June 16: Day 4, soundOn, a new music festival at the Athenaeum, Streetside Concert, afternoon.
This afternoon, soundOn took to the streets — well, the Athenaeum’s front patio, which is bathed in sunlight (whatever happened to “June gloom”?).
The concert, titled “Poetry and Percussion,” is drawing the festival’s biggest crowd, passersby who are just stopping, listening, and sticking around. New music, after all, is easy. A teenager stands, beating his hand against his leg. A woman bounces her grandson on her lap to the beat of another piece. Cars, sirens, a semi, and other ambient noises simply add to the effect.
Dressed in their festival t-shirt, the NOISE ensemble banged on stainless steel kitchen bowls, a snare drum, various bells, triangles, and other objects. Then they switch hats and stand before the mike, speaking text-sound — word experiments.
Of the musical pieces, Joseph Celli’s “Snare Drum for Camus” (not the writer but his son) and Improvisation for khaen and musical saw (performed by Chris Adler and Egon Kafka) held the most interest. In Celli’s piece, the four members of NOISE stand in a circle around a snare drum, then start playing it with sticks, starting at the rim, working their way to the center then back. The piece produces a surprising variety of sounds and even emotions.
Adler might just be the western world’s leading interpreters of the khaen, a bamboo free-reed mouth organ from Thailand and Laos. Kafka, whose day job is owner of La Jolla’s Village Lodge, played a saw, available from Home Depot. The khaen can sound like an accordion or a low flute, and while it can also approximate a drone, in this improvisation, Adler — and Kafka on the saw — draw pure, tender and gentle tones.
The text-sounds are hilarious. Adler reads from Christian Bök’s “Eunoia,” in which each chapter uses words with just one vowel. Impossible? No, not at all, as the excerpt from Chapter 1, “for Dick Higgins” showed us. The repeated vowels have a life of their own — you listen for them and their improbable combinations with consonants — and the text leaps rhythmically.
Hugo Ball’s “Sound Poems” are six collections of syllables, sentences and words in rhythmically driving verse that are totally meaningless, although meanings flow out of Colin McAllister’s intonation, pronounciation, and other vocal gesture. The audience roars.
A German poet, Ball wrote these pieces in 1916, the same year he produced the “Dada Manifesto,” launching dadaism, which advocated anti-art works as a way of rejecting art standards. Thus, we have poems with his own “words” rather than other people’s words. Fifty years later, the beat poets revitalized Ball’s text-sound experiments with their own driving poems; hip-hop ain’t new.
McAllister and Adler team up for Charles Amirkhanian’s “Church Car,” a very fast exercise in alliteration that changes direction occasionally with new combinations of “car” — box car, bump car, etc. It’s a tongue-tripper, but McAllister and Adler perform it flawlessly. I’d love to hear John Moscitta (fast-talker from FedEx) do “Euonia” and “Church Car”.
Next: tonight’s final concert.
Cathy Robbins is a writer and the author of “All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos)”, to be published by the University of Nebraska Press.