Maggie Parkins: Cello and Electronics

Sunday, December 3, 2017, 7 p.m.
Drinkward Recital Hall

A half body shot of Maggie Parkins playing the cello.
Maggie Parkins. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Point of No Arrival for cello and computer
Christopher Dobrian

Sistere for cello and fixed media (premiere)
Zeena Parkins

resonant halls of memory (premiere)
Bill Alves

Petals for cello
Kaija Saariaho

Song and Dance for cello quartet
   I. Elegy
   II. Dance Mash
Tom Flaherty

In Point of No Arrival, the cellist engages in a musical dialogue with a computer program. Initially the cello music consists of short, dissonant, non-melodic gestures, which the computer captures, responding with digitally altered reinterpretations of the musical material. The sonic texture created by the computer’s recomposition eventually serves as accompaniment while the cello’s music becomes less fragmented and more melodic. Although the interlocutors seek entente, mutual understanding remains elusive. Christopher Dobrian is Professor of Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology at UC Irvine. He is a composer of instrumental and electronic music and holds a Ph.D. in Composition from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied composition with Joji Yuasa, Robert Erickson, Morton Feldman, and Bernard Rands, computer music with F. Richard Moore and George Lewis, and classical guitar with the Spanish masters Celin and Pepe Romero.

Sistere is a work for cello solo and fixed media that composer Zeena Parkins has written for her sister, cellist Maggie Parkins, based on two pieces selected by the cellist that influenced her formative years: Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet solo, God Bless the Child (1961) and the cello movement from Olivier Messiaen’s masterwork Quartet for the End of Time (1940). Sistere uses a software patch made in collaboration with programmer Matty Ostrowski to process the Dolphy solo performance, effecting the overtones and upper partials. The newly generated material sourced from the Dolphy recording, meshes with fragments of cello lines quoted directly from the Messiaen composition and reveals an intensely resonant space for the performer to iterate sonic responses. With the cellist serving as a link between Dolphy, an African-American composer and performer, and Messiaen, a French prisoner-of-war camp survivor, Sistere’s eight short movements explore the intersections between compositions that together transcend their wide contextual differences. Electro-acoustic composer, multi-instrumentalist, improviser, educator and pioneer of contemporary harp practice and performance, Zeena Parkins re-imagines both the acoustic harp and an evolution of her original electric ones, through the use of expanded playing techniques, preparations, and custom designed processing.  Within a shifting constellation of improvised/composed/gesture/touch/space/sound/noise/mu-sic, Parkins is engaged in translations of sonicity within environments: architectural/emotional/topographical/social. Parkins has performed and/or recorded with: Björk, Ikue Mori, John Zorn, Christian Marclay, Cyro Baptista and Okkyung Lee, among many others. Parkins is currently Distinguished Visiting Artist at Mills College in Oakland, California.

The sounds in resonant halls of memory are entirely modifications of the live performer—there are no prerecorded sounds. Specifically, the sounds are stretched out in time at different rates, creating what in the Middle Ages was called a mensuration canon, that is, a melody played with itself at different tempos. Because those tempos are related by integers, the same numbers that determine the retuning of the cello strings, the melodies converge and diverge as they repeat, creating points of resonance in which time lines up like a field of memories that sometimes comes into focus. Bill Alves is a composer, video artist, and writer engaged at the intersections of musical cultures and technology. His recordings include The Terrain of Possibilities, Imbal-imbalan, Mystic Canyon, and Guitars & Gamelan. His work with computer animation pioneer John Whitney inspired abstract computer animations with music, now released on dvd as Celestial Dance.  He is the author of Music of the Peoples of the World and coauthor of the recent biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick. He is the director of the HMC American Gamelan. He has extensively explored non-standard tunings in his work and is co-director of MicroFest, the annual Southern California festival of microtonal music.

Petals for solo cello was written abruptly in a few days but evidently after a long unconscious preparation. The material stems directly from Nymphea for string quartet and electronics. The name of the piece is derived from this relationship. The opposite elements here are fragile coloristic passages which give birth to more energetic events with clear rhythmic and melodic character. These more sharply focused figures pass through different transformations and finally merge back to less dynamic but not the less dynamic filigration. In bringing together these very different modes of expressions, I aim to force the interpreter to stretch his sensibility. Kaija Saariaho is a prominent member of a group of Finnish artists who are making a worldwide impact. She studied in Helsinki, Fribourg and Paris.  At  IRCAM,  Saariaho  developed  techniques of computer- assisted  composition  and  acquired  fluency  in  working  on  tape and with live electronics. This experience influenced her approach to writing for orchestra, with its emphasis on the shaping of dense masses of sound in slow transformations. Significantly, her first orchestral piece, Verblendungen (1984), involves a gradual exchange of roles and character between orchestra and tape. And even the titles of her, linked, pair of orchestral works, Du Cristal (1989) and ...à la Fumée (1990) suggest her preoccupation with color and texture.

“Elegy,” like most such pieces, sings of grief, cherished memories, and resigned acceptance over the loss of a loved one. The ambiguities inherent in the octatonic scale reflect these shifting emotions. “Dance Mash” is a giddy mashup of several dance styles, including fragments of waltz, ragtime, and tango, among others. It is not a scholarly catalog, but an invitation to move. Song and Dance was commissioned by and is dedicated to Rick Mooney and the National Cello Institute. This evening’s electrified version, for solo Maggie with three prerecorded Maggies, was inspired and produced by Maggie Parkins and Jeff Gauthier. Tom Flaherty is a composer and cellist who works with music for humans and electronics and has taught at Pomona College since 1989.  His music has been performed throughout Europe and North America by such ensembles as Eclipse Quartet, Mojave Trio, and Brightwork newmusic in Los Angeles; Speculum Musicae and Odyssey Chamber Players in New York; Earplay and Volti in San Francisco; and by such performers as soprano Lucy Shelton; guitarists David Starobin, Peter Yates, and Matthew Elgart; organist William Peterson; cellists Maggie Parkins, Roger Lebow, and pianists Genevieve Feiwen Lee, Nadia Shpachenko, Susan Svrček, Charlotte Zelka, and Karl and Margaret Kohn.

Maggie Parkins is equally at home in chamber music, orchestral music and the avant-garde. She has performed throughout the Americas and Europe and her work currently ranges from concert recitals to multimedia, multi-genre collaborations. Always an advocate for new and experimental music, Parkins, along with the Eclipse Quartet, has commissioned or premiered numerous works from composers, including Carla Kihlstedt, Zeena Parkins and Fred Frith. As a chamber musician, in addition to the Eclipse String Quartet, she also is a member of the Mojave Piano Trio and Brightwork newmusic. In the orchestra world she has performed under the batons of Seiji Ozawa, Leonard Bernstein, Simon Rattle and Andre Previn performing with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Syracuse Symphony, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Pasadena Symphony, the Riverside Symphony and the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra.

Thank you to all the composers tonight, Jeff Gauthier for recording and mixing the Flaherty cello parts, and Andrew Pask for loads of tech support.

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