Saturday, July 5, 2014

REVIEW: Monday Evening Concerts, 5/5/14

This is latest review I've ever written. I can usually get it in at least within a month, if not a week, but this one definitely got away from me. And that's not quite fair, as it's for a Monday Evening Concert. MEC is a really great institution of new music in Los Angeles. It's "one of the longest running series in the world devoted to contemporary music," and the longest running one in LA as far as I know. So... sorry about that.

The concert in question was New Voices II: Apparatus, and it was the final concert of MEC's 75th season. Each piece on the concert built an aural apparatus of sorts by combining timbres salvaged from the wake of 20th century experimentation.

Thomas Meadowcroft's Cradles started the concert, with two percussionists (Eric Derr and Jonathan Hepfer) facing each other holding long threads of quarter-inch tape, accompanied by a recorded track of electric piano ambiance. The tape was threaded through reel-to-reel machines, and as they slid it back and forth, it created that unique warbly tape sound. These movements were pointillistically accented by percussion gestures on a variety of instruments. It came across as a sort of post-digital requiem for the analog - existing within the Books-ish aesthetic of a Max/MSP patch, but realized with tape machines.

Speak Percussion playing Meadowcraft's Cradles at the 2013 MaerzMusik Festival

Joseph Lake's Almost There was written in 2013 for prepared piano and percussion. Retro-modernism at it's finest, the piece floated along nicely in a 20th century fog.

Study for String Instrument #2, written by Simon Steen-Andersen, was written for "any string instrument and whammy pedal." It was performed energetically on double bass by Matt Kline with Samuel Dunscombe on the whammy pedal. Sometimes the novelty of the message of the medium can overpower the presence of the performance. While the playing was exciting, and the sound of an upright bass through a whammy pedal was interesting, the combination of the two was sometimes mutually distracting.

Sabrina Schroeder's He Cuts Snow was a wonderfully contrasting exercise in creative austerity. Abstract tones intermingled with percussion being buzzed by what looked and sounded to me like milk frothers. The result was a rich, blended soundscape, steeped in both the historicity of classical instruments and a surprisingly effective bricolage of consumer detritus.

OH LOOK. She put it up on SoundCloud. Maybe listen and pretend it's intermission:



After intermission came Timothy McCormack's Apparatus. It was an aggressive bagatelle, full of slides up and down the piano, multi-phonics on the bass clarinet, and extended technique on the cello. It was a nice little welcome back into the concert hall.

Rick Burkhardt's Alban was an experience akin to hearing an audiobook on mushrooms read by a neurotic librarian. Clarity faded in and out of a haze of modernist musical gestures, also occasionally detoured by bouts of stuttering repetition or silence. I was occasionally reminded of Aperghis' Recitations or Feldman's Words and Music (recently performed at MEC and review HERE).

The penultimate piece was Simon Steen-Andersen's Beside Besides/ Next to Beside Besides #4. A cellist and a percussionist played identical physical gestures, with the percussionist copying the bowing of the cellist on a set of dowels and sticks. The gestalt of the combined timbres seemed to echo the goals of many electro-acoustic pieces, with the percussionist emulating the role of laptop/electronic sound shadow. I found this all-acoustic simulation of electro-acoustic aesthetics particularly interesting.

Ume Duo playing Steen-Andersen's Beside Besides/ Netx to Beside Besides #4

The concert was bookended with another piece by Thomas Meadowcroft, titled The Great Knot. Three percussionists told a programmatic tale of "the migratory patterns of the bird, 'the Great Knot.'" A post-post-minimalist piece if ever there was one, The Great Knot was full of grooves, bird calls, synthesizer interjections, shakers, backing tracks, etc. At times I was reminded of Matmos, with the clearly forward-thinking timbres and gestures mixed with grounded, populist harmonies.

While the McCormack piece seemed like an odd musical choice to name the concert after, the title was quite apropos. Each piece examined the dichotomy between old and new sounds, and offered possible ways to build new sounds by combining, contrasting, or comparing the two. The overall result was a multi-faceted event that posited an optimistic future for sonic innovators to come.

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