The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This is a big week for Madison percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett as performer and composer. Ensemble SDG performs the early music of Johann Pisendel

September 28, 2012
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ALERT: The Madison-based early music duo SDG — Edith Hines on broque violin and John Chappelle Stow on harpsichord and organ — sent the following message:  “You are invited to Ensemble SDG’s second Madison performance of the season, this Saturday, September 29, at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall in the UW Humanities Building (455 North Park Street). Admission is FREE. Our program, “Music from Dresden in the Time of Johann Georg Pisendel,” will feature music connected to the virtuoso violinist who was concertmaster of the Dresden court orchestra in the second quarter of the 18th century.  We will play two sonatas by Pisendel himself; a sonata by Tomaso Albinoni dedicated to Pisendel; a sonata by Jean-Marie Leclair that he copied out for the court library; and a suite by Dresden court lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss that was arranged for violin and keyboard by Pisendel’s friend and colleague J. S. Bach.  We will be performing Bach’s version of the suite with Lautenwerk, a harpsichord strung with gut strings.  For information, visit

By Jacob Stockinger

Although he has performed in his native Madison for many years, percussionist Nathaniel Bartlett (below) will come into the spotlight this week as both a performer and composer.

On Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall, Bartlett will perform a one-hour concert of his new original music “Return Transmission” that uses three-dimensions and computer-generated sounds.

The Ear is always wary of art that requires long, technical and complicated notes or explanations, whether it is about music or wall labels at a museum. But the fact is that a lot of new and unusual music requires such explanation, which often seems part of its appeal. 

So, here are program notes:

“Nathaniel Bartlett’s performances seamlessly meld his five-octave acoustic marimba with a powerful Linux-based computer, custom computer control interfaces, a variety of hardware audio electronics, and eight loudspeakers (plus subwoofer) arranged in a cube. With the audience positioned in the center of the loudspeaker cube, an elaborate, kinetic, three-dimensional sound environment can be projected into the audience space, totally immersing the listeners in the music. In his immersive sound environments, spatialization (the positioning and movement of sounds in physical space) becomes a central musical parameter, along side of pitch, rhythm/time, timbre, and so on.

“The sound environments of Bartlett’s compositions are composed of sounds culled from many sources and techniques, including digital audio manipulations of his live marimba, digital audio manipulations of recorded acoustic sounds stored on his computer, and synthetically engineered sounds. The intricate three-dimensional sound environments of Bartlett’s works are further enriched by the use of high-definition audio (24 bit/88.2 kHz, superior to CD-quality), which allows for a significant increase in sonic nuances.

“In his performance rig, two computer monitors are used in place of a conventional music stand. The music notation, now free from the physical realm of paper and ink, is created and manipulated in real time, just as the computer-generated sounds are created and manipulated in real time.

“Bartlett designed his performance rig for maximum mobility without compromising audio quality, and has performed all across the US in a wide variety of venues, such as art galleries and museums, concert halls, dance spaces, “DIY”/”underground” spaces, and many universities and colleges. In order to present his music in its original three-dimensional, high-definition form at every performance, he always tours with all his own electronic equipment and marimba.

“Recordings of Bartlett’s original compositions and other projects — all on multi-channel, high-resolution media — can be found on Albany Records, and on his own label, Sound-Space Audio Lab.

“Bartlett performs on a Malletech Imperial Grand five-octave marimba, and uses a custom, silent (true 0dB) computer created by

“Nathaniel Bartlett was born in 1978 in Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to studying privately with marimbist Leigh Howard Stevens, he graduated from the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY), the Royal Academy of Music (London), and holds a doctoral degree in music composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives with his wife Lisa in Madison, and is a postdoctoral associate at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (below).

And it is the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, 30 North Orchard Street, across from the new Union South, that his work “luminous machine” for solo percussion will also be premiered by Justin Alexander in a FREE public  performance on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 5:15 p.m.

For more information, visit: Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, Town Center

Performer Justin Alexander is currently serving as Adjunct Instructor of Percussion at Troy State University in Troy, Alabama. He is the Principal Timpanist with Sinfonia Gulf Coast and a section member of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, the Northwest Florida Symphony Orchestra, and currently serves as chair of the Percussive Arts Society’s Collegiate Committee.

Here are the composer’s notes about “luminous machine”:

“luminous machine — composed 2011, ca. 12 min. — is a solo percussion work focusing on separating instruments, sounds, and musical textures into binary, opposing states. Two types of implements are used to strike the instruments: hard mallets and soft mallets. Two main instrument groups are used: metal and wood.

“Within each instrument group, there is also a binary relationship. For the metal instruments, the relationship is between the sound signatures of solid instruments (triangles, threaded rods) and membrane-like instruments (gongs, bowls, metal sheet). For the wooden instruments, the relationship is between the sound signatures of solid instruments (claves) and hollow instruments (temple blocks). Finally, the piece is constructed out of two opposing rhythmic textures: metric (steady and mechanical; “digital”) and ametric (free and smooth; “analog”).

“The score for luminous machine, like all my recent compositions, uses my original notation system in order to render the musical concepts clearly and intuitively. I have included a few score excerpts below. Visit:

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