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PART OF INNOVA SERIES : MUSIC OF THE '80s PLAYED BY MINNESOTA QUARTET

September 26, 1986|GREGG WAGER

Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, the Minnesota new-music group Zeitgeist (not to be confused with the popular punk-rock ensemble of the same name) performed music by Frederic Rzewski, Peter Otto and others, the earliest work written in 1980. A moderate-size but appreciative audience attended this part of the Innova Music Series, part of a larger series, TCXTRAS.

Zeitgeist, named after the German word for "time spirit," is a quartet of two percussionists, Jay Johnson and Joe Holmquist, a pianist/keyboardist, Greg Theison, and a woodwind player, Bob Samarotto, who was substituted at this performance by clarinetists Marty Krystall and Theresa Tunnicliff. Caught in the current mallet-instrument craze in certain types of minimalist and new-age music, the group plays with freshness and imagination in or out of its field of specialization.

"Precision Bearings" by Otto explores the frontier of live performance manipulated by computer. Beginning with a limited, almost austere, vocabulary of sound events from the musicians on stage--various tone clusters, clangs, claps and sung tones that are fed via microphone into a computer that analyzes these events--new sounds are created and played over loudspeakers.

Otto's style uses tiny bits of dry information that combine into a satisfying, multifarious mosaic. Long virtuosic solos, including an inventive one for computer-generated percussion practice pads, demonstrate another favorable side to Otto's music.

Less technological and perhaps more political, Rzewski's "Wails" integrates different ethnicities represented by a sort of poor-man's orchestra: steel drum, tambourine, marimba, piano, bass drum, foot stomping, yelling and a snake-charmer-like sopranino saxophone that substitutes for an Oriental double-reed instrument. The players begin in unison, playing a simple tonal melody, and gradually work themselves into a joyous frenzy of wild improvisation.

Beginning the evening, "Listen to the Rolling Thunder," by Stacey Bowers, provides a concoction of Steve Reich cliches that at times are interesting, but never provide much originality. "Signature One: A Mendelssohn Fantasy," by Homer Lambrecht, uses a more strict minimalist style combining portions of a Mendelssohn piano piece with repetitious patterns.

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