UnSound No.5 _1984 1421w


The music of Rova Saxophone Quartet and Kronos (string) Quartet provides us, the audience, with rhythmic, textural, and culturally intellectual challenges that do not alienate, but rather invite us, initially, to consider our experience with these instruments, up to this point. The voices (sounds) are mostly familiar to us, but the language is all its own, highly developed and one which explores regions of meaning and expression many of us didn't know existed. Listening to the revelatory pieces performed at the New Performance Gallery in mid-May was therefore wrought with vast implications that would affect our musical experiences as a whole.

The evening consisted of two collaborative octets, and one quartet by each group. Each piece created and explored its own musical environment, being aesthetically guided by the modal parameters set up by the composer. A "form dictating content" situation prevailed almost consistently. Each musician carried an equal weight of responsibility technically and creatively, and in improvised sections showed aesthetically developed personalities.

Because the pieces called for strong individual expression and interpretation, and allowed the musicians to fill multiple roles, a sense of theater prevailed, creating an audible play with a menagerie of characters and evolving relationships. This histrionic quality manifested itself in a highly visual context, indicating shape, line and, more specifically, psychological presences which could be transposed into more accessible elements drawn from one's own experiences, visual and aural.

"Knife in the Times" is a tripartite piece composed by Larry Ochs of and for Rova. The first section adopts a highly visual display of freneticism as if a tight cluster of bees are in a tiny space, banging against the walls, never into each other, in a frenzied harmony occupying the full space and ultimately expanding it.

These musicians appear to be in the clutches of the piece and a seeming chaos exists before us. As a character description the piece as a whole could be viewed as a psychopath, but an extremely intelligent and manipulative one. The audible "cube" (for this is clearly three dimensional) is quickly filled with the seemingly random path that the sax strains etch.

In the second part the four voices now come together with distinct clarity and intent and then separate just as decidedly. Here we begin to realize the utter control the players actually have. A slow overlapping of ascending tenor and descending bass becomes a backdrop of impending dramaticism for a foreground embroidery of wailing bleeps, ripples, and raps.

The tension of a chase dream evolves until it is discarded with each voice joining together one at a time, then flowering into an elaborate tapestry. Cascades of pure tone imply serenity for the moment, followed immediately with an instant tenor back pattern of purely percussive, airless taps, with a negative resonance; a surprisingly breathtaking contrast to the preceding fluidity.

This is one of a myriad of tonal quality variation unveiled throughout the evening. This piece's musical coherence is sophisticated enough to cloud the division between improvisation and composition, and, combined with the discovery of new audible colours, the piece evolves into a powerful environment which is not threatening, but is all consuming.

We experience an array of shapes, lengths, textures and tones; part three begins with a tenor solo that, in one length of sound, moves from a thin wiry quality into a full cottony snowing sound, into rich foghorns. Knife in the Times ultimately becomes a theater of emotive transition, portraying a relevance to our experience. The piece builds in layers so that it is clear when each layer changes, is replaced or removed. By the end an imminent danger surfaces based with a monochromatic hyperventilation, injecting claustrophobia panic, and imperative anxiety.

"String Quartet," composed by Ruth Crawford-Seeger, is a multi-dimensional concise piece which begins in rapid percussive taps and pulls across the strings. With delicacy and purity we sense each instrument entering the music from a different place, approaching from everywhere.

Section one is surface oriented; a definite outsideness with fractured glimpses of a situation from the outside, stealthily skirting around internal regions.

The second part is a perfect marriage to this; the inside, a mine with caverns, the strains wandering, waning in and out through changing spaces, with rising tragedy. Eventually we are compelled to consume completely, surprises, threats, doom and all.

Section three recedes far back into the dark unknown and we must listen intently to absorb the light, distant but approaching presence of the cello, the latter pursues, pinpointing every sidestep so that we are enrapt through to the last trace of life. The extreme lightness of touch and control that is employed is a powerfully entrancing example of Kronos' solidity as a quartet and expressiveness as individuals.

"Room," composed by Larry Ochs for saxostring octet, was inspired structurally by Stravinsky's "Three Pieces for String Quartet" and explores the kind of tension producing qualities found in a psychodrama. It begins with a repetition of a four note descension, bass sax, then cello, the absence of which becomes a sotto voce theme in our mind's ear.

What follows is a dynamic interplay of pules, creating a rubato environment woven of scraping screeching strains of tautness. Strings swooping and flinching in an agglomeration of blaring sax back pulses bring the piece to an oscillating end, made of overlays defiantly powerful.

"Campi Conceptuale," by Andrew Voigt, is an octet that explores ideas concerning silence and textural potentials of each instrument and the resulting relationships. Considering sound as "positive space" and silence as "negative space," the composer sets up an interaction which gives distinct qualities to the silences. By manipulating sharpness, density, and decay of each sound and the environment in which they introduced (static or non-static), the resulting silences take on degrees of colour, shape and dynamic resolution.

The first section begins with a melody repeated in a relay type structure known as a hocquet. This is a melody that materializes one note at a time, so that it is a one strand melody, extending from one instrument to another. The result is a very wide expanse of space and sound alternating in a purely temporal sensibility.

The second and third sections turned out to be the most spatially, percussively, and sensorally impressive part of the evening's performance. Using an intermix of improvisation and composition the interaction of sounds becomes a playful tossing of assertions in the forms of the whole encyclopedia of qualitative manifestations. Each musician pushes and pulls their instrument, molding one role into another, voice to voice; the strings hurling forth a sloping off wiry eeriness, percussive scratching rodentia and sax shrieking, popping into a tortuous dangerous wane.

This interplay has distinct comparison to Cages "Credo in D," in the idea of pulses whose silences are shaped by sound affectations between which they are born, though here, the varying sounds are emitted from the same object (instrument), whereas Cage employed traditionally non-musical objects. Therefore, the fact that the potential for manipulation of voice is explored and pushed to such extremes is astonishingly powerful and the afferent (inwardly rushing pulses) plus efferent (outward) directions of these sounds emphasized the rush. In a crescendo of silence/sound interaction, phrases embellish momentously until the voices find a rising line and all trace it upwards.

To experience these four compositions consecutively was an extensive journey, almost excavation through the potential manipulations of these instruments, structurally and texturally. The ideas of Reich come to mind here that musical, (compositional), process should directly correlate to the experience of the listener, that the music should sound like the composition reads. This makes for a more direct rapport between composer and audience, something that is rare, but that definitely exists here.

Hovering over the border that separates modality and substantiality, these pieces reveal aesthetic individualities plus musically historical points of reference and departure; the fact that these people have successfully and so gracefully alighted traditional roles for their instruments brings forth vast possibilities. In breaking rules, they create their won aesthetic in music and the belief that they obviously have in that artistic ideal calls upon us, the listeners, to approach it with the reverence and praise it deserves.

San Francisco and the musical world are lucky to have Rova Saxophone Quartet and Kronos Quartet actualizing their far reaching vision and with such exquisite clarity and prowess.

To reach Rova write: 2369 Russell St., Berkeley, CA 94705 To reach Kronos write: 1238 9th Ave. San Francisco, CA 94122

Typed by Cheryl Vega 6-8-95