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MUSIC REVIEW

Humming with history and experimental tones

August 27, 2007|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

If there was a theme to Saturday's concert at the Schindler House, it had to do with instrumental paths less taken. Maverick approaches concerned the musical tool itself -- the bagpipe, put through free-thinking paces by New Zealand-born, New York-based David Watson -- and through convention-gnarling ideas on a standard tool -- via Los Angeles-based Jessica Catron's microtonal, meditative cello playing.

Performing both alone and together, the pair epitomized the unique forum of the new and experimental music-minded "sound." series, especially when presented in the pleasantly surreal garden-party ambience of this historic 1922 house/property, designed by R.M. Schindler.

Time marches on. So does the neighborhood: The large Habitat 825 condo complex next door, a controversial project by architect Lorcan O'Herlihy, recently opened, and the bubbly merriment of a Saturday night reception distracted from the typical still of the night on this block. Still, the "sound." spirit would not be dimmed or diminished.

Catron's beguiling three-movement "Age of Reptiles" is built on the power of long tones, drones and the subtle, haunting shifts of psychoacoustic perception as she pits notes both "in" and "out" of tune. Over a foundation of roots and fifths, eerie gradations of added upper notes tweak our ears and our expectations while also producing phantom "beating" and "difference" tones. Her work falls in line with such contemplative, tone-splitting precedents as Pauline Oliveros on accordion and Charlemagne Palestine on organ and other instruments.

Drones are a natural component in Watson's bagpipe work. But he also incorporates wonderfully strange, extended techniques in a personalized language, including sounds of wind and breathing, blaring ornamental bursts, timbral variations and the throbbing effects of close tones. In general, he created music at once meditative and primitive, earthy and cosmic, while tapping into a refreshingly different instrumental universe.

To close, the pair performed an improvised duet, this time with Watson on prepared and effect-colored electric guitar and Catron exploring a vocabulary of minute, semi-insect sounds and furtive gestures rather than long tones. While Watson is a fine player, using volume pedal, distortion and assorted implements to expressive ends, the instrument itself seemed drab and pedestrian compared to what we'd just heard from his pipes. It was an enchanted, iconoclastic evening on an enchanted property, one humming with history.

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