January 2020

Walter De Maria Cricket Music 1964    performed by John Niekrasz

CMG’s Extradition Series  1/18/20  7:30pm

Any good work of art should have at least ten meanings.  -Walter De Maria

I want to both laugh and applaud at De Maria’s stated attempt at quantifying artistic viability through relative interpretability. I think there is some precedent of religious texts using ten to mean a redundancy of dualities and, thus, infinity. Like, if an artwork has at least ten meanings (according to whom? I don’t know), it’s probably infinitely interpretively rich. Alright, Walt.

Matt Hannafin invited me to perform the late transmedia artist Walter De Maria’s 1964 composition, Cricket Music, for his Extradition music series through the Creative Music Guild. De Maria is a curious and central figure in the Western art canon; he studied music in his youth, painting at Berkeley, wrote essential essays, and contributed instrumentally to the earthworks movement with pieces Mile Long Drawing (1968) and Lightning Field (1977). His creative commitment to minimalism, conceptualism, scale, and genre-bending certainly cement him as an artist of ongoing influence in the contemporary art world. A survey of De Maria’s work calls up Donald Judd and the Fluxists so it’s no surprise that he counted them among his friends. And, exemplary of NYC art world polymathia, he played drums in Lou Reed’s band The Primitives, a precursor to The Velvet Underground.

De Maria composed only two sound pieces, Ocean Music (1968) and Cricket Music (1964), both of which feature nature-based field recordings and repetitive drum set patterns. The drumming on Cricket Music is decidedly minimalist, operating through long-form repetition of a few variations. But it has polyrhythmic complexity and employs established tropes and idiomatic genre nods to the repertoire of 1960s drum set.

Cricket Music is a difficult piece of endurance to perform, requiring a long roll and then execution of twenty-odd minutes of non-stop, uptempo, ride cymbal playing that would tire even an every-night jazz bandstand performer. It is equally difficult as a mental exercise, requiring both sustained focus and a sense of flowing trance state to accomplish well. Cricket Music is the sort of piece my channel-surfing compositional aesthetic would never create and that’s why I agreed to learn and perform it.

Hannafin provided Jason Treuting’s (Sō Percussion) 2016 transcription of this piece. It provides an overview of the form and glosses over some problematic and enriching intricacies. In rehearsal, I privileged the audio recording over the Treuting’s transcription.

De Maria’s only recorded performance of Cricket Music is gloriously imperfect. From within the warmth of old tape, we hear the ride cymbal mic’d so hot it bleeds and distorts, but charmingly so. I believe in listening with generosity and that the composer is the piece’s authority who is given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intention. De Maria’s playing has great feel, but the beat occasionally hiccups and even turns around once or twice. Likewise, there are many seemingly unintentional tempo modulations, some with swings of up to 15 bpm and a few of the transitions are decidedly slippery, if not sloppy. After several listens, I began to wonder if the drum track was edited together and not recorded in a single take — a few spots sound like tape splices. That could help explain De Maria’s continued musicality throughout the marathon. A dozen minutes in, the [now entranced?] listener starts to hear an ominously crescendoing field recording of banshee-esque insect calls buttressed by the eventual drone of an overhead prop plane. Over the final ten minutes, the field recording slowly overtakes the drums before both fade out.

I began preparing this piece more than a month ago and am glad I did. Though there’s risk in studying other people’s treatments of a piece (it can sway a performer’s approach or overshadow the unique voice a performer may bring to a piece), I did some research.

Arszyn performed a very loose rendition of Cricket Music in 2016 at Centrum Amarant, Poznań. I caught myself taking offense at Arszyn’s playful treatment, his filigreed cymbal work, slower tempo, and bass and hi hat interplay. I then laughed at my own rigidity. It’s a more-than-50-year-old piece and surely there’s nothing wrong with using it as inspiration for creative elaboration.   

Stockton Helbing’s 2017 rendition at the Dallas Museum of Art is much more faithful. Though we use the toms differently, Helbing really captures De Maria’s propulsive feel, tempo swells and all. I found it reassuring to know the piece can be played well live. Any reassurance faded when I remembered that Helbing is a professor at notorious drumming bootcamp UNT.

I play drums every day, often for several hours and so, for the first run-through, I decided to attempt to play the entire piece from beginning to end, along with the recording and with no stops, just to prove to myself I could.

And I did.

It wasn’t pretty. I learned how tricky this piece can be. Over the 25 minutes, I lost focus a few times. I fumbled a stick. I grew tense, then tired, then sore. Someone knocked on the door. But I didn’t stop. I thought of Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery advice to occasionally play a new part very fast just to know what it will feel like in the body at full speed. That’s what I tried to do, just get this piece in my body.

But it got in there a little too deeply. The next morning, I woke not being able to breathe well. Felt like a vertebra was out of place from a diaphragm cramp. As the day wore on, it became clear that I’d over-used the muscles around my right scapula. I was forced to treat my right arm gingerly for days. Even after building the piece up much more slowly over the following ten days, when I tried to play the whole piece straight through again, I was put out of commission for another few days. I wish I could say my body feels great in the lead-up to this performance but it doesn’t. So here I am, humbled, nearly prostrate, in my attempted embrace of De Maria’s spirit in Cricket Music. Thanks for listening.







June 2016 

I’ll be working 1st session at ACRE residency again this summer, July 5-17. I’m excited to spend time with some stellar visiting artists (Chris Johanson, Daniel Wyche) and lots of great emerging artists.

H MacKenzie and I are at a retreat in Maine for the month of June working on mission statements and class curricula for our collective workshop.

December 2015

Great experience composing for and directing ORCHESTRA BECOMES RADICALIZED in Portland, Oregon, in debut of my new piece Reward Cycle on December 7. Terrific performances by Luke Wyland, Brian Mumford, Andrew Jones, Ben Kates, Holland Andrews, Ryan Miller, Doug Theriault, Reed Wallsmith, & Jonathan Sielaff.

Debuted a new short composition for nonet in Chicago at Elastic’s holiday party on Dec 17. Enjoyed sharing the stage with Albert Wildeman, Andrew Clinkman, Jim Baker, Jason Adasiewicz, Josh Berman, Carol Genetti, Jason Stein, & Keefe Jackson.

I’ll be playing some festivals in France in February with Sylvaine Hèlary’s Glowing Life.

October 2015

I have work in the new issue of EVENING WILL COME with Caroline Bergvall, Brandon Shimoda, Bonnie Jones, and many other fascinating thinkers/writers. Edited by John Melillo and Johanna Skibsrud.

I’ve barely settled into Richmond, but I’m excited to be heading back to Paris for most of October to rehearse, record, and perform with Sylvaine Helary, Antonin Rayon, Benjamin Glibert, Hugue Mayot, and others.

June 2015

Seeking amanuensis.

Open Studio 1548


Book Release

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 4.43.43 PM

Berlin December 2014

Eliot Eidelman invited me to present a solo drum set and voice performance at State-of-the-Art exhibition space in Berlin on Dec 10. Edith Steyer set up two gigs with first-time quartets; Dec 11 at the unique improv music club Sowieso with Matthias Schubert, Edith Steyer, and Antonio Borghini. Dec 12 at Peppi Guggenheim with Meinrad Kneer and Andreas Willers.

Netherlands October 2014

Raoul Van der Weide invited me to curate and perform for Oorsprong Curator’s Series in Amsterdam. Very cool series concept demands only first-time collaborations. My quintet included Wolter Wierbos, Nicolas Chientaroli, Marcello Windolph, & Oguz Buyukberber. Great players and we had a blast. Luckily I had time for a moving recording session with Raoul, Nicolas, and Ada Rave. Amsterdam never disappoints; lots of support for arts and in turn a surplus of talented artists bringing their ideas to form.

I made a recording at the TextielLab in Tilburg. The sounds of a single glove being machine-knit. The machine malfunctioned in the middle of the recording and an old Dutch technician had to rethread it. A moment of the technician’s casual whistling in this unplanned pause made the recording unique. Error in the automata opens out. I took the malformed glove home.

Then we walked to the La Trappe monastery and had a brewery tour. Picked mushrooms on the way home and cooked them up with wild nettles for dinner.

Book Release


I wrote essays about the crucial people behind shapers-of-history Salvador Allende, Harper Lee, and Andy Warhol for this dashing new book The Who, The What, and The When by my wonderful Chicago housemates ALSO. My partner H created some original art for one of the essays. Check out this animated trailer for the book by Matt Lamothe.

Italy September 2014 


Had a great solo show in Foligno (1st set by Joe Rehmer) and a solo set followed by a  powerful quintet performance in Florence. Thanks to excellent organizers/musicians Daniel Kinzelman and Simone Graziano for doing it right. Ridiculous European hospitality across the board with extra special thanks to sculptor Fernando Nicotera who took me spear fishing. Looking forward to returning to Italy.


WIMBC Open Rehearsal series

Why I Must Be Careful’s Open Rehearsal series begins August 1st in Chicago
rhodes – Seth Brown
drums – John Niekrasz
drinks provided by hm
5144 W Homer (call me when you get lost)


My partner received a Fulbright grant so we will be moving to Paris in September 2014 for 10 months. I’m excited to dig into the Parisian music scene and perform and collaborate throughout Europe. Now it’s time to make some recordings with this stellar Chicago crew before I head out. Et je vais étudier le francais.

ACRE July 2014


Very happy to be serving some great developing artists again in the recording studio at the ACRE arts residency during the 1st session this summer. ACRE is such a gorgeous place and I always return abuzz with new ideas and friendships. I was on the resident selection committee again and that process is super inspiring in and of itself. The candidate pool was very strong this year and each applicant only had something like a 15% chance of being accepted. I think I should teach a class called Artist Statements for Musicans.

Atlantic Center for the Arts with Marilyn Crispell

I was fortunate to be in residence at ACA again from February 17 – March 9 with superb pianist and wonderful human Marilyn Crispell. I created some new work, performed Corridors with the Marilyn Crispell 10tet, and made some lifelong friends and collaborators. ACA is a terrific artists’ residency; the staff and facilities are world-class. Big thanks to the Sally Mead Hands Foundation for the support.


2013 Review

This was a great year. I produced new work at two artist residencies, studied with Milford Graves and Mary Halvorson, wrote music for and led a sextet and a 13tet, played dozens of shows with my friends and heroes, and made aesthetic and technical leaps in my development as an artist. I play in NYC next week and study with Marilyn Crispell in February, so the adventure continues.

The state of live avant-garde music in Chicago is strong. I caught dozens and dozens of compelling shows in Chicago in 2013. Here are just a few of the standouts, in no particular order:

Tarbaby @ Umbrella Music Festival, Constellation, November 8

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed @ Constellation, April 19

SULT @ The Hungry Brain, March 31

Seval @ Umbrella Music Festival, Chicago Cultural Center, November 7

Keefe Jackson’s Likely So @ Constellation, December 7

Brian Labycz & Jason Stein @ Elastic, June 6

Peter Brotzmann, Hamid Drake, & Jason Adasiewicz @ The Hideout, July 24

Frank Rosaly solo @ ACRE, August 17

Chicago Reed Quartet @ The Hungry Brain, November 3

Josh Berman Trio (Berman/Roebke/Rosaly) @ Elastic, March 7

James Falzone’s Renga Ensemble @ The Hideout, April 10

Tim Daisy solo @ Elastic, October 10

Mats Gustafsson & Ken Vandermark @ Corbett vs. Dempsey, March 24

Michael Formanek, Dan Weiss, Ellery Eskelin & Jacob Sacks @ Constellation, October 25

November 2013

I was fortunate to be able to study with the visionary drummer & thinker Milford Graves in October. We spent more than 8 hours together over two days. I’m gathering my notes and thoughts in an attempt at doing any justice to this profound, surreal experience…

Excited to perform again in Fred Lonberg-Holm’s Lightbox Orchestra on November 13th at The Hideout, 10pm.

Taking the helm for a night of adventurous music on Wednesday November 20th at The Hideout with the vocalist Meg Leary, Brian Labycz, and Matt Schneider.

It will be a blast performing in quartet with James Baker, Albert Wildemann, and Peter Maunu on December 1st at The Hungry Brain, 10pm.

NYC Solo Tour Fall 2013

Oct. 4 Solo @ Living Gallery, 8pm, w/ Killer BOB! +
Oct. 6 Duo with Devin Hoff @ Manhattan Inn, 10pm, w/ Rob Lundberg, Star Rover, +
Oct. 7 Solo @ Panoply Labs, 8pm, w/ Pet Bottle Ningen +

Thanks to Max Jaffe, Rob Lundberg, and David Scanlon for arranging these shows.

August 2013

ACRE Ensemble and Upcoming Shows

I had a terrific time working at the ACRE artist residency for the last 3 weeks. I led a 13-piece ensemble through the debut of my new score entitled ACADEMI. Thanks to all the musicians, artists, and directors at ACRE. Now I’m looking forward to a few shows coming up in the next few weeks:

September 12 @ Elastic w/ Keefe Jackson, Jim Baker, Albert Wildeman. 9pm. Second set: Whirlpool.

September 16 @ Susanins Gallery, 900 S Clinton, Duo w/ Tim Kinsella. Opening set by David More’. ACRE’s Art Expo kick-off party. 6-9pm

September 17 @ The Whistler w/ NML (Niekrasz, Wayne Montana, & Fred Lonberg-Holm). 9:30pm

July 2013

Solo Performance +

On July 25th I will present a solo percussion set at Elastic (2830 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago), 9pm.  Operatic vocalist Meg Leary will make a cameo appearance during this “solo”.   I’m honored to be joined by James Falzone and Nick Mazzarella for the second set.  Then on July 28th, I’m looking forward to two sets at the Hungry Brain with Josh Abrams, James Baker, and Fred Lonberg-Holm. 10pm, 2319 W Belmont.


Huge thanks to the Sally Mead Hands Foundation and my community of supporters.  My time at the Atlantic Center for the Arts was incredible.  So great to work with Mary Halvorson and ALL the other Associate Artists.  I’ve made some lifelong collaborators and friends.  I debuted a new piece “Correspondence for Jonah” at the ACA’s InsideOut performance on July 12th with drummer Austin Vaughn.

June 2013

CMG Improvisation Summit
I had the honor and great pleasure to rehearse and perform with the William Hooker Ensemble at the Creative Music Guild’s Improvisation Summit in Portland, Oregon, on June 1st. William is a percussive and poetic force with a unique vision.

Seth Brown and I composed a 33-part score for the Why I Must Be Careful Sextet. This piece debuted at the Improvisation Summit on May 31st. Seth Brown (Rhodes), John Niekrasz (Drums), Ben Kates (alto sax), Carson McWhirter (guitar), Ryan Spangler (tuba), Stephanie Simek (homemade electronics).

Halvorson Residency
Happy to announce that I’ve been selected to attend Atlantic Center for the Arts this summer. Very excited to work with the ACA’s Master Artist composer and guitarist Mary Halvorson as well as the other artists. Big thanks to the ACA, The Sally Mead Hands Foundation, and all of you for the various forms of support.

ACRE Residency
Looking forward to spending time with the artists at ACRE this August. I will be working in the recording studio with Tony Paterra, creating new work, and serving some great developing artists.

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