A large and eclectic audience of musicians, arts patrons, students and literati filled the performance space of Krankies’ Wherehouse, Winston-Salem’s trendy retro coffee bar, for an evening of exciting chamber music works written by Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis (b.1951) and performed by some of this region’s top musicians, mostly faculty members from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Wake Forest University. The concert was the sixth in the eight-concert 2010 Carolina Summer Music Festival put on by the Carolina Chamber Symphony Players in a multitude of locations. (Closing performances will be held August 25th [sold out] and Saturday, August 28 in the James A. Gray Auditorium in the Old Salem Visitor Center.)

Three of the four works of JacobTV (as he calls himself) include a prepared electronic part based on songs and words as well as instrumental tracks, as in the first work, Lipstick for flute and alto flute (a lower pitched cousin of the usual flute), and boom-box (replaced for acoustical reasons in this locale by an excellent set of speakers). Lisa Ransom (UNCSA) was the exquisite and very live flutist, playing in duet with a recorded flutist and in counterpoint with snippets of recorded words which included parts of an interview with Billie Holiday as well as others from talk shows and with a therapist who cautions us about “jumping through all those hoops!”  She was almost “scat-playing” her part in incredible synchrony with the pre-recorded electronic part.

This technique of presenting a pre-recorded version of music, prepared, manipulated and “doctored,” has its origins in “musique concrète“* which the rapidly developing electronic technology of the late 1940s, ’50s and ’60s made very popular in certain intellectual musical circles, especially in Paris and Darmstadt. The technique ultimately found its most popular, if least creative, usage in Karaoke. [Jacob ter Velthuis excerpts at:  http://web.mac.com/jacobtv/BOOMBOX_SHOP/BOYDQ.html  and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2R1Ei8ozSyQ]

JacobTV is much influenced by the Minimalist** style of composition, in which a brief passage is repeated many times and varied only slightly. Calling his music “avant-pop” rather than avant-guard, Jacob TV is very much of his generation, influenced by rock and pop, and especially by Billie Holiday. In fact, the second work on the program was entitled Billie, another “duet,” this time between the boom-box and the master of the alto saxophone, Taimur Sullivan, whose UNCSA premiere performance was reviewed in October 2008. Sullivan, who has performed this work frequently, is partly responsible for the choice of JacobTV for this one-man show. And he showed the virtuosity of his silken smooth technique by the rhythmic perfection of his duets with the boom-box.

To my mind, the form of the string quartet is the most pure form in the language of Western music – perfect homogeneity of sound and open clarity – no orchestral color, no words and no percussion section!  So it is not surprising that most composers since Haydn try their hand at the form; we heard JacobTV’s Third Quartet, a work in one long movement which shows only an occasional reference to contemporary Pop music, notably to Bob Dylan’s “All along the watchtower.” The quartet, composed of Jacqui Carrasco (violin/WFU), Marjorie Bagley (violin/UNCG), Scott Rawls (viola/UNCG) and Alexander Ezerman (cello/UNCG), performed the long and ethereal slippy-slidey introduction so convincingly that it was almost a rude awakening when one of the musicians played with vibrato. There were some incredible ppp moments, shattered when Krankies’ phone rang (fortunately in the same key). Faster sections pitting the violin and viola in an X-game in the highest unison register yielded to some Mendelssohn-ian lightness of style and Janacek-ish use of ostinato (2nd string quartet), finally ending in a fury! This was a well-rehearsed and polished performance of four very fine musicians indeed.

The last work of this fascinating concert brought back the boom-box and tenor saxophonist Taimur Sullivan for a performance of Grab It, a work inspired by and using the narrative from an old American film about juvenile delinquency called Scared Straight. In easily the most impassioned (and loudest) work of the evening, Taimur and taped text tore into the life-affirming death row desperation with a Rap-like intensity which occasionally yielded to soul-searching reflection and introversion. The text, printed in the program in capital letters (but in a small font) is helpful in retrospect, but was useless in the dimly lit theater. The point of the words, despite the desperation, was that Death Row is an analogy for life itself and worth living, so “Grab it!”

*Musique concrète (French: “concrete music”), experimental technique of musical composition using recorded sounds as raw material. The technique was developed about 1948 by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer and his associates at the Studio d’Essai (“Experimental Studio”) of the French radio system. The fundamental principle of musique concrète lies in the assemblage of various natural sounds recorded on tape (or, originally, on disks) to produce a montage of sound. During the preparation of such a composition, the sounds selected and recorded may be modified in any way desired – played backward, cut short or extended, subjected to echo-chamber effects, etc. Encyclopedia Britannica online;

**Minimalist music has been around for a long time in other cultures, but its spread into Western music and art began in the mid-1900s. The main concept behind minimalist composition is the use of a small (or “minimal”) amount of musical material. Composers take these musical patterns and repeat them over and over and over and over… you get the idea. They vary these patterns over long stretches of time, often so that the listener cannot readily perceive the changes. For that reason, minimalist music is often said to have a trance-like or hypnotic effect.

Like many other kinds of modern music, some people find minimalist music difficult to listen to. This is because minimalism is not based on individual notes but rather on musical patterns. For example, classical composers like Beethoven used notes to create a melody, whereas minimalist composers like Philip Glass use patterns of notes to create a mood. Therefore, minimalist pieces may sound like a broken record, with no change really happening. The key is to listen for the overall effect, not the actual notes.

Many of the pioneering minimalists (such as GlassRiley, and Reich) are still writing today. The minimalist style has also spread into pop music, most notably into “techno” music, where there is a need for dance music that lasts for hours at a time. Oracle ThinkQuest.org.