Monday, November 16, 2009

Small sounds and ecstatic drones

Seldom does Tucson get the kind of live drone shows that seem to appear regularly in Chicago and New York, but this evening we were blessed with performances by Jeph Jerman and Sun Circle, a duo of Greg Davis and Zach Wallace. The Solar Culture gallery, which presented the show, has been the subject of some controversy recently as its landlord changed rather abruptly from the state of Arizona to a local developer, but tonight's show is a hopeful sign that the gallery will continue its concerts, especially of the more avant variety.

The warmup was a short soundwalk led by local sound sculptor Glenn Weyant, through the railroad yard behind the gallery, into the dormant industrial park across the tracks, and then under the tracks to get back home. When we returned, Jerman had started his set, gently dancing around the gallery wearing a leather fringe jacket, where the fringes all had rattles and other noisemakers attached. He sought creaks in the old gallery floor, then slowly shed the jacket and evolved his performance through a number of different textures. Wooden rattles gave way to squeaky rubber, seed pods, pebbles and sticks manipulated in his hands, then deepened with larger stones that he rolled on the floor, creating deep rumbles because of the uneven texture of the wooden boards. He played pine cones, plucking the scales and then dragging them across the floor. The performance concluded with Chinese health balls, also rolled across the floor, punctuated with gentle strokes on temple bells. I was completely entranced, and the performance had a clear arc. By the time he dragged the pine cones around, especially a very large one, I was so tuned into his actions that it seemed very loud. I've got a few Jerman recordings, but this was the first time I have seen him perform, and the recordings make so much more sense now. My description doesn't do his performance justice, and I cannot recommend enough seeing him live.

By any absolute scale, however, Sun Circle's subsequent performance made Jerman's seem like a whisper. Billed correctly as "ecstatic high volume drones," Davis and Wallace extinguished all lights in the gallery except for a single yellow bulb on the floor, then turned on an electronic Tambura-type drone. Seated cross legged in the middle of the gallery, they both blew mizmars, Turkish reed instruments, into microphones (using their shoes for microphone stands), generated cascades of overtones. Although at first they played the mizmars in unison, they moved out of sync to increase the complexity, and the performance concluded with the tambura fading out, leaving only the nasal sound of the reeds. For an encore, Jerman, Davis and Wallace performed a short set on Tibetan bells, cymbals and a couple of gongs, variously bowing and striking them. Not bad for a Monday night in the southwest!

The photograph is Jeph Jerman's setup, taken before the show.


icastico said...

Sounds like it was a lovely evening.

DaveX said...

I agree, that sounds like just the sort of thing I've been wanting to hear lately. Seeing as how the chance of getting such a performance around here is even more rare than in Tucson, I'll probably have to just start figuring this stuff out myself!