The modern chamber ensemble California EAR Unit graced the halls of Lotte Lehmann last Saturday with a trippy blend of hallucinogenic images, chaotic sound and unadulterated emotion. Cited as “wizards of new music” by the L.A. Daily News, the ensemble brought together light, sound and movement to create a union of high spirits and energy like no other.
As worldwide performers, EAR’s opening piece, “Squint,” summarized the whirlwind effect of modern life in the city. Inspired by Los Angeles traffic, the video screen behind the group displayed car headlights transformed into black blobs of movement. Reminiscent of a Rorschach ink blob test, the piece suggested the malleability of image and sound. Following the hypnotic intro was a solo flute performance by Dorothy Stone. After the dreamy, LSD-infused visuals, the shrillness of Stone’s flute was enough to make several audience members cover their ears in pain.
Fortunately, many of the older audience members had fallen into a restful slumber by that point. While many students hoped for another contact high, what they in fact received was a mess of awkward transitions and discordant sound. Yet amidst the tangle of wires and disorder, a fresh and contemporary language was unraveling. EAR’s insightful approach to the language of new music successfully complements the ideals of not only the Center for Research in Electronic Art Technology but the Primavera Festival as well.
Their easygoing, awkward mannerisms made them quite likeable. The most interesting “character” in this offbeat production came from the animalistic cellist Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick. If music was her predator, the bow became her weapon of choice. The zigzagging movements of her body created an explosive lighting effect on stage. With every jarring note, a storm of sweat and emotion flew into the audience. The cello was her soundboard as she carefully mixed together the show’s most alarming and spasmodic sounds.
The energy in each performer was nerve-wracking, as it often looked as though their bodies were about to explode into various musical notes. EAR was performance art taken to a level where peaceful serenity meets tormented rage. The high-pitched sounds of the instruments were at times quite unbearable, as one elderly woman proceeded to cower at the noise a mere five minutes into the show. Still, the delivery somehow worked, as evidenced by several standing ovations.
While many fuddy-duddy music scholars might believe the concert lacked “professionalism,” it was refreshing to see a concert sans techies or overt theatrics. EAR is not afraid to direct, perform and create candidly and openly. They want the audience to not only actively participate but also experience the drama and tension that music can create in one’s body. Life, like their music, is never perfect or orderly. The disruption and distortion of sound helped verbalize EAR’s social and spiritual beliefs about life as a whole.
What may have appeared to be a bad band rehearsal at first turned into an exploration of contemporary sound. EAR’s mixture of classic instruments, theatrics and interactive media yielded perhaps the greatest mindfuck known to any stoner or scholar. A great fuck it was indeed.