"Kreuzspiel" is one of Karlheinz Stockhausen's first compositions. He's probably best known for his tape loops, electronic experimentation, and reduction of the human voice to bleeps, but he wrote "Kreuzspiel" before all that. It's almost jazzy, with congas and toms establishing a spacey rhythm at the beginning of the piece. A piano bangs out chords, while a clarinet and oboe wander in and out. Stockhausen completed "Kreuzspiel" in 1951. It previews ideas he continued to use as he pushed musical boundaries: close attention to percussive plinks and plunks, and the use of serialism. But it's not grating or alienating, quite the contrary, it's an easy way in to Stockhausen's less accessible compositions.
sfSound is performing "Kreuzspiel" on Sunday, along with "Composition No. 75" by Anthony Braxton, whose work veers from his own wandering wind compositions to free jazz takes on ragtime. Braxton has resisted being labeled a jazz composer. Even when his compositions call for jazz-like instrumentation, there's usually something else going on: a horn section slides into a phrase in unison, and then repeats it over and over again; or a saxophone rises above the rest during an otherwise-straightforward standard, simultaneously deconstructing the tune and pushing the song forward. "Kreuzspiel" is usually translated as "Crossplay," and I expect the give-and-take and playfulness will be happening not only between instruments in Stockhausen's piece, but between the compositions, as well.
Along with those pieces by composers who have long been in the avant-garde pantheon, sfSound will perform new work by younger composers. Christopher Jones, a member of the ensemble, has contributed a composition. And Christopher Burns and David Bithell -- both are also affiliated with sfSound -- will have premieres at Sunday's show. Burns and Bithell both compose electronic music in addition to pieces for more traditional instruments. And Bithell also works on experimental theater projects. I haven't heard music by any of them beyond snippets online, and am looking forward to hearing more performed live.
sfSound's series of concerts at ODC are a great opportunity to hear new and experimental music. The group is performing again at ODC on September 13 with an entirely new selection of music. Tickets are inexpensive, and sfSound offers a discount for the underemployed. It's an affordable night out, and a chance to hear music you can't necessarily hear anywhere else.
sfSound is performing at ODC Dance Commons at 351 Shotwell Street in San Francisco on Sunday, August 9, 2009 at 8pm. Tickets are $10, and $5 if you're underemployed. For tickets and information visit odctheater.org.