Mode News

Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music Last updated: January 13, 2011

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Unfortunately, the first pressing of the recent XENAKIS: Percussion Music set (mode 171/3) had some bad edits on disc two during Pléïades. If you have purchased this set, and the disc two serial number on the label does not read “mode 172R”, then you have the early pressing with the problem edits. Mode will exchange these discs free of charge. Please return only the original disc two (mode 172) to us and we will send you the new, improved version in exchange.

The second pressing of Chaya CZERNOWIN’s “Afatsim” (mode 77) developed a static burst during Track 4 “Dam Sheon Hachol” (at about 23:06). The good thing is that very few of these were actually shipped before the problem was discovered. Again, if you have a defective disc, please return it to us and we will send you a replacement.

We now have a few copies of Mode’s first release, JOHN CAGE’s Etudes Boreales and Ryoanji (2-LPs, Direct Metal Mastering), from the signed and numbered edition of 200 by the composer. These composer supervised performances are by Frances-Marie Uitti (cello), Michael Pugliese (percussion) and Isabelle Ganz (mezzo). Long unavailable and yet to be reissued on CD, these are available while they last for $400 per set.

Please note Mode’s new PO Box address:

Mode Records
PO Box 1262
New York NY 10009 USA

Mode is pleased to announce that we now accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express. Please forward your credit card number along with the expiration date.         PayPal


Joe McPhee and John Heward
Voices: 10 Improvisations

Mode avant 05

This superb pairing of two top-flight improvisors reminds me of why I listen to this music. It’s not about ’music’, it’s about sounds and their making. It’s a given that these two can really ’play’. McPhee established that in the immediate post-Coltrane era, and Heward - while I know little about him except that he’s also a visual artist who recorded a duo album on Avant with Steve Lacy - I’m sure he can really whack those tubs. The point, however, is that they don’t ’just play’, they also listen - and they refrain from playing.

So each of these ten pieces is like a little jewel of sound that two guys built out of powdered glass in the afternoon sun and then blew away. I could listen all winter for how they did it, and be none the wiser; and yet wiser for contemplating it - because sometimes questions teach more than answers. These two guys have recorded before, in a trio. Here, the absence of a rhythm ’section’ allows the sound to float. Heward is free to play the drums rather than just hit them, an impression heightened by his frequent use of kalimba. McPhee makes liberal use of pocket trumpet as well as alto sax, extending his technique peripherally with valve sounds, and a bowl of water. The results are analogous to natural sounds, as if we could rely on a squeaking door to know which part of the hinge makes the most engaging groans. That’s a door I could listen to all day.
--- Bruce Russell, The Wire, July 2008

Joe McPhee and John Heward
Voices: 10 Improvisations

Mode avant 05

Voices: 10 Improvisations, like Bare Essentials, has a surreal quality. In “Improvisation 1,” American saxophonist Joe McPhee, who has performed with Brötzmann on several occasions since 1998 in quartets and the mighty Chicago Tentet, uses the pocket trumpet to create noises that sound like rain on a rooftop or fingers drumming on wood. McPhee then switches to soprano sax in “Improvisation 2” and Canadian drummer John Heward chimes in on the kalimba. The result is enigmatic and beautifully ethereal. These two songs lend versatility to the rest of the album, which manages to sound atmospheric and worldly.
--- Ivana Ng, All About Jazz, 19 July 2008

Joe McPhee and John Heward
Voices: 10 Improvisations

Mode avant 05

Being able to speak a language well implies a command of its syntactical dimensions. A fearless approach to maximizing the expression of ideas within language signifies creativity. Common to both a command of language and creativity is the principle of voice, which distinguishes itself from all similar practice. In music, voice simply, unquestionably, identifies how the musician and instrument mix.

Voices: 10 Improvisations, featuring brass and reedman, Joe McPhee, and percussionist John Heward, opens with the minimal yet profound “Improvisation 1.” McPhee’s pocket trumpet is extremely close to the microphone, the sound bubbly, full of breath and life-forming - a signifier of Beginning. From there, the musical concepts grow and expand. The pocket trumpet slowly wakes up and sharpens its personality.

Applying himself in the same way, Heward introduces himself on “Improvisation 2” with the kalimba (thumb piano). The dullness of the kalimba contrasts with the resonance that occurs when McPhee blows the pocket trumpet with precision. At the turning point in this track, Heward switches to the drum set, as McPhee leaves the melody, launches into abstraction, and returns to a recapitulation of the theme to close. McPhee engages his pocket trumpet to a point where his breath can push forth no more sound. He then takes up the soprano sax to create the next stirring voice.

A dynamic of difference between the two players prolongs the exploration of how best the two instrumentalists can speak their language. Both musicians take their instruments to their extremes but not in an explosive sense. Peaks are touched briefly and subtly within the limits of the instruments, as each musician meets the needs of the other.

The dry quality of the snare played with hands instead of sticks, the non-resonance of the kalimba, mallets on the tom and the slightest cymbal sibilance is pitted against the way in which the soprano flares with a liquid ring of tremolos, unabashed arpeggios and the squeal that is emitted as the reed meets the tongue for an elegant melody. In “Improvisations 8” and “Improvisations 9,” the sax and drums fully unwind and unravel in continuous motion.

Considered as a whole, the recording possesses proportion, with the music moving forth as a discussion. There are very few repetitions of a horn phrase or drum riff. Both players, either singly or in relation to one another, take steps that are unique. The solos are few; neither musician allowing the other to monopolize the musical space. The rhythm circulates within the boldness of statements rather than being exposed outright. Bent pitches, split tones and dissonance on the saxophone creep in only towards the conclusion of the recording.

The purity and range of tone emanating from the pocket trumpet and soprano give this recording presence, notwithstanding the design of Voices, which itself glows with integrity. Integrity that is cultivated from diversity, invested with purpose and substance, and evocative of whatever the next moments offer.
--- Lyn Horton, All About Jazz online, May 18, 2008

Iannis Xenakis
Xenakis Percussion Works

Mode 171/173

A few years ago the music of Iannis Xenakis suddenly became radically chic, thanks to the well-intentioned efforts of the likes of DJ Spooky and other Deleuze-toting hipsters. More recently a younger generation of fun lovin’ noiseniks have been singing the praises of pieces like Bohor and Persepolis as if they were the latest offerings from Merzbow, Prurient and Sickness. But this attraction to the visceral, violent side of the composer only addresses half of the Xenakis enigma, as percussionist Steven Schick makes clear in his informative and eminently readable liner notes to this 3-CD set. There was also Xenakis the mathematician, master of the impenetrable FORTRAN, creator of UPIC. Any of you out there read Formalized Music (me neither - I got as far as page 100)? It’s easy to thrill at the swarming glissandi of Metastasis or succumb to the apocalyptic intensity of Kraanerg, but without the serious theoretical underpinning, those extraordinary works wouldn’t sound the way they do. And without the background and years of study, none of the distortion pedal abusing wolf-eyed teens currently tearing round the racetrack will ever get remotely close.

As Schick points out, the striking contrast between the brutally impersonal world of advanced mathematics and symbolic logic and the spine-tingling raw emotion is no more evident than in the body of works Xenakis wrote for percussion (with or without added instruments): Persephassa (1969), Psappha (1976), Dmaathen (1976), Pléïades (1979), Komboï (1981), Kassandra (1987), Rebonds (1988) and Oophaa and Okho (1989). No recording could possibly capture the sheer power of this pieces in performance - I caught Pléïades in Paris shortly after its premiere, and can still remember the utterly devastating experience of being surrounded in the Auditorium of Université Paris II Assas by six sets of sixxen (specially created instruments consisting of tuned metal plates) - but until you get a chance to see and feel it in the flesh, you could do no better than get hold of these excellent recordings by Schick and the red fish blue fish percussion ensemble (lowercase intended.. Dr Seuss plays Xenakis, dig it).

Schick is also joined by Philip Lanson (baritone and psaltery, on Kassandra), Jacqueline Leclair (oboe, on Dmaathen in the most thrilling double-reed / percussion battle to come my way since Kyle Bruckmann went the distance with Weasel Walter on his Musica Genera album) and harpsichordists Shannon Wettstein (on Komboï) and John Mark Harris (Oophaa). Not all the pieces are as spectacular as the percussion ensemble pieces Persephassa and Pléïades - the rather plodding Okho once more raises the question as to whether the composer was losing his touch a little in his final years - but that’s one of the risks you take when you release a complete set of anything. This one’s worth the price of admission alone for the spectacular ending of Persephassa, in which Schick and his crew use multitracking to realise, for the first time on disc, the ferocious near-impossible complexity of the score’s final pages. I say near-impossible, because, as Aki Takahashi once wryly noted, “if Xenakis’s music is truly impossible, why are so many people playing it?”
--- Dan Warburton,, January 2007

Iannis Xenakis
Xenakis Percussion Works

Steven Schick, Red Fish Blue Fish
Mode 171/173
4 Stars

Iannis Xenakis’s music is elemental, antiRomantic, architectural, ritualistic, dispassionate. It is also deeply poetic, its emotional power vast, as the nine works recorded here testify. For ensemble, there’s the raw, aggressive drama of Persephassa (1969) and the static, beautiful Pléïades (1978). For solo percussionist, there are the complex, thrillingly technical challenges of Psappha (1975) and Rebonds (1989). Perhaps most impressive of all, there’s the ritual drama of Kassandra (1987), where the voice of Philip Larson conveys an increasingly furious frustration. All is driven by the energy and musicianship of Steven Schick, who plays the solo pieces and directs the six percussionists of Red Fish Blue Fish.
--- Stephen Pettitt, The Sunday Times, 11 February 2007

Iannis Xenakis
Xenakis Percussion Works

Mode 171/173

“It is not an exaggeration to say that for many contemporary percussionists, learning how to play has meant learning how to play the music of Iannis Xenakis,” declares percussion master Steve Schick in his introduction to this triple CD set of the great Greek composer’s complete percussion music. Ever since Xenakis’s friend and mentor Edgar Varèse scandalized a New York audience in 1933 with his percussion ensemble work Ionisation, the profile of the onetime subservient percussionist has risen. John Cage and Lou Harrison’s 1940s works stepped the percussion project up a gear; Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Zyklus (1959) gave percussionists a meaty one-off display piece. But no other composer defined a fresh syntax and potential-fuelled modus operandi for percussion music like Iannis Xenakis.

This set is much needed. In the Xenakis Primer I wrote for The Wire 259, I expressed doubts about his percussion works, but I now see that my quibbles were caused by recorded performances which sometimes haven’t made the grade, and which have suffered from dubious fidelity. Mode never deal in anything less than impeccable sound and, alongside Schick himself, the San Diego percussion ensemble Red Fish Blue Fish play with a devotion to detail and inner fire.

Writing for percussion is a daunting challenge for any composer. An authentic engagement with the character and DNA of percussion takes time to accomplish, and too many pieces deal in splashes of decorative colour or register as stiffly notated transcriptions of Buddy Rich solos. Xenakis sidestepped both issues by simply deciding they weren’t of significance to him.

The earliest work he wrote for persuccion was Persephassa in 1969 (could there be more perfect Xenakis title?), and already he was writing with certainty about how he wanted percussion to sound. Stretching out over a near 30 minute canvas, Persephassa is written for six percussionists, each of whom sits in what Xenakis defines as their own “sieve”. At the start of the work the sieves provide each player with their own rhythmic terrain, and allow Xenakis to create infinitesimal degrees of rhythmic displacement. The opening passage dances in your head with the force of dense polyrhythmic boulders plunging down a mountainside, each part proudly proclaiming its own independence while enigmatically jammed into the whole.

A key intrigue in all Xenakis’s percussion music in his strategic doublebacking between rhythm and pitch; here he incorporates swirling sirens and whistles into the flow. If the sirens might sound like they’re referencing Varèse, actually their feral microtonal inflections relate more to the trademark string glissandi of an early Xenakis orchestral work like Metastaseis.

Both his later percussion sextets, Pléïades (1978) and Okho (1989), were originally conceived for Les Percussions De Strasbourg and find Xenakis going ever deeper into the percussion zone. Pléïades splits the ensemble up into skins and keyboard percussion, and includes a section for the self-invented ‘sixxen’, a 19-note microtonal metal keyboard instrument designed to highlight the clashing harmonic overtones between notes. The overtones generate shimmering waves over the ensemble, and never have they been captured with greater clarity on CD, Okho adds the brittle tones of djembes - West African hand drums - to Xenakis’s palette.

By the time of Okho Xenakis’s contribution to the percussion repertoire was unassailable. The same year he also produced Rebonds, which has been recorded many times previously.

Familiarity makes it easy to take it for granted, but Schick’s performance is a reminder of its nuanced subtleties and power. Pitched drums are locked into a dialogue with chattering woodblocks. At the start, Xenakis provokes the two into a testy, dissonant irrational rhythmic relationship that sets up enough tension to power the music onwards through its ten minute duration.

An earlier solo piece, Psappha (1975), is more problematic, as Xenakis tosses percussionists the impossible challenge of playing up to 25 ‘hits’ a second at the climactic point. According to Schick, some players have concocted multiple-headed sticks to help them cope, but Xenakis’s aspirations for performers to stretch beyond the possible has historical precedent in Beethoven’s cello writing in his Grosse Fuge and the 20-fingered mutant hand presumably required to play some of Ives’s block chords on the piano. Schick quotes pianist and Xenakis specialist Aki Takahashi: “If Xenakis’s music were truly ‘impossible’, why (are) so many of us playing it?"

Xenakis continues to be a central figure because, like other 20th century ’outsider’ such as Satie, Ives and Varèse, he dealt in material and not with idiom or style. The extraordinary falsetto vocal writing he devised for his voice/percussion duo piece Kassandra (1987) is unheralded and yet rooted in something deeply humane. Similarly, Dmaathen (1977) for oboe and percussion at first sound like curious, snake-charming music. Then mallet percussion and oboe refract their material through each other - gestures become elongated, and instrumental textures are obligated to buckle into obstreperous multiphonic screeching, so that macro meets micro. Two scores for harpsichord and percussion - Komboï (1981) and Oophaa (1989) - are fastidiously worked through so that their rhythmic and pitch qualities fuse to create a ‘third’ hybrid instrument. It’s a fitting analogy - harpsichord, that most ancient of Classical hardware, running up against Xenakis’s mind-expanding exploration of the possibilities of percussion.
--- Philip Clark, The Wire, January 2007

Amy Rubin
Hallelujah Games

Hallelujah Games; Whose America?; Trifocals; Cry of the Mothers; Journey; Chant; Obsession; Two Train Toccata; Aftermath; Windows; Mallet Cycles
Amy Rubin (piano); William Trigg (marimba); Christine Schadeberg (soprano); Kathleen Nester (flute)
Musicians Accord
Artistic Quality: 7
Sound Quality: 8
Mode 79

New York composer-pianist Amy Rubin writes chamber music spiked with blues, jazz, African drumming patterns, and Latin dance rhythms. Sometimes she packs too many idioms into one piece. “Cry of the Mothers", for example, vacillates between a plaintive jazz ballad and a Latin dance. “Hallelujah Games” for marimba and piano is inspired by the drumming patterns Rubin learned in Ghana (not surprisingly, it resembles Steve Reich’s Ghana-influenced hocketing music), and the “games” involve performer choices. As pianist on this album, Rubin proves herself to be the best advocate of her own music. Her intricate passagework spins out like a nimble improvisation, and her playing sometimes manages to wield more power than the compositions themselves. Soprano Christine Schadeberg, flutist Kathleen Nester, and marimba player William Trigg join her as magnificent partners. Rubin’s music is appealing and often playful, and if she occasionally veers toward sentimentality, she’s not the first composer to succumb to tonal ardor when expressing political concerns.
--- Sarah Cahill,

Amy Rubin
Hallelujah Games
Christine Schadeberg, Amy Rubin, Musicians Accord
Mode 79

Just how important is stylistic continuity? Not very, when you’re Amy Rubin, and you’re good at just about everything. Hallelujah Games, the opening work in the identically named release from Mode, is a bang-on post-minimal post-pop essay for marimba and piano. While the piece is meant to address “the ongoing effects of colonialism in Africa,” it is no surprise that the sounds bespeak of her familiarity with Reich’s muse: the music of Ghana.

Whose America?, on the other hand, has an earlier African/New Yorker melding in mind. These texts “The Farewell of a Virginia Slave Mother to her Daughters Sold into Southern Bondage,” “Brother of the Ku Klux Klan,” and “Grandma’s Song” mine a updated vein of African-American music which inspired George Gershwin.

Trifocals for flute, clarinet, and bassoon, and Journey for flute and piano are new-music marriages with Caribbean and Turkish music respectively, with emphasis on the new-music. Rubin’s short piano works tell of soulful jazz, languid Satie, a cetain almost-cinematic romanticism, and classical dignity. In Two-Train Toccata, Rubin leaves us with a nice minimalist neoclassic puzzle:

Train X leaves San Francisco heading east at a speed of 95 miles an hour. Train Y leaves New York going west a s speed of 110 miles an hour. Where and when will they pass each other?

Is this likely, given that speeds tend to be faster in the West? And what about mountains? Assuming no stops, perhaps the next day in Nebraska. would be a long haul of a piece, that. This is a worth journey that can occupy tracks beside Glass, Honegger, Reich and Villa-Lobos.

Rubin winds up close to where she began, with a brief marimba two-player piece entitled Mallet Cycles. Like Reich, here’s another composer who finds that marimba and minimalism go hand in hand, hands on sticks, and hands-down handily.
- Elizabeth Agnew, 21st Century Music, April 2000

From The Mode News Archive:

AKI TAKAHASHI plays Iannis Xenakis (mode 80)
Aki Takahashi has garnered tremendous praise for her disc of the complete piano works of Xenakis, including being honored by French music magazine Diapason’s prestigious “Diapason d’or” award. Full reviews will be posted on the mode 80 web page.

Composer KAIJA SAARIAHO (mode 91) was awarded the 2000 Stoeger Prize by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Her recent opera, L’amour de Loin received its premiere to acclaimed reviews in Salzburg this August. Saariaho’s new disc of chamber music on Mode performed by the superb Belgian ensemble Champ d’Action is available now.

MORTON SUBOTNICK was one of the honorees at this year’s ASCAP Concert Music Awards ceremony held at Lincoln Center on May 25th. Mode is currently working with Subotnick on the release of his interactive DVD Gestures, which allows you to compose your own work at your computer, based on the sound materials on the DVD. The DVD will also feature his classic A Sky of Cloudless Sulpher as well as his own, fixed version of Gestures in surround sound.

Subotnick has been getting a great deal of press in the past months, regarding his composing career, and his recent Gestures piece, including features/interviews in The Wire, Tower PULSE!, and even fashion magazines! Subotnick explained how the interactive Gestures works in July’s PULSE!: "There are two modes. One is what I call the ‘DJ Mode,’ where a person can access different moods through different kinds of gestures, change their moods all over the place and access music, which is all over the place. The other mode is the more ’conductorly mode’ where you make a first gesture and then that takes you to a piece of music which is most like the gesture you did-like going to the record cabinet and pulling out the record you want to listen to. It’ll be a complete piece. If your gesture is a smooth, tender one, maybe 15 percent of the piece will be wild; but the rest of it will be smooth and quiet and tender. All the gestures you make from that initial point on are in the form of conducting it: making it more intense, louder/softer, higher/lower, bringing in voices."

IRVINE ARDITTI plays John Cage
Arditti has now recorded ALL of Cage’s works for solo violin as well as violin and piano (with Stephen Drury) for Mode. These will be released on 4 separate discs in fixed periods over the next couple of years. The next release, of both possible versions of TWO4 (with the sho performed by Mayumi Miyata and with piano performed by Drury), will be issued in October on mode 88.

Mode is excited about its new series devoted to the intriguing Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. Among the first wave will be :

  • a disc of piano music by Canadian pianist Louise Bessette (mode 92, due in November). This is the first volume in what is projected to be the complete traversal of Scelsi’s piano works. Other performers in the piano series will include Aki Takahashi,
  • a disc of orchestral works along with excerpts from the Canti di Capricorn with The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic conducted by Juan Pablo Izquiredo (their follow-up to the tremendous Xenakis/Varese disc on mode 58), and
  • a disc of works of solo clarinet along with duos for flute and oboe, performed by clarinettist Carol Robinson (also on the Nono disc, mode 87) along with oboist Kathy Milliken (also on the Skempton disc, mode 61) and flutist Clara Novakova. Ms. Robinson’s performances are authoritative because she had the unique experience to work with Scelsi on these pieces.


Mode’s first DVD, of multichannel works by Roger Reynolds (mode 70, page under construction), was released in 1999. This groundbreaking DVD is the first to showcase the DVD’s unique ability to present multichannel works in the home as they were originally intended to be heard in the concert hall, while adding the bonus features of interviews and downloadable scores via PDFs.

Mode’s continues its commitment to utilizing the possibilities of the DVD format for the outstanding sound quality of 96/24 recording and playback, as well as its value to present works in surround sound. Forthcoming in 2001:

  • Elliott Carter: Piano Quintet; Quintet for Piano and Winds; Fragment for string quartet (with Ursula Oppens and The Arditti Quartet); and Syringa (with Ensemble Sospeso conducted by Jeffrey Milarsky). The disc will also include a video interview with Carter, Ursula Oppens and Irvine Arditti led by Sospeso’s Joshua Cody. (96/24 audio; plus surround sound option for the Piano Quintet)

  • Lydia Kavina, Theremin. Follow up to her successful first disc (Music from the Ether, mode 76), the DVD will contain music featured in her recent Lincoln Center debut program. Ms. Kavina is joined on the disc by Ensemble Sospeso conducted by Charles Peltz:
    Percy Grainger: Beatless Music for 6 theremins
    Olga Neuwirth: Suite from “Bahlaams Fest”
    Miklos Rozsa: Suite from “Spellbound”
    Howard Shore: Suite from “Ed Wood”
    Christian Wolff: Exercise 28 for theremin, french horn, violin and double-bass
    The Neuwirth, Shore and Wolff pieces were created especially for this event. (96/24 audio, surround sound option for the Grainger, video interviews with Kavina, Shore and Wolff).

  • Morton Subotnick: Gestures; A Sky of Cloudless Sulphur (please see Subotnick article above for more information). (Interactive DVD-ROM plus both works presented in surround-sound, and video interviews).
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