Frequency Festival: Austin Wulliman + Bill Orcutt

by Jen Hill  photos by Jeff Kimmel

despite a broad gap in both style and genre, disparate sets by violinist austin wulliman and guitarist bill orcutt each exhibited piercing fragility driven by aggressively strained high-register gestures accented by subtle consonances.

wulliman started the concert with an alienating and uninspired composition by jennifer walshe. vocal utterances struggled against barely audible violin tones, ultimately competing with creaks and mechanical hum in the hall for the audience's already drifting attention.

after four movements of walshe, withdrawn silence gave way to a more inviting performance, where wulliman was able to showcase his dynamic range and virtuosic command over articulation. compositions by iannis xenakis, lee hyla, and john sokol exposed the fragile accuracy of his playing through competing dissonances and lurking consonances, always just below the surface. a duo with vocalist kayleigh butcher conveyed tender harmonies between voice and violin that had been withheld in the walshe piece.

the highlight of wulliman's set was an improvisation with bassoonist katherine young. thuds and scrapes punched through loudspeakers in a delivery of luxurious sonic indulgence.

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if wulliman's performance started off on the wrong foot, bill orcutt certainly made up for it. the first piece was a maxed-out "blues-shred" that only stopped after his amp toppled over, briefly lost power, and was charmingly re-situated with the help of festival curator peter margasak.

this was followed by three delightful re-harmonizations of classic tunes, characterized by aggressively angular voicings and piercing overtones. the bulk of the set consisted of a long-form wagner-meets-john-fahey-meets-phish deluge of psychedelic pantonality, as loud as the previous set had been quiet.

as the sound ricocheted off the walls and into my flesh, i felt the juxtaposition inherent in the curation of frequency festival and the encompassing draw of dissonance, both between pitches and between the performances.