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tag: classical

Monochrome Music for Symphony Orchestra

"Textile" by Justė Janulytė of Lithuania


The spare, grey-toned home page of Justė Janulytė describes her simply as “composer of monochrome music.” Her compositions bear that out. Monochrome, however, does not mean simplistic. Where colors fail, textures prevail. Hence her “Textile” for symphony orchestra,” which over the course of seven and a half minutes grows from slender layers of symphonic tonal material. Strings and horns eke out small phrases. As time passes, the meager parts grow, and the orchestra summons a gargantuan swell, and yet “Textile” never gains momentum, only density. True to the work’s title, these slivers of sound are like threads in a piece of fabric that gets larger and larger as the piece progresses.

In a brief description of the piece, she writes:

Textile (2006-2008) for orchestra is a single gesture, one metamorphosis of register, timbre and dynamic. There are no sound attacks used in the score; the only gesture which reflects also the macro form of the piece is the sound emerging and submerging into the silence. The layers of dense texture are based on this gesture, thus evoking an image of underwater pulsations. Even though “Textile” is written for different instruments, the author, who usually writes for the ensemble of the same timbres, is is trying to achieve the “monochrome” aestetics of the sound.

Track originally posted at More from Janulytė, who is Lithuanian, at

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The Bell Jar Filter

Talking with Christina Vantzou about graphic scores, structuring improvisation, and the compositional facets of post-production

Vantzou (standing) in a performance at M-Museum in Belgium with a six-piece cello ensemble

Vantzou (standing) in a performance at M-Museum in Belgium with a six-piece cello ensemble

Christina Vantzou makes a dense, rich music that brings old-world classical textures into a contemporary electronic realm — and vice versa. She directs her own videos, drawing not only on the slow-motion aesthetic that guides her music, but also on the training she received as an art student in Baltimore, Maryland. Video is what brought her into music in the first place. She collaborated with, among others, Adam Wiltzie, of Stars of the Lid, and their work together culminated in recordings under the name the Dead Texan.

Having lived in Brussels, Belgium, for over a decade, Vantzou has released a trio of solo albums whose evocative stasis never fully hides the sense of sheer effort that is required for her to consistently achieve this level of concerted, sublime quietude. This interview was timed to coincide with the release of her latest full-length record, Nº3 (Kranky). She agreed to be interviewed, and after some phone calls we did this via email as a back-and-forth. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that discussion, in which she details her compositional process, describes how she interacts with chamber ensembles by utilizing graphic scores, and reveals that the sound she most wants to achieve may be that of an orchestra performing inside a giant bell jar. Her use of graphic scores and mid-performance flash cards bring to mind the experiments of Frank Zappa and, later, John Zorn. For one track on the new record the “score,” as she describes it, was a prepared recording that musicians listened to on headphones and responded to in real time. We discussed her website, which she launched to explore common ground between visual artists and musicians, including John Also Bennett, Peter Broderick, and Julia Kent.

Interspersed throughout are photos shared by Vantzou that depict her visual scores and her live interaction with musicians. Also below are two videos from the album, both of which she directed. (And full disclosure: Vantzou contributed a score to a museum installation, “Sonic Frame,” that I developed for the 45th anniversary of the San Jose Museum of Art based on a video by artist Josh Azzarella.)

Vantzou makes music that doesn’t so much blur the lines between what is broadly considered “classical” and “electronic,” as it is that she lets the two conceptions overlap until wonderful moiré patterns result from where they do and don’t inherently align.

Marc Weidenbaum: Just to start with, what brought you to Brussels?

Christina Vantzou: I was passing through. I was on my way to Greece. I’m half Greek, so I would travel to Greece a lot, and I had a plane flight that was rerouted through Brussels. So, I had an unexpected stop in Brussels, and I liked it and decided to stay. Well, I did go to Greece, but I ended up moving to Brussels not long after that. It was all these unexpected circumstances that introduced me to Brussels. I’ve been there since 2004. When I moved to Brussels I spoke the kind of French that you learn when you learn French in American schools, so very little, but I did take French classes in elementary school and high school.

Weidenbaum: That’s around when the Dead Texan work came out.

Vantzou: Yeah, the Dead Texan work started in transition from when I was living in Baltimore. I remember starting there and then continuing in Brussels. I was working on that for a couple years — 2003, 2004 — and then focused on touring with the Dead Texan the next few years.

Weidenbaum: Please say a little about your art-school education.

Vantzou: I went to MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. They had a general fine art degree, which is common now in art schools, but it was not so common at the time. It was the “newest” major in a lot of art schools. You could shift around to different departments. It got made fun of within the school at that time. While now interdisciplinary work is really well accepted, at the time I remember the general fine art department — which was called “GFA” for short — was referred to as “generally fucking around.” [Laughs.] I got into art school after I got a full scholarship based on a very strong ceramics portfolio. [Laughs.] I was doing a lot of ceramics but I thought I would be a painting major. And then after my first foundation year I decided I wanted to do GFA as a major where I ended up doing mostly photography at first, black-and-white and color, and then slowly I started focusing more and more on video. My last two years I took mostly all video and animation courses. I took a sound class and learned Pro Tools, which I still use today. I think on my degree it says “general fine arts major with an emphasis on video.”

Weidenbaum: Were there instructors there who were especially instrumental in honing your sense of what you wanted to do?

Vantzou: Yeah. There were two or three people in particular who were influential in their open-minded approach to being practicing artists in the world. I remember there was one teacher in particular. We spent a lot of the class time just watching music documentaries. We watched the Maysles Brothers’ Gimme Shelter, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Don’t Look Back, about Bob Dylan, and on and on. Anyone could recommend one; we’d watch it. I got really interested in this genre and even thought, as a video artist at the time, that I would work in this field. I was really inspired by cinéma vérité and the artists making these documentaries. That particular class had a number of individuals in it who have become successful visual artists. I think the teacher inspired a lot of us. His name was Jeremy Sigler, and his class was called “Parapainting.” We also had to form bands as part of the class and each band played a show at the end of the semester. Read more »

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Police-Siren Violins, White-Noise Beats, Static-Laden Dub

Raz Mesinai is Ghost Producer


Raz Mesinai has been busily filling out his account. On the 11th of the month he posted Freakatone Beats Vol. 1, a collection of broken white noise disguised as funk, 15 tracks that come with their own unique “parameters,” a mix of practical and theoretical constraints. This is Freakatone‘s “Nervous System”:

And these are the freakatone parameters — a beatcraft Oulipo, a downtempo Dogme 95, a drone Fluxus:

  1. The rhythm’s tempo is irrelevant, and can change without warning.

  2. The rhythm is constructed by a simple pattern, chosen for its importance in urban music for centuries, in festivals, ceremonies.

  3. There is no “drop”, however alluding to one is fine.

  4. No overdubs are allowed when producing Freakatone as the key to its power is spontaneity, improvisation and mastering the sound system as an instrument.

  5. Freakatone is often Produced with noise and dissonance in mind. Dissonance is important, and frequencies used are primarily rejected from Main Stream Sound Systems, such as streaming.

  6. Freakatone cannot be performed without a dancing audience.

  7. Noise must be generated within the very sound system used to produce Freakatone, either by feeding back into itself, adding other effect processors to the output of said instrument. Once the noise is revealed, the Producer must not end, but continue on and freak the tone.

The day prior to Freakatone Beats Vol. 1 came Sweet Dreams, Soundboy, a beatless collection of 16 industrial-ambient swaths, some harrowing, others lilting, all serrated. Here is the fourth in the otherwise title-less sequence, one of the set’s relatively lighter pieces, which to say the fear is at the far end of the dark corridor, rather than right in your face:

Especially welcome is the four-part String Quartet for Four Turntables, a Lincoln Center Festival commission in which the “quartet” was in fact four separate parts (two violins, one viola, one cello — the classic quartet format) recorded to vinyl and manipulated by two DJs. Here is part two — check it out around 5:50 when the scraping violin is made to imitate a passing police siren. The collection was posted on October 16:

A brief liner note explains the turntable audio’s provenance:

It was first performed by Dj Olive and Dj Toshio Kajiwara at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City in 2000 but was never recorded or released until now. Mesinai insisted on letting the vinyl sit, uncovered, for 15 years, so that the crackles and pops would be more present.

It dates from 2000, when it was performed alongside work by the X-Ecutioners, as well as a quartet consisting of DJ A. Vee, DJ Frankie, Kuttin’ Kandi, and Christian Marclay playing versions of John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape No. 5.” I mentioned it here back in 2009. And I interviewed Mesinai back in 2006.

And then there’s the far more expansive and varied Time Is Just an Update, also from October 11, 13 tracks that include attenuated drones, hauntingly sublimated orchestrations, and extremely slow chamber music. This is a track, “Tag Hash,” seemingly made almost entirely from vinyl crackles, repeated and echoed into a dubby matrix:

The music is streaming for free, and available for purchase: $9.99 for Sweet Dreams, SoundBoy (there’s also a $35 “endless cassette” version), $4 for the String Quartet (there’s also a limited-edition $200 vinyl edition), $7 for Time Is Just an Update, and $5 for Freaktone.

Mesinai, a prolific experimental turntablist based in New York City, is at and

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Disquiet Junto Project 0197: Earliest Polyphony

Sight-read newly uncovered choral music from the 10th century.


Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on and at, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This assignment was made in the early evening, California time, on Thursday, October 8, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, October 12, 2015.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at

Disquiet Junto Project 0197: Earliest Polyphony
Sight-read newly uncovered choral music from the 10th century.

Thanks to Matthew Dean (, among others, for encouraging this project.

Step 1: Perhaps you’ve read the news about a newly uncovered piece of music, dating back to the 10th century, that is believed to be the earliest known piece of polyphonic music. You can check it out here:

Step 2: Review the notation in the article (and pictured on this project page on


Step 3: Record your own interpretation of the music. (You don’t have to sing it.)

Step 4: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, October 8, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, October 12, 2015.

Length: The length of your finished work should be as long as you see fit.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this assignment, and be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on, please include the term “disquiet0197-earlypolyphony” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

More on this 197th Disquiet Junto project (“Sight-read newly uncovered choral music from the 10th century”) at:

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

More on the source material for this project at:

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Ylva Lund Bergner Poisons Ears

Her "Euphorbia" works slowly and effectively.

There are many places where ambient music and contemporary classical music collide. Among the more fertile intersections is where the latter is a chamber work, and the collective impression is considerably less than the sum of the various parts. This isn’t to suggest any disappointment, quite the contrary — simply the controlled intensity of many instruments taking considerably limited action for an extended period.

“Euphorbia,” composed by Ylva Lund Bergner and performed by the Curious Chamber Players, is just such a work. It has the attenuated tension of Morton Feldman scoring a Mission: Impossible movie, the mix of chiming strings and droning horns and chattering noisemakers proceeding at a deliberate pace in which the drama is implicit rather than explicit.

The composition’s title, “Euphorbia,” we’re informed by Bergner, is from a poisonous plant in Denmark, where she lives (she’s originally from Sweden). She writes: “It is beautiful and very common. In the piece I wanted to transform the poisounous effect the plant would have one a human into music.” Her music is beautiful and by no means common.

Track originally posted at Get the album on which it appears at More from Bergner at More from the Curious Chamber Players at and

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