Zetsu (2015)- note by Robert Kirzinger
For Rob Amory and Steven Schick
Ken Ueno’s music sets up systems of multivalent resonance, combining sympathetic sources of expressive energy to catalyze new artistic possibilities, some predictable (by the composer), some serendipitous. These systems, or situations, or amalgams, begin with sound itself: Ueno pushes instruments beyond traditional performance methods to achieve sonic realities of visceral and evocative power. As a performer himself, a one-time rock guitarist and now a vocalist using extended throat-singing techniques, he anchors the musical gestures of his music in an awareness of the intense physical and emotional demands of performance. Ueno’s extraordinarily broad cultural interests, which include architecture, film, and other visual arts, literature, sociology and philosophy, and cuisine (the latter suggesting a concern for “applied” art), enrich the already lively musical details of his work. He continually seeks out, and is sought himself by, performers and collaborators who share his sense of challenge and exploration.
Music of this kind is not without risk; in fact it cultivates and channels the energy of risk. Virtuosity, the necessity of close communication among players in an unusual musical environment, learning and artistically performing perhaps never-before-encountered techniques (and even pitches) creates a sense of living on the edge that positively energizes the players to strive beyond complacency. This energy is in turn transmitted, again positively, to the listener, who reaches a new level of understanding of the work’s joy and challenge. Zetsu takes its title from a 2003 art ceramic by the Japanese sculptor Nishida Jun (1977-2005), now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. TenFourteen Project commissioner Rob Amory alerted Ueno to this piece, in which Nishida Jun createad a work of protean form, combining careful structure the chaotically amorphous results of experimental material and kiln techniques. The beautiful, enigmatic resulting pieces analogize processes of the formation of the earth itself. Nishida Jun’s willingness to push traditional ceramics beyond what could be considered failure was not only artistically but physically dangerous. At age twenty-eight, two years after the creation of Zetsu No. 8, he was killed in a kiln explosion while working with traditional potters on Bali.
In addition to a solo violin part that celebrates Diaz’s relationship to the violin—her extensive experience as a performer of new music as well as of standard repertoire—Zetsu generalizes the situation-specific idea with the creation of new instruments: percussion idiophones using microtonal tunings unique to the harmonic spectra of the piece, and the “hookah sax,” played via a tube inserted in its bell. Knowing his performers, Ueno taps into their senses of humor as well as of adventure. Formally, Zetsu pushes and pulls gestures and textures to extremes: the slowly evolving shimmer in the solo violin of the opening gives way to discrete, rhythmically clarified polyphony for the ensemble. The soloist returns with an intricate part ranging widely in articulation and tessitura, microtonal contours lending an organic, improvised, very human intensity.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6E-sN8RhgQ