Last weekend, composer collective Synchromy bridged the Nor Cal/So Cal gap and opened the floodgates for inter-state collaboration. In other words, they hosted the incredible San Francisco based new music ensemble Wild Rumpus, down here at ArtShare. After seeing the group perform at last year’s New Music Gathering, Synchromy member Nick Norton said that it was “only a matter of time” before they made their way down to LA. And while building a “California Sound” might be a bit ambitious for a single concert, the performers and composers featured showed an impressive artistic breadth that never felt overwhelming. More importantly, what this concert lacked was pomp. The audience was small (as one might expect for an out of town group) but excited to see what Wild Rumpus had in store. While some of the music was thorny, the whole show ended up fun. Fun isn’t typically the go to description of Contemporary Art Music, but from the noisy neighbors who did not care that “Serious Art Making” was happening downstairs, to Norton’s tie dyed FYF shirt and his band’s logo duct-taped to the front of the bass drum that made its way into the percussionist’s setup, the whole night felt a little impromptu, kind of spontaneous, and a bit like hanging out in a good friend’s garage.
San Francisco provided some amazing composers, and Wild Rumpus brought some killer players. It was a little novel seeing new faces on the Art Share stage that has become a bit of a home base for LA new music. But the novelty was quick to wear off, and the talents of the performers soon stood in full display. For close followers of Synchromy, a pair of trombone solos from last years anti-valentine’s day concert were reprogrammed, this time under the interpretation of Weston Olencki. Both Richard Valitutto’s Walk of Shame and Scott Worthington’s Unphotographable were outstandingly played. The Valitutto was rendered shamelessly and brashly as a piece of its name and nature ought to be. And the Worthington proved an indomitably delicate wall of glissandoing brass against the backdrop of a slowly shifting sine wave.
The two trombone solos were stylistically distinct, as was the rest of the concert. Each piece seemed in a different world than the previous, making each moment fresh, never fatiguing despite a few pieces that lingered in soundworlds for an extended period of time. Despite their stylistic differences, each piece drew from its context on the program and it was interesting to see similar soundscapes explored by different composer. For example, where Walk of Shame started brassy and noisy and had petered itself out by the end, Sonnet XX for solo cello composed by Ursula Kwong-Brown, and performed by Joanne De Mars, started sweet, almost melodramatically so, and slowly peppered in more and more gritty gestures eventually ending in a shimmer of harmonics Unphotographable had an electroacousitc companion on the program too, Spectral Fields in Time by LA based Joshua Carro featured a longer form with slowly shifting masses of sound and the timbres of the full instrumental ensemble of Wild Rumpus. It featured the amplified wash of cymbals, (which harkened to the Lucier-esque LFO of Worthington’s miniature) and heavily amplified piano to accompany the ensemble’s winds, bass, and electric guitar. Both electroacoustic pieces suffered from a logistic issue: the placements of the mains. While ArtShare is a relatively wet hall, it certainly isn’t as reverberant as Zipper or any other recital hall. As such, the high mounted mains really made the electronic elements feel very separate from the ensemble. This was passable for the Carro due to the size of the ensemble, but really took away from the Worthington.
Another gripe on the venue were the neighbors. As the final sounds of Balance of Power by Dan VanHassel (also co-director of Wild Rumpus) faded out, dance music thudded in from a tenant upstairs. (Artshare is an apartment for artists as well as a venue). The piece relied on stark contrasts between more intense moments of percussive groove and lush swelling noisy chords, and while at first the Cagian response of an upstairs boombox seemed a little cute, and almost appropriate for a concert of new music, it continued, ruining more subtle moments both in Walk of Shame and Sonnet XX. Despite the interruption, the VanHassel was executed brilliantly, and was, (to one who is only fleetingly familiar with the composer’s work) quintessential VanHassel, featuring an incredibly well blended ensemble sound and and incredible accuracy within the group.
The Norton and the Barabba utilized the full ensemble along with vocalist Vanessa Langer. Brabba’s cry trojans cry was evocative of the VanHassel, though, with textures peeking in and out of each other a bit more subtly. The piece was extensively theatrical making great use of Langer’s immense stage presence. Beach Song by Norton may have been the only lone wolf on the program, seemingly unpaired. The song is an adaptation of a pop song originally written “after suffering a dramatic New Year’s Eve break up” and then re-re-arranged for Wild Rumpus. The use of classical voice provided an incredibly interesting juxtaposition over the very singer/songwritery text and the timbrally interesting arrangement.
While Wild Rumpus probably won’t be back in town for a while, if you end up up the coast, or they end up down here, I highly recommend coming out to see this incredibly versatile ensemble. The video below features their performance from last year, and the Carro that was on the program last week:
Desert Magic is an LA-based collective comprised of the talents of Alex Wand, Steven Van Betten and Logan Hone, all alumni of Cal Arts. With backgrounds in composition, folk, jazz, songwriting, and world music, they manage to succeed in creating genre-bending sound world that honors not only their musical pedigrees, but also our human histories as well.
A Round the Sun consists of a collection of songs and rounds that were have been “released piecemeal” on the equinoxes and solstices of this year. The album coalesces upon a shared middle ground that is earthy, wholesome and honest: a world that can be difficult to inhabit while also maintaining experimentalism and a sense of the mystic. From inclusion of samples from NASA’s sound archive to the weightless quality of the trios voices, the album doesn’t try to hide the joy and haunting beauty with which it appreciates our time on earth, and the passing thereof.
With such a large set of rounds, there is always the chance of a form getting stale, but A Round the Sun plays with formal elements, tonalities and instrumentation plenty enough that the old counterpoint feels new and interesting each time it is presented. The most power parts of the album are the points when the processes used to create the pieces are dished out to us the listener. On Venus Takes Jupiter, a round is introduced with text that wanders from a more whimsical metaphoric take on the orbits of the titular planets to a mathematical/musical explanation of the phasing loops that follow.
While the core instrumentation could seem folk-ish or even poppy, usually hovers about guitar based groves with floating vocal lines above, guitar preparations, an expansive array of guitars, and Logan Hone’s multi-instrumentalism throw in new timbral (and at times tuning system) choices just before the color pallet gets stale. What I can only assume is Erhu on The Other String Theory and a carefully tasteful sax solo in the middle of Commonly Observed Phenomenon expand complement the loops that permeate the album.
While this exact brand of zodiac contrapuntal songwriting seems like it might have a hard time finding a home in a concert hall or a club, the grey-area-ness of its classification will lead to a rewarding listen for anyone who is looking for an album that exists in the cracks of classification, and will pay off with melody lines that can circle through one’s head for days after listening, begging to be rewound and re-listened and timbres and layers that are supremely joyful and poignant and at times absolutely laid bare in their sincerity.
Listen to The U and I off of A Round the Sun below: