In performance: Mobtown Modern channels Stockhausen
Stockhausen's Zodiac in Baltimore
by Charles T. Downey
Mobtown Modern, the alt-classical contemporary music series based in Baltimore, gave its latest concert at Metro Gallery on Wednesday night. It featured a politely transgressive adaptation of Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Tierkreis" by Hybrid Groove Project, otherwise known as saxophonist Brian Sacawa and composer Erik Spangler, who also curate the series. Stockhausen, the imperious modernist who once claimed to have come from the star Sirius and presumably has been in astral orbit somewhere since his death in 2007, was surely none too pleased.
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Behind tables piled high with computers, instruments and musical toys, the performers created an ersatz setting for Stockhausen's 12 melodies of the zodiac, accompanied by dreamlike still and video images contributed by Jon Bevers. Recorded noise, beat tracks and looped melodic snippets recorded on the spot were knitted together as introductions and backdrops for each section, linking the sections and extending them to roughly an hour. The singsong style of many passages was perhaps a tribute to the piece's simple origins, as melodies to be played on specially created music boxes.
Stockhausen later arranged the work for many musical combinations, which is not necessarily a sign that he would have approved of anyone else doing the same. In particular, this version's heavy-metal refashioning of some of the melodies, with a pulsating beat and crushing bass, would have grated on Stockhausen, who publicly denigrated the use of rhythms with any regular pattern. That is precisely what made it so alluring, however: the feeling of primal melodies, often rendered eerily childlike on melodica and toy piano, taking the listener in and out of the everyday world.
-- Charles T. Downey
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