Sonic Liberation Players appeared at the New School of Music in Cambridge Saturday evening in “Ecstasy/Enstasy.” On SLP’s minds were “climate emergency” and those experiences arising from the opposite of ecstasy. The coinage “enstasy” has us thinking about meditative states and that is where SLP remained for the hour.
The Ecstasy for string quartet by Terry Riley had been scheduled. With one of the quartet members falling ill, ecstasy flipped over to enstasy with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel (1978). Gabriel Solomon and Trevor Berens seemed somewhat under-prepared for the ascetic duet. Solomon’s violin thinned while Berens’s piano emitted slight blows over the eight minutes. Pärt’s score would indicate otherwise, suggesting an evenness from the long-bowed notes and wavelike piano arpeggios. Yet, a certain serenity prevailed.
Parched Paddock (2016) by Australian composer Nicole Murphy sounded as if it had been composed much earlier than that. Berens and Joshua Jade, percussion, set the ominous scene in slowly unfolding motion. Jessica Tunick Berens joined them with “last of winter…parched paddock/a butcherbird clasps/ the barbed wire.” Hints of winter turned to a gasping, then a wild insistency, and the inevitable, a highly intense denouement. Butcherbirds are songbirds closely related to the Australian magpie but seemed not to figure in the music itself. Murphy was “influenced by the austere, drought-stricken landscape…in remote outback Australian communities.” Piano and percussion interplay balanced while often overpowering the voice. Jessica Berens’s soprano sounded its finest in the lower register.
Mary Jane Leach’s Bach’s Set for solo cello and 8 taped cellos (2007) moved in a glacial pace over 11 minutes. Despite the composer’s melodic lines rising ardently, a thick, cloudy, and barely unchanging texture stagnated. Ironically, Leach chose Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite in G Major as the taped underpinning. If the Marcus outing later in the program would veer toward an astral playground, then Leach’s Set would stand squarely on the ground. The taped cellos resembled an old pump organ. Rachel Barringer lifted the solo cello line to a singing voice farther and farther away from enstasy and closer and closer toward a welcome personality.
Edward Davis 2013 work, entitled “when we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” featured intermittent piccolo chirps, his “transcription of a Varied Thrush song.” Opposite the piccolo, a singer muted her voice with both hands. “The faint playback sounds are from a field recording made by the composer in Chugach State Park, Alaska.” SLP addressed “our climate emergency and the role it is playing on our avian friends…” with Andrea Lieberherr Douglass, piccolo, and Jessica Tunick Berens, soprano. Davis’s presence gave some assurance of the performance rising to his expectations.
Lecture for Jo Kondo (1985) by Bunita Marcus shaped up as a contemplative homage to composer and friend Jo Kondo. Having some of the earmarks of Morton Feldman’s slow-moving dream-like states, the 20-minute composition stretched out in a single sequence of sonic clustering. Each cluster in turn drifted into meditative space. Leah Bartell adroitly conducted the fluidly changing time signatures. The two Berens, Jade, Douglass, and Solomon offered a compelling sonic performance that also reflected the text: “attending is attending and even that falls short of being present…”