Counter)Induction had its most recent concert at the Tenri Institute on Friday, May 20, 2011. The room is small and intimate, and it contained eight speakers and a massive amount of cabling, as well as a couple of computers, a piano, a drum set, xylophone, chimes, and wooden blocks.
The speakers (and some sophisticated software to go with them) were from Viewsonic of Arlington, Va. Douglas Boyce, composer of the first piece to be performed, told me that the software has a fantastic GUI that allows musicians to move music around in a circle from speaker to speaker and add speakers as necessary.
Boyce’s piece, “displacements 1b”, showed off the speakers to great effect. The music began with acoustic stacatto, a rustling and tapping of string instruments, like wind and air that was around us, the audience. It moved in circles, like a dance or a breeze, calming and peaceful.
Then the speakers were turned off. The music moved away. The musicians were located down a long galley, and the sounds were more distant, and we could no longer hear the human sound of the touch of the strings and the fingers against the woodwork. It felt like a person walking away, a hand taken from your shoulder.
Then the sounds returned. It is difficult to describe what the speakers do for a concert to anyone who has not experienced them. Boyce says that if you are at the exact center of the speaker array, the music will appear to go through you, but at the moment at which your brain would locate sound within you, it process the sound as coming from infinity, because the brain knows that the music is not from inside you.
Boyce was exploring the nature of place with his piece, and found a magnificent quote from Aristotle to describe the process.
Frankly, I don’t like the music of Boulez that much, but that made Steven Beck’s performance of the work all the more impressive. This was a ferocious virtuoso performance that appeared to break some sort of sound barrier, and Beck told me later that the composer calls for it to be played even faster. I am not sure that it can be played faster. I also doubt that it could be played better.
road, river, and rail
Composer Jorge García del Valle Méndez explored the potential of the speakers differently. He mixed live performance with pre-recorded sounds. I felt that the role of the sounds was more to describe place than to participate in rhythm or melody, and they succeeded in transforming a small gallery just South of Forteenth Street into a massive vaulated stone structure. The music that played within the structure created by the space reminded me of the best music from film or video games (after all, most people first meet modern music while watching film).
I am a fan of computer games and I think that this music and music like it would be ideal for immersive, first person computer games that depict mysterious, massive spaces in worlds that never existed.
The composer wrote that he was exploring the interaction between real and the virtual, actual performers and digitized sound, but I felt that he was also creating imaginary space within real space.
The program concluded with scatter 2.0, another piece that played with the potential of the speakers while also using percussion to locate the music in front of the audience. It felt more like a sketch piece, exploring potential, than an actual final work, much as some early modern music explored timbre to such an extent that it sometimes felt like a series of experiments with sound instead of a single body of coherent work that could be one piece of music.
I hope that counter)induction continues to embrace the spirit of play and a sense of humor, along with its strong intellectual background. I know that the musicians will remain top notch, performing with aplomb whatever tricks, whistles, and technology the group’s composers can think of.
I asked several people whether the ensemble would consider adding visual elements to its music, but such a transition would require more equipment, more people — and a bigger budget.
The company’s next performance will be at Bargemusic on June 3, 2011.
A review in The New York Times of Counter)Induction’s subsequent performance at Bargemusic.