Seth Josel, banjo

works by John P. Hastings, Laurie Spiegel

L40 | Kunstverein am Rosa Luxemburg Platz

Josel performing John P. Hastings' “Pete Seeger in Monte Carlo”

Josel performing Laurie Spiegel's “New York November 2001”

17 June 2015. The program for ITINERANT INTERLUDE #26 was first and foremost determined by artist Michael Beutler’s expressed desire to have a banjo “play” his WECHSELSTUBEN. Finding the right musician for the task was relatively easy, as there is perhaps no better candidate in the land than Berlin based guitarist/banjo player Seth Josel. Tracking down contemporary repertoire for the instrument presented more of a challenge, however, but this too was facilitated by Josel and his CalArts connections and resulted in two new works for solo banjo by two American composers who share a penchant for algorithms – one work was premiered by Josel some ten years ago while the other was prepared especially for this occasion. Both works received their Berlin premieres at ITINERANT INTERLUDE #26.

“Pete Seeger in Monte Carlo” (2014) by John P. Hastings (*1977) is a work in 5 short sections which migrated through the 5 different loci of Beutler’s archi-sculpture. The work and its title are an homage to the great American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, and a reference to the “Monte Carlo” method, a set of algorithms that use random sampling to achieve numerical results; as applied, the method helped facilitate the simulations used in the Manhattan Project to create the atomic and hydrogen bombs. According to the composer, “Pete Seeger in Monte Carlo” is an attempt to fuse the power of folk music (and the banjo) with a seemingly benign book of random digits to create a new, abstract piece of 21st century American folk music. The score consists of pages from the RAND Corporation’s book of random numbers and a series of instructions detailing how the performer is to interpret those numbers to become musical material.

Composer Laurie Spiegel (*1945) is known widely for her electronic music, her pioneering work in the development of several early electronic and computer music systems that grew out of research at the famed Bell Labs, and her algorithmic composition software Music Mouse. She is also a banjo player. Spiegel composed “New York November 2001” during what she describes as the months of dark intensity following the events which took place that September just outside her window in downtown NYC. The emotional knot of the second trauma – the worldwide public reaction to that event – of compassion having been eclipsed by more hostile reactions, says the composer, is what fed into this piece. “New York November 2001” was premiered by Seth Josel in Vienna in 2002.

Banjo man Seth Josel is actually one of the most highly acclaimed performers of classical and electric guitar on the scene today. Born in New York and based in Berlin, he regularly concertizes throughout the world both as soloist and with ensembles and orchestras at major international venues and festivals of new music. Josel has premiered the works of major contemporary composers of our time including Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, Tristan Murail, Phill Niblock and James Tenney, and recorded with musikFabrik, Ensemble Mosaik and DSO Berlin. His solo CDs are available on CRI, Mode, and O.O. Discs; his book “The Techniques of Guitar Playing” was recently published by Bärenreiter.