Category: Blogcast

The Schanzer/Speach Duo with Warren Smith

Sunday, April 7, 2019
Performance 8pm / Doors 7pm

What: Guitarist Jeffrey Schanzer and pianist Bernadette Speach perform with acclaimed percussionist Warren Smith. Featuring surreal video work from Anney Bonney.
When: Sunday, April 7, 2019
Where: Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave Brooklyn, 2/3/4/5/A/C/G/D/M/N/R/B/Q trains & the LIRR
Cost: $18 presale, $25 Doors
Info: www.roulette.org / (917) 267-0368
Tickets: https://roulette.org/event/the-schanzer-speach-duo-with-warren-smith/

Brooklyn, NY – Longtime collaborators and acclaimed improvisors, guitarist Jeffrey Schanzer and pianist Bernadette Speach, join legendary percussionist Warren Smith in a rare appearance of trios, duos, and solos among the three musicians as well as a premiere of new work between the Schanzer/Speach Duo and the surreal landscapes of video artist Anney Bonney.

Jeffrey Schanzer: classical and electric guitars
Bernadette Speach: piano and toy piano
Warren Smith: percussion (drums and mallet percussion)
Anney Bonney: video processing

The Schanzer-Speach Duo’s collaborative works combine the intuition and spontaneity of improvisation with the structure of formal composition. Pianist Bernadette Speach is a noted new music composer and student of Morton Feldman, and guitarist Jeffrey Schanzer is composer rooted in jazz. Their album Dualities was released on the Mode/Avant label to much acclaim. Artists who have performed with the Duo include Lester Bowie, Thomas Buckner, Mark Dresser, Joseph Jarman, Oliver Lake, Joelle Leandre, Fred Ho, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Myra Melford, David Pleasant, Bobby Previte, Alva Rogers, Ned Rothenberg, and Wadada Leo Smith.

Wet Ink: 20th Anniversary Bash

Monday, April 1, 2019
Performance 8pm / Doors 7pm

What: Wet Ink Ensemble celebrates 20 years of adventurous music making.
When: Monday, April 1, 2019
Where: Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave Brooklyn, 2/3/4/5/A/C/G/D/M/N/R/B/Q trains & the LIRR
Cost: $18 presale, $25 Doors
Info: www.roulette.org / (917) 267-0368
Tickets: http://roulette.org/event/wet-ink-20th-anniversary-bash/

Brooklyn, NY – Wet Ink Ensemble celebrates 20 years of adventurous music making in NYC and around the world with a concert celebrating the work of the ensemble’s four acclaimed composer members—Alex Mincek, Sam Pluta, Kate Soper, and Eric Wubbels. The concert will feature a retrospective look at “classics” of Wet Ink‘s repertoire, including Alex Mincek’s From Nowhere to Nowhere and Kate Soper’s Door, and new sounds including Sam Pluta’s binary/momentary iii for solo cello featuring Mariel Roberts and the world premiere of a new work for Wet Ink‘s core septet of composer-performers by Eric Wubbels.

Repertoire:
Alex Mincek: From Nowhere To Nowhere, for ensemble
Kate Soper: Door, for voice and ensemble
Sam Pluta: binary/momentary iii for solo cello, for Mariel Roberts
Eric Wubbels: New Work for Wet Ink Septet

Performers:
Wet Ink Ensemble
Erin Lesser, flutes
Alex Mincek, saxophone
Ian Antonio, percussion
Eric Wubbels, piano
Josh Modney, violin
Sam Pluta, electronics
Kate Soper, voice
Mariel Roberts, cello

Wet Ink Ensemble is proud to celebrate 20 years of adventurous music-making in NYC and around the world with the 2018-19 concert season. The 20th Anniversary Season highlights the ethos of innovation through collaboration that has guided the work of Wet Ink throughout the ensemble’s history, celebrating the music and the unique performance practice developed in the “band” atmosphere of Wet Ink’s core septet of composer-performers, and presenting exciting new projects with emerging and underrepresented artists and longtime collaborators.

Since the group’s first concerts in 1998, Wet Ink has moved fluently along a continuum of composition, improvisation, and interpretation, from early collaborations with Christian Wolff, George Lewis, and ZS to pioneering portrait concerts of Peter Ablinger, Mathias Spahlinger, Anthony Braxton, and the AACM composers, and deep, long-term collaborative work by members of Wet Ink.

Wet Ink is co-directed by a core septet of world class composers, improvisers, and interpreters that collaborate in band-like fashion, writing, improvising, preparing, and touring pieces together over long stretches of time. These directors are Erin Lesser (flutes), Alex Mincek (saxophone), Ian Antonio (percussion), Eric Wubbels (piano), Josh Modney (violin), Kate Soper (voice), and Sam Pluta (electronics). The Wet Ink Large Ensemble is a group of extraordinary New York City musicians that come together to play the world’s most exciting and innovative music

Brooklyn Maqam 1st Anniversary Concert

Sunday, March 31, 2019
Performance 7pm / Doors 6pm

What: An Arabic music revival in Brooklyn: Brooklyn Maqam celebrates a groundbreaking year with an all-star Arabic music concert at Roulette featuring Syrian vocalist Nano Raies, the Tarab Ensemble, led by the Tunisian-born Taoufiq Ben-Amor, and Takht Al-Nagham, joined by Syrian mutrib (vocalist) Wajde Ayub, performing a classical Syrian repertoire.
When: Sunday, March 31, 2019
Where: Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave Brooklyn, 2/3/4/5/A/C/G/D/M/N/R/B/Q trains & the LIRR
Cost: $25 presale, $30 Doors
Info: www.roulette.org / (917) 267-0368
Tickets: http://roulette.org/event/brooklyn-maqam-presents-brooklyn-maqam-1st-anniversary-concert/

Brooklyn, NY – Roulette is excited to partner with Brooklyn Maqam—an organization dedicated to promoting Arabic music in New York City—to present a special concert to celebrate its groundbreaking first year of bringing musicians playing Middle Eastern music together and presenting Arabic music concerts in Brooklyn.

The evening will offer a rare chance to hear diverse Arabic music traditions performed by master musicians and singers. The full night of music will feature three of the top Arabic musical groups from in and around NYC, including Syrian vocalist Nano Raies, a rising star who emigrated from war-torn Homs to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. Raies’s adventurous performance-style combine her passion for traditions from the golden age of Arabic music as well as other melodic forms and rhythms from around the world. Also featured will be the Tarab Ensemble, led by the Tunisian-born Taoufiq Ben-Amor, a specialist in the malouf (Andalusian classical music of the Maghreb) tradition of Tunisia. Headlining the evening will be Takht Al-Nagham, joined by Syrian mutrib (vocalist) Wajde Ayub, performing the classical Syrian repertoire, rarely heard in the U.S. This group is the performing arm of the Syrian Music Preservation Initiative.

Due to war, strife and politics, New York has become home to some of the world’s greatest Arabic musicians. Brooklyn Maqam is dedicated to presenting Arabic and other maqam-based musical traditions with the goals of expanding its audience, preserving it as an art form, and building community. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the response we’ve gotten,” says co-founder Marandi Hostetter. “We started Brooklyn Maqam because we felt the community needed a way to come together; we’re thrilled so many people feel the same way.” Brooklyn Maqam’s twice-monthly packed Brooklyn Maqam Hang events at Sisters, a popular restaurant/music venue in Clinton Hill, have forged new connections between musicians and enthusiastic audiences. “When musicians and listeners can get together on a regular basis, it turns into something more than just a series of performances,” says co-founder Brian Prunka. “People make friends, new collaborations sprout up, listeners discover new music—it’s really about nurturing relationships and making connections.” Every two weeks, the intimate back room fills to capacity with a devoted following of musicians and listeners. Each Hang begins with an hour of music from a featured artist, and concludes with an open-ended jam session in which professionals and skilled amateurs play, drink, and laugh until closing time. According to violinist, author, and educator Sami Abu Shumays, “Brooklyn Maqam has fostered a really inclusive and enjoyable atmosphere that helps to keep alive one of the most important aspects of the oral tradition: jamming together and learning from other musicians.” Johnny Farraj, a respected percussionist and, along with Shumays, an advisor to Brooklyn Maqam, adds, “It’s really filled a void in New York’s Arabic music scene; the jam sessions allow us to offer guidance and encouragement to newer musicians and the regular performances help bring the community together.” Hang music series has presented new performers on a biweekly basis throughout their first year, garnering enthusiastic support from audiences.

Spotlight On jaimie branch

On May 4th, ghostly avant-garde trumpeter jaimie branch presents her 2019 commissioned work: May the 4th Be With You.


Tell us about yourself and what you’re planning for Roulette.

My name is jaime branch; I am a trumpetist, composer, and improvisor from Chicago, based in Brooklyn. I wrote a multimedia piece for this Roulette performance for my electronic duo Anteloper with Jason Nazary and Chicago-based video artist Kim Alpert. In this work, we will be exploring the visuality of sonic spectrums, turning the audible into the visual. The second set is a rare NYC set with Fly or Die—my quartet featuring Lester St. Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass, and Chad Taylor on drums and Mbira.

What is your first musical memory?

My first musical memory is probably watching my older brother Russell practice piano — he was ten years older than me and played the shit out of some Billy Joel. I was pretty much hooked from the jump wanting to play music from the time I can remember. There’s also a picture of me in a bunny suit playing some keys circa 1986, but that one’s less of a memory and more of a feeling.

What is influencing your work right now?

So many things are constantly influencing my work, but it’s mostly my surroundings, the people I play with, the cities I find myself in… I’m interested in art that is fully saturated — this is not to be confused with density or volume, although it could be both of those things. Potent music. I’ve come to find that music is an ether—sometimes it swirls just out of reach, but it’s always in the air. Sometimes we choose to tune in and sometimes we don’t. But music doesn’t go anywhere one note played one time echoes throughout eternity. I’m trying to tune in to the hidden music of the universe, ya know? 

What is the most vivid dream you’ve ever had?

I had a REALLY vivid dream on the plane just the other day — I thought I had leaned over and hit a bowl ON THE PLANE. Just a one hitter (I’m not that fancy, even in my dreams) and even though I was holding in the smoke like a champ, some got out and another passenger noticed and started fussing. I then jerked awake only to find that I was in a plastic box, then I fought through the confusion and actually woke up. I straight up thought we had landed. I’m all, “Why isn’t anyone getting off the plane?” Twenty minutes later, they announced we were beginning our descent into Knoxville. Pretty cool blue dream.

Spotlight On Mary Prescott

For her Roulette commission, interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist Mary Prescott presents Songs Between Life and Death—a performative song cycle integrating music, word, movement, physical theater, and installation—on Tuesday, April 30th.


Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a Thai-American interdisciplinary artist, composer, and pianist from Minneapolis. I trained exclusively as a classical pianist for most of my life, but “converted” to experimental generative work within the past couple of years for the same reason my sister converted to Catholicism in her early 20s. (Who converts to Catholicism??) She said she had been searching for something for a long time, and then when she encountered Catholicism, she felt fulfilled. Well, that’s exactly how I feel about my practice, and even though technically art is not a religion, maybe IT IS. It’s the place where I get closest to understanding myself and the world, and the place where I feel like I can begin to untangle some of life’s bigger questions.

My experiments started with piano music, probably because I felt “safe” with a medium that was already attached to my identity. But now I allow myself to create with whatever seems best, whether I know that medium well or not—although just about everything is performance-based. So I might project a film I made, or do a choreographed movement, or install a set piece that bears some significance to the rest of the work. And those things will interact within a performance and play off each other to more deeply express an overarching concept. One of the big hangups of classical training is that everything is expected to be perfectly executed according to a holy manuscript, and there’s a lot of prior experience and skill that one must develop to attempt it. But I think that’s a very limiting way to approach art-making, and actually, pretty exclusive, too. As hard as it was at first (and still is), I’ve tried to let go of that mindset, and I feel like it’s allowed my practice to grow in ways I never could have anticipated. 

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I’m creating a performative song-cycle called Songs Between Life and Death for chamber ensemble. It’s about the conscious spiritual experience unattached from the physical body. Although I don’t intend for it to be morbid at all, I do acknowledge that it could go there for some people. For me, it’s more objective, maybe. About the first-person experience of what happens emotionally and psychologically when our spirit has disconnected from the physical world as we know it, but can look back in on it. I think the fear of this unknown has had a pretty heavy impact on cultural and social development, and I’m really interested to examine that dynamic a little more closely. And it’s also something I just want to spend more time with in focused contemplation…hash it out for myself, so to speak.

What is influencing your work right now?

So, this may seem sort of silly, but I recently moved into a place that overlooks the construction site of a new residential development, and watching these huge glass buildings go up gradually but actually really quickly has been kind of amazing. I’m seeing the foundational pieces go into the ground itself: enormous cranes hoisting gigantic slabs of material, locked into the sides of the building for support, the gnarly innards of the floors and walls, and then all the fine details of the interiors. The scale of each of those things is so extreme, the power and intricacies of movement. It’s mundane, but fascinating to watch workers systematically bust up the entire block of sidewalk with heavy machinery one day; and the next day, they are very carefully painting the corner edge of a living room or squeegeeing the fingerprints off the floor-to-ceiling windows with perfection and care. Seeing a project like that in all it’s enormity and detail, with all the steps it takes on so many planes, and with such a spectacular result…a year ago that was just an overgrown vacant lot. It is strangely really inspiring in a very beautiful, dirty, dusty way. 

How did your interest in your work begin?

As I mentioned before, I was trained as a classical pianist for most of my life, and even though I always had an interest in improvising, it seemed elusive for me to take on. Or maybe because I didn’t have training in it, I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. It occured to me that I was only going to be able to improvise if I just did it. That seems really obvious, but I think it’s actually one of the more difficult concepts to wrap one’s head around. 

Anyway, a handful of years ago, my friend Jesse Stacken, a really great fellow Minnesotan pianist and one with a mainly jazz background, had just finished up a project where he recorded an improvisation every day for a year and put the results online. I thought, “that seems like a good way to hold myself accountable.” So without a moment to think twice about what I was getting into, I started Where We Go When, which became my daily blog to do the same thing as Jesse, but from the keyboard of a non-improviser. Without getting into too many details, I’ll just say, that project was hands down one of the most important learning experiences of my life. It’s still up on my website, and I still think about it and mull over some of the same questions I had when I was in the thick of it.

Where We Go When was really the very beginning of my generative work. Even though my practice has expanded a lot since then, it gave me a bit of courage and a really solid foundation for experimentation and trust for the process.

What artists are you interested in right now?

I am really into Pina Bausch right now. I saw her work for the first time at BAM just a year and a half ago, and it changed my life. This was right on the cusp of when I started interdisciplinary work, and is probably one of the main reasons I went in that direction at all. Her work really cut to my heart, and gave me that rapturous sense of cathartic understanding that I am always searching for. I really love the way she pulled seemingly ordinary and unrelated concepts and gestures together to express something so vulnerable and raw. And she could address really difficult social disparities head on without drama or propaganda. She just put the work out there. She wasn’t telling you how to feel or react. Through an utterly marvelous and totally genius set of physical expressions, she made available some truth of humanity. All the good and bad and ugly and beautiful. All the unfairness and injustice, longing and loneliness. You feel it all at once with her. Really powerful, potent stuff. 


Mary Prescott: Songs Between Life and Death takes place on Tuesday, April 30th 2019 at 8pm with performers: pianist Mary Prescott, violinist Ilmar Gavilán, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, bassist Nick Dunston, and vocalists: Nina Dante, Ariadne Greif, and Sara Serpa.

Spotlight On Alex Weiser

On Tuesday, June 18th, composer Alex Weiser presents the first act of his opera State of the Jews as part of his Roulette 2019 residency. Born and raised in New York City, Weiser creates acutely cosmopolitan music combining a deeply felt historical perspective with a vibrant forward-looking creativity.

Alex Weiser and the performers of his May 2017 commissioned work “And All The Days Were Purple” onstage at Roulette. Photos by Steven Pisano for Feast of Music.

 


Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a composer, concert curator, and event producer. I was born and raised in New York City. I write music drawing inspiration from literary sources, ideas or inter-textual relationships from the history of classical music, and often from my fascination with and personal connection to Jewish culture. I helped run the MATA Festival for about 5 years and founded and continue to direct the new music series, Kettle Corn New Music.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

I’m working on a historical-drama opera about Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an Austro-Hungarian Jewish writer who, in response to rising antisemitism around the turn of the 20th century, ignited a movement supporting the idea of a Jewish homeland. The opera, which I’m writing with librettist Ben Kaplan, explores some of the little known details of the politics of that time and also interweaves the story of Theodor’s relationship with his wife, Julie, and the toll that his political work took on their marriage. Julie provides a stark, contrasting response to the same set of historical circumstances, exposing the complex and in many ways still un-resolved challenges of that moment. One of the things that really fascinates me about this story is that even with the benefit of hindsight, its meaning in history still remains fraught and contested.

Image result for Ben Kaplan and alex weiser

What is your favorite album?

Steve Reich’s 1980 “Octet • Music For A Large Ensemble • Violin Phase” is a long time favorite of mine that I return to often. I love how its surface bubbles with ecstatic energy, while underneath there is a broader sense of meditative stillness, and on yet another level, all of this is flowing in an always unfolding developmental arc. Besides, it’s just totally beautiful music.

What is influencing your work right now?

For the past three years I have been the Director of Public Programs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research where I have curated and produced programs exploring and celebrating the rich history and culture of the Jewish people (with a particular focus on Yiddish speaking Jewry and their diaspora). YIVO has been a thought-provoking and inspiring home base for my work, and some of the stories, music, and literature that I have encountered there have made their way into my work as a composer.

What is your favorite Roulette memory?

I was at a concert at Roulette in December 2012 which featured John King’s Astral Epitaphs performed by TILT Brass and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The piece had this incredible urgency and visceral power. John had the chorus surrounding the audience on the balconies, and there was this moment where they suddenly entered, with their sound enveloping everyone from all sides. I was really blown away by the experience and I loved the way the physical space and directionality of the sound became a part of the composition.

 


Alex Weiser: State of the Jews takes place on Tuesday, June 18th 2019 at 8pm with  vocalists: baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco, mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso, tenor Chad Kranak, bass-baritone Adrian Rosas, and the Os Ensemble choir directed by Raquel Acevedo Klein and musicians: pianist Marika Bournaik, cellist Julian Schwarz, violinist Avi Nagin, and clarinetist Bixby Kennedy.

4-way ad-lib: Katherine Liberovskaya with Shelley Hirsch, Anthony Coleman, and Yoshiko Chuma

Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Performance 8pm / Doors 7pm

What: Video artist Katherine Liberoskaya is joined by vocalist Shelley Hirsch, pianist Anthony Coleman and dancer Yoshiko Chuma in 4-way ad-lib – an improvisational performance incorporating moving images, words, sounds, rhythms, and movements, merging into audiovisual stories.
When: Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Where: Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave Brooklyn, 2/3/4/5/A/C/G/D/M/N/R/B/Q trains & the LIRR
Cost: $18 presale, $25 Doors
Info: www.roulette.org / (917) 267-0368
Tickets: http://roulette.org/event/katherine-liberovskaya-4-way-ad-lib/

Brooklyn, NY – Katherine Liberovskaya‘s figurative live-video improvisations draw from a vast database of diverse imagery beginning with footage from her first video camera in the 1990s—capturing details and fleeting moments of life around her—processed through feedback and dreamy effects, and activated by spontaneous abstract word/voice and sound events by Shelley Hirsch and Anthony Coleman, and extended into space by Yoshiko Chuma‘s dancing. Moving images, text, rhythms, melodies, movements, and steps emerge, merge, and collide, reshaping each other and the flow of the performance, into a 4-dimensional spur-of-the-moment audiovisual story.

Katherine Liberovskaya: live-video mixing
Shelley Hirsch: vocals/text
Anthony Coleman: piano/keyboard
Yoshiko Chuma: dance/movement/ action

Katherine Liberovskaya is an intermedia artist based in New York City and Montreal, Canada. Involved in experimental video since the 80s, she has produced numerous videos, video installations, and performances, as well as works in other media, that have shown around the world. Over the years she has received over 30 grants and arts awards in Canada, the U.S.A., and France in video art and intermedia notably from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Quebec Council for Arts and Letters, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, the New York State Council on the Arts, etc. Since 2001 her work predominantly focuses on the intersection of moving image with sound/music in a variety of solo video-audio pieces and in many collaborations with composers and sound artists in both ephemeral and fixed forms (single-channel works, installations, projections, performances), notably in improvised live video+sound concert situations where her live visuals seek to create improvisatory “music” for the eyes. Frequent collaborators include Phill Niblock, Al Margolis/If, Bwana, Keiko Uenishi, Mia Zabelka, David Watson, Shelley Hirsch, among many others

Spotlight On Anjna Swaminathan

For her Commission at Roulette, Anjna Swaminathan presents WOVEN: Entangled Memorabilia—a multidisciplinary work that brings together original music, poetry, and improvisation to meditate on personal, cultural, and artistic rituals of nostalgia, loss, and mourning. The project was initially inspired by the works of Indian Malayali painter and artist Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) and Tamil poet Subramania Bharati (1882–1921), both late 19th to early 20th century artists who were integral to shaping images of women as vessels for Indian national identity during the movement against the British Raj.

Photo by Gal Shaya

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

My name is Anjna Swaminathan and I am a violinist, composer, vocalist, theatre artist and educator. I was primarily trained in the Carnatic (South Indian) art music tradition, but my creative work has branched out to include Hindustani music, creative music, western classical music, new music, spoken word, and theatre. I’m committed to creating artistic and activist work that considers the multitude of histories, privileges, and marginalizations that each of us carries.

Describe the project you are developing for Roulette.

For my commission at Roulette, I’m very excited to be presenting the latest exploration of WOVEN, a philosophical, political and artistic project that has lived and matured with me for over eight years. This iteration is entitled WOVEN: Entangled Memorabilia features seven string instrumentalists including Stephan Crump (bass), Naseem Alatrash (cello), a string quartet/Greek chorus featuring Leerone Hakami (violin), Manami Mizumoto (violin), Lauren Siess (viola), and Thapelo Masita (cello). I’m excited to work with these wonderful musicians (and people!) to explore ideas of ritual, memory, loss, attachment, abandonment, and many other ideas of nostalgia and memorabilia that we carry within ourselves, our instruments and our interconnectivity as human beings. Something I am particularly excited about for this performance is that I have tapped into my diverse community of artists, thinkers, immigrants, and people who have graciously offered their personal vocal reflections on these subjects to help build the sonic landscape of the work. 

What is influencing your work right now?

Personal and communal mental health. I’ve been increasingly recognizing that the issues that come up for me are not only connected to internal questions, traumas, and experiences but also to communal ones—and even ancestral ones. In January of 2018*, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder after a long battle with anxiety, depression, and other chronic manifestations of an unmanaged mental health issue. In naming and facing the patterns of fear, attachment, and misunderstanding that directed many of my decisions and impulses until then, I have gained a deeper empathy for the cultural nostalgia, collective feelings of abandonment, and communal anxieties that cripple much of society today—regardless of political and cultural allegiances. My diagnosis, as well as the conversations, realizations, and resolutions that I have experienced since then, have contributed to a greater sense of vulnerability in my music, and an attraction to inviting a larger community to be vulnerable with me in our shared art-making. I’m very grateful that the artists involved in the performance and production of WOVEN: Entangled Memorabilia are equally enthralled and nurtured by the leap into honesty, vulnerability, and sharing that this project invites them to take. 

How did your interest in your work begin?

This project was initially a response to frustrations with the funeral rituals surrounding my mother’s death in 2010. As a rebellious 18-year old, I thought that researching the intentions behind the rituals might give me some direction in coping with her death—or at least give me some intellectual rationale for resisting the process of coping. Since then, it has transformed to consider rituals of memorializing in which we partake outside of a funeral space and more recently, it has been about memory and how it exists in the body, cultural, and mythical nostalgia and its personal and political implications, as well as the chronic resonances of ancestral trauma.  

How long have you lived in New York City, and what brought you here?

I have lived in New York City for almost five years! I came here for music—mostly following my sister Rajna Swaminathan, a musician who had built a small community for herself here. I’d initially planned to move here to get away from the relative lack of musical community that I felt in Maryland, but after I attended the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in the summer of 2014 and got the opportunity to work with amazing musical elders—particularly women of color like Imani Uzuri and Jen Shyu—I began to see a potential for New York to be a space to free my artistic voice and lean into a community of people like me who not only survived, but thrived in sharing their full selves. 

Rajna and Anjna Swaminathan. Photo courtesy of the artists.
Rajna and Anjna Swaminathan

Anjna Swaminathan’s WOVEN: Entangled Memorabilia takes place on Sunday, April 28th 2019 at 8pm with performers: bassist Stephan Crump, cellists Naseem Alatrash and Aaron Stokes, violinists Leerone Hakami and Manami Mizumoto, and violist Lauren Siess.

*Correction: In the printed version of this article, Swaminathan’s diagnosis with BPD was reported as occurring in January of 2017; this version has been corrected to reflect the true year: 2018.

Wet Ink at 20 by Kurt Gottschalk

On Monday April 1st 2019, the Wet Ink Ensemble celebrates 20 years of adventurous music making in NYC and around the world with a concert celebrating the work of the ensemble’s four acclaimed composer members—Alex Mincek, Sam Pluta, Kate Soper, and Eric Wubbels. The concert will feature a retrospective look at “classics” of Wet Ink‘s repertoire, including Alex Mincek’s From Nowhere to Nowhere and Kate Soper’s Door, and new sounds including Sam Pluta’s binary/momentary iii for solo cello featuring Mariel Roberts and the world premiere of a new work for Wet Ink‘s core septet of composer-performers by Eric Wubbels.

Image result for wet ink ensemble

The composer/performer collective has been the norm in most musical currents ever since the Beatles set the standard of a self-contained unit. Since then, rock, R’n’B, and jazz bands more often than not write the music they play. Somehow, though, contemporary composition (in its various iterations) has been slow to catch up. There are plenty of performing composers, but what we’ve come to think of as a “band” (as opposed to an ensemble) is still a rarity in the concert hall. 

A certain level of rock band fanaticism can be excused, then, when it comes to the Wet Ink Ensemble. Collective noun aside, they are—under any common understanding—a band, no secret to those who’ve been paying attention for at least some of the last twenty years. With a lineup that includes voice, drums, saxophone, and electronics (along with the more expected flute, piano, and violin) and with most of the members contributing compositions to their book, the Wet Ink Ensemble has become one of the most exciting names in New York’s crowded concert calendar.

The band, in fact, sprung into being (a number of permutations ago) alongside the decidedly rockier band Zs. Saxophonists Alex Mincek and Sam Hillmer met at the Manhattan School of Music and in 1998 began playing and organizing concerts together—with Mincek’s Wet Ink Ensemble and Hillmer’s Zs often sharing both bills and members. But it took twelve years for the Wet Ink core membership to coalesce. (The collective also operates a large ensemble for bigger commissions.) Soprano Kate Soper and pianist Eric Wubbels joined the Wet Ink fold in 2005. Soper remembers one of her early performances with the ensemble, where Wubbels played Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari and she sang Beat Furrer’s Aria.

“I was so nervous my lips were shaking. The concert was at the old Roulette on Greene Street, where we used to play a lot. This was one of those venues that feels packed with twenty people, with folding chairs and big pillars crowding the audience and a small table for merch and beer. We ended with the Feldman, and I remember leaning on the wall behind the piano (there weren’t enough seats for the performers), listening to Eric play and being suspended in a kind of sentimental awe—doubtless amplified by post-performance endorphins—a feeling that what we were doing, as a group, was special, and that I was happy and vaguely amazed to be a part of it.”

A day in the life of a concert at the Greene Street location where Roulette held shows from 2004–2011.

Listening from the stage gives the members of the ensemble a unique vantage to hear what they’re part of, and Soper isn’t the only one to appreciate that privileged position. 

“I turned pages for the premiere of the children of fire come looking for fire, a violin and piano duo Eric wrote for himself and Josh,” said former Zs drummer Ian Antonio, who joined Wet Ink in 1999. “I sat in the typical page-turner’s place to the left of the pianist and had a pretty good view of the full score. Eric and Josh’s performance was mind-bogglingly precise, raw yet polished, powerfully emotive, and I was perfectly stationed to watch them do it while wrapped inside the piano’s resonance. It’s not an uncommon experience, working with all of the members of the Wet Ink band, but I especially remember thinking after their performance how lucky I was to work with a collection of such humble and hardworking virtuosos.”

Individual awe at the group of which they’re part seems to run strong among the members of the ensemble. Violinist Josh Modney played his first concert with the group in 2008.

“I don’t remember much about the experience of performing on that first concert, except for the feelings of awe, terror, and elation that came with playing chamber music alongside such extraordinary musicians,” he said. 

“But I do distinctly remember one of the pieces I didn’t play on as a turning point in my relationship to music: Eric Wubbels and Erin Lesser’s performance of Wubbels’s Shiverer. There were so many things about that performance that defied expectations. The playing was impeccably tight. The sounds coming from the flute and piano, and the blend between both, were unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Listening to Eric and Erin’s performance was an ecstatic experience. I had listened to and performed plenty of contemporary music at that point, but hadn’t encountered composers and performers who could wield their technical virtuosity and expressive beings to push into this other zone, a high-country of the spirit. The performance provided a moment of clarity for me, revealing not only that making contemporary music on this level was possible, but that this was the kind of music I wanted to make, and these were the people I wanted to make it with.”

At the time of Modney’s first Wet Ink concert, Lesser—who attended the Manhattan School with Mincek and Hillmer—had already been playing with the group for seven years. 

“My first performances with the band took me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I was not expected to be in concert dress for shows. We were not playing in concert halls, but in venues like the Bowery Poetry Club and the Friend’s Seminary Meeting House. The music could be anything from graphic or open notation scores to new complexity. A few times, I remember showing up and being handed music, hot off the presses, to perform with instructions like ‘play as loud as possible’ or ‘I want it so soft you don’t even know if you’re making sound.’ Sometimes there was little or no rehearsal, but there was always a respect for the ability to go for it and make it happen. 

“These are all skills and ideas I take for granted now, and that have become ubiquitous, but at the time it seemed risky and new to me,” she added. “I was inspired to learn new techniques and was ready to engage with whatever was put in front of me—all the while receiving nothing but encouragement from my colleagues.”

Perhaps the most unusual thing about the dynamic Wet Ink has forged is the dedicated electronics and live processing. That’s the often-just-offstage role of Sam Pluta, who met Mincek and Wubbels at the Darmstadt Festival in 2006 and immediately “knew then that I wanted to make music with these people.

“I distinctly remember a concert where Alex, Eric, and Eliot Gattegno performed Alex’s piece Perpetuum Mobile,” Pluta recalled of that Darmstadt meeting. “The piece was aggressive, blocky, and sonically pyrotechnic. I could see the disdain on the faces of the Europeans in the crowd. Once in New York, I met Kate Soper, Erin Lesser, and Ian Antonio. Eventually, I joined Wet Ink. Josh joined a couple of years later, and the current septet formation has been in existence ever since.”

While watching each other at work has aided in establishing the Wet Ink aesthetic, audience members can play a part as well—especially when they’re jazz legends. Mincek remembers a concert in the early 2000s that “had a huge impact on my view of what Wet Ink was.

“Sam [Hillmer] and I performed a really tough duo for two saxophones which I had recently written,” he said. “We played well and were really excited—even though the audience was quite small, as it usually was—so we headed over to the bar in the venue to have a beer and debrief. I spotted an older gentleman a few seats away. He looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place his face.

“I asked Sam, ‘Who is that? Do we know him somehow?’

“Sam says to me, ‘Ummm…I think that’s Ornette Coleman!’

“We sheepishly approached the fellow and politely asked, ‘Good evening, sir. Pardon us, but are you Ornette Coleman?’

‘I am.’

“We spent the next few minutes expressing how much we respected his music and his playing, and how much of an inspiration he had been for us, how much happiness we had both drawn from his music. He thanked us for the kind words and then started talking to us in detail about our own performance! He was so enthusiastic and encouraging. He asked us questions. He offered advice and solicited advice. He talked to us both as a mentor and like a peer. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life!

“There is a special intimacy that is made possible between the performers, audience, and one’s own developing aesthetic when playing obscure music in out-of-the-way environments,” Mincek added. “We were nobodies, playing odd music we believed in, for just handfuls of folks, but Ornette was in the house, and he was really listening and digging it!”

What Wet Ink has built over the last twenty years might be seen as a perpetual motion machine, where the composers are the players, the performers are their own audience, feeding and sustaining each other. The musicians develop the work and the work develops the musicians.

“When I think back over the seventeen years I’ve been going to Wet Ink shows, even before I was in the group, what sticks out to me are specific pieces and performances,” said Wubbels, “several amazing early pieces of Alex’s; Zs playing Charlie Looker’s Nobody Wants to be Had at the Bowery Poetry Club; Sam’s Machine Language followed by Feldman’s Bass Clarinet and Percussion and an insane percussion sextet by Victor Adán; Mathias Spahlinger’s Aussageverweigerung / Gegendarstellung; Braxton’s Composition 227 (with a big rowdy group including Steve Lehman, Peter Evans, and Sarah Schoenbeck); opening for Evan Parker Electroacoustic Ensemble at Roulette; Kate and Erin doing an early version of Kate’s Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say at a weird little on-campus club venue at UCSD.

“I think an ensemble’s role in shaping a scene can be about a lot of different kinds of things,” Wubbels concluded. “In the case of Wet Ink, I’m proud that the significance of the group really does seem to be a function of the actual music that we’ve made together, in specific pieces and specific performances. There’s a reality and a concreteness to that that’s quite satisfying.” •


Wet Ink: 20th Anniversary Bash takes place at Roulette on Monday, April 1st at 8pm, opening our Spring 2019 season.


About the Contributor:

Kurt Gottschalk writes about contemporary composition and improvisation for DownBeat, The New York City Jazz Record, The Wire, Time Out New York, and other publications and has produced and hosted the Minitature Minotaurs radio program on WFMU for the last ten years.

The Schlippenbach Trio

Monday, March 25, 2019
Performance 8pm / Doors 7pm

What: In a rare US appearance, legendary free-jazz ensemble The Schlippenbach Trio perform at Roulette for one night only.
When: Monday, March 25, 2019
Where: Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave Brooklyn, 2/3/4/5/A/C/G/D/M/N/R/B/Q trains & the LIRR
Cost: $18 presale, $25 Doors
Info: www.roulette.org / (917) 267-0368
Tickets: http://roulette.org/event/the-schlippenbach-trio/

Brooklyn, NY – Over the last forty-five years, Evan Parker, Alexander von Schlippenbach, and Paul Lytton, known as The Schlippenbach Trio have become known as the greatest group playing free jazz in Europe. Their group chemistry is founded on intuitive listening, interaction, the ability to respond in an instant and on the synergy between their characters, all capable of complementing as well as challenging one another. The spectrum of their performance ranges from furor to elegy. It extends from energetic, forward-thrusting pieces to cool, calm, ambling passages, from ballad moods to submersion in sound, or in silence.

Although happy to fit occasional individual concerts into their work schedules, for the last fifteen years or so the trio has concentrated its touring into one sequence at the end of each year. This limited touring schedule, coupled with the challenges of international logistics make this performance a rare opportunity to see the Schlippenbach Trio in the US. In homage to the tragic Schubert/Muller song cycle their concert sequence has become known as the Winterreise.

Evan Parker, saxophone
Alexander von Schlippenbach, piano
Paul Lytton, drums

One of Europe’s premier free jazz bandleaders, German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s music mixes free and contemporary classical elements, with his slashing solos often the link between the two in his compositions. In 1966, Schlippenbach formed The Globe Unity Orchestra—a big band that bridged the techniques of free-jazz and the techniques of the classical avant-garde (including the twelve-tone scale)—to perform the piece Globe Unity, which had been commissioned by the Berliner Jazztage. He remained involved with the orchestra into the ’80s. Schlippenbach began taking lessons at eight, and studied at the Staatliche Hochschule for Musik in Cologne with composers Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Rudolf Petzold. He played with Gunther Hampel in 1963, and was in Manfred Schoof’s quintet from 1964 to 1967.  After 1967, Schlippenbach began heading various bands—among them, the 1970 trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens and a duo with Sven-Ake Johansson, which they co-formed in 1976. In the late ’80s, he formed the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, which has featured a number of esteemed European avant-garde jazz musicians including Evan Parker, Paul Lovens, Kenny Wheeler, Misha Mengelberg, and Aki Takase.