Impressions from Row G
by Arlene and Larry Dunn (@ICEfansArleneLD)
ICE bassoonist Rebekah Heller wowed a crowd of over 100 patrons at Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery for ICE Solo(4) on Friday, January 18, 2013. She played an inspired pairing of works by two related composers, current ICElab participant Daniel R. Dehaan and his mentor Marcos Balter, an ICElab 2011 fellow. Rebekah herself described it best, speaking after the concert, “It was such a startling combination; Marcos’ piece was ‘I’m all in your face and I demand you hear this’ and Dan’s piece was all inward looking and entrancing. It was thrilling to play them in succession.”
The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain. (from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein)
Like Stein’s prose, a combination of words chosen strictly for their sounds when strung together, Marcos’ . . . and also a fountain too operates on a non-rational level. The piece is a trio for bassoon, percussion, and speaker, but played by all one person. Amplification with substantial reverb also played a significant role in enabling overlapping sounds. With famed Chicago artist Richard Koppe’s Luminous as a backdrop, Rebekah began by sharply striking a wood block with a steel rod, and then intoning some of Stein’s Tender Buttons text, all with a “you will listen to me” attitude. When she turned to her bassoon, it was as often to percussively tap the keys as it was to blow thorough it. In addition to the wood block, she also struck a triangle and shook a small rattle. The heavy reverb ensured that previously played sounds sustained, providing a mesmerizing background to the music being actively played, then carrying the overlaid sounds into the future. Rebekah recited the text quietly, in a mystery-shrouded whisper.
As the piece progressed, the sounds built in strength, evoking a herd of animals running through the woods, then picked up further intensity as it neared the end. A cascade of swift hard hits on the block, screeching sounds from the bassoon, whistling and triangle played off each other. The reverb kept the final whistling audible, long after Rebekah had stopped.
Dan’s Violence for Isolation for bassoon and field-recorded sounds, though a radically different conception, also operates on a strictly non-rational plane. It opened with just the bassoon, evoking the sounds of the wind. Rebekah moved her instrument to and from the microphone to make the sound fade and increase, suggesting changes in the wind. When the recorded sounds entered, we were immersed in the natural environment. The first sounds were fairly quiet, like insects scampering on the forest floor. Rebekah’s playing and the recorded sounds steadily increased in volume, reaching a crescendo that sounded like a raging glacial sluice of icy gravel-filled water cascading down the side of a mountain. As the volume reached its peak intensity, Rebekah stopped playing and let it wash over us all, then subside.
A second section ensued, as Rebekah played a wandering, almost sweet melody on the bassoon. Softer nature sounds of leaf rustling and sand blowing joined in. Reverb increased and Rebekah seemed to be accompanying herself on bassoon. Then Rebekah’s bassoon sounded quite like a foghorn and the reverb worked beautifully, overlaying the foghorn on itself. Appropriately, the background sounds shifted to seabirds and the lapping of waves. In the end, the bassoon slowly became quieter and quieter as the background sounds increased in volume. And everything faded to silence.
Watch a “rough cut” video of Rebekah Heller playing Daniel R. Dehaan’s Violence for Isolation (excerpt)