The Now Hear Ensemble presented composer and bassist Federico Llach’s Perishable Music as a part of ArtNight Pasadena on Friday, March 9, performing for all four hours of the late night reverie. Billing itself as an installation rather than a performance, the quintet of clarinet, saxophone, viola, bass, and percussion took up residence in the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) to explore issues of impermanence in music.
Six stations were distributed throughout the museum space, which the majority of the ensemble rotated through over the course of the evening. Performers shredded their pages as they were completed in a growing heap on the floor with no bin to catch the detritus: another sculpture in the making and a nod to the fleeting nature of music. A street-level installation projected images unto graffitied walls in the parking structure, rotating from footage of the performers playing to reciting text with changes spurred on by the spectator’s shredding of the score.
The music was well designed to stand alone and work in this alternate mode of presentation. Certain sections sounded interchangeable even with idiomatic lines: the ghost of a bowed vibraphone from Jordan Curcuruto, warm clarinet trills by Amanda Kritzberg, and Jonathan Morgan’s glissandi that skittered across the viola. The material was well planned despite no conductor and little communication amongst the players as dyads traded corners of the room, seemingly coordinated yet hard to discern the truth of the score. Far from being frustrating, the effect was quite liberating. Floating colors of sound and atonal melodies cleverly resisted standard harmonic progressions, allowing the music to sidestep resolutions and feel complete on its own as the hours passed.
Being in the main space for so long encouraged an amorphous fourth wall. Performers became art sculptures and docents as they interacted with the crowd. Museum-goers stood close to capture pictures and video. When the ensemble took staggered breaks their stands and instruments remained, creating silent works like found objects amongst the paintings. The nature of the work shone through, however, as the musicians steadily created, destroyed, and resumed their practice. Perishable Music lived up to its name but the experience was one to remember.