Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Celebrate Beethoven’s Birthday without Beethoven

While there is no documentary support, it is generally assumed that Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770. (The earliest document records his baptism on the following day.) That is a day when classical music broadcasting tends to go overboard in playing Beethoven’s music. Therefore, some may find it a relief that next month, on December 16, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players will offer a free event that will have absolutely nothing to do with Beethoven!
Pauline Oliveros’ diagrammatic representation of the nature of listening based on her Sonic Meditations compositions (from the Sonic Meditations entry on The Hum blog)

That event will be Sonic Meditations, the next offering presented under the auspices of the in the COMMUNITY Series. These are performances that break the usual sit-still-and-listen barrier. Instead, the performances encourage audience participation, in this case deemed necessary by the composers of the works being performed. Indeed, the title of the program comes from one of the two composers whose work will be presented, Pauline Oliveros. It refers to a collection of sixteen “social encounters,” all of which explore procedures for (in Oliveros’ words from the second introduction to Sonic Meditations):
  1. Actually making sounds
  2. Actively imagining sounds
  3. Listening to present sounds
  4. Remembering sounds
SFCMP will present the third of the pieces in this collection, which, in turn, consists of two parts, “Pacific Tell” and “Telepathic Improvisation.” The “score” for each of these pieces is a set of instructions. Knowledge of music notation is not necessary to follow those instructions, meaning that anyone present as audience is expected to be an actively involved participant.

The other composer being represented will be Cornelius Cardew. He created a piece based on a seven-paragraph treatise by Confucius entitled “The Great Learning.” In this case Cardew does use music notation, but not for all of the paragraphs. Some of the paragraphs specify that they have been composed “For any number of untrained voices.” The final paragraph is one of those pieces, and the score is a set of instructions for how a sequence of words and phrases is to be sung, with intervening periods of humming.

While musical training is not necessary to perform this piece, an understanding of Cardew’s techniques is required. Thus, the performance of the seventh paragraph, which will follow the Oliveros exercise in meditation, will be guided by San Francisco’s resident Cornelius Cardew Choir and its Director Tom Bickley. SFCMP Artistic Director Eric Dudley will serve as “tour guide” for the entire occasion, facilitating both experiencing and participating. While Oliveros says nothing about the amount of time required for any of her meditations, Cardew’s score specified that the performance of the seventh paragraph of “The Great Learning” should last about 90 minutes. (I happen to have a recording of a performance of this paragraph, conducted by Cardew himself; and it lasts only about twenty minutes.)

This event will begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday, December 16. The venue will be The Women’s Building, located in the Mission at 3543 18th Street #8, about halfway between Valencia Street and Guerrero Street. The occasion will also involve festive snacks and chorus-inducing drinks. The event will be free, open to the public, and family friendly. Nevertheless, an RSVP from anyone planning to attend is encouraged. A Web page has been created through which one can specify how many attendees will be covered by that RSVP.

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