M4tL Banner

Chapter 14: The 21st Century

Ken Ueno

Ken Ueno

Ken Ueno
(born 1970)

Biographical Sketch
Winner of the 2006-2007 Rome Prize and the 2010-2011 Berlin Prize, Ken Ueno, is a composer, vocalist, improviser, and sound artist. His music coalesces diverse influences into a democratic sonic landscape. In addition to Heavy Metal sub-tone singing and throat singing, he is also informed by European avant-garde instrumental techniques, American experimentalism, and sawari or beautiful noise, an aesthetic in traditional Japanese music. His artistic mission is to champion sounds that have been overlooked or denied so that audiences reevaluate their musical potential. Ken’s music pushes the boundaries of perception and challenges traditional paradigms of beauty, and champions the talents of specific performers.

Ensembles and performers who have played Ken’s music include Kim Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky, Frances-Marie Uitti, Mayumi Miyata, Teodoro Anzellotti, Aki Takahashi, Alarm Will Sound, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Steve Schick and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Lithuanian National Symphony, the Paul Dresher Ensemble (with Amy X Neuburg), the Nieuw Ensemble, Wendy Richman, Greg Oakes, Gabby Diaz, the Del Sol String Quartet, Vincent Royer, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the American Composers Orchestra (Whitaker Reading Session), the Cassatt Quartet, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Prism Saxophone Quartet, the Atlas Ensemble, Relâche, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Dogs of Desire, the Orkest de Ereprijs, and the So Percussion Ensemble.

Ken’s music has been performed at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MusikTriennale Köln Festival, Ars Musica, Warsaw Autumn, the GAIDA festival, Darmstädter Ferienkurse, the Muziekgebouw, the Hopkins Center, Spoleto USA, and Steim. He has been the featured guest composer at the Takefu International Music Festival, Norfolk Music Festival, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Pacific Rim Festival, the Intégrales New Music Festival, and the MANCA Festival. Ken’s piece for the Hilliard Ensemble, Shiroi Ishi, was featured in their repertoire for over ten years, with performances at such venues as Queen Elizabeth Hall in England, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and was aired on Italian national radio, RAI 3. Another work, Pharmakon, was performed dozens of times nationally by Eighth Blackbird during their 2001-2003 seasons. A portrait concert of Ken’s was featured on MaerzMusik in Berlin in 2011. In 2012, he was a featured artist on Other Minds 17. In 2014, Frances-Mairie Uitti and the Boston Modern Orchestra premiered his concerto for two-bow cello and orchestra this past January, and Guerilla Opera premiered a run of his chamber opera, Gallo, to critical acclaim. He has performed as soloist in his vocal concerto with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in New York and Boston, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Lithuanian National Symphony, the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, and with orchestras in North Carolina and California.

Awards, grants, and fellowships that Ken has received include those from the American Academy in Rome, the American Academy in Berlin, Civitella Rainieri, the Townsend Center, the Fromm Music Foundation (2), New Music USA, the Aaron Copland House, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music Recording, Meet the Composer (6), the National Endowment for the Arts, the Belgian-American Education Foundation, and Harvard University. He has twice received support from the Fromm Foundation to support orchestral commissions. He has also received support from the MAP Fund twice – for an evening-long work for Community MusicWorks and himself as vocalist, and for a work for the combined forces of the Prism Saxophone Quartet and the Partch Ensemble. A monograph CD of three of his concertos was released on the Bmop/sound label.

As a vocalist, Ken specializes in extended techniques (overtones, throat-singing, multiphonics, extreme registers, circular singing), and has collaborated in improvisations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joey Baron, Ikue Mori, Robyn Schulkowsky, Joan Jeanrenaud, Pascal Contet, Gene Coleman, Tyshawn Sorey, David Wessel, Robin Hayward, John Kelly, Jorrit Dykstra, Kevork Mourad, Gilberto Bernardes, Hans Tutschku, James Coleman, and Vic Rawlings amongst others. Ken’s ongoing performance projects include collaborations with Tim Feeney, Matt Ingalls, Du Yun, and Lou Bunk.

In recent years, Ken has been collaborating with visual artists, architects, and video artists to create unique cross-disciplinary art works. With the artist, Angela Bulloch, he has created several audio installations (driven with custom software), which provide audio input that affect the way her mechanical drawing machine sculptures draw. These works have been exhibited at Art Basel as well as at Angela’s solo exhibition at the Wolfsburg Castle. In collaborating with the architect, Patrick Tighe, Ken created a custom software-driven 8-channel sound installation that provided the sonic environment for Tighe’s robotically carved foam construction. Working with the landscape architect, Jose Parral, he collaborated on videos, interactive video installations, and a multi-room intervention at the art space Rialto, in Rome, Italy. In 2013, Ken created a 24-channel audio installation, Liquid Lucretius, which was installed at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City for two months. Breath Cloud, a sound installation with 90-speakers was commissioned and installed at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum in May, 2014. 2014 also saw the opening of his collaboration with the architect, Thomas Tsang, at the Inside-Out Museum in Beijing. The software-driven work sonically activates a stairwell as a resonant chamber, which leads to a sonic aperture with an opening outside the building, effectively turning the building into a large wind instrument.

Ken is currently an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and an M.M.A. from the Yale School of Music. His bio appears in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. www.kenueno.com

Back to Ancillary Readings
Ancillary Readings Composer Synopsis: Ken Ueno

JacobTV (born 1951)

Biographical Sketch
Dutch ‘avant pop’ composer JacobTV (Jacob Ter Veldhuis, 1951) started as a rock musician and studied composition and electronic music. He was awarded the Composition Prize of the Netherlands in 1980 and became a full time composer who soon made a name for himself with melodious compositions, straight from the heart and with great effect. ‘I pepper my music with sugar,’ he says. The press called him the ‘Andy Warhol of new music’ and his ‘coming-out’ as a composer of ultra-tonal, mellifluous music reached its climax with the video oratorio Paradiso, based on Dante’s Divina Commedia. JacobTV’s so called boombox repertoire, works for live instruments with a grooving sound track based on speech melody, became internationally popular. With some 1000 performances worldwide per year, JacobTV is one of the most performed European composers. He is an outlaw in the established modern classical music scene, and was accused of ‘musical terrorism’. According to the Wall Street Journal some of his his work ‘makes many a hip-hop artist look sedate’. In 2007 a 3 day JacobTV festival took place at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. His never ending reality opera THE NEWS is constantly updated and various editions were performed in Chicago, Rome, Amsterdam, Hamburg, New York, and new editions are in preparation.

Some of JacobTV's best known compositions include:
    Mountain Top
    String Quartets 1,2 & 3
    Drei Stille Lieder
    Diverso il Tempo
    Laws of Science
    Grab it!
    Jesus is coming
    May this Bliss never end
    the Body of your Dreams
    Les Soupirs de Rameau
    Cities change the Songs of Birds
    the Postnuclear Winterscenarios
    Nivea Hair Care Styling Mousse
    Cheese Cake

Source (July 2015): http://www.jacobtv.net/bio/cv.html

A Role Redefined

The musical eras assigned by musicologists are too often seen incorrectly as sudden and immediate shifts in musical practice and aesthetic--the result of artists suddenly rejecting conservative ideals of their age. There are examples of this, of course. The development of opera at the beginning of the 17th century greatly contributed to a new approach to music composition and performance. Later, the Viennese Secession movement, led by the artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), in the late 19th century was dedicated to overthrowing conservative Viennese taste. Additionally, the development of Schoenberg’s dodecaphonic technique in the early part of the 20th century is often viewed by many students as a sudden and complete rejection of traditional European musical aesthetics that came before it, or that this new technique represents a completely new direction in personal expression. In all of these examples, however, musical changes came through the continuation of established practices and development of ideas that preceded it. Schoenberg’s development was an extension of the work of Brahms and Wagner. Beethoven launched the European world into the Romantic era by continuing and developing the tradition of Viennese Classicism while combining it with a new level of personal expression. In all of these cases, as in the 21st century, a continuation of tradition consistently exceeds a sense of the iconoclastic.

The 20th century, a century of "isms", firmly placed composers into camps of practice and thought. Artists identified themselves, or were identified by others, as minimalist composers, serialist composers, neo-classical composers, spectral composers, electronic composers, cross-over composers, etc… These labels were attached to the composer and for the most part, composers infrequently diverted from their assigned “camp” except for significant points in their life. For example, Stravinsky came to fame during his primitivism period (“Rite of Spring”) but shifted to neo-classicism and finally to serialism toward the end of his life. Compositional technique was very much viewed synonymously with style.

The 21st century may very well become known as the century of pluralism. That is, all musical directions, styles, and techniques are embraced and allowed, or even expected, to coexist. Toward the end of the 20th century, composers by and large began to adopt a de-categorization in their approach to writing music. That is, works began to appear that weren’t simply minimalistic or serial, but instead they had a combination of many different techniques. The rules of the 20th century techniques began to be used more liberally. One could write a work with twelve-tone elements without being considered a serialist composer, for example. This de-categorization continues today and has dramatically expanded the composer’s vocabulary.

To be successful, the composer in the 21st century is expected to have a broad musical knowledge base. Composers today might work within a number of genres from writing acoustic chamber music to creating sound sculptures to composing music for film to programming interactive computer performance software. Today, composers today also tend to be very technically proficient and have at least rudimentary skills in audio engineering and production, graphic design, and marketing. These skills are vital since most composers are responsible for publishing, marketing, and distributing their music. To that end, composers spend a great deal of time, effort, and resources promoting and producing concerts. For their work to be heard, they must also help facilitate performances of their music as well as the music of others, which builds symbiotic relationships and contributes to the health of the new music world. Composers are expected to be active participants in the promotion of new music in general. This redefinition of “composer” as somewhat a “jack of all trades” has become necessary in our economic environment of dwindling resources for the arts.

Acoustic Ecology

Spend time every day listening to what your muse is trying to tell you
-Saint Bartholomew

Soundscape microphones

Microphones and other equipment used in the government's research of changing soundscapes in the wild.

The World Forum for Acoustic Ecology defines acoustic ecology as: "the study of the relationship between living organisms and their sound environment."

An examination of acoustic ecology could take place with many goals, and not all of them may be obvious.  The obvious example is an unwanted or even harmful noise, "Those jet engines set my teeth on edge" or "The neighbors' music makes it impossible to sleep"  But ecology of sound goes hand-in-hand with many other types of ecology.  To make a recording of an overgrown plot of land on Veteran's Parkway today will result in a much different (and observable) result six months from now when the plot has been built on as an industrial complex.  The acoustic change in this location is just as apparent as the visual, olfactory, and pollutant change, and no less valid. 

Humans can be very good listeners. It was an important skill that allowed our species to survive dangerous environments.  But in an urban world that is choked with noise of all kinds, the constant din raises the noise floor to the point where our ability to listen goes unused and suffers from the neglect. Why is this such a bad thing? Because in its place, out of necessity, rises the ability to deafen.  I would use the term 'ignore', but often the brain does not even register a sound when the ability to deafen is in place.  It has often been surmised that if we could bring a good listener such as J.S. Bach to our present time, what would they think of the music, wouldn't they be amazed by cars, and so on, but one suspects that the most likely reaction would be an overwhelmed panic at the sheer influx of sensory data.  In my own personal experience, I find a bustling urban city to be exciting and enjoyable, but there have been times traveling abroad when the newness of the sights, sounds, smells, and people create fatigue.  Perhaps you have experienced an information overload like this before, or will in the future.  The remedy is silence, and reconnecting with the ability to listen.  The band Phish once sang,

Are you having trouble connecting with the pieces of music in Music For The Listener? Eliminate those distractions. Confront your tendency to push the music into the background.  And you might want to get ecological about your acoustics.



Read Scape 9, page 23-25 Milena Droumeva "The Music Must Always Play". Then, choose a location and journal the sounds in it with active listening.  Don't pretend that a composer has written this soundscape, or that the voice of a composer is speaking to you with it.  Instead as you move through, let the sounds be themselves, and observe their interactions and audibility.  If you could see the sounds, what would their visualization look like? Are there any sounds that disappear as you move away? As you listen, were there any sounds present for a long time before you noticed them?  What characteristics made them 'sneak up' on your perception like that? As you move around obstacles, how do the sounds change? Can you hear the difference between inside and outside soundscapes? Listen with intention.  You can walk, but remain silent as possible for the entire journal. You might want to record the walk or take notes so that you can type it up later.  If you want to group up to go on a soundwalk together, that would add another dimension as you learned how your perception differed from one another. 

More Information

Hildegard Westerkamp's homepage

"On the Fetish-Music Character and the Regression of Listening" by Theodor Adorno (PDF)

Soundscape: The Journal for Acoustic Ecology

A blog about Soundwalking from Andra McCartney

Soundwalk Video
A recorded soundwalk is of course a pale imitation of the real thing, but the artist mentions what she listens to and why she does soundwalks. 

Ear To The Earth