Andrew Choate on Green Umbrella “European Avante-Garde” Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The second concert in this season’s Green Umbrella series opened with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic jostle from 1956, Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths). It’s become “arguably the most famous piece of electronic music of the 20th century” writes Gregg Wager, fairly, in the program notes, though I think Ligeti’s Artikulation, from 1958, foreshadowed more of what was to come out of that genre.

I’ve seen plenty of electronic music performed “live” in the past, and sometimes wondered why composers like Keith Fullerton Whitman and Markus Schmickler don’t just prerecord the music, give instructions for speaker arrangement, and have someone backstage push ‘play.’ Because this “performance” by inanimate speakers on a stage was deeply compelling, even if just a CD was playing, maybe because just a CD was playing. Wonderful swirling synths ran around the room, and I thought I heard a giant wheezing helicopter, though that was probably just my brain wind­-associating with other Stockhausen fun.

The next piece was the West coast premiere of Fausto Romitelli’s Amok Koma from 2001. Described as “psychedelic” in the program notes, I thought more about inter­-astronaut hijinks from NASA’s salad days, with emotions ping-­ponging through training operations and shuttle communications back to central command. I had my mind bent on flight.

I loved a sweeping electronic hum that started on one side of the stage and finished on the other, like Jimmy Page’s guitar in Whole Lotta Love. But the piece as a whole felt like a motor slowly stopping: it began pumping and grooving, then got raggedy, then really fizzled out; not with a bang, but with a lurch, down, crouching, wiped onto the floor. Maybe it really was like a whole lot of loves.

The U.S. premiere of Beat Furrer’s linea dell’orizzonte was the major standout of the night. The scurrying rhythm it opened with was like instantly inhabiting the cataclysmically different consciousness of another creature: overwhelming, transportive, and transformational. For weeks afterward, I thought about Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of “becoming-dog,” happily revisiting that place and that creature I became thanks to the sounds. Now, over a month later, revisiting D&G, I find this:

[N]o musician amuses himself by “playing” horse or bird. If the sound block has a becoming­-animal as its content, then the animal simultaneously becomes, in sonority, something else, something absolute, night, death, joy––certainly not a generality or a simplification, but a haecceity: this death, that night. Music takes as its content a becoming-animal; but in that becoming-­animal the horse, for example, takes as its expression soft kettledrum beats, winged like hooves from heaven or hell; and the birds find expression in gruppeti, appogiaturas, staccato notes that transform them into so many souls. (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 304)

Part of what captured me––I was not captivated, I was an animal burrowing with infinite finesse––were the intense, strong pauses mid-­gesture by violin, cello, bass clarinet, and trombone. These pauses were simultaneously destabilizing yet completely evocative of another kind of consciousness, one that will always be outside our experience, but which we can learn so much about we feel like we can touch it through the cusp of simple biologic knowledge.

Maybe even the consciousness we share as human creatures is just as delicate a cusp between persons, a threshold we think we cross with ease and understanding, but which might be infested with more alien nuance than a pregnant planet.

During the intermission I overheard someone say “I used to play flute, but then I switched to medicine,” and I wanted to interject, obviously, that they never had to stop playing flute if they wanted to administer medicine.

Mattias Pintscher’s songs from Solomon’s garden flushed out the second half of the program, but I was still swooning from my form­-changing. I thought about the quickness of emotions and how I fervently attempt to grasp them and hold them in place, even the nauseating, tormenting ones; when what I should do is let them play me like a harpsichord, because I love harpsichords, and just be a recipient, like a plant to the boldness of sun and water.

The eroticism invoked by Shir Hashirim (Song of Solomon) has always felt too historical and academic to nudge me toward identification, much less arousal, and the music behind Evan Hughes’ baritone voice came across more like nebulous banter than loin-awakening melodious swells. But I’ve never been into picking up people in bars either, so maybe that sense of background chatter is a lit match on desire I can’t feel the heat from. The piece ended on a single, creepy violin note, and I tasted wax on the apple of forbidden fruit when all I wanted was cider.

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