I am not the first nor will I be the last to remark on the rumbling of the subway at Astor Place during a show at Joe’s Pub. But in Sept. 20th’s program from the International Contemporary Ensemble, the regular reminder of the subway’s existence mirrored the constant flow and shuffle of people from one configuration to the next. The performers moved on and off of the stage as the pieces required, further emphasizing the intimate relational circles drawn during chamber performances.
The full roster, made up of Rebekah Heller (bassoon), Chris Williams (trumpet), Lesley Mok (drum set), Cory Smythe (piano), Dan Lippel (guitar), edi kwon (violin), and Lester St. Louis (cello, electronics, sound design), and Fay Victor (voice), opened the show with Victor’s Flow onto the next (2020). St. Louis and Lippel, playing the larger stringed instruments, framed the ensemble, with the instrumentalists making sound with breath and voice (Williams, Heller, Victor) on the next layer, and kwon in the center, with the percussive instruments (played by Smythe and Mok) behind. The group held things loose, from physical bow holds to the rhythms that rippled across the ensemble like balls falling from a high place and bouncing faster and faster, succumbing to gravity. Victor’s composition asks performers to bring their own text to the piece, making room for wide variations between performances. In this iteration, refrain phrases like “keep creating,” “contact and the connection feels like love, love love,” and “we need each other” were stuttered and growled as if matters of belief. It almost seemed like the group was negotiating amongst themselves how much they believed in these gestures.
The three new pieces on the program were presented as part of their Call For _____ commissions program, which was designed for collaboration and new commissions, leaving the space for potential collaborators to fill in. Program artists Lesley Mok and Chris Williams contemplated the liminality and specificity of relationships between both people and sounds through their works. Mok’s Stilled leaf-chatter invited contemplations of resonance and similarity amid the improvisational expressions of its quartet (kwon, Lippel, Smythe, and Mok herself). Each member took time both to listen and to lead, savoring the moments that separate the leaf on the tree from the same leaf on the ground.
Before the premiere of Odu: vibration 1, Chris Williams let the audience know that for the first time, he had opted out of premiering one of his own compositions. Written specifically for the duos of Rebekah Heller & Fay Victor and Lester St. Louis & himself, Williams expressed an investment in the communicative relationships between performers, art objects, and the audience. The performance featured a light sculpture crafted by Williams and Josephine Wang, which bore resemblance to a deconstructed Tiffany lamp. Though visually striking, it may have been a bit superfluous in the context of the performance with the intended effect of evoking intimacy.
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