Monday, October 14, 2013

Recording: Flux Quartet

Artist: Flux Quartet

Songs: selections from Morton Feldman's "String Quartet No. 2"

Recorded at The Music Gallery ("X Avant VIII"), October 12, 2013.

Full review to follow. How does one recap a performance of a six-hour composition? The very act of abridgement or summary seems to go against the whole point. Can you adequately describe the ocean by making reference to a glass of water? Time moves in two ways, both a steady, undifferentiated Parmenidean flow and a series of discrete Heraclitean moments. Although the "truth" of this piece probably lies in the former, for now I'll merely provide a series of snapshots-in-time from throughout the night. [You can see a few more photos from throughout the night over at the MFS facebook page.]

Flux Quartet - Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 [excerpt 1]

As the performance began, evening's light glowed through the windows. Playing in the round, the Quartet were suffused in a warm glow, inches-thick scores on their stands in front of them. At the outset, the piece was a bit like listening to a speech in a language I could barely understand — I could pick up sentences here and there, but I couldn't really figure out how they cohered into paragraphs. The first hour was the longest, and it took about forty minutes to get acclimatized. And then slowly I felt a vast sorta-sadness overtake me, like how a ghost might feel on looking over the terrain he once physically inhabited. Perhaps not sadness so much as shock at the apprehension of the infinite — accompanied by a sort of placid reserve. Settle in.

Flux Quartet - Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 [excerpt 2]

Slumping forward in my pew, I spotted a single bit of glitter caught in the crack between two floorboards as a glint caught my eye. The sort of thing you only really notice when you've been staring at the floor for awhile. There was a blanket fort set up on the pulpit. I moved over there and found a carpeted spot of floor beside it to lie on my back for a spell, watching the warm multicoloured haze of lights around the rafters.

Flux Quartet - Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 [excerpt 3]

As the piece passes into its third hour, I'm outside, sitting with my back to the door of the old church tower at the far end of the courtyard. Taking advantage of the concert's simulcast on CIUT, radios have been placed around the grounds, including one beside me here. The music seemed to seep into every crack of the world around me. Little downward trills running in time to the cascading white light of the Canada Life Building's weather beacon; a ladybug ambling up my pantleg as a theme that sounded like a fragment from "Inchworm" played; spiderwebs tickling my nose, and as I turn my head to see a spider bungee down past me, a helicopter soars overhead, weaving its own invisible web over the city. For a moment I thought the door behind me would open suddenly, sending me tumbling down to Wonderland.

Flux Quartet - Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 [excerpt 4]

Over in the OCAD Student Gallery, open-ended experimental videogames are being projected against the walls in the front room, but I duck to the back, where the floor is scattered with cushions and the Quartet are cranked up on the radio. (It was only after I returned to the sanctuary that I realized how quietly they were actually playing!) Three screens are being used to project animated GIFs made as student artworks. I settle in — being in a rush is not on my agenda — and watch through until the images repeat themselves. That takes about twenty minutes.

Flux Quartet - Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 [excerpt 5]

I'm feeling a little drowsy, beer on my knee as I rest on the comfy couch in the Fellowship Room. By this point the piece feels less like a concert that's going on and more like a fundamental element of my existential condition. I'm intrigued by the fact that I understand its language so much more now, smiling at little motifs that re-emerge and slowly mutate.

Flux Quartet - Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 [excerpt 6]

Interestingly, the first time Flux played Quartet No. 2, the performance lasted six hours and fifteen minutes; this performance was closer to five-and-a-half, so the pace was somewhat less glacial than it might have been. But as they flipped the page to the sheet of the score, I felt a weird tension come over me — wait, is this going to end already? Except for the single spotlight overhead, the room was dark now, everything hushed, gathered in. And the music played, played, played... and then it stopped.

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