Polyorchard presents In C

Polyorchard will be performing Terry Riley’s In C at Kings Barcade on November 4, 2014, 50 years to the day of it’s original premiere. Show starts at 9pm, tickets are $5 at the door.

Scheduled to be performing (in no particular order): Jason Bivins, Heidi Wait, James Gilmore, Charles Phaneuf, Will Robin, Missy Thangs, Dan Ruccia, David Mueller, Joanna Helms, Eddie Davis, Chris Eubank, Mary Huntimer, Chris Robinson, Bob Pence, Bill McConaghy, Allen Anderson, Cameron Britt and other special guests.

Read the article in IndyWeek:

With a little effort, the ambient can become the active. Think of the sounds in the world around you, the sort that fill those easy-listening nature soundtracks—a crackling campfire, waves washing onto the beach, a bustling café, an all-day rain broken by occasional thunder. They can serve as immersive mood music, sure, but if you listen closely, you may begin to register the slightest differences between waves or thunderclaps.

This is the kind of listening experience that In C, the iconic 1964 minimalist work of American composer Terry Riley, fosters. On Tuesday night in Raleigh, a ragtag group of 20 or so musicians—from symphony members to rockers and experimental improvisers—will gather to play In C, marking 50 years to the day since its premiere. Listen, and what may seem like mass madness reveals itself as two-dozen musicians making unscored, unpremeditated decisions.

If Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was the game-changing musical work of the first half of the 20th century, In C helped revolutionize the second half. Its tonal, rhythmic and procedural DNA can be traced through multiple genres of the last five decades. The piece’s radical, decentralized composition—in which the musicians all play the same series of musical “cells” or fragments, but at a pace of their own choosing—inspired a generation of composers to loosen their grip on centuries-old, symphonic mores.

But history isn’t why you should witness In C live: You should go for the sheer pleasure of an open listening experience, for the moment itself.

“Everybody has an epiphany every time they see it live,” says David Menestres, Polyorchard leader, bassist and organizer of this performance. “The last time we played In C, I had a very clear epiphany. I understood the cosmos for about three minutes. It all made perfect sense. By the end of the piece, I’d forgotten it.”

Saxophonist Will Robin, who’s getting a doctorate in musicology at UNC-Chapel Hill, organized that 2013 performance at the experimental bastion Nightlight on a frigid, rainy night. He recognizes that moment, too.

“There are certain cells for me that, when I hit them, it’s just really exciting to be playing them in the moment, if you get there first or if someone gets there before you,” says Robin, an occasional INDY contributor. “In the moment, you get caught up in it, and you can assume that other people are getting caught up in it, too.”

Every performance of In C is unique, and intentionally so. It’s less a strict composition than a page of 53 discrete musical fragments and a set of performance instructions. Most cells are equivalent to a measure of music; Riley put only one note in some of them. There’s no set instrumentation, either. Menestres has about 20 musicians coming Tuesday, but if someone’s babysitter bails at the last minute, that’s fine. The Kings stage will still be filled with reed and wind instruments, electronics and guitars, violas, cellos and basses, keyboards and percussion.

In C begins like a rainstorm. No conductor taps a baton on a music stand. No drummer counts off a beat. Instead, the musicians mingle onstage or nearby, talking with each other and tuning up. Then, one musician will step up to an instrument—usually a keyboard, marimba or xylophone—and begin “the Pulse,” an unchanging series of eighth notes played on the two highest C keys on the keyboard. Once it begins, it does not stop until the very end of the piece. It’s a call to worship and a benediction, the first and last sound you’ll hear.

“Then, everybody comes in one at a time when they feel like it,” Menestres says, “and play the 53 cells and listen to each other and try to construct the piece of music out of it. There’s ebb and flow as people drop in and out, as people choose to play very dynamically for moments. The freedom that you have within the form is pretty remarkable.”

There’s no tune or musical line to the piece, but the Pulse keeps that pervasive C in your ear the whole way. Because the Pulse is so repetitive, it can be brutal on a musician. Try tapping your finger on a tabletop twice a second for almost an hour without losing the rhythm. Sometimes ensembles handle the conundrum electronically, with a tape loop or by placing a brick on a keyboard. Menestres wants a human to do it, although he has yet to anoint the lucky instrumentalist.

“I don’t mind doing it electronically,” he says, “but the piece is so organic that I want the Pulse to breathe. It doesn’t breathe with electronics.”

Riley’s instructions state that, across the whole ensemble, musicians shouldn’t be more than two or three cells apart from each other at any moment. While a clarinetist might be on cell 20, the cellist in the next chair should be on cell 18 or 22. And musicians can stop playing altogether, too, taking a break to sit in the sea of In C.

“When you stop playing for a minute or two and just listen, that’s incredibly enjoyable,” Robin says. “You have these musicians surrounding you, and then you decide, ‘I’m going to come back in right here.’ You kind of walk back into the groove. There’s definitely some feeling of community onstage with the musicians around you that happens during this piece. It feels like a group of friends putting something together.”

For Menestres, that feeling of being surrounded should translate to the audience, too. That immersive quality is what’s made In C so beloved and influential. It’s a radical, experimental composition that also sounds wonderful.

“The person listening isn’t going to hear just me playing bass or just the person next to me playing keyboards—they’re going to hear the full effect,” Menestres says. “Part of any good show, regardless of genre, should be transporting your audience somewhere else. In C is designed to take you out of yourself. It should take you somewhere interesting. Unless we suck.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Mass of cells”

Video: New Directions in Appalachian Music

Video from Monday night’s New Directions in Appalachian Music performance has been posted by IndyWeek. They also wrote a great article about Eugene Chadbourne complete with quotes from your favorite jerk.



IndyWeek Preview of the Sun Ra show

There will be weird costumes and obtuse projections, clattering noise and distorted classical music, some balloons and maybe even a little blood. But on Thursday, which marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Sun Ra, the music that local improvisational collective Polyorchard will play won’t belong to the eccentric composer and jazz pioneer. There will be no space for Space is the Place.

“It’s not going to be a tribute show,” explains upright bassist David Menestres. “I don’t think Sun Ra needs that.”

His backing band, the Arkestra, still tours, anyway, keeping Sun Ra’s music alive themselves. But like the Arkestra, Polyorchard is a permanently unstable assemblage of accomplished musicians, including professional classical and jazz players. They come together to explore strange tones and surreal tangents. They’ll use Sun Ra’s birthday as an excuse for another such trip.

This time, Polyorchard should feature bass, guitar, vocals, trumpet, cello, oboe, French horn, projections and percussion from Ken Moshesh, an ex-member of the Arkestra. The lineup may morph by show time. It’s the nature of the wholly spontaneous ensemble.

“Most of the time we don’t talk about anything,” Menestres says. “Sometimes we’ll talk about simple things. I was talking about jigsaw puzzles before one show. I don’t know if you can hear that, but I think it definitely changed everything.” Sun Ra will provide a stronger unifying force on Thursday, as the members will even read his poetry beforehand. But the music will still be unrehearsed, open and adventurous. Menestres, for instance, wedges chopsticks between his bass strings and beats his bass with a plastic He-Man shield.

Visually, too, the aim is to honor Sun Ra with the strange and original. Photographer and visual artist Julianna Thomas will don a brilliant gold cape and mix her own footage with dated commercials and retro-futuristic stock clips. She may also include pieces from Sun Ra’s film Space is the Place and Blood Feast, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1963 horror movie with a campy Egyptian mythology subtext.

…… read the rest of the article at IndyWeek

review of the 12/19 Polyorchard show

Will Robin reviewed the Polyorchard show on 12/19 for IndyWeek:

Polyorchard, Baby Copperhead, Tegucigalpan
Thursday, Dec. 19

“There’s more of us than you,” announced bassist David Menestres. His band began to play.

Performances by the improvisation collective Polyorchard typically have a bit more balance between audience members and musicians; at any of their Nightlight shows during the past year, there’ve been maybe four musicians on stage and at least five observers. But just before Christmas, only a handful of Nightlight denizens watched an ensemble of Justice League proportions share the space. There were seven players—or , as trombonist Jeb Bishop said, a “Polyorchardstra.”

Each Polyorchard performance is wholly distinct, forged in real time. At Nightlight, the musicians had no scores to play from or any pre-formed ideas. They interacted with each other on stage, listening closely to a quizzical variety of noises and forming them into dense webs. The 30-minute set began with a series of intimate rustles, emerging from Menestres’ bass and Dan Ruccia’s viola. Chris Eubank soon joined on cello (that string trio is one of the better iterations of Polyorchard I’ve heard in the past). From there, the sounds expanded outwards: Bishop’s softly growling trombone, Sara Bloo’s vocal murmurs, Jamie Keesecker’s trembling French horn, Jason Bivins’ hushed guitar. Each instrumentalist delved into extremes of technique.
With seven musicians coming toward you, one’s ear becomes drawn to individual sounds and how they mesh together in micro-interactions. The bluesy tone of the trombone can become the counterpart to a chiaroscuro viola melody.
The atmosphere would suddenly switch moods, too. At one point, a steady guitar/bass pulse emerged, with Bloo cooing in intense rhythm, echoing the ululations of Meredith Monk. And then, pure noise: Menestres squeaked on the back of his bass, and Bivins mashed into his guitar strings on his lap, while Bloo moved water around in jars. At one point, half a chopstick flew towards me, having broken out of Menestres’s hands as he hit it fiercely against his strings. The result of seven expert improvisers became greater than its parts.

read the full review here