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Review: Casey Anderson and Friends in Concert

The wulf in downtown Los Angeles was the site for a concert of the experimental music of composer Casey Anderson. A nice Sunday night crowd turned out on April 19, 2015 to hear an evening of new music at the leading edge of the performance vanguard.

The first piece was TALK RADIO (an opera), 2011 and for this eight performers were equipped with portable radios and headphones. Their instructions were to continuously tune through the dial – independently and without coordination – and repeat what was heard when a radio station came into hearing. Random phrases, sports scores, jingles and snatches of music were heard by the audience as spoken or sung by the performers. Static was also heard on occasion, as represented by a spoken rushing sound. Phrases such as “Line of credit…”, “Quite heavy still on the northbound 5…” or “Right out of the blocks, you get healthy…” were spoken.  These came randomly as they were heard in the headphones and the phrases were sometimes repeated. Sometimes a tone heard on the radio – perhaps as part of a song – was sung and held by a performer as it was encountered on the radio dial. Here is a short video of a part of this piece that was made during rehearsal:

At times all were silent, and at other times two or more performers stepped forward as ‘soloists’. There were tutti sections when everyone was singing or repeating snatches of advertisements, editorials or traffic reports, and these were quite lively. Sometimes the fragments were quite poignant as when “Oh I’m in pain” was heard, along with pieces of a radio preacher’s sermon. TALK RADIO is perfectly named because what the audience hears are chunks of radio prose and music, but drained of all the production values and hype. It is as if someone you know is telling you about the latest news without the breathless, hyperbolic style we are accustomed to hearing when we listen to the radio. TALK RADIO is an engaging experiment in perception and translation and one that is both a random and unique experience.

false positives (2015) followed and this involved four drums fitted with microphones and amplification. Tuning forks of various frequencies were struck simultaneously, and the base of each applied to a drum head. The amplification immediately picked up the pitches and projected a strong, pure tone. This was quite startling at first; the striking of the forks had a small, distant sound – like silverware dropped on the floor in another room. But once applied to the drum heads the sound took on a boldness as the various frequencies mixed together, and then slowly died away. The process was repeated, with different sets of tuning forks, and this consistently produced a clean, but somewhat alien feel. The sounds produced were impressive nonetheless, and one could sense that the energy was being concentrated in a set of single frequencies. false positives was an interesting experiment in the perception of a small pure sound that is suddenly amplified.

After the intermission SLIPS (2015) began by six performers who recite “…a text distorted via loosely synchronized extensions to vowels or sibilants.” This took the form of speaking in unison the word taken from an image-filled story while every few seconds a tone was sung and held for a few moments by a single reader. The pace of the speaking was fairly rapid and this often carried the suggestion of a rhythm or cadence. As the story progressed a picture begins to form in your mind and when a pitch was sung by one of the performers your brain quickly associates an emotional color to that text, separate and apart from the image created by the words. It was as if the tone was shorthand for the longer effort of constructing a word image from the story and connecting it with a distinct feeling. The text seemed to veer off at odd times, restarting the process of assembling a mental image – and then a tone would be heard that produced an immediate emotional reaction. This contrast in the timing of the contending feelings provoked by two compartments of the brain are a fascinating study in personal perception and SLIPS would seem to have much to teach us about the relationship between lyrics and music.

The final piece of the evening was KARAOKE (2015) and for this five performers with headphones listened to the same album and individually created a sort of “quasi-private accompaniment.“ The audience heard only what was produced by the performers and this took the form of some humming, singing and whistling along with various kinds of drumming, tapping and rhythm-making, as well as the occasional piano run or saxophone riff. None of this was intentionally coordinated, each performer being fairly well isolated by headphones from the sounds produced by the others. Even so, the combined sounds heard by the audience often achieved a noticeable groove. This had an authentically primal sound, like something that might be heard around a camp fire fifty thousand years ago. As the album played through its various tracks you could sense a regrouping by the performers and it took a few minutes for the aggregate sound to come back into focus, much like a street-corner quartet feeling for tune. KARAOKE is an engaging piece that produces music almost as if by telepathy and makes an interesting point about the necessity of an organizational performance structure.

The performers in this concert were Casey Anderson, Jon Armstrong, Rick Bahto, Brendan Carn, Josh Gerowitz, Morgan Gerstmar, Todd Lerew, Liam Mooney, Stephanie Smith, Christine Tavolacci, Colin Wambsgans, Joe Westerlund, Michael Winter, and Andrew Young.

The next concert at the wulf will be May 5, 2015 at 8:00 PM featuring the music of Michael Pisaro and Graham Lambkin.