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Atmospheric `Work' caps Muzik3 festival

April 21, 2006|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

New music aficionados are accustomed to experiencing music in funky and/or enlightened hideaways, such as REDCAT in Los Angeles or the Kitchen in New York.

But the story was different this week for La Jolla's Muzik3 festival, which took place over two nights in a hillside home called the Other House, a cozy venue with a dazzling view. The usual subterranean ambience was swapped for something literally loftier.

Versatile cellist Felix Fan founded this small but venturesome event in 1998. It is one of Southern California's too rare new-music explorations that has legs and a mission.

On Wednesday, the second of the two nights, Fan was joined by pianist Andrew Russo and vibraphonist David Cossin in a stirring world premiere: David Lang's "Work," with an integral video component by Suzanne Bocanegra. A noodly improvised "Electronic Audio Environment" opened the evening, with Irwin (just Irwin) on electronics and Jai Vatuk on guitar. Clearly, though, the Lang premiere was the main event, of the evening and the festival.

Even given its understatement and atmospheric qualities, "Work" felt like a significant occasion, soaring in the often tricky realm of music-visual collaborations. The hourlong piece embodies an intuitive ingenuity in its link between sight and sound and between shifting polarities of clarity and ambiguity. The term "dreamlike" seemed entirely apt.

A dreamy magic occurs in the interplay of Lang's undulant post-Minimal score and Bocanegra's hypnotic manipulations of a '40s documentary on family life in Appalachia. The connections are rarely obvious. Lang doesn't slather on vernacular Americana -- or Coplandia -- and Bocanegra's "found film" reconstruction shows deep respect for its subject while elegantly deploying a deconstructionist's bag of tricks.

Unexpected sensory correlations do occur, as when tolling bass drum hits roughly mirror wood-chopping, or when the music switches into a more rhythmically assertive passage as a girl vigorously tramps through the snow to school.

Echoing clips of daily minutiae, from sweeping to kitchen chores to reading in the schoolhouse, find corollaries in Lang's deceptively simple tonal repetitions. Fan's long cello lines, around which ringing piano and vibraphone tones hover, are central, although the instrumental emphasis is generally democratic.

An oddly wistful, meditative air hovers over "Work," which sharply evokes a lost America even while using contemporary tools of appropriation and a post-Minimal vocabulary. It's a piece somehow both vaporously subtle and emotionally powerful -- the best kind of artistic effect.

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