Friday, September 16, 2011

Been busy between returning to work and spending all evenings at AMPLIFY, but I guess I should post a few words about the three evenings of (mostly) Michael Pisaro's work. Going from memory here, not notes.

On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of hearing Michael in duo with Radu Malfatti, performing the latter's "Claude Lorrain 2" and his own "Ascending Series 6". I was admittedly disappointed to learn that Radu's title referred not to the painter but rather to the street containing the site in which the piece was first performed (Claude Lorrain Strasse in Vienna) and the "2" to how many musicians were performing the present version. Nonetheless, I attempted to picture some of Lorrain's landscapes (one illustrated above) during the pppp set, none too successfully. I was mighty tired (worse the next day) and details drift together, but both compositions were quiet, spacious and lovely. As evidenced elsewhere in the fest, Malfatti's control was breathtaking, his soft, low tones as pure as water and his extracurricular activities (tapping, scraping and otherwise accosting his instrument or mute) were precise.

The next day's activities began with "A cloud drifting over the plain", a quartet + tape set with Pisaro (piano), Barry Chabala (guitar), Greg Stuart (percussion) and Dominic Lash (bass). [I pause to mention that it's now Sunday morning as I'm typing this and, as no notes were taken, I'm relying on an increasingly hazy memory of events, so I won't go into much detail from hereon in unless I'm relatively sure the described events actually occurred!]. They played over a tape--was this the one with Nick Hennies playing a piece of Radu's for four bass drums? In any case, the activity was somewhat denser than I expected, Pisaro apparently providing the lead in that sense, the others picking up on that. As was the case throughout the evening, I found myself drawn to Lash's extraordinarily sensitive work. Every pluck or bowing seemed to embody grace and purpose. This was even more the case on the subsequent piece, a melding of two "mind is moving" compositions, IV and IX, with Pisaro on guitar and Lash. As is often the case with his work, the spacing and placement were beautifully considered. That's just the half of it, though, with the performer bearing a huge weight in terms of execution and Lash came through in stunning fashion. Hard to describe otherwise; those who know Michael's work will have a fair idea of how it played out, the gentle notes, the silences. Experiencing it live is a different beast. Finally, "fields have ears (6)" was rendered by Barry, playing to tape (maybe this was the Radu piece?) and was notable for several segments of surprising, vaguely rockish modalities. Very vaguely but offering a whiff! It too was lovely and had an intriguing plan beneath, having to do with overlaid (imaginary) garden plots determining the distribution of sounds, but more than that I can't say.

The following evening was composed of two rather amazing pieces. First up was "A transparent gate with ten panels", with a structure modeled on Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" in Florence. The work is in ten 10-minute sections, for solo percussionist (Greg Stuart) with tape and, I have to say, 100 minutes have never passed so quickly. The live performer plays a different instrument (sometimes two) in each section, said instrument being small percussion (brass bells, hollow wooden blocks, a triangle, etc.) that are struck or bowed, sparingly and softly for the most part. Seven small iPod speakers were arrayed against the wall on either side of Stuart. From these issued accompaniment by the same items but arranged so as to overlap the live segments in brick-laying fashion. So the piece began with Stuart tapping on the triangle. Five minutes in, triangle sounds began appearing from the speakers, spatially distinct. Somewhat before he moved to the next portion, sounds from the instrument he was about to play would appear on the tape. These would fade in and out as the piece continued, offering a reference back to the prior sound and a preview of the upcoming one. As in much of Pisaro's music, not an excessively cluttered concept, but a clear and lovely one that engenders more complication than you expect. As said, time seemed to pass quite quickly, a subjective "fact" confirmed in conversation with several other listeners. The last segment used grains of rice falling to the floor, landing on sheet of tin foil, an incredibly sensuous and gorgeous sound. A great piece, superbly realized by Stuart.

The evening, and AMPLIFY:stones proper (the Stone portion) concluded with one of my favorite Pisaro works, "asleep, street, pipes, tones", performed by the composer and Katie Porter (bass clarinet). I've written elsewhere about it so won't go on at length; suffice it to say that it retains, to these ears, its mesmerizing quality, its almost heart-wrenching, brief allusions to "traditional" melody (some of those two or three not bass clarinet figures just kill me) and its constant sense of surprise, new elements being introduced quite late during its 64 minutes. A great work.

ok, will attempt to write up the last couple of nights at Issue project later on today....


Jon Abbey said...

"They played over a tape--was this the one with Nick Hennies playing a piece of Radu's for four bass drums?"

no, that was during Claude Lorrain 2, very quietly in the background.

the recording here was the 80 overlaid scores of Greg dropping water on substances, the one that often sounded like percussion (Michael cited Max Roach in his introduction) but really wasn't.

Brian Olewnick said...

ah, thanks