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A fresh mix of sounds by way of San Diego

The Calder Quartet and percussion group Red Fish Blue Fish are standouts amid beach towns' talents.

September 22, 2008|Mark Swed | Times Music Critic

That downtown Los Angeles has become new music central is one thing, but that downtown's new music scene could be so taken over by San Diego-area beach towns, as happened Friday night, really is something that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

In the Colburn School's Zipper Hall, the Carlsbad Music Festival held a marathon concert to preview the five new music events that this week will fill the city just north of San Diego. At the same time, across the street at REDCAT, CalArts began its Creative Music Festival with a marathon that featured the UC San Diego composer and pianist Anthony Davis and his adventuresome group Episteme.

I checked out the new kids on the Carlsbad block. Founded four years ago by Matt McBane, a young composer and violinist from Carlsbad who studied at USC, the festival became a showcase for a new generation of composers, many under 30.

McBane, now approaching 30, and his festival have prospered. He's relocated to Brooklyn, where he has formed a new music indie band, Build, to play his malleable music, which doesn't distinguish between classical and rock.

Build's catchy first CD, recently released, has caught on with tastemakers at NPR and Amoeba Music and boasts a slate of warm reviews. The Zipper program began with a Build set that closely resembled the CD.

McBane's music has sweet, simple melodies that flow over an ingratiating beat. I look forward to a time when McBane adds more meat to his music, but he is a natural composer, a fresh voice and, from the evidence of his festival, a first-rate organizer with a broad range of musical interests.

Next came an appearance by Red Fish Blue Fish, a percussion ensemble at UC San Diego. The program closed with the Calder Quartet, which has been associated with the festival from the beginning and in an astonishingly short time has become the American string quartet to watch.

And it offered maybe the newest of the evening's works -- a short piece, "Interface," by Tristan Perich, who will be one of the composers featured in Carlsbad.

I first encountered Perich, who specializes in primitive electronics, at a new music festival in Massachusetts two years ago where he couldn't be missed because he walked around with a big, white 1970s push-button telephone that he had converted into the world's coolest mobile phone.

Using elegant if basic electronics, Perich hooked up each of the Calder's instruments to a dinky speaker. One of the hallmarks of the Calder is the wonderful richness of its sound, here turned into beeps. But they were voluptuous beeps full of texture.

As with most young composers these days, Perich's style is hard to pinpoint. He demonstrates an accomplished sense of counterpoint, and "Interface" has a harmonic identity all its own. From one angle, this sounded like old music; from another, it felt utterly new, and the angles kept changing.

There was much else of interest on the program. The Calder played a movement by Anton Batagov, a Russian, Tchaikovsky Competition-winning pianist with a flair for Bach, Philip Glass, John Cage and rock, who gave up performing to put all that in his own mystically tinged music.

The movement was a warm, rocking, off-center lullaby from Batagov's new "" with the character of a Russian Terry Riley.

Other recent music included a pleasingly post-minimalist movement from Christine Southworth's "Honey Flyers," which the Calder premiered at last year's festival.

In between modern percussion classics by Steve Reich and Cage, Red Fish Blue Fish offered an experimental piece by a collective, Synchronism Project, and another by Marianthi Papalexandri-Alexandri; neither work was self-explanatory.

The percussion standout was David Lang's "Unchained Melody," a bopping single line played by Steven Schlick on the glockenspiel, each note doubled by an electronically operated mallet hitting a noise-maker.

This was made possible by Williem Brent, who goes by the title of robot designer. Operated by a laptop, the robot crew proved a flawless ensemble.


For more information on the Carlsbad Music Festival, visit www.carlsbadmusic

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