“It’s going to be a real aesthetic jambalaya,” said Sid Richardson, a Duke University doctoral candidate and co-organizer of “Music in the Galleries: Experimental Music Study Group,” before the show.
The Ackland Museum’s Music in the Galleries program and Experimental Music Study Group, which was founded by UNC and Duke graduate students, came together to create Sunday afternoon’s event.
It was centered on connecting the work of abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann to the work of experimental music composers, some of whom were influenced by Hofmann. These New York School visual artists and composers were influenced to make abstract, informal and non-representational art for its own sake.
These artists included familiar names like Jackson Pollock and John Cage.
All of this was covered in an opening presentation by UNC doctoral candidate and co-organizer Joanna Helms.
Performers from the Duke New Music Ensemble opened the concert with a piece by Morton Feldman called “Voice and Instruments 2.”
Richardson said Feldman treats pieces like art canvases.
“He talks a lot about time canvases — basically music as similar to visual art, but in a time-based medium,” he said.
The second part of the concert was centered around a 3-D rendering of Earle Brown’s “December 1952.”
“So there’s kind of a narrative trajectory instilled in it, so we’re kind of doing our own arrangement of a graphic score, which is ironic in that it’s not usually how it’s done,” Richardson said.
The audience watched as the screen rotated, dictating the performers’ movements.
The vehicle of the concert soon moved forward to the present, with Brooklyn band Valerie Kuehne & the Wasps Nests putting on a show. Self-described as “avant-metal-cabaret,” the trio combines their talents into creating theatrical experiences for the audience. They’ve started previous shows passing out pickles and encouraging the audience to finish the whole jar off.
“If you just walked into it, you wouldn’t realize it was a musical performance. You’d be like, ‘Oh, this is some crazy performance art. I either love it or hate it,’” said lead singer Valerie Kuehne. “But if you stick around another five minutes, you’ll hear these really intricately composed, intense songs.”
Kuehne began the performance by opening a blue suitcase, scattering My Little Pony toys, cards and jar lids on stage. The trio performed songs about evangelical cults, porn and how to fake death, and they closed with the introduction of Mr. Bacon.
Kenneth Stewart closed with a solo performance of his piece “Phase Locked Loop and Modulo Games.” He played it on electric guitar with delayed pedal, which created the effect of waves of sound washing over each other.
“The challenge was keeping the train moving,” Stewart said.