Somehow I found myself with my ear pressed to the lid of a grand piano yesterday afternoon. A woman from the back of the room walked backwards to a stage in front, at the same time she sang something –I’m pretty sure—backwards (!). She then stood facing the audience, with the piano in back of her, and began playing it with her hands behind her back.
She suggested that audience members might come up to the instrument to hug their ear against the cabinet as she sang and the last chords of her piano performance resonated through the wood. How could I resist?
It was like putting one’s ear to the ground to hear what’s coming in the distance or snuggling the side of your head against a pregnant woman’s belly—except in reverse—for the dissipation, not anticipation. The sounds of her voice resonating with the piano’s had the opposite effect in me: to inspire movement forward. I was hearing something new.
Her name is Gelsey Bell, one of nine other women composers and performers at Composer’s Voice, a bi-weekly concert series at Jan Hus Church, 351 E 74th St, NYC. The concerts—free and open to the public—are sponsored by Vox Novus, curated by avant composer/producer Rob Voisey, and dedicated to composers who write and perform the music of today.
What kind of music is that? Well, ironically, on the subway en route to the concert I was reading an article from the current issue of The New Yorker about the Top 40 and how the latest hits by Rhianna are made. Like most all others of the genre: by formula and assembly line. A committee meets for a demo, lays down some beats, throws in the synth tracks, loops, and etc., then Rhianna enters the recording booth, and, as she says, “I just go in there and scream and they fix it.” Precious.
At Composer’s Voice they’ve done the writing themselves. And yes, perhaps, maybe some computer generated electronica or whatnot and/or collaboration, on occasion, but there’s no committee throwing in plug-ins and fixing. It’s live, and you actually have to have the skill to perform what you’ve composed. That takes talent, not artifice (fellow composers/musicians, more than anyone, will know what I mean). And it’s on the edge of what’s happening, not endlessly churning the same-o, same-o. Avant. Mos def not Top 40.
Got an ear for something new? Check it out: next up, “Perspective—Japan,” April 8th. More deets at www.voxnovus.com