Review: Line Upon Line Percussion pushes boundaries of art and music

Line Upon Line Percussion. Contributed by Renelle Bedell
Line Upon Line Percussion. Contributed by Renelle Bedell

This review written by freelance arts critic Luke Quinton
A blue light glowed on a pillar at the center. We were inside the gallery at Canopy, where Line Upon Line Percussion was hosting its February show, part of their ongoing series, blending the music and art worlds. This program featured three newly commissioned pieces.

The crowd circled the room’s perimeter in chairs, while metal cables fell from the ceiling pillar, attached to a rope that draped across to the music stands and percussion instruments below. An arresting visual, and more than a prop, as the ensemble would explain.

“When we play the piece, we are reading off the ropes,” Line Upon Line’s Matt Teodori said.

They had commissioned UK composer Claudia Molitor for a new piece, “and she sent us these” — he paused — “ropes.”

The crowd gave a quick laugh. This is the sort of playfulness people seek out at these shows. Ingeniously, it turned out that the ropes contained information, knots tied into the rope that could be read as music.

“Entangled” was a piece that had as much in common with music as it did with experimental theater. The trio grabbed the ends of the ropes, and that’s when you realized that the ropes weren’t just hanging in a straight line from the ceiling but were draped like a messy spiderweb throughout the music stands, cymbals and vibraphone.

The performers started from the loose end and felt the rope with their hands. They would stop to perform the action indicated by the knots and then move on to the next knot. The lines crossed, hanging over other ropes, making obstacles as the three players walked over and under the strands.

The performance consisted of whispered sentences and short rhythms played on a sort of leafy dried palm (surely there is a name for this instrument, but internet searches for experimental percussion can be rather inscrutable) and tapped prescribed rhythms on their bellies or forearms like bored teenagers.

As they went forward, the trio wrapped the rope around their bodies. Finally, at the end, they reach the pillar and the carabiner holding each strand. On cue, they released.

They whispered phrases like “intangible places of reference” and “ceases to exist” — words, the program notes, that come from George Perec, the late French member of the literary experiments group Oulipo.

As an artistic exercise, “Entangled” was worthwhile, though, as it’s largely silent, it’s also an exercise in audience patience.

“Alchemy Test,” by Central Texas composer Brett Kroening, was more typically musical and a little more satisfying. At its center was an eerie, rapidly punctuated interplay between a vibraphone and glockenspiel. It seemed straightforward, until this meshing was interrupted by loud tom toms that banged in out of left field. It could conjure up the oddball machinery in a chemist’s studio.

More experimental again was “Engraving on Bronze” by Pablo Vergara, which took the idea of engraving seriously. Teodori, in his introduction, linked this piece to the famed cymbal company Zildjian, a company that has made cymbals for 300 years.

The musicians were scribbling madly on these cymbals as if they were paper. It sounded like the act of creation. Like cymbals being born. Smoothing over everything was the occasional booming gong, seeming to symbolize the rough dawn of … something.

A fourth piece came as a surprise, as it wasn’t listed on the program. Turned out it was a preview of a soon-to-be-premiered work at the Brown Symposium, in March, at Southwestern University in Georgetown.

This work was a bit of an odyssey for the listener. The symposium’s theme is “Art and Revolution,” so this work, “Revolve/Retract” by Jason Hoogerhyde, “revolves” around key changes. At times it sounds as though there are three unique players that each sound like they’re tumbling down Alice’s rabbit hole at the same time. It moves from frantic to thoughtful and even has a bit of a humorous intrusion when a comical section brings deadened mallets to play. It all ends in a moment of calm and chill, when a bowed vibraphone returns. If you make your way to Georgetown for this event in March, it will be worth your time.

This isn’t the meat and potatoes show that we are sometimes spoiled by when it comes to percussion music; the big, pulsing works with shifty rhythms and addicting arpeggios. These more experimental concerts are opportunities to push out boundaries, shake off the doldrums and try new things.

 

Listen up Austin: The cinematic sounds of Justin Sherburn

Alt classical, indie classical, hybrid classical  — Austin composer Justin Sherburn describes his style as ambient classical.

Sherburn’s had a long and varied career, playing with bands like indie folk Okkervil River and the Django Reinhardt-ish 8 1/2 Souvenirs. Theater scenesters know Sherburn for his award-winning scores to several Trouble Puppet Theatre shows, Tongue and Groove Theatre and Sky Candy.

Listen to Sherburn’s “Music for Puppets” free compilation CD.

Sherburn’s been burning it up lately.

This spring his valentine to Enchanted Rock — a piece for strings, piano, pedal-steel and live laptop effects with Leon Alesi’s poetic photographs of the Texas geological wonder screened large — proved so popular Sherburn and his Montopolis Ensemble had to stage an encore performance.

composer Justin Sherburn. Photo by Leon Alesi
Austin composer Justin Sherburn. Photo by Leon Alesi

This weekend, Sherburn and Montopolis are featured in “Loop Mass,” an immersive concert staged by Austin Museum of Digital Art that’ll have looping video by 50 artists projected onto onto a massive floor-to-ceiling, suspended sculpture. Audience members can roam during the show.

Sherburn will be featured Friday night. On his set list is music from “Enchanted Rock” and also selections from his score for the 1920s silent film masterpiece “Man With a Movie Camera.”

Info on “Loop Mass” here: www.amoda.org/events/loop-mass/

Listen up to three movements from “Enchanted Rock” and a long section of “Man With a Movie Camera.”

 

 

 

“Listen Up Austin” is an occasional blog series featuring Austin music makers.

 

 

Catch Pokemon fever – and some classical music – at the Long Center

Pokemon-Symphonic-Evolutions_event1

 

If your days are spent plotting ways to capture a Charmeleon or Ninetales, this is the concert for you.

The Long Center presents Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 in Dell Hall. The event combines music performed by a full orchestra with visuals from Pokemon video games. Tickets are on sale now for $29-$89 and can be bought on the Long Center’s website or by calling 512-474-5664.

The concert will draw from recent and classic Pokemon games, including:

  • Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue
  • Pokemon Yellow
  • Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver
  • Pokemon Crystal
  • Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire
  • Pokemon Emerald
  • Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl
  • Pokemon Platinum
  • Pokemon Black and Pokemon White
  • Pokemon X and Pokemon Y

Austin composer Graham Reynolds nets $95,000 Creative Capital award

A chamber opera by Austin alt classical composer Graham Reynolds is one of 46 projects nation-wide that have been awarded a coveted Creative Capital Awards.

Graham Reynolds
Graham Reynolds

The awards give artists $50,000 in funding for a specific project as well as $45,000 worth of career development services provided by Creative Capital, an organization whose arts philanthropy is inspired by venture principals.

Reynolds won support for “Pancho Villa From a Safe Distance,” an experimental chamber opera.

Winners were selected from a pool of 2,500  established and emerging artists.

Reynolds performs this Saturday, premiering his latest piece “In the Face of Trouble,” a four-part piece for solo piano and live processing that riffs off of Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano in E Major.

Noted pianist Michelle Schumann will perform the Beethoven Sonata followed by Reynold’s piece which he wrote just for here.  Details here.

Michelle Schumann
Michelle Schumann

Music review: Austin Chamber Music Festival

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

Yep, it’s festival season again — Austin’s premiere classical music fest, from the Austin Chamber Music Center, is busy occupying recital halls and alt venues (more on that later) of the city through July 19 with a slew of concerts from national acts that stretch the chamber music spectrum.042414-AofR

Sunday’s concert at Bates Recital Hall was a touch of the old guard: an all-Beethoven concert featuring pianist Peter Serkin, a Grammy-winning name that should ring a few bells, and violinist Ida Kavafian.

The outline was three sonatas and a set of 12 variations on Mozart’s “Se Vual Ballare,” as a palate cleanser.

The sonatas are wonderful in parts, and in other sections, remind us why Beethoven wrote symphonies.

The first, “No. 6, in A Major” had speckles of intrigue; some subtle, stylish lines from Serkin’s piano. But the bulk felt a little too slow and tired as an opener, despite some nice voicing from Kavafian’s violin in gentler sections.

But the next Sonata reminded you what the master of symphonies could do with just two players — cramming bravado, dynamic range and drama into a tidy package.

The Variations, ACMC’s Michelle Schumann explained, were written as party pieces, and you can see why. Little dissonant bursts from the violin are paired with hummable tunes on the piano. Here too was a thoughtful solo from Serkin: gentle yet decisive.

These concerts focusing on a single composer are trickier to manage than some realize. When Austin’s Miró Quartet played their Beethoven cycle a few years back, they picked from the span of the composer’s career, to make a concert with a lot of diversity.

This program didn’t strike quite the same balance, though it was warmly played. Not to mention that Serkin, who’s a dedicated modernist partly responsible for connecting Takemitsu and other Japanese composers to the Western scene, has decades of rep to choose from.

Music abounds in the rest of the fest. The 7th Annual Pride Concert, a pair of progressive ensembles — Break of Reality and the jazzy Time For Three. There’s also the Brazilian Guitar Quartet, American String Quartet and Trio Con Brio Copenhagen. Phew.

www.austinchambermusic.org

Music for puppets: Listen and download for free

Trouble Puppet "The Wars of Heaven." Photo by Steve Rogers Photography.
Trouble Puppet’s “The Wars of Heaven.” Photo by Steve Rogers Photography.

Trouble Puppet Theater Company’s newest production “The Wars of Heaven, Part 1,” opens Thursday at Salvage Vanguard for a run that continues through May 17.

Told through tabletop and shadow puppetry, it’s the first of a trilogy about the eternal battles of good and evil, angels vs. demons.

Trouble Puppet again enlisted the creative talents of composer Justin Sherburn to write an original score.

And Sherburn in turn enlisted alt classical choral conductor Brent Baldwin who leads the outstanding and always experiment Convergence Vocal Ensemble in the haunting and ethereal score.

Featured are Cameron Beauchamp (bass), Laura Mercardo-Wright (mezzo-soprano), and Meredith Ruduski (soprano) along with cellist Sara Nelson.

Sherburn’s made the CD of his score available for online listening and free downloading at his Montopolis music label: montopolismusic.com/download-music.

Justin Sherburn. Photo by Matthew Johnson.
Justin Sherburn. Photo by Matthew Johnson.

And while you’re on the Montopolis site, be sure to give a listen to Sherburn’s other music for Trouble Puppet, including his “Music for Puppets,” a recent compilation of the music he’s written for the celebrated troupe.

“Music for Puppets” is also graciously available for free download.