Chamber Cartel performed this past Tuesday at the Goat Farm Arts Center in an all-percussion evening of contemporary repertoire. Since the group’s debut on January 1, director Caleb Herron has kept his promise to present at least one concert per month somewhere in Atlanta. It’s an unusual feat for any local new-music ensemble of its type, especially one on a shoestring that depends entirely on small cash donations at its concerts.
The show opened with Herron doing Vinko Globokar’s “?Corporel,” a performance piece that takes the Romantic notion of “suffering artist” and strips it down to its bare essentials. The score required Herron to be both performer and instrument. The shirtless percussionist used his own body as a percussion instrument, vocalizing sounds that implied self-inflicted pain and mental punishment. Herron brought to it the raw expressions of the primal lizard brain that lurks at the dim base of our consciousness.
Alvin Lucier’s “Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra” was originally written for amplified triangle solo. The player taps the triangle with the beater with one hand and dampens it with the thumb and forefinger of the other. The changing positions of these actions explore the twice-bent metal bar’s timbral characteristics. Chamber Cartel chose to perform it with four percussionists — Stuart Gerber, Mark Little, Brandon Dodge and Herron — each playing a different-sized triangle. The result was more a glowing metallic tapestry than an acutely focused study of subtle timbral variation, but nonetheless enjoyable.
“Wail” was one of two pieces on the program from “The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies” by John Luther Adams, eight pieces that pit different solo percussion instruments against an electronic audio track. For “Wail,” Adams chose a large, hand-cranked mechanical air raid siren. Herron performed, carefully gauging the speed at which he turned the siren’s crank: faster raised the pitch, slower lowered it.
The centerpiece was Steve Reich’s “Marimba Phase,” performed by Charles Settle and Stuart Gerber, who also performed it at last week’s Sonic Generator concert under the title “Piano Phase” — same piece, just a different title printed in the program. Last week they played on a proscenium stage and had a brighter, more stenciled sound. This time, in very different acoustics, Settle and Gerber were positioned within the semicircle of the audience. It felt more relaxed, warmer, though it had to compete with passing freight trains.
That fact partly underscores the Goat Farm’s major weakness as a music venue. Like a previous concert that Chamber Cartel performed there, this one was originally scheduled in the Rodriguez Room. That space is reasonably buffered from the train sounds by the very building in which the performance actually took place. But the Goat Farm appears to have an internal problem of conflicting scheduled building uses. Both Chamber Cartel concerts were moved at the last minute to a nearby building adjacent to active train tracks. The passing trains are quite loud, though not as loud this evening as in the previous concert, where some music was almost impossible to hear.
It’s also the same building where gloATL rehearses. There is no real wall between the dancers’ rehearsal space and the concert space. They were not rehearsing Tuesday evening, but during the previous concert they were, and their sounds became, like the trains, part of the sonic background. No offense to gloATL; the space was theirs first. Absent the trains and the patter of feet, it’s a pretty good alternative space for music. But the Rodriguez Room does not force either of these sonic conundrums.
The other Adams piece, “Roar,” followed. In this one, the solo percussion instrument was a large tam-tam — a kind of gong — played by Brandon Dodge. “Roar” begs for the largest tam-tam available, frequently 60 inches in diameter. Dodge played one that was observably smaller than that, but still large enough to do the piece justice.
The concert concluded with all five percussionists playing “Apple Blossom” by Peter Garland on two marimbas. “Apple Blossom” is a “pianissimo piece,” not raising itself beyond a gentle whisper. The background noise by this time had minimized, and the piece brought the concert to a gossamer, meditative conclusion.