This year’s Library of Congress Founder’s Day Concert featured the dynamic ensemble Alarm Will Sound, an ensemble able to successfully package and promote contemporary music. Titled arrhythmia, Tuesday’s program explored the outcome of layering a basic pulse with distorted or conflicting pulses such as “the flashing turn signals on a line of cars waiting to cross traffic.” The concert fittingly opened with a groovy transcription of Conlon Nancarrow’s Player Piano Study 2A (also heard on a recent program at La Maison Française), featuring musicians playing from memory and standing in un-uniform dress. Furthermore, the work was gently choreographed so that some instrumentalists entered the stage only during their first entrances mid-work, while solo instruments (or combinations thereof) repositioned themselves to center stage when playing more interesting lines.
Daniel Ginsberg, Alarm Scores as a Master Of Rhythm and Genres (Washington Post, November 1)
The most formally compelling work on the program was Harrison Birtwistle’s Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum – for piccolo, piano, vibraphone, string quintet, oboe, clarinet, and some brass – that depicts the rhythmic songs of a mechanical bird. This superbly orchestrated, angular work was executed with stellar virtuosity and was a challenging delight for the ear. Other works supporting the theme of arrhythmia included bizarre transcriptions of Josquin Des Prez (c. 1450-1521) and Johannes Ciconia (c. 1370-1412), with Josquin's Agnus Dei II from Missa L'homme armé set for piano, percussion, brass; movement III of Ligeti’s Chamber Concerto, which incorporates his work for 100 ticking metronomes; and The Philosophy of the World by the Shaggs, a group labeled the “the most horrible” rock band by the New York Times, apparently afflicted with distinct rhythmic inability. A recording of arrhythmia is forthcoming.
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Acoustica, Alarm Will Sound (2005)
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One might wonder why Nancarrow and Ligeti would compose for player piano and 100 metronomes, respectively, which is simply due to the limitations imposed by human facility and the virtues of a machine's ability to process complexity. That Alarm Will Sound takes pleasure in going further by tackling works and transcriptions of commercial computer-generated “electronica” music – see their recording Acoustica – is a testament to the group's ambition and capability. How often does one see a medium-sized ensemble with each player seemingly counting in a different time signature? The IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) electronica works of Aphex Twin and Mochipet were fascinating, especially Mochipet’s Dessert Search 4 Techno Baklava, the final work on the program, featuring Arab tunes and scales played extremely quickly with big percussion.
Alarm Will Sound will present this program again, at Stanford University (November 30) and at Carnegie Hall (February 28), both times combined with the new chamber symphony by John Adams (apparently really called Son of Chamber Symphony, as he joked he would do at an appearance in Baltimore).