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SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL CONCERT REVIEW
MATA Interval 4.2 - In One: Soloists, Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, New York. 13.1.2011 (BH)
Paula Matthusen: lathyrus (2007)
Spencer Topel: Violine (2010, world premiere)
Jorge Variego: Mimic (2008)
Juraj Kojs: At and Across (2007)
Sarah O’Halloran/Margaret Schedel: …linger figure flutter… (2010, world premiere)
Chikashi Miyama: Black Vox (2010)
Scott Blumenthal, laptop
Erik DeLuca, laptop
Michael McCurdy, laptop
Aaron Meicht, laptop
James Moore, laptop
Wil Smith, laptop
Aleksei Stevens, laptop
Spencer Topel, laptop, violin
Jorge Variego, clarinet
Yotam Haber, joystick
Juraj Kojs, Slovakian sheep bells
Margaret Schedel, Zeta cello, K-Bow
Sarah O’Halloran, narrator
Chikashi Miyama, Peacock
In the last few years, MATA, the organization dedicated to encouraging young composers, has begun a series of “Interval” concerts at the pioneering outpost, Issue Project Room. Given that MATA’s annual festival usually boasts a huge amount of innovation, these smaller events might be seen as the “edge of the cutting-edge.” This fascinating evening of instruments and electronics curated by composer Juraj Kojs generated enough interest to sell out the cozy space—and on an icy New York night when the temperature dropped to -8°C, just a few days after another big snowfall.
Using eight laptop computers, Paula Matthusen’s lathyrus is semi-improvised, and offers the performers many options, not all of them desirable, e.g., “Play loud enough to blow the speakers.” (A public nod of gratitude to the musicians for leaving that choice unexplored.) The musicians are instructed to negotiate the choices on the spot, in real time; visually, the audience sees the eight performers occasionally raising a few fingers, apparently trying to convince the others of the validity of this avenue. The sounds Matthusen has chosen were recorded in Berlin, from a seemingly wide array: some give the impression of doors being gently shut, resonating in abandoned hallways; others sound like mechanical parts chirping in unidentified machines; still others evoke insects, their hallucinatory night noises increased to maximum audibility.
Violinist Spencer Topel uses several methods of sound processing in Violine, derived from Bach’s “Chaconne” (from the second Partita). The first of three sections, “Crossings,” makes the theme of the Bach gradually appear; the second, “Filigrees,” uses rapid arpeggios; and the third, “Strands,” although “reversing the processes of the first movement” actually sounds the most Bachian of the trio. But my description seems slightly inadequate to describe the shimmering, otherworldly sounds created by Yotam Haber, whose violin passages were being constantly altered by state-of-the-art software programs capable of subtly manipulating pitch and timbre. Jorge Variego’s Mimic (for clarinet, joystick, and electronics) also uses an acoustic instrument subjected to live electronic processing. Mr. Variego’s adept work on clarinet (with Yotam Haber on joystick) created tight melodic cells that dissolved, disappeared, and then reappeared as massed clones of themselves, perhaps orbiting around an unseen axis.
Then came Mr. Kojs’s At and Across, for Slovakian sheep bells and their electronic equivalents, which began with the composer shaking bells as he slowly walked up the aisle through the audience. Inspired by his homeland’s flocks of sheep, each identified by different bells, the piece has an appealing, nonchalant quietude, rising to a tumultuous clamor now and then—a fascinating blurring of ancient sounds melded with 21st-century technology. New technology also forms the core of …linger figure flutter… by Sarah O’Halloran and Margaret Schedel, using a K-Bow, the latter designed with sensors that detect motion and send the results to a computer. With Ms. Schedel on Zeta cello (an amplified instrument) and Ms. O'Halloran narrating cryptic texts, the results were ear-tingling, if a bit inscrutable.
Last in the roughly hour-long show came Chikashi Miyama from Japan, whose Black Vox was written for Peacock, a digital, theremin-like instrument with 35 infrared sensors. After positioning the device flat on a music stand, Mr. Miyama began a series of elaborately choreographed hand motions above, generating an enormous range of pitch and timbre changes. At one point his manipulations veered into perilous, mildly risqué territory, but given the groundbreaking nature of his explorations, no one seemed to mind.