By Emily Kerski
The tidal wave of sounds in the combined performances of Wolftone and ZINC are likely to leave every member of the audience clinging to different sonic moments: for me - a single, beautifully resonant pizzicato violin note, a decadently rich bassoon multiphonic, the straining of the bow on string in the highest register of the violin, the seemingly inhuman trilling in the vocalist’s low range.
Slate Arts and Performance was a perfectly intimate venue for this show; the creativity and virtuosity that emanated was blow-the-doors-down gargantuan.
ZINC (Zachary Good, clarinet/recorder, Eli Namay, bass, and Carol Genetti, voice) opened the night with a free improv set.
[This is my first true improvisatory music experience. I go in expecting something perhaps meditative, calm— the kind of music one expects audiences to ‘close their eyes and relax’. Spoiler: it was none of these things.]
Evocative, at times peaceful, at times alarming, these dialogues were captivating in every moment. It was incredibly clear how much skill is actually required in order to create immediacy, respond to the other musicians, and invoke the desired effect. It was also evident how cohesive this ensemble was from their very first departure from silence: their sounds were at times so well matched in concept or pitch that it became delightfully difficult to determine which player was producing which sound. The wildly varied palette of instruments (from recorder mouthpiece, to radios, plastic tubing, and bass clarinet) was used artistically to develop a collective emotion.
Each musician transcended the conventional parameters of their instrument: none of the instruments were played traditionally for very long. Focus was given to the creation of ‘unorthodox’ sounds: the blending of human voice with radio feedback, the incorporation of a bassoon reed in the bore of the clarinet, for example. Even though played in a non-traditional way, each specific instrument was a vital component of this particular soundscape: the bass, the clarinets/recorder, and the vocalist combined created a distinctive array of sounds.
[“That one sounded like the soundtrack to a horror movie,” whispers my colleague before ZINC begins their third set. As we compare interpretations, I am ecstatic because this is exactly why I persist in exposing my more “classically-minded” colleagues to new music shows like this: because it makes us think differently, it makes us wrestle with unanswerable questions, it makes us carefully consider the artform in which we are working, it creates authentic and invaluable discussion among us, it ultimately develops us as artists as well as furthers music itself. Our conversations tend to linger on for days after concerts like this as we think about what we heard and what it meant to each of us. And the brilliant thing about this music is that conclusiveness is neither presented nor required.]
Wolftone (Ben Roidl-Ward, bassoon, and William Overcash, violin) explored the unique pairing of bassoon and violin to great effect with three commissions from young composers as well as a brilliant Berio Sequenza VIII from the violinist. Though Berio predated the other compositions by twenty years or more, the chaotic exploration of two tones was a stunning addition. Peter Kramer’s the Panther involved playback effects using a cassette tape recorder and Zach Sheets’ From the silhouette quarry offered a unique perspective on the relationship between humanity and nature. The duo’s remarks about Sheets’ intentions for the piece guided more discussion between my colleagues and I; we consider which instrument’s gestures might have been intended to represent humanity, which symbolized the natural world, or if there was a blend between the two.
[I dwell on similar thoughts from the first half of the show as Wolftone performs: I am constantly discovering new sounds as each instruments produces things unfamiliar to me, yet in the context of the piece I cannot imagine any other kind of sound. The ingenuity of the composition or improvisation is such so that there is less emphasis on the sound itself and more on its purpose of evolving an idea.]
The only possible thing that could elevate the program was to combine the talents of these two groups in the open-score final piece, Variation for 15 Shapes, by Judy Jackson. What intrigued me most was to watch these musicians approach each shape in the graphic score, interact with one another in new ways for the first time in that instant. I felt as if I could read the process of interpretation in their faces as they looked at each performance direction and translated it into any number of effects on their instrument. They were completely open to the moment, reacting to each other’s sounds as the audience experienced the same journey along with them.
As was true throughout, the performers approached each sound with absolute commitment and integrity. The largely improvisational nature of the show engendered an incredible energy and spirit which has remained vivid in my mind.
Emily Kerski is a clarinetist and advocate for social imagination through the arts. A former member of the Manson Contemporary Music Ensemble (London) and founder of the ongoing CURIOUSER contemporary chamber music recital series (Fort Collins, Colorado), she is currently a member of Noise Bias.