Sonic Adventures with Project [BLANK] at Bread & Salt

For Project [BLANK]’s Friday concert at Bread & Salt I was all ear, Xareni Lizarraga put together a challenging program of pure sonic exploration. Five pieces ran the gamut of performance modes, from acoustic—a traditional Filipino song played on a Filipino gong (kulintang) by Janet Asuncion, and Akari Komura’s quartet of violin, trumpet, percussion and voice titled “In the language of the bloom”—to performances by Dom Cooper and Kerem Brulé of digital soundscapes that required real time manipulation, to an an extended improvisation of percussion and electronics by Preston Swirnoff and Lizarraga.

Janet Asuncion [photo (c.) Robert Bui]

These highly contrasting works filled the spare performance space with continuous waves of unusual sound combinations. Each work lasted about 10 minutes, although some pieces seemed much longer. But anyone familiar with the pace of Olivier Messiaen’s music would not be surprised by the glacial movement of these works both with and without digital components.

(l. to r.) Ilana Wanuik, Camilio Zamudio, David Aguila & Natalia Merlano Gómez [photo (c.) Robert Bui]

The program opened with Komura’s “In the language of the bloom,” a densely structured quartet of tight sonic layers that at times suggested heterophony, although the calmer midsection gave each participant discrete solo space. David Aguila’s unusual double-belled trumpet, one bell open and one muted, allowed him to move quickly between those two colors, and his bright forays dominated the work. Hearing this piece, I mused that if Edgar Varèse had written trumpet sonata, it might have sounded like this. Violinist Ilana Wanuik was restricted to soft, sustained high-pitched drones, while percussionist Camilo Zamudio and vocalist Natalia Merlano Gómez offered short motifs that garnished the piece like grated Parmesan falling on a plate of hot pasta.

In La mer, Debussy employed an entire orchestra to suggest the ocean, but Dom Cooper’s “Echoes from a sea cave” used a realistic sounding digital source to bring the sound of crashing waves into the room. The composer augmented this extended pedal point with tweaks to his electronic machines onstage, judiciously mixed by a hard-working but uncredited sound technician.

Swirnoff and Lizarraga’s improvisation evoked a similar imposing sound cloud, with Lizarraga controlling the digital drone from a laptop computer—an instrument as omnipresent in contemporary chamber music as the grand piano in traditional chamber music—and Swirnoff releasing tones with soft mallets striking a prone electric guitar placed on a stool. He also malleted the metal legs on the stool from time to time for contrast.

Noting that the final offering of the program was a “Sonic Meditation” by Kerem Brulé, Lizarraga’s sense of humor could not be missed: it proved a tasty dessert to the musical feast. With the computer providing the necessary custard of sonic buzz, Madame Brulé decorated her creation with dollops of tone from an alto recorder, panpipes, and subtle vocalizations into a microphone.

This concert was presented by Project [BLANK] at Bread & Salt in San Diego’s Barrio Logan district on March 15, 2024.

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