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Unfiltered Music Festival

Night I: Eighth Blackbird

Eighth Blackbird 1920x1080

About the Event

Eighth Blackbird, the four-time Grammy winning, Chicago-based musical sextet consisting of Lisa Kaplan, piano; Matthew Duvall, percussion; Lina Andonovska, flute; Zachary Good, clarinet; Maiani da Silva, violin; and Laura Metcalf, cello, now in its 27th season, has become a “brand name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality” (Detroit Free Press). The ensemble will share music by some of the most exciting voices in contemporary music including Viet Cuong, Valerie Coleman, Julius Eastman, and Andy Akiho.


Andy Akiho: Giant’s Causeway (2022)
Valerie Coleman: Maombi Asante (2006)
Viet Cuong: Electric Aroma (2017, arr. 2018)
Eastman: Stay On It (1973)

*** 20’ Intermission ***

Akiho: Erase (2011)
Jonathan Bailey Holland: The Clarity of Cold Air (2013)
Ned McGowan: The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures (2016)

Program Notes

Andy Akiho: Giant’s Causeway (2022)

Andy (more on him below) found his inspiration for Giant’s Causeway in landscapes beyond imagination. Giant’s Causeway is a geometric rock formation in Ireland that seems unimaginable to have occurred naturally. In a Landscape by John Cage was in Andy’s ear. After visiting Giant’s Causeway for himself, Andy felt it was time to imagine his own landscape, and then he offered it for us to traverse.

Valerie Coleman: Maombi Asante (2006)

As gracefully as can be expressed, Valerie has somehow composed the essence of gratitude and wrapped it in joyfulness. Maombi Asante is Swahili, meaning “a prayer of thanks”. Why over complicate a sublime sentiment with more words.

Viet Cuong: Electric Aroma (2017, arr. 2018)

The poet Pablo Picasso (yes, that Picasso) intrigued Viet with a line written in 1936: “…and if the weather is clear listen to the crack when in my chest breaks the perfume of the stick the arrow painted on the fan tossed on the bed the luminous alarmed panther sheen of her regard with an electric aroma, a most disagreeable noise spreading a dreadful odor of stars crushed underfoot” – Pablo Picasso

Perhaps Viet thought to himself, “Well then, let’s make disagreeable noises, shall we?” Imagining an electric aroma, he colors the instruments using extended techniques that sizzle and snap, such as tin foil in the vibraphone, metals buzzing on an upside-down snare drum, and wind players rudely playing multiple sounds simultaneously. Viet likes having fun. All of us are doing things the rules say we’re not supposed to do.

Electric Aroma was commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting for the 2017 Blackbird Creative Laboratory, 8BB’s professional development immersion.

Julius Eastman: Stay On It (1973)

Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was a pianist and composer who loved pop music and brought groove into classical music before it was fashionable. Finding an artistic voice early, his career blossomed, and then diminished, only to have personal misfortune lead to his tragically untimely passing at age 47.

Classical music has often had a hard time with artists who put themselves – those with creatively explosive colossal personalities – on an equal footing with the music itself. It’s not that he was too big for us; it’s that we were too small for him. Julius Eastman was fearless and unabashed and uncompromising. He wasn’t understood, acknowledged, or appreciated during his time with us, but he is revered now.

Like Julius Eastman’s music and life, Stay On It is driven by the inspired eruption of passion, sensation, and fervor. The opening groove is so simple and clear. And slowly, methodically, the groove gets dismantled. It begins with boisterous confidence but fades more rapidly with each successively futile attempt to reassert itself until it is swallowed completely by chaos. Everything that was comprehensible is destroyed. And then in the final moments he relents, forgiving. There is a narrative struggle in this work about trying and failing. Graciously, at the end of it, he offers us reflection, recovery, and perhaps never-ending catharsis.

Andy Akiho: erase (2011)

Andy is a synesthete and virtuoso. We commissioned erase and worked very closely with Andy to cultivate the work. During one of our rehearsals, Andy said that something was awry, but struggled to articulate it with words. So instead, he went to the piano and played the parts the way he imagined and then did the same with the percussion part. No words needed. Such a pure musician – thinking, feeling, and speaking through music as his language.

erase is a machine. The kind of machine we fear will overtake humans in the future. A machine growing its sounds, expressions, and very questionable intentions. erase was commissioned for 8BB by the American Composers Forum and MakeMusic, Inc.

Jonathan Bailey Holland: The Clarity of Cold Air (2013)

Jonathan (b.1974) is elegant in everything he does. He and Matthew (the percussionist on the stage) have been friends since high school. It is a friendship that has lasted decades, in part because Jon writes extraordinarily beautiful music, and 8BB loves to play it.

The Clarity of Cold Air is atmospheric. Pristine. It might be the most difficult work on this program because every sound is transparent, and nothing is wasted. We don’t often consider that extremely soft music is incredibly difficult. You may hear it as abstract ambience, or you may create a sublime narrative evocative of the title, or you can do as you prefer because listening to music isn’t anyone else’s experience. It’s yours.

Ned McGowan: The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures (2016)

It’s kinda hard to describe Ned. Composer, teacher, flutist, improviser and curator. But really an artist in a broadly encompassing conceptual scope. He’s known for rhythmic virtuosity and vitality. You’re as likely to find him in Bangalore as Rotterdam creating self-contained musical worlds through a process of cross-genre translation.

The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures is Ned’s aural imagining of Bosch’s super-weird “The Garden of Earthly Delights” interpolated through the metal band Meshuggah, south Indian Carnatic rhythms, Steve Reich, Colin Nancarrow, Frank Zappa, John Zorn, and George Crumb.

Wut? Let’s just say that it’s all you, Ned. There is no comparison. It’s all you.
*Nerd-Alert: The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures has a recurring rhythmical spine composed of a series of groups with the lengths 7 7 5 5 5 3 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3. These groups are repeated, built upon and altered throughout, an influential rhythmic landscape on top of which much of the music travels. But wait, there’s more: The length of the groupings adds up to 60, which is neatly divisible by 3, 4, and 5 (plus a few other numbers), another source for composition material. Ultimately these factors result in a composition that gives the performers anxiety induced heart palpitations.

The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures was commissioned for 8BB by De Doelen Rotterdam.