Electronic Feed

MATA's Young Composers Now! Festival at The Kitchen

by Steven Pisano

Mata Festival at The Kitchen(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The MATA Young Composers Now! festival, ending a week-long run at The Kitchen tonight, turns 20 years old next year. Over that span of time, MATA has introduced audiences to what developing composers around the globe have been exploring. The results are often thrilling, sometimes bewildering - and never boring. 

Tuesday’s lineup was entitled “Wow and Flutter,” and featured the Danish ensemble Scenatet playing works by composers from as far away as Germany, Turkey and Japan. A highlight of the festival is that most of the composers are actually on hand to discuss their work with executive director Todd Tarantino and artistic director Du Yun - who, in a happy coincidence, just won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Kaj Duncan David (England/Denmark) kicked off the festival with “Computer Music”, featuring the seven members of Scenatet seated at a long table as if at a banquet, with MacBooks in front of them. The music was a little like what you might hear in an old arcade video game: each time a tone sounded, one of the musicians lit up with a color. Think of the scene at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, when the scientists and aliens communicate with each other through light and sound. If aliens land in New York this week, we can send out Kaj Duncan David to communicate with them!

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Big Ears Festival 2017 Recap

ACME Big Ears 2017

"I think the unexpected nature (of Knoxville) gives the festival a certain relief that it wouldn't have if it was where everybody expects it to be."

- Ashley Capps, Founder/Artistic Director, Big Ears Festival

When most people think of Knoxville - if they think of this east Tennessee city of less than 200,000 at all - they might think of the University of Tennessee, which has its main campus in town, or of the surrounding Appalachians, which gave us both moonshine and Dolly Parton. But, for some time now, Knoxville has transcended its relative obscurity with its outsized cultural offerings: it has its own orchestra, its own art museum, and in the past year alone, more than two dozen restaurants and breweries have opened downtown.

But, if there's one thing that's put Knoxville on the international map more than anything over the past few years, it's the Big Ears Festival, the ear-bending festival of new and adventurous music that just wrapped up its sixth edition this past weekend. This was my third consecutive Big Ears, and everything seemed both bigger and more accessible this year. Indeed, it was difficult to walk anywhere in downtown Knoxville without feeling that you were in the middle of a musical theme park. I mean, where else can you bounce from jazz pianist Matthew Shipp, to Meredith Monk, to Wilco? And, that was just on Friday.  

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Tristan Perich at The Kitchen

by Robert Leeper and FoM Dither Quartet
Let me cut to the chase: there is no one today writing music that is more relevant, more engaging, more viscerally exciting than Tristan Perich. Over the past decade, Tristan has carved out a unique niche at the crossroads of acoustic and electronic, of visual art and sound, of theoretical physics and hacker culture. And he's done so in a way that cloaks his music's complexity in a vein of ecstatic trance, much as Steve Reich does in his deceptively minimalist compositions. 

The Kitchen, which has been something of a home for Tristan over the past few years, presented a two-day retrospective of his music this past weekend, all of which utilized 1-bit electronics and a variety of acoustic and amplified instruments. On their own, these 1-bit sounds come across like a Game Boy gone wild, but there is something uniquely satisfying, even thrilling, about the interplay between digital and analog Tristan achieves with these works.

"I think about the basic states of a signal," he says, "as it moves through a circuitboard and then out to a speaker... (the same as music) from a score to the actions of a musician on stage."

On Friday night, electric guitar quartet Dither kicked things off with a new version of Interference Logic (2010, rev. 2017). The music started softly and simply, until suddenly the peace was shattered by a piercing electronic pulse: not quite a siren, but no less insistent or penetrating. Over time, the guitars slowly built in volume until they eventually overpowered the 4-channel electronics. Man: 1, Machine: 0.

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