Chamber Cartel performed the final concert of its 2013 season on Monday at the Goat Farm Arts Center. The group’s “season” is unusual in that it is aligned with the calendar year rather than the academic year like most performing arts organizations that operate year-round.
The sole work performed was a world premiere, “The Shape Distance,” written for Chamber Cartel by United Kingdom–based composer and visual artist Marc Yeats, the group’s new “composer in association.”
The intermissionless concert lasted 90 minutes and took place in the relatively close quarters of the Goat Farm’s Rodriguez Room instead of in the large Goodson Yard building across the alley, where the group had most recently performed with guest flutist Lisa Cella on November 16. That concert, entitled “Iris,” was repeated two days later at the far more formal Cole Auditorium at Georgia Perimeter College in Clarkston. It is worth mentioning the Goodson Yard performance in tandem with this one: the ensemble had been in a long hiatus since June 29, when they presented a 24-hour marathon performance of Erik Satie’s “Vexations” at Goodson Yard.
When Chamber Cartel was created, one of the goals of its director, Caleb Herron, was to mount one concert a month in its first year. He kept his promise, despite some quiet criticisms from seasoned musicians that it’s better to do a few well-planned concerts than a dozen flying by the seat of one’s pants. But Herron seems comfortable as an improvisatory impresario and has a lot of enthusiastic help from his peer-generation artistic colleagues. They’re definitely getting experience with the nuts and bolts of indie concert presentation.
Four and a half months of break, however, can be a good time to recharge and reorient oneself. And these two final concerts of the year were explicitly directed at the overarching questions of the group’s second season: What are we doing? Where are we going? Monday’s concert focused upon the latter question, in part because they have been recording “The Shape Distance” this week, with the composer present, for release as a CD.
“The Shape Distance” is described as an exploration into “unsynchronized complexity” in that (says the printed program) “the instrumentalists play independently of each other. Music is cued to begin only, with no ‘fixed’ synchronization between the instrumentalists. Whilst the relationship of each instrument is flexibly placed against its neighbour, care has been taken to calculate potential outcomes of coincidence and variability.”
In that respect, Yeats’ music bears resemblance and is somewhat an heir apparent to music of Morton Feldman, such as “Crippled Symmetry,” the piece with which Chamber Cartel made its debut on New Year’s Day last year. If the group is indeed asking “Where are we going?” then it has now marked a couple of clearly related aesthetic guideposts on its path with its first and most recent concerts, not to mention a number of points in between.
One of the ways in which “The Shape Distance” differs from Feldman’s unsynchronized works is that Yeats’ piece is in seven sections, and the part for each instrumentalist is the same for all movements; it’s just a question of whether that musician’s part is present or absent in any given movement. For example, the first movement performed, entitled “The Shape Distance 5,” involved five of the seven musicians present: flutists Jessica Sherer and Teresa Feliciano, clarinetist Eric Fontaine, violist Cecilia Trode and percussionist Caleb Herron. The sixth movement performed, entitled “The Shape Distance 1,” was performed by the two musicians not in the first movement: harpist Connor Way and pianist Amy O’Dell (who played a Roland electronic keyboard). Four other movements involved three or four musicians in different combinations; the final one included everyone. While the numbering may seem confusing, the explanation is that they were numbered in the order composed, not the order they are performed.
The musicians were disbursed around the performance space. Chairs for audience were arrayed in diverse directions. Some large panels between structural pillars prevented Fontaine, O’Dell and Herron from directly seeing each other, but no matter: the musicians played confidently. Feliciano had the largest share of performance time, playing all but one of the movements.