Tom Strini

Musical Meditation, then Oppression

By - Sep 4th, 2009 12:36 am
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Percussionist Jon Mueller, Kat Berger photo

The landscapes in David Dinnell’s video for “Physical Changes” come veiled. Sometimes they are bathed in so much light that they almost wash out. Sometimes, light is so dim or fog so thick that we can just discern the quivering leaves of aspens or the bones of trees in winter landscapes. Sometimes, the black and white images are in uncertain perspective. Is it a mountain from afar or a molehill in close-up? The twinkling of stars through storm clouds, or the lights of a distant city? Sometimes, the images give way to a plain gray screen for 20 or so seconds, to cleanse the visual palette.

Dinnell’s video, shown Thursday at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theater, made you slow down. Images rarely built or connected; they came and went and told no story. The video is a poetic response to Jim Schoenecker’s atmospheric electronic music, collaged in collaboration from works by percussionist Jon Mueller, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Dan Burke and James Plotkin.

The music, unlike the video, had a discernible shape and a kind of teleology. It started quiet, built in volume and density, and faded through a long, slow denouement interrupted by a mild uprising near the end.

Timbre is the most important aspect of this music. It advanced through regions in which, say metallic sizzles dominated, or a thudding that beat formed somewhere in layers of white noise, or little chirps and pops. Very little happened suddenly; prevailing timbres changes so slowly and subtley that you’re often left wondering: How did we get here from that sound I recall from a while ago?

Schoenecker, on synthesizer, Mueller, at a drum set, and David Bailey, on gongs, followed with an extended live number that was the opposite of the video’s floating loveliness.

Maybe a third of the 150 or so assembled exited early, and I couldn’t blame them. At the outset, Schoenecker’s synthesizer emitted a high, loud whine, and it was no technical glitch. The unrelenting alarm had all the charm of the back-up beeping of heavy construction vehicles.

It went on more or less unadorned for a very long time. Mueller, a very accomplished drummer, joined in at first by riding a cymbal. Then he added a thudding, regular bass, then built to an enormous, hastening roar, as Schoenecker cranked up the synth to keep pace. I could see the gong reflecting light as it swung (the trio played on a dark stage), so Bailey must have been striking it, but I could not make out gong sounds in the general din. The effect was of being trapped in the engine room of a malfunctioning infernal machine built with no regard for OSHA noise standards.

The energy of the sound became palpable. It was if someone were standing on my chest and would not get off. I know that many people like that sensation — that is a big part of the appeal of heavy metal. Maybe it has something to do with being a better man for surviving it.

Personally, I don’t see what’s to be gained from it, any more than would be gained from hitting myself in the head with a hammer. That would probably make my ears ring unpleasantly three hours later, too.

0 thoughts on “Musical Meditation, then Oppression”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Mr Strini, you might find this hard to believe, but i am deeply envious of you. I’ve been out of town for every performance of Physical Changes and it makes me very sad that it seems i’m never going to be able to see this.

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