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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gypsy Chronicles for the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra

I just finished a new work for the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra. This orchestra that mixes instruments of the western orchestra with instruments from all over the world presents a unique challenge. Their musicians have different skill sets: some read music with great fluency, while others learn music mainly by ear. Some who read music are faster with their signs from their Chinese, Indian or other traditions using letters, numbers, and lines, rather than the notes and rhythmic notation we're used to in western music. It all makes for a great challenge to write music that the whole band can play.

My greatest challenge was to create an opening that everyone in the band could get their musical mind around, and to celebrate the great project of intercultural music making. To this end, I imagined myself on the road to Byzantium, or Constantinople, or Istanbul (take your pick): somewhere on the Silk Road, with a bunch of gypsies, who originate from Allah/God/Vishnu knows where. And they are all playing their instruments together. So the first movement (of four) is somewhat traditional in sound, evocative of some sort of imagined Persian music. The Persian 17-note mode – the tuning of the "tar" (triple-coursed gourd-resonating guitar from Iran), one of the 'guitars' in the band – is at the core of the sound of this music. (Ah yes, the sound of the music, based on this scale and an altered Chahargah mode, has wonderful resonant properties that merit a completely separate entry…) This first movement is infused with the unison melodic practice of the Middle East, yet it is mysteriously striving to compose itself, perhaps suggesting echoes of the early melodic conversions of Claude Vivier and Stockhausen, yet I unabashedly veer toward the Troubadours. All great fun to prepare you for the small monuments of the second and third movements, about which I'll say absolutely nothing – don't want to spoil the party. And in closing, the music returns to dance.

My propensity for rhythmic drive, precision, and variety make my music challenging to play. This is appropriate since the concert is all about rhythm. It's titled "Rising Beat on the Infinite Horizon" and takes place on November 28, at The Cultch featuring a 22-member orchestra with 6 guest percussionists. There is a great deal of playfulness in this piece and lots of fun with solos on Arabian oud, Persian tar and santur, frame drum, tabla, erhu, and western chamber orchestra. I hope to see you there.


"Rising Beat on the Infinite Horizon"
at The Cultch
1895 Venables St, Vancouver, BC, CA
November 28, 2010, 8 pm

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Contemplating Motion: a proportional score

On June 9, the Turning Point Ensemble hosted a concert in North Vancouver at which they premiered dozens of new compositions completed by young composers from Seycove Secondary School and Sherwood Park Elementary School. This is part of their "Creating Composers: Nurturing Life-long Musical Expression Through Composition" program, a partnership with Vancouver-area schools that provides opportunities for children to express themselves through composition. Each year, the TPE partners young composers with professional composers to mentor their aspirations and work, and they provide a series of workshops with the musicians of the ensemble to teach effective writing techniques.

This year, they commissioned a short work from me to include on the concert. The professional challenge I faced was to create a work that could be rehearsed and successfully performed with only one short rehearsal. The educational challenge before me was to create a work that displayed new approaches to composition with which the young composers would be less familiar, and to demonstrate how a piece can be conceived of with very simple means and be developed within the constraints of the initial idea. The result was Contemplating Motion for violin, cello, trombone, clarinet, and harp.

I found myself returning to deep-listening-based composition and proportional notation. This manner of scoring music focusses the musicians' attention on the evolving sounds they are making: on the sonic-energy relationship of their own sounds to the sounds that came before and that will come next. In the case of my own score, all of the notes are written out, and there are specific durations that need to be counted, but there is flexibility in the actual timing that each musician chooses in the execution of their notes, except later when a rhythm emerges. You can download the first two pages of the score here.

As you will see from the beginning of the musical score, the music explores the resonance of a low C. Movement is created by "timbral transformation," that is, selective focus on various parts of the spectrum (or overtone series) of the note C. There are only two "chords" in the piece, when the resonance focus shifts to the note D. So there is no traditional harmony or melody in the music, only the exploration of sound. (The music student may notice that a secondary harmonic area is explored in the harp part at the tritone, where the major 3rd and dominant 7th are "common tones" in equal temperament; here the natural and tempered versions of the notes collide. See the second to last bar in the score. Buy the score here.)

When I presented the finished score to the high school class, most were perplexed at what I had created and wondered how to play such music. Many were just putting together their first chord progressions, improvising at their instruments with the familiar materials of music. Some had "sound idea" concepts that were more abstract. But I sensed that proportional notation was entirely new. I did my best to explain how all sound is motion, and that "contemplating motion" could refer not only to rhythm, but to "harmony" – or in my case "resonance" – as well. Certainly a quantum leap for many. To Rob McLeod's credit (their music teacher and leader of the collaboration with TPE), they were already exposed to the concepts through brief encounters of the scores John Cage, and, I sensed, discussions of sound object and musique concrete, though I didn't get a sense that the scores of Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Boulez and Stockhausen had been explored in any depth. But these kids were just getting started!

Working with the Turning Point Ensemble on this music was very rewarding. I found it an interesting exercise to work under the same conditions as the school-aged composers. Most rewarding for me though, was to hear, at the concert, a piece that had clearly been conceived of using my piece as a model. Sure enough, the composer, whom I had not previously met (i.e. she was not one of the students I had tutored), came to me after the dress rehearsal and thanked me for my presentation, saying that, once she saw my score and heard me talk about it, she saw "a way to write down my own piece."

The Turning Point Ensemble and the North Vancouver School District have together created an incredibly rich cultural program for young people in this program, connecting creativity, self-expression, self-confidence, and the thirst for knowledge and new experience in a way that raises a generation of societal leaders. The flexibility of mind and of personality that this kind of program engenders is of great benefit to society, regardless of the final role that any of these young people may play in our society. If we want a society of innovators and high-functioning people, then this sort of program should not only be supported in our public schools, but be considered an essential offering for the high-functioning and/or highly-motivated young person. Instead, the North Vancouver School District has cancelled the program for this coming year, citing lack of funds.

Please consider writing a letter to John Lewis, the "Superintendent of Schools and CEO" for the North Vancouver School District.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Five-ring Concerto recordings (excerpts) now available

I listened to the recording of the first performance of my Five-ring Concerto last night. Nice recording by Andrew Smith of Vancouver Live Sound captured the excitement of the concert. 

You can hear the recordings here:


Look down the left column for "My Band"



CTV was the "official broadcaster" of the Olympics and, as far as I know, did not record any concerts other than those that were part of the official ceremonies. CBC bid for the broadcast rights and lost. CBC is a broadcaster with vast experience recording and broadcasting to both TV and radio, whereas CTV is a television network only. As a consequence, the Cultural Olympiad went essentially unnoticed and unreported by CTV. I watched the Olympics extensively and did not see a single news cast that included reporting about the Cultural Olympiad. 

It seems inconsistent and a lost opportunity that the BC and federal governments would invest in all of these cultural activities for the Olympics, and then sit on their hands when these investments do not get properly disseminated by the chosen broadcaster. The Olympics was the moment to show the world the great wealth of culture we offer, not only the famous entertainers at the opening and closing ceremonies, but throughout the entire society. It is in the public interest for the governments of BC and Canada to ensure that such an investment doesn't go to waste. Surely if private enterprise can't do the job properly, then a publicly-accountable entity (like the CBC) should be charged with making our country proud by broadcasting the numerous excellent events of the Cultural Olympiad. There's no question that CTV does sports well, but it makes me wonder what were the criteria for the bid to be the official broadcaster. If the bid criteria excluded a requirement to broadcast the Cultural Olympiad, then we can guess what members of the Olympic Organizing Committee and VANOC actually think about this aspect of the games.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Paris - Amsterdam : 512" a popular success in Amiens FRANCE

I just received an email from the organizer of the event for 500 saxophones in Amiens, FRANCE. My composition Paris - Amsterdam : 512 was a great hit with the public. Here's what Serge Bertocchi had to say:

Merci 1000 fois pour ta pièce , qui fut l'un des beaux moments de notre Journée !!
Les participants, petits et grands, comme le public ont accueilli ta pièce avec enthousiasme !


To learn more about the wonderful saxophonist Serge Bertocchi, please visit his myspace page.

I will be posting some images and sounds once I receive them.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the opening of the piece, a recording made by a member of the audience on a portable device.

Monday, May 24, 2010

2010 ICMC Red Edition 360 degrees of 60x60: 6 different mixes of 60 works, 60 composers, 60 seconds each

60x60 contains 60 works from 60 different composers. Each composition is 60
seconds (or less) in duration sequenced together to create a one hour
performance. Highlighting the work of a great many composers, 60x60
testifies to the vibrancy of contemporary composition by presenting the
diverse array of styles, aesthetics and techniques being used today.

Debuting in New York City November 2003, 60x60 started as an acousmatic
"tape" concert with its 60 short electronic works synchronized with an
analog clock to mark the passage of each minute. since then 60x60 has
received thousands of audio submissions from more than 50 countries around
the world, produced radio shows, collaborated with multimedia (including
dance, video, sculpture, and photography) and released several audio albums
on CD.

360 degrees of 60x60 was created for the 2010 ICMC RED Edition
(International Computer Music Conference) 360 one minute pieces were
selected to create 6 one hour mixes. The 6 different mixes are all named a
different shade of red to honor the RED edition of ICMC: Burgundy mix,
Crimson mix, Magenta mix, Sanguine mix, Scarlet mix, and Vermilion mix.

360 composers were selected from over 40 different countries. Composers
ranged from different aesthetics, styles, ethnicity, culture, age, gender
and career stage. 60x60 is specifically designed to represent a broad
cross-section of acousmatic music being created throughout the world today.

In the spirit of worldwide collaboration and exposure in addition to
installation performance of the 360 degrees of 60x60 at the International
Computer Music Conference, “remote” concerts of the 6 mixes will take place
in more than 100 venues throughout the world over the next year. “360
degrees of 60x60, 60 works, 60 seconds long; to and from all around the

At the conference all 6 mixes will be performed as a 6 hour installation
each day of the conference

June 1st and June 2nd from 1:00 PM – 7:00 PM 360 degrees of 60x60
installation will take place at the EMF (Electronic Music Foundation) 307
7th Avenue Suite 1402 (between 27th and 28th Street) New York City, NY 10001

June 3rd, June 4th and June 5th from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM 360 degrees of
60x60 installation will take place at the Wang Center Chapel Stony Brook
University Stony Brook
, New York 11794

The mixes will be performed in alphabetical order: Burgundy, Crimson, Magenta,
Sanguine, Scarlet mix, and Vermilion.

The 360 composers included in 360 degrees of 60x60 are:

360 degrees of 60x60 (Burgundy Mix)
Emerson Aagaard, Robert Allaire, Tatjana Bahme-Mehner, David Berlin, Kari
Besharse, John Bilotta, Rich Bitting, Colin Black, Greg Bryant, Paul
Burnell, Thomas Ciufo, Andrew Dolphin, Thomas Donahue, Phil Edelstein,
Brendan Faegre, Amanda Feery, Brian Fending, Ken Field, Judy Franklin, Terry
Gambarotto, John Gibson, Akiko Hatakeyama, Martin Herraiz, Joel Hickman,
Holland Hopson, Nick Hwang, Gretchen Jude, Timo Kahlen, Michiko Kawagoe,
Christopher Keyes, Shu-Fang Ko, Robert Lepre, Paul Lombardi, Fernando
Lopez-Lezcano, Hayley McCamey, Brian McGeever, Katie McMurran, Alexander
Mouton, Ken Paoli, Aki Pasoulas, Joseph Pehrson, Nora Ponte, Gene Pritsker,
Giuseppe Rapisarda, Robert Ratcliffe, Tim Reed, Prent Rodgers, Eric
Schwartz, Kazuaki Shiota, bob siebert, Diana Simpson Salazar, John Thompson,
Dan Tramte, Julian Villegas, Zina von Bozzay, Randall West, Marcus Wrango,
Hsi Yang, Zachary Young, and Josh Zaslow

360 degrees of 60x60 (Crimson Mix)
Sean Archibald, Richard Arnest, Lydia Ayers, Christopher Bailey, Michael
Baldwin, Zachary Todd Barr, Brian Belet, Daniel Blinkhorn, James Brody,
Warren Burt, Ede Cameron, Foster Clark, Cindy Cox, Mike Crain, Josh Crowe,
Pierre Desmarais, Francis Dhomont, Marco Dibeltulu, Matthew Ellis, Robert
Fleisher, Doug Geers, Michael Gogins, David Gordon, Kraig Grady, Esin
Gunduz, Tomer Harari, Jaclyn Heyen, Ryan Homsey, Chuckk Hubbard, Aaron
Krister Johnson, duck juggler, Tova Kardonne, Elizabeth Joan Kelly, Howard
Kenty, Laura Kramer, Petri Kuljuntausta, Chris Mann, Phil Mantione, David
Morneau, Peter Mottram, Chiharu Mukaiyama, Milica Paranosic, Christopher
Preissing, Jeffrey Rabena, Dean Rosenthal, Bettie Ross, Edward Ruchalski,
Iván Sánchez, Anne van Schothorst, Wolf D. Schreiber, Anthony St.Pierre,
Heather Stebbins, Paul Tucker, Vittorio Vella, Clemens von Reusner, Rodney
Waschka, Marcel Wierckx, and Tom Williams

360 degrees of 60x60 (Magenta Mix)
Liana Alexandra, Taylor Ashley, Jeremy Baguyos, Per Bloland, James Bohn,
Susan Brewster, Ann Cantelow, Da Jeong Choi, Stavros Choplaros, David
Claman, Douglas Cohen, Amanda Cole, J.C. Combs, Ron Coulter, Lucio E.
Cuellar, Mark Eden, Robert Fanelli, Jonas Foerster, Ulf Grahn, Melissa Grey,
Richard Hall, Anthony Hood, Bernard Hughes, Marie Incontrera, David Jaggard,
Travis Johns, Tuan Hung Le, Cyprian Li, Brian Lindgren, Sylvi MacCormac, Eli
McCartney, David Mooney, Serban Nichifor, Charles Nichols, Robert Payne,
Andrian Pertout, Guillermo Pozzati, Bob Rocco, Paul Russell, Antti Saario,
jacky schreiber, Daniel Sedgwick, David Ben Shannon, Adam Sovkoplas, Adam
Stansbie, Ken Steen, Christiane Strothmann, Elke Swoboda, Agnes Szelag, Aart
Uunivers, Jeremy Van Buskirk, Victor Villarreal, John Villec, Patricia
Walsh, Jane Wang, Dan Weymouth, Brent Wilcox, Ozan Yarman, Ph.D., Gregory
Yasinitsky, and Ivan Zavada,

360 degrees of 60x60 (Sanguine Mix)
Paul Adriaenssens, Anthony Arlotta, Rebecca Ashe, Greg Bartholomew, Dennis
Bathory-Kitsz, Jay Batzner, Cameron Bobro, Jason Bolte, benjamin Boone, Ian
Corbett, Andrew Davis, Daniel Dominguez Teruel, David Drexler, Enrico
Francioni, Kenneth Froelich, Iris Garrelfs, Philippe-Aubert Gauthier, Monroe
Golden, Daniel Griffing, David Hahn, Jack Harris, Andy Hasenpflug, Luke
Jennings, Lynn Job, Jiri Kaderabek, Bevin Kelley, Kevin Kissinger, Juraj
Kojs, HyeKyung Lee, Stephen Lias, Patrick Liddell, John Link, Tom Lopez,
Craig Marks, Gene Marlow, John Maycraft, Mike McFerron, Scott McGregor -
Moore, David McIntire, Tricia Minty, Steve Moshier, Alon Nechushtan, Julia
Norton, Doug Opel, Maggi Payne, Michael Pounds, Margaret Schedel, Les Scott,
Alan Shockley, Mary Simoni, Steven Snowden, Michael Spicer, Laurie Spiegel,
Stephen Stanfield, Madjid Tahriri, Eldad Tsabary, Doug Van Nort, Giovanni
Varrica, Rob Voisey, and Jon Weinel

360 degrees of 60x60 (Scarlet Mix)
Aaron Acosta, Monty Adkins, John Akins, Jacob Alford, Shani Aviram, Mark
Ballora, John Biggs, Adrian Borza, George Brunner, Michael Casey,
Christopher Chandler, Jen-Kuang Chang, Hsin-Li Chen, Ming ying Chen, Michael
Takezo Chinen, HEE YOUNG CHO, Lin Culbertson, elise cumberland, Mathew
Dalgleish, Jared Davison, Moritz Eggert, Travis Elrott, Juan Escudero, Thea
Fahardian, Jeff Fairbanks, Michael Farley, Brent Ferguson, Thomas Gerwin,
William 'Kwesi' Grant-Acquah, Scot Gresham-Lancaster, Bruce Hamilton,
Christopher Haworth, Min Eui Hong, Sair Sinan Kestelli, Anton Killin, Nicole
Kim, Yota Kobayashi, Yu-Ping Lin, Zachary Lovitch, Christian McLeer, Marty
Meinerz, Valerio Murat, Lee Noyes, James O'Callaghan, Rui Ogawa, David
Parfit, Scott Peterson, Momilani Ramstrum, Tony Saunders, Patrick Scott,
Daniel Steffey, Joyce Wai-chung Tang, Clay Taylor, En-Ning Tsai, Corinne
Tuney, Florian Vitez, Shu-Cheng Wu, Azumi Yokomizo, Sabrina Peña Young, and
Mark Zaki

360 degrees of 60x60 (Vermilion Mix)
Kevin Austin, Kwesi Awotwi, Daryn Bond, Arnold Brooks, Lou Bunk, Mark
Corwin, Mitch Curtis, Ricardo Dal Farra, Douglas DaSilva, Thomas Dempster,
Hrayr Eulmessekian, Mary Beth Farmer, Yves Gigon, Josh Goldman, Mark
Hannesson, Andrew Heathwaite, Ron Herrema, GuangJie Ho, Daniel Houglum,
Stephen Howden, Ioannis Kalantzis, Ioannis Kourtis, David Krajic, Fernando
Leppe, David Litke, Guillaume Loizillon, Pasquale Mainolfi, Svetlana Maras,
John Maters, Alexandre Matheson, Diana McIntosh, Jeffrey Mettlewsky, Bonnie
Miksch, Rosemary Mountain, Steven Naylor, David Ogborn, John Oliver, Alex
Olsen, Michael Olson, Juan Pablo Medina, Samuel Pellman, Kala Pierson,
Michael Pionsonneault, Grant Pittman, Ambrose Pottie, David Power, Fabian
Racca, Gilberto Rosa, Stephen Schedra, Jorge Sosa, Julian Stein, Penko
Stoitschev, Steel Stylianou, Kotoka Suzuki, Roberto Terelle, Barry Truax,
Graeme Truslove, Roxanne Turcotte, Victor Valentim, Michael Weinstein, and
Hildegard Westerkamp

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Emperor Under Glass for solo piano

New publication Emperor Under Glass for solo piano. Get your FREE PDF here.

I wrote Emperor Under Glass in a single day on Monday December 7, 2009 as a response to an open invitation from Australia’s Aurora Festival to create a new work for solo piano on the theme of “Momentary Pleasures.” Beethoven's Emperor concerto played every week on our turntable while I was growing up. I loved the opening energetic arpeggios and was always disappointed when the main theme came in. Thus, these arpeggios were a momentary pleasure that I wished could go on forever. Now I understand it is the resonance to which I was attracted, and which quietly becomes the subject in my short piece.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On closing music programs and Programs of Choice in the Vancouver Public School System and province-wide

Today I wrote an Op Ed piece that I posted on the Decimating the Arts in Canada blog. Click on the title to read the entire article.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Collaborative Piano Blog: John Oliver's Fantasie #1 from the Hot Tempered Clavier

The Collaborative Piano Blog: John Oliver's Fantasie #1 from the Hot Tempered Clavier

Chris Foley introduces his readers to my warped Bach music.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

Concept and Idiom: composition and guitar

Recently, at the Northwest Guitar Festival, I gave a lecture on my music, tracing my beginnings as a young guitarist, through my discovery and passion for avant-garde and experimental music, whose force – along with the encouragement of my then-teacher, the American composer John Adams – propelled me into full-time composition studies culminating in multiple prizes and a full-time freelance career, that, in 1999 led me back to composing for guitar (after an opera, several symphonies and lots of chamber music & electronic music). During that lecture, I played excerpts from Guacamayo's 11,000th Polemic (No. 1) and showed parallels with passages from my award-winning composition El Reposo del Fuego (for DX7II/TX802 synths & tape) and the guitar quartet PRISMOPHONY which the audience was to hear that same evening. A great deal of interest was generated in this piece, and so I decided to recopy the music and prepare it for publication.

I also realized the educational value of the presentation and so have now published it online. You can access it here.

I wrote Guacamayo's 11,000th Polemic (No. 1) in 1985This revolutionary work uses the slide ("bottleneck") on the classical guitar in a way that no piece of music ever had. The music is a mixture of driving rhythm and sliding effects that takes the listener into a sound world that becomes unrecognizable as "guitar." Musique concrète (French electroacoustic music from the mid-20th century that used transformed recorded sounds mixed together in a studio to create life-experience-based poetic music) is a clear influence, along with visitations by the specters of post-spectralism and Nancarrowesque imitation. You can listen to an excerpt here. Watch for an announcement in this space when the publication becomes available for purchase.

Listen to an excerpt from the opening to Guacamayo's 11,000th Polemic (No. 1)

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

MINIMUSICA: 15 Concert Studies for Classical Guitar GROUP BUY

In conjunction with John Oliver's participation in the Northwest Guitar Festival, is offering a GROUP BUY of the score for "Minimusica: 15 Concert Studies for Classical Guitar" until May 31. Sign up now to also receive a free copy of the new publication "Sarabandas."

Northwest Guitar Festival 2010 – Conclusion

Northwest Guitar Festival 2010 – Conclusion

A post from Bradford Werner, a member of the Victoria Guitar Trio, who, together with Victoria Conservatory of Music guitar department head Alexander Dunn, performed my guitar quartet PRISMOPHONY on Friday night.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Northwest Guitar Festival performance of PRISMOPHONY guitar quartet

The Northwest Guitar Festival has been a real pleasure. Taking place in Victoria, BC, Canada from April 9 - 11, the festival features a guitar competition, concerts, and master classes. I have been Guest Composer at this edition. Here's a brief report from the first two days.

My presentation "The Music of John Oliver" was a success and I think prepared the participants in the festival (and audience) not only for the appearance of my music on the program, but also other contemporary works. I was glad to hear from audience that they were fascinated by my story of a life in music that begins with classical guitar, moves to electronic music, operas and symphonies, and then back to classical guitar, with the influence of all of these filtering back into some of the new guitar music.

The performance of my guitar quartet PRISMOPHONY by Alex Dunn and friends on Friday night was excellent. The audience appreciated my spectral canon technique that is featured in three of the work's four movements. It's wonderful to create musical structures that take the listener on a journey to a rarified sonic place that might be called "avant-garde," but to do so in a sonic context that baths the listener in resonant sound that is soothing, yet in constant motion.

Last night featured great performances by two outstanding guitarists: Stephen Lochbaum and Janet Grohovac, playing beautifully programs of challenging favourites of the guitar repertoire. Both former Alex Dunn students, their tone and approach to phrasing show the power and strength we might expect from his best students.

2 pm concerts by Continuum Consort, Victoria Guitar Trio, Oberon Trio and Duo Verdejo all offered varied and mixed programming, with a lot of new music. No time for a "review" but suffice to say that there were no real disappointments in any of these concerts.

Must run. More activities today.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hot Tempered Clavier recording released on Bruce Mather Double-CD

Listen to Fantasie No. 1 from the Hot Tempered Clavier by John Oliver.

Bruce Mather’s new Double-CD “Music in thirds and sixteenths of tones” features my Hot Tempered Clavier, a reworking of the famous Bach Well-Tempered Clavier for Mather's 16th of tone piano. (That would be 96 keys per octave. The piano has a range of one octave.) In this work, I “compose the temperament.” Bach's goal in his Well-Tempered Clavier was to play music in any key on a single keyboard, using the new equal-tempered tuning system. (Previously, musical tunings were purer in sound but instruments needed to be retuned if the music was in a different key.)  I have taken the first and second of the Bach preludes and fugues and reworked them so that the temperament moves from 12-tone equal-temperament (ET), through various divisions (24, 48, and 96 divisions) into what I call “spectral tuning” at the cadences. Your ears will stand up on end!

Also contains music by Wychnegradsky, J.E. Marie, J. Burke, M. Patch, G. Tremblay, J. Desjardins, M. Gonneville, O. Gagnon, J. Winiarz, and Bruce Mather himself.

The CD is published by SNE (SNE-667-CD) and can be purchased by emailing the company: sne_poirierATsympaticoDOTca

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Friday, February 26, 2010

French painter Claude Nguyen inspired by Oliver's composition Dust for clarinet and surround audio

French painter Claude Nguyen has started a blog where he will detail the paintings he will create as a direct result of detailed listening to my composition Dust for clarinet and surround audio. Although the site is live now, it will fill up with content as the project progresses throughout the spring months.

Le peintre français, Claude Nguyen, lance un blog ou il présentera ses peintures d'après ma composition DUST pour clarinette et support audio. Le blog détaillera son progrès dans les mois qui viennent.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Triple Gold

From Vancouver Sun music critic David Duke's blog. Read the full article.

Reviewer David Gordon Duke was unable to attend the premiere of my composition Five-ring Concerto last night but did write a review of the dress rehearsal. Since David was unable to hear the performance, you are invited to leave your comments at the end of his blog post if you did see the performance.

Since I’ve yet to master the art of being in two places at the same time, it looked like the Turning Point’s triple bill of Schoenberg/Adams/Oliver was going to go unheard Wednesday evening, when I was already booked to review the Moscow Chamber Choir (see Friday’s edition for the review).

But with the premiere of John Oliver’s Five-Ring Concerto and an opportunity to hear John Adams’ new Son of Chamber Symphony at stake, I asked permission to attend the final rehearsal for the program in the afternoon.

Going to rehearsals is one of the best ways there is to learn a new work—if you can be there through the whole process. Compared to the now-or-never situation a critic faces in performance, it’s a luxury to hear new music emerge over the long haul. Alas, the best I could do on Wednesday was hear a mosaic of bits and pieces being polished to perfection, not a full run through.

Even so, I left all the more envious of listeners who were able to hear the new works given a Vancouver launch. The common denominator is that both are thoroughly contemporary—and thoroughly enjoyable…

…I’m willing to bet that Oliver’s concerto, with or without the sports connection, is an Olympic legacy, not just an Olympic pièce d’occasion

View Original Article
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Turning Point Ensemble's three podium pieces

Tomorrow night, Wednesday, February 24, 2010, the Turning Point Ensemble will premiere my new work, Five-ring Concerto, which they commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad (Vancouver Playhouse, 8 pm; tix here). On the program, audience will also hear Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony for 15 soloists and John Adams' Son of Chamber Symphony. This unique program features three works of approximately the same length with similar goals: active, engaging and challenging chamber music. All pursue an active and ever-changing discourse. It's the kind of intelligent music that makes you smile because of the incredible invention throughout. Although intelligent in design, cerebral it is not.

There are many challenges for the musicians. All three works could be named "concerti" in the sense that all the musicians must step up to the plate, bring a common intensity of effort to carry it off. Every musician is engaged in the conversation. There are lots of solos tumbling through the music, in all of the pieces, and amazing ensemble moments. Those familiar with the music of Schoenberg and Adams will be happy to hear this caviar of their output and some echoes of their other works.

I am very pleased with my entire experience working with the Turning Point Ensemble and their conductor Owen Underhill. The sports theme of my own work has been fun to work with and has established an inspired atmosphere. This band is ready to rock the Playhouse on Wednesday night. I hope to see you there.
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Red Chamber performs Oliver and Cage on Cross-Canada Tour

Red Chamber, a Vancouver based Chinese plucked string quartet, is launching its spring tours across Canada. The tours will include concerts on Vancouver Island, the Maritimes, Toronto, southern Ontario, and Northwest Territories. Billed as “Secret of the Chinese Court and Passion of the World”, the concert program is a mix of stunning melodies of ancient China with fiery picking of North American folk tunes. The concerts also feature Canadian compositions written for the group, including John Oliver’s A Dream of Africa (2008), Moshe Denburg’s Dark Red Ruby, (2009), Farshid Samandari’s Of Water and Stone, (2009) Craig Day’s Gu Shi, 2007, and Randy Raine-Reusch’s Daton Jelut (2008). Red Chamber will perform a special concert of Canadian compositions at UBC’s Noon concert series on March 31st. The program also includes John Oliver’s arrangement of the first movement of Three Dances, a landmark work by John Cage (1945), played on the prepared Chinese plucked strings.

For more details, please visit Mei Han's web site.
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Comment on Greg Sandow's blog

American music critic Greg Sandow is promoting his new book Rebirth: The Future of Classical Music on his blog. He declares he is interested to find solutions to declining audiences for classical music and invites readers to contribute their success stories. Sounds like a plan. I haven't read his book yet, but had this to say about his blog post:

Young people are certainly used to what us older folk might call "multimedia." The solution to classical music's "problem" is simple: engage young people in your productions – young in age or young in spirit. And I don't mean just the obsessed young classical musician. I mean people who live and breath the present. Many sensitive contemporary composers are available to be part of this solution. For classical music to move forward, it has to, well, move forward! The past century is unique in its capacity to archive and create "a canon" of "classical" music." But the music of the past cannot, by itself, speak to the present and the future. Some sentiments, as expressed through music, speak to us over centuries. Others do not. The history of music is a story of change. It should come as no shock that humanity will continue to want from culture something that reflects the time and situation in which we live now. The core of the solution: creative people and programming that artistically mixes the past with the present in productions that enhance the meaning of the works presented by the use of processed image and sound.

Read his blog post here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Talking with Composers, Canada and beyond

[Reprinted from the site that commissioned the review,]
[Direct link.]

Sonic Mosaics
Conversations with Composers
Paul Steenhuisen

ISBN:  978-0-88864-474-9
Price:  CND$ 34.95, USD$ 34.95, £ 18.5
Subject:  Music/Criticism
Publication Date:  January 2009

Reviewed by John Oliver

Sonic Mosaics is a book of interviews conducted by composer Paul Steenhuisen over a three year period from 2001-2004. Over half of the interviews were commissioned by Toronto's monthly, short-run music publication WholeNote on the occasion of a composer's presence in the city for a premiere performance or CD release. Two were originally published in Musicworks magazine and the rest were conducted by Steenhuisen afterward to complete the book and attempt to represent more Canadian composers.

Steenhuisen gets full marks for disclosure: he reveals the shortcomings and strengths of the book in the introduction. Although the book contains a large number of interviews with Canadian composers, the author admits that it is by no means representative of the entire country. The reader is treated to six interviews with non-Canadian composers, three of which occur as a result of a composer's appearance as a guest of New Music Concerts. Five are with the most senior generation of international contemporary music "stars": Pierre Boulez, George Crumb, Mauricio Kagel, Christian Wolff and Helmut Lachenmann; the sixth is UK composer Michael Finissy.

Equivalent Canadian senior composers include R. Murray Schafer, John Weinzweig, Udo Kasemets, John Beckwith, and Francis Dhomont. Yet equivalent senior composers of Quebec and the rest of Canada are not represented. The rest of the interviews give a glimpse into the creative minds of primarily composers who reside in the province of Ontario. Place-of-residence analysis reveals that, of the 26 Canadian interviewees, 16 reside in Ontario, 6 in Quebec, 3 in British Columbia, and one in Alberta: not an accurate proportional representation. The reader may also note that over half of composers represented here teach at universities, an understandable bias given the author's background and the general tendency in Canada for composers to gain a livelihood from teaching. If this represents only a subset of important Canadian composers, the reader's curiosity will be aroused to seek out information about more as a result of reading this book. A second volume is in order.

One might fear that a book of interviews in which one specialist interviews another in the same field would result in an impenetrable, jargon-ridden read that would send the reader crying out for generalists to give them something understandable and relevant to their own experience. This book, though not for the uninitiated, rarely crosses the line into the specialist realm. It should inspire the music fan to want to learn more and will be particularly attractive to musicians and music students. In this way, it achieves the goal to create a context of understanding for the music: mythologies melt away, though they may be replaced with new and more interesting ones!

Steenhuisen as interviewer asks probing, well-researched and varied questions that elicit from his subjects responses that vary from candid and revealing to evasive or predictable. Thankfully, the latter moments are few. Rather, we experience a conversation rich enough in detail to please the contemporary music enthusiast (though rarely theoretical and technical enough for the academic), and broad enough in scope to introduce those in the earlier stages of discovery to basic paradigms of the art and to some major international figures and a cross-section of Canadian composers, most of whom are interviewed for the first time in such a volume. The sense of speaking in confidence brings authority and depth to many of the interviews that a journalist would be less likely to reach.

Steenhuisen's questions and style – sometimes probing, other times knowingly prodding the subject – create a text that never lags. The author states, again in the introduction, that "while trained in neither journalism nor interviewing techniques, I am instead a self-taught critic, and approached the interviews as an interested professional, with the goal that my own interests and perspectives on the work of the interviewee would overlap with those of other listeners." This approach gives the reader a consistency of intent throughout the book, thus providing a book full of ideas about music, composition and the professional life, though few biographical details.

Considering the interviews' length and generalist purpose, they are remarkably thorough. For example, we have a fine overview of the career of Pierre Boulez in 8 pages: "you should be autodidact by will, not by chance" and "I like specialists only for surgery and medicine, but not for music." The personality of each interviewee shines out. Steenhuisen's intends is to cover as much territory as possible. Among his many questions, Steenhuisen usually directs the interview toward the discussion of a specific work and its ideas and touches on the subject of social relevance by way of the topic of communication. Several of the senior composers have appeared in print in the past and are well-known in Canada, but may be new to non-Canadian readers. Entirely new information is contributed to our understanding of contemporary music in the interviews of younger generations. Among the most fascinating are Howard Bashaw, who speaks of pre-compositional planning, musical structure, the role of the piano, intimacy, exactitude, and performance energy; Michael Finnissy, whose continuous ramblings seem chaotic on the surface but clearly the work of a brilliant mind; and Chris Paul Harman's discussion of recontextualisation, self-criticism and self-distancing from the materials of music. Helmut Lachenmann's entire interview could function as a suitable introduction to the whole book, especially his description of his own music as creating a "situation of perception, which provokes you to wonder 'What is music?'"

Another great pleasure comes from comparisons among composers, and the echo of one composer's ideas in another's. To give just one example: the echo of Normandeau's birth of the musical material from listening to the sounds in Barbara Croall's description of her way of composing; then the relationship of Croall's attraction to the "imperfect", "in-between" sounds to Lachenmann's explanation of the use of such sounds as establishing "new contexts" for listening and composing. The book is full of such riches. A highly-recommended read.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Five-ring Concerto for Turning Point Ensemble completed

Well friends, it's been an intense home stretch for my new chamber concerto for the Turning Point Ensemble. I finished the piece exactly one week ago – which I managed to announce on Twitter – and then went straight into copying parts and finalizing details of the score. But I didn't even come up with the title until just a few days ago!

I always think that the writing is the hardest part: so much energy required to conceive of the ideas, get the writing for the instruments working optimally for them to communicate with the audience, and so on, but then comes staring at the full score and the individual parts trying to make sure there are no errors, omissions, etc., and that requires a completely different brain. Lucky thing too, because my creative brain is pretty tired by the end of the piece! So the parts took four full days to complete. It's funny: the music notation software companies, like Sibelius and Finale, advertise that the parts are created (linked) as you write the piece, making everything sound so effortless. It sells the product, but in reality, there are cues to write in, page turns to calculate, formatting issues, etc. Maybe I should write fewer notes!

So in the end, I have written a five-movement concerto for chamber orchestra, in which the three sections of the orchestra – string, winds, and brass – compete with one another (one could say). I haven't designed or designated a "winner" of this competition. That would be a game the audience could play with the piece.

The plan for the music has not changed since my October 5, 2009 post to this blog in which I outlined five movements. The only change came in the feeling of the second movement, which had initially been inspired by the short-track speed skating. In the end I think it evokes the whole movement of speed skating, whether on the oval short track or on the long track. So, the movements are:

1. Curling
2. Speed Skating
3. Skeleton
4. Freestyle skiing
5. Hockey

In that post, I spoke about "sonifying the actual rhythms of the winter sports." This has remained true through the completion of the remaining three movements.

First reading of Five-ring Concerto; Owen Underhill conducting;
at Seycove Secondary School, North Vancouver, BC
For the October workshop, I had only the first two movements complete. At the workshop, I worked with the musicians to create an incredible sound for the Skeleton movement. We worked at adding details to the musical sketches I had written. Here is a sport that is experienced in polar opposite ways depending on whether you are a television spectator, or you are at the track. I've never attended an Olympic event of any kind – and couldn't even conceive of getting tickets for our own Olympics with the crazy prices (and so on). So my experience of the Olympics is probably a lot like most of us: we know it through broadcast media. Watching past Olympic Skeleton events on youtube, I was struck by the incredible noise that these atheletes endure on their sleds. For the broadcasts of the Skeleton runs, the atheletes agree to have microphones attached to their sleds. So the television audience hears a continuous noise of the sled against the ice of the track for the entire duration of the run. By contrast, those on the side of the track will wait in silence and anticipation for the rider to round the corner just before where they stand, and then their moment of taking in the Skeleton event goes by in a matter of seconds, with a swish and a rumble. I have had to imagine this, since the youtube videos I saw didn't really have much to speak of in the way of audio when they showed the camera on the audience.

The short movement of my piece called "Skeleton," begins with a representation of the common pre-race tension with the use of low, sliding strings. Then the race is "announced" by brass and after the short run to get going, the athelete jumps on the sled and all hell breaks loose in the ensemble. All of the musicians work together to create a dense continuously moving – yet in a way static – texture that represents this "life of the microphone on the sled" experience. Then, in the only clear nod to camera techniques in the composition, there is a "jump-cut" to the audience-on-the-track perspective. This will strike many as the most "avant-garde" of the movements, drawing as it does from the kinds of textures found in the orchestral works of Xenakis, Penderecki and Ligeti from the 1960s.

(An aside for the techno geeks: the microphone, attached to the sled, actually gives us an entirely unique sonic experience of the Skeleton run that doesn't exist outside the "life of microphones" story. Certainly, the athelete does not have their ear attached to the sled!)

The fourth and fifth movements create the gestures and movements of freestyle skiing and hockey. The former features the bumpy ride to the bottom of the ski run with the two jumps in the middle that launch the skier into the air to a sudden slow turning motion – again a play of opposites, from extreme exersion to suspended animation. "Hockey" begins with a big canonic resonating chamber, a technique found in several of my other works (see Prismophony for guitar quartet, third movement, and the opening to Raven Steals the Light for orchestra, to give two examples.) Once the puck is dropped, a new kind of music ensues that is a different kind of resonating chamber: the entire music is constructed from dominant seventh chords, but this time the geometry of hockey is everywhere: curves, zigzags, straight-lines, deek moves. There are no random walks here or other mathematical tricks to create this type of music. I composed entirely from chromatic chord progressions using a common-tone technique found in music from Wagner through Debussy, Scriabin and Stravinsky, though the musical energy is much indebted to the rhythmic energy of the latter.

An invitation to the reader to attend.

The concert on which my new work will be performed for the first time is a fantastic, ideal concert program to hear my work. The program features Arnold Schoenberg's early Chamber Symphony Opus 9 for 15 solo instruments, and the Canadian premiere of Pulitzer-prize winning American composer
John Adams’ exhilarating Son of Chamber Symphony. John Adams and I share a connection that goes back to my student days at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where I studied with him and heard him conduct the premiere performance of his break-through work "Shaker Loops." But it's more than that. There is an energy in Adams personality and music that resonates with my own. He feels like a kindred spirit. Please come to the concert, hear the great Turning Point Ensemble, and come by to say hello after the concert, especially if you are a regular reader of this blog!

Learn more about the concert and buy tickets.
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Friday, January 1, 2010

Into overtime for the "Hockey" movement

The Muse and I have come to a tie, and so now we go into overtime on the last movement – called Hockey – of my Chamber Concerto for the Turning Point Ensemble. (Don't worry Jeremy and Owen – co-directors of TPE – I've had the upper hand on the Muse for most of the game and plan to make it a quick overtime.) It's been an intense time of discovery for me, about which I'll write when the music is done! Soon it's off to a New Year's Day dinner with family. Overtime begins January 2!

Happy New Year everyone!
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John Oliver makes new logo for 2010

2010 logo by John Oliver

UPDATE, January 14: This logo is now available on t-shirts, coffee mugs, beer steins, mouse pads, cutting boards, bags & other merchandise at Wordplay Designs

I woke up this morning and was thinking about living in Vancouver in the year 2010 and the politics of the Olympics. I am a great supporter of the Olympic spirit and the concept of internationalism, and international cooperation toward the goal of achieving world peace. As a creator, I am concerned that artists are properly remunerated for their creations, and so therefore, I believe in copyright as one tool to help feed artists. When the tool of copyright is used to abscond with public property or shared culture, then it becomes a problem. "Good morning" is a phrase that cannot be copyrighted, for example. No reasonable person could argue that people cannot use their imaginations to comment on living in the year 2010 in Vancouver because we happen to host the Olympic Games this year.

It is in that spirit that I hope to capture the essence of the issue in this "logo for 2010" that came to my mind this morning. This is the era of intense debate over the role of copyright, with new alternatives being presented by collectives wanting to relax the rules of copyright to acknowledge the recontextualizing activity that many would argue is a key element in any creative work, a reality that is facilitated by copying and pasting in digital media.

Though it came to my mind, it may also have occurred to others as well. If so, great! Please feel free to share the idea. I thank you in advance for referring people to my blog to see the logo, rather than copying and pasting.


Happy New Year 2010!

John Oliver
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