Gaudeamus flirts with flashlight and microtonality

From a music-theatrical Stabat Mater to pure electronics, from a minimalist string quartet with harmonica to video art with a touch of classical music. Behold the extremes that musicians and performers explored last Saturday night at Utrecht’s Gaudeamus Festival of New Music. Two key words: boundless, interdisciplinarity.

Mees Vervuurt (°2000) surprised with Stabat mater, a subdued music-theatre dance about the search for the child in ourselves. Four singers and a dancer built an expressive and balanced exposition (“where are you? I am waiting”) in which the singers, both in solo and tutti, were completely immersed in the story. The dance is one of despair for the lack of open-mindedness but also one of hope for the return of childhood, when the dancer included the belly of the two female soloists in her dance. Dance, music and message are ingeniously matched. Vervuurt does not shy away from alternative singing techniques in his composition. He makes the male voices sink hoarse at the word “triste” or squeak out of impotence to end in guttural sounds. The performers (Cyprien Crabbé, Femke Hulsman, Pleuni Veen, Veronika Akhmetchina and Wessel van der Ham) were convincing because of the natural way in which they were engaged with each other. The costumes (Floren Bloch) stood out for the studied strength of their simplicity. In short, it worked.
Canadian string ensemble Quatuor Bozzini explored the boundaries of minimalism and microtonality in Colliding Bubbles by Danish composer Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard (b 1979). In addition to their string instruments, the musicians each played a harmonica, a combination whose register and timbre added a wonderful lightness to long lines drawn by the strings. In the absence of building blocks like melody, rhythm, dynamics, harmonic progression or the restlessness of atonality, the question is obvious: where is the music? Does only sound remain here? The listening experience was comparable to the sight of a salt lake, a white field of colour that, due to the absence of a visible horizon, seemed to merge with the grey-blue sky. But if you looked or listened closely, respectively, you could see the splendour of crystals or the beginnings of a plant. Thus, the rare change in the texture of the music corresponded to that lone cactus in that endless plain.

hi hats nu shotta

Radical composer Klein (featured image above) brings together jazz, classical,, drone, noise, rap and avant-garde in a raw characterful video spectacle. Having released music on both cutting-edge dance labels and established European classical labels, Klein’s trademark is unpredictability and constant innovation. Especially for Gaudeamus Festival 2023, the London-based multidisciplinary outsider created an entirely new performance: hi hats nu shotta, a collection of samples of drums, beats with a hint of classical here and there.
The first sounds you hear are the clattering club rhythms of pounding pistons, followed by bouncing and crackling objects, lightning bolts, fragments of electronic organ, distorted solo vocals. Klein’s itinerary becomes slightly clearer when a dancer behind a video screen appears to perform a solo performance by a drummer, guitarist and pianist. Besides extremes like the spectacular flashlights (sunglasses would have been handy) combined with the mystical smoke machines, Klein has also incorporated remarkably quiet moments. For instance, the video clip with the blurred outline of a guitarist, against an orange background (fire?) is ominous and intimate, as is the murmuring solo vocals of a woman who seems to be busy with something else. The performance ends with a heartfelt Happy Birthday.
One hundred percent electronics was to be found on Saturday with sound artist and musician Felisha Ledesma. In her latest set, Fading father from me, for AM synthesizer, she draws on sounds of everyday life such as a (prolonged) passing train, gusts of wind and mumbling elderly people. Her work is propped up by meditative samples from the worlds of relax and unwind. Over the years, she has gathered a loyal group of (CD) listeners. But it is less easy for a DJ who does not indulge in light engineering, dance and video to attract an audience. The ability to indulge in deep listening as a performance art , as it turned out, is not given to everyone.

Seen: Gaudeamus Festival, Utrecht
Date: Saturday 9 September 2023

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