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.
Now Hear, UC Santa Barbara’s resident ensemble, will be performing Mirrors on February 17, 7:30 PM, at Lotte Lehman Concert Hall at UCSB. The program features a diverse range of composers, but all of the works relate to the same overarching theme of symmetry and reflection. It includes Michael Beil‘s Karaoke Rebranng!, Edo Frenkel‘s &, &, &, &… for solo piano, Marc Evans‘ Counterflow, and three world premieres – Joshua Carro‘s [[[a nation defiled]]], Dan VanHassel‘s Invective, and a new arrangement of Guillaume de Machaut’s Ma fin est mon commencement. I interviewed Anthony Paul Garcia, the ensemble’s percussionist, about the concert. Here is Anthony:
Mirrors is a program about symmetry and reflection. Can you talk a bit more about the ways the pieces work together to achieve this goal?
The show was designed with the Mirrors concept in mind. We commissioned two new works by composers we love and have worked with before – Dan VanHassel and Josh Carro – and asked them to interpret the theme as they pleased. Both of them approached the idea differently: Josh’s piece is a more abstracted interpretation with some impressive live video echoing the sound of the work, while Dan’s – an unrelenting, percussive power house – is divided in to two parts, the second being a retrograde of the first so it is a literal mirror of itself. So, we present the two halves of Dan’s pieces on opposite sides of the program. In addition to commissioning those new works, we knew that we had to put Michael Beil’s Karaoke Rebranng!, a piece we have performed before, in the dead center of the show. It’s an amazing piece that incorporates a life-sized projection of live video of the performers mirrored on the wall next to the ensemble. Basically, the video records a chunk of us playing some material and plays it back and our recorded physical actions “play” (or sing, if you want to take the Karaoke metaphor) the fixed media backtrack which is often comprised of reversed sounds of previous sections. There is also a big surprise at the end. It is something you have to see to believe. Bookending the show with Machaut’s Ma fin est mon commencement or, “My end is my beginning,” seemed obvious because of the title and the construction – all of the melodic material is recycled, retrograded, inverted, and self referential – but we wanted to make it our own, so it got the Now Hear treatment – live electronics and processed speech. With those big structural pieces in mind, we programmed some other pieces within the show that vibed well with the rest.
The program includes works by diverse composers, including world premieres by Dan VanHassel and Josh Carro, as well as the newly arranged piece by 14th century composer Guillaume de Machaut. How does the music on this program compare to the music you typically perform?
For the most part this is a pretty “on brand” show for us. Most, if not all of our programs, contain works we commissioned or that were written specifically for us. Not only because our instrumentation is a little unique but also because that was a core purpose of forming the group – making brand new music and giving composers an opportunity to do so. Additionally, we are always trying to incorporate technology as a kind of 6th member of the group. That technology can be fixed media backtracks, live processing, video, and anything else. This show is no exception in that realm, however.
The Machaut arrangement is something we have never done before. We all liked the idea of having this piece on the program since it felt like such a great fit but we knew a straight arrangement of the three voice chanson for our instrumentation would not only not make sense in the context of the show, but the words are so important that they needed to be incorporated. So we all got together and kind of jammed on the piece and came up with something that is our own and features the text as samples.
We are also excited to have Marc Evans play a short piano solo in the show. We have had Marc play with us so many times and his playing is so great that we jumped at the chance to feature him in a solo role. I don’t think we have ever had a purely acoustic solo in a show ever! So, that’s new and I think it will be a wonderful addition to the program.
How do you hope the audience will react to the music?
As with most of our shows, we hope that we offer both music that is accessible and some that is challenging and new. I really can’t imagine anyone not grooving to Dan’s choppy beats (my girlfriend dances to it when she hears me practicing at home) or feeling jazzy with Marc Evans’ trio for bass, clarinet, and vibes, but I also think people will be surprised and blown away by the unexpected sounds of Josh’s piece and the crazy arrangement of the Machaut. We always want people to come to our shows with open ears, and this kind of balance helps encourage that. We are very proud to be able to perform works with such a variety of approaches and aesthetics.
What’s next on Now Hear’s schedule?
We have already begun our next project! We are collaborating with composers from UC Irvine to create some wonderful new music. There may or may not be some water droplets that show up to perform with us, but I guess you’ll have to come to the show at UCI on April 19th to find out.
More information on Now Hear Ensemble’s February 17 concert is up at NowHearEnsemble.com.
Now Hear Ensemble‘s Made in California project, which commissioned works from 11 Californian composers for a tour and record, is nearing completion. The record came out yesterday, and they’re having a release concert, this Saturday, November 2, at REDCAT. Here’s a preview video:
The whole record is pretty rad. I went to see them in San Diego last weekend (full disclosure: I have a piece in the project), and while all the music they’ve commissioned and perform is impressive, and covers a pretty wide range of styles and ideas (Todd Lerew’s Variable Speed Machine, a drone-based piece custom-made monochords, provide a fantastic and beautiful contrast to the post-minimal groove of a few earlier tracks on the CD), they’ve managed to bring something of a masterpiece into the world with Dan VanHassel’s Ghost in the Machine. It comes across well on recording, but seeing its robot-controlled deconstruction of a drumset onstage, which is far more peaceful and introspective than it sounds, is the rare completely-new-experience-that-actually-sounds-great that we so often fall short of. This piece needs to be heard, seen, talked about, and learned from.
Full info on the record is at nowhearensemble.com/MadeInCaliforniaAlbum. Tickets for the show are at redcat.org/event/now-hear-ensemble. No streaming links just yet, but it’s available on iTunes and Amazon, among all the other standard places.