The summer days continue to dwindle, and we feel it, not least by the birds, who migrated north in the spring and are already starting to make their way back south, making pit stops in the Central Park North Woods. As another autumn creeps in, the previous one might float to the surface. Who were we during this time last year? And what are the shapes of our time together? These questions were welcome this past Friday throughout Ensemble Signal’s show at TIME:SPANS. The variety of electronic and acoustic interaction across all three pieces and the attention to shapes in the form and musical gestures themselves invite us to imagine a path of return beyond doubling back. The program, which featured pieces from Darian Donovan Thomas and George Lewis, considers the ways we change and stay the same amid the return to something, insisting on and dreaming of futures and present worlds.
Spiral, the new piece by interdisciplinary artist and multi-instrumentalist Darian Donovan Thomas, murmured and crackled, with a sequence of vignettes that evoked the shape of a spiral when viewed from the side. Episodes of little gestures moving across the ensemble gave way to sections that grooved (often led by notably fun bass runs), and listening to it all unfold felt joyous. Thomas’ electronic track provided ambience and tonal shifts that reminded me of Green-House and SOPHIE. While a simple distinction might attribute the function of feedback and dialogue more to Lewis’ softwares, Thomas’ track in Spiral was also an active participant in the audience’s collective musings.
During a few sections of Spiral, members of Ensemble Signal spoke lines of text, a few of which were found in the program note and later echoed by altered voices in the electronic track. Having leafed through the program before the performance, I felt as though the audience members had been brought into this rumination, a pondering proposed by the ensemble, the track, and us. One of the spoken phrases—“I’ve come to think of life as a spiral staircase”—prompted me to wonder when exactly the moments of change happen, when we “come to think” of things, when a spiral completes its next loop.
Alongside spirals, Lewis’ reference to the earth’s bubbling energy in Seismologic, for solo bassoon and electronics, brought more shapes of change to mind with ripples and jagged lines. The physicality of bassoon performance took a front seat in this performance, which felt quite like a showpiece. Soloist Dana Jessen performed one extended technique after another as the sound generated by the electronic software bounced around the room–both gave virtuosic performances. At one moment, the sound gave the sensation of being in an enormous cavern, the next, on an amusement park ride breaking down. These sounds, which evoked elements of nature or our everyday sound environments, playfully acknowledged that the source of certain sounds or movements are unexpected or imperceivable to us.
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