Chicago based a•pe•ri•od•ic performs music grounded in post-Cagean experimental traditions. "for a•pe•ri•od•ic" features music written for the ensemble by ensemble members Nomi Epstein (artistic director and founder), Kenn Kumpf, Billie Howard, and pivotal Wandelweiser composer Michael Pisaro. Each work engages with the relationship of the individual to collective, highlighting one of the fundamental parameters for exploration in ensemble music.
"As the album title suggests, all of the pieces on this recording were written specifically for a•pe•ri•od•ic. The first came in 2013 when Michael Pisaro, a friend, collaborator, and supporter of the ensemble wrote us festhalten/loslassen for a concert we played together, and continued in the following years with a•pe•ri•od•ic members Billie Howard, Kenn Kumpf, and Nomi Epstein writing new pieces for the group.
Each of the works navigate the relationship of solo to group, or individual to collective in their own unique manner. These indeterminate text scores required us to discuss and assign certain roles within the group during rehearsal, while other decisions were made individually while performing. In some cases, it was necessary to devise written structures based on the directives in the scores, and to experiment with each of them multiple times.
Billie Howard’s Roll explores the solo sustain tone of each of the ensemble’s instruments. Each performer presents her/his solo with the choice of a slight glissando up or down at its end, while the other performers may respond with an optional background of white noise. Sometimes a tone is presented on its own or with other tones, blending the foreground and background. Still at other moments the solo is heard with a chorus of subtle air sounds.Read More
Nomi Epstein’s Combine, Juxtapose, Delayed Overlap features three sonic texture/relationships which model the composer’s observations of sound relationships found in everyday life. The “combine” instruction indicates that all members of the group play a sustain of their sound/noise together. “Juxtapose” indicates that each voice enters on its own, but is immediately followed by the next. “Delayed overlap” indicates that each individual voice is overlapped by one other at the beginning and end of its sustain. The listener is invited to examine an artificial presentation of everyday sound interaction types and to observe the timbral characteristics of each discrete sound and its interaction with another single sound as well as with the collective voice of the ensemble.
Kenn Kumpf writes that his Triadic Expansions (2) “consists of 49 iterations of the same event. One player sustains a pitch for a long breath; other players enter on arbitrary pitches and play scales that terminate on notes forming a major triad with the sustained pitch.” The composite of each player’s “arbitrary” starting pitch and individual interpretation of what a scale might mean produces a harmonic drift which is continuously morphed by interval and direction. The effect offers a complex and layered canvas made up of steady, stationary sounds and fleeting moments of movement.
Of his piece festhalten/loslassen, Michael Pisaro writes, “It is a melody, or perhaps more accurately a memory of a melody: a set of instructions, a collection of notes that attempt to inspire a renewable melodic spirit in any group that performs it.” The score offers the ensemble possible components which can be used to create a multitude of potential structures to follow. a•pe•ri•od•ic explored a number of self-constructed structures with varying levels of predetermined components, and chose this particular construct for the recording."
-Nomi Epstein, Artistic Director of a•pe•ri•od•ic
Founded in 2010, a•pe•ri•od•ic‘s repertoire explores the indeterminacy of various musical elements including instrumentation, structure, pitch, and/or duration. Drawn to works of sparseness, contemplation, and quietude, this "daring group" (Chicago Reader) has a history of interpreting distinctive pieces using a collaborative rehearsal process, deriving meaning and intention from oblique prose scores with great sensitivity.
Led by Nomi Epstein, the ensemble has commissioned, premiered, and recorded works by composers such as Michael Pisaro, Eva-Maria Houben, Jürg Frey, James Saunders, and Pauline Oliveros. a•pe•ri•od•ic released its debut album, more or less, featuring the music of Jürg Frey in 2014 under New Focus Recordings. The ensemble has received funding from the Swiss Arts Council, the Earle Brown Foundation, the Goethe Institute, and the Foundation of Contemporary Arts. Members of a•pe•ri•od•ic hold graduate degrees in music performance or composition from Chicago-area universities and conservatories, and are featured in other Chicago-based groups including Ensemble Dal Niente and Outer Voices.http://www.aperiodicchicago.com
Nearly seventy years have passed since John Cage composed 4’33,” his most famous—or notorious, as at the time it seemed—“silent” piece. Since then the questions 4’33” raised—regarding the limits and definition of music; the relationship between the work and the environment in which it is performed; the ontological different, or indeed indifference, between sound and silence; and above all, the degree of control or letting-go a score can or should exert over its product—have given rise to a significant lineage or tradition within new music. Two new releases of music for chamber ensembles fall within that lineage and serve to bring it forward.
The Chicago ensemble a•pe•ri•od•ic, founded by composer/pianist Nomi Epstein in 2010, fits firmly, and quite deliberately, within the lineage initiated by Cage’s work. The group, which on this recording is an octet of violin, cello, flute, bass clarinet/clarinet, bassoon/voice, French horn, piano, and voice, performs works biased toward various kinds of indeterminacy, whether of orchestration, sound material, or architecture. Silence also plays a major role in their music, whether as primary material or as a structural element.
The four compositions on for a•pe•ri•od•ic were commissioned by the group; three are by group members and the fourth is by composer Michael Pisaro.
Violinist Billie Howard’s Roll (2016) comprises a sequence of soloists playing a sustained tone ending with a freely-chosen upward or downward glissando, followed by a silence. What comes to the fore in this work is the unique timbral quality of each instrumental voice, with the lower-pitched bassoon and cello making an especially rich impression. Vocalist Kenn Kumpf contributes Triadic Expansions (2) of 2017, a piece of mutating harmonies built up from slowly ascending or descending scales of more or less arbitrary pitch content. The entrances and exits are staggered in a way that creates an out-of-synch effect that keeps the center of gravity for the entire sound mass in a constant state of motion. Combine, Juxtapose, Delayed Overlap (2013-2017) by Epstein, is a very quiet textural piece that seems to play with the ambiguous status—are they music? Are they noise? Are they just a strange crystallization of silence into sound?–of liminal audio events. Pisaro’s festhalten/loslassen (2013), in contrast to the austerity of Epstein’s piece, contains passages of almost lush bundles of sustained tones moving cloudlike across and through each other. The piece is broken into sections by long silences and is punctuated with passages for percussive pizzicato strings and a slowly ascending scale begun on piano and continued on horn.
-Daniel Barbiero, 12.16.19, Avant Music News
Local new-music group Aperiodic recently released its second album, For Aperiodic (New Focus). The record’s four pieces, composed respectively by Billie Howard, Michael Pisaro, and ensemble members Kenn Kumpf and Nomi Epstein, showcase Aperiodic’s rigorous execution of scores whose parameters include indeterminacy. In its tenth year, the group will carry on this practice through direct collaboration with three composers: Peter Ablinger, Annea Lockwood, and Renée Baker. The first of the three, the Austrian-born Ablinger, has used a myriad of means to court a particular end—getting people to doubt what their ears tell them. He’s the artist in residence at the nine-day Gray Sound series, an experimental music and sound event sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Gray Center Lab. The residency’s final concert is Aperiodic’s performance of Ablinger’s site-specific 3 Orte / 3 Places Chicago (2001/2020). The composition begins with the selection of three spaces within walking distance of one another. Each space is measured acoustically, resulting in microtonal scales that the ensemble articulates in long tones that reflect the spaces’ dimensions. The musicians will perform the first part of the piece in the Logan Center’s great hall, then walk together with the audience to two other places in the building, where the process of illustrative performance will be repeated—ultimately yielding sonic portraits of all three locations.
— Bill Meyer, 1.17.2020
Silence is a rhythm, too, and a•pe•ri•od•ic dances to it repeatedly throughout their second recording. The Chicago-based ensemble has traversed the new music continuum, performing music by composers from Peter Ablinger to Christian Wolff. Sometimes that silence isn’t quite what you want to hear — the COVID-19 pandemic cut short its tenth anniversary spring season one concert too soon — but it proves to be rich loam from which to grow music on this CD. All four of its pieces were composed specifically for the group by individuals who recognize the merit of non-imposing sounds. That knowledge derives in part from the fact that three of the composers also perform with the group, but also from their long-standing engagement with post-Cage-ian and Wandelweiser material. Director and pianist Nomi Epstein’s descriptively entitled Combine, Juxtapose, Delayed Overlap feels like a ceremony intermittently perceived through an opening and closing door. Billie Howard’s Roll tucks the composer’s whispering violin behind muted French horn and voice, wringing intensity from the effort one must apply to following its retreating sonorities. Vocalist Kenn Klumpf’s Triadic Expansions (2) moves in the other direction, sprouting ivy-like from the slenderest branches of sound. By comparison, Michael Pisaro’s stately festhalten/loslassen is a veritable riot of unwinding tonal colors. As the decade ticks towards year eleven, rest assured that a•pe•ri•od•ic is searching for the next promising idea.
— William Meyer, 5.01.2020
Founded in 2010, a-pe-ri-od-ic bills itself as a “performance collective featuring post-Cagean notated, acoustic, experimental music.” Before turning up their noses at a description that sounds, admittedly, like pretentious tosh, listeners might recall that Cage faced (and continues to face) similar criticism, despite what I think are great contributions to music in our time. Here, a-pe-ri-od-ic takes a page out of Cage’s book and brings sound front and center. The first piece, Billie Howard’s Roll, explores the solo sustain of the ensemble’s various instruments and voices. It is a reminder of such a fundamental—but often overlooked—element of music, one that drives everything from technique to instrument design. Pitches are held, bent, manipulated through glissandos and other techniques, combined with other sustained notes and white noise. Potential listeners should bear in mind the free-form nature of the piece and be ready simply to experience sound rather than to try and decode it. Triadic Expansions takes a similarly deep dive into a singular phenomenon: 49 iterations of the same musical event. A triad is morphed by various operations and interactions, a sort of combination of Minimalism and Cagean indeterminacy. The effect is a heavily layered probe.
Nomi Epstein’s Combine, Juxtapose, Delayed Overlap is built around the three basic sonic relationships of the title: sustaining sounds together, playing individual parts simultaneously, and overlapping sounds. Like the rest of the works on the album, this seems like an obvious concept, but it is one with which we often lose touch as musicians and as listeners. Epstein’s notes highlight that this is an opportunity for listeners to examine and observe these phenomena in an “artificial presentation,” but one may think of this as a case study for listening to the world around us with new ears. Michael Pisaro’s festhalten/loslassen concludes the program, of which he writes “it is a melody, or perhaps more accurately a memory of a melody.” Performers are given a selection of possible components via the score, a combination of predetermined and self-constructed structures from which to construct the piece. Like the rest of the program, this piece follows closely in Cage’s footsteps, and it seems to be more successful than the others in communicating with an audience.
This is a tricky recording to evaluate. On one hand, I respect very much the philosophical principles and musical aims that underpin a-pe-ri-od-ic’s ethos and that of this album. On the other, I have found myself overly reliant on what the composers have written about their music, suggesting that the music does not speak for itself successfully. On one hand, it is important to listen to experimental music with a completely open mind and without prejudice, to experience these sounds without trying to fit them into a structured mold. On the other, self-identifying as “post-Cagean” is not a free pass. At the very least, this is a reminder to us all of some of the essential, magical qualities of sound and music, as well as a reminder of the impact of the ideas of Cage, Oliveros, Schafer, and others. Listeners will have to decide for themselves what is on offer here, substance or show.
— James V. Maiello, 8.01.2020