Saturday, February 10, 2018

Recording: U of T Chainsaw Ensemble

Artist: University of Toronto Chainsaw Ensemble

Composition: Poème symphonique [excerpt] [composer: György Ligeti]

Recorded at the U of T Faculty of Music (Lobby), January 17, 2018.

University of Toronto Chainsaw Ensemble - Poème symphonique [excerpt]

Unlike its percussion and saxophone counterparts, so far as I know this student ensemble does not wield any actual chainsaws. (Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.) But under the guidance of Greg Oh they are exploring "Experimental Contemporary Techno-rhythms", including this notorious Ligeti piece written under the influence of (or possibly as a satire of) the fluxus movement. It directs the ensemble to set up no less than one hundred mechanical metronomes, start them up as close to simultaneously as possible, and then wait for the whole thing to wind down.

Like any live performance, this execution was subject to variation and the inspiring possibility of error, so this took a turn for the amusing/transcendent in the endgame when, after ninety-nine metronomes had wound down, the final one kept on tickin', forestalling the end of the piece until its twenty-plus minute solo had ended. (Closer examination after the fact seemed to point to that metronome being double-wound.) The quietly-percussive textures were similar to the sound of a rock tumbler or microwave popcorn, becoming strangely-compelling as that last wand kept ticking and ticking, drawing in some of the more committed witnesses and earning bemused reactions from passers-by — and revealing a playful, social layer underlying the piece's musical conception. This excerpt (trailing off on the approach to that long finish) is very much a field recording, meaning there's plenty of background conversational murmurations and other general to-ing and fro-ing in the cavernous music building lobby.

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