Tom Strini

Percussionist Patti Cudd opens Unruly Music

By - Mar 9th, 2012 12:35 am
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Percussionist Patti Cudd

Patti Cudd sat at a table, barely moved some little gizmo I couldn’t quite make out in her left hand, and thus produced an incredible range of sounds. She was playing — if that’s the right word —  Chris Mercer’s Spring Box, one of six pieces on her Unruly Music festival program.

I don’t know if Mercer synthesized and specified the sounds, or if he just invented the little instrument and Cudd winged it. Either way, the wild noises alluded to real-world sounds without actually reproducing them. Feedback, a hum of pure pitch, the sound of a prankster’s joy buzzer, buzzes of motors of various heft, dog whistles drifting in and out of human audibility, Tuvan throat singing, a siren, a power saw biting through lumber, white noise and more. The big noise and big range impressed, and they contrasted almost comically with the barely detectable motion of Cudd’s left hand. Mercer’s (and/or Cudd’s) subtle way of blending and transforming his vast noise inventory gave the piece a point of interest beyond its parade of vaguely familiar sounds.

Jeff Herriott’s Ancient Caves is more about the nature of the sounds rather than the organization of sound. Herriott, who also assisted with electronics throughout the program, placed Cudd before a bass drum. She did not whack it with a mallet. Rather, she stroked and scratched, mostly gently, with her hands. These actions, greatly amplified, produced a low, distant groaning, the odd resonant tap, and scratching. The live amplified sound interacted with similar sounds — perhaps processed live, perhaps pre-recorded. The piece recalls those creepy, slow-moving horror-suspense films in which little happens in the abandoned asylum until the very end. A low throb in the electronic part gave the piece some pulse at last and drove a build-up that led to a surprising and gratifying climax to close.

The other four works had at least something to do with conventional percussion virtuosity. Barry Moon’s Snare Alchemy gave Cudd a nice snare and rim-shot extravaganza, instantly recorded, processed and played back in a bizarre, fun-house-mirror reflection. Cort Lippe’s Duo for Cajon and Computer also pitted live sound against electronic sound. You sit on the cajon, a chair-sized resonant box, and reach down between your knees to beat on the box, with bare hands or a reed whisk. Cudd’s more violent outbursts seemed to cause the electronics to respond in kind, mostly in canned, metallic timbres.

Cudd stepped to the vibraphone for Daniel Alejandro Almada’s Linde and Eric Lyon’s Still Life for Vibraphone and Computer. Linde gave Cudd music  tense with a nervous tremolo that was almost always there. The tremolos would build and build, then burst into crazy scales in all directions, as if an atom had suddenly exploded and sent charged particles flying about. Lyons’ Still Life was the only piece I could track in a Classical sort of structural: A/B, A1/B1, A2/B2, A3/B3, A4/B4. The A idea is all blazing scales and brilliant figuration; B is moonstruck, static, woozy with heavy vibrato. Still Life resembles a romantic comedy; opposites attract and in the end intermingle intimately. I always knew those two would get together.

Cudd’s program opened the three-night Unruly Music Festival, a joint presentation of Chris Burns and the UWM Music Department and the Marcus Center. Two more entirely different programs will start at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (March 9-10) at Marcus Center Vogel Hall. More on those programs here. Enter at 123 W. State St., near the bridge over the Milwaukee River. More info here. For tickets, call the Marcus Center box office (414) 273-7206 or Peck School of the Arts box office (414) 229-4308. Ticket prices: $12 general/$10 seniors & UWM faculty, staff & alumni/$8 students.

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