Stephen Miles, Director of NewMusicNewCollege, has never promised less than an adventure to those who attend this fascinating series. The audience in the candle-lit shadows of “Club Sudakoff” Saturday evening was taken on a remarkable journey to previously unfamiliar musical territory, more than fulfilling Miles’ promise.
Mantra Percussion, a New York based ensemble made up of six highly talented and highly disciplined percussionists (Michael McCurdy, Joe Bergen, Al Cerulo, Chris Graham, Jude Traxler and Nick Woodbury) performed a lengthy (perhaps somewhat too long) work by Michael Gordon that was more an experience than a concert.
We found ourselves moving in space and time in extraordinary ways, hearing highly unusual timbres and seeing explosions of light that seemed to come from another world as the musicians, listening on ear-buds and following the complex score on computer screens, manipulated amplifiers to create differing pitches and overtones to match an underlying rhythmic and tonal base.
Solo voices emerged from time to time as the players communicated with each other with eye contact and head nods. Aural patterns were in constant flux, as was the audience, encourage to move around the room during the performance.
An almost primal ebb and flow of sound became more intense, reinforced by sudden flashes of light at the base of the various instruments, basically planks of wood given voice by an assortment of mallets, constantly changing in their application and amplification. The room itself was part of the instrumentation, it seemed, as sounds seemed to emerge from the darkness at the edge of the space.
“Timber” –- at over an hour in length – would seem to promise irritation, boredom or both, but this experience was oddly calming, soothing and meditative in its effect. Those around me seemed to be drifting in their own worlds, their faces relaxed in smiles, their eyes often closed in contentment.
At the conclusion, a subsidence into quivering silence, was riveting. After a standing ovation, many gathered around the circle of instruments to see the way they worked and to listen to explanations from the players.
It should be noted that this wonderful experience was sponsored by local arts advocate Ina Schnell, and coordinated by R.L. Silver, the series’ technical producer, both of whom, together with Miles, deserve our gratitude.