by Mike Breen
An overview and sampling of the adventurous sounds you'll hear at this weekend's MusicNOW festival
Tonight marks the kick-off of MusicNOW, an adventurous
weekend of music that was started in 2006 by Cincinnati native and
guitarist for successful Indie Rock band The National, Bryce Dessner. The festival's
mission is "to present the best in contemporary music; to offer artists'
an opportunity to take risks; to commission new work."
That's a fair but lacking description of the festival, but
only because the programming isn't bounded by much other than the
desire to explore. MusicNOW has showcased numerous flavors of World
music, often new avant Chamber/Classical works, a "who's who" of the top
names in "Indie" music (Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, The National, Bon
Iver, Andrew Bird, Grizzly Bear), a few legends (Philip Glass, Kronos
Quartet) and newer and/or more obscure artists, meshing together to
offer Cincinnati music fans (and the many who come in from out of town) a
truly unique musical experience. Sold out audiences have seen
one-off performances and collaborations, including commissioned
works and world premieres.
Below is a sampling of some of the artists featured this
weekend — though with MusicNOW's encouragement of experimentalism, take
it as merely a surface introduction. The artists will more likely go
beyond any pigeonhole you can come up with, which is the best thing
• Tonight's kick-off is headlined by Anti- recording
artists Tinariwen, a Malian ensemble whose creative North African sounds
resulted in a Grammy in 2012 for its fifth album, Tassili. Read
CityBeat's interview with Tinariwen founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (via
translated email exchange) here.
Here's the official video for Tassili track "Iswegh Attay" (with translation!):
• Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry has been a part of
several MusicNOW festivals, composing commissioned works and playing
with bands like Little Scream and Bell Orchestre. This year, Reed
Parry will perform the songs of his Indie Folk project, Quiet River of
Dust. The project made it's live debut at the National-curated All
Tomorrow's Parties fest in the U.K. late last year (where Reed Parry
performed three very different sets) and a recording is presently in the
works. A review from the music blog Let's Get Cynical described it as
"a quirky and engaging performance – the first song I hear is about a
boy who gets lost at sea and turns into a fish, if you want some sort of
indication of what we’re working with. The fact that this is the trio’s
first ever show also highlights ATP as the kind of festival where you
get to see things you don’t get anywhere else." Kinda like MusicNOW.
• Rounding out tonight's opener is Buse and Gase, the
Brooklyn duo of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, who make trippy avant grade
music on various handmade instruments. The group name actually comes
from two of those instruments — the "buke" is described as a "six-string
baritone ukulele" and the "gase" is a guitar/bass guitar combo.
Here's Buse and Gase's official clip for the tune "General Dome."
• Saturday's headliner is MusicNOW 2013's most known
performer, Glen Hansard. The Irish singer/songwriter began catching
attention as a member of the group The Frames, then broke out on his own
and won an Academy Award for "Best Original Song" in 2008 for "Falling
Slowly" from the film Once, in which he also starred. Hansard's first
solo album, Rhythm and Repose, was released last summer on the Anti-
label (album bonus track "Come Away to the Water" was, oddly enough,
covered by Maroon 5 and Rozzi Crane on the soundtrack to the blockbuster
film The Hunger Games).
Here's the video for "High Hope" off of Hansard's solo debut.
• Saturday will also feature the performance of new works
composed by Dessner, Reed Parry and Serbian composer Aleksanda Vreblov.
The new pieces will be performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, which has
collaborated with everyone from the New York Philharmonic and Cincinnati native (and Jazz piano
master) Fred Hersch to Lou Reed,
Barbara Streisand and Talib Kweli. The organization works often with composers on new
Here's a clip of Dessner working with the Chorus on the piece "Tell the Way" in 2011.
The Chorus will be joined by young string ensemble The
Ariel Quartet, which formed in Israel and moved to the States in 2004.
Last year, the group was named "quartet-in-residence" at the University
of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. The quartet has won
numerous international awards for its work and has performed all over
the world. Also lending a hand with the new works is Shara Worden of
MusicNOW vets My Brightest Diamond.
Below is a clip of the Ariel Quartet performing Mozart.
• Last year, music now featured pioneering composer Philip
Glass. This year, Steve Reich plays the role of "legend" on
the bill. The Guardian's Andrew Clements once wrote that "There's just a
handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered
the direction of musical history. Steve Reich is one of them," while
many others consider Reich one of the world's greatest living composers.
Reich's experiments have been fearless and creatively fruitful and
influential, be it his early work with tape loops or his interactive
"Clapping Music," a 1972 piece performed entirely with handclaps.
Reich will join Sō Percussion for a performance of that piece and more, including a new commission from Daníel Bjarnason (the annual Esme Kenney Commission, named for a young student from School for Creative and Performing Arts student who was murdered in 2009).
The Brooklyn-based modern percussion group (featuring Eric Beach, Josh
Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting) formed about a decade ago
around the collective influence of pioneering NeoClassical
experimentalists like Reich, John Cage, Kronos Quartet and others. Sō
has commissioned works from numerous composers and has also been acclaimed
for its own compositions. Outside of the modern Classical world, the
ensemble has collaborated with artists like Medeski, Martin and Wood,
Matmos and Dan Deacon.
Here's a cool mini-documentary from PitchforkTV about Reich and featuring Sō Percussion.
The three days of music are held at Memorial Hall, next to
Music Hall, but this year there will also be an art exhibition at
another great, vintage Over-the-Rhine venue, The Emery Theatre. An
exhibit of works by Nathlie Provosty and Jessie Henson will be up at the
Theatre Friday, 4-7 p.m., Saturday, 12-4 p.m. and Sunday, 1-7 p.m. Bryce
Dessner will perform at a "gallery party" on Sunday 4-6 p.m. The Emery
happenings are free and open to the public.
Click here for ticketing and further info.
North African group Tinariwen opens MusicNOW with true World music
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The backstory of Tinariwen founder
Ibrahim Ag Alhabib is so cinematic in scope that it should be the basis
for an epic independent film.
Plus, The National, Grey Host and Gabriel's Hounds prep new releases
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Reggae crew The Cliftones release new single, "Hold Steady," while Indie Rock stars The National announce new LP details and Grey Host and Gabriel's Hounds show the many faces of Cincy Metal on new releases.
Footage from MusicNOW's finale featuring Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly
If you were unable to attend Friday night's grand finale of the MusicNOW festival, featuring a "workshop" presentation of a new song cycle by The National's Bryce Desnner (also MusicNOW's proud papa), Nico Muhly and Indie superstar Sufjan Stevens, Pitchfork unearthed some footage of the concert on YouTube. The composition being performed in the first clip below is reportedly called "Venus." The others pieces in the clips below have (possibly working) titles that are also planets. Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty wrote on its website that the piece is a "song-cycle loosely based on the planets." Here's more from the label on the composition and the rare performance dates of the piece all over the world. The trio will be performing their work in just a few select venues,
accompanied by a trombone choir, string quartet, and
drums/percussion/drum machine (played by the indefatigable James
McAlister). Selections from the song-cycle will be “live workshopped” at
Music Now festival in Cincinnati on March 30. Official performances are
scheduled in Eindhoven, Amsterdam, London, and Sydney. More details here.
Performances in Europe will be preceded by short string quartet works
by each collaborator, including two selections from Sufjan’s Run Rabbit Run project.
No other performances for this project have been scheduled and all
dates are sold out except Amsterdam, April 8th. Last chance to see
cosmic history happen here.Cincinnati, as it turns out, was very lucky to get an early look at this unique collaboration. Check out a few of the raw clips below.Maybe they should throw in a cover of this gem:
Bryce Dessner doubles down on his dedication to 7-year-old festival
0 Comments · Tuesday, March 27, 2012
MusicNOW is aptly named. Founded and still nurtured by local
native Bryce Dessner, the festival has consistently delivered an
eclectic mix of “contemporary music” since springing to life in 2006.
by Jason Gargano
Posted In: Classical music
at 04:09 PM | Permalink
Multitalented Toronto-based musician plays MusicNOW Thursday
avalanche of adjectives comes to mind when listening to the music
that has spilled from the boundless mind of Sandro Perri over the
last dozen years. The multitalented Toronto native has immersed
himself in everything from Jazz guitar to ambient-driven Electronic
Dance music (under the moniker Polmo Polpo), has worked on film
scores, collaborated with like-mindedly adventurous sonic sculptors
on a multitude of one-off projects and done a plethora of production
2007 Perri released a Folk-inflected album called Tiny
which for the first time was presented under his own name. While the
shift found him dabbling in more conventional singer/songwriter
waters, it still left room for his more experimental leanings. His
latest “solo” album, the addictive Impossible
expands upon Tiny
employing a variety of sounds, instruments and textures — Arto
Lindsay’s Brazilian-tinged post-DNA solo records pop to mind —
all anchored by Perri’s understated yet oddly affecting vocals and
peeps at Pitchfork named Impossible
one of the 40 best albums of 2011, and Bryce Dessner gushed when
asked why he was compelled to have Perri play at this year’s
MusicNOW: “It’s one of the best records I’ve heard in a long
time. It’s interesting because it’s not the type of music I tend
to be drawn to. It has a bit of a Jazz-inflected kind of range to it,
and I tend to be turned off by kind of Jazzy songs, but his music is
so incredibly well made, the melodies are so infectious and the
playing so inventive.”
recently phoned Perri to talk about his creative process, his move
from Electronic music to (relatively) more conventional songwriting
and his hometown of Toronto.
How are you, Sandro?
I’m well. And you?
Not bad. A little hungover.
(Laughs) I’ll be gentle.
Were you familiar with MusicNOW before agreeing to play this year?
I had heard about it, yeah, but I had never been to it and wasn’t
that familiar with it. I think I heard about it through Owen Pallett,
who lives in Toronto and played there a couple of years ago.
Right. Given your initial Dance-based Electronic recordings, I
thought it interesting that you studied Jazz guitar in college for a
Yes. Part of my training is studying guitar through Jazz theory. It’s
the kind of thing where you learn some of the techniques and the
theory behind it, but it takes a lot more than that to really be a Jazz
guitar player, to really embrace the whole genre fully in spirit and
everything. I didn’t quite have it in me to follow one specific
sort of genre, so I just kind of studied the music and some of the
theory. I’m a big fan of a lot of Jazz, but it’s not by any means
a foundational thing for me.
How do you think it impacted what you’re doing now?
I got interested in Jazz mostly through the stuff that was considered
outside (the genre) at some point — like mid-to-late ’60s
Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy and Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman,
stuff like that. It’s interesting for me because of the harmonic
richness you hear in a lot of Jazz. There are also some challenging
rhythmic things that you hear in Jazz that were appealing to me as a
kid, and just the sense of freedom that you hear within a lot of
Jazz. That’s what has impacted me the most. It took a lot of
studying to scratch the surface to how musicians start to approach
that kind of style of playing.
How then did you get interested in Electronic music? It seems like a
complete 180 in many ways.
Yeah. Partially it was a reaction to being in Jazz school, but more
than that it was just being seduced by how good Electronic music
really plays with timbre and texture and the idea of morphing sounds
together and creating new sounds and having music which can end up
sounding more liquid, I suppose, than a lot of performed music or
acoustically made music. That’s appealing for someone who thinks
just in terms of pure sound.
I had been in school and sort of started to get over the idea of
music having to be performed by live musicians, then it opened up
this whole world of the seduction of working in a studio and creating
music which is more like creating a painting or creating a film where
you’re doing it in real time but you’re creating something in a
medium that will be experienced outside of a performance. That kind
of opens you up to this whole world of possibilities that doesn’t
really exist in performing music. I think Electronic music kind of
embodies that idea, and that’s very appealing.
Creatively you can do almost anything when you’re not limited by
your own technical skill as a player and musician.
Yes. The studio allows for all kinds of things to happen that might
not happen in real time and don’t necessarily need to happen in
real time. I think the idea of music as a performing art is only one
way of looking at it.
Well, interestingly, the new album has a lot going on sonically, a lot of interesting textures. I’m curious how you go about presenting
the songs in a live setting. Do you try to re-create them as they
sound on the record, or is it a little bit of different take on the
By necessity it ends up being a different take on the songs because
the kind of process that went into making the record and mixing it is
not really possible in a live setting because there are so many
factors that are unknown. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole to try and
control the live situation as much as you can control a recording.
You end up working against the essence of performing live, which is
to communicate in real time and to try and reach a place where you’re
needing more broad strokes to express what is at the heart of a song
or a piece of music. A lot of details can’t really be adhered to.
As much as I’d like to — I’m tempted often to try and do that —
it’s just not really feasible. I think it would end up coming off
as being hyper-controlling to try and do that in a live setting.
Hopefully the essence of the music remains when a slightly different
approach is taken live.
Well, specifically, in the song “Love & Light” there is this
rhythmic, kind of breathy, panting at the beginning that works so
well on the recorded version. Do you try to re-create something like
We do usually, yeah. There are a couple of different ways that we
approach it. We’re sort of working out some of the details. We do
things and we try different approaches and we’re always sort of
experimenting with different ways to play things live. I can’t make
any guarantees about any part at this point, but, yeah, we usually
try and do stuff like that if we can.
In recent years you’ve come to a more conventional
singer/songwriter approach. Why were you interested in moving in that
It’s a new challenge. I like words. I like the idea of putting
words to music. After a while I got stuck in a place where I was
repeating myself a lot with the Electronic music. The stuff I was
doing had a very similar tone all the way through. I found it to be a
little bit of a safe place once you find your thing. It can feel
comfortable, but it can also get kind of boring. I get restless, and
I think that writing words and music was just an extension of what I
was doing that when I was a kid, too, but it was not something that I
chose for whatever reason to have be part of my output. I initially
started putting out the Electronic records because maybe it seemed
more feasible at the time. Ultimately I think it just comes down to
wanting more challenges and being excited about those challenges and
deciding to try it regardless of whether you think you can do it or
not, just stretching out and putting yourself in a place where there
is an unknown factor.
Can you tell me about your songwriting process? Do you come up with
the sounds and the music and then write the lyrics based on that? Or
is it more of a combination?
It can be more of a combination, and it can be sometimes lyrics
first, sometimes music first, sometimes just a melody first. It can
be a very slow, laborious process with endless revisions and
experimentation with instruments and with length of the songs and
tempo and arrangements and the key. Often the things that end up on
my records have been through so many revisions and re-workings that
there might be 10 or 15 different versions of a song somewhere in my
sketchbook or on my hard drive.
the joy of it, too — all of the possibilities that you can go
through with a piece. But all of that just goes to the essence of
what it is, and sometimes it takes a while to learn what a song
actually is before it’s ready to be finalized. The process can
involve a lot of different approaches depending on the song and
depending on how it came about. I’ve found that for me there hasn’t
been any standard way yet that I’ve hit upon to write.
Do you basically create the songs on your own? You don’t really
have a full-time band, right?
Most of it is on my own because my band tends to change from time to
time. Different members will come and go depending on the music,
depending on schedules and all kinds of things. For the most part the
process is one that I do on my own. I often play things for friends
and ask them what they think, but for the most part it’s a solitary
thing because sometimes too many options can come in the more people
you involve. It can be easy to lose focus sometimes if there is
something really specific that you’re trying to get at. But it’s
nice to have other people involved later on, once you’ve worked on
a bunch of ideas. It can help to re-energize when I start to introduce
the music to other people and we start to work at putting it together
in the final stages.
I’m not that familiar with the Toronto music scene, but I go up
every year for the film festival. It’s a really fascinating city,
much more multicultural than I envisioned before going there. I’m
curious how Toronto and the arts scene there have impacted you as a
Well, like you said, it’s very multicultural, it’s very broad and
it’s very non-competitive, which is maybe more specifically a
Canadian thing and a Toronto thing. There are a lot of opportunities
to play regularly, and, coming back to a national thing, there is
pretty good arts support in Canada federally, provincially and even
locally within cities.
you get to a certain level of seriousness as an artist you’re
eligible for funding for making records and for touring and stuff.
I’ve been lucky with some of that — I’ve been turned down
plenty of times as well — so it can be nice to make music in Canada
for that reason. Or to make any art for that matter if you’re
serious about it. Even if you’re not a full-time professional
artist there is still encouragement to explore things and to try
things even if you’re just semi-professional or a hobbyist.
is a lot of exchange that can happen amongst musicians, in
particular, in this city. Over the last 10 or 15 years I’ve made a
lot of inspiring connections with musicians and artists here in the
city. It’s hard to say or pinpoint exactly how that impacts your
work, but I think overall just having people around you who support
and who do similar things creates a feeling that you’re not doing
it in a vacuum. That gives you the confidence to keep working and to
keep pushing yourself into new territories, but without it being a
competitive thing. I find there is a distinct lack of competitiveness
amongst the people I know in Toronto making music…
What do you mean when you say “competitiveness”? Do you mean in
terms of getting attention?
I think just the general feeling between people. The feeling is very
supportive and people help each other out and play on each other’s
recordings. There is just a general willingness to help other people
out and to be involved in what other people are doing without there
being a feeling of threat to your professional aspirations. It’s
maybe not a matter of survival like it is for some people in other
countries. I’m really not sure. Maybe it’s the way the social
system is set up here in Canada where it’s hard to feel like you
need to cut the person beside you in order to survive.
not sure what it is, but there is just a general feeling of support
and friendliness between artists here that I think has had a pretty
positive long-term effect both in your ability and your willingness
to try different artistic mediums and try things and feel safe and
entitled to do so. I might not be the right person to comment on this,
because it’s probably a lot more complex than that, but that’s
just my general feeling on making music in Toronto and Canada. As a
result there may be people here in Toronto who are phenomenal talents
but who just don’t reach the outside world because they don’t
really care to or they don’t try to. It’s just about what they’re
doing and less about who they’re reaching.
I looked at your bio on your website the other day and it was
interesting that the very first sentence describes you as “a
songwriter and a producer of new music.” I thought that was a
curious way to describe what you do. What does the term “new music”
mean to you? Is it that you’re creating new music all the time, or
is it that you’re trying to do something new with the music?
Maybe a little of both. It’s maybe one of those things that just
has a nice ring to it. You also have to be careful what you read into
bios, because it ultimately can be sort of a meaningless thing. But
to me the idea of making “new music” means not worrying too much
about what genre you’re doing or what someone will call it and just
think about following your gut and your instinct. That to me is “new
music.” Anything else is when you say to yourself, “Oh, I make
Hip Hop or whatever.” When you decide and tell yourself, “I am
this and this is what I do,” then it informs in a lot of the
choices that you make and what you are willing to do and what you are
not willing to do, what you are afraid of and what you’re not
afraid of. There is a lot of music that just goes for it and doesn’t
try and define itself or whatever.
me that’s “new” music. I think it’s a pretty broad term, but
it’s optimistic to me to call something new but without the trap of
something having to be new to be relevant. That’s maybe a dangerous
way to read into it; that it’s only good or relevant if it came out
this week. New music can be found new maybe long after it’s been
made, long after it’s been released into the world. The reason for
that is that it comes from a place of just genuine curiosity and
adventure, and that lasts through time. You can sort of smell that in
music, you can sense it.
yeah, a longwinded answer, and perhaps meaningless, but that’s kind
of how I feel about it (laughs).
I hear a lot of different influences on the new album, including,
maybe surprisingly, a kind of 1970s and ’80s Pop radio
singer/songwriter thing. Did you listen to Pop radio growing up?
Oh yes, I definitely heard all that stuff when I was growing up. I
probably listened to a lot of Pop radio that was playing older music,
like even for the ’80s. I would hear a lot of Motown. I definitely
wasn’t in a vacuum growing up. I didn’t latch onto a lot of
popular music in the ’80s, but I certainly heard it. Though
sometimes it took me 10 or 20 years to get into music from my
childhood, to really get into it in a new way.
much as I love listening to and exploring different and more
“difficult” music, Pop music has always appealed to me if it’s
done well. If it speaks to me then I don’t discriminate against Pop
music at all; I definitely love it. So I suppose there is probably a
lot of that in the new album. Trying to write melodies will often end
up sounding pretty Pop (laughs).Sandro Perri will perform as part of MusicNOW at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine) Thursday. More info: www.musicnowfestival.org and www.sandroperri.com.
by Mike Breen
Seventh annual music fest organized by The National's Bryce Dessner kicks off with a freebie
The seventh annual MusicNOW festival begins tonight, but not at the fest's usual headquarters. And you don't need a ticket for tonight's opening festivities. For last year’s MusicNOW, the festival ventured outside of its usual home, Memorial Hall, but not very far — organizer Bryce Dessner’s band The National played Music Hall, right next door. This year’s opening MusicNOW concert is a tad further away, at Christ Church Cathedral (318 E. Fourth Street), but the setting is perfect for the night’s programming. And it’s a rare free event for MusicNOW. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.).Performing is James McVinnie, the Assistant Organist at Westminster Abbey in London (where he performed last year for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton; read his account here). Besides his work at the grand cathedral, McVinnie also teaches, performs throughout the U.K and beyond and has had pieces composed for him by Graham Ross, Robert Walker and Mr. MusicNOW 2012, Nico Muhly. The setting was no doubt chosen because of the Cathedral's vintage organs and acoustics. Read more about the instruments here. Joined by in demand violist Nadia Sirota (a founding member of MusicNOW regulars yMusic), McVinnie will work his organ magic on new compositions by Richard Reed Parry (a member of Arcade Fire and also a MusicNOW vet) and David Lang, a member of MusicNOW alumni Bang on a Can and winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for music for his “The Little Match Girl Passion” piece. McVinnie’s performance will also include pieces by Muhly, the other Mr. MusicNOW 2012, Philip Glass, Bach and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Also on the bill is Sam Amidon, an Avant Indie Chamber Folk singer/songwriter who drew acclaim for his performance at the Contemporary Arts Center last year. Amidon takes deep American roots music and doesn’t so much cover it as remix and mold it into something more modern and totally unique. Read more of our MusicNOW preview coverage, including interviews with Muhly, Dessner and eighth blackbird, in this week's CityBeat. Tickets for Friday's performance are sold out; for tickets for tomorrow's performance by 8bb, Philip Glass and Sandro Perri (the MusicNOW site says there are only limited tickets left, so hurry), click here.
0 Comments · Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Composer Philip Glass turned 75 on Jan.
31. The party continues this weekend in Cincinnati, starting with the
wildly innovative, Grammy Award-winning sextet eighth blackbird’s
appearance at MusicNOW on Thursday. Glass himself will join 8bb during
the first half of the performance.
May 14 • Memorial Hall
0 Comments · Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Though less thematic than Friday’s MusicNOW roster, Saturday’s lineup features an equally fascinating collection of artists covering even more musical ground. Owen Pallett is a Canadian musician better known as — yet another “one-person-band”! — Final Fantasy, the name he used for his first three solo albums. The classically-trained violinist’s music earned him a solid following, particularly in his homeland, and has drawn comparisons to Andrew Bird, Scott Walker and The Divine Comedy.
May 13 • Memorial Hall
0 Comments · Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The MusicNOW festival has earned a reputation for being a fest unlike the rest thanks to The National guitarist Bryce Dessner’s ability to lure kindred artistic spirits to his annual hometown showcase of progressive Indie music. MusicNOW participants have been explorers of the avant-garde edge of Neo Chamber, Experimental, Indie music and many points prior, between and beyond, ranging from esoteric underground artists to niche specialists to some of the more popular names in the Indie universe.