SONiC Festival: Does “uptown” and “downtown” still exist as a stylistic?

by danielgoode

July 26th, 2012

SON!C – get it! “Sounds of a new century” (where everyone is under 40). Great
theme: youth, always a winner. October 14-22nd, 2011 with something like 14 concerts and over a hundred composers (all young!). Otto Luening used to say that when he started out, a young composer was someone in his (yes “his”) 50’s. Otto was young in his 70’s). So are we going backwards or forwards, please?

Four young men in black, the Jack (quartet), from Eastman to NY, play best: XenAK (-is). “Did all they played sound like XenAK? —what a CRACK!” “Can’t be XenAK if it’s him we lack.” Alex Mincek’s was my favorite of lack-XenAK. Or was it grey not black wore by the Jack? Too dark to read their names (even in the light I couldn’t find their names, much less their aims). But a friendly, humble virtuosity was on offer, fine! But then, betrayed by the sound engineers: how perverse that only their loudest sounds got amplified. The soft, wispy sul ponticellos and harmonics shifted the aural perspective back to them on stage, then a loud sound, and you were looking, once more, at the loudspeaker to their left. Ouch. Said a musician in the audience to me: “they play so many more notes per… than…[blah, blah, something or other], with not a bit of sweat on them.” Could this be the aesthetic aim of “a new century?”

Some nice choral music followed the Jack. Beautiful performances by the New York Virtuoso Singers conducted by Harold Rosenbaum. In one piece the sopranos and the basses were at the back of the stage, left and right, while the altos and tenors were front center. Nice idea, but why not go further, like Meredith Monk and actually have them change places at different times, even sing while moving.

Douglas Repetto’s robots let down colored three-dimensional looking tubes while several members of Talea, performed a graphic score by Victor Adan. Did the music control the robots? No way to know from the program notes. The final effect was like the drip paintings of abstract colorist, Morris Louis, though less messy.

SONiC Festival: Does “uptown” and “downtown” still exist as a stylistic?

Any large curatorial slice of the total pie is always going to be criticized in some aspect or other. Since I only went to two events, I can’t really be a good outside observer. Alex Ross (who reviewed the festival in the New Yorker) may have, or maybe I was the one who noticed that the choices seemed conservative. As if, even through the eclectic and catholic largeness of the field which obscures the “uptown-downtown” stylistic divide of the past, still the music was very much a front and center stand up and wow-em chamber music. The odd, the spiritually quiet, the non-virtuosic and contemplative kind of music, the contextually different, the political, were all categories I thought were missing. That’s what made me feel that the divide between “uptown” and “downtown” still exists. And EVERYTHING is now amplified (a horrible contemporary performance practice steam-rollered by Bang On A Can—when they did my 15-person Tunnel-Funnel, I insisted on all-acoustic, and darned if it didn’t sound “too soft” because our ears had been pinned back by all the previous amplified chamber music). Thumbnail review.