Present Music’s multimedia 30th birthday bash
Dancers, video art on small screens and large, sculptures and installations abounded all around Turner Hall Friday night, in Present Music‘s three-ring circus of a 30th birthday bash. Artistic director Kevin Stalheim involved a host of artists, composers among them, in their 30s.
The audience strolled among the artworks, most of them glowing from TVs and monitors before the concert. The remarkable band, I Am not a Pilot, played the after-party. The concert proper comprised seven pieces. Two of them involved solo dancers and two more involved big-screen video. The music dated from 2004 to spanking new.
Amanda Schoofs sang in her own Acedia, commissioned for the occasion, with Eric Segnitz on an eccentrically tuned viola and percussionist Seth Warren-Crow blasting out interruptions on a trap set and gently stroking a set of Indian hanging bells. Laura Murphy danced a hypnotic, wholly inward dance in the confined space in front of them. Her arms swayed a little almost all the way through, in very much the manner of the Indian bells that Warren-Crow had set in motion. Murphy was very beautiful and very subtle.
Even with Warren-Crow’s intermittent explosions, Acedia passed its 10 minutes as a transporting, enigmatic reverie. Segnitz played and Schoofs sang intimately into microphones. The effect was of observing something very small through a microscope. The piece floated by, unmetered. Segnitz played mostly harmonics, and sometimes scanned the overtone series on a single string. Schoofs sang open, pure intervals, in pure, open tones, and contrasted them with grating vocal fries and tones generated on inhalations. In one especially poignant effect, she let the sound of breath alone evolve ever so gradually and tentatively into a musical tone, creating the impression of an achingly fragile tone.
Missy Mazzoli’s Magic with Everyday Objects (2007) achieved a similar poignancy through more conventional means. Lyrical lines, mostly for flute (Marie Sander) and E-flat clarinet (Bill Helmers) entwined as if they wanted to harmonize but couldn’t quite. They kept landing on dissonant minor seconds that played not as raucous clashes but as heartache — just as they did when Monteverdi wrote them into operas in the 1600s. The sonic lovers, forever separated by their modes, also worked against a delicate background of harmonies laid down by bass (Andrew Raciti), piano (Douglas Jurs) and guitar (Segnitz).
In Untitled (2007), the clarinet, bass, piano, electric guitar and saxophone (Matthew Sintchak) on stage were really incidental to Jacob Cooper’s prerecorded siren songs and Ross Nugent’s video, Zero’s Own Moonlight. The players merely seasoned the ongoing shimmer of dense, beguiling, ever-shifting chords in what sounded like female voices. Nugent’s dark video loomed large in black and white behind and above the players. It slowly evolved from what might have been moonglow through dark foliage, a disorienting view of a suspension bridge, an abandoned, institutional-looking room, a grainily-shot storefront with a sign in Asian ideogram and other lonely images, all of them in the night.
Carmen Kordas’ much brighter and more explicitly surreal untitled video accompanied Paola Prestini’s Spell (2009). She means to cast a spell, not teach us ABCs, and she does. Music for marimba (Carl Storniolo), clarinet and cello (Adrien Zitoun) strolls along amiably, hastening here and there as a chair takes wing and flies over a cityscape or water droplets form as if on the surface of the screen otherwise filled by a tiled room with a clock on the wall. Among the fantastical charms of Kordas’ video is an infinite spiral staircase shown sideways, so it looks like a tunnel boring left to right into the background.
The rhythmic bite and pep of Patrick Burke’s All Together Now (2004) dispensed with extra-curriculars and the meditative mood. This most obviously virtuosic piece of the program is all sharp, quick turns and abrupt starts and stops for guitar, piano, flute, clarinet and bass. The players — Segnitz, Jurs, Sander, Helmers and Raciti — played Burke’s jolting syncopations and lighting runs with great assurance. They revealed the glittering fun in this music. Burke cast it in something like a rondo form, or perhaps a ritornello form. A bit resembling an extended jazzy cadence formula, in various guises, alternates with ingenious arrangements of zippy, hocketing melodies that sometimes evolve into counterpoint. I like this piece a lot, as it is at once very sophisticated and instantly accessible.
The finale, Sean Friar’s Little Green Pop, brought all the musicians named above and trombonist David Lussier to the stage, with Stalheim conducting. This funny, energetic work motors along in rhythmic-metric high gear, except for a moonstruck moment of floating metal percussion about two-thirds of the way in. In the framing sections, all the elements sound familiar and conventional, like something you might hear on a lively TV soundtrack. But it’s all oddly displaced, as if the lines in the mix have been yanked this way and that. As engaging as all that was, dancer Christal Wagner held more of my attention. Simon Eichinger created a dance for her that reflected the music cleverly. It also showed off her uncommon ability not only to snap into shapes of astonishing complexity but also to gather them into phrases. Wagner is really something, and Eichinger really knows what to do with her.
And now I must admit that for the first time since 1989, I was late to a concert and missed the first piece. However, my stunt double, Lee Ann Garrison, was on time and offers this account of what I missed:
The taped rhythms build and crash while the lovely sound of singing women phases in, rises in pitch and phases out. The clarinet answers with a loud trill that goes higher and higher and then trails away as the lights come down.