WasteLAnd marked the opening of their sixth season with a packed venue for a concert titled Biomes, featuring three pieces by Chicago-based composer Katherine Young. Katherine Young’s pieces are multimedia electroacoustic works. She incorporates not only sounds, but lights, movement, interactive performance, and anything in between. The first piece of the night, Earhart & the Queen of Spades performed by LA-based guitarist Nicholas Deyoe, uses a variety of sounds on the electric guitar. Hearing an electric guitar make unusual noises isn’t anything new, but the way Deyoe created the sounds is. Instead of a guitar pick, Deyoe used an array of hand-held objects such as small battery-powered fans, strings of pearls, keys, and bobby pins. These objects, Young explained in the program notes, reference lost objects and myths and femininity. When the fans hover above the amplified strings, the guitar creates an eerie hum; when the fan blades strike the strings, it makes a sizzling effect. The pearls, as you might guess, sound somewhere between raindrops and hail. Each sound emanation was intriguing in its own right. Young pulled out all the stops to create a twenty-minute piece of interwoven sounds, pitches, and rhythmic motifs.
The second piece of the night displayed a completely different approach to music. The Wurlitzer part (performed brilliantly by Wells Leng) used relatively typical twentieth-century techniques like whole tone scales and cluster chords. Combined with Matt Barbier whispering and crooning microtones into the euphonium, Underworld (Dancing) reminded me of an eerie yet meditative take on an old-timey calliope dance. Basically, it’s how I imagine music in the Upside-Down à la Stranger Things. And it was rad.
The final piece of the night was the world premiere of Biomes 1.0. This piece combines acoustic instruments (two trombones+ and a bassoon, played by RAGE THORMBONES Weston Olencki & Matt Barbier, and Katherine Young herself, respectively) with electronics and lights. The lights change over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes in the span of a heartbeat, and represent the smaller ecosystems present in the encompassing biome. The instrumentalists improvise within the ecosystem, building the scene with notes, whispers, whistles, and metallic clacks and clangs, further developed by the electronics reacting to the instruments’ paths. Some segments sounded like the soundscape you almost expect: the dark green light briefly feels and sounds like a sleepy rainforest with croaking frogs and rustling vines, and then transforms into something unrecognizable but no less beautiful and comprehensive. The stark white light evokes the sharp chill of the Arctic, but instead of polar bears we find gasping tubas and huffing bassoons. Throughout the piece, the light segregated the biome into ecosystems, but the steady undercurrent of electronic noise and human breath united the parts into the whole. Biomes clocked in at over half an hour long, but I was so enchanted that time nearly stopped.
Katherine Young took LA under her spell with these three incredible pieces, especially Biomes 1.0. She is WasteLAnd’s featured composer this season, so be sure to attend the rest of the concerts to hear more of her and the incredible musicians of the contemporary music scene of LA.
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: