ArtsATL > Music > Review: Percussionist Victor Pons puts elegant spin on vibraphone, electronica in solo debut

Review: Percussionist Victor Pons puts elegant spin on vibraphone, electronica in solo debut

Victor Pons
Pons incorporated the sounds of a passing train into his performance. (Photo by Mark Gresham)

Percussionist Victor Pons performed a solo recital of music for percussion and electronics on Saturday at the Goat Farm Arts Center’s Goodson Yard. Titled “Ampere,” all of the show’s music focused on Pons’ primary area of interest, vibraphone with live electronics. Several other instruments and devices, such as musical saw, tambourine, flat metal plates and a few cymbals, served minor roles. Five works were performed. Significantly, it was a “solo recital” in the strongest sense.

“The program acts as a survey of current works with live electronics, and I challenged myself to do it solo,” Pons wrote in the week before the concert. “Solo in the sense that I am triggering the electronic cues, volume and effects in the score through midi pedals and iPad controllers. This is opposed to the usual, where the performer plays while a person at the computer does all the ‘dirty work.’ The challenge (and excitement) is juggling both roles while making it seem as if I am not.”

The recital opened with the world premiere of “Blueprint No. 1” by Adam Scott Neal, an Atlanta composer who is a Ph.D. fellow at the University of Florida. The piece, written in 2009, can be played by an improvising musician on any instrument, plus a microphone, a sound reinforcement system and a laptop computer running Max/MSP, a software and visual programming language combination that allows for creative manipulation of audio and multimedia in interactive musical performances.

“Open End” by Ben Hackbarth, from 2007, used speakers placed beneath the vibraphone to produce interference patterns between their electronic signals and the instrument. In part, the intention is to blur the listener’s ability to distinguish what is an acoustically produced sound and what is an electronic sound coming from the speakers.

Mark Applebaum‘s “Plundergraphic,” from 2002, is for one or more acoustic instrument of any kind with live electronics, eight recorded audio tracks and live sound diffusion, propagated in this performance through four speakers surrounding the audience. The score is made entirely of graphics transformed from Applebaum’s other scores. Accorded to the composer, these “aspire to provoke the player” in improvisation. It seemed the least interesting piece on the program.

“Lissajous” (2012) by Ethan Frederick Greene is intended to be a sonic impression of a Lissajous curve, which the composer describes as “a graph of the system of parametric equations describing complex harmonic motion.” That isn’t itself a great help to most, nor is the mathematical equation. But a visual demonstration of how basic Lissajous patterns are created can be seen on YouTube. Greene’s music is far more engaging than his written description.

The show closed with “Sequitur XI,” from 2009, by Karlheinz Essl, in what Pons called the “solo version world premiere” of this piece for vibraphone, cymbal and live electronics. What made this performance “solo” is that, as in all the previous works, Pons played the acoustic instruments while he simultaneously controlled all the electronics, tasks that in previous performances 0f the piece have been shared between two people.

But there was a second “performer,” however unintended, involved in this last piece. One of the infamous trains that often lumber along behind Goodson Yard contributed to sounds manipulated by the laptop’s Max/MSP processing. While most often the trains are sheer interference, overwhelming the music, this one contributed in audibly interesting ways. Both the rumbling of the slow-moving rail cars and the two-pitched diesel horn were captured and melded into the sonic tapestry, a ghostly modified echo in the mix emerging from the speakers.

What was most notable about the entire program was that it seemed to have its own unique temperament, one that felt different from other “new edge” performances heard over the last year in Atlanta. It had a spacious feeling to it, a kind of clean elegance without excessive force or harshness. Even the music of Neal, which has had a number of local performances by different groups, took on a special shine in Pons’ hands.

Another notable fact is that Pons completed his master’s degree program in music at Georgia State University earlier this month, and this recital was his first solo appearance in the wake of that achievement. As he wrote earlier in the week, “This program also acts as a bridge for where I am now and where I plan to go with a doctoral dissertation.” It may be a bridge, but by all indications, it was also a performance that established for him an identifiable public signature as a solo artist.

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