Last night I attended a concert of new works by Travis Just performed by his ensemble, Object Collection at the Issue Project Room. Based in Brooklyn, Just is an experimental composer in the Cageian tradition known for mixed media music-theater works, often in collaboration with the writer/director Kara Feely. The first half was dominated by two rather long table-top guitar quartets that had the performers striking the amplified guitars with marimba mallets, applying e-bows to the strings, and other non-traditional playing techniques. The score in both cases was proportional and much cueing was done by the composer. While there were some exciting sounds occasionally, the works suffered from a lack of organization and form. The performers also seemed somewhat removed from the sounds they were making.
Separating the quartets on the first half was a far more interesting mixed quartet of percussion, piano, guitar and "objects,' the latter including, as I later discovered, a Moog synthesizer. The work had a much stronger sense of form and space, and the sounds were a lot of fun, particularly those coming from the Moog (notably a persistent single-note tremolo effect that added a zany otherworldliness). This piece was far too short in context, and frankly I almost left at intermission.
But the second half came quickly, and it was definitely worth staying for. The remaining piece, Everybody's Everyone, an apparent reference the the Cage/Joyce mantra "Here Comes Everyone," brought to life the "object collection" theme, as the piece used for its sound material a large collection of objects tethered to long strings all stretched out over a large section of the venue's floor. The objects included mostly non-music related things – rocks, RAM chips, trophies, crumpled plastic bags, and various other miscellaneous objects from everyday life. Thus, the actual performance consisted of the four performers slowly, and with no apparent coordination as an ensemble, dragging the objects from one end of the floor to the other as they reeled in the strings to which they were tethered.
Lasting for roughly twenty minutes, the piece was as much theater as it was sound. The sounds in fact where far less interesting than they might have been. They were very quiet and largely indistinguishable from one another. Some light amplification might have opened up some interesting sound worlds, and the performers actually made more sound unintentionally (I presume) with the movements of their feet, which I found distracting. I might have had the group wear soft padded kung-fu slippers from Chinatown – they always work for me when I perform quiet music. Nonetheless, Everybody's Everyone was enjoyable as a kind of performance art, a visual process piece as it where.
I also still have the image of the grid-like arrangement of the tethered objects before they were rearranged in the course of the performance, suitable for a standalone gallery installation. As an added visual detail, the strings also had attached to them what appeared to be strategically positioned colored tapes which I assumed had something to do with the timing of the performer's dragging of the strings which often stopped and started when each player arrived at a sequence of the colored tapes in the course of their reeling in the strings. Overall, it evoked for me the detritus of a fisherman, a collection of flotsam brought to land with pieces of the netting still intact. Fun stuff….