Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Dramatic Turn of Nothing You've Heard Before

The Autumn Concert of After Now: Nothing You've Heard Before
November 17, 2007, The Carriage House, Baltimore, MD

Concord by Sally Sarles
Monika Vasey: harp
Lee Hinkle: voice, percussion
Leonid Iogansen: violin

Tosherish by C.R. Kasprzyk
Prerecorded electronics

Cog by Samuel Burt
Unwound by Samuel Burt
Michael Formanek: contrabass
Ann Teresa Kang: piano
Rose Hammer: baritone saxophone

L!st3N by C.R. Kasprzyk
Lee Hinkle: voice
Kristin Bacchiocchi-Stewart: flute
Zachary Herchen: baritone saxophone
Rachel Gawell: cello
Adam Hopkins: contrabass
Catherine Pancake: metals, dry ice
C.R. Kasprzyk: laptop

The second concert from After Now moved into the funky confines of the Carriage House - giving this off kilter group of composers and performers access to a grand piano and a stage - as the music took a turn toward composed dramatic, theatrical gestures.

Samuel Burt's Unwound confronts the composer's anxieties regarding repetition by embracing fixed sequential states. This was particularly clear in the piano part: play keyboard, retrieve a balloon from the interior of the instrument (the piano had been prepared by filling it with inflated balloons), rub balloon, play keyboard, pop balloon and repeat. The percussive element of the pop was often accompanied by the repeated element of catching the sheet music recently displaced by the sudden release of air. Cog maintained its focus on repetition by locking the ensemble into a pulse and was a significantly less dramatic and musically more satisfying work.

Tosherish takes the recent Howard Stern bashing of The Zs as its source material and subjects it to a Steve Reich Come Out or It's Gonna Rain style of loop phasing. This piece was incredibly problematic for several reasons. The phasing quickly took on all the sonic characteristics and rhythmic qualities of Come Out and resembled it in every detail except for source loop and some added electronic manipulations interspersed within the phasing process. This literal Reich homage didn't add anything new other than a sophomoric sense of humor. The looped material references John Cage negatively. Which makes the Reich treatment puzzling given the wide aesthetic distance between Cage and Reich. Then there was the "too clever" quality of the selection of source material itself. When Howard Stern mocks avant garde music, John Cage or The Zs he does it with the same self-satisfied ignorance and proud philistinism that openly celebrates lesbian pornography. It's a shtick that thrives on attention and I question the choice of feeding it by composing a work that essentially draws even more attention to it. I give Kasprzyk credit for attempting to confront public reactions toward modern music head on. The mutual agreement between mass audiences and avant garde composers to ignore one another is rarely punctured.

Sally Sarles' Concord takes the Charles Ives Concord Sonata as its point of reference and takes the transcendentalist underpinnings behind that work in a different direction in a manner that treads lightly away from the Ives mold. The Concord Sonata is practically a sacred text at HurdAudio and I went into this piece with some trepidation. But these short movements are a completely different work and a pleasant one at that.

The final work of the evening, L!st3N, was jam packed with dramatic elements and surprising turns. Structured on a transcription of a recording of a walk through Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood this piece attempted to capture the odd juxtapositions and transitions of an urban sojourn. The conglomeration of unusual techniques; a mouth filled with Pop Rocks candy, dry ice and heated metals as an instrument, electronics, bowing the cello and bass with a pencil, etc. never completely gelled for these ears. The sonic joys of an urban walk were buried under too many elements and aural clutter. There's a good idea lurking within L!st3N waiting to be coaxed out with a little more focus.

Overall, the move to the Carriage House is a positive development for the fledgling After Now series and it is refreshing to hear chamber music that is fearlessly extreme.

1 comment:

David said...

Wait, these are all Peabody folk... Hmm... maybe it's best for me to get out once in a while. -Dave