Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: eighth blackbird

Sept. 17, University of Richmond

Dennis DeSantis, the laptop-wielding composer and sound designer, added his voice – or at least his resonations – to several standards of eighth blackbird’s repertory in the opening concert of the ensemble’s fifth season in residence at the University of Richmond.

By his own reckoning, DeSantis was "unobtrusive" in his sonic additions to "Powerless," a four-movement piece he wrote in 2001. The composer electronically enhanced echo effects in string and wind instruments’ responses to jazz-inflected piano figures, compounded the density of the piece’s second movement, "Eel," and enhanced a cello drone in the third movement, "Egis."

As the program progressed through a set of pieces from eighth blackbird’s Grammy Award-winning album "Strange Imaginary Animals," DeSantis’ presence grew. He added subtle atmospherics to the already subtle "evanescence" of Gordon Fitzell (a 2004 adaptation of Fitzell’s 2001-vintage "Violence"), and enhanced resonation and underlined instrumental sound effects in Steven Mackey’s "Indigenous Instruments" (1989).

DeSantis’ contributions were more prominent, more orchestral in scale, in the Radiohead tune "Dollars and Cents" (arranged for this group by Cliff Colnot) and David M. Gordon’s "Friction Systems" (2005). "Strange Imaginary Remix," DeSantis’ quasi-quodlibet of figures and sound effects drawn from several pieces on the album, amounted to a new composition, very much a creature of his own sound environment and his own rhythmic, dance-inflected style.

The members of eighth blackbird – pianist Lisa Kaplan, violinist Matt Albert, cellist Nicholas Photinos, flutist Tim Munro, clarinetist Matthew J. Maccaferri and percussionist Mathew Duvall – sounded energized, engaged with the new sounds and sound combinations that DeSantis brought to mix of pieces that by now must be very familiar to these musicians.

"We want[ed] the margins to be blurred" between electronic and acoustic-instrumental sound, DeSantis said in a post-concert question-and-answer session. Sure enough, listeners often couldn’t tell how much of a sound or sound effect was produced by one of the ’birds or was a product of laptop intervention.