Pulled Through Dimensions Feb 24, 2014

by Lori Goldston

Having attended and performed in many OtB shows I can perhaps be forgiven for assuming that last week's Seattle Chamber Players concert, Icebreaker, would begin at the heretofore universal starting time, 8:00. Turns out it was 7:30, and consequently I can only comment on two-thirds of the program. You can take the girl out of the rock show but not the rock show out of the girl.

Music-focued shows are a rare treat at OtB and this one was well attended. Both pieces included moving images projected onto a screen that filled about half  the stage, set at a diagonal on roughly the same plane as the performers. Live music with film or video presents a long list of variables which were addressed very differently; the show was a nice study in contrasts and similarities, well suited to the space and its spirit.

The first piece, Yannis Kyriakades’s Karaoke Etudes was cello, flute and bass flute, marimba, bass clarinet, violin and piano; the musicians wore headphones covering one ear. Each movement featured a different soloist facing the audience, reading from a score on a stand. The other players faced the screen, to the side, taking cues from letters, words, phrases, lines, dots, an occasional wash of color moved past.  A system revealed itself— are those lines a music staff? Yes, I think so. Who plays which note? I think it’s the cello playing the red ones. Do those words string together? Yes, for sure. A poem? A narrative? A prerecorded electronic score popped, crackled and rumbled and included samples of songs.

The musicians played with vigor and commitment, clearly getting a kick out of the assignment, eager and a bit on edge like when you’re learning a challenging game. The motion was steady and methodical. The playing was very good but the musicians were a little disconnected from each others’ music; the headphones, moving notation, electronics, etc. My attention was spread thin: words and shapes moving past, the irresistible urge to decode the notation system, electronic score, the disembodied sounds of the instruments coming through the speaker behind me— the instruments were mic’ed and mostly audible (where I sat) through the PA speakers (with digital reverb). For me it created emotional distance, as well as some frustration at my inability to hear the pianist until her solo movement. So much of the time out and about in the world of 2014 Seattle I'm surrounded by people wearing headphones, looking at screens, distanced from the immediate surroundings. The piece was very enjoyable but I’d been looking forward to the resonance of the  instruments' chambers in the chamber of the space; the two-dimensionality of the screen and speakers left me a little forlorn.

The second piece, Michel van der Aa's Up-Close, was played by an 18-piece string ensemble with a cello soloist. Projected onto the screen was a film about a woman, a choppy narrative told in non-linear dream logic. The piece was beautifully orchestrated and the solo cello performance fierce and masterful. Several theatrical elements tied  the film and live performance together: a lamp, a machine, and stage directions that had the cellist mirroring the actions of the woman in the film. Long stretches without the film allowed the audience time to focus on listening, defining the experience as more of a duet between film and ensemble than live film accompaniment. The stagecraft was carefully thought out and well executed; the film mad sudden cuts back and forth from indoors to out, the electronic score drifted in an out of the role of foley sound, the cellist rose and walked in in front of the screen. etc. The audience’s consciousness was pulled gently through dimensions.