Rebekah Heller’s CD Launch: ICE Sizzles on the TUNDRA

Impressions from Row G
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (

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Just ten days after moving to Oberlin, we retraced the steps of Claire Chase’s momentous origin-of-ICE journey to Chicago to attend the launch event for Rebekah Heller’s new CD 100 Names on June 30, 2013. Resplendent in a stunning white frock festooned with ostrich plume shoulders, Rebekah took the stage of Constellation Chicago after Claire’s rousing introduction in which she claimed “the only proper genre label for Rebekah’s work on this CD is musical badassery.”

Rebekah opened with the unpronounceable ∞¿? (for bassoon and tape) by Edgar Guzman, filling the room with strange, provocative sounds. It began with deep low blasts followed by sputtering higher staccato notes while the low drone repeated, then morphed into an almost free-jazz style riff reminiscent of Sam Rivers or Albert Ayler. The piece had an assertive dominatrix edge to it. If she’d had time to change outfits for each work, ∞¿? begged for black leather and studs.

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Marcelo Toledo’s Qualia II (for bassoon and tape 3) was inspired by sounds of the Argentine jungle. Initially Rebekah told Marcelo that it was impossible to play, but she persisted and found a way. She began with shrieks through a handmade “reed organ” and whispered exclamations. Percussive key tapping alternated with expressive breath sounds and thin melodic threads. The jungle came alive with sound of birds, animals scurrying in the underbrush, and the gurgling of a flowing river.

Rebekah described Dai Fujikura’s Calling, for solo bassoon (2011) as symbolic of ancient horns used for communications between villages using ancient microtonal melodies and multiphonics. Exploiting the bassoon's raw, raspy timbre, Calling had a distinct messaging cadence and played out in call-and-response fashion, beautiful and tender with long-held notes.

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It was a treat for us to hear Marcos Balter’s …and also a fountain (for bassoon and percussion with spoken text by Gertrude Stein) again after hearing it six months earlier at Corbett vs. Dempsey. We were impressed with the command Rebekah has achieved through repeated playings in balancing the three elements of this compelling work.

Rebekah closed with her CD’s title cut, On speaking a hundred names (for bassoon and live processing) by ICE percussionist Nathan Davis. The title symbolically links the cultural phenomenon of multiple names for certain things in many languages, such as many words for snow in cold climates, with the fact that there is no single fingering to produce any note on the bassoon. From the elegiac beginning, this was the most tonality-centric piece on the program, with the electronics repeating and transforming the bassoon sounds. A wild middle section, sounding like an organ on acid, gave way to a quiet contemplative mood, followed by a slow building crescendo to the finish.

In her program introduction, Rebekah declared that this CD documents her ambition to see that the repertoire for solo bassoon would suck a lot less. No doubt about it, 100 Names definitely does not suck!

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