(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Luke Quinton.)
The only issue with a concert called “Soft” is, “How do I reach down for my beer without making this chair creak?”
Austin percussion trio Line Upon Line’s indie-concert series continues its DIY concert series at Big Medium Gallery, powered by free beer and pretzels, but there does seem to be some shoring up of its financial situation this year. They’ve expanded from one night, to two, so in theory the audience could double. And then ensemble is apparently going to get a permanent beer sponsor, which, you know, cool. But this concert also had dancers. More on that later, but first, a sombre note.
As Matt Teodori explained to the audience, the Austin composition community is in a state of shock this week, after learning of the sudden passing of Ethan Frederick Greene, a funny, playful, vivacious character who completed his doctorate in composition at UT in 2013 and quickly found work teaching composition, most recently with a tenure-track position at Stetson University, in Florida. Greene had written for Line Upon Line, but also for video games, the stereos of parked cars, and opera. Greene’s family as asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations go to Austin’s music instruction non-profit, Anthropos Arts.
The ensemble dedicated the concert to his memory, and on the slate was soft music by John Cage, John Luther Adams, Elizabeth Hoffman, and two Texas composers, Travis Weller and Joel Love.
This was “Inlets” by Cage as you’re unlikely to hear it again — the players stepped outside to a table set with a variety of conch shells, mic’ed and filled with water, while the audience remained indoors, peering at them through the glass. (A glass incidentally filled with flags and stickers by artist Erin Curtis’ new show.) But the mics also picked up a chatty conversation being held by a few women standing near the gallery next door. An effect that jolted, depending on your take, a dimension either of reality, frustration, or humor, into this spacey piece of music. I’ll take the latter.
The dancers, Rosalyn Nasky and Lisa del Rosario, also entered during the piece and proceeded to mime their way around the gallery like alien beings inspecting another planet. They danced the entire program with movements that were by turns distressing or playful. They were often struggling, caught in corners or stretching with every fibre and muscle in their arms for something just out of reach. It was intriguing, but also distressing, when the pair seemed to be expressing anxiety or struggle, onto music that, to me, felt more serene.
The Adams piece was the softest of the night — living up to its title “Always Very Soft.” It’s a work about contrast — the players mark out multiple rhythms on a huge iron bracket, but simply use the points of their fingers. Hoffman’s piece, “Inner, Inner,” a 2012 LUL commission, was surprisingly melodic, considering it used steel sheets as instruments, harnessing a feel akin to some traditional Asian folk song.
By the time we heard Travis Weller’s piece, another LUL commission (2013), the gallery was a little too warm (they’d turned off the A/C so the works could be heard) to give full attention to this long, mediative work. The piece’s mix of bowed metal and mallets created an atmosphere of mystery, especially thanks to its accompaniment; text that appears to be a diary entry from 2010. “1:15 a.m. Donald Nelson is lying in a hospital bed in Galesburg, Illinois … 1:35 a.m. Donald says: ‘Cathy, turn on the light.”
Joel Love’s new work, “In The Gloaming” sounds like the world’s loneliest music box. Bowed tones for dissonance, and melodies on glock. The tune was generous, and unfortunately, the music box on this one closed a little too quickly.
“Soft” runs again Friday, Sept. 18. For more information visit http://lineuponlinepercussion.org/