitive musical structures, and atmospheric instrumentation. Dean Suzuki gave a presentation on Andrew Poppy and DIY attitudes in the New Music community, especially with the post-minimalists. Andrew Poppy formed groups that were part rock band part vehicle for the performance of new music. The first such group was Lost Jockey which formed in 1981, six years before the founding of Bang on a Can.
Robert Fink Presenting
Robert Fink was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. His presentation on Musical Stutters was absolutely fascinating. Stutters are simply repetitions. Fink explored the implications of and diagnoses for stutters in art-music, EDM, and hip-hop. Examples he used were Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room, old school hip-hop turntable scratching, and modern digital stuttering created by splicing together very short sound waves which are heard in most genres of popular music from the 90’s onward. Fink made some throught-provoking assertions about the connections between the capitalist cultures of repetition and the prevalence of all types of stuttering found in music.
Nature/Finnish Music and composers
A border patrol agent asked me a series of questions upon my return to the United States. The series of questions led the patrolman to ask me something I did not expect: “What is minimalism?” True story. In hindsight, that was a great teaching moment. At the time, I was caught off guard. Just the other day, I again had to explain what minimalism is to an inquiring mind that seemed to have a negative view of minimalism due to its sometimes repetitive nature. I explained to her some of the basic musical characteristics that define minimalism just I had done for the patrolman, but this I tried to give some historical context to the advent of the style. Minimalism fits in with the time in which it appeared. The early to mid-20th century was a time of rapid scientific advancement in which humans were able to begin to grasp the vastness of reality like never before. Most things that happen in the universe are on a scale of time or size too large for us to understand; minimalism reflects our expanding ability to comprehend or at least accept this burdensome fact. Sitting through the entirety of Dennis Johnson’s November may take just as much patience and mental strength as it does to comprehend the Big Bang or Darwinian evolution or the formation of the Grand Canyon. In the case of both minimal music and the large-scale workings of nature, the pay out of patience is a profound discovery of beauty. There was a lot of talk at the conference on how the beauty and vastness of nature effect composers of minimal music.
Drone and repetition are features of minimal music, but these techniques are applied to both pre- and post-minimalism musical styles. One of the great humans I met at the conference was Juha Torvinen, adjunct professor of musicology at the University of Turku, and he gave a presentation on how composers and musicians from the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Scandinavia, are inspired by the “northern geography, climate, and environmental conditions, which are intimately linked to Northern mythologies and cultural traditions.” (from the abstract of his paper Nordic Drone Pedal Point, Static Texture, and the Norther Atmosphere)
Another wonderful professor I met at the conference, Susanna Välimäki from the University of Helsinki, gave a presentation on “Postminimalism in Finnish Art Music in the 21st Century.” This presentation exposed me to the music of the Finnish composer Juhani Nuorvala. Listen to this work of his for synthesizer and cello:
There was a concert at the Sibelius Museum in Turku that featured works by Glass, Gann, Feldman, Tom Johnson, and the Finnish composer Erkki Salmenhaara. The music of Erkki Salmenhaara was full of conversational counterpoint, romantic expressivity, and minimalist techniques.
Kyle Gann and Tom Johnson
The concert at the Sibelius Museum was my first chance to hear the music of Kyle Gann and Tom Johnson live.
Left: Veli Kujala and his microtonal accordion. Right: Kyle Gann.
Both Gann and Johnson had their music performed throughout the conference. What a treat this was; hearing the music of living minimalist composers who have been in the scene since the advent of what we now call “minimalism” (at least in the case of Johnson, Gann is a bit too young to implicate such a thing.) Gann’s music is expressive, rhythmic, and complex. So complex that it seems like process music at times; I may be mistaken about this thought, but process or not the music retains expressivity. One piece of Gann’s that was heard at the conference was Reticent Behemoth for quarter-tone accordion. After the performance of this piece, Gann was asked what he thought about the sound of the instrument. Gann replied: “It didn’t hurt as much as I thought.” When asked about the role emotions play in his music Gann replied: “If [the] emotive aspect isn’t strong, it doesn’t mean much to me.” This is especially interesting to hear after hearing a piece with an instrument that, to many people, sounds so foreign. What is strange and what is beautiful are, of course, subjective.
Left to right: Anna-Maria Huohvanainen, Tom Johnson, Orestis Willemen
Some of Johnson’s music performed at the conference was definitely processed based. He talked about the ways in which he used processes in his pieces Eggs and Baskets and Counting to Seven. These pieces were extremely effective, entertaining, and in some instances, very funny! Johnson was asked about humor in his music and he said that he never tries to be funny; he just tries to be honest and sometimes the truth is very funny. One example of his honesty: His piece Eggs and Baskets was intended for children. The piece involves a process of liquidation of the possibilities of a particular motive played on guitar and violin; the pitches are the eggs and the instruments are the baskets. Johnson said that at the first performance of the piece, none of the kids were laughing but all the parents were. So he decided to not play the piece for children any more.
One of the other highlights of the conference was Jelena Novak’s presentation on minimalist and post-minimalist techniques in contemporary opera. One of the operas she addressed was The News written by one of the most interesting composers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Jacob ter Veldhuis.
There were too many interesting presentations to cover here, but some of my other favorites were Adam Cadell’s presentation on Nordic underground music including black metal, David McIntire’s presentation on the music of Ann Southam, Jason Rito’s presentation on David Lang, and James Andean’s presentation on how communities shape the musical output of its members and members create musical communities; he specifically addressed the strange fact that so much minimal music is by definition electroacoustic yet is rarely classified as such because of, perhaps, sectarian issues.
This conference was well worth the trip from Michigan to Finland. Our hosts at the University of Turku and the University of Helsinki were absolutely lovely, and the event organizers from the Society for Minimal Music gave everyone at the conference a stimulating experience. Kyle Gann wrote this following the conference: “The Sixth International Conference is now tentatively scheduled for June of 2017 in Knoxville, Tennessee, in connection with the Nief-Norf festival run by Andrew Bliss. It gives me something to look forward to. The passage of my life is measured out in minimalism conferences.” Check out Gann’s brief article, which includes much better photos the ones I’ve posted, about the conference here.
After a 4 hour train ride, a 12 hour layover in Chicago, and a 19-hour train ride, I had finally reached Penn Station in Manhattan. On June 23rd my piece Prozium was be played at the Abrons Art Center as part of the 2015 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). During the first two days of this long trek, I encountered a lot of acts of confidence.
I spent some time exploring all the art on display at the Gold Coast Art Fair while in Chicago. There were a few artists whose work stood out to me: Melvin McGee, Kana Handel, and Gabor Koranyi. Of the hundreds of booths that featured some very impressive visual arts, these three artists were my favorite. Koranyi’s art was especially appealing to me due to a technique he employed in all of his works which exaggerates the human figure through the use of curves and circles. At the risk of over simplifying things- think cubism but at the opposite end of the technical spectrum.
Koranyi was a very nice man who graciously endured my curiosity about his works. What I found most profound about our encounter was the act of confidence he had carried out by displaying somewhere between 15 and 30 pieces that are so similar. Each piece was distinctly beautiful, but they all employed his signature technique.
During intermission at the NYCEMF 8pm concert on Monday, June 22, I met a very nice Danish composer named Kenn Mouritzen. We got into discussing different cultures in Europe. This somehow led to a lengthy discussion about Iannis Xenakis. Kenn told me a revealing anecdote about Xenakis and his daughter. Apparently, her father would sometimes take her canoeing off of the coast of his native Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes these outings would be less than safe due to storms and intense waves. Not deterred by a little danger, Xenakis would paddle him and his little girl out to sea and experience all the glory of Mother Nature’s power. Kenn observed that this behavior perfectly captured Xenakis’ character. The mathematician turned architect turned composer was not timid about his aesthetic decisions. His compositional methods were cerebral and detailed, but they were also unique and effective; as evidenced by his legacy. He was confident that his methods were worthy of being shared with the world.
My good friend John Jansen and I recently discussed the role confidence plays in the work of an artist. We pondered the role our own confidence plays in our compositions and in those of others. We have a mutual friend and comrade in new music by the name of Matt Finch. A couple of years ago I saw him play a gig at a venue in Grand Rapids, MI and it truly blew me away. Up to that point I did not know much about Matt’s music. After the concert I offered him a hearty congratulations and said “That…that is what you have to do.” I made that statement due to, perhaps, an ill-conceived assumption that he was still in search of his unique voice, like many of my comrades studying under Bill Ryan at Grand Valley State University. Whether or not that was the case is mere conjecture at this point. But I did notice a lot of the other audience members congratulating him on his successful performance of vivid and intoxicating atmospheric grooves. From that point on I have followed what he has been doing and I am excited to see my friend make a name for himself. He recently released an album on the slashsound label and he has performed with increasing frequency. Whether it was the performance in Grand Rapids a couple years ago, or a gradual series of successes, or a sheer sense of will and direction, something at some point gave Matt a boost to jump into his canoe, despite the possibility of choppy waves and rapid currents, and embark on his artistic voyage.
Koranyi, Xenakis, and Matt Finch, were confident that their aesthetic decisions are worthy of spreading to those who are willing to listen. This type of confidence is one of the first signs of a mature composer.
Having your music performed anywhere takes a lot of confidence, especially if you are sitting in the room when it happens. Luckily, the NYCEMF is a wonderful place to have this done. Other than receiving commissions, the first step one must take to get one’s music performed is submitting it to calls for scores or contacting people in your network about concertizing new music. The nature of the electroacoustic music genre is often experimental, so for some finding the confidence to believe the strange and beautiful sounds you have created are worthy of being shared with the world can be hard. I can assure my readers that I met some of the most down-to-earth and friendly people at this festival. The sense of community was comforting. I had at least one mutual friend with nearly every person I met! If you have an electroacoustic piece, I implore you to submit to next year’s festival.
I was only at the festival for a few days, but I will share some details about my favorite performances.
Eric Chasalow’s Scuffle and Snapis a playful piece for violin and electronics. Mari Kimura performed energetic pizzicato passages broken up by familiar and tuneful sounding bowed phrases. The electronic media interacts with the plucked strings to create driving rhythmic polyphony. At other points, glassy pads create an ethereal harmonic backdrop to the bowed gestures.
William Dougherty’s piece for bass clarinet and surround-sound fixed media Nyuijd is a breathtaking piece inspired by a ceremony performed by indigenous people of Australia to honor the dead. From the program notes: “…a songman plays the didgeridoo while beating sticks and singing songs…” The clarinetist took on the role of songman and the fixed media took on the role of the surrounding tribesmen beating sticks and echoing rhythms played by Liam Kinson. The performance of rapid key clicks duplicated in the recording engulfs the audience in an eerie cloud of noise. At times, one certainly feels like they are amid furious tribal percussion, but our songman comforts us with his somewhat tuneful baritone gestures.
Tae Hong Park’s Bass X Sungclosed out the June 23rd festivities. This piece is a semi-improvisational work for bass guitar and signal processing. The piece began with tidal synth-pads and slowly evolved into a toe-tapping 5/4 groove in the high range of the instrument. This groove grew louder and lower over several minutes with the bassist (Park himself) adding interlocking rhythms and the signal processing adding exciting electronic textures. The way that Park played and interacted with the audience before and after his performance signaled to me that this guy definitely had some experience playing rock music. My suspicion was later confirmed by the composer.
I am not as well-versed as I would like to be in the electroacoustic repertoire. Perhaps that is obvious due to my favorite pieces being for live instruments and electronics. One of the beautiful things about this festival was the diversity of styles. Roughly half the pieces I heard were for fixed media only. Pieces without live instruments are still somewhat foreign to me and they often contain unique chronological developments. The more I hear these types of pieces, the broader my frame of reference becomes. This festival presents twenty-seven concerts of electroacoustic music making it one of the easiest times to immerse yourself in the experimental genre which it hosts. If you are like me, somewhat new to the genre, sometimes your ears can grow fatigued from attempting to actively listen to the multitude of unusual pieces. It is the pieces with live instruments that can give you a somewhat familiar place to take a mental rest. Hubert Howe, director and co-founder of NYCEMF, does an excellent job of curating concerts that are both artistically stimulating and accessible to both artists and patrons of the arts.
I was recently interviewed by Matt Brown from the Delta Collegiate Newspaper. We talk about my dream to work at a gas station, how school sucks, my life as a composer, and so much more. Take a listen and like their page.