Leo’s probably one of the smartest people I know. His work as a pianist betrays an omnivorous taste that borders on the encyclopaedic. As at home thundering through Stockhausen’s Kontakte as the most delicate Beuger or the most bombastic Beethoven. He is a relentless promoter of new pieces, both as a performer, and as the host of an intimate and uncompromisingly long and quiet concert series held in his front room, which attracts a calibre of performer that belies its humble setting.
His compositions lie within the wandelweiser tradition. Often a single page holds a set of carefully chosen pitches and a small set of instructions. Take for example, his exquisite Trauergondel (https://soundcloud.com/leo-svirsky/trauergondel), in which tiny fragments of Liszt gently float against each other inside the ghostly and transparent exoskeleton of the original piece, or For John McAlpine (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKzC_kgiL0Q) for small ensemble.
His roles of pianist, composer and improviser reach a nexus with the album Songs In The Key Of Survival (http://ehserecords.com/ehse024/). Sparkling and morphing piano improvisations sandwich a set of what I am ill-advisedly calling “singer-songelweiser” voice-and-piano compositions which resolutely refuse to play ball. Simple patterns and lost-connection cellphone silences leave songs on pause before another relentlessly pessimistic lyric reminds us that “the glass is half piss” or “critique itself becomes impossible”.
Here’s a fantastically restrained recording of some of the tracks from Songs In The Key Of Survival dovetailed with free impov:
Political activism, text score calendars, and reconquering musical complexity for the untrained performer are all part of WEISSLICH co-curator David Pocknee‘s unapologetically eccentric output. In a random order, here are some of the things that I love about his work.
The New Fordist Organisation, a group of composers and artists of which David is a part, who apply the principles of industrialised mass-production to artistic creation. Three of my favourite things that David contributed to their exhibition at GEMAK, The Hague, in 2013 (although the many wonderful things they create deserve to be explored in full) include:
a computer-driven method for composition, which lets you improvise an orchestral piece with a MIDI controller and simultaneously writes the score. Efficiency is maximised to the point where you can produce a 10 minute orchestral work in 20 minutes.
An efficiency-saving method for painting which uses a computer to analyse an image and break it up into individual brush strokes of different colours. Any untrained painter can then reproduce the image by copying the brush stroke he or she is told to apply by the computer, which projects these onto the canvas.
An efficiency-saving method for showing untrained performers how to play the piano by transferring the notes of a musical score into a sequence of lights which is projected onto the keys of a piano, showing the performer which key to press at which time.
What I especially like about these works is that they walk the tight-rope between irony and po-faced seriousness beautifully, something which comes back again and again in David’s work. Yes, the whole thing can be read as a critique of (post-)industrial capitalism, but the works the New Fordist Organisation creates in the process are so formally and conceptually interesting that could just as well be appreciated in and of themselves. So you go between these two poles, unsure as to whether the pieces should be seen only as criticisms or whether you are meant to enjoy the sounds/shapes/movements/words they make. Also, check out their beautifully produced exhibition catalogue.
Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012) is best described as a concert hall work of musico-political activism. In this piece, the instrumentation and musical material reflects the fact that between 2009 and 2012, Asko|Schönberg ensemble received the fifth highest amount of state funding amongst Dutch ensembles, and, in 2011, spent more than half of their concerts performing one piece, Kurt Weill’s Threepeny Opera. The piece does what so much music wants to do but shies away from: talk explicitly about what is necessary for musical practitioners to receive state subsidies for art and culture, a process which, as is made evident in the piece, is too often embroiled in
appealing to the only criteria that modern western-european governments think is a judge of quality: profitability and popularity. – David Pocknee, Augenmusik III: The Picture of ASKO|Schönberg (2012)
The performance comes complete with diagrams showing the flow of public subsidy for the arts in the Netherlands.
On a similar theme is Economics (2010), a piece saturated in socio-political irony where the performers throw money on each other’s scores to dictate how and what they play. The score notes that
It is probably best to make a note of how much money you put into the piece before starting. This prevents fights. Players can ask the audience for money. This is a form of public subsidy. – David Pocknee, Economics (2010)
A wonderfully raucous recording can be heard below, where one performer in particular is being pretty heavily invested in.
The first time I got to know David in flesh and blood was through the Text Score A Day project, which had him brushing each tooth with an individual toothbrush, finding all the possible permutations of four plastic cups, and shouting at an imaginary dog to ‘drop it’ for an unadvisedly long period of time, at the first WEISSLICH concert in 2014. The Text Score A Day project involved one text score comprising no more than 140 characters being tweeted each day, every day, for one year between 2012-2013, on the Twitter account @textscoreaday. True to text score tradition, some are thought experiments, provocations, statements, meditations, temptations, fantasies or witticisms as much as (or as well as) instructions to action. The project has now been turned into an online calendar which will renew itself for all eternity. You can see what today’s text score is here.
As well as making concert hall music, art installations, and online text score libraries, David writes essays and publishes journals, tackling subjects as diverse as sadomasochism, virtuosity, human sexuality or indeed public funding and sub-prime culture. You’ll most likely find some strand of conceptual thinking in his piece for the upcoming concert. What I’ve given you here is really the tip of the iceberg as far as his output is concerned, so for the curious amongst you who want to open the pandora’s box that is his brain, I strongly recommend visiting his website: http://www.davidpocknee.com/
Bangers for your belly, romantic apples, and this futuristic pedagogic resource:
Welcome to the musical mind of Beavan Flanagan – another composer featured as part of our Better Know A Weisslich series in the lead up to our 31 October concert at Hundred Years Gallery.
Beavan is a Canadian composer currently based in Manchester where he is pursuing a PhD at The University of Huddersfield. Beavan writes music for instrumentalist and electronic mediums, and starting from 2013 began making experimental sound art. I became especially interested in his music with the first of his experimental sound art pieces, No Chance Music, a web-based piece that feels an awful lot like playing the sound art lottery – just as hopeless as the national lottery and with a reward equally fleeting as it is rare. Continue reading “Better Know A Weisslich: Beavan Flanagan”→
Continuing the ramp up into our next Weisslich concert, we present the work of British artist Eleanor Cully. Eleanor has been active as both a composer and performer of contemporary music, and as a visual artist. She currently resides in Huddersfield where she is completing a masters degree in music composition at The University of Huddersfield as part of the Centre for Research and New Music (CeReNeM).
As part of our Better Know A Weisslich series, we are profiling American composer Robert Blatt, currently based in Miami, where he runs Inlets Ensemble (https://inletsfdn.wordpress.com/).
Robert’s work was performed in WEISSLICH 4 back in October 2015, when this profile was originally written, and he’ll be appearing in person, performing, as part of WEISSLICH Vol. 9 in Manchester and London 13th and 14th January 2017 along with Ensemble Pamplemousse and Antonia Barnett-McIntosh & Emma Bennett.
I’ve known Robert since we studied together in The Hague between 2008-2011, and it’s always a pleasure to present his music, since it encompasses such a huge variety, yet manages to attain a consistently high quality across so many styles and media.
Some of my favourite pieces are the sprawling, multi-layered, metaphorically-rich, alchemical music-theatre works, he wrote in The Hague, such as Sacrament or: Meanwhile the earth has intercourse with the sun, and is impregnated for its yearly parturition (2011), and Nuit or: That which is below is as above, and that which is above is as below. (2010), both of which married an expansive vision to an aesthetic of financial pragmatism I’ve rarely seen matched; both performances, unfortunately, are barely documented – you really had to be there…
Yet another part of his output deals with small works that use simple means to generate complex results, such as his Change series (2011-) of coin-flipping works, a brevity present in his contributions to the @textscoreaday twitter feed. Other smaller, intimate works defy easy documentation, such as the beautiful Empathy for two performers (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/files/scores/empathy.pdf) or site-specific works such as Orangerie Geometry (2014), written for the Darmstadt Orangerie.
For those reading this as potential Weisslich concert-goers, hoping that this post will illuminate Robert’s output in such a way to that would allow them to know what to expect when his work appears on the next Weisslich concert, it is probably clear by now that his output manifests such stylistic and instrumental diversity that any single piece I attach below will be a hopelessly one-sided encapsulation of his work. So, instead of picking a piece that is similar to the one you will witness, I’ll just pick one of my favourites: the strikingly simple, but effortlessly beautiful L’Ascension (2012) for solo piano, played by Leo Svirsky: https://soundcloud.com/robert-blatt/lascension