Saturday, October 04, 2008

Mob Infiltration

Mobtown Modern: Sound Ecology @ Contemporary Museum, Baltimore, MD
October 1, 2008
The Light Within by John Luther Adams
Katayoon Hodjati: alto flute
Brian Sacawa: baritone saxophone
Ruby Fulton: violin
Nathan Bontrager: cello
Devin Hurd: piano
Wojciech Herzyk: percussion

Abime de oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen
Jennifer Everhart: clarinet

Night Chatter by Stephen Vitiellomulti-channel electronic media

Tourmaline by Alexandra Gardner
Brian Sacawa: soprano saxophone

Sea Tropes by Ingram Marshall
Katayoon Hodjati: flute
Jennifer Everhart: bass clarinet
Ruby Fulton: violin
Nathan Bontrager: cello
Wojciech Herzyk: percussion

Playing from within the "Abyss of the Birds" - the solo clarinet movement from Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time - the hushed spaces between Jennifer Everhart's phrases pulled the ears deeper within the unhurried melancholy of that work.  Composed during Messiaen's time as a prisoner of war during the second world war using bird song heard just ou
tside his confined quarters the profound introspection and solitude continues to resonate with contemporary performances.  In this case bringing a stillness into the midst of the well attended space at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum for a concert of works inspired by nature.  Abime de oiseaux was the solitary work from the twentieth century on the program - and the only piece that did not incorporate electronics into the sonic texture as early voices of the twenty-first century offered their aural ecology.

Alexandra Gardner's Tourmaline offered a dialogue between live and electronically manipulated soprano saxophone.  Named after a crystal known for it's layering of colors this piece carefully crafted an interaction between the two parts.  Gestures performed by Brian Sacawa would seamlessly blur into a timbral variant in the electronic part while sounds emanating from the speakers would transfer to the soprano saxophone as a singular phrase between two 
parts.  This allowed the electronic part to feel less like an accompaniment and more of an expressive component of the overall sound.  It also contributed to the geological sense of layering and vivid colors of its namesake.

Mobtown Modern concerts present music with a sense of single, tight sets presented without intermission.  This allows the palindromic logic of the set list to unfold.  At the center of this concert was Stephen Vitiello's Night Chatter - an electronic work for 5.1 surround speakers.  Without performers on stage, this was the contrast point within a program that moved from ensemble to soloist to empty stage to soloist and back to ensemble.  A cyclical sequence that reinforced an expansive sensibility of environment that may or may not include human presence.  But always offers sonic presence.  With Night Music the focus was on orchestration of environmental materials that imposed a beginning and an end upon excerpts from the larger world.

Ingram Marshall's Sea Tropes is a delicate, lush piece made up of lyrical threads that chart a course with a sea faring sense of rolling waves.  Having heard this piece come together from rehearsal to concert performance the sense of fragility was a wonder to behold.  The mix of modal materials, improvised sections and an electronic part of startling dynamic extremes comes together to form an attractive and unified piece.  

The Light Within by John Luther Adams forms a stasis of slowly moving harmonies made up of sustained parts.  Harmonies that transcend cadence and resolution by giving equal weight to severe consonance and rich dissonance.  Harmonies that sat under my own fingers as a performer on the piano part.  From the stage the click track from the headphones allows for the illusion of timelessness from the perspective of the audience.  As a performer, time takes on an interesting quality as one tracks it while playing outside of it.  Needing only to coordinate harmonic changes with the larger ensemble while sustaining a sense of stasis within the immediate texture.  The long durations of slowly evolving parts conveys a sense of vast, expansive landscapes of desolate extremes.  A beautiful work that finds a balance between human and geological scale.

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