Friday, May 3, 2013

Betsy Biggs/Cheryl Leonard-First Thursdays at the Schoolhouse; Richmond, CA 5/2/13

After a particularly hot day in the SF Bay Area, it felt cool to have to travel less than a mile from chez Amnesiac to get the Schoolhouse for the May installment of their First Thursday Music Series. I guess that I should have walked, but after a particularly brutal slog on BART, well, yeah....

First up for the evening, Betsy Biggs presented two pieces. The first, Bernal Bernal featured Dana Jessen on bassoon  and Michael Straus on alto sax. Their woodwind parts were played lyrical and melodically, matched by rapid fire film images and clicking typewriter-like sounds from Biggs. The film images were great: juxtapositions of San Francisco, with Bernal Heights seeming to be the main focus. Her second piece mixed much more minimal electronic sounds and processed instrument recordings with two voices and a film that morphed montage imagery from sepia to grey to blue. Disaster Amnesiac was particularly intrigued by one quote: "10/21/57 in Heidelberg". This former resident on that lovely city wanted to know the back story!
Biggs seems to be pretty accomplished; Disaster Amnesiac must find more of her stuff.

If it's not already the case, Cheryl Leonard will surely be admired as an artist that more than capably fuses environmental elements with artistic vision. The ways in which she presents the materials that she uses, followed by the sounds that she coaxes from them, is always an aesthetic pleasure. She gets the most cosmic sounds out of the simplest of earthly material: smooth stones, twigs, water, bones. Her rigs are always beautiful, to boot.
For her Schoolhouse set, Cheryl was joined by Phillip Greenlief for the piece Meltwater. Based in her travels to Antarctica, the piece used melting icicles, hung from the ceiling, their runoff dripping into mic'd beakers, as the basic rhythm, on top of which the duo eventually utilized bows on beakers, penguin bones in beakers, stones on stone slabs, and small percussive hits. The piece built up from the quiet dripping into a collage of Antarctic environmental sounds. At one point, a helicopter flew over the Richmond neighborhood in which the Schoolhouse is located, and one could easily imagine it as some patrol, flying over the frozen south.Small lights illuminated the icicles, as well as the the water-filled beakers on the floor; the set took on a shimmering, cave-like atmosphere. Lovely!
Leonard's second piece of the evening was a solo rendition of her Lullaby for E Seal, played on two long pieces of dried kelp. These natural flutes gave forth primal wind sounds, Cheryl expressing her love for species M. leonina. A few quiet minutes of the kelp, paired with recordings of elephant seals, in which the composer seemed moved, much as the listeners surely were. Then, out of her cool environment and into the heat of the East Bay night. 

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