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Maria de Alvear (foreground), John Luther Adams, Charles Amirkhanian, Billy Bang, Michael Nyman

It was a pleasure to reconvene our annual San Francisco gathering of musical Otherness. Welcome to our city by the bay and to the unique and soulful noise of the composers of Other Minds.

Festival 11 was honored to have in our midst the distinguished English composer Michael Nyman whose 60th year we celebrated on opening night. A product of the London Blitz, Michael never fails to set off sparks on way or the other. His incisive and opinionated critical writing, his starkly simple chord changes, and his powerfully effective scoring of films by Peter Greenaway have contributed to his legend.

We were also pleased to have with us two African-American violinist-composers this year: Daniel Bernard Roumain and Billy Bang. Mr. Roumain, who has become a household name on the American musical scene, was born to Haitian-American parents; he has been a charismatic force in bridging the gap between European classical styles and hip-hop music. The superb Del Sol String Quartet performed Mr. Nyman’s music and were joined by DJ Scientific and DBR himself for the premiere of Roumain’s 4th Quartet, commissioned by Other Minds. Billy Bang’s music achieved a new maturity as the composer came to grips with his life-changing experiences as an American soldier in Vietnam. With his quintet he premiered new selections from his profoundly moving trilogy on that subject to close our festival.

Speaking of bangs, we were proud to introduce to San Francisco the brilliant young group from New Haven known as So Percussion. This quartet has performed everywhere to rave reviews with a super refined presentation that sets them apart from the average. We’ll hear them doing music inspired by the coldest and hottest parts of the planet. In John Luther AdamsStrange and Sacred Noise the icy chill of Alaska is evoked by eerie simultaneous chords on multiple vibraphones. In Evan Ziporyn’s Melody Competition the steamy humidity of Bali perfumes the concert hall. And Fred Frith, the worlds most amazing guitarist-improvisor, joins instrument builder Sudhu Tewari for a set that was observed by many with dropped jaws.

Maria de Alvear, a native of Madrid living in Cologne, made her first appearance in San Francisco with a new work composer for herself, cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, and Indian dhrupad vocalist Amelia Cuni. Electronically speaking, we had Phill Niblock’s multi-channel drone work for bowed guitar and Charles Amirkhanian’s Son of Metropolis San Francisco, an ambient sound portrait of our beloved city, projected into space over an array of loudspeakers generously provided by Meyer Sound.

We were also pleased to honor the American composer Marc Blitzstein on the occasion of his centenary and to welcome members of his family to San Francisco to help us celebrate. Blitzstein’s great achievement was to make political songs into fine art and to follow his progressive vision whatever the personal expense. Other Minds succeeded in bringing his story to a new generation of listeners.

Artist Bios

Born January 19, 1945, in Fresno, California, composer, percussionist, sound poet and radio producer Charles Amirkhanian is a leading practitioner of electroacoustic music and text-sound composition and has been instrumental in the dissemination of contemporary music through his work as Music Director of KPFA/Berkeley from 1969 to 1992. He also directed the Speaking of Music series at the Exploratorium in San Francisco (1983-1992) and was the founding Co-Director (with John Lifton) of the Composer-to-Composer Festival in Telluride, Colorado (1988-1991). From 1993 to 1997 Amirkhanian was Executive Director of the Djerassi Residence Artists Program in Woodside, California. From 1993 he has been Artistic Director of Other Minds. In May of 1998 Amirkhanian was appointed Executive Director.

In 1990 Amirkhanian completed an extended spoken word portrait of the late American composer Morton Feldman, incorporating his extant recorded speeches and conversations, on commission from Meet the Composer/Reader’s Digest (Loudspeakers, 1990). This 35-minute composition was premiered at the Electronic Music Plus Festival at Mills College in Oakland, California, on April 3, 1991, and was aired nationally over the NPR Satellite in January 1992. In 1991 he composed A Berkelium Canon (with Henry Kaiser), a digital pianistic tribute to Nicolas Slonimsky, on the occasion of the latter’s 97th birthday.

His music has been recorded on Starkland Records, 1750 Arch Records, Composers Recordings, Inc., Giorno Poetry Systems, Fylkingen Records (Sweden), S Press (Germany), OU Records (England), Perspectives of New Music, and Diffusion i Média (Canada). His CD Walking Tune, containing five works, was released in 1998 by Starkland Records.

Born in 1953, John Luther Adams grew up in the South and in the suburbs of New York City. He studied composition with James Tenney at the California Institute of the Arts, where he was in the first graduating class (in 1973). In the mid-1970s he became active in the campaign for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and subsequently served as executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. Adams has taught at Harvard University, the Oberlin Conservatory, Bennington College, and the University of Alaska. He has also served as composer in residence with the Anchorage Symphony, Anchorage Opera, Fairbanks Symphony, Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Maria de Alvear was born in Madrid in 1960. She studied music mainly in Spain and Germany: harpsichord, organ, piano, conducting, and composition. In 1986 she finished studying “Neues Musiktheater“ with Prof. Mauricio Kagel at the Musikhochschule Köln. De Alvear´s work is an interactive work based on the knowledge of energetic connections. In every musical event (concert) she joins the power of visual art together with the musical structure. To give an example: She creates around a chamber orchestra an installation with several different materials as salt, stones, branches or leaves, clothes, golden or colored threads, video installations in several different ways, depending on the needs that the music piece and the performing room have told her. She works also as a performer and singer in her own pieces. The inner essence of her work is to create protected open spaces (spiritual space, physical space, psychological space etc.) in which the performer and the audience can experience profound freedom of being.

Some of her pieces are based on taboo themes of our western society thinking, creating conflictive debates and interesting interactions as a response to her work. Which means that De Alvear´s work is also a courageous dialog with the establishment. The involvement of spiritual qualities and energetic knowledge in her work demands a responsible deep understanding of the strong power of music and art that should be taken care of in a good and strong way. She has been very influenced by her traveling that she has done to different aboriginal nations in US and Russia looking for the deep essence of music, trying to understand also the roots of musical development. Very important for her has been the intense work with Tsolagiu M.A. RuizRazo (Cherokee nation) and Rahkweeskeh (Tuscarora nation). She thinks they were most important teachers concerning the interaction between music and physical as well as non physical reality.

The violin is hardly the first instrument that comes to mind when you think about jazz, but that never daunted Billy Bang, one of the instrument’s most adventurous exponents. Over the past 30 years Bang’s hard-edged tone, soulful sense of traditional swing and evocatively expressive style enhanced over two dozen albums by top names in a variety of genres, from the blistering funk of Bootsy Collins and the harmolodic groove of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society to the intergalactic uproar of Sun Ra. With more than 15 albums under his own leadership, nearly a dozen more in co-led endeavors, and five more with the String Trio of New York (which he co-founded in 1977 with guitarist James Emery and bassist John Lindberg), Billy Bang was one of the more prolific and original members of the progressive scene.

Born William Vincent Walker in Mobile, Alabama in 1947, his family moved to New York City’s Harlem while he was still an infant. In junior high school he was nicknamed Billy Bang after a cartoon character, and over his initial protests, it stuck. Around the same time, his primary interest turned to music and he took up the violin, switching to percussion in the early ‘60s when he became captivated by Afro-Cuban rhythms. While attending a Massachusetts prep school under full scholarship, he met and began playing with fellow-student, folk-singer Arlo Guthrie. Drafted into the army following graduation, Bang was sent to Vietnam, an experience that profoundly affected his life, often quite painfully. Returning home and radicalized, Billy became active in the anti-war movement, and by the late ‘60s had returned to music.

Heavily inspired by the exploratory fire of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and the liberating energy of the free-jazz movement, Bang returned to the violin as his principal means of expression. Attending New York’s Queens College, and studying privately with renowned violinist Leroy Jenkins, Bang became a key member of the dynamic New York avant-garde scene of the ‘70s. A dazzling improviser, excellent composer, and provocative leader, Billy Ban remained on the cutting-edge of jazz expression until his passing on April 11, 2011.

Fred  Frith, composer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist, has situated himself for more than thirty years in the  area where rock music and new music meet. Co-founder of the British underground band Henry Cow (1968-78), he  moved to New York in the late seventies and came into contact with many of the musicians with whom he’s  since been associated, including, for example, John  Zorn, Ikue Mori, Tom Cora, Zeena Parkins, and Bob Ostertag. Fourteen years in New York gave rise to groups like Massacre (with Bill Laswell and Fred Maher), Skeleton Crew (with Tom  and Zeena), and Keep the Dog, a sextet performimg an extensive repertoire of Frith’s compositions.

In the eighties he began to write for dance, film, and theatre, and this in turn has led to his composing for Rova Sax Quartet, Ensemble Modern, Asko Ensemble, and a number of other groups, including his own critically acclaimed Guitar Quartet. Best known world-wide as an improvising guitarist, Frith has also performed in a variety of other contexts, playing bass in John Zorn’s  Naked City, violin in Lars Hollmer’s Looping Home  Orchestra, and guitar on recordings ranging from The  Residents and René Lussier to Brian Eno and Amy Denio. Frith is the subject of Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzels’ award-winning  documentary film Step Across the Border. He is currently Professor of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he lives with photographer Heike Liss and their children Finn and Lucia.

Phill Niblock is an intermedia artist using music, film, photography, video, and computers. He makes thick, loud drones of music, filled with microtones of instrumental timbres which generate many other tones in the performance space. Simultaneously, he presents films/videos which look at the movement of people working, or computer driven black and white abstract images floating through time. He was born in Indiana in 1933. Since the mid-60’s he has been making music and intermedia performances which have been shown at numerous venues around the world: The Museum of Modern Art; The Wadsworth Atheneum; the Kitchen; the Paris Autumn Festival; Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Akademie der Kunste, Berlin;  ZKM; Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard; World Music Institute at Merkin Hall NYC. Since 1985, he has been the director of the Experimental Intermedia Foundation where he has been an artist/member since 1968. He is the producer of Music and Intermedia presentations at EI since 1973 (about 1000 performances) and the curator of EI’s XI Records label. In 1993 he was part of the formation of an Experimental Intermedia organization in Ghent, Belgium – EI v.z.w. Gent – which supports an artist-in-residence house and installations there. Phill Niblock’s music is available on the XI, Moikai and Touch labels. A DVD of films and music is available on the Extreme label.

When Michael Nyman published his study Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (1974, reprinted 1999), he could hardly have foreseen his own contribution to that “beyond.”  Disaffected with the then current orthodoxies of international modernism, Nyman had abandoned composition in 1964, preferring to work as a musicologist, editing Purcell and Handel, and collecting folk music in Romania.  Later he wrote criticism for several journals, including The Spectator, where, in a 1968 review of Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Digest, he became the first to apply the word minimalism to music. That same year, a BBC broadcast of Steve Reich’s Come Out opened his ears to further possibilities, and a route back to composition began to emerge.  In 1968 he wrote the libretto for Harrison Birtwistle’s “dramatic pastoral” Down by the Greenwood Side. Later, Birtwistle, by now Musical Director of the National Theatre, London, commissioned him to provide arrangements of 18th century Venetian songs for a 1976 production of Carlo Goldoni’s Il Campiello, for which Nyman assembled what he would describe as “the loudest unamplified street band” he could imagine: rebecs, sackbuts, shawms alongside banjo, bass drum, and saxophone.

His music has reached its largest audience by way of his film scores, most famously for Peter Greenaway, with whom he collaborated on eleven movies between 1976 and 1991.  Other directors with whom he has worked include Jane Campion (The Piano, 1992), Volker Schlöndorff (The Ogre, 1996), Neil Jordan (The End of the Affair, 1999) and Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland, 1999 and The Claim, 2000).  He also collaborated with Damon Albarn on the music for Antonia Bird’s Ravenous (1998). Nyman has provided music for a fashion show (Yamamoto Perpetuo for designer Yohji Yamamoto, (1993), the opening of a high-speed rail link (MGV, 1993) and a computer game (Enemy Zero, 1996).  That sensitivity to occasion is enriched by a talent, shared with baroque composers, for refiguration: the Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings develops ideas encountered in The Convertibility of Lute Strings and Tango for Tim; the Third String Quartet lies behind the score for Christopher Hampton’s 1996 movie Carrington.

At every turn Nyman has proved eminently practical.  Not for him the ivory tower anguish of a tormented composer grappling with abstract systems.  Rather he has consistently displayed an openess to collaboration, a spry sense of humor, a literate imagination and an instinctive ability to engage a highly diverse audience.

Daniel Bernard Roumain (aka DBR) is one of the few composers to have danced alongside Bill T. Jones, played with Philip Glass, and jammed with Cassandra Wilson. DBR’s hip-hop/classical style of music has been embraced by orchestras, chamber ensembles, and mainstream pop, rock, and jazz musicians worldwide; he is quickly developing a new, diverse audience for his music. DBR recently composed and performed orchestral arrangements with Grammy-Award winning vocalist Cassandra Wilson and her band, while conducting the Seattle Symphony Orchestra to a sold out house. In February 2004, over 2000 people attended the premiere of Rockestra: A Hip-Hop Music and Dance Party, at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium, featuring DJ Radar and sponsored by the American Express Beyond Broadway Series. During the 2003-04 season, both the Dallas and Memphis Symphony Orchestras performed DBR’s Hip-Hop Essay for orchestra, while the St. Louis Symphony performed his Haitian Essay for orchestra. The San Antonio Symphony kicked off it’s 2002-03 season with Human Songs and Stories For orchestra, narrator, and the people, commissioned by Texas Public Radio, and featuring basketball star David Robinson as narrator. As Assistant Composer-in-Residence at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, DBR composed two commissioned works for the chamber ensemble in Fast-Black-Dance-Machine and String Quartet No. 3, Powell for Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Additonally, DBR serves as the Director/Founder of its Young Composers Development Program. As the first Music Director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, DBR composed works for and was a featured performer during the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) performances with Susan Sarandon, Cassandra Wilson, Vernon Reid, and DJ Spooky. DBR has performed in New York City at Carnegie Hall, Weil Recital Hall, Lincoln Center’s Summer Festival, Merkin Hall, Aaron Davis Hall, Joe’s Pub, Symphony Space, Brooklyn Academy of Music, BAM Cafe, Miller Theatre, Sugar Shack, Exit Art, Roulette, The Kitchen, St. Mark’s Church, Music at the Anthology, and the Cornelia Street Cafe. Roumain’s ensemble, DBR”s Mission, regularly performs in the legendary East Village downtown district at the Bowery Poetry Club, steps away from CBGB’s. DBR’s performance at Merkin Hall was rated as the 3rd Best Classical Moment of 2003 by the New York Times and DBR was voted one of the Top 100 New Yorkers by NYC Resident Magazine that same year.

Born in Chicago in 1959, Evan Ziporyn received degrees from Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley, where his teachers included John Blacking, Martin Bresnick, Gerard Grisey, and David Lewin. Upon completing a Fullbright Fellowship in Indonesia, he became Musical Coordinator of San Francisco’s Gamelan Sekar Jaya in 1988. He collaborated with Balinese composer I Nyoman Windha on Kekembangan, a border-crossing work for full gamelan and saxophone quartet. Moving to Boston in 1990 to take a teaching position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he founded Gamelan Galak Tika in 1993. His works for gamelan and western instruments have been released on two volumes for New World Records.

As a performer and recording artist, Ziporyn has worked with a range of master musicians from numerous musical cultures, including Paul Simon (with whom he toured throughout the fall of 2000), DJ Spooky, Matthew Shipp, Balinese dalang I Wayan Wija, Burmese pat waing master Kyaw Kyaw Naing, Darius Brubeck, Nobukazu Takemura, Todd Reynolds and Ethel, Sandhile Shange and Allen Kwela, Bob Moses, Andrea Parker,  Trichy Sankaran, and Tony Scott. Venues have included New York’s Lincoln Center, the Sydney Opera House (for the 2000 Olympic Arts Festival), Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, London’s Southbank Centre, the Bali Arts Festival, and at least a dozen other countries. As a player, he has recorded for Sony Classical, Nonesuch, Gramavision, New Albion, and Point Music. He has received grants from the Rockefeller Multi-Arts Program, Meet the Composer, the New England Foundation for the Arts, NEA/Arts International, ASCAP, the Cambridge Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is Head of Music and Theater Arts. His puppet opera, ShadowBang, a collaboration with Balinese puppeteer I Wayan Wija, was recently released on Cantaloupe Music. Upcoming projects include a new work for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, a concerto for pipa and gamelan, and music for the America Repertory Theater’s upcoming production of Oedipus Rex.

Festival Program

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco

Thursday, February 24, 2005
7:00 pm: Panel Discussion
8:00 pm: CONCERT

Phill Niblock
Sethwork (2003)
West Coast premiere
Seth Josel, guitars with e-bow

Daniel Bernard Roumain
String Quartet No. 4, Angelou (2005)
World premiere
Daniel Bernard Roumain, electric violin; DJ Scientific;
Del Sol String Quartet (Kate Stenberg, 1st violin; Rick Shinozaki, 2nd violin;
Charlton Lee, viola; Monica Scott, cello)
Commissioned by Other Minds and sponsored in part through a grant from the Cultural Equities Grants Program of the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Michael Nyman
Manhatta (film by Paul Strand, 1920)
Solo piano selections from his score for the film The Piano
String Quartet No. 3 (1989)
Nyman, piano; Del Sol String Quartet; Cheryl Keller, soprano

Friday, February 25, 2005
7:00 pm: Panel Discussion
8:00 pm: CONCERT

Charles Amirkhanian
Son of Metropolis San Francisco (1986;1997)
Hörspiel (tape)

Fred Frith
New works (2005)
World premieres
Frith, guitar; Sudhu Tewari, homemade instruments

Maria de Alvear
Gran Sol (2005)
World premiere
Alvear, vocals; Amelia Cuni, vocals; Joan Jeanrenaud, cello

Saturday, February 26, 2005
11:00 am: Forum

Film: Cradle Will Rock
(Tim Robbins, 1999)
Original Story and score by Marc Blitzstein
Starring Hank Azaria, John Cusack,
Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan
Sarandon, and John Turturro

2:00 pm: Forum

Marc Blitzstein
Piano Percussion Music (1929)
West Coast premiere
Sarah Cahill, piano

Songs on texts of Walt Whitman and e.e. cummings, and from
The Cradle Will Rock, No for an Answer, and Regina.
Amy X Neuburg, vocals; John Duykers, vocals; Eric A. Gordon, vocals; Sarah Cahill, piano
Film: Hände
(Hands, Albrecht Viktor Blum, 1927)

Eric A. Gordon, biographer
(Mark the Music, St. Martin’s Press, 1989)

7:00 pm: Theatre
Panel Discussion: John Luther Adams, Evan Ziporyn, Billy Bang, moderated by Charles Amirkhanian
8:00 pm: CONCERT

John Luther Adams
Strange and Sacred Noise (1997)
…dust into dust… (snare drums)
clusters on a quadrilateral grid (2) (vibraphones)
solitary and time-breaking waves (tam-tams)
clusters on a quadrilateral grid (3) (crotales and/or orchestra bells)
velocities crossing in phase space (bass drums and tom-toms)
So Percussion (Douglas Perkins, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, Lawson White)

Evan Ziporyn
Melody Competition (2000)
So Percussion (Douglas Perkins, Adam Sliwinski, Jason Treuting, Lawson White, with Dan Kennedy and Robert Esler)

Billy Bang Quintet
Suite from Vietnam: The Aftermath (2005)
Part 1
Part 2
(Billy Bang, violin; Ted Daniel, trumpet and horns; Andrew Bemkey, piano; Todd Nicholson, bass; Michael Carvin, drums)

Selected Festival Audio

Full Pre-Concert Panel Audio

Concert 1


Panel discussion with Phill Niblock, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Michael Nyman, & Seth Josel moderated by Charles Amirkhanian. The composers discuss the pieces to be played in the following concert.

Concert 2


Panel discussion with Fred Frith, Sudhu Tewari, Maria de Alvear, moderated by Charles Amirkhanian. The composers discuss the pieces to be played in the following concert.

Concert 3


Panel discussion with John Luther Adams, Billy Bang, & Evan Ziporyn, moderated by Charles Amirkhanian. The composers discuss the pieces to be played in the following concert.

Photos by John Fago

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