On Wednesday, September 25, 2013 the Liminal Space Contemporary Music Ensemble—the only guitar and percussion ensemble in Houston—kicked off their second season with five new works, including one world premiere, in Spring Street Studios, Studio 101. The tall ceilings and exposed brick walls made for both acoustically appropriate and urban feel space to present the Time and Tension: an Evening of Electro-Accoustic Music to an audience diverse in age and background.
The evening was heightened by the composed charm of the group, as they set and tuned between each number adding a unique, dry humor that both charmed and delighted the audience, even choosing a seven year old composer from the audience to pick the raffle winners for the No Label Brewery sponsored drawing.
The Liminal Space arrangement for guitar and marimba, The Body of Your Dreams by Jacob TV started off the program with humor, sampling Jerry Springer and infomercials for weight loss, with clever rhythm and harmony to match.
Hugh Lobel’s The Lotus City Songbook, a three-part piece composed for the Liminal Space New Music Initiative received its world premiere at the concert. The peculiar piece used sounds from guitar and marimba—including dragging the guitar pick down the strings—to tell the story of Guanyin, the bodhisattva associated with compassion whose name roughly translates to “listens to the suffering of existence,” sound being the conduit for her toward compassion. The composer’s self described, “peculiar” piece is his imagination of what her life would be like if she lived today, the music being a portrayal of the character’s daily life through a fictional modern city. Starting her day with the first movement, Guanyin’s 11 Morning Breaths, the story of sound unfolded from her eleven heads. On to work teaching her dance class in Guanyin’s Samsara Dance Class. The music finally depicted her on her way home in Guanyin’s Atom Smasher.
Nathan Davis’ piece for amplified triangles with electronics, Diving Bell, featured two sets of triangles on opposing sides of the stage, manned with handheld microphones in a structured improvisation. The performers, Brandon Bell and Luke Hubley, extracted single overtones usually present in overall sound and hidden sounds similar to a tuning fork, and layered them in a trancing and ear-thrilling way. It was like being invited to look into a telescope for the first time, unaware that space could look even more wondrous close up.
The concert closed with George Heathco, Brandon Bell and Luke Hubley performing Samuel Carl Adams’ two-part piece, Tension Studies, and for every instrument on the stage and for every hand and foot that could be used to beat a rhythm and or play a tonic or dominant. This was a thrill to hear and to watch, with Bell and Hubley playing both vibraphone and cymbals simultaneously, in addition to each playing a bass drum with their heels. The complex rhythms and sounds were truly exciting and if the tension from all of that was not enough, George Heathco’s guitar supplied a driving background tension of a gradual detuning of the bass line. The climax of the piece involved a hammer banged on piece of metal in time with the bass drums; the only thing more epic would have been to lift the guitar and smash it. An epic and thrilling piece in design and execution.
There was a palpable sense of electricity to each piece that the audience’s attention helped deliver. Some were on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the climax of each selection with audible laughter at clever rhythms and sounds, and gasps in awe at juxtaposing auditory dynamic shifts. It was obvious that this was an event that all had been waiting to see and left happy to have been part of.
The effort of the ensemble to promote and fund new compositions by interesting and adventurous composers with an ongoing call-for-scores has given The New Music Initiative nine commissions and collaborations that will be on a forthcoming recording project. The group’s next concert is set for December 11, 2013 at The Barn in Houston, Texas.