Last Friday I caught a richly absorbing concert: the first New York City headlining date by claire rousay, the San Antonio-based purveyor of what's in the process of being labeled emo ambient, with support by Chicago musician Whitney Johnson, who performs under the name Matchess. This was the first show I'd attended at Public Records, which as the name suggests has a small vinyl boutique in the lobby outside of its chic restaurant/lounge, and a listening room where the sound system lived up to the high praise it's received.
Matchess was new to me, though I'm not certain why that should be, seeing as how the work Johnson creates under that name shares attributes and affinities with music I love by loop-oriented artists like Clarice Jensen and Julianna Barwick.
I gather (via a bit of research) that her earlier music was more song-oriented. Here, what felt like a thoughtfully plotted continuous set began and ended with Johnson striking two tuning forks and singing between them. At a few points, she sang not-quite-discernible lines from a heavy book that looked like a hymnal; much of the middle section of her set involved her viola.
I appreciated the amount of physical exertion that went into generating these tactile sounds: viola and tuning forks, obviously, but also the cassette recorders, wires, and plugs Johnson used to echo and collage sounds live in real time.
Even with voices intruding from outside and a cash register occasionally peeping and nattering nearby, Johnson's set felt spiritual, uplifting, cathartic. I'd presume, based on her act of lighting a candle at the start of her performance and ending as it neared burn-out, that the sensation was intended.
I don't think I had any firm idea what a claire rousay concert might be like, live recordings notwithstanding. When I first came to know her work, she registered chiefly as an improvising percussionist. A shift happened around the time of the arresting text-to-voice synth rumination it was always worth it and the lush art-pop watershed, a softer focus.
Now, rousay's music exists more in a digital realm: samples of lush, melancholy strings, audio-vérité field recordings capturing the mundane buzz of living, narratives so personal that a listener can feel like an eavesdropper. Ergo, emo ambient: music that somehow at once feels impersonal, environmental, and confessional. It's a beautiful, melancholy, at times overwhelming conception.
Rousay started her set with a modest keyboard prelude, then turned as if with a shrug into the main gist of her set. As disembodied music swelled and swirled inside invisible spaces, disembodied voices told stories about self-loathing and crisis, depression and fatal ideation, hard fought struggles simply to be.
Details grew indistinct as more voices piled up. I noticed one specific fragment recurring: someone newly sober and feeling friendless, working as a weekend DJ in San Francisco, playing the same song for himself only at 1am during each shift. Now and then, rousay picked up a microphone and sang, though (as on a softer focus) her use of autotune rendered her words indistinct, her lines less a means of communication than, seemingly, allusions toward other songs heard in other contexts.
In front of the stage a few people swayed, transported, blissfully unconcerned with the shorter patrons whose sightlines they'd usurped mere moments before the set had started. (One must not think bad thoughts, but it's a chore sometimes.)
Well into her set, rousay left the stage and approached a man sitting on the floor in front of her table of gear. She had him record something into a voice-memo app on her phone. Then she moved out into the crowd (don't pick me don't pick me don't pick me I thought), found someone else, repeated the exercise. When she returned to the stage, presumably those contributions sounded new notes in her music.
Does Rousay erase them afterward? Or do they linger, ghosts in her collection?
At the end of her set, Rousay left the stage while her music was still playing. As I exited the venue, I spotted her again: already outside, smoking a cigarette among the folks lined up for a later show.
claire rousay will be in residence at Pioneer Works in Red Hook this October.
Here is the news.
• Chatting with Tiffany Hanssen in my weekly Weekend Arts Preview segment, which this past weekend was time-shifted to Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, I covered MASK / CONCEAL / CARRY, a provocative exhibition of works by Tiona Nekkia McClodden at 52 Walker, and a big free outdoor show celebrating three landmark anniversaries – globalFEST and Barbès at 20, and Drom at 15 – next Saturday, July 30, from 4:30pm to midnight on Lincoln Center's outdoor plazas.
• Opera Philadelphia today announces the details of Opera on Film, a wildly diverse, ambitious celluloid component of its already revealed Festival O22, which includes the world premiere of Black Lodge, an audacious fusion of film and live performance by composer David T. Little and librettist Anne Waldman.
The series includes 30 operas of varying lengths, approaches, and styles, ranging from Joseph Losey's cinematic realization of Mozart's Don Giovanni and Robert Townsend's MTV-oriented remix Carmen: A Hiphopera (with Beyoncé in the title role) to substantial original ventures by William Kentridge and E. Elias Merhige, and onward though a smorgasbord of the short video operas that proliferated during times of pandemic shutdown and isolation—some of the best of which originated at Opera Philadelphia. One imaginative pairing matches James Darrah's 2021 video version of Poulenc's Cocteau setting, La voix humaine, starring Patricia Racette, with Pedro Almodóvar's The Human Voice, an English-language Cocteau adaptation starring Tilda Swinton.
Screenings take place at the Philadelphia Film Center Sept. 27–Oct. 2. According to a company spokesman, right now the screenings are an in-person affair exclusively. But over the course of time, the festival hopes to incorporate at least some of its offerings into its streaming web channel and app. For details, visit the Opera Philadelphia website.
• Composer Tania León has been named one of five Kennedy Center Honorees for 2022, along with George Clooney, Amy Grant, Gladys Knight, and… err, U2. The awards will be distributed on Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., and the ceremony televised at a later date.
• The invaluable Bay Area new-music institution Other Minds has announced dates for its newest IRL omnium gatherum. Other Minds Festival 26 will take place Oct. 13-15 in San Francisco's Great Star Theater. The lineup includes Pulitzer Prize winner Raven Chacon with Guillermo Galindo, Hanna Hartman, Lars Petter Hagen, Theresa Wong, Joëlle Léandre, Mari Kimura, and, of course, Other Minds mastermind Charles Amirkhanian. You'll find more details on the Other Minds website.
• "The Price of Luck," an essay by composer Aidan Claire Ramsay (a.k.a. Twitter's @arvofart) about how class economics contributes to – or, hell, determines – a would-be artist's capacity to learn, grow, survive, and excel is compulsory reading. (Editor's note: It also applies to a great deal more than classical music, or even art.)
• Another compelling read – especially in the wake of a much-discussed New York Times notebook by Zachary Woolfe concerning the future of European classical music during the summertime at Lincoln Center – is Larry Blumenfeld's relaxed, revealing Q&A with Shanta Thake, Lincoln Center's chief artistic officer, published by The Daily Beast on Sunday. (Be forewarned, this might be behind a paywall; I was allowed to read it once, but not twice.)
Video of the week.
The world lost a brilliant musician, a persuasive new-music advocate, a compelling teacher, and a beautiful human being when Ryan Muncy passed away suddenly late last week.
A trailblazing saxophonist, Muncy initially attracted attention in Chicago's Ensemble Dal Niente, and then rose to wider renown as a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble. If you're involved in any way with new music, you've surely seen an outpouring of tributes on social media since the news was announced on Friday night.
I have many, many musical memories of Ryan, and you'll find abundant evidence of his musical excellence in the International Contemporary Ensemble's incomparable video archive, DigitICE. The video here, a 2014 recording of Ryan and bassoonist Rebekah Heller playing Divide Its White Laughter Into Two by Morgan Krauss, is but one example.
For me, it's also a call-back to my favorite personal memory of Ryan. Months before the concert documented above, on a very cold, very snowy, very icy December evening, Lara and I attended the first New York City performance of this piece, by the same players, at Spectrum, when it was located on Ludlow Street.
At the time, our daughter was just under two months away from making her terrestrial debut. Nevertheless, I was reliably informed that every time Ryan booted an especially juicy low note on his baritone saxophone, The Girl kicked in approval—a testament to his powers of persuasion.
Comfort and condolences to all who knew and loved Ryan Muncy.
Night After Night Watch.
Concerts listed in Eastern Standard Time.
The Knights with Lara St. John
Central Park Naumburg Bandshell
Terrace Dr. near W. 72nd St., Upper East Side
Tuesday, July 26 at 7:30pm; free
Dynamic violinist Lara St. John is featured in the New York City premiere of Avner Dorman's award-winning Nigunim (Violin Concerto No. 2), which you can needle-drop in advance on an album St. John made with Orchestre classique de Montréal. Also on the bill are the world premiere of Keeping On, a piece collectively composed by The Knights, and Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 in A minor ("Scottish"). If you can't attend, listen live on WQXR (note: part of the company that employs me.)
Madison Square Park
Madison Ave. from 23rd to 26th Sts., Flatiron District
Wednesday, July 27 at 6pm; free
In the last of three free outdoor concerts presented by Carnegie Hall and meant to interface with an art installation by Cristina Iglesias, Attacca performs Caroline Shaw's Plan & Elevation, Philip Glass's String Quartet No. 3 ("Mishima"), and Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8.
The Stone at The New School
55 W. 13th St., Greenwich Village
Wednesday, July 27–Saturday, July 30 at 8:30pm; $20
Peter Evans, a trumpeter of supernatural technique and refinement, shows off his skills as a composer, improviser, and bandleader across a four-night stand at John Zorn's newest laboratory. Of particular interest is the ensemble he'll lead on Wednesday night, which includes International Contemporary Ensemble colleagues Alice Teyssier (flutes and voice) and Levy Lorenzo (percussion), rising jazz star Immanuel Wilkins (saxophone), and longtime Evans collaborators Nick Jozwiak (bass) and Sam Pluta (electronics).
Wendy Eisenberg + Weston Olencki
411 Kent St., Williamsburg
Saturday, July 30 at 3pm; free (suggested donation)
Two protean creators – improvising guitarist, singer, bandleader, and composer Wendy Eisenberg and trombonist-electronic composer Weston Olencki – kick off the new concert series Supplemental Space. Said series not coincidentally shares its name with the still fairly new Record Grouch satellite shop located at the burgeoning arts hub 411 Kent, already home to the impressive Shift series.
Ellen Arkbro & Marcus Pal
468 Grand Ave. 1D, Brooklyn
Sunday, July 31 at 6pm; $20
Ellen Arkbro is a young Swedish composer best known for her engulfing meantone works for organ, brass, and winds, but she swerves toward intimate singer-songwriter fare on I get along without you very well, her forthcoming Thrill Jockey LP with Jordan-based Swedish pianist Johan Graden. Here, she's paired with sound artist Marcus Pal, a La Monte Young/Marian Zazeela student and Catherine Christer Hennix collaborator who contributed to Arkbro's dense 2019 album, Chords.
Sons of Kemet + Makaya McCraven + L'Rain
Central Park Summerstage
Rumsey Playfield, East Side at 71st St., Manhattan
Sunday, July 31 at 6pm; free.
Two of the most prominent innovators in contemporary jazz, British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and Chicago-based percussionist Makaya McCraven, share a free SummerStage bill worth braving the present heat wave to see. It's been reported that this is the final tour for Sons of Kemet, a fiery horns-and-drums foursome touring behind an arresting Impulse! release, Black to the Future, at least in the group's present form. Show up in time to catch the beguiling Brooklyn singer-instrumentalist L'Rain.
Find more listings in Night After Night Watch: The Master List, available exclusively to paid subscribers.
(Photographs by the author, except where indicated otherwise.)