NEW! Yarn/Wire features three local contemporary composers

By - Apr 16th, 2011 04:19 pm
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Yarn-wire quartet

Yarn/Wire, comprising pianists  Ning Yu (not pictured above) and Laura Barger and percussionists and Russell Greenberg and Ian Antonio, toured the edges of contemporary music Thursday night, at the first of four Unruly Music concerts this week. Their respect for precision timing, “controlled” randomized effects, novel uses of instruments and catering to the varied conceits of composers confirmed their value to 21st century avant-garde development.

Alex Mincek’s Pendulum VI: ‘Trigger’ opened the concert. The work  began and ended with a tone-free episode scratched piano strings, strikes on blocks, rubbed drum surfaces. Within the arc of the work, phrases introduced by piano, xylophone or marimba included more melodic ideas – each repeated several times with minor variation before  a more complex series replaced them. The many intended contrasts the composer sought were difficult to discern at a first hearing. That was an issue for other works as well – when the entire framework of a work is new and unexpected.

Local composer Jonathan Monhardt wrote the most “traditional” work, microscripts. for two pianos, xylophone and vibraphone. Five short miniatures each introduced a brief theme, passed it around, then ended abruptly. The set began with simple rhythmic ideas and moved to more complicated, melodic phrases. Segments lasted a few minutes. The short set left a pleasant taste.

Another local work – Pop Goes the What? by Charles Andrews II made much more use of blended sound. Piano phrases played above a bass drum providing varying streams of “continuo” support. A vibraphone added color, while pianos interjected comments within a more syncopated frame. Elements of Pop Goes the Weasel were reconstructed in a playful closing segment.

The least traditional piece, The Three Needle Technique by local composer Greg Sturges, introduced polemic theater. Written as a critique of the treatment of animals at the UW-Madison Primate Research Laboratory, the work interspersed decomposed phrases as spoken words. Streams of text described the process of injecting monkeys: “monkeys sedated  .. under .. fluid is pumped… into the eye… long term pain.” Instruments interjected brief, randomized phrases which were increasingly dissonant. Chains lowered onto a bass drum surface or slowly wrapped around cymbals added visual and audible impact. As the work ended, monkey puppets were employed to dampen drum beats. The pianists put puppets on their hands, which made it difficult to hit one key without also striking another. The work disintegrated into sounds that reminded me of children simultaneously pounding away on a piano – able to make music, but no longer harmony. The effect was convincing – although the quartet could have been less timid with the spoken words.

David Brynjar Franzson’s work, The Negotiation of Context, featured amplified instruments that drew attention – plucked piano strings, snapped or strummed strings stretched by wooden blocks propped on drum surfaces, rubbed sounds from drum surfaces or case or mildly distorted processed sound.  In a calm, unpredictable soundscape, sounds appeared and were mirrored by another player and then replaced by a different set of ideas. The effect was clearer when ignoring the unusual sources of sound. Whether or not the composer intended it, the work reminded me of a pond at dusk. Sounds appear unpredictably at a leisurely pace, but most sounds call for a response. There is a rhythm to the night, however random, that fills the air with “music.”

Check the Unruly Music preview for details on the very different performances to come. Look for comments on each of the performances the following day.

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