Monday, November 10, 2014

REVIEW: David Rosenboom's Zones of Influence

On November 1, I went to REDCAT to hear David Rosenboom's Zones of Influence, performed by Rosenboom and percussionist William Winant. I made it in the door right before the lights dimmed, and didn't have time to read the program. The title of the piece itself was actually an apt programmatic guide as we ventured into the music (I read the program afterwards, which was just as insteresting).

The idea of a musical adventure always takes a slightly more literal meaning when the performer has to move across the entire stage to play a piece. Winant had 5 stations across the stage of varied percussion instruments - one station for each movement. Rosenboom had only one station downstage on stage right, but it had a whole array of computer and electronic gear, a MIDI grand piano, and his amplified violin setup and pedals.

Part I: The Winding of a Spring saw Winant at a setup of multiple snare drums. He played a magnificent flurry of rudimentary snare phrases, which triggered simultaneous MIDI notes from Rosenboom's setup. I was initially confounded trying to figure out how the melodic pitch content related to what Winant was playing, but decided that was a complicated answer that may or may not become apparent later.

Winant moved upstage to the marimba for Part II: Closed Attracting Trajectories. At times the marimba notes were presented bare, and other times they triggered electronic processing and sounds. This movement built to an inhuman head as Winant went to full wingspan to play notes at both the top and bottom of the marimba's range, switching from 2 to 4 mallets and back again. I wondered how many of the disparate notated pitches he was hitting, as opposed to the gestural material that he most certainly nailed. Such is the blessing and curse of contemporary harmonic modernism, I suppose. At one point he made a lightning quick switch to xylophone mallets, which startled me with how seamlessly and silently the switch happened.

For Part III: Given the Senses the Real Pregeometry, Winant moved to a set of vibes, gongs, and various hanging resonant metal objects, and Rosenboom took the helm of the MIDI grand piano. This was my favorite movement, sounding like something between an epic electro-acoustic piano/percussion improv session and a Stockhausen score.

Part IV: Epigenesis, Ontogenesis, Phylogenesis, Parthenogenesis featured eight tuned tabla, as well as Rosenboom's keyboard offering something akin to the sort of ostinato melodies that I've heard on harmoniums playing with traditional tabla players.

For Part V: The Buckling of a Spring, Rosenboom took to his processed violin, and Winant moved stage left to a setup with timpani, woodblocks, brake drums, and various metal objects. Together, the two of them glissed up and down through an ocean of electronic sounds.

What I found most fascinating about the piece was how each movement seemed to involve a different mode of interaction between the live performer(s) and the algorithmic processing environment set up by Rosenboom. Thus the title, I suppose.

I also thought of Jo Kondo's concept of sound shadows. My bad attempt at defining a sound shadow is to say that it is a sort of reactionary sub-phrase - not quite independent enough to merit it's own gestalt, but readily discernible from the musical content being shadowed. Following this train of thought, the piece could be seen as a sort of surreal musical shadow puppetry, in which one plays with which element is the shadow and which is casting it. Another compartment of this thought train involves Pythagoras' acousmatic screen (as interpreted by Schaeffer), and how it related to the vary nature of electro-acoustic music.

Rosenboom's music is not for the unprepared. It is often an uncompromising sensual barrage of data that feels no reason to consider the line between signal and noise. But, that is what is so fascinating about it. Seeing those computer algorithms converge with the visceral world of percussion created an existential musical drama. A battle between man and technology took place before our very eyes and ears, and man had to sweat to keep up.

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