This year's Intermedia Festival will wrap up in just about an hour with Pamela Z's 4:30 p.m. concert here at the Central Library, postponed from a scheduled Friday night slot because those tricky Icelandic hidden people (gnomes and the like) chose to work their magic on a pesky little volcano.
But she's in the building — charioted here up by Fest staff after her cross-Atlantic set down in Indy last night. So before I head downstairs for that, I'll plunk out a whirlwind report on the last four concerts on this sweat-eroded library keyboard (I think all those one-plus million hours of computing time by library users last year was spent on this one console, and by the sweatiest people in town).
Laptop ensembles! Or maybe not with the exclamation point, depending on your tolerance and imagination — tolerance for less familiar and not-so-dynamic performance groups, imagination for what an all-electronic ensemble might be once its players reach a certain level of recognizable virtuosity and once a canon is established.
Two groups performed: IUPUI's Computer Ensemble for Research (CEnsR) and Virginia Tech's Linux Laptop Orchestra (L2Ork). John Gibson's "Wind Farm" saw the IUPUI group on MacBooks, each creating the sound of a spinning carnival wheel (or Wheel of Fortune) by sliding a finger across the touchpad, with Gibson (a IU-Bloomington) professor somehow conducting/mixing it all from a laptop in front of the group. Not a difficult listen, but the least interesting performance in terms of choreography. Then the members CEnsR each took up what looked like an I-Pod touch for "Like Weeds from an Ant," pushing buttons and swinging their instruments under the demonstrative, involved direction of director Jordan Munson, who indicated the duration and attack for each note played by the five-person ensemble. The sounds weren't entirely compelling, but it's impressive to see the group enough in control of their instruments/remotes to rest together, strike a note together and generally stay on the same page.
As for Tech, I wasn't particularly impressed by the multimedia piece "Iteration13" which involved one visual artist scrawling on wax paper with an amplified pencil, a dancer with amplified tap shoes and a videographer who captured the motion of both, which was then converted into tones. The piece may have been compromised by technical issues, though.
Tech's Linux ensemble — which broke free from the Fest's dependence on Mac-manufactured equipment — somewhat resembled a handbell choir, triggering some notes with a downward swing of their joysticks, although plenty other types of movements also seemed to trigger noises, including button-pressing and gentle inclinations of those joysticks to the left or right. "Half-life," a spoken narrative about Chernoyl with accompanying soundtrack by the ensemble, achieved a kind of clumsy portentousness with its reflections on death and Revelations, so it was "Citadel" that impressed more, with soprano vocals in a language I didn't recognize by Chelsea Crane and a spare, somewhat ethereal and light score by the ensemble.
Last night's performance by R. Luke DuBois and Bora Yoon offered, like the best of these inter-media shows, too much to digest at once.
Bora Yoon, performing on grand piano, prayer bowls, turntable, computers, violin and chime sticks, put together a carefully-looped performance that brought to mind, among others, Andrew Bird and Bjork, as she layered her mostly wordless vocals over a spare, somewhat cold, but contemplative and even sacred soundscape.
R. Luke Dubois, performing on video camera and laptop, mediated that performance, treating the raw footage of Yoon with various filters and techniques. He opened by capturing Yoon in sepia tone, stopping on a shaky frame before that image ghosted into another, evoking Bill Morrison's "Decasia." At another point, he focused his camera on the turntable, putting together abstract animations that recalled the primitive, dancing shapes of Oskar Fischinger.
Matthew Burtner's "Auksalaq (Six Quintets and Iceprints)," was an appropriate piece to perform on Earth Day. Its thematic concern is, to quote the program notes, to explore "global climate change from a northern geographic and cultural perspective." And, for once, the composer gave a brief talk ahead of his piece to contextualize his work; for the unitiated, I think it would be difficult to walk into any one of these concerts and orient oneself quick enough to enjoy the proceedings. So we learned from Burtner that we would see two parts of his five part piece, which would eventually take on vocals and a full orchestra.
These two parts were performed on percussion and piano — the percussion on the stage of the Clowes Auditorium, where the audience sat, and the pianist sitting at IUPUI, where her remote performance was broadcast via live video feed. While there were good reasons to exile the pianist from the concert hall — this is a telematic festival, after all, and Burtner noted his piece was concerned with how we, down in North America, don't have an understanding of the impact of climate change on the far North — it must be said that these live video hookups often seem to present the most technical problems for event organizers. In this case, the video lagged a second or two behind the audio, which wasn't at a high enough fidelity to hear the pianist's articulation, and occasionally offered a few artifacts.
But enough griping. The piece itself was a high-spirited, dynamic work for percussion which saw five musicians moving between instrument groupings carefully arranged on a packed stage. The performers performed on, in succession:
1) water, slapping palms percussively against the water's surface, pouring hot water over a block of ice to faciliating cracking, shaking jars filled to simulate footsteps on snow
2) tree branches, wood blocks, marimba, vibes, kettle drum
3) rocks (by knocking a selection of rocks together), sand (running hands through a bowl filled with sand, swiping the surface), sandpaper on drywall
4) drum, piano, cymbal, bass drum, in what seemed the most post-rock of the quintets
5) vocalizations, through a whole variety of articulations including shushing, popping, etc.
6) bongos, bass drum
The only concert I saw at IUPUI was packed, and appropriately so, because the nier-norf ensemble gave one of the most intriguing, carefully-crafted concerts I saw during the Festival. Like "Auksalaq," nier-norf's "Straitjacket" featured five percussionists (with one performer taking a conducting role) performing across several groupings of instruments, with the director conducting the performance or, trickster-like, placing restraints on the performers or generally getting in their way. The conductor of "Auksalaq" threw tinsel at the performers and their instruments at one point, took their rocks away at another. Nier-norf's conductor more directly shaped his performer's actions, leading by example through each of the four "restraint systems," as they were called in the program notes.
Restraint system one: each performer matched the conductor beat by beat on stripped-down drum sets. Two: each performed on miscellaneous percussion, trying to match the conductor's rather obscure system of signals, which resembled that of a third-base coach giving signs to the batter. Three: all four played the same vibraphone, simultaneously striking a ten-plus note chord which the conductor then selectively muted, note by note, by pressing on a given bar. Four: all five sat in front of sketch pads, and, taking up noxiously odorific black markers, matched the conductor shape for shape, line by line.
Mark Applebaum, the composer of "Straitjacket," gestured towards the French literary group Oulipo for inspiration, noting that the formal techiques he employed in his piece conceptually resembled those invented by that group.
But like your finest more-than-you-can-eat-buffet, there was more after nier-norf's performance: an ambient soundscape constructed from metallic sounds recorded, for the most part, on bicycle (Keith Kothman's "Bent Metal); a piece for solo bass drummer that explored a variety of textures by working across the rim of the drum, dropping a chain across the drum head and generally employing different non-traditional methods (Peter Swendsen's "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is," the title taken from Wallace Steven's "The Snow Man"); and a piece for dancer and motion capture technology that saw a female dancer triggering sounds and animation via several infrared lights attached to her body, and glowing red in the darkness, creating a particularly spooky effect (Hunter McCurry's "Excursion into Mixed Reality").
That's it. Any mistakes might be attributed to my haste to finish up before Pamela Z takes the stage. Plenty more info and program notes at http://music.iupui.edu/intermedia/. I'll be back later with a wrapup.