Violinist Kate Stenberg performing during OM 20, San Francisco CA (2015)

Other Minds Festivals ➔ Other Minds Festival: OM 20: Panel Discussion & Concert 1, 5 of 8

Digital Audio

Event Type
Other Minds
Program Series
Other Minds Festival
Program Length
141 min
5 of 8
| broadcast
| 2015-03-06 | created
2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the Other Minds Festival of New Music. Other Minds Executive & Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian explained the 20th anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on two decades worth of prescient programming. “As we look back at the nearly 200 composers we’ve brought to San Francisco for these gatherings, it seemed a good time to tip our hat to some of our most surprising discoveries who have gone on to make signal contributions to international concert life. We’ll also pay tribute to the late Peter Sculthorpe, who had accepted an invitation to be with us as our elder statesman, and the legendary Lou Harrison, whose last work was composed for our 2002 festival and our American steel guitar soloist David Tanenbaum, and will be reprised on our opening night.”

Other Minds offered a hearty welcome back to Don Byron (OM 2), Frode Haltli (OM 12), Tigran Mansurian (OM 10), Miya Masaoka (OM 3), Michael Nyman (OM 11), Pauline Oliveros (OM 8), David Tanenbaum (OM 8 & 12), Maja S.K. Ratkje (OM 12), and Errollyn Wallen (OM 5). Some milestone birthdays were also celebrated: Tigran Mansurian, 75. Michael Nyman and Charles Amirkhanian: 70. At the pre-concert reception on March 5, 2015, Pauline Oliveros, at 82, received our lifetime achievement award - the OMie - in recognition of her exceptional contributions to experimental music. (Last year’s first award was presented to synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla.)

Prior to the first concert on March 6, 2015, Charles Amirkhanian leads a panel discussion with the first installment of OM Festival Alumni: Miya Masaoka, Maja Ratkje & Frode Haltli, joined by their collaborator Kathy Hinde, and David Tanenbaum. Aside from discussing their work and the pieces presented at the festival, all participants share memorable moments of their first time at Other Minds and impressions left from their experience at the Djerassi residency prior to the festival.

Concert 1: Friday March 6, 2015.
Established Legends, Emerging Legends

Lou Harrison: Scenes from Nek Chand (2001–02)

Our soloist, guitarist David Tanenbaum, writes: “Lou Harrison’s relationship with the guitar began in 1952 with a little piece in a letter to a friend, but for the next half century it was sporadic at best. After 1978 there was nothing, although a small army of guitarists approached him repeatedly. The more I personally asked him for a piece, the grumpier he seemed to get, and after I directed a five day 80th birthday celebration of his music in 1997 with no new guitar music offered, I basically gave up.”

“So it was an utter shock when Charles Amirkhanian called in 2001 to inform me that I would be premiering a brand new guitar piece that he had just talked Lou into writing for the Other Minds Festival. It turned out that one of Lou’s hesitations about the guitar over the years had been the relative lack of sustain and volume of the classical guitar. He said there was a different guitar he wanted to use, and he couldn’t identify it until he heard it. I made several trips to Lou’s house with trunk loads of guitars, and he rejected them all until he immediately recognized in the National Steel the sound he yearned for. Lou then set about working with the National Resophonic Company to modify the frets into the well-tempered tuning that he wanted. Thus, for his last completed piece, well into his eighties, Lou Harrison essentially invented a new instrument. More than twenty composers have now written for this modified guitar, whole CD’s are coming out on it, and a Doctoral Thesis has been written about it.

“I did the premiere of Scenes from Nek Chand (2001-2) on the Other Minds Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts on March 7, 2002 with Lou in the audience. I’d like to thank Charles for working his magic with Lou, and thus changing our guitar world for the better. Here is Lou’s note about the piece.”:

“While mother played an afternoon of Mah Jongg with friends, we children listened to records or the radio. We heard a lot of Hawaiian music and I can remember the sliding and waving guitar tones over a gap of almost eighty years. The wonderful sculpture and architecture of Nek Chand, near Chandigarh set me to composing three small pieces in admiration. My friend Dave Scully very kindly lent his richly-toned steel guitar for me to explore for composing. National Reso-Phonic Guitars of San Luis Obispo loaned an instrument to the consummate artist David Tanenbaum for the premiere performance.

Unlike the classical guitar, the National Steel has a cone resonator inside the body that acts as a kind of amplifier. Invented in the late 1920s for players to be heard with jazz bands, the instrument has been revived by National Reso-Phonic which now produces an exotic array of these wonderful instruments. The score, commissioned by Other Minds, is dedicated to Charles Amirkhanian & Carol Law, with thanks for many kindnesses, and to David Tanenbaum, who was willing to play it.”

Peter Sculthorpe: From Kakadu (1993)

Peter Sculthorpe used the guitar as a solo and chamber instrument frequently, working mostly with the great Australian guitarist John Williams. Here is Sculthorpe’s note about From Kakadu: “The terrain of Kakadu National Park, in the north of Australia, stretches from rugged mountain plateaux to coastal tidal plains. From Kakadu is the sixth work of mine that takes this terrain as its point of departure. Several of the works employ similar melodic material, and much of this work is based upon the main theme of my orchestral piece Kakadu (1988).

“From Kakadu is in four sections: “Grave,” “Comodo,” “Misterioso,” “Cantando.” The first and third sections are based upon the Kakadu melody; the fourth section grows from it into a long, singing line. This work is an intimate one, being concerned with the deep contentment that I feel whenever I return to Kakadu. This feeling is ever-present in the dance-like second section, and in the singing line, and its counterpoint, of the final Cantando.”

Charles Amirkhanian: Rippling the Lamp (2007)

In working with the performers to prepare the second Other Minds New Music Séance I was inspired by the candlelit setting of the Swedenbogian Church and the playing of Kate Stenberg to create a mini-séance of a piece that would quote music of composers past against a disembodied, pre-recorded violin track. At about the same time I chanced upon a recording of the slow section of a one-movement Violin Concerto (1943) by the Swiss composer Willy Burkhard (1900-1955) that somehow reminded me of the modal music of Lou Harrison. Of further interest to me was the fact that Burkhard had been a close family friend of Eva-Maria Zimmermann’s family in Bern, and that the piece was premiered on January 26, 1945, exactly seven days after my birth. On that occasion it was performed by soloist Stefi Geyer, with conductor and commissioner Paul Sacher, whom I once had had the pleasure to meet, leading the Zurich Collegium Musicum. In the “Lento” portion, Burkhard fashions a melody that oscillates between movement and stasis. A sinuous line periodically comes to rest on a held tone, then moves again, coming to rest on a different pitch, and so forth. It reminded me of having seen a clear reflected image of a Japanese lamp on a watery surface that was periodically disturbed so that the image shattered, then came to rest in its focused form - thus, the title Rippling the Lamp.

Miya Masaoka: String Quartet No. 2 “Tilt” (2014–15, World premiere)

The composer writes, “I was walking in Central Park in NYC near where I live, and, like a kid, I was trying to balance on a log with my arms outstretched and tilting one way and then the other. I began thinking about the act of leaning and tilting, and the balancing point. One can be close to the point of falling, but within that range, there is a spectrum of nuances and tension and a sense of gravity that is at play.

“I thought about translating that kind of experience to a musical sense, like a top that is tilting and maybe going to fall, something that is partly kinetic movement, partly sonic movement, and partly gravity. The balance and imbalance - our sense of sonic equilibrium - I think these things are felt deeply in our bodies and our ears. In “Tilt” I use mircotones, as well as parameters of density and time to create arcs of tempi and rhythm (loosely termed) in pursuing this notion. Perhaps the full title of this piece should have been TILT, TIP, AND FALL!”


Maja S.K. Ratkje, Kathy Hinde, & Frode Haltli: Birds and Traces II (2015, World premiere)

Maja S. K. Ratkje and Kathy Hinde premiered the first version of Birds and Traces in March 2010, in the fields of Aldeburgh, one of the largest stop-over fields for migrating birds in the UK. The work was created during a weeklong residency at Aldeburgh Music as part of “Faster Than Sound”, a series of residencies set up to promote crossover works including electronic media, curated by the music magazine The Wire. Birds and Traces draws on the long and borderless migration of birds as inspiration. Using themes of spring, birds and the effects of climate change, their residency involved local children re-interpreting Norwegian songs about birds and spring, making origami birds and mapping migration routes. The resulting work was presented as a concert performance featuring acclaimed Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli, three installation rooms alongside facts on bird migration and traces from their working process.

The new version of Birds and Traces, Birds and Traces II, is a collaboration between the three artists Ratkje, Hinde and Haltli, and is a special adaptation for a performance at the SFJAZZ Center for the Other Minds 20th Anniversary Festival. Maja Ratkje writes, “Birds And Traces II is an audio-visual composition combining voice and electronics, accordion and installation art. Birds fly around a world with no borders, guided by their instincts. Flocks of mechanized origami bird sculptures are gradually animated on migration routes around the globe. We have long been fascinated by birdsong. Is it a language? Music? Improvisation? An alarm call? In our understanding and relationship with birdsong, it’s these things and much more.

“The music partly draws on Norwegian traditional music, adapted through the lens of contemporary music and the electronic avant-garde. Recordings of young English- speaking children re-interpreting Norwegian songs (in Norwegian!) about birds and spring, are manipulated and played back live interwoven with live vocals and accordion. A mechanized ensemble of swanee whistles join the chorus of abstracted bird imitations. The form of the music is a journey on which the listener can explore Ratkje, Hinde and Haltli’s interpretation of nature, the mechanical and the acoustic, through live-controlled electronics in sound and visuals. Birds and Traces II creates an orchestra of calls from the earth’s nature that is under threat.”

Peter Sculthorpe: String Quartet No. 14 “Quamby” (1998)

The Fourteenth Quartet was one of several scores Sculthorpe composed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in which the elder composer revisited his Tasmanian youth and childhood. He was prompted by the task of writing a book of autobiographical memoirs that was published to coincide with his 70th birthday in 1999, under the title “Sun Music: Journeys and Reflections from A Composer’s Life”. It included an especially moving account of his childhood, and the title of the first chapter, “My Country Childhood,” also became the title of his orchestral piece, My Country Childhood (1999). Composed a year earlier in 1998, while he was actually writing the book, the Fourteenth Quartet, as Sculthorpe has pointed out, was not only “concerned with my feelings about mountainous landscapes in northern Tasmania”; but also “in writing this work, I set out to compose the kind of string quartet that I longed to write in my youth.” Thus, from the vantage point of a mature and successful composer, the work recaptures the mood of enthusiasms of his student days—for music like Delius’s Sea Drift, and Mahler’s Der Abschied. In a letter to a fellow college student written during a vacation spent back home in Tasmania at his family’s Georgian homestead, “Mount Esk” in 1948, young Sculthorpe indicated he had adopted “a kind of Pantheism…gradually, through my love of pastoral things, of old buildings, of country churches, of birds and trees…Mount Esk is wonderful now…Pastoral. Green, green…green.”

Even as a teenager, however, Sculthorpe had become aware of two darker sides to his Tasmanian idyll. One was the island’s early 19th century history as a British penal colony. (Sculthorpe only later would discover that his paternal great-grandfather had arrived in Tasmania from England in 1842 as a 16-year old convict). The other dark history was the “Black Wars” of the 1820s and 1830s, the last stand of the island’s embattled Indigenous remnants, already systematically hounded off their traditional lands and devastated by imported European diseases. The story told to settler children like Sculthorpe in the 1930s and 1940s was that Indigenous people had all “disappeared” early in colonial times, a few survivors being shipped “for protection” to Flinders Island, before dying of imported diseases. Time had veiled even outright acts of genocide in legend. On visits to Westbury, near Launceston, Sculthorpe’s father told him the legend of Quamby Bluff , where native inhabitants were said to have been hunted down and herded over a precipice by colonial troops. Their death cries, “Save me,” or “Quamby” in the local language (so the legend went), were supposed to have given the spot its name. It was a generic story, a vestige of colonial guilt at such brutality dressed up with a touch of sentimentality and perpetuated, paradoxically, by generations of the descendants of the first white settlers for him consumption as a “gothic” tale for children.

While no documents actually record a historical massacre on that particular spot, the story bears a strikingly close resemblance to an attested massacre at Cape Grimm in 1828, while “Quamby” was reported elsewhere to be the name of an Indigenous warrior shot in 1832. The “legend” caught Sculthorpe’s interest as a child, and inspired his later attempts, as a young graduate in the 1950s, to collect every piece of information he could uncover about the “extinct” musical culture of the Tasmanian Indigenous tribes. Sculthorpe chose to address these issues in this “Tasmanian” quartet, composed on commission from the Chamber Music Society of his home-town of Launceston. He later also adapted the Quartet as a work for chamber orchestra, entitled simple Quamby (2000). Later still, he reincorporated changes made for Quamby into the final revised version of String Quartet No. 14, dated September 2000.

[Notes taken from concert program.]
21st century classical
New music
Musical Selections
Rippling the Lamp (2007) (07:35) / Charles Amirkhanian
Kate Stenberg, violin
Violin music
Tape music