Saturday, July 14, 2007

Physics Lessons at the Red Room

Saturday, July 14, 2007 @ The Red Room, Baltimore, MD

Reuben Radding: bass

& the Jonathan Zorn and Rachael Thompson Duo

Jonathan Zorn: electronics
Rachael Thompson: violin

With three performers exploring vast, inventive soundscapes and ideas rising organically from extended techniques this was one of the better evenings at the Red Room I've been to.

Laptop musicians performing opening sets are a fixture at the Red Room and normally I don't have much to say about them as they've typically shared a sonic blandness coupled with a crippled performing dynamic that both bores and grates. Jonathan Zorn is the first artist armed with a laptop, touch pad and knob interface that stands out as a creative force worthy of my enthusiasm for live improvised music I've heard at this venue.

With Rachael Thompson using the violin as a signal generator for Zorn's live processing there was a directness and interaction between these performers that made for a satisfying musical experience. And in Thompson's hands, the violin is an equal to the timbral variety of her electronics partner as she bowed a sheet of metal woven within the strings or stroked the strings with strips of cardboard and paper.

One of the things that makes Jonathan Zorn's electronic pallet stand out is the sense of connection to the history of electronic music as so many of his sounds reminded me of classic works by David Behrman, David Tudor, early Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros and Nicolas Collins. Those are good influences.

Then Reuben Radding played an outstanding set of solo bass improvisations. After the display of vibrations coupled with electronics by Thompson and Zorn, Radding answered with an astonishing display of the range of variation living within the physics of the vibrating string. Radding employed a lot of extended techniques that never obscured the sonic coherency of each gesture and rich, quiet sound space.

He began with clothespins attached to harmonic nodal points on two of the strings as he bowed softly to expose a delicate resonance. At one point a pizzicato was enough to dislodge one of the clothespins just enough to let it slide down to the bridge of the instrument. The soft transition of that movement both fit and propelled the arc of Radding's improvisational form as a whole. And it was a beautiful sound in its own right.

Another sound that pulled me into the experience was Radding's steady drumming on the center two strings with a soft mallet while a stick was woven across all four strings low on the fingerboard. The vibrations of the mallet strikes transferred through all four strings through that connection with the stick as the overall sound resonated within the body of the contrabass. The steady tremolo of mallet strikes gave this a steady, warm quality. By varying the intensity of mallet strikes, the location of the strikes, the location of the stick and fingering stops on the strings Radding could mold this sound toward his improvisational sensibilities in any number of directions. And all of this was focused and without flash as Radding crafted these sounds into well-formed, thought provoking performances.

No comments: