Marc Burns creates enigmatic work

2 May

I heard composer-performer-artist Marc Burns play an improvised duo set with tubist-composer Ben Klein at Hartford’s La Paloma Sabenera this past winter and was utterly baffled by what I was hearing. The music steered clear of improv-music clichés; it was thoroughly original, wacky, disorienting, but also extremely compelling. He was playing an old Casio keyboard, some flowerpots, and other random objects and instruments. When he approached me about having some music on this year’s festival, it seemed like a tantalizing offer. I wasn’t quite sure what he would produce, but seemed convinced that whatever happened would be exciting and would at least fit the “new music”-ness of the festival. I’m still not quite sure what we are in store for this Saturday, but he’s assembled an ensemble of players, including himself on keyboard, Ben Klein on percussion, Junko Simons on cello, Kit Demos on bass and Gene Baker on trumpet, who will perform his new composition 13 1/2. I must admit that I’m extremely excited for this performance, mostly because I have no idea what to expect, but based on the program notes and images that he’s sent me, its going to be really fascinating:

13½

BOXSCORE SERIES/CLOCK CONDUCTED

Notes on the basis and workings of the piece 13 ½:

‘Boxscore’ refers to scored gestures using found tablature consisting of ‘tabs’, number series cut from cardboard boxes. The tabs are chosen from an assortment and inserted by the performers into the score in predetermined rhythm and melody sets. Since we humans, for all our contrivance, are still necessarily a part of the natural world, these ubiquitous series must enable us to chance upon melodic entities as elemental as water, wind, birdsong, night-sounds, etc., etc.

The clocks’ purpose is to situate the performers in fixed time to utilize and subvert clocked orderliness. Rhythmic structure is freed by performers not having to internalize it. Inherent tempic structures are allowed to arise. Percussion is through scored. We are always hearing. Listening, however, we decide upon—along with time, and numbers, and music—a few of our bastions of order, which, lest we forget, are always subject to chance…

— Marc Burns

A SUDDEN beginning or sudden cessation of sound of any considerable force, has the name power. The attention is roused by this; and the faculties driven forward, as it were, on their guard. Whatever, either in sights or sounds, makes the transition from one extreme to the other easy, causes no terror, and consequently can be no cause of greatness. In everything sudden and unexpected, we are apt to start; that is, we have a perception of danger, and our nature rouses us to guard against it. It may be observed that a single sound of some strength, though but of short duration, if repeated after intervals, has a grand effect. Few things are more awful than the striking of a great clock, when the silence of the night prevents the attention from being too much dissipated. The same may be said of a single stroke on a drum, repeated with pauses; and of the successive firing of cannon at a distance. All the effects mentioned in this section have causes very nearly alike. — Edmund Burke

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