Southland Ensemble Welcomes New Member

December 2015

This past fall the Southland Ensemble invited cellist Jennifer Bewerse to join our ranks. We featured her talents in our Lawrence Crane concert at Automata. Here she is playing Crane's "Come back to the old specimen cabinet John Vigani, John Vigani".  

Hopscotch Opera Review in the New Yorker

November 12, 2015

Photo by Angie Smith for the New Yorker

Photo by Angie Smith for the New Yorker

Here is what I did for October and November every  Saturday and Sunday, 24 times per day. This photo pretty much sums up my scene in this opera. There is also a tenor and 4 audience members in this car that didn't quite fit in one shot. The physical and mental stress of that kind of repetition make it hard for me to have an objective view of the entire opera that was so much more than my one little part. Luckily, many other people were able to write more eloquently than me!

Here is my favourite review by Mark Swed at the LA Times

Read the review by the New Yorker here


Collaboration with Gerhard Stabler and Kunsu Shim

September 8, 2015

This past Sunday we, members of the Southland Ensemble, spent all day rehearsing for a concert coming up this Friday night in Eagle Rock. While some of the scores are very specific in terms of instrumentation and meter etc., others are very open and we had a great time coming up with interpretations of these scores.  One in particular asked for the use of closures and fasteners (zippers, snaps, buttons and the like). I was able to use this pillow that my aunt made for my daughter when she was about 2 years-old and obsessed with zippers and pulls. In another piece, red on black, we decided to turn the score into a game of BINGO where the number and letter combinations are called out through a megaphone. The performers use old cassette players and small radios to play with with noise and tape distortion in order to interpret the graphic score. I always like to work on scores like these as we walk the line between improvisation and score interpretation. 

More on Gerhard Stabler
More on Kunsu Shim

James Tenney; Two Koans and a Canon

September 1, 2015

September is here and I am resolved to finish this performance score of Jim Tenney's Two Koans and a Canon before the end of the month. I came across this piece for solo viola in the summer of 2006 when I was working for Jim and Lauren in their home in Valencia, CA. I had just finished my MFA at CalArts and was very grateful to have the opportunity to work on Jim's archive. My first task was to make a complete works list of all of Jim's compositions, no small feat as Jim was very prolific. 

Being a violist, I was pretty happy to find Two Koans and a Canon, a piece in three movements that Jim had written for his late wife, violist Anne Holloway. It was in a large manilla envelope and handwritten on heavy manuscript paper. I remember saying "Jim, you've been holding out on me!". He laughed and said something vague about the piece and I added its name to the list and moved on to the next mystery to unravel in his vast collection of scores. That summer Jim passed away and this piece sat in a pile along with many of Jim's other scores that were still unpublished. 

Last fall the Southland Ensemble programmed a concert of Jim's music and they asked me to play a solo on the concert. Two Koans and a Canon came to mind and so I began the process of researching just how to perform it correctly. There were no performance instructions offered as well no program notes and so I consulted with various Tenney aficionados before driving up to Lauren's to do a little sleuthing. I compared this piece to others that he wrote at a similar time or using similar notation and came up a plan for how to perform the work. 

I was able to identify the tuning system, seven equal divisions of a semi-tone, as well as determine dynamics, use of musical affects (such as vibrato etc.) and decode some peculiar markings (a left-hand pizzicato with a circle around it and a sideways quarter rest that looks suspiciously like a mordent!). Then came the hard part, learning the actual music. I had someone make me a practice click track of the final movement as well as a max patch to create digital delay in lieu of the tape delay as indicated by the instructions. 

And so, on December 19th, 2014, I performed Two Koans and a Canon at the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock in LA. Not wanting this prep work to go to waste, I decided to create a performance version of the piece so that it can be readily performed. I remember that Jim really wanted his music to be performed and didn't worry so much about publication rights and royalties and so it is very much in this spirit that I hope to offer this piece to the contemporary music community. 

With any luck it'll be available in the near future from Frog Peak

Byron Westbrook’s “Interval/Habitat”

August 29, 2013

One of the best things about  living in LA and participating in the experimental sound and art community is that you get calls like this:

“I’m looking for one or two people…for a semi-specific idea that I’d like to have happen in the space…I would like the group to walk around the space and hold a chosen chord at a very low volume, basically adding to the noise floor of the room as all of the lighting/sound events happen around. It involves attention to both movement, perceptibility and sound.  it may work that one person stays still in the center of the room the others follow a pattern, or maybe there are other ways.”

And of course you say yes.

Last week it was sound artist Byron Westbrook who found me through the network of experimental musicians that stretches from east LA to Brooklyn and across the Atlantic to Berlin. While the idea may sound foggy in an email, in reality it was pretty much exactly as he said; I played a single note on the viola while walking around warehouse-type space with another violinist for about forty minutes. What isn’t clear from the email is that he creates the container and you create the contents and it works very very well.

When I arrived at the performance space, early as I am after all a gigging string player, it was bright sunshine outside and pitch black on the inside. The light and sound installation was already running and it took my eyes a minute to adjust to the complete darkness of the space. Gradually the lights changed and I was able to see that there were 5 or 6 dancer/actors performing a choreography game. There was also sound, a mixture of pink and white noise, that played at differing intervals which was running sometimes in harmony with and sometimes in opposition to the light cues. The lights lined the walls as did the speakers with the exception of one low lamp that worked as a spotlight in the centre of the room.

The piece acts as a concerto or a conversation between 2 parties, the room and the performers. While the room has its own rhythm and is essentially looping its lights and sound, it is such a long loop that the audience would have to watch for hours before being able to anticipate the next cue. As a performer you feel that each cue is different because from your perspective you are playing a different sound or standing in a different place and so your perception of what is happening is dramatically different each time. The room noises swallow the sounds of the strings and then abruptly stop to leave you hanging out to dry with your little chord and a spotlight on your head.

As any stage manager will tell you, the audience is controlled by lights and sounds and in this piece the artist is doing just that. This is such a simple concept but so perfectly executed that you can put any kind of performance art into this container and it weaves it together in such a way as to make it look like every connection and every missed connection between the two voices could have been planned. My only regret with this performance is that I wasn’t able to play in the space for longer.

Here is the formal program note for this work:

Byron Westbrook’s Interval/Habitat installation at Human Resources approaches the space as a dramatic stage. Inviting several guest performers and the audience to activate this stage, it plays looping sequences of light and sound to create “scenes” and filmic “cuts” to impose a time-based narrative form over all activity within the space. The piece approaches light and sound as physical, structural material to facilitate a changing awareness of self, body, space, and presence of others, defining social boundaries by limiting what visitors can see or hear, and dynamically shifting their focus between navigating internal psychological space and external physical space.

More on Byron Westbrook


Inaugural Performance at violahouse

June 22, 2013


In July of 2012 I converted my 2 car garage into a music studio and performance space. It wasn’t until almost a full year later that I was able to present a listening party to break in the new space. Violahouse presented an intimate listening party with Gun Show, an improvisation-based trio.

The ensemble is viola, Cassia Streb, acoustic bass, David Tranchina, and electric guitar, Alex Noice. This group is mainly improvisational but there are structures and forms that we follow for each of the pieces-even if that means deciding that one piece will be entirely open.

One of the problems with free, improvised music, especially among seasoned improvisors, is that often there’s a sense that there’s no need to rehearse very much, if at all, because we’re just making up the music anyhow so what’s the need to get together? I feel that sometimes these kinds of performances work but more often than not they aren’t that successful. We either hear too many solos all happening together with no yielding the right-of-way to others or, more frequently and worse, everyone being “polite” and not taking enough space so that they’re just making low-level noodley sounds so that all blend together into a boring homogeneous slurry.


With Gun Show, we get together to play and talk through ideas. Often the first few times through a piece it goes really badly and there’s a temptation to just scrap the whole idea. In this instance there are no bad ideas. We try everything in order to see how it may turn out. When you don’t know what something will sound like its easiest to play through rather than sit and discuss what you think may happen.

One of the pieces we performed at violahouse is a 7-minute structure where everyone in the group plays 60% of the time and is silent the rest of the time. We follow a group stopwatch so that our timings are co-ordinated. The material we play is free but the timings are strict. This piece is a challenge to perform because on the one hand you are watching the clock and planning your material while on the other hand you’re listening to what others are playing and seeing how you fit in.