The Music

Notes on Music at “Farther Out”

Posted by SoundBox

March 3, 2015

Oliver DiCicco: Sirens, Waiting for the Big One, and Orsted’s Flux Detector

San Francisco-based designer, sculptor, fabricator, engineer, and musician Oliver DiCicco’s large-scale kinetic sound sculptures are often used as interactive components in theatrical productions, and his experimental sculptural musical instruments are described as “high tech and beautifully fashioned... but with a human sort of tactility.”

A love of rowing on the San Francisco Bay inspired DiCicco to create Sirens, a kinetic sound sculpture that evokes a ship on the sea, the motion of waves, the songs of whales, the flow of the tides. Named for the mythical sirens who lured sailors into dangerous waters, the sculpture is made of water-filled tubes, which “sing” as the water pushes air through the ends of the swaying pipes.

Also featured at SoundBox are DiCicco’s Waiting for the Big One and Orsted's Flux Detector, which explore magnetic fields as sound producers—the artist encourages audience participation in the interactive Orsted.


TERRY RILEY: Keyboard Study No. 2
Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, from The Heaven Ladder Book 7

Terry Riley was born in 1935 in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, where he lived and began composing amid surroundings of striking natural beauty and spectacular night skies. In California Riley developed pattern music in response to his love for such natural design.

His talent for complex pattern-making in art music was supported by his virtuosity as a keyboardist. Having come to  prominence as a composer in 1964 for In C, his groundbreaking Minimalist work “for any instrument,” Riley moved on to a different track, devoting himself to extended solo keyboard compositions partially dependent on improvisation. He soon won a reputation for weaving dazzlingly intricate threads of music during all-night improvisations on organ and synthesizer.

His two Keyboard Studies, which originated from these improv sessions, were printed in 1965—the only studies that exist in manuscript. The organic, looping Keyboard Study No. 2 is rhythmically driven, creating constantly shifting musical landscapes that are at once sonically distinct and layered, essential and expansive.

In the 1990s Riley's curiosity turned to nineteenth-century Swiss poet and outsider artist Adolf Wölfli—his highly detailed and bizarre color pencil drawing, The Heaven Ladder, was inspiration for Riley’s seven projected books of piano pieces of the same name. Fandango on the Heaven Ladder, the final movement from the seventh book, offers us a sensational opportunity to engage in our environment, putting forward new and evolving musical constructions that we are free to approach, survey, and experience at will.


LISA BIELAWA: Forest, from Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser

Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Lisa Bielawa takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. A fixture in the classical music scene as both a composer and vocalist, Bielawa was in 2013 appointed Artistic Director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, featured at this performance.

Bielawa’s latest work, the opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, was composed for episodic release in collaboration with writer Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. The opening scene, Forest, introduces the theme of female hysteria as defined through time by witch-hunters, early psychiatrists, and modern artists.

A composite history of how a young teenager’s writings have been manipulated, incorporated, and interpreted by the communities of men surrounding them, Vireo delves into universal issues of gender identity, perception, and reality by considering authoritarian responses to independent, inspired imaginations, especially as they abide in young women.

Vireo premieres online and on television March 31, 2015, on KCET's Artbound.


NATHANIEL STOOKEY: String Quartet No. 2, Musée Mécanique

Nathaniel Stookey, who was first commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony’s New and Unusual Music Series at age 17, is a homegrown product of San Francisco’s iconoclastic music scene.

Stookey’s music is diverse—from collaborations with The Mars Volta (on their Grammy-winning album The Bedlam in Goliath) to the Kronos Quartet and many of the world’s top orchestras. Junkestra, written for an orchestra of garbage and commissioned by the San Francisco dump, was described by Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields as “gorgeous music […] delicate yet blunt, like a battle scene by Fabergé.”

Stookey’s The Composer is Dead, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony (with text by Lemony Snicket) has become one of the most performed orchestral works of the twenty-first century.

Stookey on Musée Mécanique: “My first string quartet was very spontaneous and I wanted to do something different the second time around—something precise, mechanical. My working title for the piece was five gadgets, which still describes it quite well. Each movement works like a little machine and is named accordingly: Chaser, Plucker, Opener, Grinder, and Mixer.

The subtitle Musée Mécanique comes from an arcade in San Francisco where I spent a lot of time growing up. The place is full of gadgets and games and gizmos, all of which are there to be played with: from ancient mechanical baseball games for a nickel to Galaxian for a quarter. Everything is all mixed in together and, as kids, it made no difference to us whether the games were new or old; we played them all—which I think is a wonderful analogy for music.


NICOLE LIZÉE: Kool-Aid Acid Test #17: Blotterberry Bursst

Kool-Aid Acid Test #17: Blotterberry Bursst, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, receives its world premiere at these SoundBox performances. Visuals provided by Nicole Lizée.

Lizée on Kool-Aid Acid Test #17: Blotterberry Bursst: This work is in homage to San Francisco, celebrating its singular identity as the hub of the counterculture in the tumultuous 1960s and ‘70s, and its place in defining much of what would become an alternative culture for America and the rest of the world. The work references some of my favorite moments in San Francisco and SoCal culture, film, music, art and iconography—including Jefferson Airplane, We Five, blotter art, artists Wes Wilson and Stanley Mouse, Zap Comix, and the films Hallucination Generation and Psych-Out.

The ensemble takes these glimpses and moments of inspiration and colors, bends, and distorts the image like a funhouse mirror. Kool-Aid Acid Test #17: Blotterberry Bursst is structured as a movie night that gradually begins to twist and melt, eventually morphing into a quasi rave/dance party.

Look for the new flavor—Blotterberry Bursst—at your local confectionary.

A huge thanks to Edwin Outwater and the San Francisco Symphony for commissioning this work. Edwin is one of my absolute favorite collaborators and my partner-in-crime for projects that seem like an insane idea initially—but we always find a way to make them happen. And they’re getting crazier and crazier.