The music of pioneering interstitial composer Earl Howard always surprises, but also does something not always achieved by experimental music: it engages and often deeply moves the listener. Earl was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011 to create a work that is premiering this upcoming weekend, on Saturday, May 12th, at Roulette in Brooklyn.
His music is hard to describe (and this from an enthusiastic audience member who has heard him perform many times) because it always changes and is always new. Like many interstitial artists, Earl has faced an uphill battle for recognition because his music doesn’t fit recognized categories. He recently described it this way: “It’s not a soundscape because it’s not a terrain, not a sound world, either, but more like a crowd. Sometimes you focus on one part, sometimes another, sometimes you are near, sometimes far away, sometimes it is about getting from one space to another.” Critics sometimes struggle to define it, because it doesn’t move the way written music usually moves. Earl believes they are challenged because “The music does have rhythm and melody, but not in context, nothing resolves itself, structures are continuously morphing. Things relate to themselves, new material comes in because there is no reason why it shouldn’t.”
His music spans the gamut from solo improvised soprano saxophone to soundscapes for opera to complex multi-instrumental works like Superstrings, his upcoming premiere. This new work will feature Wu Wei (sheng, erhu), Allan Jaffe (guitar), Miya Masaoka (kotoa) Ernst Reijseger (cello), Mark Dresser (bass), Harris Eisenstadt (percussion), as well as Earl on the Kurzweil K2600. Earl has gathered these musicians from around the world because they are all skilled in microtonal techniques, have developed methods for playing non-pitched or noisy sounds on their instruments and reconstruct their instruments’ original, traditional voices. In Superstring this group will explore stochastic music, polyrhythmic counterpoint, and melodic curves.
Although his music is hard to describe, the beauty and excitement it offers is not; the composer maintains that it does not create a world, but I might challenge him on that. It creates a world where the expectations are different and untraditional, and explorers of new lands are welcome. (As Earl says, it is “very positive music, but relations are not clear—I’m not interested in making sure you know where you are all the time!’)
If you would like to hear it for yourself, and you are in New York City this weekend, you can come hear the Earl Howard Ensemble at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave. (corner of Atlantic and 3rd Ave).