All posts by Kent Karnofski

Alt-Jazz Poetry for a Casual Night Out

(The Daphnes. Photo by Stephen Schildbach)
(The Daphnes. Photo by Stephen Schildbach)

 

There’s a sense of wandering in Monica’s voice, as she describes The Daphnes’ style as a mix of music and poetry and singing.

“I studied poetry, that’s what my degree actually is in, and harp was my minor when I went to college… After I graduated, I was hanging out with all these jazz musicians; being a poet, I was really drawn to the Beats and the merging with jazz and improvisational playing and that seemed like something that I wanted do.”

Monica Schley, harpist, poet, and vocalist, writes and composes the material for The Daphnes. Julie Baldridge (violin) and Nate Omdal (bass) complete the trio for this unconventional group. For a Seattle-neighborhood dinner sort of evening, this is a talented trio with plenty to share over a glass of wine.

The Daphnes perform next on Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 7:00 pm at the Stone Way Cafe, Seattle. Details here.

From the Remnants of Horror

Music of Remembrance: Ceija
Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 5:00 pm
Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, Seattle

Traveling through Zion National Park, I found myself strolling through a slot canyon. I was noticing the smoothly carved rock, cut and shaped by eons of rushing, flowing water. Climbing out of the slots, back up to the road, I noticed a very different rock formation: turbulent, violent waters had crushed against this wall. Continuously.

(Zion National Park. Photo by Kent Karnofski)
(Zion National Park. Photo by Kent Karnofski)

It occurred to me that water has this duplicity – smooth or turbulent, flowing or crushing, friend or foe. We, too, have this parallel with our fellow humans, our neighbors, our friends. Each of us wants to think that we can love and respect each other, live and flow together. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. The human turbulence becomes inhuman and horrific.

The water we can understand, watch, and marvel. The humans? Painful and not understandable. We fail to confront.

Seattle’s Music of Remembrance gives us a way to begin the confrontation, in a space where music, art, and community come together to address conflict and horror.

MOR has commissioned Mary Kouyoumdjian to compose an original piece. Mary has found meaning in meeting and studying people who have lived through genocides; it provides an understanding of her own family. Her grandparents, both maternal and paternal, lived through the Armenian genocide, eventually being displaced to Lebanon, where much of her family still lives.

Mary’s new piece, to open myself, to scream, celebrates the life of Austrian-Romani Ceija Stojka, born in 1933, who survived the Holocaust and internment at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Bergen-Belsen. Ceija was a painter, artist, writer, and musician; she passed away in 2013.

I spoke with Mary about her work, about Ceija, and about being a first-generation Armenian-American.

Mary got to know Ceija through her artwork, books, and, later, documentaries that featured her.

“She was an incredibly joyous person, but then you see the burden of her experience weigh her down from time to time. Understandably. Getting to know people on that level where you start to understand how these events, which happened so long ago, still eat away at them every day… That’s how I connect to these people,” Mary tells me.

Still from an animation by Kevork Mourad.
Still from an animation by Kevork Mourad. (Photo courtesy of MOR)

Mary’s new work is a multimedia piece in 4 movements, each movement inspired by selected paintings of Ceija’s. Each movement features a pre-recorded audio track as a backdrop, on top of which a 5-person ensemble (clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello, and double bass) will play live. The audio playbacks are influenced by Mary’s observation that past events continue to impart sorrowful backdrops to survivors’ lives; they live in the present, but they are also always living in the past. In addition, a hand-painted, 25-minute, animated film by projection artist Kevork Mourad will be synced to the pre-recorded audio, adding a visual experience for the audience.

This is a heavy, emotional space to work in. I asked Mary: Does the work become a burden?

“It can be totally burdensome, and these are not easy topics to confront, but I think it’s good to confront them,” she says. “Given my own family’s history, I’m drawn to these topics, and every time I re-approach them, it gives me a bit more understanding about my own family history and what my family members have gone through… and why my community is where it is in our present day. Selfishly, I’m getting something from it, too.”

Emotionally and intellectually, the enormity of genocide triggers overwhelm. As we’re stymied on how to proceed, this phenomenon continues to occur throughout the world. Music of Remembrance, Ceija’s art, and Mary’s new work give us a way to begin to understand – and discuss – the horrors of genocide. Perhaps, by learning the stories of individual lives and sorrows, some humanity can be regained while opening the door to progress.

Music of Remembrance’s Ceija will take place on Sunday, May 21, 2017 @ 5:00 pm in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall, Seattle. With Laura DeLuca (clarinet), Alexander White (trumpet), Mikhail Shmidt (violin), Walter Gray (cello), and Jonathan Green (double bass). Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.

Set Free: Compositions for Guitar

The Guitar In My Life
Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
The Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center, Seattle

In recent months, I’ve been consciously interested in finding the opposite of what I’m currently listening to – adamant to reach out, find something new. New-to-me. As I settle in to write this piece, I’m randomly listening to an album of Jack Kerouac reading his poems, with Steve Allen playing piano accompaniment.

It’s not about music; it’s about the jazzy aura of the Beat Generation: energy, sorrow, exuberance. Wonderment! It’s lyrical. Air and wind.

Kerouac becomes the perfect backdrop as I think about meeting guitarist, composer, and educator Tom Baker to chat about his upcoming show with the Wayward Music Series. “The Guitar In My Life” will feature highlights of Tom’s 25-year career playing guitar and composing new music. The show will include solo classical guitar, electric guitar, and works for guitar and soprano. I asked him what he thought the show was about.

“It’s a celebration of the guitar as an instrument,” he says, without hesitation.

There are certain expectations – rules and norms – that composers may feel compelled to follow when writing for a more traditional ensemble; for example, a string quartet. The guitar? There is no tradition to follow; there are no rules to follow or rules to break.

Tom muses, “It’s only been a concert instrument for about 100 years.” Without a legacy to draw from, a composer is free to innovate, experiment, find the new sound. What can a composer do with that space? “I think of non-traditional sounds and find a way to create those sounds with a guitar.”

Tom Baker with his fretless guitar. (Photo by Tim Summers)
Tom Baker with his fretless guitar. (Photo by Tim Summers)

I frequently wonder if instrumental music is meant to have themes. Would a person image spring or autumn whilst listening to Vivaldi, if they’d not been told, beforehand, the name of the concerti was The Four Seasons? Should the audience think of stories that a piece is about, or is a piece about sounds?

Tom is quick to tell me that for his music, “it’s about sounds.” He uses stories, poems, pieces of literature as motivation; he strives to create sounds that work with the imagery in his head, but the final piece has to stand alone.

Green Guitar, for example, is about a dream he had after buying a new guitar. In the dream, his favorite old guitar, and this new guitar, have a battle for supremacy. Great story! Close your eyes and imagine two guitars duking it out, showing off, playing secret chords and magic riffs; now imagine a composer writing that down. Very cool! However, “I always tell my students that it’s risky to expect an audience to have a certain reaction,” Tom instructs.

Here’s my recommendation: Just listen and enjoy. If the listener has guitar compositions in their repertory already, this should be a great show; Tom has been doing this for a long time, and has a well-respected catalogue, and a catalogue that he is notably excited about. And for the listener without guitar composition as part of their normal? It’s time to come out and give it a try; let it be your opposite experience.

Tom Baker & friends will perform on Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 8:00 pm at The Chapel at the Good Shepherd Center in Seattle. Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.

2000 Moving Parts: Crafting Sounds

Sound of Late: 2000 Moving Parts
Saturday, March 11, 2017 @ 8:00 pm
Flutter Studios, Seattle

Somewhere in my home, amongst the heaps of scrap paper I have around, there is a To Do list, now several years old, scrawled upon a notepad; a bunch of checked off items, except one: “Buy a Harp.”

I don’t play, but as objets d’art, harps are remarkable pillars of craftsmanship: the wood, the strings and hardware, the assemblage. The visual anticipation of soothing sounds draws me to their constructed beauty. After the frame warps from strings’ tensions, as certainly a harp frame will do, people sell them off. I want one.

As I prepared for this interview, I kept saying to myself, “Each of us must have our own harp story.” So, I asked harpist Jennifer Ellis, “What drew you to the harp?”

(Photo credit: Jason Paige and Bonnie Lyn Paige)

The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books as a kid, and when the movie came out, my mom took me. There is this beautiful little harp solo in the score, and so I started poking my mom, ‘What instrument makes that sound? I want to play the instrument that makes that sound.'”

Years later, Jennifer joins us in Seattle. On Saturday, March 11, 2017 – together with Sarah Pyle on the flute and Andrew Stiefel playing viola – we’ll be listening to the collaborative trio Sound of Late.

The harp has some 2000 moving parts, inspiring the name of the show. I asked Jennifer to help me count to 2000. “A lot of where the moving parts come in is through the system we have to get flats and sharps.” There are 7 foot pedals; one pedal connects all of the “C” strings, one connects all of the “D” strings, one all of the “E” strings, etc.

When you move a foot pedal, it triggers a spring, which triggers a rod, which triggers the linkage, which triggers the discs, and the discs (2 per string) engage the string, fretting it like a guitar string. One disc raises the note a half step from flat to natural, and the second disc raises the note another half step to sharp. Jennifer manipulates these discs to develop sounds that most harpists try to mute.


That impetus to take things apart to understand them and put them back together is a wonderful one in our world.


I listened to some preview materials prior to the interview. There’s the identifiable harp strings providing sounds, but there’s other stuff; blurts and bits and twongs (I literally heard a “twong”); extra reverberations that help to fill spaces. John Cale would be proud.

I suggested to Jennifer: “The way you’re manipulating the harp, it adds texture and sounds, and it sounds like you’re accompanying yourself.”

I wasn’t far off. “Yeah! Yeah, that’s a fair thing to say!”

Many orchestral instruments play only one note at a time. The harp is played with both hands, 4 fingers each (the pinky finger is too short), so you can play eight notes at once. It’s a very rich instrument to play solo, but, says Jennifer, “it’s really fun to get the opportunity to expand and collaborate with others and play chamber music. Sound of Late is the best of both worlds, because you get to hear the harp solo and then you get to hear the harp with other instruments.”

In her work with the harp, Jennifer enjoys a sense of discovery; take something apart and you feel more connected with it, like something has been revealed to you. “That impetus to take things apart to understand them and put them back together is a wonderful one in our world. I hope people leave with a little glimmer of that feeling and are interested in applying it elsewhere in their lives.”

After the show, Jennifer will invite guests onto the stage to see the harp up close and ask questions.

“I hope this concert helps lift the veil and make the harp feel accessible and dynamic, interesting, and intriguing,” Jennifer added.

It’s your chance to see this beautiful object up close, and understand how it makes beautiful sounds, and develop a harp obsession of your own…

Sound of Late will perform on Saturday, March 11, 2017 @ 8:00 pm at Flutter Studios in Seattle. Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.

Steinways & Screws: Myers plays Cage

Cornish Presents: Jesse Myers
Friday, February 17, 2017 @ 8pm
PONCHO Concert Hall, Seattle

“It transforms the piano into something not recognizable as a piano,” says pianist Jesse Myers, as we peer into his Steinway.

In 1940, while a faculty member at The Cornish School, John Cage devised methods of converting the piano into, as he described, “a percussion ensemble under the control of a single player.”

Originally aimed at a dance accompaniment, his innovation was to insert objects – screws, nuts and bolts, pieces of rubber – between certain piano strings, in specific locations. The foreign objects create unfamiliar timbres that result in sounds more like a wood block than a piano.

Jesse Myers uses screws to modify the sound of the piano. (Photo by Kent Karnofski)
Jesse Myers uses screws to modify the sound of the piano. (Photo by Kent Karnofski)

On Friday, 17 February, at the same Cornish where it all began, Jesse will be performing Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Jesse played some for me.

It sounds like a small ensemble of instruments, mostly percussion, with one piano, playing a song together. Instead of each instrument playing its own track, one instrument plays a note, then another instrument plays a note, and then another instrument plays a note, and so on. Sometimes one instrument plays a bar or two. Thus, there is a disruptive continuity, as so many small parts are rhythmically tied together.

I find the result to be pleasing and coherent, yet challenging. (I’ve been trying to count how many instruments I’m listening to, and understand what all of them are.) The piece will arrive at a nice spree of notes, then something fittingly discordant, followed by a short melody, then a clock striking 1 o’clock. Begin again.

“Do you think Cage was a genius?” I assured Jesse that I do not frequently use this term. (People are generally familiar with others tagged with the “genius” label – Beethoven, Einstein – but Cage is out there in the cold obscurity.)


Cage claimed that music consisted of combinations of different sounds, and therefore if you were making noises, you were making music.


Jesse pondered, “You can’t talk about music over the past 50 years without talking about John Cage. He completely changed how we think about contemporary music. So, yes, I would have to say he was a genius.”

I keep wondering, if Cage was a genius, why is he not more prominent in today’s performance spaces? Cage claimed that music consisted of combinations of different sounds, and therefore if you were making noises, you were making music. This assertion gave him space to innovate without rules or interference, and his fertile mind deserved the space.

Cage can be challenging, and sometimes (in my experience) unlistenable. I think this is a show where people not familiar with Cage’s work could invite him in from the cold. Jesse and I agreed that an audience should find this evening, these works, to be quite enjoyable.

“I just want the audience to relax,” Jesse tells me. “This is beautiful music, and people should be able to sit back and enjoy the sounds. If we could throw a couple of bean bags on the floor for people, I’d be all for that.”

The reader can get a preview from Jesse’s SoundCloud; here is Sonata V.

Jesse Myers will perform on Friday, February 17, 2017 @ 8:00 pm at PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish College of the arts. Full details are here.

GreatWall_GreatKent_BWxKent Karnofski has been a Seattleite most of his adult life. By day he is a research engineer at a local manufacturing firm, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. In addition to his work with the Live Music Project, he is the curator and primary contributor at CommunityNoise.blog.