Composer Robert Honstein releases his third recording with New Focus (follow ups to FCR146 Re: You and FCR202 An Economy of Means), this time featuring percussion trio Tigue, cello and percussion duo New Morse Code, and percussionist Michael Compitello.
An Index of Possibility
|Tigue, Matt Evans, percussion, Amy Garapic, percussion, Carson Moody, percussion
|Repose 2 - Burst
Repose 2 - Burst
Down Down Baby
|New Morse Code, Hannah Collins, cello, Michael Compitello, percussion
|Follow the Leader
Follow the Leader
|Down Down Baby
Down Down Baby
Lost and Found
|Michael Compitello, percussion
|Everything is OK
Everything is OK
Robert Honstein is a New York City-based composer whose output ranges from chamber and orchestral works to vocal and film music. Lost and Found is devoted to his music for percussion. The album notes by Doyle Armbrust resonate with themes of childhood, early parenting, and the timeless animated films of Hayao Miyazaki.
Honstein is a master of process and mood, building and releasing tension in multiple layers. His taut formal clarity balances a slow, organic approach to development; extended sections of complex patterns can suddenly cut to silence or new material, and return later. He counterpoints larger, more virtuosic movements with understated, repeating interludes that outline the structure of each work.
The album opens with An Index of Possibility. “Repose 1” lilts like a sweet, sleepy afternoon, a relaxing bell-like drift of tuned pipes shaded by the breath of a scraped flower pot. “Flicker” is a bright awakening, bells and tuned pipes in constant motion. This texture is accompanied by sharp strikes of a log drum, and initially their relationship is unclear. As the timbres change, the drum strikes open up longer and longer interruptions in the rolls. Five stele of sound, articulated by sharp accents, end the movement with imposing authority. “Flow” begins with a ritual-like gesture — listen for the beautifully strange decays of the sawblade and school bell. It is a stream of energy, driven by an unrelenting quintuplet pattern, shot through with color from layers of quintuplets sliding under and over. A wonderfully lanky assemblage of drums and bells makes a cameo appearance. “Repose 2” is interrupted by the fizz of bells that begins the hugely entertaining “Burst”, a hair-raising ride on a devilish machine built from ever-changing time signatures, unpredictable repetitions, and perpetual motion. “Repose 3” brings the piece to an introspective close. The last we hear is a solemn, mysterious drum roll.Read More
In the performance notes for Down Down Baby, Honstein writes of childhood games. The resulting music, energized and virtuosic, is anything but kids’ stuff. Laid flat, the cello becomes a vibrant percussion instrument speaking with multiple voices. In “Follow the Leader,” additive rhythms build expectation, and complexity grows as each new sound is added. It’s a slow burn that sparks whenever the bells appear. “Daydream 1” is a time-suspension, a lonesome song. “Singing Lesson” unexpectedly combines fleet, scampering hand drumming with mantra-like solfege singing and whistling. Unlike anything else on the album, “Strange Dance” is a delightful woozy trip. Drippy cello glissandi and great arcing gestures played by a hundred hands dance through this gem. “Daydream 2” is a hummed memory from the past. The final movement recalls the first, but its attitude is steelier. You will find yourself nodding in time with its relentless drive.
Lost and Found is written for marimba prepared with small objects like a baking tin, güiro, and glass bottles. Combining the clear pitches of the marimba with noisier, less focused tones, both in counterpoint and as a single terrain, create an expansive musical space. The first movement, “Spiders,” begins in a state the composer calls a “hushed prowl”. The serrations of a güiro sound aggressive in comparison. A four-note gesture grows, full of suspense. “Half Asleep” is just that — a sweet, dreamy world on the edge of consciousness. The gentle piece transforms through transpositions and not-quite-repetitions, gaining force through dynamic swells, to an understated but insistent finish. “Shakedown” rides syncopated ostinatos through playful interactions of the marimba and its indefinite-pitched companions. The mood is light. As it traverses the keyboard, you’ll wish you had a martini in one hand and a maraca in the other. “Spiders” returns in a different disguise clearing the air for the earnest “Everything is OK.” This movement starts with a lyrical, pop-infused melody, on marimba alone, and a new world opens up when the piece abruptly changes key and adds more instruments. Although the world is different, it’s still ok. A final iteration of “Spiders” leads to “Coda”. A single rhythmic motive runs through most of this spare, pensive music; multiple times the instrumentation develops, and more and more auxiliary sounds (a tambourine, a woodblock) are arrayed around it, leading to a melancholic, enigmatic ending.
– Kyle Bartlett
An Index of Possibility, tracks 1–5
Engineered, edited, and mixed by Ryan Streber January–August, 2014, Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY
Additional editing by Hansdale Hsu
Down Down Baby, tracks 6–11
Engineered, edited, mixed by Ryan Streber January–September, 2017 and November, 2021, Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY
Additional editing by Charles Mueller
Lost and Found, tracks 12–18
Produced by Doug Perkins
Engineered by Stephen Shirk
Edited and mixed by Patrick Burns June 2020 through March 2022, Shirk Studios, Chicago, IL
Additional producing by Doug Perkins
Mastering by Ryan Streber
Design by Grey Studio
Photography: Stills from Lost and Found, Four/Ten Media
Liner Notes by Doyle Armbrust
Celebrated for his “waves of colorful sounds” (New York Times) and “smart, appealing works” (The New Yorker), Robert Honstein (b. 1980) is a New York based composer of orchestral, chamber, and vocal music. Raised in New Jersey, Honstein creates music rooted in performance and personal narrative. His background as a pianist and singer brings a deep love of instrumental and vocal practice to collaborations with leading musicians from around the world.
Fueled by an omnivorous musical appetite, Robert’s compositions are noted for their “dry humor” (San Francisco Classical Voice), “breathless eruptions” (New York Times) and “devilishly fun writing” (The Arts Fuse). At times “profoundly moving” (Shepherd Express) and “genuinely touching” (Chicago Classical Review), Robert combines a fascination with narrative, environment, and everyday experience to create “deeply contemplative” (Bandcamp) works that probe the vicissitudes of contemporary life from the banal to the sublime. A growing interest in story-telling, physicality and expressive embodiment infuses his work with a direct, evocative sensibility that is equal parts riotous frenzy, austere lyricism, and minimalist-tinged romanticism.
Leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists from around the world have performed Robert’s music including the Chicago Symphony, Albany Symphony, Orchestre Symphonique du Mulhouse, Slovenian National Theater Opera and Ballet Ljubljana, American Composers Orchestra, Eighth Blackbird, Ensemble Dal Niente, Present Music, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Third Angle New Music, New Music Detroit, Quince, Mivos Quartet, Del Sol Quartet, Argus Quartet, Hub New Music, Chatterbird, TIGUE, New Morse Code, Colin Currie, Theo Bleckmann, Doug Perkins, Michael Burritt, Karl Larson, Michael Compitello and Ashley Bathgate, among others. A keen interest in interdisciplinary collaboration has led to projects with artists across many disciplines, including photographer Chris McCaw, projection designer Hannash Wasileski, graphic designer Laura Grey, and director Daniel Fish. His music has also been choreographed by numerous dance companies such as the Cincinnati Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Nancy Karp and Dancers, Urbanity Dance, and Frame Dance, among others.
Robert has received awards, grants, and recognition from Carnegie Hall, the Barlow Foundation, Copland House, the New York Youth Symphony, ASCAP, the Albany Symphony, New Music USA, and the League of American Orchestras. His work has been featured at festivals around the United States, including the Tanglewood Music Center, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, and the Bang on a Can Summer Institute. He has also received residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Copland House, and I-Park.
Robert is a founding member of the New York-based composer collective Sleeping Giant, a group of “five talented guys” (The New Yorker) that are “rapidly gaining notice for their daring innovations, stylistic range and acute attention to instrumental nuance” (WQXR). Projects have included evening length works for Eighth Blackbird, Ensemble ACJW and the Deviant Septet as well as a multi-year residency with the Albany Symphony. ‘Hand Eye’ for Eighth Blackbird was released on Cedille Records to critical acclaim, while the Giants most recent project ‘Ash’ was released on New Amsterdam Records with cellist Ashley Bathgate.
With a commitment to building community around the music of our time Robert co-founded Fast Forward Austin, an annual marathon new music festival in Austin, TX and Times Two, a Boston-based concert series that paired artists from diverse backgrounds in a laid back, accessible context. As an educator, Robert has participated in outreach projects around the country, while also serving as Program Manager and Composition Faculty at NYU, Steinhardt.
His debut album, RE: You, was released by New Focus Recordings in 2014 and his second album, Night Scenes from the Ospedale, a collaboration with the Sebastians, was released on Soundspells Productions in 2015. In 2018 his album ‘An Economy of Means’, featuring Doug Perkins and Karl Larson was released on New Focus Recordings. NPR included his piece ‘Pulse’ from Eighth Blackbird’s ‘Hand Eye’ as one of their top 100 songs of 2016. ‘Pulse’ was also featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series featuring Eighth Blackbird.
Robert’s original score to the Showtime Documentary The Real Charlie Chaplin was nominated for a 2022 News and Documentary Emmy for best original score. Recent commissions include, Juvenalia, a percussion concerto for Colin Currie, Endless Landscape, a chamber orchestra work for Ensemble Connect, and Lost and Found, a work for prepared solo marimba, for Michael Compitello and a consortium of percussionists. Upcoming projects include new works for Duo Vis, No Exit New Music Ensemble, and flutist Michael Avitable.
last updated 3/6/23http://www.roberthonstein.com
Tigue is the creatively fluid percussive trio of Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody. Since 2013, The group has made their own kinetic and hypnotic blend of instrumental minimalism while simultaneously commissioning newly composed works for percussion trio. Their boldly colored output queers typical boundaries of collaboration, challenging hierarchical power structures and embodying ecstatic supportive systems. With a highly collaborative spirit, Tigue has integrated their vocabulary with bands Deerhoof and Yo La Tengo as well as composers Elori Saxl, Lea Bertucci, and Jason Treuting with recordings available through New Amsterdam Records and Cantaloupe Music. Praised for their focused and “high octane” productions (New York Times), the Ohio-born band members have worked together since they were practically children.
New Morse Code (Hannah Collins, cello; Michael Compitello, percussion) is the confluence of two magnetic personalities who have taken up the admirable task of creating a hub for the performance, commissioning, and promotion of new music. NMC is theoretically the alluring and uncommon combination of cello and percussion, but in practice is best described as two musicians of extraordinary depth and skill untethered by their instrumental constraints. This unrestricted approach has allowed them to create a body of work in which Hannah can be found crushing plastic bottles and Michael plucking the strings of the cello––all with the intention of expanding and facilitating the imaginations of their composer-collaborators––while ultimately creating a meaningful and lasting repertoire. As tireless advocates for new music, they seek out diverse venues and strive to connect with disparate audiences by way of their accessible intellect and dynamic musicality.
Over the past decade, the “remarkably inventive and resourceful duo” (Gramophone) has developed projects responding to our society’s most pressing issues, including The Emigrants, a documentary chamber work by George Lam, and dwb (driving while black), a chamber opera by Roberta Gumbel and Susan Kander, called “The Most Relevant, Hauntingly Evocative New Chamber Opera in Years” (Lucid Culture - New York New Music Daily). Their long-term collaboration with Christopher Stark on The Language of Landscapes (commissioned in 2014 by Chamber Music America) incorporates found discarded objects, field-collected environmental recordings, and live electronic processing as a way of making commentary on the urgency of the climate crisis. As the recently named inaugural grand prize winners of the Ariel Avant Impact Performance Prize, they will develop and tour a program featuring Stark’s work alongside new pieces which address sustainability and scientific innovation.
New Morse Code's 2017 debut album Simplicity Itself on New Focus Recordings was described by icareifyoulisten.com as “an ebullient passage through pieces that each showcase the duo’s clarity of artistic vision and their near-perfect synchronicity,” while Q2 Music called the album “a flag of genuineness raised.” In 2019 they collaborated with Eliza Bagg, Lee Dionne, and andPlay on and all the days were purple, Alex Weiser’s Pulitzer Prize-finalist work on Cantaloupe music. They have also recorded for innova, Albany, and Navona Records.https://www.newmorsecode.com/
Michael Compitello is a dynamic, “fast rising” (WQXR) percussionist active as a chamber musician, soloist, and teaching artist.
He has developed sustained collaborations with composers such as Thomas Kotcheff, Tonia Ko, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Robert Honstein on new works, in addition to working with Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang, John Luther Adams, Alejandro Viñao, Marc Applebaum, and Martin Bresnick on premieres and performances of new solo and chamber works. Currently, Michael’s project Unsnared Drum (released August 2021 on New Focus Recordings) seeks to reinvent the snare drum through new works by composers Nina C. Young, Hannah Lash, Amy Beth Kirsten, and Tonia Ko.
With cellist Hannah Collins as the “remarkably inventive and resourceful” (Gramophone) New Morse Code, Michael has created a singular and personal repertoire through collaboration with some of America’s most esteemed young composers.
Michael is also a member of Percussion Collective, an ensemble dedicated to refined performances of contemporary percussion repertoire, with whom he performed as soloist with the Colorado Symphony, and on concert series across the country. Michael is Assistant Professor of Percussion at Arizona State University. He holds degrees from The Yale School of Music and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.https://michaelcompitello.com
Over the last decade few American composers have moved from strength to strength like Robert Honstein, a founding member of the composer’s collective Sleeping Giant that also introduced the world to folks like Ted Hearne and Timo Andres. Although he doesn’t receive the same attention as Hearne and Andres, his music is gratifying, varied, and curious. This new album collects three substantial percussion works, each grounded in a clear concept.
Index of Possibilities, the oldest work here, performed by the New York trio Tigue, is built from everyday objects transformed into instruments. Still, nothing feels provisional or experimental. The work has a lovely arc, with a resonant, tuneful lullaby opening and closing the five-movement composition. Overall, it glides through passages of blisteringly visceral propulsion and soothing repose.
Down Down Baby, a 2016 piece performed here by the duo New Morse Code—cellist Hannah Collins and percussionist Michael Compitello—is based on the playground clapping game of the same name. Both instrumentalists translate those deceptively simple rhythms with a fascinating, shifting timbre, especially with Collins using her cello like a percussive device. Compitello also tackles the title piece, a marimba suite drawn from ideas Honstein had set aside in previous years.
— Peter Margasak, 4.04.2023
The first time I played this, I declared to anyone who would listen (i.e. my Twitter followers) that it was instantly my favorite Honstein album, an impression that hasn’t waned with further spins. Consisting of several works for percussion, each played by the best in the biz - Tigue (Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody), New Morse Code (Hannah Collins and Michael Compitello), and Compitello solo - and featuring a spirit of play and rich emotion, it will serve as the perfect introduction to Honstein’s work should you need one.
— Jeremy Shatan, 5.08.2023
Robert Honstein‘s new album Lost and Found is a collection of three separate works for percussion with a common theme: childhood. We’re fortunate to have three beautiful videos of each of the works, so we’ve shared each of the videos below and largely allowed the works to speak for themselves.
The album opens with “An Index of Possibility”, a creative revisitation of those happy toddler days spent getting pots and pans out of kitchen cupboards and investigating what sounds they can produce. At first the investigations have a quiet, considerate quality, but as the piece develops, the composer becomes excited by the possibility of motion. Percussion trio Tigue, who commissioned and performed the piece, embody this spirit of curiosity and adventure.
“Down Baby Down”, the second work, is inspired by the children’s clapping game of the same name but here Honstein explores what would happen if the game were performed on the wooden body of a ‘cello. The result has a really playful groove and New Morse Code, the percussion duo who commissioned and perform the work, capture the sense of fun wonderfully.
The closing “Lost and Found” sees the composer returning to his memories of the community pool where he worked as a teenage lifeguard. The lost and found box, he writes, was “both forgettable and fascinating, mostly inconsequential, but occasionally irresistible” and here the music is both charming and occasionally macabre, ably performed by Michael Compitello.
— Garreth Brooke, 4.01.2023
On his third release for New Focus, New York-based composer Robert Honstein has selected three percussion works from his output. They are multi-movement pieces that are almost equal in length, around 21 minutes, with considerable overlap in their instrumentation. Some sounds, like scraping a flower pot, are novel and unexpected, while others, like a variety of bell tones, feel familiar. Percussion instruments perform the basic function of setting a rhythm, but drumming has prehistoric ritual uses, and in a modern context percussionists call up images of the wild side of rock music or the virtuosity of Evelyn Glennie mastering a world of instruments beyond a basic drum.
Honstein only occasionally calls upon any accepted image, however. The only “real banger” among these 18 movements is "Strange Dance” in the second piece, Down Down Baby (none of the titles is explained). He uses percussion to fashion a soundscape whose roots lead back to the mystery of memory. As the program notes lucidly explain, Honstein’s music is “a convincing reconstitution of life before adulting, as poured through the twin sieves of imperfect memory and an astonishing organization of sounds.”
The program notes are otherwise a glaring example of explanations that prefer fanciful writing to clarity. The annotator declares the impossibility of “finding a children’s book or film that doesn’t suck … More specifically, I’m talking about a book or film that isn’t condescending to both you and your child.” To escape this dilemma, we are given the animé of the celebrated Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, and the three pieces on the program are keyed to famous movies from Miyazaki’s animation studio: Ponyo (2008), My Neighbor Totoro(1988), and Spirited Away (2001). I love the films and appreciate the references, but it turns out that any link to the music exists purely in the annotator’s fancy. Honstein himself has zero connection to Miyazaki. Why New Focus would permit a red herring that runs so many paragraphs is beyond me.
However, Honstein’s performance notes for Down Down Baby do refer to childhood games, and a presumed attempt to recreate lost memories could be a legitimate angle to pursue—at the very least his spare writing, which isolates individual sounds and incorporates gaps of silence for these sounds to resonate inside
— Huntley Dent, 9.09.2023
Robert Honstein is becoming one of the most notable composers for percussion today. Whether he is writing for prepared vibraphone or mixed chamber ensembles, his music explores a vast pallette of timbral possibilities and textures. And the works on Lost and Found are no exception. The album features three multi-movement works, including a percussion trio, a percussion solo, and a duet for percussion and cello.
Before listening to the recordings, I was completely mesmerized by Dpyle Armbrusts' liner notes. The eloquent and narrative writing style was so captivating I found myself torn between finishing the notes and jumping right into the music about which Armbrust wrote so beautifully. When discussing the entire album Armbrust states, "It's a convincing reconstitution of life before adulting, as poured through the twin sieves of imperfect memory and an astonishing organization of sounds."
As for the music, it was everything I expected. Each movement was expertly performed, allowing the colorful nuances of Honstein's writing to shine through. I anticipated favoring The Index of Possibility, having performed it. But my favorite work was his percussion solo, Lost and Found, performed by Michael Compitello. Each of the instruments was masterfully selected, enhacing the musical lines between them and the marimba. Additionally the shifts in character from one vignette to the next are exceptional. I found myself coming back to this piece many times.
— Danielle Moreau, 12.06.2023