Amy X Neuburg’s “avant-cabaret” charms Present Music

By - Jun 19th, 2011 09:00 pm
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Amy X Neuburg

Amy X Neuburg began the song “Shrapnel” by humming a few measures of a 16th century choral work. Quickly tapping the control panel in front of her, she hummed a second voice accompanying a fresh recording of the first phrase. She repeated the process, adding layers of pleasant harmony. Over the harmony, a verse – “She had arranged to have her feelings never take her by surprise, a moment to drop the bomb, a year or two to burst.” The sardonic story contrasted with a well-ordered universe of sound. “She wondered…, didn’t I just sweep this or did I merely spread it around?” The music took on a frantic edge, slowed and accelerated electronically. Neuburg’s voice and sound palette, augmented electronically (but never excessively) served the story.

Despite a frequent cynicism, Neuburg approaches life with an upbeat attitude, a persistent rhythm and full control over the sound pictures she creates.

Neuburg charmed the audience through nine songs at Present Music’s closing concert Saturday night at Turner Hall.  In a recent interview, Neuburg offers an overview of the instrument panel the audience did not get to see. Neuberg used layers of sound created by real-time looping in ways Les Paul could never have imagined. Sampled sounds provided chords or elastic thuds to drumbeats, pace and pitch were adjusted, rapid alternation of live samples added color and folded works back across themselves. Above the layers of sounds, Neuburg often added a high operatic voice. Often performing with ChiXtet, a trio of cellists, Neuburg re-scored several works for Present Music’s ensemble string quartet, piano and percussion. Although Neuburg looped the piano for one number, she arranged serial themes for the string quartet that repeated and built sound densities through real-time performance. The range of the  ensemble provided more color than the cello accompaniment had offered.

Many of the songs were drawn from a set – The Secret Language of Subways, available on CD. The pace of subway rides became a metaphor for the crises and adjustments of daily living. Neuburg’s poetry offers insight and play. “What He Was” featured tongue-twisting word play. As Neuberg pointed out, some songs contain a lot of words with not much meaning , while others convey many insights in only a few. Selection and repetition of key thoughts brought the poetry to life. Music and the transformation of music, words and the insights and amusement they provide combine for a complete package.

To fully appreciate the energy and creativity Neuburg brought to the evening, re-read the Tom Strini’s pre-concert interview published Tuesday.

Although the evening belonged to Neuburg, two instrumental works were also scheduled:

The Present Music string quartet played a section from At the Octroon Balls by Wynton Marsalis. The movement – “Hellbound Highball” – features a headlong ride on a train to hell, dissonant, noisy and full of sounds, all wrapped in a contemporary composition. The pace occasionally slows, introducing jazz fragments and appearing to end, only to return to a hurtling pace. After several false stops, it becomes clear that this train will never halt. Regardless of the destination, players and listeners could not help but be drawn into the joy of the ride itself.

A larger Present Music ensemble played Kamran Ince’s Far Variations. The simple motive served quiet passages with high ethereal voices at the very top of the violin or cello register, interchanged with sections of more aggressive Turkish dance. Variations featured a mix of sounds – plucked strings, shimmering strings, glissando, vocalization. Present Music players have mastered the demands of contemporary composition.

Present Music will begin the 2011-12 season with an ambitious water-themed concert both in and outside of the Performing Art Center on August 27th. The concert will pull together the city’s artistic, scientific, technological, business and ecological partners in an event that will inspire the community to celebrate Milwaukee’s world-leading water resources. PM will perform new music inspired by water and premiere a new piece by composer Kamran Ince. Danceworks, Milwaukee Choral Artists and the Vocal Arts Academy are collaborating partners. The August event will be free, and Uihlein Hall has been engaged to ensure that they can handle a crowd. Spread the word and check here for more information.

0 thoughts on “Amy X Neuburg’s “avant-cabaret” charms Present Music”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Michael, well done. — Strini

  2. Anonymous says:

    Bravo, Michael, for leading with “Shrapnel”– it was the most compelling piece of a truly original concert. You ‘captured’ the event…but, I must disagree with you about Les Paul. Having met him, he probably could have imagined this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    […] Amy X Neuburg’s “avant-cabaret” charms Present Music […]

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