Concert Review

"Bent Frequency Proves Itself Master of the Eclectic"

The Atlanta Journal Constitution

May 14, 2003

 

Review by Pierre Ruhe

 

Bent Frequency, a hipster contemporary music ensemble, gave a stunning inaugural concert Monday at Eyedrum, surpassing expectations for virtuosity, range and a trait that's impossible to quantify: artistic focus. For a long stretch, coming in the middle of its 90-minute show, it was easy to believe that these 14 musicians had created, in a dramatic Athene-style birth, the most inspired music group in town.

 

The performance began with David Lang's "Cheating, Lying, Stealing," a repetitive, industrial concoction that could easily be the soundtrack to a bittersweet little robot-come-to-life flick. John Luther Adams' monochromatic "The Light That Fills the World" droned on pleasantly, without much purpose.

 

Then the masterpiece: Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Kreuzspiel" -- dangerous, lean, aggressive and incredibly difficult to play. The insistent, light conga drum tapping, punctuated by threatening thwacks from the ensemble, makes it music on the verge of sanity, music fired equally by genius and madness.

 

What a shock to follow it with John Zorn's "Cobra," a loopy "game piece" of controlled chaos. Alexander Mickelthwate (who conducted "Kreuzspiel") was here the so-called "prompter," holding up cards with instructions for what the musicians were to improvise. This included playing snatches of Paganini or Stravinsky or the surfin' Ventures, or yelling, or, at one point, burping. Where the Stockhausen showed Bent Frequency as a seamlessly polished chamber ensemble, the Zorn put individual personalities out front. Most hilarious was percussionist Stuart Gerber, whose wild-eyed, uncannily believable impersonation of a skeet-shooter -- reload, "PULL!," fire -- kept the audience laughing.

 

"Kreuzspiel" and "Cobra" -- the extremes of music, both so convincingly played -- showed Bent Frequency as a suddenly indispensible part of Atlanta's music scene. Nikitas J. Demos' lively and attractive "Notes From the Edge of the Millennium" nevertheless felt too long and out of place for this concert and this space. In contrast, the sleek, urban sounds of Anthony Davis' "Wayang II (Shadow Dance)," conducted by Robert Ambrose, was on target, a mildly dissonant mix of African drumming via minimalism via free jazz.

 

The show's visual additions -- dim lights and colors beamed onto fabric -- left a faint impression. In such a small space, it turns out that watching the faces of musicians, as they strain to get the notes and the nuances of over-the-edge music, is compelling enough.