from THE NEW YORK TIMES, on LATENCY CANONS
The greater the risk, of course, the greater the chance the experiment will fail. But computers, Internet connections and live musicians cooperated splendidly for the premiere of Raymond J. Lustig’s entrancing “Latency Canons” on Friday evening at Zankel Hall.
George Manahan conducted the ensemble onstage, while other musicians contributed remotely via the video conferencing software Google Hangouts. Some were stationed offstage in Zankel Hall, and the Gildas Quartet performed from Manchester, England.
Mr. Lustig decided to use the instability of video conferencing, with its blips and delays, to enhance his piece. A surreally beautiful, contrapuntal soundscape unfolded against a video backdrop of live, blurry images of the musicians. Harmonies overlapped during the stately opening. A brass line underpinned the gentle cacophony of spiraling, ecstatic string fragments that ended the work on a rapturous note.
The most inspired experiment, in its marriage of concept and music, was Raymond J. Lustig’s Latency Canons, which took its musical problem from an unlikely source: The inherent glitchiness of Google Hangouts.
Lustig was intrigued by the use of video conferencing applications to unite musicians performing in different locations, sometimes thousands of miles away. One major obstacle with such arrangements is the unavoidable “latency”—the delay in signal transmission—that can occur with computers and Internet connections. Anyone who has had a jumpy Skype call knows what that’s like. But where many composers might bemoan a technical difficulty that must be overcome in the service of precision, Lustig saw an opportunity. What if he could make a virtue, even compositional principle, out of latency?
In a video about the piece, Lustig says the idea is for “the delay that you get when you’re video-conferencing to [produce] a canon.” A canon is a basic form in which a simple melody is echoed either exactly or with variations at staggered points to create a complex texture. Pachelbel’s may be the most famous; kids often do this in school choirs with songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Lustig’s musical materials are, of course, more complex (and more hauntingly beautiful) than a nursery song, but the general idea is the same. The ACO, along with four string quartets stationed around the auditorium, elsewhere in the building, and in Manchester, U.K., would work from the same score and two conductors, but the live and unpredictable latency introduced by the Google Hangout would be used to create the canon effect.
On the evening of the concert, the Hangout was projected on a large screen for the benefit of the audience. There were feeds from the various ensembles, the two conductors, and a final one in which Lustig held up cue cards marking the progression through the score. The overall result was arresting—who could have guessed that such a complex and striking piece of music might have come from such a simple idea? What’s more, the fact that this music was being created by musicians in different parts of the world, their collaboration only enhanced by the imperfections of technology, was genuinely moving. The canon effect worked perfectly, and other unexpected “problems,” like the occasional occurrence of static and feedback, added to the piece’s appeal. Perhaps the most affecting and fitting moment was when the Google Hangout asked us, about three quarters of the way through the performance, “Are you still there?” We were indeed—rapturously.
That said, the uncertainty of conceptual music is most exciting (perhaps excepting John Cage’s exhilarating 4’33”) when everything is not totally left to fate. “While the original conception of the piece had a lot to do with letting the chips fall where they may,” Lustig said, “they can’t fall too far. We do need there to be a concert.” Thus, the use of Ethernet cords instead of failure-prone wireless connections. Thankfully, Lustig managed to balance chance and control, experimentation and execution. The music fulfilled the promise of his idea, producing a glitchy, gorgeous success.
“Lustig is writing music charged with intensity and leavened with intelligence. His Sonata for Violin and Piano shows the breadth of his vision. In it, a propulsive first movement which is quite shattering is followed by a movement of stillness and simplicity. The superimposition of opposites also applies to his award-winning Unstuck for orchestra, which explores past and present and the expectations they imply with surprising results.”
— The American Academy of Arts and Letters, in awarding the 2009 Charles Ives Fellowship
From new-music blog I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, on FIGMENTS
Duo Noire: Where Classical Guitar Meets Minimalism
“a unique and entrancing album that exists at the unusual intersection of minimalism and impressive classical guitar technique.”
“The impressive technique displayed by Duo Noire is perfectly suited to Lustig’s delicious compositions, and you wouldn’t regret getting a hold of this; if you like acoustic guitar, bluegrass, minimalism, blues—or music at all—you’ll definitely enjoy this excellently produced and mastered album.”
From The Brothers Balliett, Q2 (WQXR) Radio, on FIGMENTS
THESE FIVE COMPOSERS ARE KEEPING THE GUITAR RELEVANT
“Ray Lustig’s set of Figments for two guitars charms as much as it challenges in sets of exquisitely crafted rhythmic and polyphonic games.”
From TheaterScene.net, on my arrangement of Carlisle Floyd’s MARKHEIM
“…Floyd’s original orchestration for Markheim is colorful and fluent, with lots of percussion, and arrangerRaymond J. Lustig has managed to keep a lot of that. During the performance, I heard a woodblock but saw the percussionist was otherwise engaged. Where was it coming from? Eventually I realized it had cleverly been given to the second viola (though she did look like she’d rather be fiddling)…“
From New York Classical Review, on my arrangement of Carlisle Floyd’s gothic thriller MARKHEIM
“The orchestra, under the quick, exact conducting of Richard Cordova, at times suffered from a lack of consensus over entrances and rhythms. But the chamber arrangement by Raymond J. Lustig was far more successful. Even with Milner’s powerhouse voice, the musical size and texture never felt underdone.” – New York Classical Review