January 31, 2001

First Edition of The ASCAP Foundation's Thru The Walls Showcase

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The ASCAP Foundation presented Thru the Walls, a new music performance showcase, at the Cutting Room on January 31, 2001. Sponsored in part by Sibelius, the music notation software company, Thru the Walls was hosted by legendary record producer Tony Visconti. Designed to showcase the work of composers whose concert music defies boundaries and genres, it featured composer/performers on electric violins, 5-string violas, "mutant" trumpets, electronic keyboards, ebow guitars, electroacoustic percussion and a barrage of electronics and theatrics. Frank Oteri (composer and editor of NewMusic Box) emceed the enormously successful event which drew a standing room only audience.

The showcase featured:
Martha Mooke (electric violas), performing solo and with Randy Hudson (electric ebow guitar) in their duo Bowing
Eve Beglarian (keyboards, electronics) with Margaret Lancaster (flute), Kathy Supove (new music for Twisted Tutu) and Phil Kline
Ben Neill ("mutant" trumpet) with electroacoustic percussionist Jim Musse

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(l-r)Frank Oteri, ASCAP's Cia Toscanini and Fran Richard, Martha Mooke, Tony Visconti, Peter Kern of Sibelius, Eve Beglarian, and Ben Neill


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Sponsored in part by Sibelius

Good evening. My name is Tony Visconti. I am normally known as a record producer of rock music. I've had the good fortune to work with some of the most respected recording artists of Great Britain, notably Marc Bolan of T.Rex and David Bowie. Like the artists you will hear tonight, I have also worked with a group that defied description, Gentle Giant. I produced their first albums, Gentle Giant and Acquiring The Taste. I'm sure that some of you would be familiar with those recordings if you are here tonight. But let me tell you why I believe I was chosen to host Thru The Walls tonight.

I am the producer of three ground-breaking albums by David Bowie. They are Low, Heroes and The Lodger. All three albums were written in collaboration with Brian Eno. I received a phone call in the summer of 1976 from David Bowie asking me if I had heard Brian Eno's Ambient Music albums. Of course I had enormous respect for Roxy Music and had met Brian in the days when he wore makeup, women's clothes and a feather boa. But Brian had since become a serious composer, Music For Airports was in the charts and David foresaw that some interesting hybrid form of music could happen with Brian Eno on board.

Little did I know at that time that we were spearheading a mini-movement in modern music, which I feel has had some influence directly or indirectly on tonight's performers and composers. The Bowie albums, Low and Heroes, started out with rock songs on side one (remember when a disc had two sides?), but side two contained four compositions that were part ambient music, part post-classical, part modernist, part impressionist, and even part "trip hop."

The rock tracks on side one sold those albums (I'm sure most of you are familiar with the song "Heroes"), but fans were introduced to and loved this new music on side two, created by two icons of modern British rock. Not only were fans turned on to the new soundscapes of Bowie and Eno, but composer Phillip Glass eventually orchestrated these pieces and suddenly they were taken very, very seriously as the "Low Symphony" and the "Heroes Symphony."

We broke through several walls with those albums, both in the rock idiom and with this new thing! The music we created defied categories and puzzled many a critic, but the fans "got it."

Martha Mooke is one of tonight's performers and she is also a colleague of mine as well as a friend. Because of her I don't tell viola jokes anymore. Seriously, she is one of the most creative musicians I know. She has played for me on what we call in the recording biz "string dates" and she and her chosen ensemble members have been a joy to work with. When I asked Martha what this music is called that we are going to hear tonight she replied thoughtfully and earnestly, "There is no name for this music. We would prefer that you hear it rather than name it."

Tonight you will hear modern composers who also perform their pieces in public and on record. This, in itself is nothing new, but never has there been an age where modern composers could do this with such a wide sonic palette at their fingertips and with such disregard for what is conventional.

Mozart performed live, he even improvised. Bernstein performed live too. But both composers had the confinements of either very traditional instruments or the rigid necessity of having highly trained symphonic musicians reading from scores that could hardly express the new concepts in sounds you will hear tonight. Tonight's musicians have had the benefit of growing up in both the uptown and the downtown worlds of music and feeling comfortable in either setting. Martha plays a new instrument that wasn't available until the end of the 20th century-the electric five stringed viola. At her feet she has an arsenal of pedals and effects that would make any rock guitarist envious. With a few taps of her bow while recording into a sampling device, and adding some interlocking riffs, she can create a groove making live tape loops, a technique used in Hip Hop and Rock recordings. She does this live. Then she can proceed to weave an enigmatic melody and counter melodies over the top. These instruments and techniques never existed before.

All of the three composers performing tonight, including Eve Beglarian and Ben Neill, are classically trained. They could've gone the route of writing or playing symphonies but they chose not to. Ben Neill went so far as to invent his own brass instrument to realize his musical aspirations-the "mutant trumpet" he calls it. Martha Mooke, in her quest for sonic individuality said, "If it doesn't exist, I'll make it exist!" Eve Beglarian uses the modern recording studio as both her score paper and also her orchestra. She says she draws much of her inspiration from Hip Hop. This is the sort of pioneering spirit you will be exposed to tonight. It has no name, but it is fresh and vital in opposition to today's strictly formatted media. It is cerebral and visceral at the same time. It gets you thinking, it makes you feel things, and isn't that the purpose of music anyway? You have to pay attention, this music is not sonic wallpaper!

I would like to thank the ASCAP Foundation for recognizing this unique talent in our midst and supporting these composers by organizing the first Thru The Walls, featuring concert composers whose music defies boundaries.


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