Daniel Wohl’s Corps Exquis a Fitting End to Ear Heart Music Season

Roulette-LogoThe 2012-2013 season of Ear Heart Music came to a close on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 with performances by violist Nadia Sirota, composer and pianist Missy Mazzoli, and TRANSIT in collaboration with electroacoustic composer Daniel Wohl. This event, held at Roulette in Brooklyn, was the official New York premiere and CD release party of Wohl’s audiovisual project Corps Exquis. The album is now available on New Amsterdam Records.

Daniel Wohl

Composer Daniel Wohl

The evening’s program began with a solo performance by Nadia Sirota of In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves. The piece, inspired by Carl Sagan’s Golden Record sent into space in 1977 aboard Voyager 1, is a soulful musical journey that truly captures the spirit of space travel in its heyday: scientific and meticulous in design, but with an undeniable air of romanticism in its delivery. Nadia’s technicality and sense of lyricism was well suited to the storytelling aspect of Judd Greenstein’s composition, though the cosmic imagery – a crucial element to my personal enjoyment of the music – would have been lost had Nadia not briefly mentioned the Golden Record beforehand.

Nadia Sirota - Photo by Samantha West

Nadia Sirota – Photo by Samantha West

Even then, not everyone in the audience would have known of the story behind it: a record hurtling through space for eternity, inscribed with a collection of sounds and images that reflect human existence on Earth, forever awaiting a chance encounter with another kind of intelligence beyond our own. I hope this marvelous narrative backbone will in future performances be elaborated upon, made more obvious, or incorporated into the performance via other creative means. I also hope that Nadia will be accompanied by an actual string quartet rather than a pre-recorded track next time – the richer and more complete the live experience, the better.

Second on the docket was Missy Mazzoli performing Tooth and Nail alongside Nadia Sirota. This piece had less of a story to tell, but was nevertheless still intriguing to the ears because the viola and its samples were designed to mimic the sounds, twangs, and overtones of a radically different instrument, the jaw harp. Tooth and Nail is chock-full of bite in texture, but its edges are rounded and malleable, as if to suggest the changing mouth shapes of jaw harpists as they play their instruments. Nadia was once again playing counterpoint to pre-recorded samples, but this time Missy was around to cue them up on the keyboard, giving the performance an element of collaboration that felt missing in the one prior.

TRANSIT new music collective (photo credit:

TRANSIT new music collective (photo credit:

The bulk of the night belonged to Daniel Wohl and TRANSIT in their performance of Corps Exquis, a multimedia chamber opera in nine consecutive parts. What set this second half of the program apart was, quite naturally, the video component created by New York-based visual artists Antoine Catala, Alexis Gambis, Satan’s Pearl Horses, Andrew Steinmetz & Teddy Stern, Brina Thurston, and Yui Kugimiya. The performance – visuals and music in symbiosis – felt disjointed at first, though not in a negative way; after all, the title Corps Exquis refers to the Exquisite Corpse, a Surrealist parlor game based on the mystique of chance, fluctuations, and unknown consequences. With this in mind, what I found most intriguing about the performance was in fact its jagged corporeality. Each segment served its own function and had its own set of characteristics, but somehow they all fused organically and bled into one another, like foreign limbs serving a common body.

Wohl’s arsenal of electronics was the magic touch that brought everything together. His processing of TRANSIT’s live acoustics was subtle and smart, done to bring out the flavours in his composition rather than to dictate how it tasted. I was also drawn to the scintillating textures of Joe Bergen’s percussion (among the instruments he used were a wine bottle, a large tin can and a metal pot) which acted in brilliant contrast, like sparkles skirting across the surface of an ocean, to the depth and expansiveness of the strings, piano and woodwinds. The resulting combination, paired with the fluid and often abstract visuals, was a multimedia experience that thoroughly awakened the senses. Corps Exquis was altogether an exquisite way to end the night, capturing both ears and hearts alike, and thus bidding a fond farewell to this season’s edition of Ear Heart Music.