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Ghost Ensemble Makes Inflatable Friends

On Tuesday May 16th, the New York-based Ghost Ensemble presented a concert of chamber works at 2220 Arts and Archives as part of their California tour. The ensemble performed pieces by composers Miya Masaoka, Sky Macklay, and Ben Richter, featuring Sky Macklay on oboe and power strips, Ben Richter on accordion, Laura Cetilia on cello, Cassia Streb on viola, James Ilgenfritz on double bass, Kyle Motl on double bass, Chris Nappi on percussion, Margaret Lancaster on flute, Melissa Achten on harp, and conductor Carl Bettendorf. Each piece highlighted the gracious breadth of Ghost Ensemble’s expression: from tightly tuned harmonics, to jovial theater, to expansive sonic glaciers. 

Four Moons of Pluto, by NYC-based composer and sound artist Miya Masaoka, opened the program. Originally conceived for solo double bass, Ilgenfritz and Motl presented a chamber version of the work, in which any number of players can perform the piece in unison. The precisely tuned harmonies of a single voice widened into an intertwined duo. There were moments in which the sound of two basses became indistinguishable and others when their rhythmic beating patterns transformed the two distinct voices into a pulsating hyper-instrument. Ilgenfritz and Motl beautifully realized Masaoka’s vision of a piece fascinated with blend, distance, and closeness. 

The second piece, Harmonifriends, by performer-composer Sky Macklay, brought us back to earth with its joyful theatricality. The piece repurposed inflatable harmonica-adorned sound sculptures from Macklay’s installation, Harmonitrees, as instruments for concert performance. The physical act of inflating the sculptures, which Macklay controlled with simple power-strips, set into motion the piece’s musical material: dancing with and against the sculptures. Mid-way through the piece, harpist Melissa Achten and percussionist Chris Nappi abandoned their instruments to perform with the sculptures: sounding the harmonicas through precisely timed embraces coordinated with Richter’s accordion. Macklay and Ghost Ensemble managed to successfully animate plastic, electricity, metal, and air into cuddly loveable creatures. 

The final piece, Ben Richter’s Rewild, gently led the listener through a dynamic sonic topography. The piece, written specifically for Ghost Ensemble’s instrumentation, perfectly paced its collage of frozen musical tundras. Quiet delicate soundscapes faded into each other, slowly moving from one musical vignette to another. This commitment to gradual change unified the structure of the 45-minute piece, as Ghost Ensemble inhabited every corner of Richter’s vast musical world. As an ode to the time-scales and space-scales of the natural world, Rewild was a resounding success in its ability to build a sanctuary for presence and reflection.

The concert was one of the most memorable and heartfelt that I have seen in a long time, and I look forward to seeing Ghost Ensemble again when they are next in Los Angeles.

‘Ghost Ensemble’ at 2220 Arts & Archives

Ghost presents the West Coast premieres of two new works for the ensemble alongside Miya Masaoka’s Four Moons of Pluto, a delicate, drone-based work built on sustained harmonics and microtonal tunings.

8pm. Tuesday May 16, 2023