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“I Never Thought to Sonify a Meat Grinder”


Hinge’s mainstage production, “Clockworks,” focusing on “dehumanization through technological advancement and industrialization,” featured saxophonist Philipp Stäudlin, guitarist Dan VanHassel, percussionist Matt Sharrock, and pianist Keith Kirchoff; they filled Boston Conservatory’s Ipswich Hall with intense mechanical precision that retained genuinely human feeling.

Dan VanHassel’s arrangement of Clockworks by Swedish metal band Meshuggah opened the concert (contrary to the online program). VanHassel discussed how he sought to “[arrange] the material into a more quiet and delicate form” compared to competing with Meshuggah’s intense and aggressive metal sound. They clearly took the right approach, as it gave the piece a somewhat minimalistic vibe to it, filtering metal through Louis Andriessen (more on him later). Still as powerful as its metal counterpart, VanHassel’s setting allowed exception ensemble playing, blending Stäudlin, Kirchoff, and the arranger into one cohesive unit while Sharrock guided the trio with precise and crisp percussion playing. Kirchoff acted as the wellspring of ideas that folded into the rest of the quartet throughout as well. Ironically, this reviewer wanted more volume and intensity, but what we still got something exceptional.

Camilles by Katherine Young followed, toning down the in-your-face rock style. Focusing on realizing electroacoustic music through real players, nevertheless provided a funhouse of extended techniques, with Stäudlin inserting a mute into his saxophone, VanHassel bowing the strings of his electric guitar, Kirchoff and Sharrock creating feedback through pairs of walkie-talkies, and Kirchoff striking the piano strings with a soft cord mallet. As is very popular in the new music space right now, Young composes a harmonic density curve throughout her work, shaping “temporal clumpiness” (amount and rate of individual events in each player or instrument) with an acute awareness of the audience. Young comments in her program notes that she wanted to present what she thought monarch butterflies would sound like to one another (as recent scientific research claims monarch butterflies have an expansive hearing range, far beyond our own), and the results were effective, even if the piece might have overstayed its welcome by a minute or two.

Harvard’s own Chaya Czernowin followed with Sahaf, a piece that this reviewer/composer would never have considered writing. Kirchoff talked to the audience about how Czernowin used the humble ratchet as the source, sounds of clicking and whirring that most composers use as a layer rather than a starting point. What seems like a strange idea works on many levels. With plenty of agility, Sharrock controlled the ensemble with a set of ratchets small and big, high and low in pitch, that expanded out through the quartet. Stäudlin, Kirchoff, and VanHassel added to those timbres with even more extended techniques on each of their instruments, playing with slap tongue, muting piano strings with weights, and palm muting all the guitar strings respectively. Unsure beforehand, Czernowin’s experiment surprisingly, and welcomely, proved to be the highlight of the evening.

Jessie Cox’s Black as a Hack for Cyborgification, however, did represent a slump, though through no fault of the performers. Stäudlin and VanHassel expertly reacted to one another with deep and loud F-sharp bass notes between the guitar E string and baritone saxophone, matching timbre and throwing the sound in the audience’s faces while Kirchoff and Sharrock played explosively on their respective instruments. Even when the group went through intensely “new music” extended techniques, the playing stayed at an incredibly high level. The open score, open orchestration concept, however, felt disjointed—a pitfall of the style.

Louis Andriessen’s Hout is to this quartet combination as what Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is to the Pierrot quintet: it invented a genre all of its own. It is a benchmark by which any new ensemble in this instrumentation is compared to. Hinge easily lived up to it. In a complex, strict canon offset by 16th notes, Andriessen created a color canon, each voice making a collage out of a process so full of life and vigor, and in which the listener heard snippets of motifs emerge from a texture. Stäudlin shone here, leading the rest of the players in the canon. VanHassel and Kirchoff deserve special mention, as their parts entered on the second and fourth 16th notes, requiring concentration that only minimalism demands to not fall into the more comfortable eighth note or downbeat. Sharrock also demonstrated superb comfort and grace with the marimba, echoing contributions to Transient Canvas in execution.

Hinge is such a welcome addition to the new music scene. Stäudlin, VanHassel, Sharrock, and Kirchoff meld new music with the inspiration and power of hard rock and metal as needed, turning an up-and-coming new music genre into a hybrid of poise and aggression.

Ian Wiese is an Associate Professor of Ear Training at Berklee College of Music and a doctoral candidate in music composition at New England Conservatory, studying under John Heiss.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. This was a mind-blowing concert. I found Jessie Cox’s piece to be outstanding, not at all a “slump.” I wonder if the writer is at all acquainted with the work of the Art Ensemble of Chicago or Sun Ra, especially experimental albums such as “Heliocentric Worlds, Vol. 1.” These might be useful points of reference for evaluating how successful the composer was in achieving their aesthetic and expressive goals, which may or may not be goals that would be of interest to the reviewer.

    Comment by Curtis — January 29, 2023 at 6:00 pm

  2. I’m familiar with Sun Ra and his style, along with open concept pieces by composers like Oliveros and others. If you enjoyed it, that’s great. Perhaps it’s not my thing.

    Comment by Ian Wiese — January 30, 2023 at 8:05 pm

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