Icebreaker | Acoustic/Electronic Interface Jan 29, 2008

by Tania Kupczak

I enjoyed this performance very much. But in order to make myself blogworthy beyond the previous sentence, I've latched onto a thesis. So, allow me to bleat this sweeping generalization in reference to five of the six pieces performed in Saturday night's Icebreaker IV: The American Future (Classics of Downtown): The Music of the Future inherently features an interface between instruments of acoustic design and those of electrically based technology. Seattle Chamber Players (SCP) and curator Kyle Gann provided further evidence of this notion, as five of the new works in the program prominently featured pre-recorded soundscapes and samples, virtual and web-based instruments, and film, all in contrast to 'acoustic' instruments. In the following five attempts to make a distinction between two styles of musical performance represented in each of Icebreaker's works, 'acoustic' and 'electronic' are hardly the ideal or accurate definitions, but hopefully they'll serve the purpose. First, a side note: Kierkegaard, Walking by Kyle Gann There was no interface between 'acoustic' and 'electronic' or live versus pre-recorded in this piece, as it featured only the four members of SCP, but it must be noted that Mr. Gann's densely layered and widely palatable creation was absolutely magnificent. Now, onwards ”¦ Scene from 0.02 by Elodie Lauten (The Interface: pre-recorded soundscape / flute, clarinet, violin, cello) The musical ideas presented in both Ms. Lauten's soundscape and her score for violin, cello, flute, and clarinet were wonderfully intriguing, but the two did not blend well together. Part of this was due to the sound level, which was balanced in favor of the soundscape, making the dynamic nuances of the four instruments on stage greatly diminished against the constant waterfall of roaring airplanes, vocal oddities, and other layered sounds. This work is part of 0.02 (The Two-Cents Opera) by Ms. Lauten, so the complete work may well feature more balanced examples of marrying the two musical sources together. Ishi by Janice Giteck (The Interface: flute, clarinet, violin, cello / film) The score by Ms. Giteck was exquisite, providing delicate, entrancing, and even playful moments throughout the six movements that chronicled the incredible and heartbreaking life events of Ishi, the last representative of the Yahi Indians. The six movements were concluded by an evocative film by Emiko Omori, detailing the surroundings of Mt. Lassen, California, the final location of Ishi. Ms. Omori's film added a beautiful context to the score that preceded it. Furthermore, the fact that the film did not run during the performance by SCP [as I was anticipating] provided the necessary focus on and homage to Ishi himself – in a sense, the film became a seventh, contemplative movement of Ishi. The Light Within by John Luther Adams (The Interface: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone piano, keyboard / pre-recorded electronics) This was one of my favorite pieces of the evening. Mr. Adams' meditation on the nature of light within and without was like witnessing a cosmic event in which the extraordinary mixture of acoustic and electric instruments on stage plus pre-recorded sounds not only achieved incredible sonic balance, but also seemed necessary in order to evoke a total aural spectrum. The Light Within was such a successful whole that my abandoned attempts to dichotomize the performance into Interface parts sounded utterly ridiculous. So, I leave the detailed scrutiny of this piece to a more adept writer and simply wish that you had been there to hear it. Robin Redbreast by Eve Beglarian (The Interface: pre-recorded soundscape / vocals, flute) I had much the same reaction to Ms. Beglarian's haunting song as I did to Scene from 0.02. Perhaps the soundscape accompanied only by Jessika Kenney's vocals would have made more sense, but the addition of flutist Paul Taub of SCP made the performance uneven, and not due to Mr. Taub's execution. The flute mimicked birdsong throughout, but the pre-recorded sounds – again, seeming to overpower the onstage performers – already featured digitally manipulated birdsong, begging the question of why both had to be included. In focusing on the soundscape itself, I had wished the majority of it had been performed live by a cellist, since – aside from the flange-like effect – the prominent, ongoing drone sounded much like fifths on a cello. It must also be noted that from this point forward, Mr. Taub was the only representative of SCP on stage, made doubly confusing since his contributions to the final two pieces seemed like afterthoughts by the composers. Cathedral: Live in Seattle / Echolog by William Duckworth & Nora Farrell (The Interface: PitchWeb, electronics, virtual instruments, spun sounds / flute, trombone, conch shell, toys, didjeridoo, spoken word) Regardless of my own academic analyses and Interfaces, hats off to SCP, Kyle Gann, and the performers for taking bold steps into the unknown future. - John Osebold