Live Minimalism From New York: Shoko Nagai/Satoshi Takeishi, Signal, Rhys Chatham, Terry Riley & Glenn Branca
Can there ever be too much minimalism in a single evening? Less than an hour later, Terry Riley's "In C" is about to strike up, performed by a cast of thousands at Carnegie Hall. This must be one of the most star-studded new music line-ups ever assembled, making the Hall's large stage seem mighty crowded, everyone here to celebrate the 45th anniversary of this classic work. There are fellow composers, such as Philip Glass, Morton Subotnick and Osvaldo Golijov, along with trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Lenny Pickett, singer Joan LaBarbara, guitarist Bryce Dessner, pipa player Wu Man and toy piano specialist Margaret Leng Tan. The Kronos Quartet sits at front-central, and its leader David Harrington has been the chief organiser of this ambitious endeavour. Riley's just behind them, playing keyboards and singing. The piece has an ostensibly simple construction, built around a one-page series of 53 musical figures which are played through gradually until the music's evolution reaches its natural conclusion. This means that "In C" can exist for an indeterminate amount of time, ranging from the original album's 40-odd minutes, up to the nearly two hours-or-so of this evening's incarnation. The score is projected on a screen above the ensemble. The work's nature is to be ever-rejuvenating, so tonight's manifestation doesn't sound much like the recorded version that most folks know. There are ensembles-within-the-ensemble, featuring massed singers and quartets or trios of koto, recorder and didjeridus, the latter led by Stuart Dempster, who was on the original recording. The ubiquitous So Percussion foursome are responsible for most of the propulsive responsibilities of the performance. Dennis Russell Davies is described as the "flight pattern coordinator," and wanders nonchalantly in-between the players, showing them cards inscribed with numbers, guiding them in the shift towards the next musical figure. His instructions are quite subtle, aside from the final stretch, where more sculpting of dynamics is required to bring the music to an end.
It takes some time for the audience to settle down and immerse themselves in the pulse. Folks are still entering, and finding their seats, but the show has begun, almost organically growing from no discernible starting point. There is a certain amount of governance, as swellings arrive, creating a surge of power, then the majority of musicians will drop out, casting light on certain areas of the stage. The recorder quartet features the largest, bassiest variants of those instruments ever witnessed, issuing an almost comical subterranean belch. Trumpeter Douglas, whether intentionally or not, makes the single most individual statement, as his horn repeatedly cuts above all else, darting in its own frequency-space. Conversely, many of the players can't be heard as separate sources. Humming layers are formed, where the various ranks become a single shimmering entity, dedicated entirely to the whole. After about twenty minutes, it becomes easier for the audience to be mesmerized, after everyone's settled into a receptively relaxed position. There are points where the attention might phase out, but this makes the entrance of a new sequence all the more noticeable, as the mind snicks into a fresh pattern, and attention is revivified. "In C" doesn't possess the hard repetitions of Glass or Reich, but operates on a calmer level, making an unhurried journey of weightless transition. This is destined to be its grandest realization.
Issue Project Room
May 7, 2009
If Rhys Chatham burns the eardrums, then Glenn Branca throws them into an acid bath. The Issue Project Room is a converted factory-space in Gowanus, the desolated canal-zone of Brooklyn. It's an environment for experimental sounds that pulls in a younger, rockier crowd, and this is one of the joint's more crammed shows, inexplicably more well-attended than Branca's previous performance here in May 2008. Well, that was a very informal solo performance, and this is a full-band rendering of Branca's "Lesson No. 3 (A Tribute To Steve Reich)." Unlike the situation with Philip Glass sitting in for Terry Riley's "In C," it's hard to imagine Branca ever being asked to join in with Reich's "Electric Counterpoint." Although inspired by Reich, Branca's somewhat lusty approach to the electric guitar might not be appreciated by the older composer. This time, Branca is conducting a line-up of four heavily-amplified guitars and a drummer (including Reg Bloor and Libby Fab, whose impressively fractured Paranoid Critical Revolution duo preceded this set). He likes to make it clear that he's not "sucking up" to Reich, casually throwing in a scathing dismissal of the Village Voice, then setting about his vigorous duties, directing the combo in a completely liberating juggernaut-race of beautifully-sculpted crash-chording.