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New Music--a Lot in a Little Time : Concert series at The Performance Studio in Ventura packs many fresh, high-concept works into two days.


Last weekend's compact New Music Concert Series at The Performance Studio in Ventura proposed to summarize a certain fringe segment of the local music community. And it did it within the space of four concerts in two days.

Working on a shoestring and putting things in a nutshell were the mandates of a successful weekend. The concentrated doses of music high on concept reminded the local concert-goer of the beauty of ideas from outside the mainstream.

The music had freshness on its side, although most of the faces were familiar from past concerts here. One foremost face was the kingpin and organizer of the event, Jeff Kaiser, who could be seen attending to the nuts and bolts of putting on the show, carting equipment around and providing emcee duties.

But Kaiser has other talents too.

In the climactic set of music on Saturday night, Kaiser led his group Mahacuisinarte and wielded numerous instruments--including his primary one, the trumpet, and two clarinets played simultaneously. He also wielded a kind of cracked wit with his wonderfully anarchic soloing, which expresses something between catharsis and comedy.

Saturday afternoon's concert, though sparsely attended, contained some of the weekend's most satisfying music during a probing electric guitar improvisation played by Ted Killian.

For several years now, Killian also has been piecing together a palette of electronic effects, through which he creates tape-loop-type sounds similar to guitarist Robert Fripp's "Frippertronics." When Killian is on his mark, as he was last weekend, he conjures up vivid variations on the idea of textural sound painting.

The Performance Studio is an ideal locale for new music. Layers of fetching funkiness can be found in the brick walls and, overhead, exposed rafters and corrugated metal roof. The mirrored wall, used for teaching dance by day, also creates an illusion of the room being larger than it is.

Bassist-composer Jim Connolly's Ensemble opened the weekend on Friday night, with his jazz-cum-ethnic-cum-experimental blend. Robert Borneman appeared in two separate concerts, with varying incarnations of his Ordinary Arts Ensemble.

At the Saturday noon concert, Borneman performed his "Dona Nobis (Pacem)," an agreeable, dark-toned exercise in Philip Glass-brand minimalism and based on a Latin Catholic Mass. It had a rueful, meditative character that is contrary to the emotional objectivity that is much of minimalism.

The 40-minute work relied on sonic tapestries of arpeggiated chords laid out by Borneman on an out-of-tune piano and a synthesizer played by Kurtis Houser, while sopranos Jeni McCoy and Liz Stuart floated long tones.

Stuart's own composition, "Muerte/Burning Angel," for flutist Renee Janton and percussionists Borneman, Greg Lanner and Pat Miskel, opened the noontime concert.

The second half of the concert consisted of keyboardist Gary Garner's more elaborate, programmed inventions for computer, sound samples and his own chromatic approach to soloing. Bits of real world reportage, including sound bites referring to the Rodney King case aftermath, were mixed into a collage with musical material.

On Saturday evening, Borneman again appeared to play "Dinner Music," an ensemble of ad hoc percussionists banging on dinnerware; and the cheeky "Kyo-ju," which requires bare-backed males to slap each other in rhythm.

Two other pieces were based loosely on nursery rhymes, including Borneman's new "Ashes, Ashes," which traces the origins of the song "Ring Around the Rosie" as a comment on the Black Death from medieval Europe. But here, simplistic piano noodling, New Age-like interludes and tenuous concepts began to try the patience.

Closing out the concert and the whirlwind weekend was Mahacuisinarte, which dished up its mad, mirthful Dada. Kaiser was joined by the "straightman" trumpeter Garen Horgen, drummer Bob Sterling and bassist Connolly--who is prone to such antics as playing a sing-along version of "It's a Small World" amid an atonal, free-blown solo.

In his own music as well as his insistence on making things happen in town, Kaiser is a man possessed, or dispossessed, or both. But whichever his particular condition, fans of new music can only hope that he continues imposing it on the public.

SYMPHONY ON THE MARCH: Ventura County's classical musical landscape is an expanding one, with several musical institutions serving the county's growing population. And, with the addition of new venues, the plot thickens.

The Ventura County Symphony, according to symphony association President Thomas Petrovich, is exploring the idea of eventually presenting back-to-back concerts in different ends of the county.

Funding permitting, the symphony could perform Saturday nights at its current home, the Oxnard Civic Auditorium, followed by Sunday matinees at the Thousand Oaks arts center now under construction. This could occur as soon as the 1994-95 season.

"We really want to be a Ventura County symphony and expand our audience," Petrovich said. But, he added, "That doesn't mean we want to walk away from the west county, which is where most of our audience comes from."

Between the Ventura County Symphony, the Conejo Symphony, the new Ventura County Chamber Orchestra and other local musical organizations, the regional scene is getting more crowded than ever. But the symphony is "not going in there looking to bump heads," Petrovich said. "We're going to be cooperative. We want this to be congenial, not competitive."

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