Percussionist/Composer J. B. Smith stopped here on Saturday in the midst of a 9-week tour. His road show is all about percussion and electronics, kind of a modern-day soloist touring with his own orchestra-in-a-box. The theme of the evening was looping, as three of the pieces featured the performer continuously recording his performance and building textures with the playback.The most attractive pieces were the oldest and the newest. The latter distinction was held by Eric Richards: his finalbells
dates from 2004. Richards has flown under my radar to date, but this piece had an appealing obsessiveness. For over ten minutes, Smith rubbed superballs on thirteen cowbells. As he played, his performance was looped and played back over the speakers, the combinations of overtones resulting in sounds that were truly lovely, sometimes sounding disorientingly like human voices. It was the kind of piece I tend to find annoying after about five minutes, but I stayed with it and ended up enjoying the decadent surrender to sensuousness.
The oldest work was You Can’t See the Forest — Music (1971) by Daniel Lentz. A sly conceptual piece, YCSF — M is performed with a single, full wine glass. The percussionist taps occasionally on the glass, taking a sip of the wine from time to time, so that the tapping pitch rises microtonally throughout. Meanwhile, he intones seemingly random phonemes (nt, ee, est, rr, etc.). All of this, in keeping with the evening’s theme, was recorded and played back as he performed. As a result, a gradual microtonal cluster builds from the tapped wine glass, while the spoken phonemes slowly coalesce into familiar aphorisms, such as the one suggested in the title.
The piece concludes with the performer slowly draining the glass, while the recording shimmers into a sparkling cluster accompanying comically mundane adages (“you can lead a horse to water — “).