Two impulses drive Victoria Jordanova’s new album. Both are highly creative: the first comes from the very fiber of her being as an artist who both composes and performs; the second is from her taste as a curator of new music, a taste formed by that very creative activity.
And not only is her creative voice on display in the two works of her own in this collection, but it is also clearly there in the presentation of the other works. The composer and harpist have collaborated for the Cox pieces by arranging music initially written for piano. The Cage is, in fact, a “multiplication” of a work usually known as the sparest sort of setting. And the Rochberg is subtly shaped by its encounter with technology to bring out new shadings of color and depth.
As for the second, her “curating” of this program, she shows great sensitivity to the mix of the music. One work is by a peer she admires, two historic twentieth-century American masters, and two by herself. And the works, of course, show great range. Cox’s two pieces are lyrical and rigorous, suggesting an intersection between modernist formalism and the minimalist process. The Cage is a languid gem from his early period. The Rochberg is one of the monuments of the contemporary harp literature, a mix of the modern and the romantic, a feast of expressive moments, like facets of a diamond viewed as it rotates. And Jordanova’s music completely reimagines the instrument, taking it into realms of rich texture and layering previously unheard.
From the Cage, the title of this disc is more than just a convenient label. The whole concept of the program is that of the landscape. This very concept comes with a double meaning. All of the works on this disc suggest relations to nature, outdoor space, and the realm of the earth. But also, each work itself is an environment, an area where music can unfold, not encumbered by the usual demands of “straight-line” narrative development. This is music that we enter into that we can inhabit as listeners. We are not driven to follow a single line, either internally or at the demand of the composer. Instead, we are allowed space for contemplation and the discovery of beauty.
Cindy Cox’s two pieces are written for electric Celtic harp (which provides an especially clear and bright sound, entirely in keeping with the music). The first, The blackbird whistling/Or just after (2006), features rippling arpeggios whose harmonic content is derived from the overtone series. The result is fresh and natural, yet also one senses a strong structure behind the surface. Hierosgamaos IV (2005) is a much more meditative work. A repeated E tolls in the middle register, against which one hears wisps of melody and small sparkling outbursts.
John Cage’s In A Landscape (1948) is best known as an extremely simple and lyric single melody played on piano or harp. Jordanova has taken this source and elaborated it by multitracking it upon itself three times, using a pedal harp with a contact microphone. The resultant heterophonic canon now suggests something quite different from the original. Instead of a single object–the tune–in a vast resonant landscape, we have the object instead—through its multiplication—becoming the landscape itself. One sees the tune in echoes of itself, receding into the distance, towards the horizon.
George Rochberg’s Ukiyo-E (Pictures from the Floating World) (1976) is a sort of kaleidoscope or mobile, a series of gorgeous moments that alternate and cycle from one to the next, creating a dreamy space for contemplation and sensuous delight. Jordanova has arranged the settings of her processing to bring out a far greater variety of colors than one usually hears in the piece. Not only Asian but Mahleresque and impressionistic tropes meander through the sound’s frame. And the gentle swoosh of the amplification’s gating even seems to create a blossom that opens and closes on each musical moment.
Jordanova’s music shows her deep understanding of her instrument through her ability to use unusual performance techniques for specific sonic goals. Thus in the 2005 Secret Life of Bees, she scored for six electro acoustic harps and premiered at The 9th World Harp Congress in Ireland, performing it herself via multitracking. Swarm’s first movement is an essay in the classic “murmuring” technique of bisbigliando. The result is delicate and unnerving, just like the natural model, which is its inspiration. The second, Beehive, creates a drone background for gentle scraping sounds and harmonics using an electric toothbrush! The effect is like something completely electronic, though; of course, the source is her touch on her instrument. And the final movement, “Go to Work,” is a concise essay in slyly mechanical ostinatos of many different kinds of harmonics.
Pentatonic pitch sets give the framework for a space where sounds blossom, recede and evaporate, constantly replaced by new events that float to the surface like bubbles in a pond. For her 2005 Three Meditations (for two amplified acoustic pedal harps), Jordanova creates her floating world. This work comes in part from her experience of making a realization of Cage’s Postcard from Heaven, featured on the first Arpaviva release.
A last personal note: I am writing these notes while living in Tokyo for three months. Jordanova’s music has accompanied me all over the city, creating a soundtrack for one of the most stimulating and chaotic postmodern urban environments. And the contrast of my current landscape with her series of imaginary ones has created a unique space for me, one that opens up contemplation even in seeming chaos.
Track 1. Cindy Cox: The blackbird whistling / Or just after (2006)
This rippling haste over more extended tilting planes that reflect life hither and thither perfectly balances speed and rest, proving to be but two aspects of the same occurrence. Clarity is a glitter sparkle here, alien-dancing across the great divide of a distant world by a lone dancer whom involuntary dreams can only reach and the pure chance of a ray of light in a dewdrop on a pine needle always elsewhere. The fragrance in this music originates on the soft skin of a fay in the corner of your eye, on the periphery of consciousness. Love.
Track 2. Cindy Cox: Hierosgamos IV (2005)
This sports a repetitious, endlessly tolling tone that makes me think of a metronome keeping the beat, the way I’ve heard it in a piece by electronic music guru Lars-Gunnar Bodin. Three recurring darker tones, stepping downwards, bring a certain sense of melody, albeit rudimentary, to this very sparse and ascetic tune… but this mist-like, meager property allows your listening a fuller intake of those tones that DO sail by, giving you a denser sensation than an actual dense composition: one of those playful contradictions of the laws of physics and perception. The meditation of Hierosgamos IV brings the smiling face of John Cage through the mere inaccessibility that I keep around my vulnerability. The pleasure of absent-minded concentration.
Track 3. John Cage: In a Landscape (1948)
And here he is, the Cage, un-caged as ever in Victoria Jordanova’s rendition through trice layered pedal-harp with contact microphones, in fairy-of-the-river-bend-under-fern magic, in a sheer Somerset beauty that moves me to tears and a joy of sound that thoroughly permeates the cloud of electrons that make me up. The craving for light. Wonder world, Jordanova spell! Yes, music out of photographs yellowed with age. Time sifting like sand over wrinkled hands; the love of a mother assuring you that all will be well, even though you’ve taken that fateful step into the suffering of a body…
Track 4. George Rochberg: Ukiyo-E (Pictures from the Floating World) (1976)
By far the longest piece at 12 minutes on Jordanova’s CD, Ukiyo-E (Pictures from the Floating World), is described in the booklet as “a sort of kaleidoscope or mobile, a series of gorgeous moments which alternate and cycle from one to the next, creating a dreamy space for contemplation and sensuous delight.” I feel an Asian influx, a kind of koto barrier through which ascetic thoughts seep like light quanta passing everywhere simultaneously, leaving that rhythmic pattern on the wall: the writing on the wall… There is lovely reasoning going on, a thought stream passing in a series of arrows across inner skies, appearing and disappearing, moving in and out of existence in that rhythmic vibration: the equilibrium of existence and non-existence, only very slightly out of phase, making possible the universe and its illusion. Life is an atmospheric disturbance—carpet music.
Track 5. Victoria Jordanova: Secret Life of Bees: Swarm (2005)
The rest of the CD presents Jordanova’s compositions. Swarm from Secret Life of Bees is the first one and is said to constitute “an essay into the classic murmuring technique of bisbigliando”! Be that as it may! Jordanova scored it for six electro-acoustic harps, and here she performs all six harps via multi-tracking. You certainly get a feeling of something many-headed crawling upon solidity close by; you sense the vicinity bristling with a myriad of movements, and the texture is unstable, nervous, on edge – on the edge of attack, of lethal venom hovering over your veins… but on this brink of something hazardous shines beauty bright: starships rising behind the shiny, venomous curvature of an insect world whining with glassy pizzicatos.
Track 6. Victoria Jordanova: Secret Life of Bees: Beehive (2005)
Beehive brings an Australian telegraph wire meditation through the outback of your mind, emerging on a fabulous drone and wheezing of the bow.
The booklet, however, lets on that Jordanova uses an electric toothbrush to achieve these desert land spaces. Further on, she lets the drone dissipate into a prickly pointillism of knuckled buckets, backyard-ish, maple tree swing-ish. Weathered.
Track 7. Victoria Jordanova: Secret Life of Bees: Go to Work (2005)
Fingers are playfully scratching and picking, resounding in small audionettes, falling all around like chestnuts, delicious through the season of mud and decay and fungi, earthworms coleopterous beings: insignificant details running at high velocities in the soil. Music running for cover. A brilliant display of colorful pieces dashing off like cockroaches in the kitchen when you turn on the light at 3 AM (as I remember it from Blackwell apartments, Dallas, in 1979). Survival Kit Kitty! Fright of the little ones.
The last three pieces are collected under the heading Three Meditations, scored for two amplified acoustic pedal harps.
Track 8. Victoria Jordanova: Three Meditations: Trill (2005)
The sound is more extensive here, filling a dome of space with maroon, yellow, and silver: figures flashing up against darkness; icons painted with a sable brush, rising out of matter into mind, Victoria Jordanova providing the latticework of existence, quavering from her harp in stringent stringy strangeness: alien thoughts meddling at the shell of ego. The spacious atmosphere and the Tibetan colors free up rest and effortless focus. Gyangze.
Track 9. Victoria Jordanova: Three Meditations: Irish (2005)
There is a deep voice below and a lyric performance practice that brings me eastward, in a mezzo mode, perhaps to Japan, my mind still oozing with Tibetan recollections from the former piece and my friend Zoë’s journeys. This piece is brief, but it could go on for a long time, an entire CD because you could base a meditation practice on it in loose, relaxed concentration.
Track 10. Victoria Jordanova: Three Meditations: Happy (2005)
The rippling, bursting flow of bulging tones appears through water or crystal, like sea weed moving in elegant, ceremonious, courtly motions: light seeping down from above. My hands are touching a thick, uneven body of glass, sensual, even erotic, the roots of existence finding a path into the center of the planet. All is connected.
Radical, traditional, original, archetypal—neither modernist nor neo-tonal, Cindy Cox derives her “post-tonal” musical language from acoustics, innovations in technology, harmonic resonance, and poetic allusion. Naturally unfolding through linked strands of association, timbral fluctuation, and cyclic temporal processes, her compositions synthesize old and new musical designs.
As Robert Carl notes in Fanfare, “Cox writes music that demonstrates an extremely refined and imaginative sense of instrumental color and texture…This is well-wrought, imaginative, and not easily classifiable music.” Her work, constantly engaged with novel sound and instrumental color approaches, combines with formality “to yield a great depth of meaning and a playful appeal” (NewMusicBox, American Music Center).
She has received awards and commissions from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and the Gemeinschaft der Kunstlerinnen und Kunstfreunde International Competition for Women
Composers. She has been a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center, the Aspen Music Festival, the MacDowell Colony, and the Civitella Ranieri and William Walton Foundations in Italy.
Recent performances include [Four Studies of Light and Dark] for piano and percussion at the Festival di Musica Contemporanea at the American Academy in Rome, Hysteria, for trombone and four-channel tape at the Kosmos Frauenraum in Vienna (filmed for Austrian National Television), Münster Gesellschaft für Neue Musik, and the REDCAT/Cal Arts Theater in Los Angeles, The blackbird whistling/Or just after, for solo piano at Merkin Hall, Into the Wild, by the Paul Dresher Ensemble at the Library of Congress, Cathedral Spires by the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Primary Colors on the Los Angeles Philharmonic Green Umbrella series, by the Kronos Quartet at Hertz Hall in Berkeley, and Axis Mundi by the Earplay Ensemble at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.
Earning her doctorate in 1992, Cox studied composition with Harvey Sollberger, Donald Erb, Eugene O’Brien, and John Eaton at Indiana University; Cindy Cox is presently a Professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Much has been written about this legendary American composer, a pioneer of chance music, non-standard use of musical instruments, and electronic music. Though he remains a controversial figure, he is generally regarded as one of the most important composers of his era. In addition to his composing, Cage was also a philosopher and writer.
John Cage received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters for having extended the boundaries of music through his work with percussion orchestra and his invention of the prepared piano. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978 and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1988. In 1982 the French Legion d’Honneur made Cage a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He received the Notable Achievement award from Brandeis University in 1983. He received the degree Doctorate of All the Arts Honoris Causa from the California Institute of the Arts in 1986. Cage was the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University for the 1988-89 academic year. He is a laureate of the 1989 Kyoto Prize given by the Inamori Foundation.
While his interest in chance procedures and found sound continued throughout the sixties, Cage began to focus his attention on the technologies of recording and amplification. One of his better-known pieces was Cartridge Music (1960), during which he amplified small sounds in live performance. Taking the notions of chance composition even further, he often consulted the “I Ching,” or Book of Changes, to decide how he would cut up a tape of a recording and put it back together.
Cage was interested in Eastern philosophies, especially in Zen, from which he gained a treasuring of non-intention. Working to remove creative choice from composition, he used coin tosses to determine events (Music of Changes for piano, 1951), wrote for 12 radios (Imaginary Landscape no.4, 1951), and introduced other indeterminate techniques.
His other works show his growing interest in the theatre of musical performance (Water Music, 1952, for a pianist with a variety of non-standard equipment) and in electronics (Imaginary Landscape no.5for randomly mixed recordings, 1952), culminating in various large-scale staged events. Cage appeared widely in Europe and the USA as a lecturer and performer, having an enormous influence on musicians and artists.
When George Rochberg was presented the Gold Medal of Achievement of the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award in 1985, the citation read in part: “We celebrate George Rochberg for his craft, poetry, and determination to melt the ice in contemporary music Rochberg is a towering figure in American music. For over thirty years, he has been a vibrant teacher and leading American composer — questioning, eloquent, and deeply serious. His work reunites us with our musical heritage and provides a spiritual impetus to continue.”This recognition climaxed a long career during which Rochberg produced a large body of orchestral and chamber music, as well as works (including his opera The Confidence Man) which emerged first from his involvement with atonal and serial music during the late ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s, and then from a gradual reassessment of, and ultimately a turn to, tonal music in the middle-late ’60s, ’70s, and on into the ’80s. This turn to a wholehearted embrace of traditionally-oriented tonal possibilities warmed up the musical climate and opened the way to greater freedom and latitude in the way composers could express themselves. Rochberg may have been speaking for others and himself when he declared serialism “finished, hollow, meaningless.”
The storm center of this change of heart and mind came with the first performance and subsequent recording of his Third String Quartet — a work whose appeal, according to Donal Henahan of the New York Times, lay in its “unfailing formal rigor and old-fashioned musicality. Mr. Rochberg’s quartet is — how did we use to put it? — beautiful.”
Beginning with the first performances of his Night Music in 1953 by the New York Philharmonic with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting, other works have subsequently achieved significant attention, notably the Symphony No. 2 with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (1959 and 1961); the Violin Concerto, which Isaac Stern performed in America, England, and France during the middle ’70s; theOboe Concerto, commissioned for Joseph Robinson and conducted by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic (1984); Symphony No. 5 premiered by Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony (1986); Symphony No. 6, with Lorin Maazel conducting the first performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony (1987); Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra, commissioned for Anthony Gigliotti, principal clarinet, by Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and premiered in 1996.
Rochberg began his studies in composition at the Mannes School of Music. After serving as an infantry lieutenant in World War II, he resumed them again at the Curtis Institute of Music. He taught at the Curtis Institute from 1948 to 1954, and in 1960 he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he served as a chairman of the Department of Music until 1968. He retired from teaching in 1983 as Emeritus Annenberg Professor of the Humanities.
Composer, harpist, and pianist. “She has a tightly controlled focus to her work, a singularity of vision” (NewMusicBox Magazine, 2005). Wishing to establish her own “sonic world” in 1993, Jordanova began to explore and use electronics as an intrinsic part of her composition process and, in 2003, founded ArpaViva label.CRI’s recording of her Requiem For Bosnia for a broken piano, harp, and child’s voice released in the eXchange series in 1994 was named one of the top ten classical recordings by Tim Page in New York Newsday. In 1997 her Dance to Sleep album was published in CRI’s Emergency Music series featuring her new works for traditional harp with different electronic modules applied to each piece. Jordanova’s 2004 Outer Circles is a “sound sculpture” for sampled vocal acoustic and environmental sounds published by Innova Recordings. In 2003 Jordanova received the San Francisco Arts Commission grant for multidisciplinary work Panopticon. Jordanova’s music for chamber ensembles has been performed by the California EAR Unit, Zeitgeist, Bang on a Can All Stars, CurvdAir, Creative Voices. Her music was included in The Composer-Performer 40 Years of Discovery, Composer’s Recordings Inc. 40th Anniversary Anthology of American Music in 1994.
The Craving for Light
review by Ingvar Loco NordinThis is the second release from ArpaViva, even though the company mistakenly maintains on the CD itself that it’s the first one… Their real first one – Postcard from Heaven – was a sensation in its own right, duly reviewed in many magazines and e-zines worldwide.
Victoria Jordanova is the hovering spiritual suspension behind these phonograms, soaring in zero gravity harp measures, in and out of the mindsets of listeners and unsuspecting soul drifters.
Jordanova uses a variety of harps and swings their lofty properties through technologies of her choice, constantly shaping new realms of audio, never playing it safe, never retorting to clichés or down-home formulas or principles. She never lets tradition wear her down. On the contrary, she shakes all those gluey, sticky memories off. This is a rare quality among contemporary and avant-garde artists, who frequently are the most traditional ones, sticking to and canonizing an avant-gardism that was in swing a few decades earlier, in the 1960s or -70s. That’s how it appears in Sweden, where avant-garde is spelled traditionalism, I’m sorry to say. Victoria Jordanova, on the other hand,
breathes fresh air and moves through uncharted sonorities, which may contain shades and nuances of familiarities, but which, nonetheless, never ultimately enter those well-trodden paths. Her music moves in that spellbinding dream angle where everything is a wee bit off, rubbing off that hard-to-define strangeness on your present moment in the continuous flow of existence.
Such originality and non-conforming stubbornness can’t be found in many places. Two other such places are Björk and Karlheinz Stockhausen. I’m trying to get Björk the Polar Prize of Music, and I keep an electrifying connection up and running with Stockhausen, who, at 79, is the youngest person in contemporary music, which his latest work, Cosmic Pulses, amply proves!
Executive Director: Relja Penezic
Produced by: Victoria Jordanova
Digital sampling, editing, and mixing by Victoria Jordanova
Mastered by Dan Dugan at Dan Dugan Sound Design, San Francisco
Art Design by Relja Penezic
Dedicated to my harp teachers:
Josip Pikelj, Lauralee Campbell, Lily Laskine, Jacqueline Borot, Marie Claire Trachier, Vera Dulova, and Ruth Ingelfield
Rare harp recording of In a Landscape by John Cage. Premier recordings of Hierosgamos and The Blackbird Whistling / Or Just After for electric troubadour harp by Cindy Cox and Victoria Jordanova’s series Secret Life of Bees for six electric or electro-acoustic harps and Meditation for electro-acoustic harp. Also featured UKIO-E (Pictures of the Floating World) by George Rochberg.