by Robert Leeper
The longest day of the year was greeted in New York on Saturday with enough activity to tide people over well into the summer. Out on Coney Island, there was the Mermaid Parade; in Times Square, thousands flocked to do yoga. Whatever you did, it was a beautiful day to be out.
But, for my money, the thing to do this summer solstice was Make Music New York, with some 1,300 shows taking place throughout the five boroughs. Make Music NY first appeared in 1989, inspired by France’s Fête de la Musique. In 2007, the event resurfaced with a vengeance, focusing on site specific events and sheer quantity and accessibility to inundate the City with music.
With music literally spilling out into the streets of New York, I tried to cover as much of it as I could--though in the end, I ended up seeing only a small fraction. My journey began at 2pm outside of Greenwich Village's Cornelia Street Cafe. Composers Collaborative presented In (Key), a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Terry Riley’s iconic (or, depending on your point of view, infamous) ode to short rhythmic motives, In C. Riley’s 1964 response to the academic serialism of the time seemed well at home with the relaxed mix of minimalist super-fans, casual brunch goers, and nervous, out-of-their-element NYU parents.
More than one perplexed passersby—not quite sure exactly what was happening —seemed pleased with what they were hearing, even if they couldn't quite understand why the large white tents had been set up in the middle of the street. How could they not: the sun was shining; the musicians were smiling. It was exactly the right environment for In C, and for all of Make Music NY: unpretentious and inviting.
The 12 pieces presented ran through all of the keys available in the western tonal system, and were all inspired in one way or another by Riley’s original. There was IN A by John King, Around Eb by Gene Pritsker, and IN DCENT by Lisa Maree Dowling. Similar to Riley's original, the pieces had short musical cells of varying musical quality, as well as other techniques—often in an effort to tweak the formula a bit.
On my way to the train, I stumbled upon the Joe’s Pub block party, where I caught the end of New Zealand duo Fredericks Brown and the beginning of Bridget Barkan's set playing some indie-folk for the crowd on Astor Place. Just the right thing for a warm, clear day.
Across the river in Queens, Norte Maar presented SOUNDEVENT, a series of site-specific sound installations at Socrates Sculpture Park. Youngers and the elderly alike lounged in the grass surrounded by sculptures (which will remain on view thru August 3rd) while drinking wine, chatting and munching on summer snacks.
David Tudor's Rainforest I by Composers Inside Electronics played underneath Paweł Althamer's Queen Mother of Reality. Originally a sound-score for Merce Cunningham's dance work of the same name, it features electronic signals that are sent through objects instead of amplified through a speaker; the vibrations created are picked up with a contact microphone for mixing and filtering, then released through a more traditional speaker set-up essentially "playing" the natural sounds and vibrations of everyday objects. The two hour performance made use of all manner of objects of various materials, shapes and densities to create sounds that were both alien and oddly organic.
I had to smile at the children and adults examining the speakers seeming to be randomly placed beneath Žilvinas Kempinas’ Scarecrow—clearly, they were not familiar with the work of Tristan Perich. Without a word of introduction, Perich and percussionist Russell Greenberg made their way to the speakers and crotales in front of them and began to perform Perich’s Observations. The stream of sound stayed within a rather small range, with the slight rhythmic evolutions indicative of electo-acoustic music.
With philosophical musings on the mind, the crowd made its way over to a trio performance with Lesley Flanigan - Mr. Perich’s partner in life and electronic exploration - Maria Chavez, and MV Carbon. Amongst the trees, the three created a feedback-drenched sound collage. Particularly fascinating was Chavez’s use of aleatoric procedures in turntablism, a style she has written extensively about. Flanigan's music was more subtle--long feedback drones and her ethereal voice were interrupted by spits and crackles as her speakers and microphone interfaced in bizarre ways.
As the longest day of the year came to a close, the crowd gathered for a yearly Solstice meditation by the Urban Shaman, Mama Donna. The music wasn’t quite over as I made my way out, but a day of sun and constant musical stimulation had done me in. After eight years of filling the streets of New York with music, I hope Make Music NY will continue surprising tourists and exhausting those who try to do too much for a long time to come.