[nonce Concert] 5/11/11. Yes.Oui.Si Space, Boston.
We hear the premiere of a new piece and the debut of a new band from Anthony Coleman, witness the fine-tuned craftings in subtlety and silence that define the work of the hermetic French composer Mark André, experience the big and beautiful vocal orgy that is Pauline Oliveros, all in the intimate surroundings of friends, artists, and musicians. Billed as a Sonic Mediation, each piece, each performance, was in some way that: an invitation to privately and personally explore sounds, both intentional and incidental, in a manner of deep, clear, and cleansing focus. Some of the pieces expanded our awareness outward to include all sounds, in a broad and sweeping, reverberant manner. Others asked the Listener to lean her ear forward, to stand on tippytoes and squint, and carefully let our attention focus inward on the smallest, most subtle detail. From either perspective, each of the pieces occupied very specific, very distinct, variously complex and startling soundworlds in which to do so.
As the night began, Anthony Coleman and Peter Negroponte set fire to the sonic headspace with a nervous, twitching, sadistically funny and heartwarmingly violent set of three short improvisations, heralding the debut of their brave, new organ duo Sabbath Elevators. Next, this same voice was heard again, albeit from a different angle. Nonce’s set began with the premiere of Coleman’s “Quodlibet – And Proud of It, Man,” a trio which we commissioned from him a few months ago. The piece, for bassoon, cello, and violin (Chris Watford, Tony Rymer, and Diamanda La Berge Dramm), was a crisp and twisty little game of hockets and interlocking, whose stuck machines and juicy intervals served to create both tension and levity through its onward propulsion. A completely different soundworld than that of Sabbath Elevators, but still completely Anthony.
John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano has been getting a lot of life these days, and why shouldn’t it? Of our seven members, Aaron Likness is the one without a portable instrument, and, as the kind of group we are, we don’t often play in the kind of places that have big, ten-foot grand pianos. We play in art galleries, and in people’s homes, and in such spaces what else should one use than that tiny little two-octave kiddy keyboard? Plus, as carefully and coyly as Aaron’s been playing the Cage lately, why would we ever want to program anything else? (Olivia from Yes.Oui.Si made a charming little video of the affair.)
And on we went, further expanding awareness, with two of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Zodiac pieces, the current sign, “Gemini” (Aaron Likness-toy piano), as well as “Scorpio” (Ceceilia Allwein-soprano; Ryan Krause-synthesizer). Stockhausen had his head in the stars, so we sent our ears on a stellar journey of our own, into the storage closet, where there hid Ceceilia. From the main gallery, we heard sizzling, kitschy synth sounds shot up into the air, sent to mingle with this stratospheric female voice that has come from out of nowhere, sweeping, sliding, and soaring through the space. Both Ceceilia and myself are Scorpios, and this collaboration has been one of which we have long been fond, and find befitting of that seductive sign.
Kathryn, Ceceilia and Chris then delved into the silence, with Mark André’s kontra-etude (2001), where bass, voice, and bassoon teeter on the edge of audibility, offering extremely controlled and delicate whisper-glimpses into the tiny fabric of their instruments. The piece creates surprising connections in the ear between the frequencies of each player; pitchless air blown through the bassoon echoes the closed mouth inhalations of the singer mirroring the bowing of the bass’s bridge, all in strict canon. With each of the three entries, the sonic capacity becomes more complex. While the bassist in this piece merely moves her bow across different parts of the side of the instrument, the singer expands this to introduce pitch and vowel sounds, while the bassoonist introduces further changes in timbre controlled through the position of his reed in his mouth and the degree of air pressure, as well as by using just a wee bit of multiphonics, wrung out from the depths of his body and instrument like a canvas stretched upon a canvas.The image of a screen door comes to mind: a grey grid through which we peer from the outside in, highly taut, any direct view mildy occluded, frictive yet vulnerable, and with the sense of feeling that the distance separating us from the object is greater than that of the decidedly intimate surroundings we shared. The music raises more questions (and hairs) than answers, and is one of the boldest pieces we’ve programmed yet.
Joan Arnau Pàmies, our resident European, took us to the next level of focused attention. His Postludes, for cello and double bass (Tony Rymer and Kathryn Schulmeister), is comprised of six miniatures, each lasting less than twenty seconds, filled with highly dense and extremely complex music, in the material itself, and in its interrelations. There is about as much silence between movements as there is actual music, but the information is presented so fast, and is so multi-faceted and implicative, that we are unable to process all of what we hear in the moment. We are constantly “catching up” with what we just heard. Pàmies enriches the whole experience through a startlingly simple technique: the piece is played twice(!). We hear what could pass for an ending: three delicate, soft, consonant tones, interjected by a bustling outburst, before all of a sudden being sent back to the work’s opening to start again. Our memory is challenged, as is our hearing. Is what we are experiencing now the same as what we had experienced before? How carefully were we listening? How is this music heard (or played) differently? Why is this happening? Regardless, we are privy to this jolting and rumbling emanating from the stupendous virtuosity of nonce’s two low string players, as they fly in a full fit of fiery fury across the fingerboard, stopping here and there for a breathless reprieve of the airy and infinitesimally soft, of the fragile, tender, grainy wood tones, all the while exploring the whole range of each of the instruments’ parameters through Joan’s gifted sense of gesture, drama, and orchestration.
Finally, with the room’s attentions tightly focused and awarenesses widely broadened, all ten of us sat down on the floor for Pauline Oliveros’s “One Word,” from her set, Sonic Meditations. We breathed, we hissed, we moaned, we hawed. We had been training and rehearsing her pieces for weeks now, convening occasionally to sit, phonate, and mutually meditate. These pieces are bit like vocal yoga, where one starts by observing their own breathing, and then works their whole being into a state of communion, communion with all that is going on inside one’s own body, as well as all that is going on in the space, in the room, maybe elsewhere. What does it do? It brings you together with your surroundings, with your friends. It opens up sonic perception in a way that can follow one around throughout the rest of their day-to-day doings. It cleanses, it unites, it teaches, and, can actually turn out sounding pretty wonderful. In “One Word,” each member sat, silently, and found a word. This word is then explored, each little consonant coaxed, stretched, and gutted, each diphthong shaped and expounded, each vowel eternal. The word’s parts continue to assemble, the pace accelerates, suddenly we are hearing language, a poem of utterances, occasionally intelligible in their cross-shifting rhythms, elsewhere noisy and blurred as overheard conversations on a train. (The words chosen included “ricochet,” “canvas,” “control,” “vaccination,” and “biscuit.”) This is then sped up to the point of impossibility, where the words break and come apart, and we are left with dumbly mumbling musicians bumbling humbly on the floor.
The Oliveros came to a head after almost twenty minutes. Following a brief break, the sonic rinse concluded with Derek Beckvold’s new group Loke, a drony trio featuring Ryan Dugre and Eric Lane, whose multiphonics and analog synths perfectly capped the wild and wonderful ride of our show. Thanks to all those who came, and everyone at the space for making it happen. Please check out yesouisispace.com for more wonderful happenings in sight and sound.