The New Music L.A. 1987 festival seems to mean many things to many people.
Perhaps too many things. Perhaps too many people.
At one extreme, the ballyhooed series embraces fancy, grandiose concerts dominated by such avant-gardish superstars as Pierre Boulez and John Cage. At the other extreme, it lends surface validation to would-bes, has-beens, nonentities and dilettantes.
If music is new, it must be worth hearing. Or so the optimistic management would have us believe.
According to interview statements, the festival directors seem proud of the fact that they do not really direct anything. They merely coordinate-- organize might be too strong a verb in this context--the disparate efforts of the disparate participants.
Who wants leadership anyway?
Given this democratic laissez-faire policy-- philosophy might be too strong a noun--the New Music orgy becomes a festival without a bias. It also becomes a festival without a focus, a festival without discipline, a festival without a perspective and, perhaps most distressing, a festival without standards.
Wednesday night, the New Music aficionados turned their attentions to an evening of amateurish trivia in Gindi Auditorium at the University of Judaism. The protagonists turned out to be members of a local group with a refreshingly whimsical name: Lo Cal Composers.
The name may be the most interesting aspect of their endeavor.
The Lo-Calorists seem to be earnest and amiable. Give them that. They also seem, in a number of different ways, to be sleepily trendy and chronically uninspired. How, one has to ponder, can they be so young and yet so cautious?
Their lightweight free-for-all began, for some reason, with a few irrelevant words of introduction by film composer Bill Conti ("The Right Stuff"). He said some nice things about Verdi and about the difference between background music and foreground music.
Then, in turn, each of the composers on the immediate agenda took the microphone to say a few not-so-well chosen words about the innocuous composition about to be performed.
Carl Pritzkat's "Open One of Those Windows" enlisted a dancer in a leotard (Winnie Ladd), who executed some all-purpose mime contortions on a central chair while some other people sat around and listened. This was accompanied by the mild distortions of some verbal and melodic babble on tape.
The annotation told us that we were experiencing "ten transitional minutes in a young woman's life . . . (and) exploring the woman's sub-conscious reactions."
Paul Francis Witt's "Miniatures" gave us some static string-quartet muddling. Lucas Richman's "Conversation Piece" regurgitated some mood-music cliches for two pianos before turning to timid jazz for an ungrand finale. Johana Harris-Heggie and John Heggie tickled the ivories.
Matters did not improve after intermission.
Murielle Hodler-Hamilton dabbled in meekly electronified cocktail-lounge music in something titled "Even Ducks Can Dance." In "Artiface," Carlos Rodriguez engagingly explored the imitative possibilities of an electronic wind instrument that wants to, and can, sound like a big band.
A bright-green-suited gentleman identified only as Ricky made nine string players do a lot of instrumental throat-clearing in "Within/Without."
Finally, it was kiddie-show time. Ellen C. Schimmel got a chorus of nine to emit contrapuntal animal noises, sound effects and tune fragments as a blanketing accompaniment to her narration of a story about "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears."
At least the pieces were short.