Last night REDSHIFT presented the West Coast premiere of Arctic Sounds, a full-length electroacoustic program that combines field recordings of Alaskan wildlife captured and synthesized by producer and natural sound recordist Kathy Turco with works by ten composers. The ensemble is a quartet based in both Brooklyn and San Francisco consisting of Andie Springer on violin, Kate Campbell on piano, Rose Bellini on cello, and Jeff Anderle on clarinet and bass clarinet. Springer is from Alaska, and Arctic Sounds appears to have been her brainchild. The performance was given at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall on the northern edge of the Mission.
Springer introduced the performance, stating that the nine works of Arctic Sounds would be performed without interruption and requesting that applause be withheld until the conclusion. However, while there was a program listing the works, Brick and Mortar was clearly not designed for concerts at which a program would be helpful. Thus the one-hour suite elapsed rather like a large mural, which may have been a product of multiple artists but offered little guidance as to who contributed what. As a result, on first impression, the primary differentiating factor was the sources of the recorded sounds; and even there differentiation was probably most evident to those with a penchant for nature documentaries.
Needless to say, all this was of little service to the composers who rose to the challenge of integrating natural and instrumental sounds. A few of them took bows at the conclusion of the performance, but there was really no way to know who they were or what they had offered. Furthermore, while REDSHIFT performed without amplification, there were clearly problems in balancing against the recorded material. For that matter Brick and Mortar was never intended as a venue for chamber music, so balance within the ensemble itself tended to be as problematic as balance with the recordings.
To call this event a “West Coast premiere,” then, is a bit of a misrepresentation. It was definitely a social event that brought REDSHIFT together with an audience that was both attentive and appreciative; but the venue imposed just about every imaginable impediment to the act of listening itself. This was, to say the least, unfortunate; but it may also be symptomatic. Last April I took New Amsterdam Records to task for packaging recordings that offer almost no information to satisfy the serious listener. In that case the music on the recording would have served nicely for a party scene, as opposed to a concert setting; but to treat Arctic Sounds as party music would be an offence to all involved (including that attentive audience at Brick and Mortar, comfortable enough on the floor in the absence of adequate seating). REDSHIFT deserves better venues, and we should all hope that they find one for their next San Francisco gig.