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MUSIC REVIEW

Spirited, Eclectic Play From Beglarian

July 02, 1998|MARK SWED | TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

Eve Beglarian is a composer with an attitude. "Overstepping" is the name of one piece (and of an exciting new CD of her music on the OO Discs label) and overstep is just what her music, which pays little attention to conventional boundaries, does. High stepping, too. She likes a good beat and she bops on stage, full of spirit and joy. But hers is music as moving target; you can never predict where it will land.

Beglarian is a name with a certain resonance in Los Angeles. Her father, Grant Beglarian, a composer and a former USC dean, helped make the university's music department a center of emigre culture in the '50s, most notably by attracting Jascha Heifetz. Those are her roots, and Tuesday night she returned to the neighborhood as a featured composer in the FaultLines series at the 24th Street Theatre just a few blocks north of USC.

But this small theater is also a world away from the university, and so, too, is Beglarian's music. Beglarian has traveled far musically. She's been on the academic route at Princeton and Columbia, where music can be an intellectual and scientific pursuit. And she's come out the other side as a downtown composer who wears her learning lightly.

She, for instance, programs drum tracks from '80s pop hits into bouncy, complex and fanciful new patterns. She has a passion for very early music, like 14th century polyphony, which she sometimes updates with a postmodern, pop sensibility. She retains a fondness for Rachmaninoff and Strauss. She likes to use texts, which may be spoken, acted or electronically manipulated. And she has an ear for a riveting sound.

Although the FaultLines program, which featured Robin Lorentz, the violinist of the California EAR Unit, was modest, all those features and more were apparent Tuesday night. The concerts are given on whatever set happens to be up at the theater, and this time it was a beach house, with sand in front. Beglarian dressed for the occasion in T-shirt and stripped shorts. The evening felt a romp.

The three pieces by Beglarian were all short and spirited. "How I Like That Time" was inspired by a series of recorded interviews with lesbians about sex. This one, heard on tape, starts by describing the joy of words and then goes on to other things. But the other things get mostly drowned out by furious fiddling and lilting interjections on the African finger piano by Beglarian.

"Born Dancin,' " the most impressive piece on the program, is many things. It uses a dry, witty, subversive text by Donald Barthelme that was wonderfully read by Spencer Beglarian. It contains pop drum machine tracts and it also features an electric cello (played by Lynn Angebranndt) that finds its own inventive (jazz here, minimalist repetition there) groove to each rhythmic track.

A different sort of theatricality was apparent in "Wolf Chaser." Inspired by a whirling instrument intended by the Inuit to scare away wolves, Beglarian uses it to entice listeners by electronically slowing it down. The violin and percussion (Beglarian gets various metallic bowls to resonate under a microphone) enhance the electronics to produce mysterious room-filling sonorities.

The program began with humor, with Lorentz's "Tahoma," a violin duo for two non-violinists, that features hitting the strings with sticks and thick bowed drones. It also included Lorentz's performance of Steve Reich's early "Violin Phase," for live and prerecorded violins in obsessive patterns. This is considered some of the purest minimalism, but Lorentz played it raw, almost like country fiddling, and it, too, became a fresh, spunky, surprising overstepping dance.

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