Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hello friends,

I am writing to let you know about events with Terence Blanchard, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Stephen Vitiello, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Carlos Casas and Dave Bryant. This work is supported by commissions from the Peabody Essex Museum, Gardner Museum and the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. 


Magdalena Campos and I have a major exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. PEM published an amazing online:


I am showing True Bread, for 10 audio speakers and 2 video projections at the Boston Cybersarts Gallery. There is an article on the piece in the current issue of Leonardo Music Journal:


I am looking forward to a residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida to work on a piece in August.


I was fortunate to contribute to two wonderful CDs by longtime collarators:
The Garden of Equilibria by pianist/composer Dave Bryant 
Abracadabra pianist/flautist/composer Oriente Lopez

I hope to see you at one of these events!

Best wishes for 2016!



January 9 - April 3, 2016
Alchemy of the Soul: Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Collaborative installation with Campos-Pons and sound installation
Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
Adults $18, seniors $15, students $10, Youth (16 and under) and Salem, Mass. residents admitted free*.
http://pem.org/sites/alchemy/ (ONLINE CATALOG)

Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10AM-5PM
Open the third Thursday of every month 10AM-9:00PM
Closed Mondays (except holidays)


January 16 - February 28, 2016
True Bread: Sound Installation
Opening: Friday, January 15 - 6-8:00PM
Boston Cyberarts Gallery
141 Green Street
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130. 
Located in the Green Street T Station on the Orange Line. 
Friday, Saturday & Sundays 12 – 6PM
Admission: Free
Wheelchair accessible


Thursday January 21, 2016 - 6:00 PM-9:00PM
Agridulce (Bittersweet) 
Performance with 
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Neil Leonard - saxophones
Oriente Lopez - keyboard/percussion
Sandy Perez - percussion
Yusnier Sanchez - percussion
Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
Members and Salem residents (with ID) free, nonmembers $10


Monday, January 25, 2016 - 8:00PM  
David Bryant - keyboards
Neil Leonard - saxophone/electronics
Jeff Song - cello
Curt Newton - drums/percussion
$10 suggested donation
Outpost 186 1/2 Hampshire Street
Inman Square, Cambridge MA, 02139


Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 7:30PM
Carlos Casas (featuring Neil Leonard and students from the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute)
Berklee College of Music
Electronic Production and Design Recital Hall
22 Fenway, Room 112
Boston MA, 02215
Admission: Free


Thursday, March  3, 2016 - 7:30PM
Concert for 100 Mobile Devices
David Friend Recital Hall
921 Boylston Street
Boston, MA, 02115
Admission: Free
The Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute (BIAI) presents a concert for 100 mobile devices in which the audience will perform new, interactive works using the a.bel application running on iOS devices (iPhones/iPads). Music by Carlos Guedes (INESC TEC, NYU Abu Dhabi), José Alberto Gomes (Casa da Música), Neil Leonard (Berklee College of Music, Boston USA), and Rui Penha (INESC TEC, FEUP)


Monday March 7, 2016
Neil Leonard/Stephen Vitiello Duo
University of Maine, Farmington
details TBA


Thursday March 10, 2016
Neil Leonard/Stephen Vitiello Duo
186 Carpenter St.
Providence, RI
details TBA


Friday March 11, 2016 - 8PM
Stephen Vitiello + Neil Leonard duo (quadraphonic set)
Goethe-Institut Boston
170 Beacon Street 
Boston, MA 02116 
Tickets: $12 / $10 members and students


Thursday, April 7, 2016 - 7:00PM
Stir: Neil Leonard + Rudresh Mahanthappa, saxophones
with Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
25 Evans Way
Boston, MA 02115
Tickets: $5-$15 | Purchase online or at 617 278 5156


Thursday, April 21, 2016  - 8:15 PM
Wired for Jazz: Terence Blanchard and Neil Leonard
Presented by The Electronic Production and Design Department 
Berklee Performance Center
136 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston MA, 02115
Admission:  $8 in advance (discount applied at checkout), $12 day of show, general admission


Saturday, May 14, 2016
National Portrait Gallery
Smithsonian Institution
Details TBA


August 2016
Artist in Residence 
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Captiva, Florida


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dear Friends,

This is composer/saxophonist Neil Leonard wishing you well.

I am trilled to share news of upcoming concerts, installations and residences with Phill Niblock, Ned Rothenberg, Steven Vitiello, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Terrance Blanchard.

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is presenting “Alchemy of the Soul,” a multimedia installation made in collaboration with Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. PEM is also presenting “Cantos del Muelle,” a sound installation made in collaboration with Rafael Navarro “El Niño” Pujada, (iconic Rumba vocalist of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.)

I hope to see you at one of these events.



Friday, September 26, 2015

CD release with David Bryant

This is the big one! To celebrate the release of our new CD, THE GARDEN OF
EQUILIBRIA, we'll be performing in the same space where we did the
recording. Thanks to our friends at Harvard-Epworth Church for making this
possible. Hope to see you there!

Dave Bryant - keyboards
Tom Hall - tenor saxophone
Neil Leonard - saxophones and electronics
Curt Newton - drums
Eric Rosenthal - drums
Gabriel Solomon - violin
Jeff Song - cello
Jacob William - bass

Saturday, September 26 at 8:00
$10 suggested donation

Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church
1555 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge MA


Wednesday, October 7, 2015, 7:00 PM
Metropolitan Waterworks Museum
Phill Niblock and Byron Westbrook
with Neil Leonard saxophone

Metropolitan Waterworks Museum
2450 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02467 (map)

Door: $15 general admission / $10 members/students
Advance: $12 general admission / $8 members/students


Thursday October 22, 2015, 6:30 PM
Vox Novus XV Festival
Oren Fader plays Leonard’s Mil Maneras for acoustic guitar and electroics

Gallery MC,
Circuit Bridges Concert No 36: Vox Novus XV Festival
549 W 52nd St
New York, NY, United States


Monday, October 26, 2015, 9:30 PM
Casa da Música
a.bel - New Interactive Music

Music by Carlos Guedes (INESC TEC, NYU Abu Dhabi), José Alberto Gomes (Casa da Música), Neil Leonard (Berklee College of Music, Boston USA), and Rui Penha (INESC TEC, FEUP);
Performers: André Dias, Gilberto Bernardes (INESC TEC) and Digitópia Collective.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of
Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores/Tecnologia e Ciência.
Casa de Music, Porto
Porto, Portugal


Friday, November 20, 2015, 7:00 PM
Berklee College of Music
Ned Rothenberg (woodwinds)
Neil Leonard (woodwinds/electronics)
David Tronzo (guitar)

Berklee College of Music
Electronic Production and Design Recital Hall
22 Fenway, Room 112
Admission: Free!
Wheelchair accessible


January 9, 2016 to March 20, 2016
The Peabody Essex Museum
Alchemy of the Soul

Multimedia installation with Campos-Pons
Sound installation with Rafael Navarro “El Niño” Pujada

The Peabody Essex Museum,
East India Square
Salem, Massachusetts 01970


Wednesday, March 7-11, 2016
University of Maine
Neil Leonard and Stephen Vitiello

March 7, University of Maine, Farmington
March 8, University of Maine, Orono

Details TBA


April 7, 2016
Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum
Neil Leonard (saxophone/electronics)
Rudresh Mahanthappa (saxophone/electronics)
Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (video)

Stir series
Details TBA
Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum
280 Fenway
Boston, MA 02115


Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 8:15 PM
An Evening with Terrance Blanchard
Presented by The Electronic Production and Design Department
Directed by Neil Leonard

Berklee Performance Center
136 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA, 02115
617 747-2261
Admission:  $8 in advance (discount applied at checkout), $12 day of show, general admission


August 21-September 2, 2016
Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
Artist in Residence with Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
Captiva, Florida

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Cellar and Point with Neil Leonard + Transonic II

Saturday, May 23, 2015
The Cellar and Point with Neil Leonard + Transonic II
The Lilypad, Inman Square
1353 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

New York-based "garage-chamber" ensemble The Cellar and Point hosts a special evening at The Lilypad featuring a solo set by saxophonist/composer Neil Leonard and a performance by Transonic II - an electroacoustic ensemble comprising Dave Bryant, Neil Leonard, Ricardo de Lima, Andrew Neumann.

The Cellar and Point will be performing music from their recent critically acclaimed record on Cuneiform Records, "Ambit". The record was included on Soundcheck host John Schaefer's Top 10 recordings of 2014 and was called "one of 2014's finest albums of challenging, engaging, and genre-defying contemporary music" by AllMusic. The Cellar and Point's musical universe comprises the detail of modern concert music, the improvisational sensibilities of downtown jazz, and the emotional directness of alt-rock. AllAboutJazz has declared the group "one of the most interesting bands of the moment, perhaps able to answer the question 'where is music going?'"

Saxophonist/composer/electronic musician (and Artistic Director of Berklee College of Music's Interdisciplinary Arts Institute) Neil Leonard, will present original works from his recent electro-acoustic recordings For Kounellis and Mil Maneras.

The evening will open with a live electronic performance by luminary artists Dave Bryant, Ricardo de Lima, Andrew Neumann as Transonic II.


The Cellar and Point (9pm):

Formed in 2010 by drummer/composer Joseph Branciforte and guitarist/composer Christopher Botta, The Cellar and Point features an impressive cross-section of young talent from NYC's classical, jazz, and new music scenes ­ (including members of JACK Quartet, Mivos Quartet, Ensemble Signal, and TRANSIT). Their songbook includes original compositions and idiosyncratic arrangements of composers such as Anton Webern and Gyorgy Ligeti.

Joseph Branciforte, drums
Christopher Botta, acoustic guitar
Christopher Otto, violin
Kevin McFarland, cello
Joe Bergen, vibraphone
Terrence McManus, electric guitar
Greg Chudzik, bass

Neil Leonard (8pm)

Neil Leonard is a composer, saxophonist and interdisciplinary artist. His work ranges from solo concerts for saxophone/live electronics, to works for orchestra, audio/video installation and sound for dance, theater and performance. He will be presenting original electro-acoustic works for saxophone and electronics.


Dave Bryant, moog synthesizer
Ricardo de Lima, electronics
Neil Leonard, bass clarinet
Andrew Neumann, Buchla Easel, misc electronics

Friday, March 13, 2015

I am trilled to share news about upcoming events with Joanne Brackeen, Gadi Sassoon, Oren Fader and concerts at the Mexican Center for Music and Sound Art, Spectrum, Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum and publications in Musicworks and Ideas Sonicas.

Musicworks just published my article on Walter Smetak, a Swiss-Brazilian cellist, transdisciplinary artist, and mystic. Working in Salvador da Bahia, Smetak performed and recorded with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, and he mentored Tom Zé. After denouncing his role as an artist and becoming a devout practitioner of Theosophy, Smetak invented 150 plásticas sonoras (sound sculptures). He designed a 22 meter high recording studio in the shape of an egg that anticipated 21st century practice decades before the rest of us.

Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras  recently published an issue of Ideas Sonicas with an article recounting how I met and worked with Juan Blanco.

I hope to see you at an upcoming event!



Thursday March 19th, 2015, 7:00 PM & 8:00 PM
Transonic, directed by Neil Leonard
Music inspired by Jean-Michel Othoniel, Gardner Museum artist in residence

Neil Leonard - saxophone, live electronics
Joanne Brackeen - piano
Gadi Sassoon - live electronics
Anthony Baldino - modular synthesizer
Jason Lim - modular synthesizer

Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum
280 Fenway
Boston, MA 02115


Friday April 10th, 2015
Centro Mexicano para la Música y las Artes Sonoras
The Music of Neil Leonard
Concert with video in 5.1 sound diffusion

Morelos Norte 485 esquina con , Col. Morelia Centro
C.P. 58000, Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico


Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
TEDx Fenway.

Solo performance saxophone and electronics
Details TBA


Thursday, July 16, 2015, 8:30 PM

Music by Neil Leonard
Neil Leonard - Saxophone/electronics
Oren Fader - Guitar
Also featuring a set by guitarist William Anderson

121 Ludlow, Second Floor
New York, New York
(917) 528-1656


July 27 - 31, 2015
Truro Center For The Arts At Castle Hill
Sonic Art Workshop
with Neil Leonard

Truro Center For The Arts At Castle Hill
10 Meetinghouse Road
P.O. Box 756
Truro, MA 02666
tel. 508 349-7511
fax 508 349-7513

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Transonic - Neil Leonard, Joanne Brackeen, Gadi Sassoon, Anthony Baldino, Jason Lim

Thursday March 19th, 2015, 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Transonic, directed by Neil Leonard
Music inspired by Jean-Michel Othoniel, Gardner Museum artist in residence

Neil Leonard - saxophone, live electronics
Joanne Brackeen - piano
Gadi Sassoon - live electronics
Anthony Baldino - modular synthesizer
Jason Lim - modular synthesizer

Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum
280 Fenway
Boston, MA 02115

This concert features an ensemble of innovative musicians with important careers in modular synthesizer design, music for film and improvisation. Led by Neil Leonard, the group features pioneering jazz composer/pianist and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen on piano.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Juan Blanco: A Cultural Counterpoint

Juan Blanco: A Cultural Counterpoint
by Neil Leonard
[author's draft - published by www.sonicideas.org]

This article discusses my encounters with Cuban composer Juan Blanco, the context in which I met him and how we formed a working relationship despite a parade of obstacles. For biographical surveys of Blanco’s life including discussion of his major works, see my features in Computer Music Journal [1], MusicTexte [2] and notes to “Nuestro Tiemo” the first CD of his work that I co-produced for Innova Recordings [3].

The closest neighbor

I picked up the thread that led me to Juan Blanco as a teen playing in Philadelphia bands in the late 1970s. Ensembles that I followed were transforming the sound of jazz by hiring Brazilian percussionists. The first Brazilian musician that I noticed was Airto Moreira who toured with Miles Davis, Weather Report and Chick Corea. Dom Um Romao and Alyrio Lima followed in Weather Report. Guilherme Franco came later and played with the acoustic ensembles of McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett.

To members of my band it was clear that we needed percussionist who could play something like these masters. My bandmate, trombonist Robin Eubanks, brought an incredible young Afro American percussionist Frank Williams to join us. Inspired largely by Bill Summers who played with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and local percussionist Leonard “Doc” Gibbs and Robert Crowder, Williams was investigating music of the African diaspora, including music of Brazil, Haiti and Cuba. As Frank began to mentor me he made it clear that his musical compass pointed to the music of Cuban immigrants, Mongo Santamaria, Chano Pozo and Armando Peraza.

The past twenty five years of development in Cuba including, emerging generations of musicians, the states' entire LP catalog and what they knew about us remained a mystery. At that time there was no internet. No market for 'world music.' No articles on Cuban music in DownBeat or any music journal. There was no curriculum in conservatories dedicated to any form of Caribbean culture that I was aware of. The US trade embargo and travel restrictions had separated us and Cuba could not have seemed more distant. Williams insisted that there were masters of Yoruba music in Cuba who spent all day playing folkloric music, supported by some unspecified source, but that unconfirmed factoid was where our knowledge of musical life in Cuban ended.

All of this changed when I heard the LP recording of Cuban jazz band Irakere published by Columbia/CBS Records in 1979. The LP "Irakere" was the only recording of Cuban musicians released in the US since the beginning of the trade embargo. Parts of the LP were recorded during their electrifying debut performance at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. With this LP, the vacuum between Cuba and the US was obliterated in one fell swoop. I dreamt of playing with Irakere. When the opportunity to travel to the Soviet sponsored island arose, I jumped at the opportunity to hear more.

I first traveled to Cuba in 1986. In a week long, 600-mile bus tour with fellow US musicians and musicologists and I visited Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Camaguey, Matanzas and finally Havana. I played with founding member of Irakere, Carlos Emilo Morales and Carlos Averhoff, heard Afrocuba de Matanzas, spoke with musicologist Danilo Orozco and visited arts schools. The first night we heard the regional folkloric troupe of Santiago de Cuba in the city plaza with a chorus of women emerging from backstage dancing in wooden sandals and a band member playing the “Trompeta China” or suona introduced by Chinese immigrants and adapted to Afrocuban carnival music.

By this time I had graduated from New England Conservatory and was beginning to experiment with digital instruments. As we toured the island I got word that there was a Cuban electronic music composer named Juan Blanco living in Havana. I asked the tour organizers if we could meet him. On our last day in Cuba musicologist Maria Elena Vinueza and Juan Blanco received us at Instituto Cubana de Amistad con el Pueblo (ICAP). Blanco described the work his studio and gave us his long-playing record Música Electroacústica.

Back in the US when I finally could listen to Blanco's LP I was stunned by Cirkus-Toccata for Afro-Cuban percussionists and tape. The percussionists, Guillermo Barreto (timbales) and Tata Güines (congas), were two of the most celebrated masters of their instruments, virtuosos in many Afro-Cuban genres who had accompanied countless luminaries who visited the island. Barreto famously sat in with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, replacing top US drummer Buddy Rich and sight reading the parts. Barreto and Güines performed with Weather Report in Havana during the Havana Jam festival in 1979. For Cirkus-Toccata Blanco used the note sequencer and arpeggiator on the studio's Roland Jupiter 8 synthesizer. Using an eight-track tape recorder, Blanco created a dense tapestry of polyrhythmic patterns. To complement the tape composition, he wrote parts to guide the percussionists though changes in styles, meters and tempos, which Güines and Barreto studied and then rejected in favor of improvising along with the tape in the spirit of Blanco's score. The coalescence of electronically generated sound, experimental composition, Afro-Cuban folkloric music and jazz improvisation sounded unlike anything we had heard in the US. Somehow, working in the modest studio in the Caribbean, Blanco had stayed current with global developments created a remarkable body of work rooted in Cuban culture.

Primavera in Varadero

I returned to Cuba in 1987, after which I considered my investigation with Cuban music complete. There was much more to learn about the connections between the US and Cuba, but as a Yankee I was set on exploring musical growth within my own culture. In 1988 I met Cuban based artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons while she was studying in Boston and things changed again. I eventually followed her back to Cuba. Blanco, along with Chucho Valdes, Oriente Lopez, Emiliano Salvador and Gonzalo Rubalcaba were the first musicians I sought out.

Blanco quickly supported my presence and programed a concert of my early electroacousic pieces in 1989 at the Casa de la Música Alejandro Garcia Caturla.  He later invited me to the biannual Festival Internacional de Música Electroacústica "Primavera en Varadero." One of the composers I met there was Ricardo Dal Farra from Argentina. Regarding the festival Dal Farra recalls, "I was there in 87 and 89. Juan was bringing together many composers (and also some researchers) from around the world who were not coming to Latin America. There were almost no festivals like that in the region, especially considering the festival's continuity through many years. I met Ahmed Malek from Algeria, Carlos Vázquez from Puerto Rico, Alvise Vidolin and "Pepino" Di Giugno from Italy, Lejaren Hiller and Vivian Adelberg Rudow from the US, Frits Weiland from The Netherlands, Leo Kupper from Belgium and, of course, Cuban composers Edesio Alejandro, Jesús Ortega, Juan Piñera, Juan Marcos Blanco, and Julio Roloff among others.

"Another unique component of the festival was the large multimedia performance that closed the festival, always done with certain austerity due to serious budget limitations but with enough creativity to make of those moments unforgettable. In Varadero we were surrounded by miles of white sandy beach. Concerts or lectures were delivered in an open-air tennis court or in a cabaret. The time was flowing differently in those events. They could be starting up to an hour and a half later than announced, but nobody was in a rush and we had time to talk and exchange ideas and to start projects [4]."

At the festival I had the opportunity to meet Armando Hart, Minister of Culture, Argeliers León, a composer and musicologist who studied with Fernando Ortiz and Maria Teresa Linares, director of the Museo Nacional de la Musica.

I also met Blanco’s sons, Enmanuel Blanco who later directed the festival and composer Juan Marcos Blanco. Juan Marcos recalls, “The Festival de Musica Electroacustrica Primavera en Varadero opened a possibility for composers from all cultures and ideologies to meet and create art. It was unique. In my view, the most important aspect of the festival was cultural exchange and the freedom of expression that filled the festival for the duration. My father was a man with an open mind, a revolutionary of musical creation and this is what we breathed in the festival: creative Freedom [5].”

One of Juan Marco’s capstone works featured by the festival was OSHUN (1991), involving the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional, dance students from Instituto Superior de Arte, actors, pyrotechnics, lighting design, live electronics and a sound track. Juan Marcos explains, “I made a work with light and sand. In preparation the dancers were buried in the beach in Varadero. We put lights level with the sand. When the public arrived they did not see people buried. When the music began and the lights light up, little by little, the dancers began to bring parts of their bodies out of the sand. It seemed like something supernatural … like the beginning of life on earth [5].”

The festival was just one of Blanco's initiatives many to help Cuban musical culture. In the late 1940's Blanco formed the Sociedad Amadeo Roldan to promote the study and presentation of contemporary works drawing on all of Cuba’s musical traditions. Blanco later expanded Sociedad Amadeo Roldan to include artists and writers and changed its name to Sociedad Cultural Nuestro Tiempo (Our Time). Much like the group of artists who gathered at Black Mountain College in the U.S. at the same time (John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham and David Tutor), Nuestro Tiempo attracted the participation and attention of the finest artists in the country. Nuestro Tiempo was not sponsored by any college or institution so in the tradition of North American innovator Charles Ives, Blanco often paid for concerts out of his own salary. With his help the group became the most important collective voice of the pre-revolution Cuban renaissance.


As documented in the Lester Hamlet's film Juan, (2010) [6] Blanco was tolerant of diversity in life styles and ideological thinking. The ICAP studio was open to gays, suspect rock musicians and a number of international guests. We jokingly said that Blanco had been around for so long that the officials already thought that there was no hope to change him.

I witnessed Juan’s independent attitude and un-wavering support for non-mainstream artists when I moved to the island for a year in July, 1989. A week before I arrived, four high ranking officials were convicted of treason and executed by firing squad. I later read in the international press that they were suspected of plotting a coup d' état. In the wake of their trial, dozens of other officials were fired from their jobs (put in “plan pijama”) for connections to the accused. Their trial was broadcast on television and widely viewed. Discussions about the situation were filled with code words and body language. My presence during these conversations only made Cubans more nervous. I listened, without saying a word, unable to fully understanding the depth of the crisis.

Months earlier, I had been invited to lecture at the Escuela de Diseño by its director, Raul Castro's brother-in-law. By the time I arrived even my contact had been let go. I was back to square one as far as having a host for lectures was concerned.

Of all the Cubans I knew outside of my fiancé's family, Blanco was among the most welcoming during this time of high-alert. It was clear that he was in no position to arrange lectures at his studio, but he told me that he was waiting for things to change so he could work with me. He trusted that having an international lecturer in his studio was simply in everyone’s best interest.


On the lighter side, Juan did find a way to help when I was married. In August, 1989, the day before our civil marriage Magdalena and I stopped by Juan's office to invite him to the wedding reception. Juan was only too happy to help us round up provisions for the party. The day of the wedding he showed up at our home in his Soviet made Lada at 6:00 AM to drive us to the food market for foreign diplomats and Cuban elite. Driving from our rustic neighborhood of Luyano to Miramar, Juan proudly recounted the highlights of his marriage ceremonies, all six of them. Blanco had six sons, one by each wife and lost six houses in divorce settlements. The crowning achievement was a grandiose wedding reception to celebrate his marriage to the niece of the president of the Republic. They invited family from far and wide and were showered with silverware. Shortly after, Blanco sold all of the silverware, bought a grand piano and retreated to Varadero by the beach for the better part of a year.

Laboratorio Nacional de Musica Electroacustica

In 1989 personal computers were becoming affordable as were samplers, synthesizers and numerous signal processing instruments. MIDI was relatively new and could be heard in productions worldwide. Cuban musicians who could save their modest Cuban government per diem while touring abroad were beginning to assemble modest digital music studios.

The Ministry of Culture was becoming aware of the need for musicians to begin to work with these new technologies. I helped band leaders Oriente Lopez (Afrocuba) and Miguel Nuñez (Pablo Milanes) get started using the Atari computer and samplers that they purchased in London. Pablo Milanes met with me to start a discussion regarding how I might be able to advise him as he built a private studio. Many other musicians asked me to teach them privately.

This same year, Oriente Lopez wrote a petition to the Ministry of Culture requesting that it host a series of lectures so I could share the information on music technology. Brouwer asked me to meet him in front of the Ministry of Culture so he could sign the petition and invite other Ministry advisors to support the petition. With Leo's signature Chucho Valdes (Director of Irakere), Juan Formell (Director Los Van Van), Adalberto Alvarez, Roberto Valera (composition professor at Instituto Superior de Arte) signed as well. Of course, Juan was only too happy to support the campaign.

The Ministry responded positively to the petition. They recognized that Blanco's studio was the best place to offer my lectures. Around this time, the ministry also assumed control of the ICAP studio renaming it the Laboratorio Nacional de Musica Electroacustica (LNME). At LNME my students included Roberto Valera, Donato Poveda, Ileana Perez-Velazquez, Fernando Rodriguez, Jesus Ortega, Juan Piñera and Julio Roloff, a group that spanned three generations.

As a guest lecturer I frequented the LNME studio several times a week. Speaking with Juan, I learned how he mentored Cuban jazz star Paquito D'Rivera, frequented Bembes in Guanabacoa with novelist Alejo Carpentier, was hired and fired by Che Guevara, composed the score for Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's film Las doce sillas. I saw Blanco, in his 70’s, acquire a NeXT computer and was generating pieces with computer programs of his design. The information that Juan shared in these discussions became the basis of the biographical articles mentioned earlier.

I left Cuba in 1990 and stayed in touch with Juan. I returned to his festival in 1993, during the "special period," an era following the withdrawal of Russian sponsorship and a dire time for all Cubans. At the festival composer Roberto Valera announced that his work, “Periodo Espacial,” a play on this new crisis was composed during endless wait times for public transportation.

I returned to his festival again in 2000 for Blanco’s 80th birthday celebration. I had collected recordings by Blanco and asked for permission to produce a CD of his work. Juan gladly endorsed the project but said that he would be listening "from another galaxy." Philip Blackburn from the Innova Recordings agreed to co-produce the CD with me.

Nuestro Tiempo includes Cuba’s first work of electroacustic music Musica para Danza, completed in 1961 and presented on CD for the first time. Unable to leave Cuba to work in studios where the more advanced electronic instruments were available, Blanco acquired three modest Sears Silvertone tape decks and created ths futuristic and distinctly Cuban work that marks the beginning of his remarkably journey in working with electronic sound.

Also included on the CD are, Cirkus-Toccata (1983), Ella (1983) and Galaxia M-50 (1979) all realized in the ICAP studio. Blanco’s work for the direct digital synthesis capabilities of Stephen Job’s NeXT machine is represented by Loops (1991). The lastest work on this CD is Espacios V (1993) dedicated to me and premiered on a tour of the U.S. the same year. The piece in one in a series that also features Leo Brower and Paquito D'Rivera using an electronic score created in the ICAP studio.

From Boston, rounding up photos was no easy chore. At the point when I was almost resigned to go to print with out photos, a disk of photos suddenly arrived from Enmanuel Blanco, carried out of Cuba though a mutual friend. He sent photos of Blanco with Cuban revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, Cuban national poet Nicolás Guillén, celebrated African-American contralto Marion Anderson, pre-eminent cellist/conductor Pablo Casals, and compute music innovators Max Matthews and Jean-Claude Risset. Even in his passing, Blanco could still surprise me and reveal a part of Cuban culture that I could only learn from him.

1. Leonard, N., 2003, Juan Blanco: Kubas Pionier der Elektroakustischen Musik, MusicTexte, Dec. pp. 25-32.
2. Leonard, N., 1997, Juan Blanco: Cuba's Pioneer of Electro-Acoustic Music, Computer Music Journal, Vol. 21, Num. 2, Summer, pp. 10-20.
3. Juan Blanco: Nuestro Tiempo, 2013. [CD], Produced by Neil Leonard and Philip Blackburn, United States: Innova Recording
4. Dal Farra, R., personal communication, April 14, 2014
5. Blanco, J.M., personal communication, April 21, 2014
6. Juan, 2010 [DVD], produced by Lester Hamlet, Cuba: Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos

Figure #1 Juan Blanco with Pablo Casals
Figure #2 Juan Blanco with Ernesto “Che” Guevara
Figure #3 Juan Blanco with Nicolás Guillén
Figure #4 Juan Blanco with Neil Leonard, Juan’s home in Alamar, circa 2001
Figure #5 Juan Blanco: Nuestro Tiempo, 2013. [CD], Produced by Neil Leonard and Philip Blackburn, United States: Innova Recording

Neil Leonard is the Artistic Director of Berklee College of Music's Interdisciplinary Arts Institute. He is currently on the Fulbright Specialist Roster and is a Research Affiliate at MIT's program in Art, Culture and Technology.

Friday, September 19, 2014

GASP Records releases Neil Leonard's "For Kounellis" - CD featuring saxophone and live electronics


"Mr. Leonard creates a haunting, rhythmic, chantlike score, secular spiritual music for a New World. After leaving the gallery I kept hearing it, with delight, in my head, on the street, all afternoon."Holland Cotter, New York Times, October 2013

GASP Records announces the release of For Kounellis, an extraordinary CD that features meditative, evocative electronic music created for a performance on Mount Vesuvius, Naples. The music draws on Leonard’s association with top-shelf artists including Marshall Allen, Joanne Brackeen, Don Byron, Richard Devine, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Phill Niblock, Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner and Evan Ziporyn. Leonard's exciting and unconventional work is known widely through three decades of collaborations with visual artists featured by the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum and Venice Biennale.

For Kounellis is a meditative, evocative electronic work featuring samples from Jannis Kounellis' sculpture, voice, live electronics and soprano saxophone. The sounds are based on Kounellis' untitled installation comprising 23 large church bells that Leonard recorded at the environmental sculpture park, La Marrana di Montemarcello in Italy. "The bells appear to spiral out from a cylindrical chamber rooted in the Earth’s core. I was struck by the intensity of this chorus of silent tongues, facing the sky and projecting a colossal resonance that is felt but is not heard. Like Kounellis’ inverted bells, Vesuvius’ mouth is a sonic hallmark of local history. Both face the sky, and suggest a tremendous capacity to transform the environment."
A highlight of the CD is the voice of local Vesuvian singer Alessia de Capua. “I processed and wove her voice thick choral textures that are intended to have the haunting, ancient quality suggested by both Kounellis installation of silent bells and the ominous volcano on which we premiered the piece. Alessia was new to this work but she instinctively knew how to create the atmosphere needed. Her voice became the sound of her native Vesuvian landscape.” The results are a unique combination of processed sound and acoustic performance that defies categorization.
The music was performed at Music Acoustica in Beijing, China; Nuits Sonores Festival in Lyon, France; and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba before this studio realization. For Kounellis, is available on CD for the first time here. The CD’s single track, For Kounellis creates an episodic journey that segues from ethereal resonance of processed bells, enchanting choral textures, slow paced hypnotic grooves and searing soprano saxophone solos creating a new music for 21st century listeners.

GASP Records releases Neil Leonard "Mil Maneras" - EP featuring Oren Fader performing works for guitar and electronics

"Mr. Leonard creates a haunting, rhythmic, chantlike score, secular spiritual music for a New World. After leaving the gallery I kept hearing it, with delight, in my head, on the street, all afternoon."
Holland Cotter, New York Times, October 2013

GASP Records announces the release of Mil Maneras by composer/electronic musician Neil Leonard. This extraordinary EP features hypnotic grooves, ethereal electronic sounds and performances by virtuoso guitarist Oren Fader. The music draws on Leonard’s association with top-shelf artists including Marshall Allen, Joanne Brackeen, Don Byron, Richard Devine, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Phill Niblock, Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner and Evan Ziporyn.

Mil Maneras showcases the work that Leonard developed when he broke with musical convention and began collaborating with visual artists thirty years ago. These pieces are known widely through exhibitions and performances at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Guggenheim Museum and Venice Biennale.

The title track Mil Maneras was created for a mixed media installation with artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons for the Dak’Art Biennial of Contemporary African Art where the sound was heard in an abandon textile factory. “The atmospheric beginning has no rhythm, melody or harmony, just clouds of ethereal sound that evoke the ghosts for workers past. The groove that follows alludes to the perpetual rhythm of the factory full of machines pulling in threads and spinning out fabric displaying striking Senegalese designs.”

Interiority is a highly evocative miniature suite created for a permanent installation on an Italian mountaintop. The work comprises a nocturnal experience in which visitors encounter a constellation of orbs that display video imagery, project electronic sound and reveal illuminated inscriptions. “The sound is inspired by paintings in the Etruscan necropolis in Tarquinia where frescos depict the afterlife as a vibrant and seductive continuation of our present existence. I created subtle and varied sonic textures to maintain the allure for the local population who will experience the piece for years to come."

Mil Maneras concludes with the blast-furnace strength performance by Oren Fader on Vitrales. “The piece combines the montunos and drumming of timba bands that I heard in Cuba with extended approaches to jazz composition introduced to me by George Russell. Parts of the piece were drafted using computer programs that I designed but the final version was made by hand, often with the guitar in my lap to feel how fingers dance.” Vitrales creates a mosaic of unique rhythms, intricate counterpoint and shimmering harmonies to create a new music for 21st Century listeners.