Hunter College, Times Square Gallery: January 30th, 2009
In the 49 years since La Monte Young, John Cage and others first investigated chance, duration, and atonality in Yoko Ono’s Chamber Street Loft, experimental music has broadened and defined its boarders, trickled into discrete genres, and almost entirely left private residences for spotlit galleries and trendy venues. Recently, Hunter College’s Times Square Gallery hosted DisEchoNance, a show featuring three performers playing simultaneously for three hours. A half hour into the event Jeff Thompson’s guitar riffs smeared into a wall of live recorded loops, like a Cheshire cat illumed in the foremost echoes of how a smile might sound. In a much smaller, and more tucked away room, Lauren Luloff sang sultry vocals amidst synth-soaked keyboard ad libitum, while Ensemble One Collective slowly climbed toward a dis-symphonic tidal wave of sound in a third chamber.
The Times Square Gallery, a network of white walled rooms, was completely empty save for the performers who were positioned at least two or three empty rooms away from one another. At times, and for a time, one heard their sounds overlap in certain corridors, at certain angles, or during pauses in one another’s performances.
Jeff Thompson’s sound works originate as observation/ideas drawn from intuitively listening to daily life. He is not without a sense of irony—his piece that night started with half-second loops from a store-bought thunderstorm CD. After the loop ran shortly, Thompson strapped on an amped guitar and began setting arrhythmic slow strums against a loosely-planed overall musical structure. Thompson uses the fret board according to a poetic “geometry,” not so much playing chords as investigating tonal adjacencies through improvised finger placement. These atmospheric strums were sampled and then looped and manipulated (up to 5 or 6 times) on a nearby laptop. At times he would slowly fall to his knees, acting like a tableau vivant for ten minutes at a time in minimalist ecstasy of rock’s power-cord pose.
Halfway through the ebb of guitar-layered sound, Thompson slowly brought down the volume and began handing out chopsticks. Suddenly we were playing the floor like a giant marimba; a Fluxus gag that turned the stark gallery into a momentary playpen. Thompson later played a small bellows operated Indian instrument known as a Sruti. Subtle gestures such as these not only helped to disrupt the sometimes overbearing conventions of experimental sound but extended its reach into our sense of play, keeping the attentive ear on its toes.
In the smallest of the rooms Luloff squatted behind two saw-horses and an upside down soap-box which supported her 4-track recorder and keyboard. By recording live throughout the set Luloff was able to mine raw sounds to manipulate and layer into blocks of music through which she threaded her more song-like piano numbers. Her shadowy vocalizations are teased out from songs partially pre-recorded at home.
Ensemble One Collective, an acoustic music ensemble that traffics in automatic simultaneity and minimalist scores, were arranged in a semicircle of chairs. Members Andrew Lafkas (bass), Tucker Dulin (trombone) Kenny Wang (viola), Maria Mykolenko (violin) Jim Altieri (violin), Bryan Eubanks (soprano Saxophone), Adam Diller (tenor Saxophone), Dave Ruder (clarinet), Katie Young (bassoon) Ann Adachi (flute), Dave Kaden (oboe) and Leif Sundstrom (percussion) started with barely audible atmospheric waves of sound that eventually crescendoed into a loud symphonic white noise. Between playing minimal scores, the performers improvised short asides choreographed by indeterminate glances and nods. Ensemble One can be seen monthly at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
But, what did they sound like together? The room center-most to all three performers, and the most likely place for simultaneous listening, was transformed into a makeshift bar and lounge area. Almost without exception, the audience collectively decided to shed respectful attentiveness for chatty slight-regard and began conversing loudly throughout the three hour performance. The music became a distraction, the party’s entertainment, and above all, an acquisition of culture. To misquote someone who must be tired by now of turning in his grave: “They had everything to say/and they’ve said it/and there was PBR/as they needed it.”