Monday, October 01, 2007

High Zero 2007: Concert 1

High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music - Concert 1
September 27, 2007 @ Theatre Project, Baltimore, MD

Solo set:
Matthias Kaul: percussion, hurdy-gurdy

Set one:
John Berndt: reeds, inventions
Jamie Branch: trumpet
John Dierker: reeds
Chris Heenan: contrabass clarinet, alto saxophone
Thomas Helton: bass
Matana Roberts: alto saxophone

Set two:
Audrey Chen: cello, voice, electronics
Asimina Chremos: movement
Eve Risser: prepared piano, toys, voice
ID M Theft Able: mouth, frictions, tabletop percussion

Set three:
Bonnie Jones: electronics
Marina Rosenfeld: turntables
Massimo Simonini: prepared theremin

Set four:
Jamie Branch: trumpet
Thomas Helton: bass
Melissa Moore: field recordings, electronics (amplified micro-sounds)
Stewart Mostofsky: electronics, strings
Shodekeh: human beat-boxing

There aren't many concerts that feature an electric toothbrush solo. The High Zero Festival of Experimental and Improvised Music may be one of the few places to bring a packed house of focused ears to bear on such a thing. A cluttered tabletop of drum membranes, styrofoam, contact microphones, mallets, small metal cages and an assortment of electric toothbrushes may be one of the more enduring images to greet listeners at the onset of the High Zero main concert series. And in the hands (and mouth) of Matthias Kaul, the electric toothbrush is a source of greater sonic interest than what I've heard from most laptop improvisers this past year. The focused intensity and smart use of amplification by Kaul made for the perfect opening salvo for the many hours of well-outside-the-box performing that lie ahead.

The winds plus bass set that followed was an ear opening experience and a glimpse at several performers who would unfold an astonishing variety of textures over the next few days. Baltimore's John Dierker has already been on the HurdAudio radar for some time. While Thomas Helton made a strong argument for investigating the creative music scene over in Houston with his deep chops and even deeper improvisational instincts. The duo/solo/sextet groupings that emerged and shifted organically through this set exposed a raw collective energy of rich textures punctuated by humor and generous interaction.

The quartet of Audrey Chen, Asimina Chremos, Eve Risser and ID M Theft Able was one of the most compelling of the High Zero experience. The intensity of Chen and Risser found an easy chemistry as they worked a broad territory between childlike wonder and relentless angst.

The wisdom of shuffling new ensembles of improvisers for each set became clear by the end of the evening as the shifting sonic textures and unpredictable contexts allowed the ears to absorb unfamiliar personalities and find new understanding of familiar local performers. Placing the extraordinary beat-boxing Shodekeh within an ensemble of bass, trumpet and electronics provided exactly the kind of group dynamic I'd hoped to hear. The clipped and segmented hip-hop beats and arrested grooves made for a welcome layer that the ensemble responded to in interesting and compelling ways. Jamie Branch's extended trumpet technique, realized with the microphone well within the bell of the instrument, was a fitting sonic conclusion to an evening initiated by the resonant properties of styrofoam.

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