NEW SOUNDS #3: LEWIS NIELSON

Hey there, reader/listener/new friend!

Thanks for stopping in! All of us here at Loop38 firmly believe that it’s much easier to enjoy a concert when you have some background in what you’re about to hear and why it’s incredible! SO, leading up our concerts this year, I will be posting these short little tidbits about our featured composers. Hoping that this will feel like you’re chilling with a friend, getting psyched about great music! Feel free to take a peak, have a listen, and get a taste for what’s to come!

Our upcoming concert BEHIND THE SCENES, BEHIND THE SOUNDS, on November 14 features performances of electro acoustic works by Maja Ratkje, Ashley Fure, and Lewis Nielson.

(CONCERT IS TOMORROW !!!!)


Today we’re going to be getting to know the final featured composer on our November 14th program: Lewis Nielson! We were lucky enough to have Lewis come and visit us this past weekend to offer valuable insight on his piece USW.

When he isn’t coming to Houston to ~hang~ Nielson is busy doing all sorts of not-so-low-key incredible things. He was the chair of the composition department at Oberlin College, had received numerous awards, and has had his works recorded and performed by symphonies and groups across the United States and the world. His music is infused with the picturesque and the political, his work that we will be performing on Wednesday is no different.

Since we had Nielson captive for a couple days, I was lucky enough to have him answer some relevant (and maybe not so relevant) questions

Which composers have inspired your work?

Not many composers, really.  If anyone, Helmut Lachenmann and his ability to do what is necessary, not what others would do regarding the present day.  I love the music of my friend Reiko Füting in NYC--he's one of the few I listen to these days. Mostly, I spend my time listening to Renaissance polyphony (Ockeghem and Dufay mainly), some Bach, some Beethoven and Chopin piano music.  The present is too present. The past helps me hear without being influenced by the actual materials.

What is your favourite piece of music theatre/opera/performance art etc?

In history, [Mozart’s] “Die Zauberflöte” for sure; in present  “Das Mädchen mit dem Schwefelhölzern”, although I've seen two productions and the staging didn't do justice to the music

Favourite food?

India India India!!!

Favourite city?

Amsterdam......although there's also Berlin.


How did you find Houston on your little visit!!

Wetter and colder than I had thought it would be!  I live in Vermont now and I was expecting some heat..



Nielson’s work that we will be performing on Wednesday is USW, a multimedia chamber opera based on the life of revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg. Nielson himself combined fragmentary passages in several languages from Luxemburg, Karl Marx, German poet Georg Trakl and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The overall work is striking in it’s beauty as well as it’s affect. If that hasn’t peaked your interest, our bassist Austin will also be singing in the work! You do not want to miss this, he sounds fantastic.

So, all in all, if you like well-written, beautiful, and arresting political music, you NEED to know the works of Neilson. Luckily for you, you can come get to know them with us! So, you know the drill:

Hope to see you there tomorrow (!!!)

Xx ally xx





The Story of Rosa Luxemburg

On our upcoming concert at the MATCH, we’re featuring “USW” by Lewis Nielson, a musical theater work inspired by the life of Rosa Luxemburg. To fully understand the backstory to this passionate and savage work, we’ve invited Kathleen Canning, Dean of Humanities and the Andrew Mellon Professor of History at Rice University to give our musicians and listeners a brief history of this tenacious woman’s life and work.


On January 15, 1919 Polish Jewish socialist Rosa Luxemburg was beaten and murdered in Berlin by members of the nationalist German Free Corps. The murder of Luxemburg and German socialist leader Karl Liebknecht in that winter night was one of the most significant political murders of the twentieth century. 

Rosa Luxemburg was born in 1871 to middle-class Jewish parents in Tsarist Poland. At a young age, she suffered from a hip displacement that caused a permanent limp that left her vulnerable to ridicule and exclusion. Recognized as a gifted student and intellectual, Rosa joined the left-wing Proletariat Party in Poland at age 15 and completed her Gymnasium diploma in 1887.  She fled Poland to escape detention at age 18, pursuing university study in Zurich, where she studied history, philosophy, and government. She completed a doctorate in 1897 in law and political economy with a dissertation on the Polish industrial economy and promptly became an activist in the international Socialist movement. As one of the rare women, Jews, and emigres with a doctoral degree, Rosa Luxemburg was also unusually transnational in her interests and linguistic capacities in Polish, Russian, German and Hebrew. An avowed anti-nationalist during an age of fierce nationalism and imperial competition, Luxemburg took up residence in Berlin, finally acquiring German citizenship through an abbreviated marriage to the son of a family friend. 

After taking up residence in Berlin in 1898, Rosa Luxemburg went on to publish some of her hallmark works on the accumulation of capital, on social reform and revolution, on the Russian revolution of 1905, and on the rising danger of war. She disavowed all forms of nationalism and conceived of socialism as inherently international and capable of dissolving national fissions. Rosa Luxemburg’s intellectual home was the German Social Democratic Party, where she honed her theoretical critiques of reformism while building friendships that would sustain her through her wartime imprisonment as an uncompromising opponent of imperialist and nationalist war. Active in the European socialist movement, the German Social Democratic party’s vote in favor of war credits in 1914 -- based on its presumptive “defense of the fatherland” against tsarist aggression – fueled some of Rosa Luxemburg’s most fiercely critical repudiations of reformist socialism. She and Liebknecht founded the anti-war group, Die Internationale, in 1914, which was renamed the Spartacus League in 1916 and the Independent Socialist Party in 1917. Luxemburg was imprisoned in June 1916 until the war ended: her prison letters and writings reflected on the crisis of Social Democracy and after the Russian Revolution turned to critical engagement with the Bolshevik Revolution. 

Freed from prison the day before the revolution of November 9th, Luxemburg and Liebknecht founded the Spartacus League, which in December 1918 would be renamed the Communist Party (KPD). Liebknecht declared Germany a socialist republic on November 9th from a balcony in Berlin, while Majority Social Democrats sought to quell the revolutionary soldiers’ and workers’ councils and restore order in Germany. Although Rosa Luxemburg recognized that the “masses” were not yet ready for a mass strike or revolution, she firmly believed that democratic elections would not bring about the revolutionary transformation of social and economic relations she had long envisioned.  In the last days of 1918, Luxemburg and Liebknecht supported the Spartacus uprising in Berlin that sought to seize power from liberals and majority Social Democrats.  

On the night of January 15, 1919, Karl Liebknecht was arrested in an apartment in which he had gone into hiding after the uprising. The son of Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the founding fathers of German Social Democracy, Liebknecht was taken to the zoological garden in Berlin and shot in the back as he exited the assassins’ vehicle. His body was delivered to the police post in Berlin, where he was quickly identified.  We might understand this as a neat and clean masculine murder—of a German son of a socialist icon. Rosa Luxemburg, by contrast, sat quietly at a desk in the Eden Hotel in Berlin, awaiting her arrest. When the Freikorps unit arrived, she voluntarily left her quarters and accompanied them through the lobby of the hotel, where she was publicly beaten, as her murderers cursed her as a Jew and a Pole, scorning her for her limp. Significantly, witnesses reported later that one of her shoes flew off during this assault, remaining behind in the lobby as one of the items that would later mark her disappearance. Luxemburg was subjected to a beating by rifle butts in the back of her attackers’ car before she was shot. In the eerie silence of that Berlin night, the car came to a halt and the murderers threw her crumpled body over the bridge into the Landwehr canal. Rosa Luxemburg disappeared that night in Berlin. During those months between January and May 1919, the lost body of Rosa Luxemburg haunted the founding of Germany’s first democracy. Although Luxemburg disavowed all particularities of women's politics (or bodies), her mutilated corpse, found five months after her murder at the bottom of the Landwehr canal in Berlin, left an explicitly gendered legacy for the political culture of the labor movement during the Weimar Republic.  

The murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht marks one of the definitive events of the German revolution of November 1918, in which the popular mobilization of German soldiers and sailors, workers, women and youth for peace, bread and democracy both ended the catastrophic war and cleared the way for the founding of Germany’s first democracy in February 1919. The murder of Rosa and Karl, the topic of ballads, novels, and numerous works of visual art by leading artists, tacitly approved by their own former Socialist comrades, but carried out by demobilized nationalists determined to destroy revolution and democracy, left the Weimar Republic with a lasting “hole in its heart.” This wound by which Social Democrats, seeking to restore order amidst revolutionary upheaval, allied with violent nationalists and militarists against Luxemburg and Liebknecht’s embrace of the mass uprising, left them enemies rather than allies in the face of rising Nazism between 1929-33.  Although the two Left parties -- German Social Democrats and Communists – had wider support and more votes than the Nazis through the elections of fall 1930, they regarded each other as more dangerous enemies than the Nazis.

In these times we might recall the words of Rosa Luxemburg on the meaning of the term “freedom” from her reflections on the Russian Revolution of 1917. The notion of freedom is, of course, deeply questioned in present-day Europe and North America: 

Freedom only for supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.  Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice,’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege. 

- Kathleen Canning

NEW SOUNDS #2: ASHLEY FURE

Hey there, reader/listener/new friend!


Thanks for stopping in! All of us here at Loop38 firmly believe that it’s much easier to enjoy a concert when you have some background in what you’re about to hear and why it’s incredible! SO, leading up our concerts this year, I will be posting these short little tidbits about our featured composers. Hoping that this will feel like you’re chilling with a friend, getting psyched about great music! Feel free to take a peak, have a listen, and get a taste for what’s to come!


Our upcoming concert BEHIND THE SCENES, BEHIND THE SOUNDS, on November 14 features performances of electro acoustic works by Maja Ratkje, Ashley Fure, and Lewis Nielson.

__________

Hope you had a great listen to Maja Ratkje’s stuff from last time and are ready for MORE because this week we are hitting up the one and ~only~ Ashley Fure.


If you’re into new music (which you DEFINITELY should be), you have undoubtedly heard about Fure. She has racked up a substantial and impressive resume, including the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a nomination for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize. Not too shabby. All of those accolades are beyond well deserved: her work constantly tears apart what sounds belong in the concert hall (answer: all of them) and how we listen. Think: wild bassoon, ASMR, and megaphones.

If you saw ASMR and did a double take, no, you read that correctly. For the uninitiated, ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response”. This refers to a tingling feeling that you can get listening to certain sounds that start in your head (re: ears) and then travel to the rest of your body. The internet has made a killing off of ASMR videos, with people whispering, crinkling, and scratching into high quality microphones. Definitely check it out if you haven’t before.

Now, although Fure’s work is not explicitly ASMR, it does frequently incorporate sounds that made your skin tingle and have a similar affect. In both her piece The Force Of Things: An Opera for Objects and her recent premiere Filament with the New York Phil, Fure used megaphones to amplify unusual sounds, lending an experience every similar to ASMR. You can read more about Filament here! And listen to a clip from rehearsal below:

You should also take a listen to a bit of The Force Of Things here (featuring the incredible Lucy Deghrae whose festival, Resonant Bodies, you should also check out).

Fure once said that, “classical instrumental technique deemphasizes the body behind the sound: one is meant to hear the melody, not the fingernails on the keys.” Fure takes up the challenge of flipping this narrative: in her works the bodies playing become instruments as well, and the movement and physicality of the players is of utmost importance. In Albatross, which you’ll hear if you come to our concert November 14 (!!!!), physical gestures and textural sounds on the instruments are written into the score. In the piece below, Soma, you will here all kinds of environmental sounds. Close your eyes and allow you mind to let go of expectations and completely drift!

Most importantly, since the piece we are performing is called Albatross, here are some facts about the aforementioned bird:

  • They have the longest wingspan of any bird

  • They have a special tendon in their shoulders that allows their wings to maintain spread, with minimal muscle expenditure. This allows them to soar for AGES.

  • They do a special mating dance, and then they mate for life.

Finally, if you’d like to know more about Fure, articulated MUCH better than I attempted here, check out this interview! My favourite part is where she talks about the process/struggles of notating all these wild things (and how notation holds us back). Also, this interview features maybe my new favourite quote:

“LET YOUR AUDITORY FREAK FLAG FLY” - ASHLEY FURE

(screaming)

Hope that all made sense and got you just a lil’ tingly with excitement! If you want more of where that came from, you know what you need to do:

xx ally xx

*tingly*

NEW SOUNDS #1: MAJA RATKJE

Hey there, reader/listener/new friend!

Thanks for stopping in! All of us here at Loop38 firmly believe that concerts are even more enjoyable when you have some background in what you’re about to hear and why it’s incredible! SO, leading up our concerts this year, I will be posting these short little tidbits about our featured composers. Hoping that this will feel like you’re chilling with a friend (that’s me), and getting psyched about great music (literally my constant state of being)! Feel free to take a peek, have a listen, and get a taste for what’s to come!

Our upcoming concert BEHIND THE SCENES, BEHIND THE SOUNDS, on November 14 features performances of electro acoustic works by Maja Ratkje, Ashley Fure, and Lewis Nielson.

——

Today, we’re getting to know the SoUndS (and there’s a LOT of them) of Maja Ratkje! Get those ears ready!

It can truly be said that Norwegian composer Maja Ratkje is unlike anyone else. Her compositions are known for their vibrant, feral, and jarring sound worlds. She frequently incorporates her own voice (which you can’t help but be obsessed with) into her work.

Her breakout album, Voice, released in 2002, took an absolute gamut of extended vocal techniques and gave them the electronic treatment. For those of you who might not know what an ‘extended technique’ is,  it’s actually pretty simple. If you think of ‘standard technique’ as the normal sounds you would expect from a singer (re: do re mi, la di da, I’m singing a lil’ song over here), ‘extended technique’ encompasses everything else! It’s a special art to be able to grunt, yell, whisper, shriek, vocal fry, and make the guttural, jarring noises Ratkje does. Listen below to two of my favourite tracks off that album:

DICTAPHONE JAM FROM VOICE — make sure you listen at LEAST until the middle!!

For something on the other side of that spectrum (but equally trippy), check out the title song:

VOICE FROM VOICE — again, don’t stop at the beginning, progression and form is KEY to Ratkje’s music! Take it ALL in!

You can hear that Ratkje samples some traditional-ish singing, but distorts it with extended techniques and electronics. Unreal. If that doesn’t get your heart rate up, I don’t know what will. So,

I HOPE THAT GOT YOU ALL FIRED UP BECAUSE….

You’ll definitely be hearing lots of Ratkje’s incredible voice on November 14 in her piece and sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep’. Her raw vocals are sampled, processed, and imitated throughout the piece. That being said, this singing is not like any singing you’ve heard - and you definitely will not fall asleep.


Before I sign off, here’s one more clip of her, this time live!

MAJA RATKJE LIVE (OMG)

Hope that this opened your ears a bit and you’re PUMPED for what is going to be a fantastic concert! I’ll be coming at you with our other featured composers shortly!

xx ally xx

What, we’re already in Season 3?! - pianist, Yvonne Chen

…and we’re back!

It’s been a solid year+ since we last updated you all on our activities. After such an amazing first season of concerts all across Houston - Rothko Chapel, “Twilight Epiphany” Turrell Skyspace, the MATCH - as well as great recording and performance collaborations with composers Shih-Hui Chen and George Lewis, we knew that Houston made a place for us.

There were a lot of growing pains that we encountered almost immediately afterwards - our players were TOO GOOD and won orchestra and ensemble jobs all across the world. With half the ensemble moved on, we decided on two things:

  • We would use this setback as an opportunity to grow organically, giving more structure to group as we moved from “project” towards “organization”

  • Our ultimate goal would be to become a reason for great musicians to stay in Houston

Our second season thus became our true foundation of the group we have now.

With Harvey, we started the season late, but were able to spark curiosity and interest with Murder Mystery Madness at Galveston Artist Residency. Between my Ligeti-esque figurations divvied up in a Reich Piano Phase style on celeste and piano, hearing skin-tingling breath sounds from the wind players and bursts of Italian whisperings from our singer extraordinaire, the performance gave me renewed excitement and hope for Loop38’s future.

That same weekend, we hosted a retreat to truly talk through our goals and start thinking about ways to make it all happen. This was all funded by a Presser Graduate Music Award I’d received in the Spring, and has since proved to be integral to our beginnings.

Given the successes of our first season, we were lucky to have been presented by Musiqa on two of their season concerts and collaborate on performances with composer Matthew Burtner and his EcoSono Ensemble, Apollo Chamber Players, Kinetic Ensemble, and WindSync. Having all of these performance opportunities helped familiarize ourselves with other performers and recruit them to become a core member.

I am happy that due to these collaborations, procuring a couple grants, and the generosity of time, talents, and resources of the members of Loop38, we are able to start the third season having saved up all contributions from our initial fundraising campaign (!!!!). All of this will go towards starting our third season with personally crafted concerts of our own.

I am so grateful to our amazing core members and wonderful donors for getting us to where we are today. Thank you.

On behalf of Loop38, we look forward to continue bringing you exciting, unfamiliar, and new works that you remember from previous seasons, performed to the highest standards. Stay “in the loop” and see you at a concert soon!

-YC

how do you plan a concert?

As Yvonne and I thought of establishing a new music ensemble for Houston, one recurring topic in our conversations was how there was so much exciting new music we have heard, experienced in concert, or performed, that we wanted to share with music lovers in H-town. In forming Loop38, we wanted the focus be our group of passionate, virtuosic performers, showcasing their technical, interpretive, and musical capabilities. How do you choose from all of the music out there? Our group consists of 15 musicians, and looking at pieces written for this instrumentation of string quintet (2 violins, viola, cello, and double bass), one of each wind and brass instrument (except tuba), piano, and percussion became our first parameter. Still there are many pieces for this instrumentation, so how does one choose? As a group of Houston transplants, we wanted to bring our experiences from afar to Houston. One of the first composers we thought of was Andrew Norman. Just named “Composer of the Year” by Musical America, Andrew is making a big splash in the musical scene both in the states and abroad, with premieres by groups such as the New York Philharmonic and LA Philharmonic. I first met Andrew almost ten years ago while living in Berlin, where he was a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. Recently graduated from Yale, he was, like myself, taking in the rich musical culture of Germany’s capital, learning through exposure to exciting and challenging artists. Fast forward eight years, and our paths cross again in St. Louis. I’m working with the St. Louis Symphony, and Andrew’s music is being performed in an all-American program which included music by Michael Daugherty, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein. Andrew’s piece on the concert is visceral and exciting, and a challenge for the symphony musicians, not used to performing this kind of music. The piece is titled Try, and Andrew speaks of the piece:

“I never get things right on the first try. I am a trial-and-error composer, an incurable reviser. And this is a problem when it comes to high profile commissions from world-class ensembles in spectacular concert halls, because in these rare cases one gets exactly one try to get it right, and one really, really wants to get it right. Disney Hall and the LA Philharmonic have meant so much to me over the years that the overwhelming desire to write for them the perfect piece was enough to stop me dead in my creative tracks. It took me many months to realize the obvious: my piece was never going to be perfect no matter how hard I tried, and perfection was not even the right target on which to set my sights. The best thing I could do to honor the adventurous spirit of the Philharmonic and Disney Hall was to try as many new things as I could, to embrace the risk and failure and serendipitous discovery implicit in the word “try.” The piece I ended up writing is a lot like me. It’s messy, and fragmented, and it certainly doesn’t get things right on the first try.”

The piece made an impact on me with its freshness of language and virtuosic display. Perfect for Loop38. Also the spirit in which the piece was written resonated with me. This is our first try to bring adventurous, fresh, new sounds to the heart of Houston. We have been obsessed with getting things perfect, but we should keep Andrew’s words in mind as we embark on this musical adventure; it’s not about us getting it right on the first try, but to simply share our joy and love of new sound experiences with people of Houston and figuring it out together. This piece will open our debut concert on December 6 at MATCH. We hope you’ll be there with us for our first try in bringing new music to the heart of Houston. 

J

what's in a name?

When Jerry and I finally decided to start the ensemble and had our initial core group of 10, the first order of business was to find a name.. and that involved lots of decision-making. From whether or not to incorporate "Houston", "Texas", or "Lone Star" in the name (immediately decided against), "ensemble" or "collective", or to follow Eighth Blackbird or Alarm Will Sound and pick a name that just sounds cool, there were too many and yet also not enough ideas that resonated with us. So, we turned to the group and asked for suggestions in a Google spreadsheet.

 The first email subject line: me at my most eloquent. 

The first email subject line: me at my most eloquent. 

Members could jot down whatever name ideas came to them, and also leave comments or suggestions of similar or related possible names. In the end, we had 22 options with 9 variations, out of which members could rank their top five choices. The most popular was "Loop 38", reflecting the 38-mile long freeway ("the loop") that encircles our little part of Houston we've all ended up in.

As a group of people from so many different parts of the U.S. and abroad, the aspect of having "Loop" in the name helps tie us to our new home without sounding too traditional or obvious. We all liked the continuous movement implied by the word "loop", and its use in music as "a continuously repeated segment of music"

We play new music from all sides of the spectrum, which will hopefully throw you all for a loop. (screen grab from Merriam-Webster)

Originally, Jerry and I had told the members that we would look at the top 5 popular names and use our judgement to decide from the top 5. I'm happy to say we didn't need to override the group's favorite - and after deleting the space between text and numbers, we arrived with Loop38. 

One decision down, 102934879543982 more to go!

-Y