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Michael Pisaro, “July Mountain” live at Roundchapel Auditorium, 2013

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[vimeo w=820&h=461]

Michael Pisaro, “July Mountain” live, Roundchapel Auditorium. London, October 19th, 2013. A SARU/Cafe Oto/Compost and Height event.

Performed by Dan Bennett, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga, Seth Cooke, Stephen Cornford, Angharad Davies, Jane Dickson, Lawrence Dunn, Patrick Farmer, Bruno Guastalla, Jack Harris, Sarah Hughes, Kostis Kilymis, Dominic Lash, Will Montgomery, Samuel Rodgers, David Stent, Greg Stuart, and Paul Whitty.

Filmed by Stella Kun and Kostis Kilymis.


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Three Concerts: Michael Pisaro, Kevin Drumm + Jason Lescalleet, Joe Panzner + Greg Stuart

Photos from three shows in Boston, Massachusetts: November 6th, 7th, and 11th (2014). Music by Michael Pisaro, Antoine Beuger, Eugene A. Kim, Teodora Stepančić, Assaf Gidron, Adi Snir, Kevin Drumm, Jason Lescalleet, Joe Panzner, and Greg Stuart. Photos include program details. Click for larger versions.

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Wandelweiser and Michael Pisaro in Boston

Serbian pianist and composer Teodora Stepančić, along with members of the Wandelweiser collective, will be joining Michael Pisaro at the Goethe Institut in Boston on Thursday, November 6th for a set of composed and improvised music. Details can be found here.

On Tuesday, November 11th, Michael Pisaro will be joined by Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart at the New England Conservatory. They will perform Closed Categories in Cartesian Worlds and White Metal. An untitled work from John Mallia and Katarina Miljkovic is also on the bill. Further details here.

Last but not least, Michael Pisaro, Jason Brogan, and Joe Panzner will perform Pisaro’s Concentric Rings in Magnetic Levitation at the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall at Harvard University on Thursday, November 13th. Details here.

All performances are free and open to the public, and all of them start at 8:00 PM.

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Review: Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart, “July Mountain (Three Versions)” (Gravity Wave)

Wallace Stevens wrote “July Mountain” in the last year of his life, suffering from stomach cancer. A recognition of mortality and imperfection hides in his poem’s first eight lines. They gently and beautifully remind the reader that life on earth is a fragmented thing, and that there are no conclusions, no full and final stops that shine a light on all the dark corners in the world. Instead we are all “thinkers without final thoughts in an always incipient cosmos,” forever watching the world and the stars spin themselves into new configurations. The poem explicitly uses music as an image for that interminable metamorphosis, and Michael Pisaro’s composition of the same name demonstrates just how apt an image it is. July Mountain (Three Versions) illustrates Stevens’s contention, combining field recordings with incredibly stealthy musical contributions provided by Greg Stuart. Bowed snare drums, piano, bird calls, jet engines, and numerous other sounds, from sine tones to insects, unexpectedly coalesce over its 21 minutes, forming a quivering and effervescent peak for anyone willing to make the ascent.

July Mountain first appeared as a single piece on a limited edition CDr released by Engraved Glass. To the “California Version” presented on that disc, the Gravity Wave release features two additional performances. One of them, the “Austin Version,” is a complete rendition, combining 20 field recordings unique to that city with 10 layers of percussion recorded by Greg Stuart. Instructions for how the field recordings are to be obtained are minimal (make 20 of your own, or get them from the composer, just make sure to point the microphones at mountains or valleys if possible), but their durations and their arrangements with respect to one another are very well defined. They are all ten minutes long, and there are only ever ten recordings playing simultaneously.

On the percussive side, the featured instruments include resonating surfaces teased by sine waves, vibraphones wrapped in tin foil, and “seed rain,” a steady stream of seeds, rice, or beans poured over crotales or a glockenspiel (the score gives the performer plenty of choices). Their timings and durations are specified by time markers—four bowed wooden blocks at nine and a half minutes, one projected sine tone at five and a half minutes, lasting for seven minutes and thirty seconds—and the methods suggested for playing them, including the exact qualities to be elicited from them, are described rather than strictly notated. For example, the instructions for the bowed snare drum read, in part, “Sounds may be created by bowing on any part of the instrument and by bowing on a drumstick or doweling with its tip pressed against the drum.”

(Read more… includes samples)

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Review: Michael Pisaro, “Hearing Metal 2 (Le table du silence)”

It may be that hearing metal means something different than hearing music. Like the Constantin Brâncuși sculpture to which its subtitle refers, Michael Pisaro’s Hearing Metal 2 subsists more in the grain and shape of its materials and less in the will of its author. It is composed and performed, and has a beginning and an ending, but it doesn’t move from left to right like a song. It feels and sounds more like a space that I can walk through, my position and my frame of mind determining how—and what—I hear.

Inspired by Greg Stuart’s close recordings of the 60″ tam-tam used in Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I, Michael Pisaro’sHearing Metal series began as project dedicated to hearing the inner life of apparently uniform sounds. The association with Brâncuși sculptures came when he realized that the physical material of his chosen instruments expressed particular qualities or affects on their own—as if a sense of the material were coming through the music. As he explains on his blog, “Any sound, even the simplest, is already (ontologically) multiple. But the multiplicity requires a succession of events to be heard: by extending, repeating, adding and subtracting, one begins to experience the sound more like a verb than like a noun.”

I think of that last claim every time I listen to Hearing Metal 2. On the one hand, Pisaro and Stuart’s assortment of cymbals, gongs, brake drums, and various metal objects resound together like a single instrument. Listening is like watching a metal sculpture rotate in place. If I sit in one spot and watch it spin, different aspects of its form slide into view and fall away like a slideshow. But if I get up and investigate, peer at it closely, or fix my attention on one of its sides, new qualities pop out. They were always there, but finding them depends on interacting with the piece and not just letting it slide by the way songs typically do. Thanks to the way Pisaro has arranged his sounds, this sculptural feeling is sustained throughout the piece’s long, central metallic passage. There are no crescendos or obvious dynamic markers—just the varying qualities of different textures playing against the hum of a central, pitched core. There are quieter and noisier moments, but they don’t add up to something bigger and tip the composer’s hand.

On the other hand, Hearing Metal 2 unfolds in time and needs time to make sense. The music doesn’t resound all at once, and I can’t actually walk around it the way I would a sculpture, so I have to listen to what it does. That’s when the metal instrumentation begins to express something like an inner life: little networks of rhythm spill out of the otherwise chaotic jumble of junkyard sounds and apparently fixed tones wobble back and forth like they’re walking on a tightrope; odd sounds are cast to the periphery and others are pushed to the center as the metal rolls and twists in circles, something Pisaro’s stereo mix captures extremely well. But all this happens of its own accord, seemingly without Michael or Greg’s influence. The music stops progressing from beginning to end and starts acting, stretching out in different directions, and evolving. The illusion Pisaro and Stuart create is that they had nothing to do with it. The sound was there the whole time, all they did was capture it.

Framing the 40-plus minute core of Hearing Metal 2 are two blocks of field recordings and other seemingly non-metallic sounds. The longer, first section captures oceans and rivers tossing and bubbling in undisclosed locations. Strange, almost psychedelic test tones beam in from outer space. A church organ hums. Sine waves peak out of the silence and succumb to the movement of a stream down a muddy bank. The humming metal doesn’t start until over 16 mintes in, and by then it feels as if we’ve been guided down a waterway just to see this huge edifice Pisaro’s built. When it ends, we’re brought back to the sounds of running water and chirping birds. It’s a reminder that hidden sounds are all around us, and that how we listen is as important as what we hear.

Hearing Metal 2 is available on Gravity Wave
Sound samples available at