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Tristan Perich, Lesley Flanigan, Mariel Roberts
Friday, January 27
Better than: Loudness.
“The present-day composer refuses to die,” Edgar Varese once said, though he never had to compete with Williamsburg on a Friday night. Tristan Perich, Lesley Flanigan, and Mariel Roberts did earnest and happy battle with the elements in La Sala, in the back room of Cantina Royale, a Mexican-themed tapas bar in the former Monkey Town space that recently started hosting performances. With the futons removed, it remains a wonderful and intimate space for music despite kitchen clatter, the three gigantic blank walls providing a clean slate for performers. The show embraced the precepts of grown-up classical dignity: nice programs, a crowd that stayed in their seats, pieces that ended when musicians’ hands went to their side. It was a perhaps unconsciously bold way of not giving in to the ever-expanding Williamsburg weirdo zone of psychedelic Japanese restaurants, international style hotels, and rock and roll daycare.
Cellist Mariel Roberts went first, performing one gentle piece (Kaija Saariaho’s “Sept Papillons”) and one abrasive (Iannis Xenakis’s “Kottos”); the difference in volume was subtle, owing to her unamplified cello. She introduced the latter as being about “brute force,” and—in a very classical way—it is, filled with scrapes and growls as well as plenty of moments so quiet that one could hear what seemed like the muted hip-hop untz of a line cook’s distant earbuds. The near-capacity crowd, spilling onto the floor from austere benches against the walls, remained attentive.
Perich and Flanigan are one of new music’s sweetest power-couples, and have lately been playing on a international circuit of festivals and galleries; Friday’s was a rare hometown show for the pair. Both utilize single-tone homemade sound devices to find their own distinct voices while working within the distant compositional parameters of the academy—and each has discovered drastically different and beautiful ways to do so.
Flanigan performed on the floor, her image projected on the walls and her elegant speaker-synths arrayed around her. Each a handsome wooden box with some variety of speaker cone built in, the six instruments emitted their own individual feedback tones. Playing with the quiet around her as much as the sound emitted by the speaker-synths, Flanigan configured the boxes in varying ways, colors building and rearranging until they made a warm chord. She sang into a microphone, her long wordless notes droning and blurring and diminishing through effects pedals and making chords of their own. Sometimes, she swung the mic over the boxes to make a carefully controlled pendulum music. Eventually, she worked her voice out of the mix and gradually turned the boxes off, the warm chord turning to the lush static crackle of hard rain. When it went off, her hands went slack, and people’s breaths returned, suddenly ready to acknowledge the racket outside.
Tristan Perich, who once implanted his AT&T LG G4010 into an old desk phone and carried it around for a few years, continued his work with 1-bit electronics and more conventional minimalist composition. “Impermanent” mixed Perich’s single-tone chips with traditional instruments; in “Telescope” (for 4-channel 1-bit, two bass clarinets, and two baritone saxophones) and “qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq” (for 3-channel 1-bit and three toy pianos), the 1-bit electronics create a bed as warm and emotional as the instruments they are bleeping with. For “Impermanent,” Perich employed one of the most traditionally gorgeous Western instruments, tubular bells—played with mallets by Perich and Doug Perkins—but used the two-channel 1-bit (that is, two speakers, dangling from L-frames, one on either side of the bells) to surprisingly harsh effect. Authentically dreamy, for 35 minutes, Perich and Perkins malleted chords and slow melodies that sometimes dwindled to a single repeated note. As they did so, the chips pinged back and forth in literal stereo, forces mysteriously elongating and pausing in spare and glacial polyrhythms.
For all the grand lulling—indeed, Perich and Perkins performed in the near-dark—the dangling speakers’ distantly perceived mathematics yanked the listener constantly back to a state in between the all-encompassing, time-stretched woozing of the bells and the wakefulness of the world outside the piece. It was a liminal peace, and one seemingly contained by the listening bubble carved individually and collectively in the Williamsburg back room by Roberts, Flanigan, and Perich. But when leaving La Sara for the rambunctious streets of Williamsburg, one might find something as good (or better) as a song stuck in one’s head or a satisfied ringing in the ears, but a strange, beautiful quiet to go back to.
Critical bias: I also love airplane noise.
Random notebook dump: Don’t need “4’33″” to appreciate quiet anymore; it’s just a built-in part of new music now, the conceptual opposite of a backbeat.
Overheard: “We’re having our house and disco party afterwards, you should really stick around.”