Thursday, November 16, 2023

concert review: Other Minds Festival

Other Minds is an annual festival of new and experimental music. I've been to a few of its concerts before when they were playing something I really wanted to hear: Henry Cowell retrospectives, Lou Harrison retrospectives, Michael Nyman. On Wednesday, perforce I found myself attending an Other Minds concert of stuff I didn't know anything about for no more reason than it was what was on. I don't think I'll do this again.

The concert consisted of sets running about 3/4 of an hour each by two composers/performers.

First was Ellen Arkbro, who has studied with LaMonte Young and taken up his ideas of sustained tones with minimal motion but without, it seems, his ideas of expansive universal embrace. She began by turning on a computer emitting a painfully loud electronic buzzing, which changed pitch occasionally, on top of which she softly added held trumpet notes. Then she turned that off, replacing the buzzing with equally painful dissonant chords from three guys on tubas. (Irrelevant thoughts of the three guys on bass at the bottom of the Ninth.)

Second was Craig Taborn, who improvises at the piano. He's reputedly classed as a jazz pianist, but only a little of what he played sounded like jazz. A little more sounded like wildly cascading atonalism. But most of it sounded like children's finger exercises.

Some music finds profundity within surface simplicity, and I cherish such music. But other work just captures the surface.


I will admit it was impressive to discover, during the introductions preceding the concert, that the old white-haired man sitting right in front of me was Morton Subotnick. I heard his Silver Apples of the Moon half a century ago, my first exposure to purpose-written electronic music, and though I didn't like it very much my mind was expanded thereby.


It remains to be noted that this concert took place in San Francisco during the APEC conference and, therefore, also during the protests against the APEC conference. I ensured beforehand that I wouldn't have to pass through those parts of the city and that didn't cause me any problems. I had a little less luck regarding the meeting of Biden and Xi at a country estate located just off the freeway on my route up. The local road closures for this didn't cause any backups on the freeway, but the protests outside those closures did.

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