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…
As well as these monumental compositions, his installation work is extensive, encompassing the destructive Guitar Swing (2013) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/guitarswing.html), in which a suspended guitar acts as a mechanically-controlled battering-ram to destroy a wall of sexually-explicit vinyl album covers, and the more conventional sound-art works such as Elements (2013) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/Elements.html) and Utility Poles (2014) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/UtilityPoles.html).
Then there are the interdisciplinary performance pieces, often performed with Acid Police Noise Ensemble, such as Pars Pro Toto (2011) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/pars_pro_toto.html), a collective composition which sprawled over several rooms, and the loud and violent Lucifer, The Scapegoat (as part of Stockhausen Serves Terrorism (2011) http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/stockhausen.html) which led to the Dutch police shutting down the concert.
Technology as aesthetic mediator makes frequent appearances in his work, sometimes manifest through algorithmically-generated scores, of which the most extreme versions occur in the relentless computer-aided creativity of The Art Of Production (2013) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/ArtOfProduction.html), as part of the New Fordist Organization exhibition and the epic, completist Forty-Three Thousand Five Hundred and Eleven (2015) for solo guitar (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/files/scores/43511.pdf). In other places, technology occurs in the creation of new instruments, such as the Light Organ (from Glass Onion (2012)), a contraption of light-bulbs contact-mics and computer, coupling light and sound (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/organ.html). Elsewhere, technology appears as a mediator of listening, in works such as Three Blind Mice (2014) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/ThreeBlindMice.html) or Walking Listening (2014) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/pieces/ListeningWalking.html), both of which use specially-built electronics to change the performers’ relationship to the environment, themselves and their fellow performers through the use of white noise to map a space for blindfolded performers, or the algorithmic control of a listening walk via a small box with GPS, delivering walking and listening instructions via LCD screen.
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.
And finally, there are those works that deal with brutal sheets of noise, such as the recent Igneous (https://archive.org/details/BlattIgneous), for four performers with stones, tiles and video written for the Rock, Paper Scissors series of three concerts he organized in Miami (http://rockpaperscissors.ricercata.org/) Oryza Sativa (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/files/scores/OryzaSativa.pdf) (2010) for two electric guitars, hammond organ and rice, and Discriminate Brutality (2011) (http://robertblatt.ricercata.org/files/scores/DiscriminateBrutality.pdf), for two prepared electric guitars.
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
– David Pocknee