Friday
Aug022013

Experience of Marfa - Two Views

On June 1 & 2, Catherine Schieve and I, in collaboration with John McCaughey, Joan Pollock, The Astra Choir, the Astra Improvising Choir, and sound engineer Michael Hewes presented a large concert/event at The Meat Market Arts Centre in North Melbourne.  As part of that performance, we presented a large piece, "Experience of Marfa" for 8 channel electronics, choir, improvising choir, sruti boxes, gongs and home-made instruments.  After the performance, I asked Matthew Lorenzon, who was a member of the choir (and who writes reviews for Real Time Magazine) to write about the experience of the piece from inside of it; and Walter Billeter, poet and translator, to write about it from the point of view of the audience member.  Here are their reviews.  Many thanks to both of them for responding so nicely to my requests.  Thanks, guys! Here's their responses, which I hope you'll find interesting.

The Lights of Marfa

Matthew Lorenzon

The remarkable thing about Burt and Schieve’s piece is that while its concept is most manifest in the experience of the performer, achieving a satisfying musical effect for the audience required the choir to adopt a different set of priorities. The piece is based on the experience of watching the night sky for lights, including the glimpses, half-glimpses and willed glimpses invented by the searching mind. To this end Burt and Schieve create an environment of shifting chords in different tunings projected by eight speakers and a choir of thirty-odd improvisers. The choir are the watchers, trying to sustain the tones projected out of four speakers in front of them. The effort required to discern these microtonally-tuned chords and sing them against a different set of chords creates an atmosphere of watchful alertness, at least for the performers.

The effect was initially more of a complex drone than a texture of emerging and fading entities like those in Schieve’s Marfa paintings. We needed to create a more dynamic texture where the audience became the watchers, where they could latch on to a chord and listen to it fade away or transform in the surrounding web of sound. To this end we tried to coalesce with our neighbours, swelling and fading certain chords. Through this shift in priorities from the imitation of the speakers to ensemble singing we no longer became the watchers, but the painters of the sonic texture that, hopefully, convoked the audience as watchful sentinels.

As veterans of Melbourne’s experimental and New Music scenes, half of Astra spent the seventies humming, chanting and otherwise vocalising in formation. The other half has been attending concerts since then and is entirely familiar with duration experiences, improvisation and the extended phonetic range of the vocal organ. It is remarkable, then, that the choir can be so slow to warm up to semi-improvised repertoire. Stuck between the composers and the audience, however, it seemed that the piece confused its process with its effect, as though if the piece were made with rapt attention, then the audience would repay the composer-performers in kind.

 Walter Billeter: The View from Outside

All in all, I think this was a great concert, a genuinely soul-feeding experience.

Space, the creation of space, seems to be an instrumental part in both pieces. In Warren's Elegy it takes on entropic character. Beginning with a chord high in the middle of the choir, there is a suggestion of a dome; more appear to the sides of the initial chord, here, there... some fading images of the first, others associations. The pattern spreads further and further, the dome flattening all the while. Although there are more of these chords, the space they occupy feels forever sparser, ending  in the flat expanse of an immense horizon. There's an emptiness pervading all of this, a sense of loss.

 It is against this horizon the sound of Catherine's Experience of Marfa environment is built. Given by the introductory description of the origin of the piece, a sense of expectation is there from the beginning. There's no sparseness here, rather the space is constructed by a fabric of rich sounds, drones and rhythmic patterns of incredible intensity spreading out into the distance and to the sides. The horizontal expanse of the space gradually pushes upwards to create a vault filled with sound. Even without taking account of the whole installation the listening experience of this piece was overwhelming.

 

Friday
Aug022013

Interview with WB in Soundbytes Magazine

Soundbytes Magazine is a web magazine specializing in writing about new hardware and software for music making, and which also does interviews.  I will be writing for them in the near future (my review of David Rothenberg's new book "Bug Music" is in the works), and in this issue, David Baer, one of the editors, has a most unusual interview with me.  It's unusual because we're examining the reasons for composing in the way I do (as opposed to more commercial options) and it speculates about different historical paths.  It began when I suggested that he interview me, and his reply, that we'd have to contextualize the interview because what I did was so different from what the average computer music user did, floored me.  I thought what I was doing was "normal," in a way, and the process of doing the interview was an interesting one for me.  Here's the link to the interview: http://soundbytesmag.net/interview-warren-burt/.  You might find it an interesting read as well.

Friday
Jun212013

Launching Piece, composed and performed by Warren Burt - a new video

Here's a recently completed video of a new piece, "Launching Piece." (Any reference to a certain Yarra Valley town is purely coincidental and entirely intended.) Composed for the June 5 2013 launching of Linda Kouvaras' new book "Loading the Silence: Australian Sound Art in the Post-Digital Age" at the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne.  The performance involves 5 "pad" devices - Mei-Ying and Samsung Android Tablets with the John Cage Prepared Piano app, Apple iPhone and iPad using Thumbjam, one (iPhone) with a Grand Piano sample set tuned in 36 tone equal temperament, the other (iPad) playing several samples from Percy Grainger's 1951-2 "Butterfly Piano" experiments, and an Asus Windows 8 Tablet using AudioMulch, which has on it 3 sine waves gliding about, in reference to Grainger and Cross' 1951-2 Kangaroo Pouch Machine (one of the first synthesizers).  At the Grainger Museum, the room I played in was just around the corner from the Butterfly Piano and the Kangaroo Pouch Machines.  The performance in this video took place at home in Daylesford, Vic. on the night of June 16, 2013.  This performance  uses all the historical and historically referenced sounds used in the original performance, and adds a little unity-gain mixer and battery powered loudspeaker by Logitech.  This is a kind of "shakedown cruise" for a new performance setup, which has the potential to be entirely battery powered and portable, while at the same time referencing both contemporary touch-screen performance devices and historical music-technology sound sources.  As well, I hope the piece itself is enjoyable. Many thanks to Catherine Schieve who videoed the piece, while standing in a most awkward position (it's not a very big living room).

 

Thursday
Jun132013

New Music Up Late June 15 10:30pm music and interview featuring WB

The Saturday on ABC-Classic FM at 10:30 pm on New Music Up Late, Stephen Adams will interview me and present a selection of my pieces for the past 25 years.  We recorded the interview back in March, and it was a lot of fun to do. Here's a link to more info:

http://www.abc.net.au/classic/content/2013/06/15/3780963.htm

And the show will be available for streaming for a couple of weeks after the show.  

Wednesday
May292013

Upcoming Concert - Catherine Schieve and Warren Burt - June 1 & 2

Coming up this weekend, a performance of a large environmental work by Catherine Schieve, with me on electronics, and with Astra Choir and the Astra Improvising Choir, led by John McCaughey and Joan Pollock, respectively, at the Meat Market Arts Centre in North Melbourne.  The environment consists of paintings, sculptures, instruments, choir, sounds, etc.  The concert has 2 parts - in the first, "Earth and Lustre" the Improvising Choir responds to Catherine Schieve's "Nine Levels of Earth and Lustre" paintings along with electronics by me.  Interspersed with these improvisations are choral works by Dan Dediu, Robert Carl, Will Ogdon and Maurice Ravel.  In the second, "Experience of Marfa" the choir will begin with a new a capella work of mine, "Elegy" which will then transition into "Experience of Marfa" where paintings, electronic drones, Catherine playing her sruti box orchestra, gongs, the Astra Choir responding to an electronic tone-scape, and a recording of a windstorm will conjure up sonic and visual magic.  It should be a great show, and I hope those of you in the Melbourne metro-plex can make it.  More details at www.astramusic.org.au.

5 pm Saturday 1 June & Sunday 2 June

Arts House at the Meat Market,
corner Blackwood and Courtney Streets, North Melbourne