Non-Event events fill venues, command undivided attention
It’s a rare experimental music concert where promoters have to bring out extra chairs and it is still standing-room only. But that was the case at last Sunday’s performance by EKG, an electroacoustic duo whose name represents, among other things, the initials of its members Ernst Karel and Kyle Bruckmann. The concert’s organizer, Non-Event, has run a well-regarded concert series since 2001, and has been responsible for bringing some of the experimental music community’s foremost artists to Boston.
Non-Event’s concerts have taken place at venues all around the city, and this time EKG set up in Le Laboratoire Cambridge, a “culture lab” and gallery. Upon entering the sparsely-decorated space, audience members were greeted by loud clicks, buzzes, and whirs, as well as the sight of a black table covered in an a impressive assortment of electronics and, incongruously, two oboes.
The visual disconnect between the tangle of wires and the wooden instruments foreshadowed EKG’s unique sound: the interplay between electronic perfection and the necessary imperfections of a traditional acoustic instrument. Although both group members are trained on traditional instruments (oboe and trumpet, respectively) as well as electronics, Bruckmann largely focused on the oboe in this concert while occasionally leaning down to tap away at a laptop, while Karel fiddled with an Escherian tangle of dials and wires to create “analog electronic” sounds without the assistance of a computer.
EKG’s music relied primarily on airy soundscapes and languorous silences, foregoing melody almost entirely. The first piece, Michael Pisaro’s “Every Night” [Harmony Series No. 12C] was so soft and atmospheric that it was at times hard to distinguish what was intentional sound and what was the background hum of the air conditioner and the audience’s breathing. The second piece, written and performed solo by Bruckmann, was inspired by the works of light artist James Turrell, intending to create “a similar experiential state through a different medium.” Each note was placed laboriously, leaving plenty of time to contemplate Bruckmann’s feats of breath control. The contrast with the piercing sterility of the electronics made the oboe sound warm and almost gritty.
The third section of the evening, Karel’s improvised solo set on electronics, suffered in contrast to the earlier pieces due to the lack of oboe. Though the calculated cacophony of sounds was impressive and well-crafted, it failed to make a lasting impression. Fortunately, Bruckmann returned for the final piece of the night, an arrangement of Alvin Lucier’s “Serenade” for oboe and string quartet. Here, the quartet was replaced by four pre-programmed oscillators, and speakers were set up around the room so that the audience was seated in the middle. The oscillators created an impossibly regular and unrelenting vibrato, harmonizing with and amplifying the breathy, sustained sounds of the oboe.
In his introduction to the second piece, Bruckmann described the experience as an “exercise in patience,” and that would be a fair description of EKG’s music on the whole. It was as much a meditative experience as a concert, more likely to provoke contemplation than cheers.
The next installment of Non-Event’s concert series will take place this Thursday, June 22nd, at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, and will feature composer and multimedia artist David Behrman along with avant-punk violin duo String Noise and trumpet player Forbes Graham. Two more concerts will take place this summer: one on July 11, featuring noise artist Valerie Martino, and another on August 8th with computer programmer/musician Erika Nesse. More at nonevent.org.