EXCLUSIVE: eighth blackbird's Tim Munro on "Still in Motion" Program (Ligeti, Mackey, T. Johnson, Arcade Fire) at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
The Grammy award-winning new music group eighth blackbird is home to roost here in Chicago for several days, having just returned from a tour of the East Coast.
Tim Munro, the group's flutist, recently spoke with me about upcoming performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on March 8 and 9, which will hold some of eighth blackbird's favorite music, including works by György Ligeti and Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry.
eighth blackbird will play their tour program "Still in Motion," instead of Columbine's Paradise Theatre, a staged theatrical work the group had originally intended to perform.
Matthew Duvall, the group's percussionist, recently suffered a knee injury which prevented him from participating in the work.
"It's a very physical production we had planned," Munro said about Columbine's Paradise Theatre. "We hope to bring it to Chicago next season instead."
Munro describes the music of "Still in Motion" as extremely varied: fun and humorous, as well as dark and tempestuous.
"We like to balance modern classics with music that's hot off the presses," Munro said, noting that five out of the seven pieces on the program were composed in the past three years.
One is Duo for Heart and Breath (2011), written by Parry--he of Canadian superstars Arcade Fire. He plays a wide array of instruments for the indie rock band, but he has only recently started writing music for contemporary classical ensembles.
This duet is unusual because it connects the rhythms of the performers' breathing and heartbeat to the rhythms of the music.
"The performers play the notes at the speed of their breathing or heartbeat," Munro explained.
A microphone will pick up the violinist's breathing, while the pianist will listen to her heartbeat through a stethoscope. "We will amplify their breath and heartbeat so that the audience can hear it," Munro said.
This means the two instrumentalists will be playing in different tempos. But the effect is not disjointed, according to Munro.
"It creates a floating sea--like clouds passing each other. Everything feels gravityless."
Of course, the tempi can be affected by a number of factors, including performance jitters or just too much caffeine.
Munro recalls a time their pianist, Lisa Kaplan, had a cup of coffee before a performance. "She started out playing very fast, but as the piece progressed, her playing slowed down," Munro said.
"She called it her 'Starbucks tempo.'"
The group has also transcribed Ligeti's Grawemeyer-winning set of 18 Piano études (1985-2001) and will perform them in an arrangement for sextet. "They're like wild fairground rides," Munro said.
"It's a bit of an 'edge of your seat--will we survive?' kind of challenge for us."
It's the kind of challenge that eighth blackbird relishes. The group will intersperse the etudes with Tom Johnson's Counting Duets (1982), which Munro describes as "obsessed with patterns, counting and numbers."
Munro, himself, wrote a piece on the program, Last Exit, that he calls "an unsettled night piece for solo flute and tape." Indeed, Last Exit evokes the dark shadows of Brisbane, Australia, Munro's hometown. The title is taken from the poem "last exit to brisbane" by Sam Wagan Watson.
Peter Taub, MCA director of performance programs, said that the MCA is committed to providing a home for contemporary music ensembles like eighth blackbird. "There's a strong groundswell of fantastic new music in Chicago," he said.
"More ensembles are forming, and the audiences are growing...eighth blackbird is one of the best of these established new music groups. They consistently develop wonderful concert programs and present them in interesting ways."
eighth blackbird will also perform music of Steve Mackey, Brett Dean and Gabriella Smith on their "Still in Motion" program.
For more information about the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, please visit mcachicago.org.