Program Notes for the reception at Unity Gallery, Feb. 21 2014

[un] sound spaces was conceived as a cross-media event, an intersection of photography, music, and movement. The performance by Wooden Cities and Melanie Aceto is intended to reach out aesthetically, conceptually, and emotionally to Megan Metté’s [  ] series. Metté’s images interrogate and reorient interior spaces, questioning how they affect us and how we inhabit them. Intangible as they are, sounds also inhabit, and are influenced by, the spaces in which they are produced. Sound is an inherently physical phenomenon. Tonight’s program is meant to highlight this fact – a series of pieces about and configured in space.


In To Selves is a collaboration between composer Esin Gündüz and choreographer Melanie Aceto in which both women dance and produce sound. Starting from a place of total synchronization, the performers gradually diverge, using music and movement to forge their own separate identities. The piece is intensely corporeal – two bodies moving and resonating in space. This physicality is emphasized by Gündüz’s frequent use of ingressive phonation, or singing while inhaling. Listeners cannot help but embody this gritty, belabored sound, feeling the physical effort of it themselves, and the subsequent relief that comes from breathing normally. The result is a visceral  confrontation  between  anxiety  and  catharsis, an  affect  not  far  removed  from Metté’s

darker,  more  disorienting  images.

In the case of “Blues Fall” the connection with the photographs is more conceptual. Just as Metté uses the frame of the camera to abstract and defamiliarize real-world interiors, each piece in Michael Pisaro’s Tombstones collection takes a pre-existing melodic fragment and puts it under the microscope, distorting it beyond recognition. “Blues Fall” derives its material from “Hellhound on My Trail” by Robert Johnson. Chopped up, slowed down, and set over a drone, Johnson’s phrase “Blues fallin’ down like hail” is radically transformed into a solemn meditation.


The central concern of Descriptions of the Moon is a spatial paradox – the way the moon seems to be simultaneously close-up and distant. The music of this song cycle strives for a similar ambiguity, to sound both intimate and aloof at the same time, to draw listeners in while also pushing them away. The piece shares with Metté’s images a sensibility that is at once beautiful and unsettling. On the program tonight are two songs from the larger cycle, settings of poems by James Joyce and Pablo Neruda.


Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VII can be called an exploration of instrumental space. Beginning with just a single note, Berio systematically adds more and more pitches over the course of the piece, until the entire range of the oboe has been revealed. Berio also lends the piece a sense of depth by calling for a second instrument to sustain the oboe’s opening note for the length of the work. Beyond creating a sense of foreground and background, this device highlights the importance of that central pitch and allows the note’s identity to continually evolve as the material around it changes. Whereas this drone is traditionally created electronically or by a single offstage instrument, tonight it will be played by the entire ensemble, giving it a new sense of life.


Like the Berio, Perduto in una città d’aqcue hinges around a careful control of register. As stark in its palette as Metté’s photographs, Sciarrino’s piece consists of only a few quiet notes, perpetually recast in different octaves of the piano. Often drawing upon the extreme high and low ends of the keyboard, these different registral combinations all come with their own subtle variations of weight and resonance. Gradually more pitches creep in, hinting at a barebones scaffold of traditional tonal harmony. The overall effect is an extremely fragile, rarified sense of calm, one that is shattered by the occasional rapid flurry of notes. These disturbances irrevocably upset the musical landscape, like cracks intruding upon an otherwise perfect wall.


Notes by Nathan Heidelberger