Wind Moon Concert

At the end of April, I attended the Wind Moon Concert, the latest installment of the Full Moon Concert series at the Luggage Store Gallery. As the name implies, the theme of the evening was “the wind, and its moonlit travels through tubes”. Both sets featured wind instruments, but also wind-like sounds on other instruments, and an attempt to bring the disciplines of wind performance to all the instruments, as described in program notes for the second set by Sabbaticus Rex:

The instruments themselves are treated with reverence and are given as much if not more command over the path that the music takes. Inasmuch as metal particles or stalks of bamboo want to become instruments, at the point at which we discover them, the gongs and shakuhachi themselves are approached in a highly collaborative manner, i.e. letting sounds emerge from them, guiding rather than forcing, generally unifying with the instrument as much as possible.

Tom Nunn and his musical inventions. Click to enlarge.

The first set featured Ghost in the House performing the Wind Moon Suite, an “elemental arrangement” of pieces. It began with a procession led by Karen Stackpole on a hand drum, followed by Tom Nunn with a conical metal instrument called a waterphone, Kyle Bruckman and David Michalak with wind instruments. Upon reaching, the performers added their other instruments, Stackpole on gongs, Michalak on lap steel and Nunn on his various musical inventions. Nunn’s skatch box opened with long “angry wind” sounds howling and moaning, with more ethereal sounds from the others filling the spaces in between. Sounds gradually entered the mix with slowly moving pitch bends that sounded more “electronic” to me (perhaps even like samples with pitch bends). The metallic and wind sounds began to coalesce around a harmonic structure with minor chords. Within the structure, the lap-steel guitar emerged with its own minor chords and softly moving pitch bends. This was followed by a piece featuring an expressive solo by Bruckman (oboe and english horn) set against long tones on the gongs and the skatch box. Eventually, the melodic line of the reeds gave way to more long tones.

The next piece, which had the memorable title “I killed someone in my dream last night”, began with a strong “growly” note. The sounds of the reeds were set against bowed gongs, and it seemed that both instruments began to sound quite similar despite their obvious physical and acoustical differences. In this section, Nunn played an interesting instrument called the Crustacean, featuring wires on a metal plate set atop orange balloons, another allusion to the combination of metal and air. This was followed by multiphonics on the oboe or english horn set against the skatch box and distorted guitar tones, which eventually gave way to long tones on the gong and high pitched notes from the reeds. Scratching guitar tones added roughness. The piece then built to a strong climax before fading into metallic sounds.

For the final pieces, the group was join by Cornelius Boots on bass clarinet. His featured role in the piece described as the “Alfred Hitchcock” piece included long notes set against long low drones from the ensemble. This gave way to higher, shorter notes, loud harmonics and resonances. The final piece began with a melody on the bass clarinet. The sounds that entered from the skatch box at first reminded me of waves and then of gently moving sand, both of which are shaped by their interaction with the wind. Low drum sounds and a spinning “whirly” reinforce to the return to the elemental theme of wind. The music became more animated as more sounds are added to the mix, metal rods and wires, shakers and whistles. At one point, Cornelius Boots blew into the mouthpiece of the bass clarinet without the body, and then alternately into the body of the instrument without the mouthpiece. These sounds were set against the waterphone played by Nunn. As the piece drew to a close, the performers returned to their original instruments and departed the stage in a procession just as they had entered.

Mark Deutsch on bazantar. Click to enlarge.

The second set featured Sabbaticus Rex, a trio of Cornelius Boots on shakuhachi, taimu-shakuhachi, and throat-singing, Karen Stackpole on overtone gongs, and Mark Deutsch on bazantar, an upright bass with sympathetic strings, much as one might find on Indian stringed instruments. It began with a solo on the bazantar by Deutsch, with lots of bent notes and excitations of the sympathetic strings. Soon he moved to bowed bass, which was set against bowed gongs. Once again, neither instrument was a wind instrument per se, but the long bowed tones gave the impression of the wind that set the stage for Boots’ entry on the shakuhachi. The three performers combined together in long drones. The bass moved gradually between standard pitched tones and harmonics, while the shakuhachi played against the longer droning sounds. The overall feel of the music was quite contemplative. This was followed by a louder, more percussive section where the strings of the bass were scraped and struck with mallets, and rubber mallets were rubbed against the gongs. The effect of the rubber on the gong was very resonant and loud intense rises and a wealth of harmonies. At moments, they almost sounded like loud voices singing. Throughout the remainder of the set, there were lots of expressive moments with throat singing and wind-instrument playing that resembled talking, set against continued drones. The bazantar floated freely between low bass tones and harmonics. There was lots of space, harmonically and temporally, with opening and closing and sounds emerging in between. The music became stronger and louder and more rhythmic, with the bass acting as a drum, before drawing to a close.