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Local electronic music pioneer Andrew Rudin revisits his groundbreaking early work tonight at The Rotunda

Andrew Rudin | Photo courtesy of the artist
Andrew Rudin | Photo courtesy of the artist
In 1967, Nonesuch Records released Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon, which was immediately recognized as a landmark work of the nascent electronic music movement. Unexpectedly, it also became a hit.

The album was created using a synthesizer built by pioneering instrument maker Donald Buchla, so Nonesuch turned to his leading peer, Robert Moog, in search of a follow-up. Moog referred the label to a young Philadelphia composer named Andrew Rudin, who had been instrumental in bringing Moog to the University of Pennsylvania. Rudin used the commission to create Tragoedia, a four-movement piece inspired by the four fundamental emotional processes of Greek tragedy.

The 1969 album met with critical acclaim (High Fidelity Magazine’s Alfred Frankenstein proclaimed, “In Andrew Rudin’s hands the electronic idiom finally comes of age”) but soon was lost in relative obscurity as the art form rapidly and bountifully evolved. Tonight at the Rotunda, Bowerbird will present “Meeting Moog,” a concert portrait of Rudin’s early electronic music featuring Tragoedia with a live video accompaniment by Rudin’s former student Peter Price. The program will also include two earlier works, Il Giuoco (1966) and Paideia (1967), both of which are accompanied by films created by the composer.

When Rudin arrived at the University of Pennsylvania to study with composer George Rochberg, he had no intention of working with synthesizers. “I didn’t even know that they existed,” recalls Rudin, now 74. “In those days, when one heard the word synthesizer it meant only one thing: the RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer, which was a giant contraption that ran on hundreds or thousands of vacuum tubes and within an hour’s work you’d have to find what tube had burnt out and replace it. It also operated on punch paper tape like a player piano, which would get snarled and the three hours that you spent making four seconds’ worth of music would be trashed.”

A few years earlier, however, a childhood friend of Rudin’s had become a member of the ground-breaking Alwin Nikolais Dance Company, which purchased one of Moog’s earliest synths. After Nikolais demonstrated the instrument to Rudin, the composer persuaded Moog to build one of his first large-scale studios in the basement of the Annenberg School of Communications.

“Bob Moog was a typical science nerd type,” Rudin says with a laugh. “He came down to Penn with a synthesizer in a cardboard box underneath a Greyhound Bus. But the wonderful thing about working with him was that he was kind of a frustrated musician himself, so you didn’t have to be some sort of engineering genius. He wanted to make things easily available to the musician. I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time and happened to meet him at the beginning of it all.”

Born in Newgulf, Texas, a small town south of Houston, Rudin (pronounced “roo-DEEN”) began composing small classical pieces and music for theater productions while in high school. He then studied at the University of Texas at Austin before heading east in the summer of 1960. At Penn he studied under a number of renowned teachers, including, briefly, Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Crumb. The pieces he created on Moog’s newly-installed synthesizer became his first mature works. “I was fascinated with it because it was the latest, most avant-garde thing to do at the time,” he says. “I was absolutely convinced that once they had the equipment, I would work with it and make something. When you’re 26 you think you can do anything.”

That includes writing music for an almost wholly unprecedented new instrument that makes bizarre electronic noises. “The first thing is that writing doesn’t apply,” Rudin says. “What was fascinating to me was that I could work directly in the sound. It was much more like sculpting than it was like writing. I would simply find a sound by fiddling around with the instrument and coming across a sound that appealed to me. It was like someone gave you a trumpet and you thought, ‘I’ll try to play something legato, and I’ll try to play something high, and I’ll try to play something fast and jittery with it.’ Then I would edit the tapes, like working in film where you shoot a lot of footage and see what you can cut together out of it.”

The Philadelphia Composers Forum premiered Rudin’s first major synthesized composition, Il Giuoco, on a program with pieces by Crumb and Vincent Persichetti. “That first concert absolutely marks the dividing line between my student days and my life as a professional,” Rudin says. “It was a piece that totally represented what I would do and not something obviously influenced by anybody else.” Continue reading →

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Ideal Bread breathes new life into Steve Lacy’s music tonight at The Rotunda

Photo by Bryan Murray
Photo by Bryan Murray

A disciple of Thelonious Monk, the late soprano saxophone great Steve Lacy was the master interpreter of the legendary pianist’s deceptively tricky compositions. He translated them into his own distinct voice while navigating the spiky eccentricities by which so many musicians get snared.

Josh Sinton, leader of the quartet Ideal Bread, takes the same loving liberties with Lacy’s music, breathing new life into it while irreverently transposing them onto the baritone saxophone, the soprano’s polar opposite. A onetime student of Lacy’s, Sinton has used Ideal Bread as a way to continue his studies, using his mentor’s idiosyncratic compositions as a substitute for the man himself, who passed away in 2004. The quartet – which features Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) – will perform at The Rotunda tonight, playing music from their recently-recorded, Kickstarter-funded third album, which features “recompositions” of music from the 1970s collected on the box set Scratching the Seventies/Dreams.

Deviating from the strict adherence to Lacy’s written material of their first two releases, the new music is based on Lacy recordings that Sinton refers to as “embryonic,” freeing him to more radically reinterpret it. His arrangements take Lacy’s music in directions inspired by the diverse likes of Anthony Braxton, Wynton Marsalis, John Cage, Iggy Pop and Mos Def, among others. Also on the bill will be Philly percussionist/bandleader Kevin Diehl’s Afro-Futurist ensemble Sonic Liberation Front and Dan Peck’s tuba-driven doom metal trio The Gate.

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Get schooled on “mugham” with local Azerbaijani expert Jeffrey Werbock (playing The Rotunda on 9/6)

JW

Presented by Fire Museum, Philadelphia-born musician Jeffrey Werbock will perform traditional Azerbaijani mugham compositions at The Rotunda in West Philly on September 6th.  The enigmatic and transcendent music of the Caucasus Mountains circles around three main instruments – the oud, the tar and the kamancha – and is one of the first styles of music to include open improvisations, forming a base for modern day free jazz and blues.  Having studied and presented the music for over 35 years, Jeffrey Werbock is one of the U.S.’s foremost experts in the ancient Eastern art of mugham; tickets and information for his lecture and performance at The Rotunda can be found here.  Watch a short informational video with Werbock below.

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Archer Spade to premiere new “TCHMENTREACH” piece at The Rotunda tonight

 

archer spade

Local experimental duo Archer Spade (Dan Blacksberg and Nick Millevoi) will perform the world premeire of “TCHMENTREACH,” a piece they commissioned from prolific avant-garde metal guitarist Mick Barr, in West Philadelphia tonight. In addition to the premiere, Barr and composer / clarinetist Jeremiah Cymerman will perform solo sets of their dark, twisting improvisations.  More information on the show at The Rotunda can be found here.  Watch videos of the performers below and learn more about Mick Barr in the 5049 Podcast with Jeremiah Cymerman here.

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Watch an album teaser from VaVatican (playing The Rotunda on 1/16)

Avant-garde jazz quartet VaVatican is prepping for the release of their next record Falling In Love With U with a teaser video and an appearance at The Rotunda this Wednesday, January 16th.  Finding a middle ground between free-form improvisation and angular structures, the Prom Night Records musicians operate in the vein of abstract painters, creating detailed and impressionistic soundscapes that tell a hundred different stories for each interpretation.  Information for Wednesday’s free show with Superlith and MPSP can be found here.  Watch VaVatican’s teaser trailer below.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: St. James & The Apostles at RUBA, Folkadelphia presents ((TACO)), Prairie Empire and The Sun Flights at Green Line Cafe, We’re About 9 at PSALM Salon, XPN Welcomes Garland Jeffreys at World Cafe Live at The Queen, Many Arms at The Rotunda

St. James & the ApostlesHardworking Philly outfit St. James & The Apostles play RUBA Club Studios tonight alongside Themuffinmanisaband.  St. James is Jamie Mahon and The Apostles are Mahon’s cousin Mike Kiker and second-cousin Jeff Castner.  Together, the trio fuses anthematic rock with moments of twang and the refreshing power of Kiker’s organ playing on their latest record Baphomet.  More information about the 21+ show can be found here.  Below, watch St. James & The Apostles’ BITBY video filmed this past October.

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Many Arms want to thrash with you at The Rotunda on 1/04

When life gives you six arms, make a lot of noise.  That could be the mantra of Philly avant-jazz trio Many Arms, considering their affinity for experimental jaunts into noisy worlds most of us haven’t yet discovered.  On their third and latest LP released by Tzadik, Many Arms (guitarist Nick Millevoi, bassist John Deblase and drummer Ricardo Lagomasino) reach a level of clarity that seems counter-intuitive when the sheer wildness of their free jazz compositions is taken into account, but it works (Spin thinks so too).  Many Arms will be joined by saxophonist Colin Fisher at The Rotunda this Friday, January 4th.  Tickets and information can be found here.  Below, watch the trio perform “Beyond Territories.”  You can also grab a name-your-own-price download of their Live at First Unitarian Church over on Many Arms’ Bandcamp.