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EAR Unit's Toughness and Tranquillity


Suitably enough, the four-concert festival attached to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's "Made in California" exhibition ended with a Monday Evening Concerts homecoming. The California EAR Unit, raised on Southland soil, gave a performance linked to the festival and its own long-standing LACMA residency. It was an evening chockablock with premieres, local and global.

Unit players Amy Knoles and Robin Lorentz gave world premieres of their own very different pieces, both involving video. Lorentz's entrancingly spare "Blind Window" eschewed virtuosity, with its palette of wind sounds and desultory percussion complementing Angie Bray's black-and-white imagery of gently fluttering fabric. Knoles' "Squint" builds its rough, tumbling mesh of rhythmic phrases around imagery, in a video by Richard Hines and Knoles, of hypnotic slo-mo traffic.

The EAR Unit's Rand Steiger honors a late UC San Diego colleague with his "For Marnie Dilling"--in it Dorothy Stone's piccolo wandering ruefully through a house-of-mirrors backdrop of prerecorded flutes.

The ensemble's flexibility was neatly showcased in Nicholas Francis Chase's "Sp!t", the title's exclamation point justified by the work's brawling yet taut energy, "Rite of Spring"-meets-Metallica accents and smart use of a turntable. Steven Hoey's mercurial "Coloratura" brought out the group's gift for shifting gracefully between atmospheric passages and intricate coordination.

Michael Jon Fink's "Before and After/I Hear It in the Rain" is an unapologetically tranquil, meditative affair. Coaxing substance from seemingly vaporous materials, it represented the West Coast Minimalist-ambient school.

Bay Area guitarist-composer Paul Dresher's "Chorale Times Two," from his Concerto for Violin and Electro Acoustic Band, typifies his tidy, rock-influenced touch. In the electro department, chordal washes on synthesizer, plug-in textures from Knoles' MIDI-operated mallet instrument, and Dresher's distorted electric guitar lines were in collusion and collision with the acoustic elements of violin and bass clarinet. The melodic lines riffed as if they were written-out improvisations, riding over droning chords.

That rock-ish attitude segued naturally into the concert's one unplanned piece, a raucous, impromptu version of the Beatles' "Birthday" to toast Dresher's 50th. It was a giddy moment in an otherwise fairly somber outing, by EAR Unit standards.

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