Monday, August 29, 2011

Concert Review: Neuma – Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center, Seattle, 8/27/2011

The name “Neuma” could be a fusion between pneuma, meaning both “soul or spirit” and “to breathe”, and neume, an old system of musical notation (used before “notes” as we know them now).

Variety in homogeneity. One could call the music “minimalist” in that the three clarinets created an unchanging, generally quiet, halo of sound. But below that static surface – again as in minimalism – there was constant variety. Scatters of delicate notes and sputters lengthened into harmonic drones. Open 4ths and 5ths developed microtonal shimmer and then moved through dissonance into consonant harmonies. Occasional, always subtle, reed buzzes and squawks punctuated the music. Once there seemed to be a newly-invented instrument in the mix: the “claramin” or the “theranet”; Jesse Canterbury’s clarinet perfectly imitated a Theremin. The three players usually blended into a dense but elusive web of sound, their sound subsumed into the texture; but individual sound personalities did emerge from time to time. Paul Hoskin (contrabass) provided much of the underpinning with deep but never overtly growly bass, sometimes shifting upwards into the higher regions for a melodic shuffle. Jenny Ziefel provided much of the melodic material (which was usually immediately imitated by the others) and often seemed to initiate the drone textures (which in this context were merely another type of melody). Jesse added much of the ornamentation and sense with a plethora of “extended” techniques.

Left to right: Jenny Ziefel, Paul Hoskin, Jesse Canterbury (from the Wayward Music website).

This description is misleading. Though I mention individuality, it was certainly not the point of the music, and it could only be seen in contrast to what else was happening. They didn’t play as a “band” with clearly-defined roles. There was not a melody and an accompaniment, or “solo” against chords. There was mostly foreground and background, with these parts constantly shifting. One note in a drone would momentarily surface to become foreground, then recede. One scatter would rise and become a focal point, then fall back into the others. It was only in their blending that the individual playing became apparent.

Listening to their playing, I made this abstract without looking (much), just letting my pen wander and scribble to the sounds of the music.

I found this concert to be a beautiful and fascinating excursion into the mind’s perception of sameness, difference, and sonority within a seemingly “changeless” framework.

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