If you’ve ever wanted to feel the warm embrace of a sheet of steel and a Koronet Pizza-sized gong, you got your chance on Tuesday night.
The Miller Theatre hosted one of its signature pop-up concerts on Tuesday, a casual event featuring some free drinks that invited its audience members onto the stage for an intimate affair. The concert eschewed a program and was free to the public in an effort to de-class classical music. Those who came late to the 6:00 pm concert could use Miller’s actual seating, even though it meant they couldn’t see every member of Yarn/Wire.
Yarn/Wire, the performance group for the evening, is a Queens-based ensemble consisting of two pianists and two percussionists. Each member of Yarn/Wire set up on one of the stage’s four corners. The two percussionists sat opposite from each other, one member playing a tam-tam (gong) and the other playing a suspended and curved sheet of steel. The pianists were set up at keyboards, where they manipulated filters and synths while they played their notes.
The evening’s piece, Curvo Totalitas (2016) by Catherine Lamb, was described by the Miller Theatre as “a 45-minute tour de force that seamlessly shifts perceptions, allowing the listener to get lost in its unique sound world.” The original 2016 composition clocked in at around 20 minutes, but it was edited and expanded for the Rainy Days Festival in Luxembourg.
After a brief introduction, the four performers all turned on stopwatches on their phones to mark the start of the piece – minutes would dictate the pace of the piece more than measures. One pianist’s clock hit thirty seconds before I began to hear anything, the slow roll of yarn mallets on a steel sheet. It was another five minutes before I could fully make out the incredibly slow entry of the synthesized keyboard. Every sound on the evening came with a peculiar envelope which featured a weak attack. While the performers refused to make any sudden noises, the room had no such qualms – brief interruptions from the song’s meditative nature included clanking beer bottles, shuffling seats, and an “Ode to Joy” ringtone that emanated for thirty seconds from a gray coat. The experience of immersion in slow sound attuned the audience to their loud atmosphere and world.
Curvo Totalitas consisted of five movements, all of which rejected the classical-romantic, Music Hum notions of harmony, melody, theme, and form. The start of each perceived movement was marked by silence, often formed by the sudden release of notes in the keyboards. It was easy to lose track of time in the theatre, and many concertgoers let their eyes wander or closed them entirely.
For all of the work’s innovation and meditative, trance-like effects, Curvo Totalitas didn’t go over too well in Miller Theatre. While I have no doubts that Yarn/Wire performed the piece faithfully, it did not present enough new material to hold the audience’s attention for 45 minutes. A small group of audience members gathered their bags and left around the end of the second movement, surmising that the remaining 25 minutes would not present them with anything that the first 20 had not. After the whole concert, I had to agree with that hunch. The first twenty minutes of unique, spectral synth filters and carefully controlled percussion rolls satisfied, but the tail end of the piece grew to be a bore.
A performance of the 22-minute version of Curvo Totalitas can be found on Yarn/Wire’s YouTube page.
Image via Miller Theatre