When an entire concert consists of one piece that I’ve never heard before, I always feel a little wary attending. Fortunately, Herron has good taste and does a good job of selecting works for Chamber Cartel that are not only interesting and enjoyable but also well suited to the ensemble. Tonight’s production of “The Stone Tapestry” by Jeff Herriott was definitely interesting and enjoyable and Chamber Cartel with the guest musicians of A/B Duo performed it well.
The piece was played by five percussionists (two bearded and three shaven), electronics, and a flautist who played a concert flute, alto flute, bass flute, and maybe another that I can’t remember. (I suspect that the composer felt that a woodwind should understand what it’s like to lug around a whole bunch of equipment the way that percussionists do.) The performance was also complimented by video and some less than stellar stage lighting. For the most part I didn’t really watch the video because I’d have had to crane my neck to look up the entire time. That said, both it and the lighting were kind of lost through most of the first half of the piece due to daylight saving time keeping the sun out so late, so they were almost irrelevant to the experience of the performance.
It was a very contemplative piece with a modestly slow tempo and very broad sounds. The thing that stuck with me the most was how delicately the electronics were employed in the piece. If I wasn’t watching the musicians, I might have not realized that the sounds were being augmented and complimented at all. The instrumentation shifted throughout the piece in a way that seemed to almost be narrative. Some of it worked better than others. For instance, I loved the use of glass: there were glass harps (made of some really fun stemware) that were occasionally struck with mallets, a set of bowls that were struck, and also a water-filled bowl used for water percussion. I did not, however, particularly enjoy the timbre of rocks dragged across 1×4’s nor the scraping of mallet handles across nipple gongs. I’m honestly not sure if it was the timbre of these instruments or the way that they were performed that left me disenchanted; in all fairness, though, a train did overpower the rocks over wood, so it may have worked better in better conditions.
If there’s one thing that I’d change, it would be the venue: I think that this piece would benefit from a more intimate setting where the percussive tones can ring out a little more without getting lost in the vast space of Goodson Yard. Although there were a number of trains passing by — one of the major annoyances of attending performances at Goodson Yard in the Goat Farm — they generally didn’t interfere with the music terribly beyond what I mentioned above. Even though it wasn’t loud, the piece was coherent and strong enough to hold together very well with the disruption. Indeed, the smell of cigarette smoke wafting through towards the end probably was more disruptive than the trains were. The smoke was probably caused by the same incredibly nice guy who probably also did the lighting design that I didn’t like. He has a bad habit of smoking very close to the doors during performances without paying attention to where his smoke is blowing.)
Overall, it was a very good show and I’m glad that I went. I’d also be interested in hearing a few more pieces by Herriott to hear more of what he does with electronics. As the mainstream arts season has drawn to a close, I’m very happy to have people like Herron producing works like this during the Summer months.