Saturday May 21, 2016, 8:00 pm
Western Front, 303 E. 8th Ave., Vancouver
Tickets: $18/$15 students & seniors, available at the door (cash only); reservations: 604 876-9343 (weekdays) or email@example.com
The latest work from one of Vancouver’s most eclectic and sonically adventurous composers, Grotto: Ventriloquial Investigations is Michael O’Neill’s answer to the operatic works of Robert Ashley and the mysteries of Plato’s cave. A 40-minute musical theatre performance for speaker, ventriloquist’s puppet, Javanese gamelan and live video score, this is likely to be one of the most engaging philosophical treatises you will ever hear. The first half of the program features revised versions of some of Alligator Joy’s current repertoire of new music for gamelan, composed by members of Gamelan Madu Sari/Gamelan Alligator Joy: Mark Parlett’s “Dice Over Easy”, Andreas Kahre’s “Let N=N”, and Sam Salmon’s “96 Tiers”.
As O’Neill tells it: “Ventriloquial Investigations are in progress deep inside the axial chamber of an undetermined cave. Two figures are seated with eyes transfixed on the cave wall, as they engage in dialogue that wanders into realms philosophical and psychological – ransacking memories, recounting stories, quotations, and poetry, all in the name of their ‘Investigations’. In counterpoint, the cave wall acts as a membrane catching shadows, revealing thoughts, and evoking shadows of thoughts.”
They are on a journey inspired by artist Glenn Lewis’ proposal of ‘Eight Conceptual Aspects of the Garden’, which O’Neill has been realizing over the past 15 or so years in a series of works collectively titled Lessons of the Garden. This is the final stage of the journey, and involves Seamus, the ventriloquial puppet by sculptor Lionel Doucette, live interactive projections by Sammy Chien, and intercultural music by Gamelan Alligator Joy with Andreas Kahre on electric cello. (Gamelan Alligator Joy is the chamber ensemble incarnation of the performing group Gamelan Madu Sari, playing instruments commissioned by composer and Western Front co-founder Martin Bartlett in 1990.)
Michael O’Neill is known for his compositions for Javanese, Balinese and Sundanese gamelan as well as Scottish highland pipes. His CD of compositions for pipes, taiko drums and percussion, Ontophony, was released on the Songlines label in 2006. Vancouver New Music premiered his Stone Garden for Balinese gamelan, bagpipes and voices in 2014. Sammy Chien is an interdisciplinary media artist, director, researcher and mentor who works with film, sound art, new media and dance performance. His work has been exhibited across Canada, Western Europe, and Asia, including Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museum of Contemporary Arts Taipei and National Centre for the Performing Arts (Beijing).
Mark Parlett’s “Dice Over Easy” creates atmospheric sound and rhythmic patterns that explore the process musical option and surprise, as performers constantly make small choices based on fixed figures. Incorporating electric cello, and reworking and altering the instruments and traditional scales, he evokes a state of dark melancholia.
Andreas Kahre’s “Let N = N” is a cheerfully quirky work that plays with orchestral timbre by dispensing entirely with mallets and beaters. Using only fingertips and nails, the ensemble explores the instruments at very low volumes, in an experimental balance of instruction and freedom.
With “96 Tiers” Sam Salmon has created another of his process pieces referencing the minimalists, one of his great loves in music (along with Question Mark & the Mysterians!).