Hoboken, NJ-based Seth Cluett and guests Isaac Aronson, Ben Levinson, Luke Martin, Michael Pisaro and Andrew Young performed an evening of experimental electronic music on Sunday April 10, 2016 at the wulf. A full house was on hand to hear separately scored duos played simultaneously along with a second set that had six musicians improvising on electronic devices.
First up was The Lost Quartet, by Michael Pisaro, performed by the composer on electric guitar with Ben Levinson on acoustic bass while Seth Cluett and Andrew Young played a second electronic duo simultaneously. This began very quietly with low, soft tones followed by a rapid burst of pianissimo notes from the electric guitar that sounded a bit like an old Geiger counter, only with musical notes instead of clicks. A pencil striking the guitar strings occasionally produced a somewhat louder sound while sine tones and scratching noises were heard from the second duo. Ben Levinson added a very slight trilling sound on one string of the bass that was barely audible . All of this was consistently quiet and understated – very subdued music.
The two duos were completely independent – driven by certain sequences of pitches or by events marked on a time line. They overlapped elegantly, however, as each piece was deliberately paced and operating at the same minimal dynamic levels throughout. A quieter venue, in fact, might have been preferred – street and freeway noises from the open windows occasionally drifted into the performance space. As it was, the very soft playing invited an intense concentration in the listening, making any intrusion that much more noticeable.
At the midpoint, the phrases coming from the electric guitar increased slightly in strength and it seemed as if the other sounds followed. The sequence of quiet scratching noises, sine tones and soft bass sounds continued as before. The overall effect of this piece was to remove the viewpoint of the listener to a far distance – as if observing something just at the limits of aural awareness. The pieces concluded with the sounds gradually becoming less frequent and a solitary electronic tone fading slowly away. The Lost Quartet, as combined with the Seth Cluett duo, is an interesting experiment in the similarities and compatibility of independent pieces played simultaneously, with each managing to compliment the other in the final realization.
After a short intermission Seth Cluett presented a thoughtful tribute to the late Tony Conrad in the form of a short recording of sustained mixed voices and electronic tones. These were woven together in cycles so that at times there was a noticeable distortion while at other points in the cycle the sounds were more coherently consonant. The contrast and spiritual feel of this made for a fitting memorial.
An extended improvisation followed, involving a total of six musicians all performing with electronic devices. The floor of the wulf was covered with patch cables, power cords, amplifiers, speakers, sequencers, and even a turntable with a vinyl record. The opening was a rhythmic, percussive sound that increased in tempo and included an occasional banging noise – like hearing some construction equipment working nearby. This was joined by aggressive electronic sounds and static so that the piece began to faintly resemble a rap performance. The record spinning on the turntable was tapped by the performer to slow or stop the rotation, giving a halting character to its output and this contributed a distinctly urban street flavor to the overall sound.. The electronic pitches climbed higher, became more animated and gained in volume so that at one point it felt as if the listener was inside an old shortwave radio. The electronics sounds continued to increase in their intensity, almost to the threshold of pain. The spinning turntable provided a visual focus, inviting the listener to process the sounds as music, and this added to the sense of ensemble despite the wide variety of pitches and exotic electronic timbres filling the room. At length the powerful sounds moderated, the lower tones dropping out and the persistent, higher pitches gradually fading away. This improvisation was a vivid example of what can be created on the spot with unconventional sounds and the common vision of independent artists.
Upcoming performances at the wulf will feature the music of Michael Winter on April 15 and Scott Cazan on April 30.
Update on the wulf: The building that has housed the wulf for some 8 years has been sold and the wulf expects to relocate in July or August. No new location has been announced and the search continues.
On Friday, January 8, 2015 String Quartets, a concert of new music, was presented at the wulf in downtown Los Angeles. A capacity crowd turned out to hear two new pieces composed by Aaron Foster Bresley and Luke Martin.
The first piece on the program was barrier – bend/erect, by Aaron Foster Bresley. The players were situated in the four corners of the performance space and the sound filled the room, coming at the listener from all directions. The piece began with a rough, scratchy sound from each player; distortion produced by applying extra bow pressure on certain strings. At the same time, more familiar pitches and tones could be heard coming from strings bowed conventionally. The overall texture was very rough and mostly unchanging, and yet the tones that fought their way through the scratchy distortion served to focus the concentration of the listener. The brain worked on these tonal fragments to fashion virtual melodies, and after a few minutes the piece acquired its own musical syntax and vocabulary.
The score for barrier – bend/erect runs to about a dozen pages for each player, with each staff line showing the strings to be played with distortion and those to be heard as pitches. A stopwatch timer was placed on each music stand, and the pages were played for a certain duration before moving on. The players randomize the score pages prior to the start of the piece so that each performance becomes a unique experience. The various instruments entered or went tacet in changing combinations as the score required, providing some dynamic changes – but the consistency of the texture was remarkable given the intonation specified. Barrier – bend/erect is a deceptively simple piece that rewards the careful listener with an impressive scope of expression in the absence of conventional musical landmarks.
After a short intermission, three sections residues by Luke Martin were heard. Residues is a collection of five graphic scores for string quartet recorded in January of 2015 and there were lines of associated poetry included in the program. The players assumed a more conventional seating arrangement for this, clustered together in the center of the space. Movement 1, remembrances, began with a series of soft, airy sounds produced by a continuous feathering motion of the bows on the strings. This was very quiet and carefully played by the quartet, just at the edge of intonation and audibility. A few bursts solitary higher notes were heard at times coming from the violin, and these stood out clearly against the pianissimo background. The evocative power of this simple combination was notable – taking the listener deep into a forest, a slight breeze rustling the trees and the occasional bird call breaking the silence.
Movement 3 of residues followed and began with low tones in the cello and quiet tones in the violin that produced an air of mystery mixed with tension. The players began whispering, and although unintelligible, this added to cryptic feeling. The dynamic was a bit louder than the first movement, if still on the quiet side, and the tension increased to include a sense of menace as the piece progressed. There were stretches of complete silence at times – on one occasion this continued for what seemed like several minutes, building an intense curiosity in the audience. When the whispering and playing finally resumed, it was as if we observing some strange and secret ritual.
Movement 5, titled unfoldings, consisted of a sustained tutti chord lacking in any sort of beat or rhythm. The players kept this tightly under control, producing an impressively steady sound. Despite the consistent texture, the feeling in this piece was unsettled and apprehensive – like hearing a distant siren. At times the players sang long vocal pitches, adding to the anxious feel. Although there is little obvious variation in unfoldings, the artfully understated changes in tonal color effectively held the interest of the listener.
Residues is a remarkable exploration of the limits of musical perception; its quiet passages and subtle textures creating a space for the mind to focus and the sound to inform.
The performers for this concert were:
Jonathan Tang – violin
Yvette Holtzwarth – violin
Joy Yi – viola
Thea Mesirow – cello