By Tyler Smith
On Tuesday February 18th, Oberlin’s Modern Music Guild hosted the New York-based chamber group TAK ensemble, featuring guest composer and Oberlin Alum David Bird. After giving two clinics earlier in the day, the ensemble presented an exceptional performance in the evening that reinforced WIRE Magazine’s description of a group that “combines crystalline clarity with the disorienting turbulence of a sonic vortex.”
The program comprised pieces composed during the past decade for various combinations of flutes, clarinets, violin, percussion, and voice.
Especially during a year that features already-overplayed symphonies (I’m looking at you LvB), it’s unlikely to stumble across a concert where the oldest piece programmed was written only seven years ago.
Mouthpiece 28 by Erin Gee, was the quirky opener. Appropriately featuring thin, whistling lines, the work is oddly similar to sounds a wind player might make while warming up — or cleaning their instrument. Vocalist Charlotte Mundy introduced irregular, short syllables combined with aimless glissandos, while percussionist Ellery Trafford operated a peculiar setup comprised of everything from glass bottles to crotales dipped in water.
Like Mouthpiece 28, Taylor Brooks’s Amalgam and Jessie Marino’s Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling feature the entire ensemble. Watching everyone interacting with each other on stage was sometimes even more interesting than the music itself. Each musician expressed a level of nonchalance — trading quick glances in passing, or moving in ways that would make what they were playing more accessible to the listener. Their level of finely-tuned ensemble playing is undoubtedly only attainable after years of playing and experimentation, but really makes the difference when undertaking such perplexing music.
An audience favorite was David Bird’s Atolls, featuring flutist Laura Cocks (Oberlin ‘11). The piece, heavily influenced by Roberto Balano’s novel 2666, is scored for soloist and 29 other piccolos surrounding the performer and audience.
Bird (Oberlin ‘12) mentions in the program notes that the inspiration for the accompaniment is derived from combining the spectral analysis of a cymbal crash with Janet Leigh’s infamous scream from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The piece begins with a sparse, introspective solo, utilizing percussive vocalizations. Coincidentally, the solo began just as the bells of Finney Chapel rang off in the distance, immensely boosting the reflective atmosphere desired. Eventually, Atolls evolved into brash microtonal clusters, with short, sometimes even grotesque, heaving outbursts from the piccolo. Bird’s 20-minute berserk composition would make an excellent alternative soundtrack to Hitchcock’s horror classic.