By David Patrick Stearns
Art purposely built from mundane materials is easily dismissed as something less than it is. More Mouvments fur Lachenmann, a dance/music work that opened at the Live Arts Festival on Friday at the Arts Bank, almost invited that reaction. Pre-existing music from composer Helmut Lachenmann's "Musique concrète" period had some industrial popping and scratching sounds played on string instruments from guitar to cello. Xavier Le Roy's stylized movement (you can't call it choreography) was fashioned for the performing musicians, mostly from the shoulders up, with arm and finger movements that echoed the music with chops to the forearm or wiggling fingers.
Yet by the end, these mundane elements had a serious, cumulative effect on one's subconscious mind. When movement wasn't accompanied by music, you could almost hear the absent sounds. The impact of movement on music was heightened: Pieces that normally sound merely abrasive, such the opening section titled "Pression," made more sense when you saw how the sounds were made. And when the spotlight on cellist Andreas Lindenbaum faded into complete darkness, your began imagining how the sounds looked.
“Salut für Caudwell,” the second part, had a pair of guitarists hidden behind black screens while two visible musicians performed movement that often suggested the physicality of playing -- and then some. In a sense, the hidden musicians had outsourced their physical presence to the others. Then one of the visible musicians, who had been chanting German words, outsourced his voice to previously-made recordings heard on overhead speakers.
Relationships between sight and sound were further scrambled in part three, “Gran Torso.” At one point, a stage full of visible musicians simply stopped and stared at the audience for a good long time. Other forms of silence were explored when the musicians seemed to be intently reading a score that prompted no sound at all.
Le Roy is really a conceptual artist here, creating the sort of journey you maybe didn't know you made, so unassuming were the components. Though I didn't love the piece while it was happening, I was glad to have been there, and grateful to Bowerbird for presenting something you'd normally not see outside of Vienna or Berlin (where Le Roy is based). The accomplished musicians of Klangforum Wien certainly made it possible: When not exploring silence, the players tossed off incredibly difficult music without seeming to break a sweat.
$25-$30. 8 p.m. 9/17. The Arts Bank, 601 S. Broad St.