In MIT’s Killian Hall, the night began with cellist Mariel Roberts’ rendition of Iannis Xenakis’ 1977 visionary “Kottos.” The avant-garde piece would set the tone for the evening of new works for cello and electronics, including works by Tristan Perich, Pauline Olivares, Alex Mincek, and the world premiere of Evan Ziporyn’s “Old Growth.” Part of the Music and Theater Arts department’s Faculty Concerts series, the evening was intimate and experimental.
Roberts, known for her cutting-edge and collaborative approach, performs internationally as a member of the Mivos String Quartet; her latest release is “Nonextraneous Sounds.” “I first encountered Mariel when she was a fellow at the Bang on a Can Summer Institute several years ago, where her formidable musicianship and chops were matched by her open, creative spirit,” says the event’s impresario Evan Ziporyn, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music at MIT and Director of CAST. Since then, he notes, “Roberts has forged a reputation as a fierce advocate of new music.”
In Ziporyn’s “Old Growth,” Roberts played alongside mid-century field recordings from Africa documented by the the ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey, the live and the recorded weaving in and out of each other. In his introductory remarks, Ziporyn stressed that his was not a remix but a kind of duet — a duet with the past, with what once was and is no longer. These sounds come to us like distant stars, still visible and yet long expired, the social world in which they existed now vanished. The recordings were faint and crackling, as archival recordings often are, and this sapped quality was used to aesthetic effect, complemented by the deep, mournful swells of Roberts’ cello. Unlike a sampling, it was in part a reflection on the nature of recording itself, this act of sound carrying through time and place, over the many miles and years.
Roberts then performed Tristan Perich’s composition, “Formations,” in which she played flanked by a row of speakers installed by Perich for the occasion. Perich, a Visiting Artist as part of CAST’s 2013 Music and Technology seminar series, is a rising star known for sound installations such as his “Microtonal Wall” featured at MoMA’s 2013 Soundings exhibition. This installation, too, was a kind of “duet,” as Perich said, a collaboration between the cellist and the electronic. Here, the rich sounds of Roberts’ cello were aerated with Perich’s 1-bit tones, rising in a crescendo of sound that made its presence felt in the body.
It was an evening of duets: collaborations between composer and performer, performer and machine, the past and present, the recorded and the live — not only interpretations or translations but ongoing dialogues.
Tristan Perich. Photo: D Yee
Mariel Robert. Photo: Tod Seelie