Review: Line Upon Line Percussion

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance critic Luke Quinton.)

It felt like Line Upon Line’s concert series at Big Medium Gallery at Canopy in East Austin hit its stride this weekend.

Line Upon Line Percussion. Photo by Rino Pizzi.
Line Upon Line Percussion. Photo by Rino Pizzi.

Not that the ambitious percussion trio’s programming was less thoughtful in their earlier concerts, just that a critical mass of music lovers finally seems to know this smart series exists.

This weekend’s show in the Big Medium gallery at Canopy was standing room only (they ran out of chairs), and maybe in part because this show was not just Line Upon Line (LUL), but two New Yorkers: composer Sam Pluta and art jazz/improv trumpeter Peter Evans.

LUL opened things up with Pluta’s 2009 piece “Matrices,” a piece that tried, as the composer later explained, to make “the most digital noise with the dumbest instruments possible,” a list including hand-held battery powered fans, a plastic bag and a balloon. It was a piece in which everything gets interrupted. A childlike soundscape of quirky balloon chirps is cut by an ominous deep bass tone.

Next, trumpeter Peter Evans took the center of the gallery in a buttoned-down shirt, then quickly burst any expectations that what followed would be straight-laced. Working with Pluta, who operated a board of digital processors and effects, Evans half-swallowed the microphone with the bell of his trumpet and improvised a series of breath experiments, whistles and white noise.

Pluta’s side of this duet brought waves of harsh or shimmering digital signals, but all eyes were on Evans who literally zeroed his eyes on the mic and seemed to turn inward as his music went spastic. It was technically impressive, though really loud in the small gallery space as Evans barked out phrases that put my teeth on edge and then had me laughing at their inventiveness.

One couple walked out, but most people here knew what they were here for. The full-temper digital squalls and wails that sound like a jazz band that lost the plot came from the kind of intense, grating performance that you admire, but from a distance.

And too bad those people bailed, because the showpiece came last: Pluta’s wonderful “Machine Language,” a 2012 work or a very mixed ensemble: bass clarinets, violin, accordion — yes, accordion — electronics and, of course percussion trio.

The result of these odd timbres was an inspired pairing of a percussive jungle romp, blended with the nervous breakdowns, mood shifts and switches of a 20th Century string quartet. It was very loud, very satisfying, and whip smart.

These concerts usually offer a reliable variety, the musician’s equivalent of a gallery show. Free beer, a mixed group of works, a few good chats in a comfortable environment, and you’re on your way.

Author: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman. She writes about visual art, theater, dance, music, performance, public art, architecture and just about any combination thereof.

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