Awakening at the Inn of the Birds   CB0012

The music

Continents of City and Love and Tidal, written 20 years apart, are both arch-form pieces scored for two pianos, synthesizer, string quartet, and doublebass. They both feature expanding piano lines that intersect and compliment individually expanding textures provided by the strings and synthesizer. Continents cycles slowly through four harmonic areas via a sort of structural counterpoint, achieving a finely knit fabric of understated sensuality. Tidal combines strictly notated music with measured improvisation.

Evaporated Pleasure is a fiery work for piano, four hands. Composed from an equal-tempered approximation of the harmonic and sub-harmonic series and multiple corrupted stochastic processes, it starts out almost hesitantly and builds to a wild, swirling barrage. The same duo (Cahill and Kubera) that performs it on this CD gave both its West Coast (San Francisco) and East Coast (New York) premieres in 2002.

Awakening at the Inn of the Birds, written for the FLUX Quartet, commissioned by the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts, Dartmouth College, is built from sets of rhythmic units that continuously change and develop. Using the instruments’ extreme dynamic levels throughout, the piece remains at a point of stasis. With its very first note, the music jumps out at the listener, and it remains there relentless to its conclusion.

As She Sleeps is a quiet, ruminative piano solo, a song without words, dedicated to the composer’s daughter.

The composer

Michael Byron’s music has been commissioned and performed by chamber groups around the world. As a performer, Byron has been a member of various new music and experimental improvisation ensembles with such other composer/performers as David Rosenboom, Peter Garland, and William Winant. Byron also has been a member of the American Gamelan ensemble Son of Lion. He has taught at York University and served on the Board of Directors of the Aesthetic Research Centre of Canada, where he edited the first issue of Journal of Experimental Aesthetics. He was the editor/publisher of Pieces, a series of books of music scores by influential contemporary American composers. Byron has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Canada Council for the Arts, and he has had his music recorded on the Cold Blue label (including releases CB0002, CB0005, CB0008, and CB0043) and the Neutral label.

The performers

Sarah Cahill is a pianist, writer, and producer who specializes in new American music and works from the American experimental tradition. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Kyle Gann, Larry Polansky, and “Blue” Gene Tyranny, and she has premiered pieces by Lou Harrison, Terry Riley, Ingram Marshall, Ursula Mamlok, Evan Ziporyn, Kui Dong, Chen Yi, George Lewis, Leo Ornstein, and many others. In numerous concert programs, she has explored how the early 20th-century American modernists have influenced composers working today. The most ambitious of these programs was a three-day festival celebrating Henry Cowell’s centennial. For the centennial of Ruth Crawford Seeger, she commissioned seven women composers to write short homage pieces for a solo concert in the Interpretations series at Merkin Hall. Cahill commissioned works from Evan Ziporyn and Kui Dong to perform as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Piano 300 celebration. She recently performed at New York’s Miller Theatre for Leo Ornstein’s 108th birthday and George Antheil’s centennial, and played both a solo recital and a Ruth Crawford Seeger centennial concert at the Spoleto Festival USA. Other recent appearances include recitals at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., the Other Minds festival in San Francisco, and at the Solo Flights Pianorama! Festival at the Lincoln Center. Sarah has recorded works by Ravel, Cowell, Ruth Crawford, and Johanna Beyer for the New Albion label; music by George Lewis for the Tzadik label and Ursula Mamlok for CRI; and Garland, Byron, and Miller for the Cold Blue label.. 

Joseph Kubera, a pianist hailed as one of “new music’s most valued performers” by Village Voice critic Kyle Gann, has gained international renown as a major interpreter of contemporary music. A leading proponent of the music of John Cage, he has performed many of the composer’s works, including Etudes Australes, Sonatas and Interludes, and the Music of Changes. He is featured soloist in the Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble; he has also performed the work with the San Francisco Symphony under John Adams. He appeared performing works of Cage and Cowell in the BBC-TV documentary West Coast Story. At Cage’s invitation, he toured extensively with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1977 to 1980. Kubera is a core member of the S.E.M. Ensemble, Roscoe Mitchell’s New Chamber Ensemble, North/South Consonance, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He has toured with composer Robert Ashley in performances of eL/Aficionado, along with baritone Tom Buckner and pianist “Blue” Gene Tyranny. Past affiliations include the Bowery Ensemble, Steve Reich and Musicians, and the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY Buffalo. Among his many recitals are engagements at the Berlin Inventionen Festival, the World Music Institute’s Interpretations series in New York, and New Music America Montreal. Kubera has been awarded performance grants by the National Endowment for the Arts (Solo Recitalist Program), the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and other arts organizations. He has recorded for the OO Discs, Lovely Music, 1750 Arch, and Opus One labels.

Kathleen Supové, known for her versatility as a performer, is at the forefront of virtuoso piano soloists as well as experimental electronic keyboard players. As a soloist, she has performed and premiered works by countless emerging and established composers—including Frederic Rzewski, Louis Andriessen, Terry Riley, Aaron Jay Kernis, Tan Dun, Michael Daugherty, Paul Dresher, and Oliver Lake—and she presents a regular new music concert series, The Exploding Piano. Her playing has been described as “breathtakingly brilliant” (Alex Ross, New York Times) and her series has been praised for “attracting the kind of young, hip, overflow crowd that makes the heart jump with hope for music’s future” (Bernard Holland, New York Times). Her solo CD, Figure 88, on CRI’s Emergency Music label, was named one of the Ten Best Classical Releases of 1993 by New York Newsday critic Tim Page. Other recordings of hers can be found on the CRI, New World, Neuma, Bridge, Centaur, OO Discs, and XI labels. As keyboard player and performance artist, Ms. Supové is half of the duo Twisted Tutu with composer/performer Eve Beglarian. She is also the keyboard player for Nick Didkovsky’s band, Dr. Nerve, and Randall Woolf’s band, Camp. In addition, she has recently performed numerous contemporary concertos including those of Ligeti, Xenakis, and Messiaen. In 1984, she was a top Prizewinner in the Gaudeamus Competition for Interpreters of Contemporary Music in Holland and has received major grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Copland Fund for Music, and the Meet the Composer/Readers Digest Commissioning Fund. Bernard Holland, in the New York Times, recently labeled her “brave, forward and very talented” and an “unrelenting explorer,” and wrote, “New York would be poorer without her.” 

FLUX Quartet, a string quartet dedicated to projects of unique vision that defy esthetic categorizations, has performed to rave reviews at many music centers and festivals around the world, including the Melbourne Festival, the Ojai Festival, the Oslo Chamber Festival, the Library of Congress, Lincoln Center’s Great Day in New York Festival, and elsewhere. Its current season includes performances at Baltimore’s New Chamber Festival, Merkin Hall’s Interpretations series (with saxophonist/composer Oliver Lake), Carnegie Hall’s When Morty Met John series (a three-year series celebrating the friendship between Feldman and Cage), and residencies at Dartmouth and Rice universities. FLUX’s repertoire runs from “classics” by Conlon Nancarrow, Anton Webern, György Ligeti, and John Cage to new works by John Zorn, Renard Gagneux, and Al Giusto. FLUX has received recent grants from the American Composer’s Forum, the Koussevittsky Foundation, and the Aaron Copland Fund. Mode Records recently released their recording of Morton Feldman’s six-hour-long String Quartet No. 2. As individuals and/or as members of other ensembles, quartet members Tom Chiu, Jesse Mills, Max Mandel, and Darrett Adkins have performed around the world and recorded for the Asphodel, Cambria, Koch, Sombient, Tzadik, EMI Classics, Helicon, and Pony Canyon labels. “A very exciting quartet composed of four young men who have lots of ideas and clearly enjoy making music together.” (Anthony Tommasini, New York Times)

Gregg August plays regularly with The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and The American Symphony, having acted as principal with each. He is also a member of The Brooklyn Philharmonic and has performed chamber music with the Bretano Quartet. August is a former member of Ray Barretto and the New World Spirit and has performed on several occasions with Cuban saxophonist Paquito DiRivera. Presently he plays with Ray Vega and his Latin Jazz Sextet. August received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastman and Juilliard, respectively.


“Michael Byron’s second feature CD for Cold Blue continues to explore the contrasting possibilities made available by pairing a string quartet with pianos.The first two pieces…are scored for two pianos, synthesizer, string quartet and doublebass…. Both pair minimalist string/synths tonal drones with wilder piano phrases that grow longer and more complex with time. Opening the album, Continents of City and Love hits the highest on the Beauty scale, rivaling John Luther Adams’s best pieces. It has that kind of soothing serenity to it. Tidal, the only piece written before 2000…follows a similar canvas but remains a bit colder. Evaporated Pleasure, the longest track of this set at over 18 minutes, is a four-handed piano piece performed by Cahill and Kubera. It is impressive, thanks to its use of a modified equal temperament scale and jerky motion…. Maximalist, almost chaotic, it contains its share of surprises (including a false ending on a childlike unison phrase halfway through), but is much more cerebral than Continents of City and Love. A similar approach is applied to the FLUX Quartet in the title track. Here, each string player follows his or her own path of fast jerky phrases, all played in a single passage of the bow. All four parts fall into place in unexpected moments, reminding us that the piece is scored—and it’s more clever than it may seem in print. The album ends with As She Sleeps, a delicate piano solo that brings back memories of the kind of beauty developed in the first pieces.” —François Couture, All-Music Guide

Continents of city and love is a moving and sensual piece—a sort of timeless, impersonal, chthonic lovesong…. Evaporated pleasure…is emphatic music, with a machine-like insistence; objective and impersonal, it is heir to the legacy of Conlon Nancarrow…. [E]ven more arresting is Awakening at the inn of the birds…a glorious polyphonic cacophony…. As she sleeps…creates a still space enclosed by great tenderness and a wonderful meditative calm. . . . Tidal . . . is a many-layered sonority in which the near and the far gradually change places. The performances are as good as one would expect from so stellar a group of players…. another admirable release from Cold Blue.” —Int’l Record Review (UK)

“Performed by highly skilled musicians (in this case, pianist Sarah Cahill and the FLUX Quartet), Michael Byron’s music exemplifies what the label’s roster is envisioning. This New Yorker can paint large-scale harmonic monochromes that get close to Gavin Bryars’s best works (Continents of City and Love, Tidal), but he also composes much more dynamic pieces that strike a perfect balance between mechanistic madness and brilliant virtuosity (the clashing pianos in Evaporated Pleasure, the repetitive stanzas in Awakening at the Inn of the Birds). As for the naked piano of As She Sleeps, it would feel right at home on one of Sylvain Chauveau’s albums.” —Richard Robert, Les Inrockuptibles (France)

“Michael Byron’s music…can sway in the direction of shimmering minimalism, or turn to a more rigorous and near-frantic method of composition…. [T]wo pieces are tranquil, resonant and shining, as unprovoking as the sunshine refracted on a dewy field of grass, or as a gentle wind blowing on a leafy tree. The strings tug quietly at your emotions, forming a wide, still pond of water before your ears, while a pair of pianos act as little droplets, causing broad ripples on the surface…. [T]wo pieces are more rigorous and energetic…more restless in spirit, defined by harder edges, sharp turns, and certainly more aggressive performances on piano and strings. They bombard the listener with notes, raining down heavily…occasionally hanging there in a state of suspension, for only a half breath, before resuming on their course….The final piece…is a simple, slow lullaby for solo piano, and restores to the listener a supreme sense of calm…. Truly bewitching…an intriguing mix of tranquillity and restlessness, hot and cold, highs and lows.” —Richard di Santo, Incursion Music Review

“Byron’s music is more restless than that of his label-mates…. As it calms you, it plants seeds of doubt, even disturbance in your head. One eye might close, but the other remains nervously scanning the horizon…. The title piece does, in fact, go Olivier Messiaen one better by invoking not the song of one bird, but the song of hundreds—all at the same time. You’ve all experienced the phenomenon of the almost deafening twittering tree. Here it is…. The last two works…imagine ‘Dawn’ from Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé held under a microscope with a warped lens…. Warm engineering makes Byron’s compulsively rippling reveries that much easier to enjoy.” —Fanfare magazine

Awakening at the Inn of the Birds…it’s stunning…a fascinating listen.”21st-Century Music magazine

“Michael Byron’s Awakening at the inn of birds…explores carefully organized clusters and groups of sound…quietly placed against shimmering fields of held drones. Like waves crashing on a beach, the music hypnotizes and mesmerizes with its internal complexity and never-ending variation…. But it isn’t all quiet: Evaporated Pleasure is a more discordant and energetic duet piece, with complex and busy piano lines chasing themselves and each other…whilst the title track finds a string quartet relentlessly pursuing repetition in a minimalist rush towards itself. Then the quiet returns: as she sleeps is a beautiful lullaby for sustained piano. Byron is a composer of exquisite and challenging music.” —Rupert Loydell, Tangents (UK)

“The timeless liquid stasis of the first two long tracks and the short final track: music as sweet and viscous as honey. Byron has done a great job, painting these watercolors for his eight musicians.... However, Awakening… has an unexpected double life: the other half of the disc is quite disturbing, with two more long compositions rendered harsh by nervous and fractured writing…. A sophisticated album, not easily or immediately assimilated. The first half is as evocative and fascinating as the second is harsh and strident.” —Deep Listenings (Italy)

“The music flows elegantly, charged with an intriguing power, thoughtful, sometimes even evocative of the twilight…. We are in a land on the frontiers of minimalism and virtuosity.” —All About Jazz (Italy)

“There is a dark allure to Michael Byron’s music, a seductive otherness that leads, through fascination, to a gently disturbing ambiguity of emotion…. There is something of a conversational tone to much of the music here; a conversation that often seems constructed upon whispered questions and their vague and evocative answers…. The title composition, featuring members of the FLUX quartet, is a chattering and caffeinated-sounding piece for strings, alive with a hocketing exuberance that makes this reviewer think of how Ba-Benzele Pygmy song might have sounded had it been worked into a Bartok string quartet.” —Dusted

“In Awakening at the inn of the birds, Michael Byron started with a tight, shimmering but consonant chord loosely suggesting the twittering world of the title. Like Scelsi, he then subtly altered the chord by simple changes in pitch to create a bigger, more translucent world of sound.” —Charles Ward, Houston Chronicle (review of live FLUX Quartet performance)

“[Awakening at the Inn of the Birds] is a study in contrasts…every work has a distinct identity. Evaporated Pleasure…has a sort of diatonic turbulence of jagged-edged bursts of sound entering abruptly in short sequences which when combined with complementing bursts create a kind of whirlwind effect. The title cut, Awakening at the Inn of the Birds, has a similar objective, only it is for the strings. You realize that it has the sort of total cacophony that a full contingent of birds may get with a collage of calls going simultaneously at dawn in the spring. Neither of these works have any dissonance involved but they manage through their irregularity to sound modern in a sort of ambient post-minimal way. The latter piece is much denser because especially of the strings and their multiple-stop capabilities that Byron takes advantage of. It is more frenzied, too, in an organic kind of way, with rapidly articulated phrases that intermingle and interpenetrate. There are repetitions (in a sense like different birdcalls) that meld together so that it’s not the individual motifs that stand out as much as the entire collectivity. As She Sleeps is a dynamically contrasting solo piano meditation on a lovely chordal progression that strikes one as having some relationship to Satie in a lyrically mystical mood. It is a fitting end to this disk and groups in some ways with the first two compositions on the program, Continents of City and Love and Tidal, both of which are beautiful in a relatively placid manner. Continents features nicely paced, slow-moving chordal forms in the strings that are punctuated by foregrounded piano figures that break through the sustained beauty with more percussive but related diatonics. Tidal has a similar trajectory, only the two-piano interplay is much busier with repeated arpeggiations and melodic cascades played atop a lovely set of slowly moving and sometimes static chordal drones. I must say it all appeals to my sensibilities. There is beauty and a sort of quiescence-to-turbulence-to-quiescence arc to the entire sequence that pleases and brings one on a kind of musical journey. Based on this disk it is clear that Michael Byron is another talented voice in Cold Blue’s presentation of “radical tonality.” His music is neither neo-classic, neo-romantic, neo-modern or quite minimalist either. It straddles the fence and by so doing creates music of our present, music that might not have been possible 50 years ago because we would not have been prepared for it. We are now, and Michael Byron gives us his own window into the possibilities, and a fine program too. Recommended.”—Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

“Michael Byron’s Awakening at the Inn of the Birds is minimal without being Minimalist in the classic keep-your-riffs-running way. Its seductively swaying, almost breath-like waves of action are redolent of bagpipes or circular accordion textures.” —Josef Woodard, Los Angeles Times (review of live FLUX Quartet performance)

“Fresh air from California occasionally takes a more languid form, like the deep-running harmonies of Michael Byron’s Awaking at the Inn of the Birds, built on a piano and a string quartet’s ethereal chords.” —Classica Repertoire (France)

“Michael Byron’s string quartet Awakening at the Inn of the Birds (2001) built an attractive, rhythmically dense fabric from a robust, repeating figure.” —Allan Kozinn, New York Times