Cory Smythe and Amy X Neuburg; Photos courtesy of Glenn Cornett

Amy X Neuburg/Cory Smythe
Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Dec. 13, 2011

It’s East Meets West…coast, that is.

On the stage of the old-school charming Roulette in Brooklyn was yet another creatively edgy program, put on this time by the pairing of West-coast avant-cabaret artist Amy X Neuburg and New York’s own pianist-composer, ICE‘s Cory Smythe. Presented without an intermission, the show was almost entirely electronic or electro-acoustic in nature (with the exception of a refreshing burst of Fats Waller’s “Handful of Keys” from Mr. Smythe), and most of the pieces were composed and/or arranged by both of them.

The proceedings kicked-off with When, a piece that was originally premiered at one of Present Music Ensemble‘s 30th Anniversary concerts in Milwaukee back in June 2011, where the two artists first met. Neuburg is a very strong performer that has a gifted virtuosity for looping in performance, to the point where she hits the looping mechanism hard when she shifts the pattern. Neuburg’s voice having such a big presence in this art form, the show was like a resume of her vocal styles, ranging from beautiful, to spoken word, to plaintive, to loud and ugly. 2 Disorders was an interesting example of how low (and ugly) her voice goes, while My God showcased her ability to sing choir-style (looping herself into something that sounded like “Coventry Carol”), use spoken-word over the looped carol, and then spew a frenzied rant over a visceral art-noise sample.

Other noteworthy parts of Neuburg’s performance were The Rat, rendering what sounded like an English-language sprechstimme. Every Little Stain had her utilizing teeth-brushing for a rhythm track. Agriculture, while not one of my favorite pieces, was fascinating for Neuburg’s use of an inside-piano-mike for her vocals at the start of the piece.

Smythe is a fabulous pianist, and I think the idea of playing piano together with loops and electronic sound can be a creative playground as evidenced on his recording pluripotent, but despite his great work with Neuburg at this show, the material from his album didn’t feel as exciting as a live performance. I’m not sure if the technical delay at the start of his solo portion had anything to do with that–It sort of felt to me like he was checking it out for the first time. The underwater effect on Lung & Lake and a couple of other of his pieces did induce a calming mood in me, but I couldn’t help but feel much happier during “Handful of Keys”.

They wrapped the night up with their own hi-tech re-working of Schubert’s breakthrough lied Gretchen am Spinnrade, replete with loops and electronic storm winds. Plus Neuburg sang it in German. It was an appropriate conclusion to the program.

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