May 22, 2015
by Alan G. Artner
As each ticket was torn to give entry to Thursday night’s concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art, each bearer received what looked like miniature chopsticks joined at a serrated center.
These sticks would be called into play midway through Glenn Kotche’s “Wild Sound,” an extravagant, 43-minute long audio-video piece performed by the four virtuosi of Third Coast Percussion.
The immediately engaging piece developed from a collaboration not only between composer, performers and the video artist Xuan but also stage director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, lighting designer Sarah Prince and audio engineer Dan Nichols. What resulted was a choreographed spectacle that twice enlisted brief audience participation to refresh and illustrate John Cage’s principle of all sound being ultimately music.
Refreshment came from the sense that nearly every sound made live was on unorthodox instruments that had been created by the players before the listener-viewer’s eyes. These included the “chopsticks,” which an ensemble member onstage cued the audience to break apart and scrape in a rhythmic pattern as the rest of the piece unfolded around it.
The structure of the sounds performed was determined in part by natural sounds from country and city that accompanied the video. Live stage actions projected over recorded landscape images emphasized the synthesis. But much else about the piece was deceptive, as it sounded improvised whereas long stretches actually are notated and what seemed fortuitously random about the do-it-yourself instruments actually resulted from careful preparation and tweaking.
Among the score’s more curious aspects was how many of the makeshift noisemakers succeeded in sounding like already existing instruments, Eastern as well as Western. This raised the question of why all the breaking, cutting, sawing, drilling and fastening was necessary when much of it yielded sounds heard from traditional ensembles. But the question proved irrelevant in the face of the piece’s entertaining busyness and spectacle. Just ask the audience, which for the most part was raptly attentive before giving its standard whooping accolade.
The first half of the concert included five short pieces, three freely composed by Kotche and Steve Reich plus two (by Joao Gilberto and Reich) heard in arrangements. All were brilliantly played, whether mesmerizing or driving. Those listeners who knew Kotche mainly as the drummer of Wilco were doubtless doubly satisfied.