wasteLAnd opened their first Friday concert, U/L, at Art Share LA on September 2, 2016. For the coming season, wasteLAnd will perform there on the first Friday of the month. An overflow crowd turned out on the start of the long Labor Day weekend to hear the music of Todd Lerew and wasteLand featured composer Erik Ulman.
Reading the Dictionaries, by Todd Lerew, began the proceedings with Movement Q and Movement V. Five performers stood in a semicircle on stage, each holding a copy of a different dictionary. Given a starting signal, they began reading the entries from each dictionary in unison, starting with those for the letter Q. At first the words were identical and the slight differences in pronunciation made for ragged, but intelligible speech. Soon the words in each dictionary began to vary – as might be expected for several different editions – and the words became less understandable. Those listening focused their attention, but was soon possible to hear and comprehend only a single word at a time. Eventually the words differed to the point that what was perceived was not language but the overall shape of the sound. The Q words from each performer came in and out of synchronization, as it were, and your brain was constantly hopping back and forth between comprehending the words as speech or simply hearing the texture and colors of the sound. About three-quarters of the way through Q, one of the performers – Matt Barbier – simply ceased speaking as the abridged edition of the dictionary he was given apparently ran out of words. The others finished as each dictionary dictated, and soon just a single voice was heard finishing up.
Movement V proceeded in the same way, each of the words spoken simultaneously at intervals of about one second. The initial sound of a word beginning with V has a sharper attack, and this made for more dramatic intonation. The V words also seemed to have a greater variety of letters and lengths so that the arc of their soundings was richer in sonic detail. All of this worked to sharpen the listener’s hearing so that by the end of the piece the ear became sensitized to even minute variations. Several of the dictionaries contained long lists of vitamins – Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin C, etc – and when these were encountered there were invariably some giggles from the audience. Matt Barbier once again finished first and stoically awaited the conclusion of the piece some minutes later.
Reading the Dictionaries proved to be an insightful experience, transforming a seemingly dry recitation of words into an engaging exercise in perception, language and comprehension.
String Quartet No. 3, by Erik Ulman, followed, performed by the Formalist Quartet. Ulman is the featured composer for wasteLAnd and will contribute works throughout the current season. String Quartet No. 3 began with a series of high squeaks and chirps followed by an energetic burst of sound in all the parts. The phrases seemed to alternate between sustained tones in one part and a flurry of complex sounds by the others. There was an underlying feeling of tension in all of this, but there were also smoother and more placid stretches. Most of the activity seemed to be centered in the middle registers with the cello typically blending into the texture. Midway through, a series of high, syncopated pitches were followed by sustained tones creating a sort of ebb and flow to the rhythm that made for a good contrast with the more complex passages. Towards the finish a low growling tutti effectively escalated the sense of tension and suspense – this music has a mysterious feel, like walking in an alien landscape. String Quartet No. 3 constantly challenges the listener and performer with its intricate and independently moving lines. The Formalist Quartet delivered to their usual high standard, and the audience responded with strong applause.
After an intermission, Spherical Harmonics, by Todd Lerew, was performed by six singers and conducted by Matt Barbier. This began with a low unison humming tone that soon broke into various related harmonics. The singers then began whistling their tones while humming – something we have all idly done at one time or another – and this combination added a convincing perception of depth. The humming gradually diminished, leaving mostly whistling sounds turning the feeling somewhat desolate and a bit lonely. All of this was reminiscent of the Rhyolite sound installation in the Nevada desert where the sound of the wind blowing across dozens of old glass bottles was recorded by Chris Kallmyer and Andrew McIntosh. At times Matt Barbier could be seen striking a tuning fork and holding it close to his ear as he set the pitch for the other singers. The group repeated this sequence with different several tones before quietly finishing. Spherical Harmonics artfully mixes the simple acts of humming and whistling to fashion an intriguing amalgamation of harmonic possibilities.
The final piece on the program was Bowing to Pressure, also by Todd Lerew, and this was a solo piece for violin performed by Andrew Tholl. As the title suggests, Andrew applied the maximum amount of pressure as he began a vigorous bowing action across the violin strings. This produced an active, muscular set of tones that were reminiscent of the more primal country music pieces sometimes heard from historical archives. The pressure began to take a toll and strands of hair could be seen streaming from the bow. The tone coarsened, settling into a drone-like sound and the audience held its collective breath as if waiting for the violin bow, strings or bridge to self-destruct. Andrew Tholl powered on, the sounds becoming rougher and almost desperately violent. The forcefully crude intonation carried the audience into uncharted violin territory, completely removed from the delicacy and smoothness normally expected from this instrument. At the end, the bow was in tatters and Tholl was clearly fatigued by the effort. Bowing to Pressure might be a metaphor for the stress of contemporary life, but it is surely a vivid demonstration of the powerful feelings a violin can convey when pushed to its physical limit.
The next appearance of wasteLAnd will be at the Green Umbrella Noon to Midnight concert, Disney Hall, on October 1, 2016.
Performers for the this concert were:
Reading the Dictionaries:
Matt Barbier, Nicholas Deyoe, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Todd Lerew, Élise Roy
String Quartet No. 3 – The Formalist Quartet:
Andrew Tholl, Mark Menzies, Andrew McIntosh, Ashley Walters
Nicholas Deyoe, Brian Griffeath-Loeb, Andrew McIntosh, Cody Putnam, Élise Roy
Matthew Barbier, conductor
Bowing to Pressure:
Now Hear Ensemble‘s Made in California project, which commissioned works from 11 Californian composers for a tour and record, is nearing completion. The record came out yesterday, and they’re having a release concert, this Saturday, November 2, at REDCAT. Here’s a preview video:
The whole record is pretty rad. I went to see them in San Diego last weekend (full disclosure: I have a piece in the project), and while all the music they’ve commissioned and perform is impressive, and covers a pretty wide range of styles and ideas (Todd Lerew’s Variable Speed Machine, a drone-based piece custom-made monochords, provide a fantastic and beautiful contrast to the post-minimal groove of a few earlier tracks on the CD), they’ve managed to bring something of a masterpiece into the world with Dan VanHassel’s Ghost in the Machine. It comes across well on recording, but seeing its robot-controlled deconstruction of a drumset onstage, which is far more peaceful and introspective than it sounds, is the rare completely-new-experience-that-actually-sounds-great that we so often fall short of. This piece needs to be heard, seen, talked about, and learned from.
Full info on the record is at nowhearensemble.com/MadeInCaliforniaAlbum. Tickets for the show are at redcat.org/event/now-hear-ensemble. No streaming links just yet, but it’s available on iTunes and Amazon, among all the other standard places.