Fulcrum Point closes out season with plugged-in evening

Thu May 20, 2010 at 3:43 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Fulcrum Point performed Wednesday night at the Harris Theater.

On Wednesday evening, the Fulcrum Point New Music Project served a typically generous program titled “Computers Come Alive!” offering the subversive and the perplexing along with a good deal of humor and improvisation.

Most of the composers were tapping into older traditions and forms and clothing them in current techniques –– raising the paradoxical question: Other than a recent date of composition, what exactly is new about New Music anymore?

The evening at the Harris Theater began with the antics of the Chicago Fluxus Ensemble. Led by Simon Anderson, they mixed with the pre-concert audience to offer Fluxus pioneer George Brecht’s 1966 “event score” For a Drummer (For Eric). Audience members were urged to bang on anything they chose with whatever they had on hand in the first of several mini-happenings that enfolded John Cage-inspired high-jinks into a program that at close to two hours without intermission might have seemed overladen.

Also on display in the pre-concert slot was a demonstration by composer Christopher Burns of a computer-programmed laptop equipped with a video camera that captures and translates human movement into musical and visual creations. Up to a point it resembles the Theremin, as one’s hand gestures shape the music, but the program also includes its own autonomous contributions which add new layers of audiovisual activity. It’s only a tool now, but seems fraught with interesting potential for crafting more fully realized works.

A good example of the new/old paradox was the first large work on the program, Elevator Music on Mars by the 33 year-old Finnish composer Tomi Räisänen. Boiled down to essentials, this was a piece of program music painting an aural picture of an elevator journey from the bottom to the top of Olympus Mons, the highest mountain on Mars and in the solar system.

But if we hadn’t read the program notes what we would have heard would have been computer-enhanced sounds and rhythms contrasted with live instrumental riffs from saxophones (Jeremy Ruthrauff) and power guitar (Steve Roberts) all on an upward tangent coming to a big climax and ending on a reprise of the first recorded sounds. A fairly conventional musical journey, all said.

That work at least had the virtue of conciseness and was well played by all. The second piece, Óoxp éel ik’il  t’aan by the Mexican composer Hilda Paredes consisted of Briceida Cuevas Cob reading her poems in Mayan, and drifting in and out of the background electronics. The Harris has a fine sound system and the recorded state-of-the art electronics were strikingly bounced around the room.  Yet while well performed—particularly by Fulcrum Point artistic director Stephen Burns on trumpet and flugelhorn and percussionists Jeff Handley and Brandon Podjasek—the work proved overlong.

The benign spirit of John Cage hovered over Pictures from a Ghost Town by the Italian composer Luciano Chessa. This humorous and by turns fierce and delicate work for piano, turntables and blackboard has the artists (the fine pianist Kuang Hao Huang and Joe Darnaby, turntables) leaving the stage in the middle for an uncomfortably long time, provoking audience unrest. But for the most part the composer pairs conventional as well as prepared piano and enigmatic blackboard scrawling with a surprisingly subtle use of the turntables as simple transmitters of sounds and music. That was the voice of Caruso we heard in the distant background.

The final large piece of the evening, Blues for Black Hoodies, was written by Fulcrum Point composer-in-residence Randall Woolf and features an uplifting text by rapper Wordisbon recorded with hip-hop inflected electronics, backed by a live ensemble of 13 classical strings playing in unison. The work’s sound world seems calculated for inner-city schools where shades of Ol’ Man River and Copland’s Lincoln Portrait are given an updated slant. Nothing too new, really, but the quiet ending added a gentle period to a challenging and worthwhile program.

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One Response to “Fulcrum Point closes out season with plugged-in evening”

  1. Posted May 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm by Leslie Wilson

    I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I was only sorry more were not present for outstanding performances.

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