Red Light New Music: Barbary Coast

About

Barbary Coast, the debut album from New York-based ensemble Red Light New Music, features works by the group's founding composers: Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne, Vincent Raikhel, Liam Robinson, and Scott Wollschleger. These works represent ten years of collaboration between the composers and performers, and showcase the collective’s imaginative approach to contemporary chamber music.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 66:10
01Cirques
Cirques
8:51

Chamber Concerto

Liam Robinson
02Sonata
Sonata
5:03
03Hymn
Hymn
4:44
04Rondo
Rondo
10:32
05The Night Mare
The Night Mare
9:11
06Crispy Gentlemen
Crispy Gentlemen
12:32

Brontal No. 3

Scott Wollschleger
07I
I
2:44
08II
II
5:24
09III
III
4:16
10IV
IV
2:53

Red Light New Music's Barbary Coast presents five works written for the ensemble by the group's founding composers: Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne, Vincent Raikhel, Liam Robinson, and Scott Wollschleger. The album begins with Vincent Raikhel’s Cirques, a stunning ensemble piece that explores contrasting perceptions of time. Liam Robinson’s Chamber Concerto is a playful three-movement work, which draws on a wide range of musical influences from American minimalism to the works of Charles Ives. Throughout the piece, the piano part, played masterfully by Yegor Shevtsov, leads the listener through unexpected environments and beautiful horizons, presenting equal parts humor and profundity. The Night Mare by Christopher Cerrone is an appropriately haunting work, which takes inspiration from a lecture by Jorge Louis Borges, in which he describes nightmares as chaotic series of images, from which we later construct a narrative. Ted Hearne’s raucous Crispy Gentlemen is constructed of fragmented percussive grooves, ecstatic string shrieks, and a powerful bass clarinet line, brilliantly performed by Christa Van Alstine. The album's final work, Scott Wollschleger’ Brontal No. 3, is an epic piece for viola and ensemble. A nod to Feldman’s masterpiece The Viola in My Life, Brontal No. 3 features violist Erin Wight’s powerfully expressive playing, set within Wollschleger’s otherworldly sonic spaces.

Red Light New Music

Red Light New Music is an ensemble dedicated to illuminating new paths in the composition, performance, and understanding of music. Since 2005, Red Light New Music has been devoted to the production of new music for the concert stage. At the heart of Red Light’s founding principles is a commitment to fostering creative environments where composers and performers can work together. The five pieces on this recording are all examples of the ongoing success of that principle. Each piece was created with the particular vision and skill of the ensemble’s musicians in mind, and the ensemble’s skill and vision have expanded in response to working on each new piece. Founded by four young composers, Red Light is a collaborative ensemble of composers and performers presenting new music in enlightening contexts. From traditional concerts, festivals and residencies, to sound installations, new opera and new music for silent films, Red Light has brought artists together to create fresh and innovative musical experiences. In addition to their concert seasons in New York City, Red Light’s past projects have included work with The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Usinesonore Festival in Switzerland, and the University of California, San Diego, among others. Guided by their commitment to sharing the spirit of collaborative exploration, Red Light continues to shape a uniquely cooperative and productive environment in the landscape of contemporary music.

24 Nov, 2015

New Focus makes textura Top Ten Labels List

New Focus was selected as one of the top ten labels of 2015 by Toronto based music site, textura. textura has been a great supporter of New Focus releases all year, reviewing several of our releases, including Reiko Fueting's "names, Erased", Red Light New Music's "Barbary Coast", and Scott Miller's "Tipping Point". …

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Reviews

A Closer Listen

In many ways, Barbary Coast reminds me of the times when classical music halls produced brawls and minor scandals. This is not to say that you’ll stand up and punch your audio player of choice, demanding for it to act responsibly towards Western civilization, but that the music is demanding and provocative in a fashion that perhaps originates in new ensembles from the last 15 years or so. Their challenging approach to ‘classical music’ is preceded by collectives such as Bang on a Can, but there are some key differences conveyed primarily in a formal dislocation from pop music. It’s not that it’s ignored or given a lower status, it’s just taken for granted. There’s no need to build bridges and attempt to reconcile modernism’s violence with the popular – regular listeners of this kind of stuff are mostly aware of the limits of the life/art divide conceived as relationship between ‘high’ and ‘low’. No, the focus lies elsewhere, in a place that recovers said divide and tears it down from its haughty abstraction, raising the stakes at a much more personal, more intimate level.

The album’s name is an indication: it alludes to the European name for the North Africa coast once seen as dangerous for its pirate raids, but more importantly it also refers to the historical San Francisco red light district. The ensemble’s name comes, then, to the fore here, raising the question of what exactly a Red Light New Music could consist of. As suggested in the liner notes, this collective emphasizes the life of the music as it comes into being; the pieces are all composed specifically for it, articulating a form of collectivity that allows extreme individuality as well as communality, highlighting the concerted effort of each and every member on equal standings. If a red light district is all about the edges of life and pleasure experienced both at the edge of individuality (you might not have wanted to be seen by the neighbor) and the common (however, if the neighbor was also there, you now shared something unquestionably intimate), then this New Music revels, too, in the strange danger of an accepted, yet frowned upon, challenge to convention.

If this reminds you of modernism itself, it’s not by chance – this album does not aim to please a standard, finding and producing its pleasure in new forms, new relations, new lives possible only at the inner edges and divisions of, in this analogy, (respectable) cities. “Cirques”, the opening piece, is about geological formations in glaciers that resemble amphitheaters, all plucks of strings and swift strokes that build up a soundscape of echoes. In its rapid changes and its general atonality, the piece bustles with activity, as if the ice was slowly decaying into form, its twists and turns making the players seem like explorers of sounds unknown. With such an opening, it’s no wonder the rest of the album is full of surprising compositions, sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes plain surreal.

This is, perhaps, the spirit to which the collective’s name refers to, in the sense that it sets up a complex web of sensations and ideas that cannot really exist anywhere else outside the chamber music arena; it comprises an intense life that no longer causes people to try and negate it because, like the red light district, it’s ingrained already in the dynamics of the city, an already popular form of defiance that needs no artistic approval to keep its edges sharp.

-- David Murrieta, A Closer Listen, October 2015

Textura

This would appear to be an especially fruitful time for contemporary composers, given the number of ensembles currently dedicated to performing adventurous modern classical works. Bang On A Can All-Stars, NOW Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, and yMusic are among those specializing in new music, and the release of Barbary Coast argues that Red Light New Music should be added to that small but distinguished list. On its debut album, the New York-based contemporary chamber music outfit presents works by Christopher Cerrone, Vincent Raikhel, Liam Robinson, Scott Wollschleger, and Ted Hearne, also the group's conductor.

Each setting on the sixty-six-minute recording was created with the ensemble's musicians in mind, a move that definitely strengthens the impression of cohesiveness established by the album. Ostensibly a nine-minute riff on time that focuses alternately on its cyclic and static aspects on the one hand and the transformations that linearly develop on the other, the opening Cirques is by Raikhel, a Brooklyn-based composer and scientist whose work explores nature's beauty and complexity. The title references a geological formation produced by glaciers, though it's the glacier itself, a physical entity that's always evolving even when it appears unchanging, that as a phenomenon most aligns with the piece. Up next, Robinson's three-movement Chamber Concertoputs pianist Yegor Shevtsov in the driver's seat as it advances through playful episodes influenced by American minimalism (more John Adams than Glass or Reich) and dazzles the listener with splashes of kaleidoscopic colour; certainly the high-spirited framing parts “Sonata” and “Rondo” offer no small amount of stimulation, but it's the delicate central movement “Hymn” that proves to be the most affecting. Regardless, as a showcase for Red Light New Music and the breadth of effects its eight musicians can produce, Robinson's piece is a hard one to top. And just as his contribution is a showcase of sorts for Shevtsov, so too is Hearne's wildly shape-shifting Crispy Gentlemen for bass clarinetist Christa Van Alstine. On Wollschleger's album-closing Brontal No. 3, violist Erin Wight takes the lead, as it's she who first voices the work's key melodic motif, a low note followed by a high one, the combination of which Wollschleger describes as an “Ur-melody” or “Ur-motion.” Though Brontal No. 3 supposedly nods to Morton Feldman's The Viola in My Life, the rather woozy, even sickly quality of Wollschleger's creation more reminds me of Mark-Anthony Turnage's work.

The album material is impeccably performed by the musicians, and the works themselves are a consistently engaging bunch. Some, however, are more memorable than others, The Night Mare is arguably the most memorable of all. For this nine-minute setting, Cerrone drew inspiration from a Jorge Louis Borges lecture, specifically its characterization of nightmares as chaotic series of images that are fashioned into coherent narrative forms upon waking. Cerrone incorporates into the work's design electronic effects derived from a field recording of a train and bolsters its haunting quality by exploiting the instrumental resources of the group to sculpt a powerfully atmospheric sound design. Droning, slightly dissonant tones gradually morph into short melodic statements that retain the unsettling tone established at the outset, and Cerrone exercises admirable restraint in the way the subtle modulations in mood are effected from beginning to end. In fact, so strong is the composition, one longs to hear an album-length presentation of Cerrone's work rather than a single setting only.

October 2015

Ethan Iverson, Do the Math blog

Barbary Coast, the debut album from New York-based ensemble Red Light New Music, features works by the group's founding composers: Christopher Cerrone, Ted Hearne, Vincent Raikhel, Liam Robinson, and Scott Wollschleger. These works represent ten years of collaboration between the composers and performers, and showcase the collective’s imaginative approach to contemporary chamber music.

Vincent Raikhel: "Cirques." Droning, almost tuning up, resolving to minor-key hocketing dances in fine post-minimalist style. Good introduction to ensemble and the contemporary idiom.

Liam Robertson: "Chamber Concerto." Features my friend Yegor Shevtsov on piano (he gave me this CD). "Sonata," "Hymn," "Rondo." Goofy, virtuosic, extended techniques: handclaps and slide whistles? That sounds terrible, but Robertson is a serious composer who musters a coherent argument. Cool polyrhythms. "Hymn" perhaps most impressive movement with tasty tunes and spread counterpoint.

Christopher Cerrone: "The Night Mare." After the initial sting I'm not even sure what I'm listening to. Timpani maybe and...? Dread and sorrow, at any rate. Eventually a kind of mysterious B-flat minor tune in piano/percussion loops around the roil and rumble. Accelerando ensues, dissipates, races off page. Compelling.

Ted Hearne: "Crispy Gentlemen." Punk-rock high modernism: Atonal, pointillist, banging drums. Bass clarinet feature! I would dig this more live, on headphones I get a little tired before the 12 minutes is up. Still an intriguing listen, though.

Scott Wollschleger, "Brontal No. 3." Four similar movements, a kind of brutal pocket viola concerto. For me the highlight of the disc. Wow. This is some serious madness. Alternating microtonal monumental sonorities conjure Lovecraftian visions. The outraged viola "sings" stunted melancholy.

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I'll be looking out for more Wollschleger. There is fair amount of piano music for me to explore, including something on Ivan Ilic's recent The Transcendalist. I've heard Ilic's recording of the left-hand only Godowsky-Chopin paraphrases and was impressed. I'll be investigating this disc and the rest of Ilic's records soon; for now, kudos to Ilic to adding Wollschleger to the distinguished company of Scriabin, Feldman, and Cage. Wollschleger's "Music Without Metaphor" is the dead intersection of Chopin and Feldman and simply a lovely listen as well.

- Ethan Iverson, Do The Math, October 2015

Gramophone Magazine

New York-based Red Light New Music’s debut album celebrates 10 years of reimagining contemporary chamber music with five wonderful, astounding encounters with unique new sounds. Playing at intimate levels of physical and emotional intensity, the group’s eight wind, string, and percussion players make the sort of music that The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper would have in his collection.

Vincent Raikhel’s Cirques introduces a shared delight in making sounds and noises that can be aligned, often irregularly and to pleasing effect, in a series of clockwork movements that a crab wouldn’t mind dancing to, ending in a gentle, warmish glow. Liam Robinson’s Chamber Concerto has a more than just absorbing Mozartian gait; it is a legitimate millennial’s piano concerto, sophisticated, chic and aurally gratifying.

Christopher Cerrone’s The Night Mare, inspired by Jorge Luis Borges, is a great tour de force that expands out into one long, nine-minute arc quoting Mussorgsky’s Pictures at the end accompanied by incongruous, low bass underpinnings. Ted Hearne’s Crispy Gentlemen is a kaleidoscope of replayed, remixed, remixed, pasted, cut and always arresting sounds deepening over time; a piece, Hearne writes, ‘that would never be confused with the music of Morton Feldman’, but is inspired by Feldman nonetheless.

Scott Wollschleger’s Brontal tames the full-frontal brontosaurus power with strand’s of seductive sound that catch the creature’s attention. For fans of linguist David Crystal, the composer says that ‘brontal’ was coined by Red Light percussionist Kevin Sims to describe something that is ‘strange, primordial, monolithic, and of odd proportions’.

-- Laurence Vittes, Gramophone Magazine, March 2016

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