VISUAL MUSIC (Network for New Music at the University of the Arts): Art in music

Photo by J. J. Tiziou

Photo by J. J. Tiziou

If you want to explore new ideas in music, Network for New Music artistic director Linda Reichert is an excellent guide as the concerts she puts together are polished and have a cohesive theme. Reichert’s latest offering, VISUAL MUSIC, was out of the ordinary, but a delight to experience.

The first piece was Vermont Counterpoint (1982) by Steve Reich. Edward Schultz played flute, alto flute, and piccolo with a recording of three alto flutes, three flutes, and three piccolos, responding to the recorded players (all excellent) with speed and skill – matching each of the successive phrases as they change by replacing notes with rests or changing the actual phrase.  The recorded sounds blended beautifully with the live playing and towards the end of the piece, it seemed that Schulz was ‘leading’ the other players – hard to be more convincing than that, but it was a shame that no visual art was provided to accompany the piece.

The rest of the program was a combination of art and music – or, to be more specific, music made as a response to graphic arts. The Kandinsky Variations (1963) by William Kraft start with Kandinsky-esque squiggles in three colors:  red, black, and blue.  The trio each took a color: Eric Derr, percussion, took black, Thomas Kraines, cello, took blue, and Edward Schultz, flute, took red. The players played a very clean version – having discovered that too much sound at once or any blurred sounds would distort the aural image of the squiggles. The result was a piece you could actually match to the art. Some of the larger black dots received a bit too much drum, so the harsh explosive sounds occasionally disturbed the line of the musical phrases, but the music really did mirror the squiggles.

Network for New Music

Burchard Tang, Priscilla Lee, Michal Schmidt, and Guillaume Combet. Photo by J.J. Tizou.

Next was a recording of Artikulation (1958) by Gyorgy Ligeti which has never had a score. Rainer Wehinger created twenty illustrations as a visual listening score (Hörpartitur) or illustration of what he heard when he listened to the piece in the 1970s.  After the recording, the Network Ensemble Musicians, Hirono Oka, violin, Edward Schulz, flute, Thomas Kraines, cello, Rong Tan, Harp, Linda Reichert, piano and Conductor Jan Krzywicki, turned the process around and performed Artikulation from Rainer Wehinger’s visual listening score. The musicians had a cohesive idea of what they would play, and were helped by having a conductor to keep them together as they played. The improvisatory nature still had a definite form, which you could see in the visual score.

The last half of the concert was entitled The Navigator. This piece was the fruit of a long-term collaboration (The Warp Whistle Project) between Paul Schuette, composer and Mary Laube, visual artist. The art was a large installation based on Asa Smith’s nineteenth century work, Illustrated Astronomy. The installation had moving parts and lights which were matched to Paul Schuette’s music. The three-movement piece had many melodic passages – mostly in the piano. The conductor made sure the musicians hit their cues and cymbals crashed simultaneously with flashes of light by means of a click track he followed on earphones. Many of the moving parts in the installation were matched by violin, cello, and harp.  This thirty-minute piece, a passacaglia theme played even by the bells, showed an amazing coordination of light, movement, and sound and the complexity of the moving parts and lights was exciting to watch.

[Caplan Studio Theater, University of the Arts, 211 S. Broad Street] January 21, 2018; networkfornewmusic.org

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