'The Next Wave' - exotic sounds in Brooklyn
Brooklyn isn't the only place to hear new music these days, by a long shot. But it must be one of the best. The always enterprising Brooklyn Academy of Music is hosting a provocative series called ''The Next Wave'' through the end of December. The schedule includes dance, opera, and concert music, all with an up-to-the-minute flavor. The dance companies of Trisha Brown, Laura Dean, and Lucinda Childs are on hand, along with Philip Glass's magnificent new opera, ''Satyagraha,'' about the early career of Gandhi in South Africa.
Also on the bill is the BAM's own Brooklyn Philharmonia, conducted by music director Lukas Foss. Reprising a well-received feature of last year's BAM calendar, it is presenting a series of ''Meet the Moderns'' concerts called ''Music Plus'' - the ''plus'' referring to a second element that's different in each program.
In the evenings being given under the ''Next Wave'' banner, the ''extras'' are ''new resources'' in the first concert and ''movement'' in the second. The program of ''Music Plus New Resources'' took place on a recent evening at the BAM and was scheduled for a repeat performance the following evening at Cooper Union in Manhattan. The program of ''Music Plus Movement'' is planned for Dec. 17 at BAM, with a second performance again slated for Cooper Union.
What are ''new resources,'' anyway? Just about anything, to judge from the BAM definition. The show of ''Music Plus New Resources'' was unpredictable every step of the way, even when the sounds themselves weren't as exciting as they were exotic.
The evening opened with one of its strongest items: ''Yetzirah'' for two microtonal pianos, by Morris Moshe Cotel. Taking his cue from a medieval text on cosmology - stating that the world was created from the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet - he has composed a piece based on 22 tones, which are divided between two pianos that have only two pitches in common. The entire work is based on a ''cell'' of four notes that are 3, 7, and 12 microtones away from the original pitch.
The sound has that pleasant, slightly sour tinge which generally characterizes microtonal music - music played ''in the cracks'' of the usual piano scale - to Western ears not conditioned to such tuning. Rhythmically as well as harmonically, though, Cotel's piece is enormously complex and dramatic, full of ideas and unexpected sonic twists. The composer wonders if ''there might not be one day a whole keyboard literature built upon a myriad variety of such scales.''
He makes a case for the concept with his own ''Yetzirah,'' which is built on the ''new resources'' of electronic equipment (used to work out his tone system) as well as the ''old resource'' of medieval literature and the contemporary practicalities of plain old piano tuning. Meade Crane and Paul Hoffmann, who spent a great amount of time preparing the piece for performance, played it brilliantly.
Other instruments then took the stage for solo stints, led off by the English horn. Lawrence Singer is a composer interested in multiphonics - that is, he likes to coax whole chords out of instruments that normally play one note at a time. His 1980 work ''Sensazione'' begins and ends with a sound very like an old steam-engine whistle, and includes all kinds of un-English-hornlike tones and textures in between. James Ostryniec was the impressively disciplined performer.
Morton Subotnic, whose ''Parallel Lines'' came next, has invented a system of ''ghost electronics'' which silently alter the instrumental sounds of a piece. While the piccolo and orchestra played, a noiseless tape accompanied them, containing no music but rather a series of instructions for electronic sound processing which continuously affected the audible music itself - an ingenious procedure, though used with no great drama on this particular occasion. Laurence Trott was the energetic piccolo soloist, with Foss leading the Philharmonia.
After intermission, a programming problem had to be faced. Foss, it turns out , is full of admiration for the player-piano music of Conlon Nancarrow, a Mexican-based composer who writes for his own special instruments, which are of course in Mexico. Since it is evidently beyond the BAM's resources (new or otherwise) to truck Nancarrow's pianos to Brooklyn, it was decided to represent him via recordings. Tapes of his Study No. 36 and No. 12 were duly played while the stage stood empty and dark.
Fortunately, the Nancarrow wizardry is such that the hall seemed quite alive during this depersonalized interval, and Foss further humanized the moment by playing his own rendition of an early Blues for Piano by Nancarrow that can be realized without the unique mechanics of a self-playing instrument. It was an odd problem to deal with, by normal concert standards. But the unique Nancarrow sound, based on properties peculiar to the player piano, deserves more exposure than it has received in the past. Any step in that direction is welcome.
After a brief discussion of ''new resources'' by Foss and some of the evening's composers, the evening ended with a piece for a spanking new device called the electronic valve instrument, or EVI. It is capable of modifying the valve controls of the trumpet with modules derived from an electronic synthesizer. It looks like half a clarinet with a pencil sharpener at the end, as a ten-year-old in the audience observed.
''Celebration'' is a piece for EVI and orchestra by electronic specialist Vladimir Ussachevsky, meant to exploit the instrument's seven-octave range and wide diversity of timbre. Indeed, the last section deliberately pairs the EVI with orchestral instruments it can imitate - and surpass in some ways, since the EVI has a range exceeding any of them.
The featured instrument was played by its inventor, Nyle Steiner, with Foss leading the orchestra and Ussachevsky running a tape track that was another component of the piece. It proved a diverting composition, but rarely exciting, with musical material less innovative than its orchestration. It made a modest conclusion to the program.
The next ''Music Plus'' concert in the ''Next Wave'' series will be ''Music Plus Movement,'' comprising works that involve shadow play, modern dance, Colombian ritual, mime, and ballet. Elliott Carter, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Foss himself will be among the composers; Satoru Shimazaki and Toby Armour will be among the movers.
Inventive new music at the BAM is not limited to the events under the ''Music Plus'' label. The percussive and transfixing music of Laura Dean was a central part of the superb concert recently given by the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. The Trisha Brown Dance Company's invigorating show included an idiosyncratic piece by Robert Ashley. The Lucinda Childs Dance Company will feature music by ultramodernist Jon Gibson in its December concert, which will also includes decor by Robert Wilson. And the Philip Glass opera ''Satyagraha'' is a monumental event all by itself.