United States Parkinson, Lamb, Pluta, Laskowski, Wubbels, Mincek, Soper: Wet Ink, St. Peter’s Episcopal Cburch, New York City, 12-13.6.2017. (KG)
Tim Parkinson – ensemble13
Catherine Lamb – Parallaxis Forma
Sam Pluta – Portraits / Self Portraits
Mikolaj Laskowski – Oh, Zoroaster … I Love You Too, But …
Eric Wubbels – Auditory Scene Analysis, Part I
Alex Mincek – Songs
Kate Soper – The Ultimate Poem is Abstract
The wondrous Wet Ink Ensemble wisely, occasionally, expands its operations beyond its core collective of composer/performers to present larger and more diverse works. On two sweaty nights, 12-13 June, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, they revisited that extended practice and proved again that they are their own best assets.
Four of the seven pieces they played over the two nights came from within their ranks, and those were the strongest. The rest came from a call for scores the ensemble held over the last two years. At least some of the works on these two nights will be recorded for a release next year.
They opened with ensemble13, a very Braxton-esque piece in heavy unison by Tim Parkinson. The lines eventually broke apart but never quite got out of their box. Then came Catherine Lamb’s Parallaxis Forma, which started as an actualization of the old tuning-pitch-as-composition gag but built in warm, sustained waves. It was rather uneventful, which seemed very much the point.
The Lamb paired nicely with an enjoyably scratchy and disorienting violin concerto by Wet Ink member Sam Pluta, Portraits / Self Portraits. Pluta also mixed it live, giving the violin added dimension, especially in the lower register, and devised some notable percussion parts. It was entertaining but not his strongest work. Pluta is a fantastic integrator of acoustic and electronic elements, whether in composition or improvisation, and here, with his own input kept at a minimum, his voice was missing.
The second night was a stronger showing, with a piece by Mikolaj Laskowski opening the concert, plus works by ensemble members Alex Mincek, Kate Soper, and Eric Wubbels. The first night had felt like an exercise in exercises, and Laskowski continued that feeling: cohesive, even enjoyable, but no clear statements. His Oh, Zoroaster … I Love You Too, But … nicely fell apart, eventually to silence. Then it barely revived itself with an isolated melodic line from the French horn, and then decelerated again.
Wubbels’ Auditory Scene Analysis, Part I started with a serious flute workout for core Ensemble member Eric Lesser, followed by a blast of static from the speakers. Then came calisthenics for flute and Joshua Modney’s saxophone, and a soft sine wave. This was prototypical Wet Ink music. Instruments were added and gradually allowed to overlap with the electronic noise. After a pause they resumed with fantastic angularity, soprano Kate Soper quickly reading a text about auditory experiences. After the surprise of the first half, Soper’s oratory felt warmly familiar.
Mincek’s Songs, in two parts, for violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, harp, piano, percussion, and electronics required the smallest ensemble of the two nights. It, too, worked with text, but via a brief, glitched recording that played alone in rapid-fire phonemes for several minutes. Anticipation built, imagining what the instrumentalists could possibly be called upon to do after their solitary, initial outburst. At length, they entered as the voice morphed into a staccato. Lesser and Modney raised their instruments and – on cue – played a carefully placed note, held their position, then retreated. It was both sonically intriguing and riotously funny.
Soper sat in the middle of the ensemble for The Ultimate Poem is Abstract. Unamplified and struggling to be heard, she stood in a sung scream, later going to the pulpit to read the Wallace Stevens poem that gave her the title. In part: To be blue / There must be no questions. It is an intellect / Of windings round and dodges to and fro, / Writhing in wrong obliques and distances / Not an intellectual in which we are we are fleet: present / Everywhere in space at once, cloud-pole / Of communication.
It seemed as if the reliably brilliant Soper were trying to be heard as an artist in a consumer society, as a singer in a field skewed toward instruments, as a woman, as an intellect. And then she was subsumed back into the orchestra for a brief rejoinder.
At its best, Wet Ink makes its own, wet music. And on two 90-degree nights in NYC, they did so for an enthusiastic gathering of wet people.