On Structure: Percussion Without a Drum in Earshot

At trendy Bread and Salt in Barrio Logan, that venue’s bold, brash current art installation is titled “Sight and Sounds.” Thursday’s (April 9) Fresh Sound presentation of the percussion duo On Structure at Bread & Salt, the latest offering of artistic director Bonnie Wright’s 2015 percussion series, might have been easily titled “Sight, Sounds and Silence.”

On Structure: Jessie Marion (left) and Natacha Diels [photo courtesy of the performers]

On Structure: Jessie Marino (left) and Natacha Diels [photo courtesy of the performers]

From their performance, it was evident that graduate students Jessie Marino and Natacha Diels—the inventors and perpetrators of On Structure”—have thought deeply about the nature of sound and its organization. Eschewing all traditional western percussion instruments and choosing only found objects and a smattering of synthsized sounds, “On Structure” offered highly abstracted notions of music delivered in casually familiar incarnations: clicking chopsticks, hands and arms beating on a table top, feet sliding on the floor, lighting matches, clinking the top from a metal teakettle.

“On Silence,” a work the duo wrote together, emerged as a cunning homage to John Cage, and, yes, it clocked in very close to 4 minutes, 33 seconds. Seated across from one another at a small table, Marino and Diels carried on a sonic dialogue of clicks and plings surrounded by Cage-sanctioned silence.

Several of the On Structure set pieces unfolded at a table, suggesting at first hyperactive high school students whiling away their time in an unpsupervised study hall. But the discipline and order of On Structure—true to their name—indicated that what may have begun as improvisation has been refined and deftly plotted.

My guest at this performance informed me that this approach to percussion is not unique to On Structure. A Swedish ensemble of six skilled percussionists called the Sound of Noise can easily be discovered on YouTube. I was particularly amused by Sound of Noise’s ability to turn a bank robbery and then a hospital pre-surgical prep into clever percussion performance art.

On Structure’s work was not entirely accomplished seated. Their opening salvo unfolded as a quick-change montage of posed crime scene stills staged by the two women in the completely darkened hall and exposed in short flashes of footlights. Channeling Weegee’s lurid tabloid photos from the last century, perhaps?

In Diels’ “Twistisch II” the performers used subtle physical movement in a standing position to choreograph a colorful click track. Who said mime was dead?

As performance art, On Structure navigated the thin line between inventive and precious. Halfway through the evening I found myself clinging to “inventive,” but by the time the red and blue fright wigs came out, I was ready to check the “precious” box.

And raise the white flag.

This performance on the Fresh Sound series was presented at Bread and Salt, 1955 Julian Ave., San Diego, on Thursday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. The next Fresh Sound program features percussionist Kjell Nordeson and will take place in the same venue on Friday, May 1, 2015, at 7:30 p.m.

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