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Live From New York

Kronos Quartet, Jessica Pavone, Futurist Noise Intoners & The Tori Ensemble

By Published: December 10, 2009
The viola player and composer Jessica Pavone was celebrating the release of an album on John Zorn's Tzadik label. Songs Of Synastry And Solitude uses a string quartet to realize a set of compositions that surely had the sound of a singer reverberating between Pavone's lobes whilst she was penning them. The art of the song appears to be precisely what she's addressing, but using the tools of the chamber recital. They're mostly hanging around the three or four minute mark, with a development shorn of needless elaboration.The pieces make up what feels like a suite, with their sustained mood and growing weight. In actually, however, they're given separate titles.

Pavone was in the house, but had entrusted the work's performance to the Toomai String Quartet, who are usually a quintet, and who seem to have a pool of potential members greater than a mere five. One of them (Rachel Calin) is a bassist. So, there's only one violin, joined by viola and cello: a different make-up compared the accepted string quartet formation.

It was a concentrated set which, not surprisingly, ended up replicating and reflecting the album's contents. A resonant mournfulness pervaded, stained with a bittersweet, weeping vibrato. The songs make their steady parade, dignified as the strings swell and sway. It doesn't take long for the tunes to snag the ears, after only a single airing of the album, followed by this live reiteration. If any influence is apparent, then perhaps it's that of British composer Gavin Bryars, particularly the mood that he set with "The Sinking Of The Titanic." The concert felt almost too brief, but its repertoire reflected the contents of the new album, and the inclusion of any outside material would probably have been a distraction and a dilution. A beautifully miserable mood was lingeringly woven, a dark air which is in keeping with Pavone's acknowledged immersion in the wry-humoured poetry of Leonard Cohen.

Music For Sixteen Futurist Noise Intoners The Town Hall November 12, 2009 . The Performa festival is primarily dedicated to visual art, but usually devotes a corner of its intimidatingly massive programme to sympathetic musical events. The composer Luciano Chessa has long harbored an obsession with the noise intoning instruments created by the Futurist artist Luigi Russolo. This project marks the first reconstruction of Russolo's earliest intonarumori ensemble, from 1913, when he gave a premiere in Milan. Russolo likens his mission to a detective investigation, unearthing the likely innards of these soundbox creations.

The concert was commissioned by Performa, involving the composition of new works for these pioneering old instruments. Although many of the writers are obscure, the crowd- drawing half of the names included Pauline Oliveros, Joan La Barbara, Mike Patton, John Butcher, Blixa Bargeld, Elliott Sharp and Russolo himself. The concert was given in two parts, running through fifteen pieces. It wasn't as epic as this statistic might suggest, as many of the works were of song-length.

The Magik*Magik Orchestra ranged across the stage, their sixteen noise intoners arrayed in semi-circular fashion. Though varying in box-size, the intonarumori all feature large megaphone-style emitters, some with side-positioned levers to control the tone. Simply put, an internal wheel controls tension on a string, with the lever employed to alter its tension. The closest comparison might be with the Brazilian cuíca drum, or the ektara, as used in the music of the Bauls in Bengal.

The use of the word "noise" is slightly misleading. Even though the ensemble's groaning layers might be intended to evoke the sounds of a modern urban world, they possess a very grainy, vocal quality that makes the build-up of rubbing-motions sound harmoniously verbal in nature, like a choir of grumblers. So, far from being an extreme-volume performance, much of the evening involved very subtle textures, near- silences and low dynamic shifts. It's unfortunate, then, that a contemporary audience is so attuned to the temptations of their teat-replacement devices (how the Futurists would have enjoyed that idea!) that surrounding bleeps, clicks, screen-glows and Velcro-tears were becoming a significant element in the sound-and-vision field. Folks just weren't able to concentrate. Adding to this battle was the fact that many of the pieces didn't fully grasp the potential given by these instruments, a factor which was feeding back and forth with the general difficulty of full concentration. Far from being a "noise" gig in the expected sense, it turned out to be an anti-noise experience, the instruments relying on their natural amplification.


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