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Flaring up the Spotlights

On Saturday night, August 11, there was a concert at the Flywheel Arts Center in Easthampton, MA that made perfect sense as an entire unit of performances. The performance coordinator, whom I believe is Matt Weston, combined successfully disparate elements in his choices for performers: the first set I understood in a classical context; the second set was totally different from the former, i.e. improvised rock (hey!); and the last set calmed and coagulated the sense of all the music in the form of composed/improvised avant garde jazz.

To start, ODD APPETITE from Boston, which duo is Ha-Vang Kim on cello & electronics and Nathan Davis at percussion, played three pieces. The first evoked the idea of an "Exercise", as it was titled, in the continuity that is created through bowing. Even though the piece began with separate notes from the cello, those were counterbalanced with bowing of the vibraphone and then separate notes made by softheaded mallets. The cello playing became bowing that was carefully timed in relation to the use of the predominantly softly played percussion instruments. The close was a solid stop.

The next piece was composed for amplified cactus and was performed by Davis. This work as it progressed had to be played with attention to tempo, otherwise it would not have made sense. It began in a way that presented the individual points of the cactus as the sound making devices; the individual points when touched successively however created a louder more fluid sound which itself changed to sounds that resembled the clicking of a tongue, water droplets dropping, and a strange nature bound drone. An organ like hum, seemingly antithetical to the innate silence of the cactus, closed the work. Subdued electronics from a laptop computer that invisibly rested at Davis's right side infiltrated the miking of the "instrument" of choice. Davis sat at a small school desk with the uniformly shaped approximately 8' tall cactus in a pot in the center of the desk. His shadow was deep and dark behind him. This piece bore an air of cutsieness that I was hard pressed to objectify out of my appreciation of it.

The last and most impressive work performed by this duo entitled "Little Big Muff" was composed by Ken Ueno from Cambridge, MA. The tones of the cello were changed & enriched by an electronic distortion unit mounted on the strings above the bridge of the instrument: this was the "muff". The percussion took on what to my mind should have been the way in which the cello was to be played and the cello became a percussion instrument. The piece began with one long tone on the cello; the long tone became chopped up into single notes that increased in pace; the arco technique became rattled. The bass drum blatantly interrupted the continuity and monotone of the cello, but resultantly unified the forward motion of the music; its repetition created a welcome pattern. The snare drum, toms, and vibes reinforced the rattled arco. Then it was back to continuous tone accentuated by a crash in the perc section that elucidated the pace of the piece. The interaction of the quick pace in perc and the cello enforced the phrasing of the cello, which became a grinding sound. Clinks on wood and vibes bridged to a crescendo on the cello. The bow pizzed, clamored to a high pitch at which point there was a clash on metal from the perc side modified by electronics that closed this "heterophonic" composition.

The second set was performed by VELOCIFER, a four person group from Connecticut. There was so much equipment on the stage that I wondered what I was in for. There was a huge drum set with multiple cymbals, drum pads, bass drum, toms, snare, & several perc instruments I could not see but which appeared on occasion. To the left of this was a synthesizer and zither like instrument. In front were a bass guitar, and to the right of that a baritone guitar both with pedals and/or electronic sound modifiers. The entire improvisation seemed to be an effort to find a groove. The drummer was constantly moving. The bassist hung his head and focused on entrances and exits and pedal changes. The baritone guitarist often took the lead with the synthesizer. The music was in an unforgiving flux, expanding and contracting and falling into sync now and then. The music became so loud that is was deafening. All I could think about at that time was a radio commercial I often hear about loss of hearing due to loud music in your car, while using headphones, or while having the volume so high in a room that it could blow the speakers of your stereo system, much less ruin your ears. I could not determine how artful this music was due to the dissembling of it. And when the baritone guitar player finally stopped playing at the end and looked up at the bass player and asked: "Is this it?", I embraced my skepticism as to their awareness of what they were doing.

The final set was a pleasure as had been the first set. THE CORNERLESS CIRCLE MYSTERY ENSEMBLE, Ben Karetnick on drums, Jeremy Starpoli on trombone and Cliff White on tenor and alto sax brought together an introspective ending to the gig just because of the balance of structure to improvised music that was presented. This allowed for much more appreciation of the sounds that they were making and the wholeness of the music that had been created. There was a cohesive attentiveness to the tune in the first number. The drums were played quickly and precisely and crisply, which I believe to be the voice of Karetnick coming through. Starpoli played a half beat behind White's arpeggios and scalar runs. The instruments' initial separation molded itself into simultaneity. The shape of the piece became a march where the bone and the sax worked together beautifully with repeated phrases. Starpoli soloed next. The slide took the sound on a climb where the prevailing elements were distinct phrases that moved into a group of sounds that ripped, sparkled, were repeated and buzzed through the mouthpiece. Starpoli tore apart the phrases and permutated them into another climb up the register in da-da-da-da-da's to a slow low tone to out. Karetnick in the meantime had intercepted the solo with the snare, tom and cymbal and grooved into a seesaw motion. He played with the stick point on the tom to reintroduce the beginning phrases of the piece. The drums continued to maintain the pace. The bone buzzed notes; then there was air, then there was silence. The drums were still in a groove. The tenor sax reacted to the reintroduction of the basic tempo with more scalar runs. The alto came in when the bone went silent. Karetnick knocked the edges of the cymbals with his drumsticks. Starpoli played one lone note quietly. The alto squeaked and was played more intensely than the tenor had been. The drums offered a crisp sticks, a rumble of the bass drums and a tour of the drum skins. More notes came out of the alto sax and eventually moved into a phrase-building zone that was slow and winding. The bone had been out and reentered coincidentally with the alto. The drumsticks hit the metal edges of the drums. Every instrument took off and was then done.

The final work of the night started with a steady low pitch from the trombone intermixed with sporadic notes on the tenor. The two horns played in between each other. Karetnick shook seed pods. The bone progressed into a distant high pitch as did the tenor. The trombone tone mounted into nothing but a buzz. The high pitch of the alto moved into a tune that became low and also a buzz. Karetnick used his brushes on the drums. Sometimes brassy single notes came out of the trombone; low single notes were complemented with notes on the tenor. White picked up the alto. Starpoli continually buzzed on the trombone &. Karetnick took the handles of the brushed to tap the snare. He made perfect rhythmic hits to bring the two horns together. The brushes came back. The alto preached: one, two, three, four. Then there was a slow climb on the alto coincidentally with one on the trombone. The alto announced a tune. Then there was silence.

This New Music Series is worth going to. There is intention with the group of people who keep it going to bring as much inspirational music and arts to the area as is possible and for that, Flywheel is to be congratulated.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Unknown
  • Concert Date: 8/11/2001
  • Venue: Flywheel Arts Center
  • City State Country: Easthampton, MA - USA
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