Rachel Beetz and Jennifer Bewerse, also known as Autoduplicity, curated the wasteLAnd concert at Art Share L.A. on Friday, December 1, 2017. The duo presented six pieces by women composers, ranging from an electronic work by Pauline Oliveros to a premiere by Celeste Oram.
Bye Bye Butterfly by Pauline Oliveros was first. The lights faded to total darkness and the high whine of an electronic oscillator came from speakers hanging from the ceiling. The sound was reminiscent of an old heterodyne radio tuning in a far-away station. The pitches varied a bit, creating a somewhat alien feel. The oscillator was soon joined by a chorus of faint voices, and this served to add a human element to the mix of sounds. The piece proceeded with the voices overlapping the electronic tones so that it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began. The context shifted back and forth between alien and human, while the sounds themselves mixed together, blurring the distinction. Bye Bye Butterfly is classic Oliveros, inviting the listener to experience familiar emotions through unexpected combinations of sounds.
DiGiT #2, by Mayke Nas followed. Ms. Beetz and Ms. Bewerse both seated themselves at a piano and the piece began in dramatic fashion with a great forearm crash to the keyboard. The massive sound rang into the hall, slowly dissipating into silence. After a few seconds, a second powerful crash hit in a somewhat higher register. This continued, alternating between the ominously low and the anxiously high portions of the keyboard. The length of the intervening silences decreased as the crashes shortened, and this built up a definite feeling of tension. At about the midway point, the two performers began clapping hands just before they struck the keyboard. This happened briefly at first, but as the piece progressed the clapping sequences became longer and more intricate. By the finish, the clapping predominated, creating a playful feel that dispelled the previously menacing atmosphere. DiGiT #2 artfully illustrates how even the most sinister musical foreshadowing can be overcome by a simple expression of optimism.
2.5 Nightmares, for Jessie, by Natacha Diels, was next. Ms. Bewerse, with her cello, occupied a low riser in the center of the stage. Ms. Beetz and Dustin Donahue took their places on either side, sitting at tables with a ukulele, a sand paper block and other assorted percussion. The cello began by playing short, scratchy strokes while the wood blocks were drawn across the sandpaper. Silence followed, and a mallet striking a pie tin combined with bowed ukuleles to create a sequence of wonderfully strange sounds. The players also choreographed their movements and vocalized as the piece proceeded. Weaving together found sounds, cello, ukulele and choreography, 2.5 Nightmares, for Jessie nicely expresses that precise blend of the formal and the surreal that populates our dreams.
a…i…u…e…o…, a video piece by Michiko Saiki, followed. The opening scene simply showed a beautiful young woman alone in a room with red chairs lining an interior corner formed by two white walls. The soundtrack started with some vocal sounds which evolved into singing, often with lovely harmonies. The images portrayed a strong sense of loneliness mixed with a search for identity. There was also an element of the surreal to this – at one point the young woman was shown with several sets of arms, and again with something like sprouts of clover growing out of her skin. The technical effort was of a very high order, and none of the effects seemed contrived or forced. The powerful images and appealing vocals of a…i…u…e…o… made a strong impression on the audience.
The thin air between skins, by Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, was next. Ms. Beetz and Ms. Bewerse seated themselves back-to-back on the stage. A low trill from the flute began the piece and the cello entered with soft tones, creating an air of quiet mystery. Skittering flute sounds mixed with the cello to create a remote feel, as if hearing a breeze sweeping through a lonely forest. The flute occasionally became more agitated, but The thin air between skins remained consistently understated and sensitively played. A short, overblown blast from the flute ended this peaceful and reserved work.
The premiere of Machut: sanz cuer / Amis, dolens / Dame, par vous (Ballade #17), by Celeste Oram concluded the concert. Autoduplicity, clad completely in black, returned to the stage. The piece began with strong passages from the cello and a stately counterpoint in the alto flute. The feeling was very formal, a bit like early baroque music. The rich tones in the flute and cello made for an elegant combination, especially in the lower registers. Part way through, Ms. Beetz rose from her chair and walked behind a black screen at the rear of the stage. As she did so, an image of her – now dressed in a white top – appeared on the screen. The players traded off, walking back and forth from their music stands, an image of them appearing at the moment they walked behind the screen. At times there were scratchy or breathy sounds heard from the screen, at other times musical sounds, and sometimes silence.
The illusion of seamless, live action was very convincing and all the more remarkable as the images on the screen were prerecorded videos. The music was smoothly continuous and the comings and goings on the stage seemed to connect the players to another dimension. The complex choreography of movement by the players and the split-second timing of the images was remarkable. This flawless premiere of Machut: sanz cuer / Amis, dolens / Dame, par vous is even more impressive given the potential for a technical catastrophe. The skill of Autoduplicity and the ingenuity of the music and video combined for an engaging and entertaining performance.
The next wasteLAnd concert will be on February 10, 2018 at Art ShareLA and will feature new works by Ulrich Krieger and Sarah Belle Reid.
Tonight! Come one and all to Mor York Gallery at 8 for the next installment of Dog Star 12, Autoduplicity, a project of flutist Rachel Beetz and cellist Jennifer Bewerse. Amid their preparations (and moving New Classic LA headquarters to a new house – hence the down to the wire interview), Jennifer and Rachel had time to talk about their project.
How did this band get started? Was it a mutual interest in the works you explore, or did one of you invite the other?
Jennifer: Rachel and I had had the chance to play Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Crumb’s Vox Balaenae together, and I felt like we had great performance chemistry and similar working habits.
Rachel: Jen was interested in exploring performance without the cello and she invited me to join her.
Jennifer: We were both really interested in what would happen in that context. As an instrumentalist, you often identify yourself so strongly with your instrument. What would happen when we didn’t have that?
Rachel: Together, we negotiated a program for this exploration that was neither fully myself (long, dark, tiring) or Jen (bright, light, short). Working on the program together was so rewarding for both of us that the project stuck.
Jennifer: Right, we actually started very much as NOT a band – the title of the duo was the title of our first concert. But the collaboration makes a lot of sense for both of our artistic interests and has grown to include other concert projects.
The first time I saw you you put on a phenomenal performance with almost no playing of your instruments in the traditional sense. As “musicians,” how does your performance training translate into these works for your bodies/you as humans. Seems like acting and stagecraft would be big for you.
Rachel: A lot of people brought up terminology relating to theater when we were presenting our first concert. It was interesting, because we weren’t thinking about the program in those terms at all. A lot of people thought that because we no longer had instruments in our hands, it meant that we were using other types of tools of the stage, mostly involving theater, acting, and such. However, this was not the case AT ALL.
Jennifer: Our mode of working so far has been to look at very targeted questions or materials then explore them in our concerts. So, this concert was very specifically about our interest in a negative space – music without our instruments. The rest really emerged from that spot – issues of feminism, identity, physical relationships…
Rachel: All of the musical decisions for that first performance were made as if our bodies replaced the external instrument. In a way, we translated the practice of performing on an instrument to our bodies, employing the same modes of questioning and thought as an instrumentalist would.
Jennifer: Honestly, these terms were really tricky for us. When does a score (music) become a script (theater)? In some ways the differences between our performing Samuel Beckett’s Footfalls and Vinko Globokar’s ?Corporel are a matter of the composer/author’s preferred notation. But we’re also not interested in “tearing down the boundaries between the arts” or anything like that. This concert was very much in a grey area and that’s an interesting space to inhabit.
Does this week’s concert follow that exploration (body/music), or is it a new direction for you?
Rachel: This concert was one I was really interested in – combining Peter Ablinger’s Instrumente und Rauschen with music by Machaut. In a way, it’s a very simple juxtaposition, but as we dug into the music – moving from single tones, the “everything always” of white noise – we found beautiful paradoxes between the ideas of “simple” or “complex.” At its core, the concert is really about audibility.
Jennifer: So in relation to body/music, the answer is no and yes. No, because this is a very sonic concert – we play our instruments and all of the pieces explore sound. But also yes, because we’ve constructed the concert in a way that ended up shaping sound into a very tangible, physical, object. The sonic extremes – soft/loud, high/low, simple/complex – create a field of listening that situates the body in space.
What excites you about this material?
Rachel: The sound as object in connection to the body’s reaction to it as such is what excites me in this program.
Jennifer: I’m also really excited about the focus of the concert. We’ve worked really hard to construct a continuous listening experience where the pieces can come together and make a larger narrative. It feels like the performer’s version of composing, and it’s very satisfying.
What are your favorite ensembles/series/composers/whatever else in town to go see and hear?
Jennifer: Dog Star Orchestra! This concert is part of the Dog Star Orchestra Volume 12 Festival that’s happening between June 4th – 18th.
Rachel: The concerts are excellent and it’s a great way to see what’s happening in the experimental community around Los Angeles. You can see all of the concerts at www.dogstarorchestra.com.