The opening concert of the 2015 Outsound New Music Summit open with a very elemental program based on music from wood, stone, earth and metal.
First up was Cheryl Leonard performing compositions for natural objects, including shells, stones, wood, and water. Each of the pieces was accompanied by a video created from other artists.
Water and extreme weather were major themes of her set. The first piece was based on field recordings of melting ice on lakes in Yosemite National Park. As an ominous sign for the chronic drought we are facing here in California and climate change worldwide, the ice was thawing an crackling without a snow cover in mid January. Nonetheless, the music Leonard created from this was beautiful, the thumps and crackles formed a surprisingly strong rhythm with changing meter. Another piece focused on a storm while in open waters of the Arctic ocean as seen through the porthole of a ship, with video by artist Genevieve Swift. This piece was more turbulent compared to the more mesmerizing nature of the melting ice.
Leonard also employs quite a variety of musical techniques for her natural objects, not simply percussive techniques. In the photo above, we see her playing dried kelp as a wind instrument.
Next up was Machine Shop, a duo featuring Karen Stockpole on gongs and Drew Webster on electronics. The dominant element in this set was metal, but not simply metal as found objects, but forged into strong and beautiful instruments.
Gongs can of course be loud and chaotic, but the rich harmonics and interplay among them can be brought out for subtle musical phrasing with a master artist like Karen Stockpole. The sounds ranged from loud booming drones to individual nearly pure tones and beats among harmonics from different instruments. There were also more abrupt staccato notes that she played with a mobile gong while walking around the stage. The overall effect was hypnotic, but nonetheless very musical with phrasing and a subtle form of rhythm.
It was often difficult to tell where the acoustic sounds of the gongs ended and where the electronic processing began, which is not a bad thing, as I think electro-acoustic ensembles should often blend these elements. In the last two pieces, however, Webster’s electronics were more apparent, and one could here the processing as well as his synthesizer contributions to the sound which complemented the amplified gongs.
Overall, it was a strong start to this years summit. Both sets were very well received by the full house in attendance; and it was refreshing to see that the artists received support for their recordings for sale (at least one of the new releases is now in the CatSynth collection).
Most photographs for this article are from Peter B. Kaars, who was featured earlier in the week with an exhibit and reception. You can read our report from that event here.