Perspectives of New Music 43.2/44.1

music around Benjamin Boretz


Music Around
Benjamin Boretz:
Open Spaces2005
Perspectives of New Music
Special Double Issue
Volume 43.2 / 44.1

(by the composers)

Tom Baker Quartet, Residue No. 11 (for Ben Boretz) (2005)

The spontaneous economy of this “comprovisation” by the Tom Baker Quartet seems to exist in a Ben-World, where “I can imagine reimaging music as the residue, even the antithesis, rather than as the avatar, of semiosis, offering a holistic, suigeneric, uninhibitedly hedonistic psychedelia impervious to predications from outside its self-determined introstruction.”

Dániel Péter Biró, Mishpatim

“3y+p%m” (“Mishpatim” – “Laws”) is performed on this recording by the Ensemble SurPlus with Wieland Hoban and Dániel Péter Biró, voices, and with James Avery, conductor. The piece is an experimental investigation into the relationship between written text and music, responding to Benjamin Boretz’s law: “[a]s music, music has to be its own interior discourse, its own, only, fully concrete metalanguage.” The composition is the outcome of research into methods of producing organized sound by means of Gematria. In Hebrew, each letter possesses a numerical value. Gematria is the calculation of the numerical equivalence of letters, words, or phrases, and, on that basis the exploration of the interrelationship between words, ideas and, in this case, musical sounds. All of the pitches, rhythms and techniques are derived from or reactions to text taken from the Biblical text Mishpatim (Exod. 23:1–9). The sections for percussion are based on the text “Do not oppress the stranger: for you know the soul of the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The piece utilizes four languages – Hebrew, English, German and Hungarian - these are musically coded, juxtaposed and sacrificed in the course of the work, while the musical counterpoint, based on Ashkenazi Torah trope is expanded and transfigured. While the pitched ensemble instruments act as a speaking unity, the percussionist represents not one person but many: the “stranger” becomes even “stranger.” As a musical/textual commentary of the ancient Hebrew text, the composition thematizes historical and phenomenological relationships between music and text, tradition and autonomy, collective and stranger, integration and estrangement. Re-tracing the historical becoming of these relationships to their contemporary predicament, the composition exists as a historicized, sonorous question.
3y+p%m (“Mishpatim” Laws)

(Text from Exodus 23:1–9)Hebrew Original and English Translation

Do not accept a false report. Do not join hands with a wicked man to be a false witness.
Do not follow the majority to do evil. Do not respond with your opinion in a dispute merely to lean toward one side. It must be decided by the majority.

Do not show favor to the poor in his dispute.
If you encounter the bull of your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering, return, you shall return it to him.
If you see the donkey of your enemy lying beneath his weight, and you might not want to help him, make every effort to help him.
Do not bend justice for your poor in his dispute.
Keep far away from anything false. Do not kill an innocent righteous man, for I will not acquit a wicked person.
Do not accept bribery, for bribery blinds the clear-sighted, and perverts the words of justice.
Do not oppress a stranger. You know the soul of the stranger - for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Martin Supper. fragment (2003)
for Speaker, two-channel tape, and loudspeakersba

“The murmuring mass of an unknown language constitutes a deliciousprotection, envelops the foreigner ... in an auditory film which halts athis ears all the alienations of the mother tongue.” (Roland Barthes)

“Things speak in numbers... and so music was the first strict physics, thefirst naturally ruled linguistic. Who can be surprised that thefundamentals of physics made it possible for us to create a new music? Orperhaps we should say that it allowed us to create the very murmurrings ofthings themselves, or to understand them.” (Michel Serres).
Durations, dynamics, spatialization, and degree of transformation of thevoice were all determined by structural elements of several texts chosenfrom t

FŸr meinen Freund Benjamin — BAB — zu seinem 70sten Geburtstag. bababbababbabbabab BAB !abbabbababbab




b -> ab

a -> b

Robert Morris, Ode for piano
Ode for piano solo was written in late 2004 for Benjamin Boretz on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The work is based on Ben’s beautiful piano piece, O, which is for the most part a slow series of single pitches, sometimes sustained by the damper pedal. I took Ben’s piece and added an overlay of counterpoint and harmony, all derived from the notes of Ben’s piece. Thus, Ode can be considered a variation on O, although the experience is one of elaboration not variation, per se.
J. K. Randall, (a BenFest) (2004)
The Trajectory of UN(-)
: pros and cons :
I. assembly
II. steps / stages
III. accumulator

Benjamin Boretz:
Downtime (2005) for piano and percussion originated in a request by Michael Fowler for a piece for Ensemble Sirius (Michael and Stuart Gerber). Stuart’s temporary unavailability inspired the idea of an electronic percussion ensemble to interact with the solo piano player. The performance here is by the composer.
Group Variations II.1 (version of 2004):

Group Variations I for chamber orchestra (1967) was first performed in 1967 and 1968 by the intrepid virtuosos who were gathered by Charles Wuorinen and Harvey Sollberger to form the Columbia Group for Contemporary Music. Before them, contemporary music was sometimes performed in New York; there were even some concert series and ensembles dedicated to it; but the Group was revolutionary, instigated a revolution in public-musical culture as radically progressive as the group-Rock revolution (grass-roots collectives of composers and performers taking full responsibility to create and determine the social interface of their creative work) and, inevitably, as abortive (as success attracted attention, money, and ultimately re-introduced the status hierarchies and specializations endemic to the global culture, academic as well as show-biz). Nevertheless, their presence in the 1960s created a cultural energy and geography whose effects have been permanent (for illustration, consider that the New York Times music critics in those days never reviewed any concerts given outside the perimeters of midtown Manhattan - which excluded both the Columbia Group’s concerts on 116th Street and the pioneering new-music concerts conducted by James Tenney and others at the New School on 12th Street - or any concerts given for free; these days, they even travel to Brooklyn...). So it was into this environment and for these players that Group Variations I was composed, and it’s worth recollecting who these players were, if only for the nostalgia of those of us whose musical lives were so profoundly and interestingly affected by the horizonless visions opened by the adventures of those days: Charles Wuorinen, the primordial source of most of this energy, conducted; Harvey Sollberger, who basically reinvented the art of flute playing in our presence, played flute and piccolo; Josef Marx, guru and guide to this youth movement, out of his experience in the radical Berlin new-music world of the 1920s and 1930s, played oboe; the other stalwart regulars were Allen Blustine, Arthur Bloom and Jack Kreiselman (Eb clarinet, Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, respectively); Donald MacCourt (bassoon and contrabassoon); Barry Benjamin (horn); James Biddlecombe (tenor-bass trombone); Richard Fitz and Raymond DesRoches (vibraphone and glockenspiel); Joan Tower (celesta); Robert Miller (piano); Jeanne Benjamin (violin); Jacob Glick (viola); Fred Sherry (cello); Kenneth Fricker (bass). Their long and strenuous efforts on behalf of the performance of Group Variations I were astonishing to me then - still are - and have left me ever since with a sense of warm support and enthusiastic colleagueship such as I have never again experienced, and will always hold precious.

The computer-synthesized recomposition of Group Variations was begun in 1970, working with Jim Randall and Godfrey Winham (in Godfrey’s Music IV program) at the Princeton Music Department/Bell Labs computer-music facility; a later version (GV II ), formulated with Barry Vercoe’s help in his Music 360 program, was issued on a CRI LP in 1974; a new version (re-converted from the original digital tapes by Paul Lansky) was released on an Open Space CD in 1993; and this new version, resynthesized to more nearly reflect the sound and time qualities of the original orchestra piece, was realized in 2004 with the help of Mary Lee Roberts. Russell Richardson has composed (2005) a video piece incorporating Group Variations II.1 which will appear during 2006 on an Open Space DVD.
O (2000) for piano is here because of Bob Morris’s Ode, written for this occasion, in which O is fully embedded.
UN(-) for orchestra (1999) was composed for the players of the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra and their conductor, my longtime friend and teaching colleague Luis Garcia-Renart. My even longertime friend and colleague Harvey Sollberger and I rebonded, after many years apart (not quite since the Group Variations days), over the 2002 performance recorded here.

track contents
CD 1
[1]        Benjamin Boretz, Downtime (2005) [19:45]
for piano and percussion
performed by the compose
[2]        Tom Baker, Residue No. 11 (for Ben Boretz) [3:30]
The Tom Baker Quartet
Tom Baker, fretless guitar
Greg Campbell, drums
Jesse Canterbury, clarinet
Brian Cobb, bass
Recorded at Jack Straw Productions, May, 2005.
Engineered by Doug Haire.
Edited and Mixed by Tom Baker.
© TBQ 2005 All Rights Reserved

[3]        Dániel Péter Biró, Mishpatim [12:00]

Ensemble SurPlus
Wieland Hoban and Dániel Péter Biró, voices
James Avery, conductor

[4]        Martin Supper, fragment (2003) [3:40]

for speaker, two-channel tape, and loudspeaker
Speaker: Hans Zischler

[5]        Benjamin Boretz, Group Variations II.1 [14:00]

(version of 2004) for computer

[6]        Benjamin Boretz, O for piano (2000) [11:45]

Michael Fowler, piano
(from Open Space CD 18)
CD 2
[1]        Robert Morris, Ode for piano [8:15]
Margaret Kampmeier. Piano

[2]        Benjamin Boretz, UN(-) for orchestra (1999) [12:20]

La Jolla Symphony, Harvey Sollberger, conductor
(from Open Space CD 19)
[3-8]    J. K. Randall, (a benfest) The Trajectory of UN(-) [38:00]
: pros and cons :
I. assembly [11:50]
II. steps / stages
1. [8:25]
2. [7:25]
3. [5:15]
III. accumulator [5:00]
performed by the composer



CD 2, track 1 recorded at Taplin Hall, Princeton University, July 8, 2005
by Mary Lee A. Roberts
Mastered by Mary Lee A. Roberts, 2005
Produced 2005 by Mary Lee A. Roberts

Perspectives of New Music




photo on cover is Palouse 5, by Joël-François Durand.
copyright Joël-François Durand 2004. used by permission. all rights reserved.