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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Catching up, Part 2

Remanence: Monstrance/Remonstrance at the ICA Boston (March 29, 2014)

An extravagance presented by the artist Matthew Ritchie and the musicians Bryce Dessner, Shara Worden, David Sheppard and Evan Ziporyn. We began in the lobby of the ICA facing a large mural by Ritchie with light projections above and seated on the floor on foam rubber pads sharing the same amoeba-like design (for serious lack of a better description). The musical component, a collaboration between Dessner and Ziporyn titled "Propolis", a sort of structured improvisation for violin, trombone, bass clarinet, double bass and highly electronically manipulated electric guitar, transformed by Sheppard's sound design, emitting through speakers on all sides and above the audience. The audience is immersed in sound, also somewhat amoeba-like in shape, as Sheppard records the ensembles playing, manipulates it, creating loops and such for the players to respond further etc, etc. Some very fascinating, beautiful, scary music ensued.

We then crossed the street to Our Lady of Good Voyage Chapel for more music (Dessner got a headstart and was already playing as we entered), this time a collaboration between Dessner and Ritchie called "To the Sea" featuring the great Shara Worden (aka My Brightest Diamond), and a film by Ritchie of seaside ruins. This was a very ritual like performance with Worden, wearing an elaborate mask, bringing a model of a ship up to front of the church while singing a sort of invocation which was electronically altered, repeating back on itself as she slowly walked up and down the aisles, making arm gestures which were duplicated by her filmed image on the screen in the front. Organ and trombones fleshed out the sound building to a climax centered around a repeated descending line on the electronically enhanced guitar. Again, immersive sounds like the churning sea.

The Arditti Quartet at the ICA, March 23, 2014

My favorite way of describing the Arditti Quartet's technical prowess and assuredness is by recalling that I once saw them give a nonchalant performance of Bartok's 4th quartet. It's quite something to hear, and also see, one of the most musically, but also physically demanding pieces of music ever written played by a group where the cellist looks like he's asleep. This program's line up of Brian Ferneyhough, Jonathan Harvey, Joshua Fineberg and Hulmut Lachenmann would seem to present the kind of challenge this Quartet thrives on.

If you're not familiar with the theater at the ICA, the backstage and stage-right wall are made up entirely of windows looking across Boston Harbor towards East Boston and the lonely-financial-zone-by-the-sea with planes taking off or landing at Logan Airport just out of sight (and I mean just). So basically the challenge for the performers is to be more interesting than what's going on behind you. When first violinist Irvine Arditti seemed to be checking out the view as he took his seat, I was wondering if we were in for more of the high-functioning cruise control.

For me the highlight was Fineberg’s La Quintina, in which electronics are used to generate new voices from the sounds the quartet plays in the manner of how notes reverberating in a cathedral would compliment the music sung afterwards (the fifth voice the title references). Here perhaps the view benefits the performance, for rather than giving in to the temptation of parsing out what sounds are live and what's processed (or, if, like me, you're sitting in the back third of the auditorium, trying to discern how the various knobs and computer screens are effecting the sound), one can just watch the water (or the planes) and let the music wash over.

Tenth of December by George Saunders

A fine collection of stories from one of the highly regarded (and deservedly so) writers of out time.

Persons with active fantasy lives or vivid inner lives are shown dealing with everyday living and dying. Others have vivid inner or outer lives chemically thrust upon them. Persons who are searching for a level of success or status or perfection that doesn't really exist, but one feels, or is made to feel, incomplete or unsuccessful for not achieving, unable to enjoy or appreciate what they already have or who they already are.

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