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Ganjue Zhui Time

“Looking at a Zhou Brothers painting is like drinking water from a well. The well is deep, as deep and true as human experience itself.”

I walked into the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood for the first time a little more than six years ago for what I thought would be a routine gig evening but that instead led to lasting inspiration.

ACM was performing in one of their galleries as part of an open studio event and I was running late because I had hit an incredible traffic jam on the way down, apparently caused not by any external factor but instead by a kind of collective stupidity, a powerful will-to-delay that would not be ignored.

So I was flustered and annoyed and completely oblivious of my surroundings when I walked in the front door and started looking around for the elevator, and I looked up and saw this gigantic painting that caused me to stop in my tracks and forget all of the petty things I had just been thinking about a certain timid driver behind the wheel of a vehicle laughably named Intrepid.

In front of me was this gigantic oil painting with a color scheme so rich you felt you could fall right into it.  It had a clear composition but was an abstract painting. The inspiration was primordial, an ancient cave painting perhaps, but unlike any cave painting I had ever seen.  It was altogether something completely new in my experience. It was a painting by the Zhou Brothers called Life.

I found out later that the Zhou Brothers work on their paintings in tandem, communicating in real time in what they call a “dream dialogue.”  Because they frequently host live painting events it’s possible to see this in action and it really is quite freaky to watch.  Two guys move around a giant canvas climbing on ladders, never saying a word, making what appear to be random brush strokes that are actually part of a meticulous creation though unplanned in advance.  It’s a form of magic.

Chinese art critics have labeled their approach to painting “Ganjue Zhui” which not surprisingly doesn’t translate very well but which sort of means Feeling-ism or Intuition-ism.  It’s similar I suppose to the Zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind in that they start from a tabula rasa, but in this case there are two minds communicating the same vision at the same time.

I made my way to the fourth floor and we played our show, (which consisted primarily of a new work we had commissioned from sound artist Ben Vida called Liminal Bends that played with electro-acoustical properties in a way that continually tricked the ear so that throughout the piece you were never quite sure what you here hearing,) and then I spent the rest of the night wandering the galleries enthralled by these curious, wonderful paintings.  I decided that night that I would write music inspired by them.

I took pictures of the paintings in the art center and went online and looked at dozens more and finally chose three that I would “set” to music.  I wrote the gallery and requested permission and was very happy to hear that not only were the Zhou’s up for letting me do this but that they wanted the piece to be premiered in the gallery in front of the paintings.

The paintings I chose were Life, the first one I had encountered, Open My Door and Group Dance. I tried to avoid conscious thought as much as possible in writing the music and to adopt a version of Ganjue Zhui so that the music could be free of any distracting surface thoughts.  All three pieces came quickly and were performed a few months later for the first time at the Zhou B. Center with the paintings looking on inscrutably.

“Three for Zhou B.” as I called the piece has been one of my more successful pieces and was performed several times but inevitably I moved on to other projects and so I was very excited when the wonderful chamber group Picosa said that they were going to perform all three movements on an upcoming concert on October 10.

Below are the paintings and links to the music.  Take a break from our mind-numbing day to day reality and head back in time to a primordial past created by two artists who communicate telepathically.

Open My Door

Life

Group Dance

Open House Chicago

ACM’s last event of 2018 is our annual collaboration with the Chicago Architecture Center on their Open House Chicago project.  This year we’ve commissioned new pieces for two buildings, the Arts Club and the Newberry Library.

I’m especially happy about the Newberry Library as our CD recording of 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago is part of their permanent collection so it’s fun now to commission music inspired by the building itself.

We’ll be in both buildings playing the music every fifteen minutes between noon and 4:00 PM on Saturday, October 13.

I’m teaming up with composer and guitarist extraordinaire Gene Pritsker to present a chilling, thrilling double bill of live musical scores to short silent horror and horror spoof films.

Featuring zombies, stalkers, lovesick chainsaw murderers and just gallons and gallons of blood, this is the only Halloween show you need. And you do need it.

Gene has made a compilation of blood scenes that he’ll be scoring and my set consists of me playing piano to the following:

The Happening by M. Night Shyamalan
Consistently ranked as M. Night Shyamalan’s worst film, the Happening features plants taking revenge on humanity through an airborne toxin that turns people into suicidal zombies, or something. This condensed version features only the absolutely best worst parts.

Rearview by Chase Casanova
A woman sees a strange, menacing figure behind her car in an empty parking lot…

Leatherface in Love by Alexander Bickford
Leatherface meets his female counterpart in this darkly comedic reintroduction to one of the horror genre’s most iconic characters.

October 31 7:00 PM
The Delancey
168 Delancey St. NYC
$10

Hang out with us on the rooftop lounge afterward.  Costumes encouraged!

Live at Lincoln Center Videos Published

Vanishing City at Lincoln Center was a smash hit!  A partnership between ACM, Relevant Tones, Carnegie Hall’s Ensemble Connect, Lincoln Center, Open House New York, New Music USA and many more, the event was completely packed and the talk and the music were thought-provoking and frequently downright moving.  In short it was a great evening.

If you missed it in person or on the Livestream you can watch the panel discussion below. If you want to check out the music you can find those videos on ACM’s Vimeo page.

Just please don’t watch them on your phone in a public space with the sound on . That’s rude.   🙂

 

Panel discussion with, from left, Jeremiah Moss author of Vanishing New York, Gregory Wessner, director of Open House New York, Vishaan Chakrabarti author of A Country of Cities and Frank J. Oteri composer and co-editor of the NewMusicBox.

Spektral Quartet Article

My latest article for Newcity magazine focuses on the Spektral Quartet’s upcoming season The World Around Us.  It starts like this:

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve spent a good chunk of the last two years in a fetal position, like seriously curled up in a ball on top of the bed with all of my clothes on, lights off,  fingers in my ears rocking side-to-side, slowly muttering “make it stop, make it stop” in a singsong voice until I fall into a sleep so permeated with bad dreams that I wake up in a sweat, shaking and crying and start the whole thing over again.

Read more

Last Month on Relevant Tones

Hey, I host a radio show dedicated to contemporary classical music.  This is what we did last month!

 

Sep 7     Foster the Music: Darmstadt
Sep 14   Composer Collectives
Sep 21   Green Umbrella Series
Sep 28    Flora and Fauna

Miscellany, mélange, hodgepodge, etc.

 

 

I have to dress up in costume for my Halloween show which I’m always a little neurotic about.  The obvious choice is Leatherface since I’m scoring a spoof of that series but I’m thinking of going the totally opposite direction and dressing up as a My Little Pony or a Care Bear or something.

I interviewed composer Thea Musgrave in her home recently and it was a wholly delightful experience.  She lives in the historic Ansonia building on the Upper West Side and I’ve always wanted to go in there.  Built in the early twentieth century it was meant to be the grandest hotel in NYC and has since housed everything under the sun including at one point a gay bathhouse. We sat in her elegant living room sipping red wine and talked all things music for more than an hour.  I felt so Beaux-Arts.

 

Famous Ansonia residents include Babe Ruth, Theodore Dreiser, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Igor Stravinsky, Artur Tosanini and Enrico Caruso among many others.

The gay bathhouse had musical entertainment from a very young Bette Midler with Barry Manilow as piano accompanist.   Stravinsky would have loved it.

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