Serving the San Francisco Bay Area New Music Community

Matthew Goodheart

Surreal days in Istanbul
Date of Interview/Article:11/20/2003
Ciao all-

I'm at the International Conference and Festival on Spectral Music at the Center for New Music Research at the Istanbul. It's a bunch of papers, presentations, and performances. I was going to try to write an official summary, as I thought some might be interested. But the days events seems to have overwhelmed things.

So this is more of a personal thing, but I somehow felt like sending it anyway. Just a brief summary of events up to today:- Tuesday included a workshop and performance by the Alter Ego ensemble of Salvatore Sciarrino's works- beautifully played, by the way. Also a concert of of "Three Views of Turkish music," including traditional Black Sea music, Ottoman classical music, a new composition for electronics and turkish instruments, and new compositions for traditional and western instruments by turkish composers. Yesterday included a workshop by the Argento ensemble of Tristan Murail's Ethers, a concert of Minimalism and Spectralism crossovers, I played in the early evening, then a concert of Murial's Ethers, a new piece, and Turkish legendary vocalist Kani Karaca. It has all been amazing, really, especially Kani Karaca, Sciarrino's cello piece, and Murail's Ethers.

But today was something else. The 9 am session (fortunatly adjacent to the campus hotel where we are all staying) began with several papers: Stravinsky as a precurser to Spectralism, a rambling semi-coherent talk by a professor in a yellow bow-tie about the psychological dangers of artistic creation (we are all nuts, you know), and a paper by a guy who wrote a spectral piece for high-school students. Then someone reading someone else's paper about James Tenney and the unrecognized American Spectral School (which I guess I'm included in, since I was invited to play. Who knew?)

Then we had a break while Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram set up to discuss their music, and walked outside just in time to hear the car bomb explode at the HSBC bank in Levant. Cell phones began ringing. The staff turned on the TV- we watched, but it was all in Turkish- what the hell could I know? How many bombs? Two? Four? Televised images of mangled bodies on the street, twisted car frames. Hysterical people, frightened people. I'm one of them. The conference organizers huddled- okay, so the rest of the day should be cancelled, don't go anywhere, stay away from crowded areas. But Dumitrescu is all set up, so anyone who wants to can stay for the presentation. So, take a breath, look at the TV for another minute, look sympathetically at the faces of the staff, then go into the concert hall.

Their music is wonderful, and so amazingly close to the timbral improvisations we are now all so familiar with. Of course Domitrescu came to this music through a radically different route. So we sat and watch a brilliant performance of his a viola piece, delicate overtonal resonances quietly squeaking out while through the windows the sound of police sirens was constant. The a solo bass piece from 1980 so remarkably reminsicent of Peter Kowalt, powerfull, longing, the E string detuned in the last half of the piece so loosely it thudded against the fingerboard as it was bowed sul pont, the deep wood sounds mixing with the beating of chopper blades circling overhead.

Domitrescu and Avram talk excitedly about the composition techniques, the raw enthusiam for timbral exploration. Another viola piece, slow transformations of sound, one would swear it was improvisational. Yet Domitrescu made him play the first minute again, to show that each sound was truly minutely composed. Did this matter? But yes it was exactly the same as before, and yes it was just as beautiful. Then we were out of time, and the director of the conference said, "okay, there've been 4 explosions of car bombs, a lot of poeple have died, the conference is over for today. Some people are expecting martial law to be declared. Stay here at the hotel, and don't go to any crowded areas."

So to the internet to email my parents that I'm fine, then lunch with a interesting Turkish composer named Tolga Tuzun. We bump into the Argento ensemble, they're going ahead with the recording today of Murail's Ethers. Tristan skulks about that back of the studio. Wave at the ensemble through the studio window. As we walked to the Pide restaraunt, Tolga and I talk about how the people look on the street, how there is a feeling of unreality. It really is sort of like 9/11. But the most terrifying thing, in a way, is that this now a familiar feeling. It's not new anymore- we all know that feeling of being jumpy, wary. That immense tradgedy is not far away in space or time. And he and I ate for a bit: Martial law? Will the military step in and take over the government again? Then gradually music re-emrged. How is the tour? What are you working on now? The best quote from a young jazz musician about Tolga's work: "Yeah, I should get into some of that freaky shit."

Back to the conference hall, check Google News- no it was just 2 bombs. Still sucks beyond compare. People milling about, what the hell- since we're all here and no one knows what the fuck to do, let's just go ahead and do the Domitrescu workshop. So in we go- first a piece for viola, electronics, and bowed cymbals. Loud, dark, serious. Then a conducted, semi-improvised piece for the Hyperion Ensemble. Especially this piece, so similar to some of the ensemble pieces in the Bay Area, but definitely with Domitrescu and Avram's stamp. Really fascinating. He talks about living music, the death of music written for the page, the need for contact, for listening. Unfortunately, he speaks with a thick Romanian accent, and keeps forgetting to face the audience when talking, so this is really mostly from inference.

The workshop is over, we walk to the lobby, no one really knows what to do. Domestrescu emerges with three huge boxes, two of which are filled with CDs. He just starts handing them out to people. Not selling them, just giving them to us. I ask him about the similarity of his music to some improvised music, has he been to California? "California? Yes! They like my music in California." What about Mills? "Mills is very good. They do important work there!" He opens the third box, which is filled with copies of his book. He starts handing them out to everyone standing around, signing them for whoever wants it. He just keeps giving people things.

And then we go to our rooms. I can't get the BBC on the set in my room- so it's off to the library for Google News. 27 dead they say now, no Martial Law. Yet. I can hear in the practice rooms someone working on a Grisey piece. So this is what the 21st century is like.

The clarinet player says we should go drink some Raki.